by Jen Hatmaker on July 18th, 2014

It was just a few short years ago that I dipped my pinkie toe into the waters of international community development. (I didn’t know a hill of beans about it at the time…that was back when I was still giving a conference talk entitled, “How To Be A Woman of Confidence,” God bless us each and every one.) But Jesus had sufficiently interrupted my life and there was no going back.
It was then I ripped through a giant mountain of books to help educate my sweet little dumb-dumb mind about issues of systemic oppression, economic empowerment, justice structures, and a whole bunch of other stuff I was happily in the dark about, including Countries Other Than America. Bless my heart.
Among my reading material was “Half the Sky.” For you who’ve read it, you just inhaled a big breath. This was a Pulitzer prize winning book written by journalists Nicholas D. Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn. The title comes from the Chinese proverb:
Women hold up half the sky.

I remember exactly where I was sitting in my upstairs, reading about the plight of women globally, specifically the practice of female genital mutilation in certain African regions (having already endured the descriptions of throwaway daughters in China, forced prostitution in India, and sex trafficking in Eastern Europe), and I threw the book against the wall, laid face down on my carpet, and cried my eyes out for twenty minutes.
Women have suffered for so long.
They suffer still, sisters. Let’s funnel into one issue: economic empowerment. (Stay with me, because if you have ever earned one dollar for one ounce of work or expertise, you are on the winning side of a very important equation.)
This is important to start from: women comprise 70 percent of the world’s poorest people. They suffer not only from unequal access to education and training, but discrimination by their employers. The majority of women earn on average three-fourths of the pay men receive for doing the same work.
BUT LISTEN TO THIS: Studies have shown that when women hold assets or earn income, the money is more likely to be spent on nutrition, medicine, and housing, and thus, their children are healthier. For every dollar a woman earns, she invests 80 cents into her family. Men, on the other hand, invest around 30 cents and are more likely to squander money on alcohol and other vices. (Half the Sky)
If greater income equality is achieved, this could decrease poverty generationally.
This correlation cannot be overstated. When women have access to income, their children are more likely to go to school, stay healthy, and eventually become earners themselves…which affects other global development advances: lower birth rate, less victimization, land ownership, and marriage stability. The effects are drastic.
Do you hear what I’m saying? Much international data suggests that when you support a vulnerable woman, and it pays forward generation to generation, lifting families out of poverty, empowering children, increasing health and life longevity, and turning victims into champions.
Surely you know where I am going with this: NOONDAY.

If ever there was an easier way for women to raise up women, I haven’t seen one. What do we rally around? Jewelry and accessories, the universal language of women. Don’t imagine for one minute that Americans love the pretty and the international artisans make our goodies with rolled eyes toward our vanity. These Rwandan women are dressed to the nines, stylistic and gorgeous, coifed and manicured. If these women don’t love beauty, then no one does.
And, um, they had some “opinions” about our designs for the Style For Justice Collection. (As she was personally designing 38 EXTRA FAB FEATURES for our product, our team leader Charlotte said quietly, with head bent over her sewing machine: “I want to win first place.” Well then. American competitiveness need not show up. We have Charlotte, for the love.)
In Rwanda, only 300 companies in the entire country can employ over 30 people. So even with education on the rise for girls, jobs are still scarce. Noonday offers long-term trade and sustainable income for life. I can hardly think of anything more valuable.

The Rwandan artisans now have:
Children in school.
Marriages restored.
Homes purchased.
Debts paid.
Medical bills covered.
Dignity restored.
I’m not sure western women understand the power of restored dignity through work. We often disparage work; a luxury of the already empowered. But in a context like Rwanda, work is honorable and coveted, strong and transformative. It literally changes lives.
And you have such a role to play. In the Noonday context, every Trunk Show, every order, every new Ambassador, every time you tell someone about your beautiful Annie’s Feathered Earrings (I will not even attempt to conceal my obsession), YOU PROVIDE WORK to women who were once disempowered, devalued, abused, invisible. Then, bag by bag, necklace by necklace, they become new mothers to their children: empowered, valuable, redeemed, seen. You also provide work for nearly 700 Ambassadors in America who now have meaningful careers too, contributing to their families, rising up strong.
It is such good work! Don’t imagine for a minute it is only about your gorgeous Angelica scarf (hand-woven, four hours of labor per scarf): this is about women for women, connecting through the bonds of motherhood, family, dignity, strength, beauty.

So sister, go ahead. Book that Trunk Show. Sign up to become an Ambassador. Purchase that Bethe Rope necklace. If your husband balks, tell him THIS IS FOR THE WOMEN OF THE WORLD. I AM SUPPORTING MY SISTERS. TAKE IT UP WITH JESUS, MAN.
These girls thank you. And we thank them.

by Jen Hatmaker on July 17th, 2014

Pull up a chair and grab some coffee. I’m going to tell you a story. It is a story about systems, but please don’t let that stop you from reading, because it is ultimately a story about the dignity of human life. It is an important story and you matter in it.

Because we aren’t trained to appreciate systems, I will bold them when mentioned. It goes without saying that our western systems are terribly imperfect; there are holes, weak spots, gaps, catastrophic failures. People fall through them, absolutely. I know this, dear reader. I realize our structures have failed some of you, and that grieves me. Hear me say that. But this story isn’t the moment to cry foul on our systems (we can have that important conversation later), because though our structures are imperfect, THEY EXIST. Though the following progression is the way our systems are designed, it doesn't mean they always work. Yet...they exist. 
This is the story of Jamie, an American 14-year-old girl. Jamie goes to ninth grade at her local school and comes home around 4:00 one day. While waiting for her mother to get home from work, her neighbor sexually assaults Jamie. She goes to another neighbor who immediately calls 911 on her telephone, and within five minutes, highly trained paramedics and police officers are at her doorstep. (For the love, if your toddler accidentally dials 911, the cops are on their way. Bless.)
She is taken to the hospital by ambulance where a rape specialist conducts her exam with sensitivity and attention to evidence collection, because already at this early hour, our systems are attuned to a conviction. Before she leaves the hospital, Jamie is visited by a trauma counselor and is also referred to a specialized adolescent therapist and group counseling. Her bills are entirely or partially covered by either private insurance or Medicaid.
Jamie’s safety is addressed either by the neighbor’s immediate arrest or her relocation until the investigation is complete. If she cannot afford one of her choosing, Jamie is given a public prosecutor to represent her in court, and he works in tandem with the officer on the scene, investigator, hospital and trauma staff, and witnesses.
One of the major TV networks regularly runs a show during primetime called “To Catch a Predator” targeting online child predators, because our society won’t have this. Should Jamie’s case end in a conviction, if her neighbor ever gets out of jail, not only must he comply with a restraining order, but he must register as a child sex offender for the rest of his life, so every neighbor, boss, and coworker will know his history.

Jamie is real, and this would have been her story had she been born in, say, Atlanta, but she was born in a country without the justice system we take for granted.
It is hard to believe, but Rwanda was absolutely decimated just twenty years ago by genocide. From April to July in 1994, this country lost one million teachers, store owners, policemen, pastors, children, mothers, leaders, doctors. Every structure collapsed. So Rwanda is a young justice system, still rebuilding many major infrastructures while diverting much energy to convictions related to the genocide. Great strides have been made in a very short amount of time; you would be moved by the beauty and order already restored.

But in such a fragile system, the first to go are the poor.
After Jamie’s assault (many details omitted because the atrocities against her cannot be borne), her government was not structured to grant her physical and emotional care, protection, safety, advocacy, justice, and healing. Virtually every system listed above was too underdeveloped to provide the scaffolding for prevention, justice and repair. She was a poor, vulnerable girl in a society where once abuse is reported, passing the baton through the various necessary systems – from immediate care to police enforcement to the law – is clunky and lacks cohesiveness.
With less than 1000 attorneys in the entire country of 11 million, unfair laws (children are not allowed to testify in court), few victims rights, and lack of police and lawyer training regarding child sexual assault, the systems you and I depend on were simply not available for Jamie and other children like her (approximately 10% of Rwandan girls were sexually assaulted in 2009).
Enter the work of International Justice Mission (IJM) and Noonday Collection.
IJM understands that the threat of violence (and lack of prosecution and justice) cripples the world’s poor. Schooling a young girl is to no avail if she fears permissible rape on her daily walk. Without access to basic human safety – neither protected from everyday violence or from broken systems – millions of people live in fear and abuse every second of every day.
We met with the IJM team here in Kigali (all Rwandans) who explained their structures, challenges, and interventions. I could not have been more starstruck if I was sitting in a room with Bono. They are lawyers, former investigators and police officers, psychologists, social workers, church and community educators, and administrators. They are heroes and there is no other way to say it.
Isn’t it a simple concept? Accountability for perpetrators through the legal system. While violence is universal, justice is not, and where lawfulness breaks down, violence, instability, and oppression reign. The correlation between poverty and lack of justice is astronomical – it shakes the foundations of human security, fostering abuse, fear, victimization, and despair.
But like the IJM team explained, no community need convict every crime to affect change. Engineer one, then four, then ten convictions, and you If predators begin to fear prosecution from their legal system as well abegin changing the equation of fear: Who will be afraid? The abused child? Or the perpetrator? If predators begin to fear prosecution from their legal system as well as outrage from their community (IJM educates churches, local leaders, healthcare workers, and parents toward this end), then justice for the oppressed is absolutely within our reach.
These victims will rise up to tell a better story.

Enter Noonday. Because nothing provides dignity like sustainable employment and economic independence. Noonday helps restore what has been stolen, a partner in the curative work of justice. A likeminded organization, they not only employ vulnerable women from the community but also former IJM clients who are in the difficult process of rebuilding their lives. Women move from simply surviving injustice to thriving.

The Rwandan artisans (and all 28 Noonday artisan groups) operate as an independent business in which they call all their own shots. They voted on their internal leadership positions (“El Presidente Grace!”), interviewed and added two women in the last three months, supply loans to one another as needed, do all the material shopping/ordering/organizing/executing, and hired a cook for the co-op, cause ain’t nobody got time for that. Women who did not know how to turn a computer on three years ago are now supplying handmade products to hundreds of thousands of consumers through more than 600 American ambassadors.
I can’t even with this.
The partnership of justice and economic empowerment is so strong, so extraordinary, it is fundamentally transforming not only precious lives but entire systems, whole communities. It is changing the conversation from hopelessness to strength, surviving to thriving.
I am seeing it with my eyes. I see it in Jamie (whom IJM walked with through each solitary step to justice, filling in every structural gap), bopping her head to her favorite musician, Chris Brown (God help). I see it in Teresa and Solange, IJM clients and Noonday artisans who’ve survived heartbreaking abuse and now live in dignity, businesswomen and providers, counselors to their sisters.

I see it in the Rwandan IJM team, some of the smartest people I’ve ever met, working tirelessly to bring justice to their country’s poor, working not against their systems but within them, the strongest approach for societal change.
They want you to know they are strong. They want you to hear their stories, affirm the injustice, and celebrate their triumph. In fact, Jamie said this as her parting words to us yesterday:
“Give your friends my greetings. Tell them thank you for listening. Tell them I pray for them. I want them to know I can walk by myself. And I am in school…ninth in my class…” and she paused for a few seconds with her head down, looked up into the eyes of all us mothers who loved her precious self, tears wobbling in her eyes and ours, and said:
“Are you taking my message?”

Yes, Jamie. By God, yes. I am taking her message to you. I am taking Teresa’s and Solange’s message. We can do right by all the Jamies and Teresas and Solanges, even from our cozy couches in our orderly lives. We don’t even have to innovate a thing, because the innovators are already here, bringing order out of chaos and strength out of powerlessness. We need only equip the rainmakers; take the message of the redeemed.
Equip the rainmakers:  Become an IJM Freedom Partner for $24/month, so IJM can show up 24 hours a day in developing countries around the world. Are you taking the message?
Equip the rainmakers: Become a Noonday Ambassador, which drives handmade product orders, which provides work, which sustains businesses, which empowers women, which financially transforms their families, which turns mourning into dancing. Are you taking the message?
Of course we can do this. It is too easy. BUT IT COUNTS. These simple measures are the fuel that keeps the fires of justice burning.
It matters so much. You matter so much. These are our sisters and brothers and Jamie is our daughter. Mothers the world over must demand justice for our children, our sisters. Security for us and ours is not enough.
The message has been delivered.
Let’s receive it.

Are you with me? What fuel will you add to the fire? It counts, sisters. It all counts. Let's use our power and influence for all its worth.

Follow the #StyleForJustice Story Team Trip here.

by Jen Hatmaker on July 9th, 2014

I have never had an office. I had a desk for awhile, but my children used it as an art table. I've written all of my books in very glamorous places like the corner of the couch, my unmade bed, the kitchen table, and my bathroom floor.

When we moved to the farmhouse, there was this extremely nasty outbuilding off the patio. We used it for a kitchen and Holding Cell For Garbage And Vermin during the renovation (I'm playing fast and loose with the term "kitchen" here). But now that we have a real kitchen inside, I started eyeballing this crappy little room for an office. Apologies to the ants and mice. It looked something like this:
I don't know what's going on with Remy's hair. Be kind. It's summer.

So we hired a guy to make it inhabitable (this involved tearing the rotted floorboards down to the dirt...good times), and I turned my attention toward the fun part: DECORATING. And just in the nick of time, like a gift, Myquillyn Smith's book landed in my hands - "The Nesting Place: It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful." Well good thing, because this little room is a lemon.

Myquillyn's approach to design is what we've all been waiting for. I'm serious. She moved 13 times in 18 years of marriage, 10 of them rent homes including the one she lives in now, at the writing of her book. So go ahead and strike the idea that she makes a home beautiful because she crafted every last architectural detail to her liking. Myquillyn wrote:

"Now on my thirteenth home, I've realized that home is wherever we are. I'm not going to waste time waiting for the next house we buy to create a beautiful place to live. I can't afford to wait until we have our life all perfectly organized and presentable to start enjoying it."

Her style combines thrift and quirk and opposing textures and inexpensive ideas that pack a lot of punch. And The Nesting Place gives you such permission to just try something, for heaven's sake. Just put it up, just paint it, just layer those two rugs, just use that weird signature piece. She somehow takes the fear and hesitation out of it all and makes you want to throw forty unrelated pieces on your feature wall and hang hats on a set of antlers. Why not? We're not curing cancer; we're just making pretty rooms that we love.

So I set to work with her book in hand. And I mean that literally; I actually took her book into the stores and thrift shops. I felt like I needed pictorial guidance. So once the office started taking shape, looking less like a hovel and more like a room, it was time to steal copy take inspiration from Myquillyn's house. From The Nesting Place: This is the feature wall in her living room. Pay attention, because I lifted exact ideas right off this page.

I LOVE the idea of repurposing junky pieces, making your own stuff, using something unexpected, mixing different styles and textures. It's like Myquillyn crawled into my head and made sense of everything that makes me love a room. Please note the image of Napolean Dynamite on the opposing page on the TV. I can't even. Here is how her tutorials played out in my office: 

I measured the wall, professionally marked it off on the floor with flip flops, books, and trash, and laid the feature wall out before I hung it. I would like you to please note the level and tools, and by "you" I mean "Brandon" because I did this while he was out of town and I've been known to "eyeball" things like this, which occasionally results in no less than but possibly more than 32 extra holes in the wall. I USED THE TOOLS, BRANDON. Which means I only ended up 15 extra holes. Thank you for acting impressed.
I have a couch in my office because sometimes writers need naps. OUR LIVES ARE HARD.

One of my favorite ideas from The Nesting Place was using something random in a functional way. Why can't antlers be a hat rack? Why can't a ceramic head be a planter? Why can't plastic spoons become a wreath? I particularly loved repurposing sawed off tree stumps as end tables:

We are crawling with tree stumps on our property, so this was the easiest, free-ist piece in my office. Because Myquillyn said I could mix and match elements at will, I did. I combined old wood, ceramic, and a rusted metal egg basket, because it is a free country. I also shamelessly copied her book wreath. And I do mean copied. As in I emailed her and asked for explicit instructions. I MADE A CRAFT, PEOPLE. Like I said on Facebook at 2:45am that day: "On her blog she said it took her 'a little less than an hour.' Hello. This craft took me every second of five hours working nonstop. I clearly love Myquillyn's ideas but she is obviously into witchcraft if this took her less than an hour."

Because apparently I lack originality, when I saw her Dr. Suess pillow, I put the book down, picked up my laptop, and ordered one too. One that fit my particular brand of tomfoolery.
Repurposing is one of Myquillyn's big themes. Sometimes a coat of paint changes an old piece from grody to fabulous. Or you can reimagine its purpose altogether. We aren't locked in to buying a matchy-matchy set of furniture from a box store. With that perspective in hand, I set out to find a desk and ended up with this old drafting table I found from a janky welding warehouse. It is irregularly worn and interesting and beautiful and I love it with my whole heart. I'm using an industrial rolling cart for my printer and office supplies, and I also found a bedroom dresser to use as storage under the TV. I have a TV in my office because sometimes writers need to take a break from their excruciating work and watch their shows. OUR LIVES ARE HARD.
I tested the limits of our marriage by ordering a chandelier to go above my desk which came in 238 unassembled pieces. Because I was feeling warmly toward limbs and stumps, I also asked Brandon to drill branches into the wall above the window, sent off some favorite Instagram photos to Walgreen's for printing (like 14 cents a print), and hung them on twine with little clothespins. Why not?

Thank you, Myquillyn, for your relaxed, warm approach to decorating. I felt like you were holding my hand throughout this whole project! For anyone who feels stuck in your style, unable to make decisions, or just enjoys having a lovely home where people feel welcome, grab a copy of The Nesting Place stat. You'll find every solution to your weird spaces, great ideas for any budget, and you'll walk away with not just decorating ideas but life ideas, because truly, in every way, it doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful.

Do you have any home projects you're working on this summer? Have you found any great ideas or deals you'd like to share?

by Jen Hatmaker on July 8th, 2014

Being a part of a global movement is hard work. It is gritty and complicated, exhausting and overwhelming.

Supporting women in other countries is so draining. It will plumb wear you out.

I mean, international advocacy is a tough road, but someone must do it.

Making an impact toward a bigger, worldwide mission is so much work, but life is hard.

Or maybe it is more like a really fun party with really gorgeous accessories made by really fabulous international women. Have you been to a Noonday Trunk Show? Because I’ve hosted one in my own house with local Noonday Ambassador Krista Box (benefitting the Austin New Church adoption fund) and it was basically the best thing ever. The thing is, most creatives and artisans in our country have easy access to the marketplace: social media, Etsy, galleries, shows, boutiques, word of mouth, and of course, a client base with purchasing power.
To make that sort of economic empowerment available, Noonday Trunk Shows create a marketplace for artisans around the world who come from vulnerable communities. By giving them access to our western market, they build jobs and support entire families and communities. Noonday creates a pipeline of opportunity for women to help other women, which is pretty much the best work I can think of. As a host, you support the career of Ambassadors here who then support the career of artisans in nine different countries. You touch women near and far to empower one another and create economic opportunity, which transforms whole lives. 
And let’s be clear: you get to have a party and buy pretty things, so… no martyrs here.

So easy: contact your local Ambassador to coordinate your event, throw open your doors to your friends, make some yummy snacks and set your drinks out, and your Ambassador will do the rest. She’ll bring the entire collection over (clear a table, man) and she’ll tell the Noonday story. Your friends get to buy beautiful products and you are a hero.
So you know I’m leaving Friday to go to Rwanda with Noonday and meet the artisans on our #StyleForJustice trip. The Rwandan team is small but mighty. Not only do they make all the packaging that Noonday comes in (you wish all your doorstep packages looked like these), but they have given us pieces like these:
Look at the Rwandan team. I get to meet these women in one week. I am outside of my mind. I hope the two on the end will let me hold their hands too, because I am like that. As you know, I’ve kissed a stranger’s baby on a plane. They are so beautiful, so strong, so good at what they do. You can get a feel for their tenacity here. I cannot wait to get to them.

These women are skilled artisans and we are a bunch of clunky writers, but with their leadership, together we are creating a #StyleForJustice Collection while we’re in Rwanda! Like, design work! New products specifically in honor of our time together! Oh my gosh. I am dying. I don’t know much but I PICK YELLOW!!! AND GREEN!!! Probably shouldn’t let me near a sewing machine, but I can cut patterns! I really want to impress the artisans, so I’ve learned some relevant sewing language like “interfacing” and “seam allowance” and “twill tape.” I plan to use my vocabulary with reckless abandon.
Here is what you get to do: host a show! But not just any show on any old day…join women across the country on August 7th for the first ever Noonday Nationwide Trunk Show! On that day only and only for trunk show attendees, we will roll out the #StyleForJustice collection we designed with the artisans and you get to vote on which pieces make the cut (and I’m just saying pay special heed to the YELLOW and GREEN submissions…I suspect they will be so winning). Voting is that day only by participants in the Nationwide Trunk Show. Isn’t that fun?
Please note that I will then be calling myself a designer and you can’t stop me. BECAUSE I HAVE A COLLECTION. WITH A SEAM ALLOWANCE.
All the Ambassadors are standing by, ready to plan parties with you on August 7th!
Speaking of August 7th, that is sort of a biggie. You might recall my family has a little show also coming out that day on HGTV. And that I also turn 40 that day. August 7th is producing ALL THE FEELS. So maybe you can use the TV show as incentive for your friends: Come to my Noonday Trunk Show, get pretty things, eat free food, and then we can watch “My Big Family Renovation” with the crazy Hatmakers at 10:00 and 10:30pm CT! I know that’s late, but here is the moment I am begging you to watch the first two episodes live with me or I might die of terror. 

Fashion Party + Watch Party all in one!

Word is that I am wearing Noonday pieces in both episodes…SYNERGY.
Oh yall. So much. I hope you’ll follow along on our trip next week! You can sign up for our emails here (and enter to win some goodies for the next two days) if you want to keep good tabs on us. We’ll be heavy on Instagram, so go do a little follow over there if you haven’t (“jenhatmaker”) and be sure to follow the other storytellers too, because some of them will be posting pictures that weren’t taken with their iPhones, God bless.
I plan to fall madly in love with the Rwandan artisans. Be warned.


by Jen Hatmaker on May 30th, 2014

I wrote earlier this week about enjoying my teens, and before I keep writing, let me say this TO BE SURE: my kids are ordinary and act total fools sometimes. Don’t imagine that we are skipping through the teen years with nary a rebellion, academic catastrophe, or snotty moody fresh mouth. I will not name names to protect the guilty, but we have run-of-the-mill teens that delight and frustrate in equal measure. That is just normal. Parenting teens is hard. So is parenting toddlers and parenting 2nd graders and parenting middle schoolers (sometimes I resort to singing hymns to manage my middles: “HAVE THINE OWN WAY, LORD, HAVE THINE OWN WAY. THOU ART THE POTTER, THESE KIDS ARE SO CRAY.”)
Parenting is hard, zero kids/parents are perfect, not every moment is a pleasure ever – in any stage, for any parent, for any kid, in any context in the history of life. Every person who disagrees with the previous sentence is a liar.
However, even though I am naturally an Older Kid Mom (I recall the Baby Years and get the shakes), I also recognize that my kids thus far – and I do mean thus far – have operated somewhat in the middle of the pack. While they aren’t skipping grades and ending world hunger, neither are they struggling with extreme behaviors, so my experience is fairly ordinary. We are in the middle of the bell curve.
But parents, do you know how many teens are in crisis? In the throes of addiction or self-harm or mental illness or depression? MILLIONS. So do the math: that means millions of parents are suffering alongside teens that are self-destructing.

I want to talk today to the parents in the deepest trenches, absolutely battling for their children’s loyalty or health or even their lives. First, you are not alone. Hear that. Parenting troubled teens often involves silent suffering, which can trick you into thinking you are isolated. An easy target for judgment or shame, so many families in crisis struggle alone, afraid or embarrassed or just too damn exhausted to reach out. Society expects three-year-olds to act like lunatics, but we don’t know what to do with a teen that cuts or abuses or destroys or hates herself.
Because we are a people who like to blame, so often parents get the side eye: What did you do wrong? What didn’t you do right? What could you have done differently? The truth is, teenagers are whole human beings and they get to choose their steps. So many troubled teens are beloved, they come from good families, they were rocked and read to and cheered for. There is no parenting formula that ensures any child’s path. Families in crisis don’t need a jury of their peers; they need a community of support. A parent can virtually do everything right and their child can still disappear. What’s more, a parent can virtually engage every good intervention, and their child may stay gone.
Then there is the very real reality of mental illness, addiction, emotional disorders, and trauma that many teens are battling. If our child had liver failure, we would go to the ends of the earth for medical care, the best doctors, the strongest intervention, the greatest support network, and all the earth would rally to our side to fight for her wholeness. So many of our teens are physically broken in their minds and hearts, and the magnitude of their hurt completely overwhelms their capacity to overcome on their own, but instead of a chorus of support, their families receive silence or judgment or disappointment which compounds grief and lays a heavy yoke on those who are already suffering.
I want to introduce you to my friend Amy and her son Landon (name changed). This is my dear friend who has struggled mightily for over 10 years with her teen. And I mean mightily. The grace and courage she exhibits, well, I just don’t even know how to talk about it. I am so proud to be her friend. She agreed to tell a bit of her story. May it be an encouragement to weary and heartbroken parents.
When did Landon begin struggling outside the parameters of "ordinary disobedience"?

We first started seeing changes in Landon when he was around 5. That's when he really started to show some defiance. He became very pessimistic and lacking empathy for others. And worst, no remorse. We started getting calls from teachers about 5th grade.  By 6th grade we were called to the principal's office.  Now he is in 11th grade and it's only gotten harder. His high school principal joked that he needed to put us on speed dial.  He's on probation for the 3rd time. Thankfully, nothing serious - just a lot of really stupid choices that he didn't get away with. 
But, let me tell you, seeing your child in an orange jumpsuit handcuffed is HARD. Just typing that makes me cry. Seeing him in pain because of his choices is so hard as a parent to watch. But we have given him the necessary tools, guidance and resources to make the right choices. We have had to step back and let the natural consequences play out. 
And, if you want a dose of humble pie - go sit in the waiting room at Gardner Betts Juvenile Center waiting for your child's probation officer while every other person that walks by knows your name! Very humbling. I look at the other moms in the waiting room (we all look like we all need to go to the spa). We give each other the I-can-relate-exhausted-look. No matter what part of town we live in, how much money we have in the bank, we are on the same battlefield: fighting for our kids.
What have his teen years been like? What have you been through?
To say his teen years have been difficult is a major understatement. We have cried buckets of tears through these years. We have screamed at God.  Pleaded to God.... This was NOT what I envisioned our family of 6 would look like. We never wanted to spend these teen years concerned about suicide, going to court hearings, spending hours at counselors, having random visits from parole officers. And we are still right in the trenches. Still pray every morning that Landon makes it through the day without getting arrested, killed or hurting someone else. 
I pray fervently that I would be a vessel of God's love. I need His love to pour through me to Landon because my human self doesn't feel it. I don't expect a lot of parents to understand how you couldn't feel love for your child. This was something 10 years ago I would've thought only horrible HORRIBLE parents could say. The first time I realized I didn't feel love for Landon I felt like I was defective or sick or just plain cold hearted. The first time I actually said that out loud to another seasoned mom that had raised a child like Landon and she said, "I know exactly how you're feeling. I felt the same way," I LOST it. Cried so hard. Just knowing that I wasn't alone and wasn't a horrible person was HUGE. 
That's what I hope comes from being transparent about our struggles - for those parents out there that are having a hard time - You aren't alone! I know there are going to be lots of parents out there that will judge me for this post. We've had relatives judge us. Please don't judge us (or do, I really don't care). We ARE good parents. You have no idea what it's been like.  
Let me give you a glimpse into my life parenting Landon: 

  • He has told me he loves me probably 10 times in the past 10 years and probably 1/2 of those were in birthday cards. 
  • He has probably hugged me back 10 times in 10 years - note I hug him A LOT, but it's comparable to hugging a wooden board. 
  • This year, he didn't say A WORD to me on Mother's day.  But, that didn't keep me from speaking to him.  
  • I am 99% sure that if he is talking to me in a normal tone of voice it's because he wants something. This is reality with him. 
I want to love AND LIKE my child. I want this so badly. I'm claiming that someday I will naturally again. But right now, thankfully God is providing.
What have you learned? How has parenting Landon affected how you parent your other three?
We have learned through several years of counseling, that there is only so much we can do and that it is not our fault. This was HUGE for me because I kept thinking we were doing something wrong; wrong parenting technique, not praying hard enough, not spending enough time with him, not having the means to take him to the perfect treatment center, etc. I blamed myself (and my husband) for so long for all the choices Landon was making. I thought his behavior was a reflection of our parenting. And I was embarrassed! My husband was the family pastor at our church!  We were supposed to have it all together and be a role model for other families.
Stop! Y'all - that is the enemy talking!!! Stop believing it. Get out of the church or community that makes you feel like a failure because your child is "misbehaving." Get plugged into a support group or church with real people living real lives. It's SO freeing.  
Landon has 3 younger siblings. Thankfully they are all doing really well. We don't tell them everything that's going on with Landon, just that he has made poor choices and we still need to love him. They are smart though and know most of what's going on. Through all this we emphasize how important communication with each other is. We want our kids to be able to come to us with anything. We want them to know we're not going to freak out and that we will love them through ANYTHING. We get the opportunity to prove that with Landon. Our actions definitely speak louder than words and others are watching.  
What would you tell another parent who is in the midst of heartache with her struggling child?
Get help. Get support. Don't try to do this alone. We have been to family counseling with our children, and marriage counseling. This was huge. Get a 3rd party in there to help. Godly counsel has saved our marriage! If you're married, keep your marriage top priority! You and your spouse need to be a team. The enemy will see this as a way to ruin your marriage, and it will if you don't put time and effort into making your marriage strong. Make sure your teenager knows that you and your spouse are on the same team and in agreement. When talking to our kids about parenting decision, my husband and I try to always say, "We decided, we think it's best, our thoughts are...” It also makes me feel like it has more weight or power. If you're a single parent -  I can't imagine. I would seek out a team of strong, loving peeps to back you, support you and help. 

We sought out prayer warriors to come along side us and pray with us in this battle. Doesn't matter if it's another couple that's older or younger, just someone you can trust and know that they will do battle with you. I have a friend (my cousin) I call and vent to at least once a week. I don't know how she puts up with it! But she listens and doesn't judge and that's all I need. (I do have to remind myself that I need to go first and foremost to God with my venting. The more I allow myself to be turned to God through these struggles the more peace and wisdom I am given).
Get respite. You need a break. Dealing with a troubled teen is SO exhausting. SO stressful. It can deplete you if you let it. See if there's a trusted family member or friend that can take your teen for the week or the summer. You never know unless you ask. We ended up sending Landon to Youth Reach Houston, a home for troubled boys. Totally 100% free. I can't speak highly enough about this ministry. They are raising Godly men there. Anyways, we had 6 months of respite. Not only did my huband and I need it, but our other children needed it too.
You can't just give up. Never give up on your child. Even if you're using tough love. That's NOT giving up. Tough love is TOUGH on the parents, but sometimes it's the best thing you can do for your child.   
Look at your child as being lost. Not simply rebellious. Not horrible. Not defective. Just lost and needs to find his way. You, as his parent are there to help guide him, instruct AND nurture. 
You have no idea everything your child has experienced. You may not know why he is behaving the way he is. There might be something that happened to him/her when you weren't there to cause him to act the way he does. I remind myself of this often when I lack grace, love and compassion for him. 
Teenagers need us more than ever. More than the toddler years. Don't think that just because they're independent and can do everything on their own, that they don't need you or want to spend time with you. And don't expect them to admit it. Ours never has. Try sneaking it in, like when you pick them up from school and say you're going to stop and grab a bite to eat. Pick a restaurant he likes. Ask questions! Act truly interested and listen.
My husband and I went to a weekend retreat for parents at Heartlight Ministries (a residential treatment center for troubled teens - HIGHLY recommend!) and we got to "interview" a few of the residents that had been there for several months. We asked them if they truly wanted to spend time with their parents and ALL of them without a second's hesitation said yes! Now granted they had been away from their parents for a long time, but STILL! If there is at least an ounce of desire from your teen to spend time with you- take it!
If you start having issues with your teen or see warning signs from him - don't ignore it! Don't have a "he'll grow out of it attitude." Keep your eye on it. Get help if it gets worst.  
Make sure your teen knows NOTHING can separate him from God's love and that no matter what your child does, you will love him. Don't base your relationship with your teen on what he is or isn't doing.  This is HARD.
What are your hopes for Landon and his future?
I am claiming that Landon will make a turn. That the light will turn on and he will desire the things of the Lord. I hope this comes soon. I hope I get to see it in my lifetime. I hope that he will use the struggles that God allowed to help others. I envision him one day counseling kids. He is SOOOO good with kids. Kids bring out the best in Landon. And, Lord he is going to have such an amazing story and testimony!!!
Oh my word. THE WISDOM. Thank you, dear friend. I love you and am so proud of you. Thank you for speaking so much permission and strength into weary hearts today. You are a marvel.
I love you, parents who are grieving. Let us come alongside you. Please talk truthfully to us and ask for help and love and nearness. I asked another precious friend whose teen is so lost what helps most from others and she said, "Kindness." Tell us specifically how we can help. Teach us how to love well in the midst of struggle. Receive grace – from your people, from God – It is exactly the thing that has always saved us.
God is not done with your child. It is never too late. No one is ever too far gone. Many a prodigal comes home in two years, five years, fifteen years. And may he find open arms, hearts that have been long awaiting his blessed return. And even if he doesn't, may you rest in God's grace and sovereignty and realize some homecomings are in this life and some are after it. You have loved well and labored mightily regardless. Well done, good and faithful servant.

Some Great Resources for Parenting Troubled Kids

  • Any book by Mark Gregston and the Heartlight Ministries (They have a great weekend parent retreat. Also, sign up for the email newsletter – always has great topics for troubled teens):
“Tough Guys and Drama Queens”
“What’s Happening to My Teen”
“Parenting Today’s Teens”
"When Your Teen is Struggling"

Brokenhearted parents, you are seen and loved. Can you add any resources in the comments (with links) that have helped you and your family? Or parents who’ve made it to the other side, we crave your hope and leadership today.

Get e-mails from Jen...
2014 (19)
2013 (31)
January (3)
March (4)
April (3)
May (5)
June (3)
August (4)
September (3)
October (4)
December (2)
2012 (29)
February (1)
March (4)
April (3)
July (6)
August (2)
September (1)
October (6)
November (2)
December (4)
2011 (19)
2010 (1)
November (1)