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.

by Jen Hatmaker on May 27th, 2014

I quit my job to stay home when I had my second baby. I taught first grade the day before she was born. Even thought those first few months as a SAHM to two were “mildly traumatizing” (I used to call Brandon at 1:30pm and ask, Are you almost done with work? and he was all It’s 1:30 and I was like YOU DIDN’T ANSWER THE FREAKING QUESTION. ARE YOU ON YOUR WAY HOME OR SHOULD I CALL 911 TO COME HELP ME MANAGE THESE TWO BABIES?????), I soon settled into my new life at home. Because no one told us not to, we added a third baby just two years later and created a full-blown preschool circus.
I essentially raised the babies with my girlfriends during those years. Our childrearing environments included Chick-Fil-A, Barnes and Noble, the local pool, all of our living rooms/kitchens/nurseries/bathtubs, and every park in the greater Austin area. We fed, disciplined, diapered, rocked, and pool-rescued each other’s kids with regularity. One memorable concern was a recurring conversation:
You guys, what about when all these sweet babies become teenagers?? What will we do?? They will become mutant rebels! They will hate us and us them!

May I discuss with you Parenting Teens now that I actually am?
Teenagers are my jam.
The weird thing is, those tiny sweet precious littles you are raising? The teens are the same people, just bigger. That humor? Same. That personality? Same. Those tendencies and leanings and giftings? Same. Your quirky 6-year-old who loves science and animal husbandry? Same, he just gets bigger with a lower voice.
Stop imagining that aliens will take over your darling preschooler at age 13. Your sweet boy will get to age 13 one day at a time. There is no abrupt moment where he ceases being the boy you raised and becomes some adolescent you don’t recognize. The strangest thing is that he is looking you in the eye and talking about armpit hair and course electives. This boy will still lie in your lap while you run your fingers through his hair and remember the day he was born. He is still your baby.
My oldest son and his cousins.
The time lapse between these two pics was approximately four seconds.

Parenting teens is pretty much the best Mom gig yet. They are funny and smart and you see glimpses of their adult selves. They are beginning to funnel into their gifts and passions, and you feel the most absurd pride about who they are becoming right in front of your eyes.
And THE HUMOR. If you know one ounce about me, you know that I value humor over, say, integrity and honor. So when my sophomore plops on the couch, sticks one of his ear buds into my ear (the other one in his) and plays funny Youtube videos for us to watch together? Well, THE WORLD CAN END NOW BECAUSE I AM NOW IN POSSESSION OF ALL THE HAPPINESS. You haven’t laughed until you laugh with your teen over shared humor. When you can share Will Ferrell? What else is there? Die happy.
Did I mention their friends? Because you will weirdly love their friends. They bring a concentrated level of grossness and drama and hunger into your house, and YOU LOVE IT. You love the way they tease each other and act sweetly towards your younger kids. You love the way they praise your cooking, even when you feed them weird things like sweet potato and black bean quesadillas. You love their big, awkward bodies sprawled on your couches, spewing the nonsense they read on iFunny or Instagram. They let you take their pictures and offer advice and scold them even as your own teenagers are begging you with their eyes to knock it off.
It seems completely unfair that right about the time your kids become the most awesome, they fly the coop. Why can’t 5th graders go to college and come back in 9th grade?? I could absolutely live without many, many, many middle school days. But high school? SWOON.
Parents, spend all the preschool, elementary, and early middle school years developing love and trust and transparency with your kids. Every conversation is on the table. Not one single topic is off limits. Laugh with them. Be genuine. Say you’re sorry when you should be. Listen to their dreams and feelings and ideas and thoughts when it is the least convenient. Those moments will come with regularity unless they are squashed; drink them in with relish and you will ensure that they continue. If you are safe now, you will be safe later.
On their 16th and 14th birthdays.

Get super, super interested in what your children are interested in. Invest in their talents. When our 13-year-old developed a sincere interest and gift toward photography and asked for a CRAZY EXPENSIVE CAMERA for Christmas, we discussed this with our film crew, explaining why we were NOT going to buy it for her, and our cameraman, Kevin, who makes an entire living as a photographer said, “If your kid was super talented at the guitar, would you buy her a reputable guitar and lessons? YOU WOULD. So why not invest in your daughter’s gift? My mom bought my first camcorder when I was 10 and here I am.” For the love. We followed his advice and our daughter brought her fancy new camera to Ethiopia two months later and took this:
Kevin was right.

This is tough for me, but work really hard to not control everything. This is super important. Your bigs NEED to develop independence. Let them bring their problems to you without obeying the immediate instinct to solve it. Ask good questions. Lead the witness. If they think you are only capable of “fixing it,” the well of communication will run dry, because their hearts are chasing adulthood and they need to know you respect that. Be a listener, a gentle guide, a confident parent willing to let their child blow it for the prize of maturity.
There is a super high chance your teen will ENORMOUSLY SELF-DESTRUCT. Need I remind you of our adolescence? They will lie, cheat, rebel, succumb, resist, disobey. They will do this, because they are no different than EVERY GENERATION THAT EVER PRECEDED THEM. But that is not the end of their story. It wasn’t the end of ours (thank you, Jesus) and their best years are ahead of them too. If they wobble, stick with those wonky kids. They will remember how their parents remained steady until they course corrected.
Most of all? Enjoy those crazy teens. These are magical, frustrating, insane, hilarious years. This season is so very short. It peaks and crests in minutes. No sooner do they get their first girlfriend then they are off to college. Parental anxiety is a waste of time. It will all be okay. These children are (mostly) a delight. And when they aren’t? Just wait awhile. They’ll come back.
That beautiful 3-year-old you’re tucking into bed? Blink, and you’ll be sending him to Driver’s Ed. I swear to the heavens.

We will probably regret all the years we wasted in fear and anxiety and control, but we will never regret spending those years in delight and joy. We have these children for around 18 years of THEIR ENTIRE LIVES. Let’s send them into the adult world at the height of our pleasure in them, grateful for the beautiful, funny, smart, interesting, special, precious children that God entrusted us with for this first short phase of their whole existence.

Moms of littles? Stop being afraid. Those babies you love now? You will love them even more fiercely in ten years. They will become the young adults you are raising them to be. And you will love them with the ferocity of a thousand splendid suns. And they will make you laugh and cry and shake your head and thank our good God that he trusted you with these extraordinary young people, and all that parenting in those early years turned into incredible teens that you don't just like.
And don’t forget: In a few years, they will bring us grandbabies.
Amen and hallelujah.

by Jen Hatmaker on May 22nd, 2014

I love to cook. I feed my people crazy food. In my pantry at this exact moment, I have fish sauce, ghee, Garam Masala, and berbere (my ET people know what this is). I make spicy food, sour food, I pickle radishes, I douse our stuff with curry. I feed my family bold, flavorful, ethnic food that sets their mouths on fire. They have been exposed to every sort of recipe. They have assimilated a super wide range of flavors and textures because I want them to love good food.
And every single time we go out to eat, Remy orders chicken and French fries.
This child eats peppery food with the heat of a thousand suns at home. She eats onions, peppers, garlic, curry, broccoli, fennel, quinoa, roasted red peppers, salmon. She gobbles it up like a skinny little carnivore. At a restaurant? Chicken and fries. They were some of the first American foods she was able to stomach, and her psyche has snagged on them. She can pull no other option out of her culinary satchel when forced to make her own decision.
She just goes back to the same predictable flavor.
I get this on a very human level. Sometimes I just want more of the same. I want the same thinkers, the same cacophony, the same groupthink. I assemble and invite a niche brand of religion, worldview, moral outrage, and theology into my ears. I like what I like and I like other people to like the same things.
I watch this with regularity in the weird online world where niche tribes have formed, creating something of a group identity. An issue comes up, the tribe gathers and formulates, then the responses start flying with predictable homogeny. The group machine feeds the outrage or dissidence or full throttle approval or cynicism, and people go public with cemented opinions formed back in the echo chamber without any tempering from different sources.
It’s tricky, because in so many ways, our niche tribes are life-giving and meaningful, as they should be. They offer likeminded community and a place to belong. These are wonderful outcomes in a noisy, lonely world.
But when we invite no other flavors into the mix, the chicken and fries has a downside. When the same views are bandied around the group endlessly, it causes ideas to seize when they should remain fluid. It inadvertently (or advertently) silences opposing or even just differing perspectives, assuring each other that we are right and they are wrong; the echo chamber has spoken. Ironically, opposing tribes operate the exact same way and come to the exact same conclusions; they simply swap the winner and loser blanks.
I know this is my tendency. I recognize my instinct to reach for a familiar flavor to affirm my own ideals. So I have some best practices to save me from myself and maybe they will be helpful for you. Let’s break it down into two categories:
During Conflict
An issue hit the news, a relationship hit the skids, that group or person said or did something offensive, our feelings were hurt. These are the moments we most want our chicken and fries. If there is to be a right and wrong conclusion, we want our people to assure us that we are right. We might even want to bolster some group outrage, because the only thing better than being right is being mad about it, and the only thing better than being mad about it is being mad with a bunch of people. Of course, the group outrage is built on carefully selected messaging from the Wounded One, but this is not the moment to bother with trivia; there is anger to fuel.
  1. Wait one day before you do or say anything at all. I’ve mentioned this personal policy before, and it cannot be overstated. In probably 8 out of 10 cases, the shock or anger or confusion recedes by the next day, and I am able to reassess the situation with clearer eyes. I see nuance I blew past the day before. I can operate out of the thinking part of my brain instead of the fight-or-flight part. It almost never feels as bad as I thought. Assembling the battalion and staging a war in those first 24 hours is the worst decision ever. Regret is virtually inevitable.
  2. If possible, go directly to the source before activating the troops. So often, misunderstanding or misinformation is the culprit. A simple phone call could clear it up or at least take the sting out. Especially for people we love or trust or respect; we should absolutely extend the benefit of the doubt and give them the courtesy of an honest, first-touch conversation. But even if the offense is severe, spiritual maturity requires direct communication; this is how adults behave.
  3. Reach for a different flavor. Discuss this with someone outside of your group. Find someone trustworthy who operates in a totally diverse space. Different perspectives are famously difficult to perceive on our own. Ask questions, try to get to the heart of it all. Prioritize understanding over defending. 
  4. Talk to someone who is in a similar position or place as the offender; pull from his tribe. When the World Vision crisis spiked, my first phone call was to Chris Marlow because he also leads a Christian international nonprofit using a sponsorship model. I said, “Unpack this for me from a leadership standpoint. What are all the factors I don’t understand?” Chris leant me some perspective that I absolutely 100% would not have grasped on my own.
  5. Talk to someone who is older and wiser than you. Every year I get older, I become less of an ass. I will be a wonderful counselor in twenty years, for the love. We need mentors who know the value of compromise, humility, and compassion. The fervor of youth is a double-edged sword; it can be a mighty tool for the kingdom, but it can also wound and slice and destroy. Wisdom seeks out wisdom, not just affirmation. Older believers? Please mentor us. We need you. 

Outside of Conflict
These practices will provide the scaffolding for all the measures listed above. If we consistently move toward a wider circle, it will feel more natural to deviate from our chicken and fries in conflict.

  1. In general, nurture some friendships that are way outside of your normal parameters. Someone from across the pond, across party lines, across town, across ethnicities, across ideologies, across age groups. This requires effort and time, but it will make you a more gentle, more informed human. I love my niche tribe, but there is more to humanity than us. I have a deep and varied friend roster, and I cannot even measure how much they’ve changed me. The diversity of ideas, experiences, and perspectives they have brought into my worldview has absolutely altered my trajectory. If all your friends are basically the same, you don’t even know what you don’t know. Southern Baptist pastor? Go make friends with a gay atheist. Then shut your mouth and do a lot of listening. Now we’re getting somewhere.
  2. Connect your different friends with each other. I have several “groups,” and it is easy to formulate a personality for each one and keep them separate, but it is more fun to throw them all in a bowl and stir. My mix and match policy has spun off whole new friendships. This creates stronger communities that become more likely to expand, include, risk, invite. (This is how our Supper Club started. My friend Jamie was like, “I have these three couple friends that don’t know each other, but I know we’d gel. Do yall want to start a monthly thing?” And miraculously we all said yes and now we are on our third year. Best mix and match ever.)
  3. Work on humility. I don’t know how to help us all with this, but all this is for crap if we don’t figure out how to be humble friends, humble listeners, humble learners. Arrogance is the culprit to so much destruction. We are not always right. And even when we are, we don’t need to act a fool. The longer I live, I crave humility in people almost more than any other trait – in my friends, in my leaders. I am my worst self in the absence of humility. The higher I place God, the easier it is to locate my own station. When He reigns, I am free to just be a forgiven sinner who doesn’t always have to be right or perfectly understood or popular. When I reign, I have much to defend and protect, because how else am I going to stay on top? With God solidly in charge and honored, I am liberated to just be an ordinary girl who loves Jesus and loves people.

Maybe it’s a good time to take a good look at your tribe, lovely as it may be. Is it pretty homogenous? Is there any diversity? Does it sometimes feel like an echo chamber with the same ideas, same grievances, same perspectives, same future? Take a risk. Get out there. Open yourself up to different. Be someone else’s different. You’ll always love your chicken and fries (who doesn’t??), but you just might discover that you also love tikka masala with raita.
Who knew??

I am on an Indian food kick and the end is nowhere in sight.
Thank you for understanding and indulging my near constant references.

by Jen Hatmaker on May 14th, 2014

I’ve been WAITING WAITING WAITING to tell you something awesome and exciting…
Perhaps I’ve made my feelings about Noonday Collection clear, yes? Like how you’ve seen me wearing their jewelry in approximately all the pictures that exist of me. And how my friend Jessica has developed the most amazing social enterprise in which vulnerable women in nine different countries make beautiful, and I do mean beautiful jewelry and bags and accessories, creating sustainable income and transforming their families and communities. And how Noonday also creates amazing job opportunities for the Ambassadors here who get to tell the story.
Women here for women everywhere.
So guess what? This summer, we're fusing fashion and justice as Noonday Collection partners with International Justice Mission for the #StyleForJustice Story Team Trip to Rwanda.

Guess who is going?
Please enjoy this picture of me with my adult braces.
"How could she possibly be cooler?" asked no one.

But guess who else might be going?
Want to join us in Rwanda on an ALL EXPENSE PAID trip as we #StyleForJustice? We are offering the opportunity to include someone we may not yet know to come with us! Tell us why YOU want to join us in winning people's hearts to chase a global vision of economic empowerment and justice, and you could win a spot on our team!
You’ll have to enter and rally your social community to vote for you every day until the contest closes. Ultimately, the person who is able to harness her community and convince them to support her in going will win. We believe this person will end up being a powerful advocate that can then bring her community along with her!
Everything you need to enter is at this site. You have until May 28th to enter and vote! And don't worry, we want as many people to advocate with us as possible, so we'll be giving away a $100 Noonday gift card and a signed copy of IJM Founder Gary Haugen's latest book, The Locust Effect to 10 lucky entrants, chosen at random.

Isn't this the most exciting thing you've ever heard???? YOU COULD COME TO RWANDA WITH US AND MEET THE NOONDAY ARTISANS AND FALL MADLY IN LOVE! We've all been dying to tell you. My fellow storytellers and I are thrilled beyond words. We hope you'll follow our trip and meet the Rwandan women and see all the beauty and goodness and sisterhood that is Noonday Collection, whether you watch from home or snag that one amazing spot on our trip. Here is a little message from the team:

Channeling my dog Randy Jackson, WHO IS IN IT TO WIN IT???? Rally your troops! Win your spot! We cheering you on and cannot WAIT to find out who is coming with us!

by Jen Hatmaker on May 6th, 2014

Here in Texas, it is Teacher Appreciation Week. Because we have no idea how to appropriately thank them for their incredible labor, we say, “Here is this mug and also a gift card to Chili’s. Be blessed.” Everything is inadequate. There isn’t a reward that makes viable sense for the men and women who serve not only as our kids’ educators but their counselors, relationship interventionists, coaches, cheerleaders, therapists, personal tutors, motivational speakers, and occasionally their benevolent wardens.
Teacher Job Description: Dress up like a chicken for weekend talent show.
Stipend: zero dollars.

I wish I could skip into your classrooms and make it rain cash money, travel vouchers, solid gold trophies, and confetti made out of the STAAR test you just endured. Since I can’t actually go all Oprah on you, I’ve made a Wish List of all the things you deserve:
Let’s talk salary. As I said to you last year: “I’ve calculated your earnings by adding your classroom hours, pre- and post-school hours, conferences and phone calls, weekend work, after-hours grading, professional development requirements, lesson planning, team meetings, extracurricular clubs and teams, parent correspondence, district level seminars, and material preparation, and I believe you make approximately 19 cents an hour.”
My wish for you includes basic figuring, reasonable standards, and some simple calculations. I’ve done the math, and teachers should make a minimum of $438,932 a year. This is basic economical science. My spreadsheets tell me that educating an entire generation is among the most important work on earth, and you should make more money than the shot girl at a bar. (She officially makes more than you, but please don’t leave our children to start dealing in jello shots. We will give you all the Chili’s gift cards you can handle.)
I wish for you a better way to evaluate your effectiveness in the classroom than these blasted standardized tests. Obviously, tests created by non-classroom people and legislators are going to nail appropriate benchmarks for the students they don’t teach (sarcasm font), but I can’t help but think you could improve these measuring sticks while in a coma underwater. I wish your pay grade and job security did not depend on a room of nervous children mastering a test that doesn’t necessarily indicate achievement, but rather, tends to be an accurate indicator of the income of the student's parents and his fortunate (or unfortunate) placement in the “norm,” because heaven help the ESL kids, those with special needs, the underresourced, the at-risk, the creatives, and the divergent learners.
I wish you were judged on your amazing creativity, and how that one day, after endless hours of personal attention, a lightbulb clicked over your student’s head and he got it and you gave up a whooping cheer. I wish newspapers skipped publishing your STAAR scores and rather covered that incredible week you engineered an entire city economy for your second graders complete with civic jobs, currency, stations, and budgeting activities. If only you were evaluated on what you do best and what actually matters: teaching kids to love learning, to love books and authors and words, to love numbers, to embrace science, to discover history, to create art, to think critically and practice good citizenship and leadership and resourcefulness and determination. Because THAT is your crowning achievement. We know this, Teachers. We parents understand you hate those multiple-choice scantrons too, but legislators need these measures for their campaigns and who else is going to fund the $1.7 billion testing industry? What are we supposed to do, divert that money to teachers’ salaries?? Now you’re just being silly.
We see you. We see the incredible work you do and most of us couldn’t care less about those test scores. We are standing over here with Chili’s gift cards doing the slow clap, applauding your innovation and dedication. You are amazing at the Real Stuff and we know it.
I wish for you fancy, all-expense trip paid vacations this summer, which you and I know is not “three months off” like the dumb-dumbs say, because by the time you complete all end of the year paperwork, grading, and classroom organization, attend all summer professional development requirements (often voluntary because you WIN THE UNIVERSE), then begin preparing for the start of a new year, your “three months off” looks more like 41 days. So I wish I could whisk you to France and the beach and the mountains and California and cruise ships and Spain where there are no students but lots and lots of bread products and cheese.
I wish you could be reimbursed even half of what you spend on your classroom. I don’t see the shot girl buying Tequila out of her own pocket, amiright?
Teachers, I wish more parents understood that their Precious Child probably isn’t an innocent victim of your unresolved daddy issues and rage disorder. She is in detention for an actual reason, Mom. Kaitlyn-Grace needs to do her homework and close her sassy mouth. Those tears are manufactured. Kaitlyn-Grace should join theater.
Elementary Teachers, I wish you the grace of Jesus and the patience of Job on rainy days. There is not enough Jenga on earth to substitute for outside recess. May God shine upon you. With actual sun. So these children may return after recess smelling like gym socks.
I wish all your committee meetings, grade-level planning sessions, and school-wide in-services could be boiled down to actual productive minutes
, taking your yearly attendance from approximately 795 hours to more like 12. Bless. Good thing Facebook is right there on your phone. God speed.
I wish zero teachers had to instruct all day then go home and oversee their own kids’ homework. That is just asking too much. Let’s call a teacher managing her kid’s science fair project at 7:30pm what it is: a tragedy and impending meltdown. Stop it, universe. She’s done enough.
I wish you could hear all the good things our kids say about you at home. They are singing your song ‘round these parts. We know every funny story you’ve ever told, every interesting teaching approach, every good and loving thing you’ve ever said, and every memorable moment you’ve created. My children think you know everything and we know nothing. If it comes out of your mouth, it is the gospel truth. Please tell our kids to get a job this summer.
I wish you knew how much we love and appreciate you.
You have an incredible legacy in the lives of our kids, and they will still be talking about you 30 years from now. When you cheer them on and go the extra 45 miles and pour your lives out for other people’s children, we cannot possibly thank you enough. You are literally helping to raise the entire next generation. What could be more important?
So we wave our Chili’s gift cards over here, proclaiming that TEACHERS ARE INVALUABLE AND WE OWE YOU A DEBT OF GRATITUDE WE CAN NEVER PAY. Thank you, Teachers. Thank you, thank you, thank you. A hundred cheers and all our love. You matter so much.
Please have a Quesadilla Explosion Salad with a side of Chicken Crispers on us.

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