My Third No-Mom Mother’s Day

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in Mark Gregston, meaning of life, moms, pain, parenting, tragedy

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This will be my third Mother’s Day without needing to purchase a gift for my mom.  Mom passed three years ago after the deteriorating health of her frail body finally gave up and said it was time for her to “call it quits and head home.” So, my gift to her this Mother’s Day is to acknowledge her influence on me, and hopefully help other moms recognize the inspiration each mom provides their brood.

Moms, even though you might not think you’re having an impact on your child, know that you are because God is using you when you don’t even know it.

Several times over the last few months, I’ve thought about when I sat quietly next to Mom’s hospital bed and watched her sleep to the rhythmic and melodic beat of a heart monitor, waiting for an occasional one sentence dialogue.   Knowing that she was slowly drifting from us, my memory would recall particular photographs and memories of specific events or thoughts that brought to mind the specialness of this kind woman who I got to call “Mom.”

Since her death I still process through the “should haves”, “could haves”, “wish I would haves” and lamented over things I would have done different, and different things I wish we would have done while there was still time to do it. I still think through the hundreds and hundreds messages from people expressing their condolences through sympathy cards, texts, and e-mails.  Most expressed a gratitude for the impact that my mom had on me; seen by others, but never really ever appreciated (and perhaps acknowledged) by her mustached son. Until now.

I came to this conclusion. My mom’s character influenced me two ways; through her presence, and through her listening ear. Because of those two things, her character and life of service spoke volumes into my life, even though I really never thought about it while she was alive.

As I reflected on the 57 years I knew her, I realized that she was present at some pretty significant points in my life. She was there when I was born in Midland, Texas (a given). She was at there at the Beach Boys concert in Tulsa where I committed my life to Christ. She drove my then girlfriend Jan, and I to our first date the summer of my 9th grade year; a Led Zeppelin concert no less! She came to my high school swim meets, my graduations, and our wedding. She was the first one I told when found out that Jan and I were pregnant with, and became a first-time grandma with our daughter, Melissa. She was at each of our kid’s weddings.

She showed up at significant times.

Here’s the second thing she always did. She listened. Whenever I talked, she listened. Probably got tired of hearing me ramble, but she always listened.

Showing up and listening. Two things that my mom did well. And by doing those two things, she indeed had a profound influence on me. Her life of service was truly more “caught than taught”.

Mom was a volunteer for various organizations most of her life; Red Cross, hospital auxiliary, Girls Scouts, homeless shelters, thrift stores for the needy, and Boy Scouts. All volunteer; all a giving of herself to others.

Surprisingly I’ve lived my life the same way.   I’m amazed that a mother’s “showing up and listening”, coupled with God’s faithfulness to mold and shape lives into vessels of His peace, works so well together.

I also realized some other things about my mom. I never heard her quote Scripture. I never heard her get up at church and speak. I never heard a Bible story come from her lips. I never saw her reading her Bible; never saw her pray. And she still had an amazing impact on my life.

She gave her life to people and was married to my dad for 62 years. Two pretty good lessons that are better “caught” than “taught.”

So, this Mother’s Day, I want you moms to sit back, relax, quit being so critical of yourself, and know that regardless of what you have done or haven’t done in the life of your child, God is still going to use you to influence the life of your child. Your child is “catching” more than you know. And one day, your child will be thankful for a mom’s role in his or her life, just like I am today.

Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers who are being used by God in ways that you don’t even know, to influence the life of your kids. God bless you all!

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Mark

(My mom’s last words to me? She woke up from a deep sleep, smiled and looked me in the eyes and said “Mark, your mustache is so white”. It was her way of making sure a smile would come to my face every time I think of our last time together.)

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I Can’t Fix Your Teen!

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in Communications, consequences, conversation, encouragement, Finding purpose, God's Will

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Have you seen the marketing from publishers promising parents of troubled teens that they have something that will fix their kid?

You know – the commercials that say things can be miraculously transformed, or nearly perfect? A quick fix by the end of the week? Try mood therapy – it can fix it an angry teen. Try addiction therapy, because it can fix an addict. Buy nutrition therapy, it will fix a brain, and start playing Sudoku, because it will fix your memory, and then life will be perfect!

Expert as I might be in dealing with troubled teens, you will never, ever, hear me promise that I can fix your kid. You will never hear me promise that treatment of any kind is the way to fix another human being, or that life will ever be nearly perfect.   The truth is, I can’t fix your kid, and as a parent, neither can you. Living to fix a child will cause you to miss their heart with every time you try.

Just to be clear, I’m not knocking therapy, or therapists. I’m not dissing good nutrition, or taking medication if you need it, or playing Sudoku if it helps. These are effective ways to treat symptoms. That’s not the point I’m making. Instead I’m addressing the mindset that as sinful, messed up people, we can apply a simple fix-it mentality to human beings. Frankly, I think it’s stupid to even consider it. And, I just don’t see our attempts to fix a human being or live perfectly as a principle found in scripture either.

Let me give you some examples: Despite all he tried to do for him, Abraham couldn’t fix Lot. Despite all God promised her, Sarah couldn’t fix Hagar. In every attempt to sooth and befriend him, the effect was temporary, and David couldn’t fix Saul.  Perhaps the greatest example is God himself. Look at what he did for Adam and Eve in giving them the perfect life, perfect marriage, perfect environment, and perfect relationship with him, and it still didn’t fix things for them. And even though they had perfection, they still chose to rebel.

Scripture teaches that man is fearfully and wonderfully made, and that human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. Those are truths packed with layer upon layer of meaning – and not the least of which is that God made man with some of his own qualities. Like God, human beings have free will, creative energy, and the power of choice. But we are not perfect.   We are saints because we are sinners, redeemed by a Savior.

So when a teen exercises his humanity, and the power to choose the wrong thing, you cannot fix it. As much as you’d like to, parents cannot make a teen’s choices for him. A dad cannot choose for his daughter when it comes to whether or not to have sex with a boy. A mom cannot choose for her son about whether or not to view porn. Parents cannot choose for their teen never to drink, or smoke, or try drugs. Does that mean parents are powerless, and shouldn’t try? Of course not!

God imbued parents with the authority to train a child in the way he should go, so that when he is old he will not depart from the goodness of life with God. But when a parent’s plans for their child go awry, when a child steps over every boundary line drawn, and when every attempt to fix a kid doesn’t work – change your mind. Realize – you cannot fix them.   I teach parents to set boundaries, create rules, and enforce the consequences. Doing so will teach a teen in making better choices. But when they blow it completely, and have damage in their life, fixing it becomes less important than redeeming it.

You can’t fix it, but you can be part of redeeming it. Just as God put a plan in place to redeem mankind through sending us a Savior, parents can be part of a redemptive process, and put a plan in place that allows for redemption in the life of their troubled teen.

Redeeming looks, acts, and thinks differently than fixing. Redemption means coming alongside, and carrying the burden together in a new way. Redemption puts anger aside, and speaks with gentleness and humility. Redemption looks at the heart with compassion. Redemption understands that there are always consequences to bad choices – always. But it doesn’t mean all is lost.

Since perfection is not possible in anyone’s life, failure is guaranteed for everyone, and we all make choices whose outcomes cannot be changed, isn’t it better to live as though the goal in parenting is redemption, instead of perfection?

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A Special Message from Mark: Our Families in Crisis Conferences

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in family conflict, Mark Gregston, parenting communications, parenting style

For years, my focus was dedicated to helping families whose teens were spinning out of control at a time that my only resource was to send their child to come live with me at our residential counseling program called Heartlight.

As I started the radio programs, began writing books, and initiated all the resource opportunities for parents, I realized that we had a gaping hole in our offerings to parents. That “hole” was the lack of options for parents when their parenting challenges went far beyond what a book can offer, yet the testing of their abilities by their teen didn’t warrant sending their child to live at “a Heartlight”.

So, we created an option. A three day retreat where folks came to Texas and are able to spend time with me and our staff for three days of instruction, counsel, relationships to develop of a new parenting plan to take home and change the direction of their family.

It’s called the Families in Crisis Conference, and we hold them 8 times a year. The positive responses by families have been amazing. And we know this. That 95% of the families that attend, never have to send their child off to a program. It’s so successful that we now ask all the families who call Heartlight looking at the placement of their child into the program, to first consider coming to a Families in Crisis Conference.

These conferences are limited to 40 people. Single moms get to attend free. And its three days packed with opportunities to discuss family issues and meet with a counselor on our staff and come up with a new “plan”.

If you or someone you know is struggling through your child’s adolescent years and my books and radio programs aren’t providing the answers you are looking for (yes, even my books can’t meet everyone’s needs), this conference might be for you.

For more information about the Families In Crisis Conference, watch the video below, or visit the website. And to reserve your spot at our next conference, please call 903.668.2173. The conference is $250 a person, and does not include lodging. But, you will have the greatest steak you’ve ever eaten at my home for one of the night’s dinners.

It’s a relaxed relational time. And I look forward to spending it with you should you need help for your teen. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call.

Hopeful,

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Mark Gregston

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Learn more about registering for the Families in Crisis Conference by clicking here.

 

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God Hasn’t Abandoned Your Teen!

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in boundaries, Communications, God's Will, maturity, parenting, parenting communications, parenting style, struggling teens

God at Work Here

Road construction can be frustrating. What was once a four-lane highway becomes a one-lane pit stop, as maintenance crews tear up the asphalt. With jack-hammers, dump trucks, back-hoes, cranes, and sometimes shovels and picks, groups of men in hardhats slash and hack and break apart the familiar and comfortable road you’re used to traveling on. While the construction is happening, you’re involuntarily resigned to idling in your car, seething.

But it’s not like this break in your commute came out of nowhere. For miles back, the road crews had placed a sequence of orange cones, gigantic markers, and bright flashing signs that declared “Men at Work!”

Mom and Dad, can I suggest that God puts up those same signs in the life of your teen? I know that sometimes we feel stuck watching our teenage son or daughter make mistakes, wander off the path, and cause delays and distractions that make coming and going incredibly difficult. All we can see is the chaos and destruction in our kid’s lives. And we may have missed all the signs reading “God at Work here!”

Demolition Can Bring About Transformation

Maybe your daughter came home high after an all-night party. Perhaps your eighteen-year-old calls you to come bail him out from the county jail. When our teens blow it badly, often as parents we focus on the devastation that bad decisions bring. But many times demolition brings transformation.  I know that this is true in my own life.  And I believe it can be true in yours. See, God cannot build something new into someone’s life without starting from the ground up. And this may mean He is going to allow some events that will bring us right down to our very foundation.

I had one student who, as a result of a party lifestyle and rebellion, got pregnant when she was sixteen.  Caught in her mistakes, she was forced to have a difficult conversation with her parents, and reevaluate her decisions.  With the support of her family, the young lady did the right thing; gave up her beautiful child for adoption, got serious counseling, and is now a growing and mature adult.  I asked her thoughts on that tough time in her life some years later, and she said, “Mark, getting pregnant was the best thing that could have happened to me.  It was a wake-up call, and for the first time in my life I had to deal with my mistakes and learn responsibility.  And giving up that baby was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.  So now I want my next baby to be the result of a happy marriage.

I could tell many more stories about former students who have written me letters and e-mails to say that their DUI was the best thing that happened to them, or that running away from home changed their lives.  It was not because these events were good things at the time, but looking back, they gained a new perspective about the struggles they faced, and how their choices shaped their futures.  Those trials and troubles gave them a reason to find help, and served as a reminder of the consequences of their actions.  What seemed devastating at the time, actually cleared the way for a new life.

Look for the Big Picture

Understand that what is happening in the life of your child right now is not the whole story.  God is forming a “bigger picture” which includes many more people than just you or your child.  And the scope of that picture goes far beyond the pain of the here and now. I know that it’s hard to look at the bigger perspective when you hurt for your child now.  But there’s a lot more going on than you can see from your current vantage point of concern for your child.  It doesn’t mean your struggle is any less difficult, but remembering the big picture can give you hope for the future.  Use this difficult time as an opportunity to deepen your relationship with your child, and you’ll shorten the amount of time that your child remains in a state of disarray. Galatians 6:9 encourages us “not [to] become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

When we see our teen make a mistake, engage in reckless behavior, and start walking down a dangerous road, we normally panic and try desperately to “fix” our kid.  But that is just not possible. You can fix the boundaries, fix the consequences, and maybe even change the environment, but you’ll never fix your child.  Only God can change your child’s heart.  Instead, focus on what you can fix in your parenting, and get out of God’s way as He does what He needs to do in the life of your teen.

God’s plan for your child isn’t going to change just because you do not see it.  The best thing you can do is try to understand what He’s doing as he works in the life of your teen. That understanding comes through prayer; prayer to understand His will and prayers of submission accepting whatever God needs to do both in your life, and the life of your child. The older I get, the more I understand that prayer is meant to help us get in line with and understand God’s perfect will, versus trying to influence or change it.

Hopefully you can already see how God has worked in your own past, and maybe you have even seen glimpses of God’s plan for your future. But often, it’s most difficult to believe that God is involved in what is happening today.

So, pray.  And keep a daily diary; it will help you maintain perspective.  Look for ways that God is working in your teen’s life, and record those; being sure to thank Him as you see His hand at work. Trust God to finish the work He has begun in your teen. Depend on His promises to remain true.  God, the Creator, is fully capable of fashioning a new life and a new relationship between you and your child out of the wreckage we see.  He’ll amaze you, as he does me, as He creates abundant life and perfection out of dust and confusion.

Don’t Give Up Hope

I remember a particular father who brought his daughter into the residential program here at Heartlight.  His eyes filled with tears as he spoke to me about the struggles and the problems that his daughter was experiencing.  Frankly, it was one of the worst stories of a troubled teenager that I had heard in quite awhile.  My heart ached for this hurting father as he looked for a bit of encouragement.

Just tell me that there is hope in this,” he told me.

I remember distinctly looking him in the eye and saying with complete confidence, “There’s always hope.”  This wasn’t a worn-out cliché I was dragging out.  The reason I could tell this dad there is hope even in the mess he sees is based on the character of our Heavenly Father who promises to finish what He starts. God is not going to leave the job half-done. What God starts, He completes. And that includes your teen! “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living,” says Psalm 27:13.

Even though they’re a lot older now, I can remember the first kids I counseled when I started this ministry.  There were times when I thought, These kids are hopeless! There’s absolutely no way they can turn it around!  But these same kids are now healthy, happy adults with strong marriages and good families.  The time that their parents, the Heartlight team, and most importantly, God, worked and invested into their lives brought about a healthy and improved future.  After countless examples, I’ve learned that though the outlook might seem bleak and hopeless, there is always hope, because God is still at work!

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Helping Your Child Own Their Spiritual Journey

Written by Mark Gregston. Posted in encouragement, Finding purpose, God's Will

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Statistics show that 85% of kids today are leaving the church upon graduation from high school.  When I was a teen, I wasn’t brave enough to say: “I don’t wanna to go to church today.”  For today’s teen, leaving the church is normal – but not necessarily helpful.  Teens today are exposed to more opportunities and options in the kind of church they want to go to.  And when they begin to put into practice their developing desire for independence, you might need to be prepared.

Building Independence

Every parent wants their child to grow up and become a successful adult; I know these parents.  They’re great parents.  But as our kids grow up, they begin to exercise more independence.  How we respond to them, especially in this area of going to church, will affect their decisions.  As we raise our kids, there are different signs and little signals that show us that our goal of helping our children become independent, is working – this is one of them.  Even if you don’t like the idea of your child not going to church with you, it’s a good sign.  It shows us that they are starting to think on their own instead of just following us.

Parents, I understand that we’re dealing with an issue that’s very important to you.  The real issue is faith in God, not going to church.  I so often hear parents say “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” and then in the next breath say to their kids “as long as you live under my roof, you will live by my rules.”  Does this sound familiar?  To tell you the truth, it unnerves me a bit.  You need to sit back and evaluate your values, beliefs and goals for your child.  If what you are telling them is contradictory, then you are going to be making your uphill battle even harder.

The Bigger Picture

Ultimately, you are helping your child form a belief system – not just a habit of going to church.  So, if your child can choose the church that he wants to go to, then you can help him achieve your own goals for your children.  Your goals may be for his spiritual training; if he can reach those goals on his own, it may be better to have him go to a different church that meets his interests, while keeping him connected to the church.

Let’s keep the kids involved in something.  I may lose the opportunity to sit in church with them, but I may gain something far greater in having them part of something that will help them throughout their life.  The bigger issue is their spiritual health.

Responding When Your Child Chooses Something Else

I would encourage you to pre-meditate your response when your teen tells you that he doesn’t want to go to church.  Are you going to allow your child to make choices in his life?  Even if you know they won’t make the choice that you want?  Just because you like the idea of your family doing things together, doesn’t mean it’s wrong for your teen to desire something different.  This is a season of independence you need to embrace in order to hold onto the bigger picture – faith in God.

As a parent, I want to help my child make good choices.  If they make choices that you don’t agree with, you may need to reign in the choice they are allowed to make.  Allow them the opportunity to make a choice, but provide for their training as well.  This way, instead of choosing not to go to church at the age of 13 or 14, you give your child the option to go to one of two or three churches.  They keep the ability to make a choice and have control over their lives, and you still help guide them toward faith.

At some point, your teen may reject any choice you give them.  But teens send out signals in advance of coming to this point, so you need to pick up on these clues.  If they’re falling asleep, writing notes during church services, or are more interested in eating after church than being part of church, you may need to address their actions.  If you see these things coming up, pull your teen aside and talk to him about it.  The issue could be something other than the church itself.  By talking to your child, you can help determine the motivation behind the behavior.

Make sure that your plan gives some opportunity and flexibility that reaches your goals for them.  As they get older, if your child chooses not to go to any church at all, keep your relationship with them.  Don’t shame them in the process or make sarcastic remarks.  These things will show your child that you are disappointed in them; instead, let God work it out and bring them back in His time.

You can hear us talk on this subject by listening to our radio program.  It’s called, Parenting Today’s Teens.  Next time, expert Chap Clark shares what he has seen in the lives of families that are facing this issue.  He’ll also share strategies he has found helpful for maintaining that relationship and allowing your teen to define his relationship with Christ.  Chap has been with Young Life for years and is now the Vice Provost at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California.  We will also talk, as always, with a teen who has experienced this issue in his life.

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