The Wisdom of Teenagers

Sprinkled Notes by Julie Seedorf Published in the Albert Lea Tribune on September 6, 2018

sprinkled ColumnMany kids these days don’t know the song called “School Days” written in 1907. I’m not that old, but my mom loved the song as she was a teacher. The first verse went something like this: “School days, school days, dear old golden rule days, readin’ and writin’ and ’rithmetic, taught to the tune of the hickory stick.”

Today I think the “hickory stick” would be considered child abuse if I get the meaning right, which to me meant if you didn’t behave you got the hickory stick. During the time I was in school, it wasn’t unusual for a nun to rap a child’s hand with a ruler — I was scared to death to speak in case the ruler would be directed at my hand. I know that is hard to believe since I am a chatty person but my parents at conferences always heard that I needed to speak up, raise my hand and answer questions.

In high school it wasn’t unusual for someone to have to bend over and grab their ankles if they were misbehaving, especially from one teacher. We all loved this teacher, and though it happened I don’t know that any hard feelings linger. It also wasn’t unusual to hear someone had been slapped or berated and yelled at in the principal’s office. And if those things happened, our parents were even tougher on us at home.

It is 2018, and the word on the old people street is that kids have changed. It is harder to teach because kids are more disrespectful, teachers can’t discipline and teenagers are out of control. I dislike when we lump all kids and teenagers together. I happen to love teenagers. They have always been my favorite group to work with. I love their honesty, how they keep us honest and real because they call us adults out occasionally in our behavior, and they do have wisdom beyond their years. Their world is much different than the world I grew up in. Teenagers today deal with social media, broken homes, academic pressure and also problems such as bullying, homelessness, LGBT issues, suicide, and stress.

One morning this past summer, I followed my church youth group’s media page as they traveled to the National Youth Convention in Houston, Texas. I was surprised and impressed with the posts of one young lady called Aly. She was very insightful, so I decided I wanted to know more about her interactions at this convention.

This is the post which caught my eye: 

Have you ever had communion @ mass with over 30,000 people? We have! day 5//we started off the day with Sunday morning mass, where we praised the Lord one last time with the ELCA groups from around the country. On the way to church in the morning, my mom & I met this amazing lady. She was originally born in New Jersey, but now lives in h-town. When my mom asked who she lives here with, the first thing she said with a big smile on her face was “no one, I travel with God”. I instantly knew this chat with her would be one of the most powerful things I will experience on this trip. We started off talking about how we were going to have a church service with over 30,000 young people who have come across the country. The conversation only developed & got deeper from there. Some things she said that has stuck with me are:
“I travel with God’s grace everywhere I go”

“We the people are the church, I take it w me everywhere I go”

“I just enjoy the fight (of life), if you don’t like the fight then you’re not gonna make it here very long”

“Anyone trying to take down your faith is the devil”

“I am the spirit of my dreams”

“You’ve gotta strut because Jesus is the only way in (to heaven)”

These are just a few. To most of you, this may just seem like this was just an ordinary small talk conversation. But it left both my mom & I in tears when my mom told her that I am her daughter, the lady looked @ me & said: “& shes your strength”. It made us both cry. but the EXTREMELY ironic thing about this conversation with this woman was that what she was preaching to us was EXACTLY what the speakers @ the youth gathering the previous night before were saying. The speakers just kept repeating how WE are the church & those were the exact words this woman said to us. She was so into our conversation she ended up missing her stop, but she was so content about it. She said, “That was God’s work, this conversation is happening for a reason”. @ that moment I knew I had seen God already that day. Another thing we told her was that a speaker the previous night had said, “We just need more love in this world”, but this woman told us that there is already PLENTY of love in this world right now, people just need to learn how to share it. This woman will leave an impact on me for the rest of my life



I decided to interview Aly. I asked why she chose to go to this convention. She explained her pastor wanted the youth to start helping people, learn more about themselves and God. Aly’s faith changed during confirmation classes, and her mentor was a big part of that. She learned that talking about faith wasn’t something to be ashamed of.

Aly didn’t know what to expect of the convention. The speakers had an impact. She stated, “There wasn’t a time I didn’t have goosebumps. We had speakers who addressed what we are going through in our lives and touch us every day, things we don’t address in our smaller churches and these problems are our world, too, and it helps us understand what is happening and how God connects us to love others.”

We don’t often have homeless people on the streets of Wells or Albert Lea. They are there but hidden, and that was one of the other takeaways for Aly from being in a larger city.

“People were on the streets with blankets and some had tents, just random people, women, and children, too. I learned to not be scared while doing some mission work. They aren’t bad people. They have suffered some bad circumstances.”

Aly is one teenager who chose to speak out on her learning experiences of that which is different and that which expanded her faith. There was 30,000 youth at this convention. Other churches have conventions and mission trips teaching teenagers of a different world than the one they live in. It expands their humanity, their world and their vision for the future.

When I asked Aly what else helped move her faith forward one of her answers was CRAVE. CRAVE describes itself as a party with a message of purpose. CRAVE was started after a friend of the co-founder died of suicide. CRAVE came to our community this summer.   One of the comments of one of the speakers still stands out in Aly’s mind. The statement was from a former drug dealer and he said, “My first job was being a drug dealer, and now I don’t deal drugs, I deal hope.” It reminded her people are going through struggles in faith, in living and relationships, and there is hope. She hopes to carry that hope into the future.

I like to listen to what teenagers have to say about the way we adults interact with them, so I asked what our small-town churches can do for our teens today. Aly suggested our small-town churches need to address the subjects our teenagers are struggling with today, which were addressed at the ELCA youth gathering.

After listening to not just Aly, but other teenagers, I feel we, as adults, need to address these issues from the pulpit and offer tools and support for them. We need to offer acceptance rather than judgment, so they feel the church is a soft place to fall in times of trouble — a community of all ages to guide them through their challenges. We need to not sweep what is happening in today’s society and what we perceive as large-city problems under the rug and never talk about the elephants in the room. We have the same issues in smaller communities; we may choose to ignore them because of fear or lack of understanding or hoping by ignoring they will go away.  Teenagers are not alien or bad; they are teenagers with vast wisdom — which may be different than an adult but wisdom non-the-less — and they want to be heard.

Teenagers may not always go about getting our attention the right way, but underneath the lashing out are real feelings. We need to see beyond the actions and hear the unspoken words. They are our future.

“We need space to discuss unspoken, uncomfortable dark truths.” —Janet Mock

My Opinion Only

watch-overI had  a conversation with a friend where we have agreed to disagree. This thought came to me this morning. Let’s turn off the news for a short time. There’s only one subject in the news these days. Let’s now get to the topics that aren’t taking up the news anymore such as homelessness, rampant drug use, teen and young people suicides. There are all getting lost in the Trump Twitter wars and misdirecting us from important work. We maybe can’t change what is happening with our words so we need to get back to caring for the people by our actions. And working on things we can do something about such as helping food shelves, working with the Back Pack Programs in schools, helping the homeless find housing and skills, packing for Feed The Starving Children , programs for intervention for youths so the suicide rate goes down, intervention for depression and mental health and drugs, caring for the elderly and more and teaching kids how to have respect for others and this beautiful earth that is God’s Creation. Take your eyes off the news and look around at your neighbor, what you see happening in your city. Rural is different than city. What are the needs of your area? It’s not helping us stressing out and battling each other over the headlines. Stand up for what you believe, step in to change what you can, watch your words because the person we alienate with them might be the person that needs our help or we may need theirs some day. Put the headlines back on the issues such as these. We will get through this divide together but we need to not get lost in the rhetoric and bring our focus back to what is needed, right here, right now, in our communities and with our neighbors.

There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch!

I don’t usually write about controversial things. I like my blogs to be pleasant and funny and inspirational. However, there are times that I wonder and I puzzle and I freak out about things that irritate me. We all have those little things that irritate us and we keep silent because we don’t want to offend anyone. We don’t want to make our friends mad. We tell ourselves it doesn’t matter and it is just us. We are the only ones bothered by some things, small things that are happening.

In the past years I have observed the “something” that irritates me many times. I have expressed my opinion openly at organizations and functions that I have attended and groups that I have volunteered at, many times to be scoffed at and told I am being ridiculous, overly sensitive. Perhaps I am and perhaps I need to let what is irritating me go on into the abyss. I appear to be one of the few that has a problem with donation baskets sitting at a place before the plates, before someone can pick up their meal, at functions that are publicized as free, so that those that do not have the means to pay for a meal can be fed.

This mornings devotion that I read by Max Lucado put into words what I have been feeling for a long time. This is this mornings devotion. I will post the mp3 link at the end of this blog. Here is what he said:

When people are refused access to Christ by those closest to him, the result is empty, hollow religion.  Ugly religion.

Hard to believe?  Yet it happens—even in the church. It happens when a church spends more time discussing the style of its sanctuary than it does the needs of the hungry. It happens when a church is known more for its stance on an issue than its reliance upon God. It happens when we think Jesus has more important things to do than to be bothered by such insignificant people.

Christ thought otherwise. Jesus felt sorry for the blind men and touched their eyes, and at once they could see.  In that moment, of all the people, it was the blind who really saw Jesus.

From And The Angels Were Silent

This devotion hit a nerve inside of me that has been nudging me for a long time. We, in our churches and communities advertise things for free and we say we don’t expect people to pay, but do we? Maybe the devotion was a nudge to write this blog about something that has bothered me for a long time. Why do we have such a hard time giving something away to those who need it? We say we don’t but the suggestion is front and center that nothing is free.

Perhaps we don’t really believe that there are those that can’t pay. Perhaps we don’t really believe that those in need live among us in our communities and our churches because they dress well, are clean, and appear to not have any problems. Can’t we always tell those in need by the way they dress? Do we look at them as the people from “there” and not those “who belong depending on how they dress?” Is there a distinction if you put everyone in a room sharing a free meal?

It’s not always easy attending what is supposed to be a free meal and watching those ahead of you in line dropping in a $10 or $20 bill. If you have pride, you want to avoid that feeling that maybe once, you could do that but at this point, you may need that free meal and it is hard to swallow that pride and walk past that basket.

If I put myself in that person’s shoes and maybe I am too sensitive, but few would know that at times money for food has been scarce in my life and I have looked at that basket and felt bad because I could not contribute. Instead of enjoying the meal I felt ashamed that I was at a point in my life that I have never been at before and I could not afford the $10.00 or the $20.00 to drop in that basket.

I live in a rural area where people have pride and are used to taking care of themselves. We have good, caring people in our communities that want to help. There are times perhaps the only way we can help is to put ourselves in each others shoes. We need look beyond the clothing, what we have always known to be true and get past our ideas that perhaps what we are doing is always the right way.

I have never been homeless. We, for the most part have always been able to pay our bills. I do not know what it is like to walk in those shoes. I have not been hungry, just grocery challenged at times when a free meal was welcomed. Those that read this might not believe that I am telling the truth about being financially challenged at times in our life. We have businesses, we are educated, we live in a nice house, we pay our bills and we might look to the world like we always have it together or maybe we just think we look that way. But we have had those times when our situation was iffy.  That is why I say that we need to look beyond that donation basket at the beginning of a line of people that appear that they can afford to drop in some money.

Rural communities are a wonderful place to live. They take care of each other. People in rural communities have pride and they have always paid their way. We don’t see the homeless on the streets. We don’t have people begging on the streets for money for food. But they are there. Our food shelves are busy. We take a few hours out of our week to pack lunches for the school children. We take a few hours out of our week to open our food shelves and provide meals. We take great pride in the fact that we house food shelves and put on free meals so others can eat. We do that but we don’t really take the time to try and put ourselves in their place and understand what a collection basket possibly conveys to those attending the meal or even having coffee. It is free but it conveys the idea that you should pay.

I am not saying we don’t need donations to fund coffee hour, or the free community meals. We do. There has to be a better way to ask for donations such as a sign that says “If you want to make a donation to this meal, please leave your money  at the basket by the door on the way out. It is less intrusive and more private. No one sees who gives and no one is made to feel inadequate. Just an idea.

How does Max Lucado’s devotion tie into this. This devotion gave me pause in wondering what is important in my life. Do I discuss the sanctuary more than the needs of the hungry? Do I rely on God for help in this area? And do I go along with the thinking that Jesus is more important than being bothered by such insignificant people? And if I do, what can I do to change that?

Writing this blog post is a start.

What can you do?

There is a saying and it is this; “There but for the grace of God, go I”.

Where will you find the donation basket the next time you attend a “free meal”?