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

Karma, Relics, History and a Class Reunion

Something About Nothing by Julie Seedorf printed in the Albert Lea Tribune the week of 8/27/2018

Last week when I wrote about my class reunion, it hadn’t yet happened. I thought I would report a little more on a fun night for those of you who can’t decide whether they should attend the event from their high school. It might change your mind.

class picture 1968The class of 1968 of Wells-Easton High School had a good turnout and people attended from as far away as California and Florida. Some we hadn’t seen since we graduated 50 years ago. But at this reunion, I felt as if something extraordinary happened that only the universe could put together.

Friday before the reunion, my friend Vicki and I received a message with a picture from a classmate’s wife who resides in Missouri and was not attending the reunion. The picture was a class ring with the year 1968IMG_0537 on it along with the initials WHS and BL. She had seen the picture on Facebook posted by a friend of a friend. She did not know the person posting but thought perhaps the ring might belong to someone in our class, although they could not think of who had those initials.

I read the message and immediately thought of my classmate Brad Lines who lives in California and who I have contact with on Facebook. I messaged him the picture and question in the post: Does this ring belong to anyone in Minnesota? It was found somewhere in Minnesota.

Brad messaged me back. He thought it was his ring. The ring was lost 50 years ago at a camp in Paynesville. He called the woman. She lived in Paynesville.

The interesting part of this was that he and his wife, Jill, were just about to hop on a flight to Minnesota to attend our reunion. They had decided not to attend but changed their mind the previous week and booked a flight. When they arrived in Minnesota they drove to Hutchinson, met the party who found the ring and made it back in time to join a happy hour that afternoon with our class. After 50 years, he was again wearing his class ring — on another finger because as you well know as we age our body tends to grow, meaning our fingers expand in size.

We also found out on class reunion weekend we were history in our museum. The Wells Depot Museum was honoring the class of 1968. We found our pictures (they had my picture from kindergarten in a showcase along with three other kindergarten classmates, which were better than some of the class pictures I wouldn’t have wanted seen), articles from our time in school and letter jackets, GAA shirts, articles of our accomplishments, etc. Whoever thought we would be museum pieces, although I must say I am already officially an antique. A ruler from my dad’s shoe store with my writing and my name and grade three on it were found in an antique shop in Iowa a few years ago. Antique store plus museum must make me a relic. I won’t add my classmates to that designation as I don’t want to offend them and risk the wonderful comradery we found at the reunion.

We savored the moments we spent together and hoped our 17 classmatesIMG_0558.JPG who have passed were having a heavenly reunion with each other, too, as we felt their presence when candles were lit and moments of silence were observed to honor them.

It couldn’t have been more fitting for Brad to get his class ring back the same weekend of our reunion. It filled us all with amazement, gave us more to ponder about the universe that keeps calling us back together. We reminisced with those who used to be our best friends, became better friends with those who were acquaintances in high school and because we all had a good time decided to not wait for another five years to meet again. We are going to call it a 70th birthday party. In two years we hit the magic age and what better way than to celebrate it with those who shared the beginning years of our lives?

Our class motto was: “Those conquer who believe they can.”  We believed, we conquered and 50 years later we are still going strong. img_0574.jpg

Note: I have been the Monday columnist for the Albert Lea Tribune since around 2005. That is so many columns. I am delighted they want to keep me on, and so I will be moving to Thursdays. It is also a time to rename my column Sprinkled Notes, which is what I use for my blog, which can be located at sprinklednotes.com.

Reunions Set Us Free

My column from the Albert Lea Tribune August 20, 2018 ©️Julie Seedorf

Julie Seedorf: Let go of perceptions and look beyond words

By Julie Seedorf

Email the author

Published 8:30 pm Sunday, August 19, 2018

Something About Nothing by Julie Seedorf

By the time you read this, my 50th class reunion will be one for the books. I have learned so much about people since I graduated in the class of 1968 those many years ago. I am a different person than I was then.

I am not so self-centered, although you may disagree with me because we don’t always see ourselves the way others see us. I hurt more because I care more about others. Back then, the hurts were more about wrongs done to us, perceived or otherwise.

I have learned those we thought were stuck-up — yes the term back then — were shy, making it hard for them to put themselves out there for fear of being ridiculed or hurt and it was scary for them to make the first move in a friendship.

I have learned those who were loud and blustery, quick to wound with words to others, were covering insecurity, and that was their way of compensating and trying to feel better about themselves. I suspect they were walled up and hurting inside or were not in touch with what was really behind the name-calling and attacks on others.

I have learned those who kept their sexual orientation secret were miserable in a world where it was not acceptable to be who they were if it differed from society’s opinions of what was right, so the secret stayed hidden, resulting in problems later in life with families and deciding whether life was worth living, some choosing the path to suicide.

I have learned getting the best grades do not make us the smart ones — it just meant that we were good at studying or test-taking. In case you wonder, I wasn’t one of those good studiers, always feeling stupid because my interests were on more creative endeavors.

I have judged the quiet ones, the blustery ones, the ones who I suspected were choosing a different sexual orientation and those who were the smart ones. But, in my old age, I find myself questioning my attitudes and my judgment because I wasn’t necessarily making my own choices when I judged someone. I went along with the crowd, and, yes, at times I was the crowd leader. I wanted to belong.

I am a chatty person so the quiet ones made me nervous, and I felt perhaps they were judging me.

I was scared of those who were loud and blustery and cruel because I didn’t want to be their target, so it was easier to go along with it than to be the one attacked. I remember a boy telling me — and, yes, I still remember this boy’s name because he was a member of a prominent well-to-do family in town — that I was ugly so I knew I didn’t want to cross him. I had lots of friends, boyfriends too, but yet this one time I was targeted sticks with me to this day. I am lucky that is the only time I remember cruelty directed at me, but I am sure there were other times but they weren’t so devastating.

And now because I took the time to know people who are gay and transgender and have asked them deep questions, I am not afraid as I think I was back in the day when I made the judgment. I thought I was making a judgment based on religion, but in reality I was basing judgment on the fear that somehow their lifestyle might affect me or they were a danger to me. I found out years ago those I was friends with and those I loved had kept those secrets. I loved them before I knew their secret. You don’t stop loving and caring about someone when they make choices you aren’t sure about. I took the time to hear their struggle and their hurts, and my judgment went away and so did my fear.

I now understand smart doesn’t always mean the best grades but smart means each person is different and talented in other ways and we need all the gifts each person brings to the table to make this world work. We also need those from all walks of life, rich and poor, different ethnicities to build our lives and make them richer.

I would be lying if I said I don’t judge still today because I do, and it has been difficult trying to walk between the lines of the political rhetoric going on today. Sometimes I attack without thinking in many things when I began to judge. It is a knee-jerk reaction that I fear is human. I don’t always succeed right away in pulling it back and realize what I am doing.

There are some who have never been back to our class reunions, citing hurts from many years ago. I get that. When I am ready to go out that door, I still have a little trepidation that I won’t be accepted and the old feelings come back, but I push through and make an appearance and I have never been sorry in all the reunions over the years I have attended. Time and experiences make people change. If we let go of our perceptions and look beyond the words, we see the years of life in those we spent our early years with. It feels good to reconnect. Maybe it is our perception of us that had to change, finally being secure in who we are and being confident others reactions don’t matter because we are “free to be me.”