Sunday, November 18, 2012

Does the 'teen' contradict the 'mom' in teen mom?

Teen pregnancy is, no doubt, a growing epidemic in this country today.  While statistics say that these girls are too young to handle this great responsibility, are more than likely to not finish school, will not stay with the baby's father and are more likely to have children who end up in jail or, in turn, become teen parents themselves... does not mean the entire stereotyped group WILL succumb to these statistics.  I use my title as 'teen mom' in a past tense.  That is something I've gone through, not who I am.  I am a grown woman who did graduate high school with my class, has since married (the father of my baby) and has had two more children.  We are a close family who make an honest living, own a nice home, raise our children with high morals and value and are respected by the people who know us well.
This subject, nevertheless, is still dear and close to my heart.
The biggest and most important part of growing up is learning from the experiences we grow through.  As teens, there are many misconceptions in our behavior.  Who hasn't once cheated on a test, sneaked out of the house, lied to their parents or have engaged in even the smallest sexual act?  Although these surely do have consequences, they are quickly forgiven and forgotten by others.  Lets say, however, that the world ostracized you for life over that one decision.  What if you had to wear a sign that always labeled you a cheater or a liar or a harlot - would that automatically define who you are?  Even if it just happened once and you've learned from it, are you stereotypically in the same rank as smugglers, launderers, robbers and prostitutes?  My bet is most of you would answer 'no' and think that this comparison is ridiculously exaggerated and over the line but to the people who condemn and judge young mothers only because of their age are doing the exact same thing.
The consequence of teen pregnancy is very visible and cannot be forgotten but that consequence is also a gift from God.  It takes a special young woman to step up and embrace that responsibility with all of her heart, body and soul along with the blood, sweat and tears.  God never gives us more than He knows we can handle.  No one is completely and truly ready for a child whether you're 36, 26 or 16.  For the girls that have risen to this and have wrapped their lives around this gift... they deserve nothing less than our support and respect.
For the girls that have fallen into the statistics, all we can do is pray for you and hope that one day you'll see the greatest gift that can be given is already in front of you.  These statistics are out there in this world but are not 100% and could be applied to certain mothers of any age.
Being a mom at a young age does not mean that your life is over but it has been taken into another direction and a path that God has paved for you.
So... does the 'teen' contradict the 'mom' in teen mom?  Only if we allow it to...  Lets open our eyes and see each other for our strengths and how we can overcome.  Lets take the 'teen' out of the equation and see them as who they are and what they've worked hard to accomplish.  Am I considered a teen mom still after 17 years?  Don't stereotype, don't criticize, don't judge.  We are all created equal and if God has blessed you with a child(ren), he has given us all the same name... 'Mom'.

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, 'let me take the speck out of your eye', when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."
Matthew 7:1-5

Friday, February 3, 2012


"Got any spare change?"  The older, scruffy man asked my sister and me as we made our way out of the gas station one chilly night last fall.
We had arrived only minutes earlier to see him rummaging through the trash cans by the building and near the gas pumps pulling out anything that could be of use to him.  He had on only mere rags and a thin coat.  His disheveled hair and long beard, not to mention how filthy he appeared, told us he may have been on the streets far too long.
Being from a small town with only a handful of businesses and one traffic light, it was surely a rare sight indeed.
After making our purchases, we made our way to the car with our hands full of food and drinks that we thought we couldn't afford.  He leaned up against the wall and looked at us with painful eyes.  As I fearfully averted my eyes from him, my sister smiled and said 'hello' as she walked past.
"Got any spare change?"  he asked as we climbed in the warm car.
Without a second thought, my sister grabbed a container of change she kept in her center cup holder and handed it to the stranger.
“God Bless you!” he said with gratitude.  “I hope someone helps you someday.”
“Many have helped me, sir.  That’s why it’s important for me to help others.”  My sister replied.
As I sat in the passenger seat of the car with a warm sub sitting in my lap, I felt guilt that my fear of strangers prevented me from looking this human being in the eyes.  I felt pride for my sister that she stepped up to do what I didn’t.
“I could have given him my sub.”  I said, shamefully as she got back into the car.
We both looked at one another then up to the man who had made his way halfway across the empty parking lot.  My sister pulled the gear shifter back and reversed, back into drive to head for the exit.  Only seconds had passed to do this but when we got to the exit, we searched for one last glimpse of him but he was nowhere to be found.  It was as if he vanished into thin air.  How could he have made it out of sight by now?  Even if he was heading to a house, he would not have had time to make it.  He was walking away from the gas station, so he didn’t have time to turn and go in without us noticing.
We looked in every direction but all we saw were empty streets.
“Where did he go?”  We both said to one another.
Never before and never since then have I seen this stranger.

My thoughts were taken back to when I was six years old.  My mother had taken me, along with my four sisters, to an amusement park.  We spent the day taking in all the attractions this park had to offer.  As we made our way through the children oriented sights, something caught my eye.  A big treehouse.  Not just a little house sitting on the tree branch but a house made from the entire inside of the tree.  It had the big brown trunk and green leafy top with the staircase leading up to the pink and white door with windows wrapped all around with pink panes and a blue glow from inside.  I also saw the bright red school building with an arch of vines and flowers at the entrance.  “The Bear Country School” - It was the Berenstain Bears!
Like a moth to a flame, I made my way over to check out the buildings, the waterfall, the playground... it was a sight for a fascinated six year old.  I snapped out of my amazement as someone bumped into me.  I suddenly realized that I was alone.  A little girl in a strange place without a familiar face in sight.  I didn’t know which way I came, I didn’t know which way to go.  I put my face into my hands and began to weep uncontrollably.
“Are you alright my dear?”  A feeble voice came from above me with a gentle hand on my shoulder.
I looked up to see an elderly woman with white hair and a wrinkled face staring down at me with gentle, concerned eyes.
“I’m lost.”  I said, still crying.
“I’ll help you find your mommy.“  She said grabbing my tiny hand and leading me to the small Berenstain Bear souvenir shop.
I suddenly heard the soft ring of my mothers voice from behind.  Still holding the woman’s hand, I watched my mother running toward me.  “Are you ok?  Where did you go?”  She rambled on in a worried tone.
“I wanted to see the bears but I got lost but this lady helped me...”  I said cutting off as I turned to see that my hand was empty.
“What lady?”  My mom asked looking around.
“The old lady with white hair.”  I stated, scouring the area for the lady who had helped me.
She had vanished.  I could still feel the warmth of her hand in mine but my mom had never seen the woman and I could not spot her either.  Where had she gone?  Why could she have not stayed long enough for us to thank her for taking such good care of me?
Growing up, I thought of this woman often and she will not be forgotten.

All of these events were brought back to my memory and attention after last weekend when I was making sure an acquaintance got home alright.  I had just met this woman that night through a friend of a friend.  I didn’t know her well but after she had become quite upset throughout the evening, she insisted on walking home.  Although I understood her wanting to walk, I couldn’t allow myself to watch her wander off into the night alone, so I joined her.  Although, she insisted I go back, I promised her that I was not going to leave her until I knew she was safely home.
As the newly falling snow whipped around us, we crossed a street and scurried past a local factory.  Two people rushed out of the side door and blew past us as if break time from their third shift couldn’t have come fast enough.  As we passed the door they had come out of, I saw a woman leaning her hands up against the wall moving one foot on top of the other, then that foot on top of the other and so forth.  I glanced down to see that she was completely barefoot.  She had a coat on and seemed appropriately dressed for the weather except for the fact she was missing not only socks but shoes as well.  Her eyes met mine as I kept walking, noticing the bare toe and heel outlines in the snow.  I stopped and looked back at her as we, once again, locked eyes.
As I stood there in my own confusion, I looked back at the woman I promised to walk all the way home.  Completely unaware that I had stopped walking, she was already a half block ahead of me.  I felt torn.  So many questions rummaged through my head.  I couldn’t help both of these women.  I had to choose.  I wanted to give this shoeless woman my shoes and then I could have caught up with the other woman, as I saw her slipping further and further away.  I knew the fragile state she was in at that moment.  I knew nothing about what was going on with the lady with no shoes.  In my confused and somewhat rushed state, I ran to catch up with the woman I was walking home.
Once again, I looked back to the shoeless woman.  She was gone.
Who was this woman?  Why was she out at night, in the snow with no shoes?  Did she work at the factory? -- with no shoes?  Did she have to suddenly flee home from an abusive parent or husband?  A sudden sinking feeling came over me... Had I made the right choice?  I felt, I knew... that the answer was... no.

From a logical point of view, it’s easy to figure or assume that the scruffy man at the gas station was around but out of sight.  He could have been standing near a tree, he could have been sitting on the curb, he may have even gone inside the gas station even though the time couldn’t have made that possible.
The woman at the amusement park could have turned a corner or gone inside the souvenir shop.  She could have just been a nice old lady who wanted to help a distraught little girl.
The woman out in the snowy night with no shoes on could have just been ... well, I don’t even know how to logically explain that one.
I do believe there are people out there who truly need our help and support.  I do believe there are people out there with hearts of gold who are willing to reach out and help because they know it‘s the right thing to do.  Those people give me hope that this world has not lost it’s sense of love and brotherhood.
I cannot help but to wonder, however, how many times God’s angels descend down onto Earth.  Not only to help us but to see who would help them.  A test of good will... if you will.
It makes me wonder how many times we are tested on one of greatest commandments (“The second is this: ’Love your neighbor as yourself’.  There is no commandment greater than these.” - John 12:31).

So, the next time you see a homeless man, give him some change (or your sub sandwich), if you see a lost child, help them find their mommy, if you see a woman without shoes, give her yours.  It’s the little things we do that can change another person’s life and you never know... you could be helping your angel.

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' Matthew 25:40

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Me, I'd like you to meet... me. (A story of self discovery)

I thought I'd return to the world of blogging by sharing a personal story about an issue I've faced most of my life and up until a year ago, never truly realized it.
My very abusive father deserted us just before I entered middle school.  Although sad and feeling abandoned, it was somewhat a relief.  However, whether it was that or the delicate age of being a tween... I went on a mission to find myself- through other people.  The easiest group to get into in the 6th grade was what we called the 'stoner' group.  All you had to do was act 'bad', skip class every so often and smoke cigarettes (which I had found a way to do so convincingly without inhaling - big accomplishment since we were all only 11 years old).  I had made some friends in that group but they never expressed the qualities of true, meaningful relationships I seemed to be searching for.  At the end of the year, I was -in turn- hazed out of the group by being picked on and even physically kicked.  I was heartbroken even though I knew that is where I didn't belong.
The next year, I entered 7th grade alone.  I had no friends and decided to continue the year that way... a loner.  Everybody seemed to leave me be and that's how I liked it.  "I don't need anyone."  seemed to be the thought of getting through... by the end of the year, however, alone is what I certainly was - and I felt the repercussions of it.  I wanted some friends desperately.
I made the decision to try to have as many friends in the 8th grade as I possibly could, so I transformed my mind and image to become what we called the ‘preps’.  I had big hair and a lot of poorly applied make up, tried out for cheerleading and hung out with the cool people.  I attended dances and basketball games and finally felt ‘in’.  I should have been happy, then, right?  I wasn’t.  Something was still missing within myself.
During my first two years of high school, I had a couple of good friends but they all seemed to be short lived only lasting that specific school year.  I began to wonder... “what’s wrong with me?”
The conscious decision with a little help from purposely rebelling against my mom led me to a path of thinking... “If I pretend to be like who ever I am with, there is no reason why that person wouldn’t like me... after all, nobody really hates themselves.”  This was, unknowingly to me at that time, a destructive path.
The summer before my 11th grade year, I met my boyfriend and carelessly became pregnant after only 3 months.  I went through the rest of my junior year so obviously pregnant and endured the turned down and shaking heads, pointing and staring of my teachers and peers, even family.
My original plan to just act like everyone else went into overdrive the moment I had my son.  I had just turned 17 but the overwhelming feeling consumed me that I didn’t want to be viewed as a careless teen, I wanted, needed to be viewed as a responsible adult, a mother.  I, now, had more than ever to prove to everyone.
I graduated with my class in May of 1997 and moved on to work odd, but full time jobs to get out on my own.  My plan to make everyone like me continued except by now it was more natural and more on an unconscious level.  It had become ‘me’.  That’s who I was now.  When I got married and had 2 more children, it strengthened even more.  I was more reserved around the reserved, goofy around the goofy, brash around the brash, wholesome around the wholesome, giving around the giving -- a self proclaimed chameleon.
However, the way I was leading my life started surfacing and biting me whenever I would get two or more people together that had the oppositely strong personalities.  Having my quiet Christian friends around my out spoken family... or even hanging out with my two sisters, one who is more sophisticated and reserved while the other, off the wall goofy without a care in the world of what people thought of it.  I appreciated and respected the personalities of all these people - the problem was... I didn’t know who to act like without the other judging me.  It got so bad that I avoided any of these situations.
Even through my years in church and a local bible study, it never occurred to me what I was actually doing.  I felt an emptiness inside that people just couldn’t fill.  I had so many things to share with others but fear of judgment or just having one person not like me prevented me from contributing things that God had put me through to help others.
The last few years seemed to crumble around me with the very complicated and bitter divorce of my in-laws, which seemed to involve us all, relationship and family struggles and several deaths in the family.  Although, these times tend to weaken us... something woke up inside of me.  I realized one day, all of these years I pretended to be like everyone else, I had lost something great... myself, my individuality.  I didn’t know who I was.  I realized something grander... that emptiness that I had felt over the years which I had tried to fill with people was never filled for a reason.  It WAS acceptance, love, feeling wanted and needed that I was longing for but I was looking for it in the wrong places.  The only one that could fill that void is Jesus Christ.
This revelation struck me.  I suddenly felt like an infant having to start over with my life.  I decided to start with my personal relationship with God.  All of these struggles that had plagued my life, child abuse, teen pregnancy, my less than perfect marriage, how I’ve chosen to raise my children and the personality of mine that wanted to shine through because of all of this... had been hidden from others to protect myself from not being liked.  They were actually a gift from God.  He put me through these struggles not to weaken me but to strengthen me and to prepare me to help others when He felt the time was right.
I am me and I now know that I cannot please everyone.  God loves me for who I am and wants me to be just that.  Although some may still turn their noses down on me and wrongfully judge me, God wants me to focus on Him and what he has bestowed upon me to help others.  If we all can shine and help even one person get through something we have gone through, that overthrows the five, ten or hundreds of people who do not agree and may form their own judgment upon you.
God is our only judge and He wants our faith, our trust, our friendship and our love.  If we give all of ourselves to Him, everything else will follow.

1 Peter 3: 13-17
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?  But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.  “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.”  But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.