Tag Archives: ParentFurther

A Little Thing Means a Lot

I stayed in bed far too long yesterday morning. Excitement and fear paralyzed me as I looked forward to the lunch appointment I had on the University of Mary campus with someone who had intervened in one very specific moment in my life over 20 years ago.

When I was a freshman at Concordia College, my bipolar self was not diagnosed accurately.   The highs and lows of energy that I still experience manifested themselves in those days in a variety of ways such as chaotic eating, concentrated exercise schedules,  extended depressive episodes, odd sleep patterns, spurts of intense productivity,  and general silliness.  All of these things masked what truly bothers me – energy-based bipolar tendencies which a psychiatrist finally diagnosed correctly when I was 36 years old. During those college days, though, I spent a good amount of time “on the run” – something I still often feel tempted to do and have posted about in the past.

The church I attended during high school had a very active youth group. We went to camp, traveled on mission trips, and spent most Wednesday nights and weekends together.   Every Christmas and Easter, our group joined other groups from around North and South Dakota for retreats.  These were my good friends – the same friends that I found at camp. I married one of them, and I remain friends with most of the others to this day in some way or another (at the very least on Facebook).  I also had the opportunity to meet other adults from around the state who spoke into my life at various points throughout high school, college, and into my adult life.

Several weeks ago, I sat in a meeting with University of Mary Student Support Services staff members.  Each of my English 098 students has an advisor, and I wanted to share my thoughts, impressions, and concerns with the advisors as a group. I had emailed with many of them, but their supervisor and I thought it would be worthwhile for me to attend one of their meetings.  When we went around the table and introduced ourselves, one name…and the face…seemed oddly familiar.  I was completely caught off-guard but had to focus on my meeting.

After the meeting, I could not shake the impulse to contact her, so I did….by email…because that is the best way to find out information without exposing my soul to too much pain or rejection if I am wrong.

Ummm…were you, by chance, a youth leader from <<her church>> in the 90s?

I sat at my computer and waited for the reply. I refreshed my email several times, and then her response came – YES!  I shared a few more details about who I was “back then,” and her reply came back again…she remembered me!

The next day, we were at an event together.  When I saw her, I had mixed emotions about knowing that she knew that me…the me who left her dorm room in the middle of the night because the urge to run had overwhelmed her…the me who did not know how to deal with the thoughts that told her to run…the me who showed up in a driveway hundreds of miles away from college, slept in the car, and was found that way the next morning by the very woman standing in front of me…the me who this youth leader had encouraged to go back to school saying that I was fine.

“We should have lunch,” she said.

Yesterday, we had lunch.  Throughout the morning, though, all of the parts of me that feels and experiences joy, anxiety, and fear held my body in a paralyzing force.  The what ifs of how lunch could go raced through my mind and nearly kept me from going.  To be honest, I left the house later than I had planned, I took the long way to the university, and I thought I might just keep driving south to miss the lunch appointment altogether.  Eventually I put on my big girl pants, and I still arrived early.  Strange how that works!

All morning, I felt like “that me” again…young, frightened, and ready to run.  At the same time, I felt like the “this me” who is the dean of students of a new little online school in Minnesota, teaches classes at the University of Mary, is married to a pastor, and has two grown children attending Baylor University.  This paradox of us being able to feel two ages at once is something that I need to explore more in another post.

When we sat down, she asked me to tell her about me.  I was stunned and absolutely speechless.  I know – me! speechless??  I had no idea where to start.  There I was sitting in front of a woman who had found the eighteen year old me in her driveway after I had driven a few hundred miles and slept in my car…and she wanted to know about the “today” me – the forty year old pastor’s wife and mother of two freshmen in college.  It dawned on me that my own children are now the age of “the me” who ended up in her driveway that night.

As I told her about me, I told her the raw stuff without going into the icky details of any of it. We both have master’s degrees in education, work as guidance counselor types, and are familiar with the lingo, so it was easy to be sort of clinical about it all.

Before I knew it, lunch was over.  We parted ways as we each have jobs that need us.  We waved goodbye in that way that we do when we know the person is in the same town or on the same college campus most days.  The mood was light, and it became clear to me that all of my anxiety was silly.

Next week, I will drop off a book to the student success center where she works.  The book is a compilation of essays written by my students. The title is Unexpected Giants and is a tribute to those who have carried my students (and me) on their shoulders so that we could see futures that we could not have seen alone.

When I  mentioned the incident to her (as a point of reference for other incidents in my life), I used my favorite term – “crazy.”  She sort of laughed it off and said, “I worked with teenagers, Stacy.  I didn’t really think it was all that unusual.”

While my essay is not about this particular giant, it easily could be.  One day, I hope to write the book that features all of my giants.  I had good parents who did their best raising me.  But sometimes we need other caring adults to impact our lives as well.  This dear woman did that for me clearly – based on her comment to me yesterday – without judgement. I am thankful for the brief, yet powerful, role she played in my life.

I know that this season is busy, but can I challenge all who read this?  Whose life can you briefly touch today, this week, this month, this year, or this lifetime?  And…as you drive to work, put up the tree, or bake those cookies, consider who were giants in your life…and how you can let them know the powerful way that they impacted your life?



Filed under faith, Relationships, Thoughts

Super Bowl Mom

Of all of the people involved in the Super Bowl yesterday, the one that I would have enjoyed being near the most would have been Mrs. Harbaugh – the mother of both teams’ coaches.  Anyone who watched the game last night already knows that the family drama involved in the game itself, so I will not re-hash that.  Anyone who did not watch the game would not care.

But – care about this!

While football may not be everyone’s thing, caring about the future generations should be.  After hearing and reading about the Harbaughs, their attitude toward the game, and their forward thinking about which son should be their focus after the game, I am so impressed.  Good parenting more often than not leads to good outcomes. 

If the Harbaugh brothers would take the developmental asset inventory from Search Institute, I am guessing that they would score pretty high.  If the Harbaugh family would take the family asset inventory from Search Institute, I am guessing that they would score pretty high.

It does not take a family having loads of money to give their kids an edge.

Families need to invest in their kids, bring other caring adults in to encourage their kids, and provide an environment of high expectations with lots of support.  Failures needs to be seen as opportunities to improve.  And mistakes need to be corrected.  All of this needs to be done in ways that empower children and teens to be better than what they think they can be while helping them to see reality.

As I watched the game last night, I commented that I want to be an NFL kicker.

That is not realistic!  I am nearly 39 years old, a woman, not quite five feet tall, and about as un-athletic as they come.  This dream needs to be tempered with reality.  However, had I wanted to do something big and dreamy like that, I am sure that my parents would have cleared the path for me by making me play football with the boys, making me play soccer, and the like.

The Harbaugh parents did something to clear the path for their boys and have stayed with them as supporters all the way to the Super Bowl.

It is clear by the reports of how Jim and John interacted with each other and what their parents did after the Super Bowl ended (consoling the losing coach rather than living in the glory with the winning one) that this family is filled with assets.

The Search Institute’s asset-building approach easily works with just about any parenting style and belief system.  When I see the results of asset-building parenting live in the midst of a football game, I get a bit giddy.  Whether we are parents or those “other caring adults” in a child’s life, we have a huge impact.

Who in your life helped you to get to where you are today? What did that person do?

What are we doing today to help them realize their dreams and go to the Super Bowl?

And who knows, maybe someday someone will teach me how to kick for a field goal!

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Supporting Sparks with Gifts

According to Search Institute, sparks “are the interests that inspire, the activities that energize. Sparks are the special abilities uniquely yours to tend, to grow, to share with the world.”  Everyone has a spark.  Many of us have forgotten what our spark was or have not thought about it for a while.  But pursing our sparks could mean the difference between merely surviving rather than thriving. The Search Institute asserts that youth need to find and pursue their sparks in order to survive. If we would all be thriving, our world might be a better place for all of us.

In our society, we are more concerned about what will allow kids to make it in life than what will help them thrive in their lives.

While I was on my trip out east a month ago, I spent a day in the village of Rockport and enjoyed poking my head into many a shop.  One of the shops I ventured into was called The Wishing Well – a shop filled with products by a variety of artists including paintings, quilts, and ceramics.  The shop also had some supplies to help young people pursue their interests in these areas.


Pictured above is a colored pencil set in a woolen sock puppet case.  What a great idea!  If I had a young child who had shown an interest in are, I would have considered buying this as a gift for him or her in order to support the interest in art.

Sparks may not be what career a child pursues in order to pay the bills.  In fact, my own Spark – writing blogs – will probably never pay the bills.  But Sparks enrich our lives, allow us to thrive, and take us to where we long to be.  We need to support the young people in our lives as they discover their Sparks, enrich their lives with their Sparks, and learn more about their Sparks.

As adults, we should care about the future of all youth.  This could mean that we have to buy some art supplies, pay for soccer camp, or drive them all around town.  We might need to help them with research, connect them with a mentor, or give of our time

How can we support a young person’s passion today?  I would love to hear stories from readers about how someone supported them in their younger years to pursue their Sparks.  Please, please – share in the comment section!

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Filed under Education, Parenting, Travel

Common Sense (Assets) Rocks!

Having been a parent and an educator for over 15 years, I have seen how concepts cycle around.  What was a hard and fast rule yesterday may be seen as merely a fad today.  It can be hard to keep up, and technology truly only makes it worse as we have access to oodles of websites with contradictory information.

What seems to make the most sense – what should be common sense – probably should be the approach that one pursues in both the parenting and education arenas.  If it makes sense, it probably does so for a reason!

And for that reason, I have been drawn to Search Institute’s asset approach for years thanks to a colleague/supervisor who introduced me to them while I completed my guidance counseling internship.  And for that reason, I have been drawn to their parenting initiative – ParentFurther – recently.

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend three days of training hosted by the Search Institute, and two of the days focused on building assets in school communities.

Side note: any non-educator parent or community member could have attended the school community training and taken away as much as the educators did. This is one of the nuggets of the concept; it crosses all barriers and asks us all to participate in creating a more healthy and more positive future for all children.

What are these development assets?1

  1. 40 positive experiences and qualities in 8 categories focusing on external structures, relationships, and activities as well as internal values, skills, and beliefs.
  2. Common wisdom about the kinds of positive experiences and characteristics that young people need and deserve.
  3. Positive behaviors and attitudes which influence achievement and help protect young people from many different problem behaviors.
  4. Common elements across gender, ethnic heritage, economic situation, or geographic location.

According to Search Institute’s research (which has been verified and replicated by outside sources), the more assets that a child has in their toolkit the more likely to exhibit  succeed in school (get mostly As on report card) and the less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors.  Why are we not all jazzed about this?????

Seriously!  As parents, community members, and educators, we spend hours and hours trying to determine solutions to really big problems.  But Search Institute already has the answer – promote the developmental assets!  It sounds too simple, right?  And it is.  Many of us already do these things, but we might not realize that we could do them more or that we could expand our sphere of influence by doing them with kids in our neighborhoods or in the store.

The sad thing: on average, young people report having 20.1 assets.2  I put together the chart below from information in “The Asset Approach.”  Across the bottom is the number of assets that youth reported having while vertical numbers show the percentage of youth who reported those numbers.


Wouldn’t it be great if that looked like the graph below instead????


While this might be a lofty dream, we all can play a part…and more students can have more assets when we all focus on our youth.  They are our future!

To support us in all of this, Search Institute has trainings, they train trainers, they provide surveys (I want my kids to take these…), and they have a vast library of books to order.  In addition to all of the things that cost money, they have oodles of free stuff online at both Search-Institute.org and ParentFurther.com – who also provides a monthly (free) webinar (third Wednesday of each month) about current issues.

I love free stuff!!  And the resources are great.  As I have snooped around on the websites, I have found the list of the assets, suggestions about how to encourage student and build the assets, and ways that the assets help students.

Great nugget: This is not another program; this is an approach.  Any already established school, youth program, church, family, or neighbor could adopt this way of thinking without re-creating a program.  What it does require is that people become more intentional. And it may require some people to do things that they had not thought to do.

Encouraging youth should be on all of our “to do” lists each day.  If we do not know how, we can go to the website and get some ideas.  One of my favorite stories from the training last week was about an elderly woman who decided that she would smile at youth as she passed them on the street or in the store.  That was her one thing!

Can you smile?  Then you can encourage…who will I smile at today?



1. These definitions are taken from a publication titled “The Asset Approach” and are used in accordance with their copyright.  More information can be found at the website: search-institute.org.

2.  From page 4 of “The Asset Approach.”

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Filed under Education, faith, Parenting, Relationships

To Dream the Impossible Dream…

Yesterday was July 4 – Independence Day for those of us in the United States whose country started as a dream and became a reality.  I cannot imagine what it was like for many of ancestors to board boats from their countries of origin and set out for what they hoped was better than what they left behind.

It probably seemed impossible.  Yet – because they dreamed it – we have a country now where freedoms exist like they do nowhere else.  They dreamed an impossible dream, and yesterday we remembered that. And I am thankful.

IMG-20120701-00557On Sunday, my family attended a production of Man of La Mancha at the St Croix Festival Theatre. We know the man who played the lead – Don Quixote – and the musical is one of my favorites.  The show is actually a show within a show.  The story set in reality takes place during the Spanish Inquisition.  Miguel Cervantes – author of the book Don Quixote de la Mancha – is in jail awaiting his trial for crimes against the Catholic Church.  While waiting, he pulls the other inmates into the musical telling of Don Quixote who believes himself to be a knight fighting giants (windmills) and wooing the lady Dulcinea (a prostitute named Aldonza).

When he describes his quest, Quixote sings a moving song that brings tears to my eyes pretty much every time I see the production (or even hear it on my car stereo…).  You can watch a performance by the original Broadway performer by clicking here.

The lyrics (taken from the Reel Classics website) are amazing:

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star

This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far

To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march into Hell
For a heavenly cause

And I know if I’ll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I’m laid to my rest

And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star

Every time I hear this song, I am moved.  But, as I watched the performance on Sunday – only days after attending the Search Institute’s training about one of their Big Ideas called Sparks, I realized that Don Quixote is inspiring because he has found his spark!

According to Search Institute’s website, “Sparks are the interests that inspire, the activities that energize. Sparks are the special abilities uniquely yours to tend, to grow, to share with the world.”

Don Quixote’s spark is to fight for the ability see the world in the most positive light possible…he wants to dream the impossible dream and bring others along in what other characters in the musical see as madness.  But for Quixote, the dream is not madness – it is what gives him life.  It is what allows him to thrive.  And when the spark is put out, Quixote nearly dies.

Search Institute has a cool formula that shows how a young person’s spark helps them to thrive:


+  3 champions (adults who support the spark/the young person) 

+  opportunity

= thriving

Over 200 years ago, 13 colonies and the Committee of Five had a dream that seemed impossible, but it came true. We are evidence of that today. Imagine what would be different if that spark had been put out. Imagine what would be different if they had chosen not to follow that quest and do the impossible.

What impossible dream does a young person in your life have? What spark does that young person have and how can you or someone else help it along?


Filed under Education, Music, Parenting, Relationships

You Can Do It!

Last week, I wrote a post about my adventures in the downtown Minneapolis skyways.  While poking around and learning about the fun trapped inside the downtown buildings, I happened upon an empty space whose sign caught my eye.

Side track moment: I sometimes wonder if my blog should be titled,”Caught My Eye,” because of the number of times that I reference that thought.  I have given the possible change a bit of thought, and I have decided that “caught my eye” often leads to my mind mulling through the thoughts (mind-race…) that follow the catching of my eye…thus, the two remain connected, so the original blog title will remain.  You have to admit, though, that new title would rock as well.

Now that we have solved that…here is the photo of the empty space.

Can you guess what caught my eye in this picture?


You are correct if you said, “Start something.  You can do it.”

I realize that the owners of the building would love to have rental income and that it is that fact which motivates them to find a tenant.  However, their marketing strategy to find that tenant is quite fun.  They could have put a sign up that said, “For Rent” and left it at that.  Instead, they have chosen to plant a seed in each person who passes the empty store front.

“For Rent” is specific to a group of people who are looking to rent a storefront. It assumes that someone already has a business idea and simply needs somewhere to make that idea come to fruition.

“Start something” is entirely different!  It assumes that you have not even thought about starting a business yet.  It plants that seed that you should start something, that your ideas are worth pursuing, and that this store front is where those ideas can come to life.

But they do not stop there!

People tell me all the time to do certain things, but I have some pretty big doubts about whether or not I can make those things happen.  The marketers for this space have anticipated people like me.  They know that I have no way to know if my idea for that space will work out. They know that I would only want to pursue starting something if I knew that I could do it, so they tell me exactly what I want to hear.

“You can do it” is exactly what I would need to hear in this situation.  I would need someone to encourage me to pursue something great and start something in that space.

I realize that marketers are pretty smart and that they know what to say to get people interested in whatever the product is.  They do not know me personally, but they know how most of us tick – that is their job – and what we need to hear in particular instances.  It is their job to study human behavior and then to use that information to manipulate us into purchasing whatever product they are selling.

I wonder sometimes if we know as much about how to encourage our family and friends as the marketers do.  I wonder if we could read our family and friends as well as the marketers do.  I wonder if we could anticipate what fears we need to help dispel, what encouraging words they need, and what help we could provide for them.

At least this rental space is giving them the where…would we know the how, the who, the why, the what, and the when?

Do I need encouragement to dream today?

Is there someone in my life who has a dream and who needs encouragement?

Start something….You can do it.

Additional note: I am so excited about my day today!  I am attending a training hosted by the Search Institute called Sparks which encourages school, family, and community members to help youth to identify their “spark” – the thing that makes them tick, who they are in their core, and something that can get them through times of adversity.  Look for future posts about this training!

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Filed under Education, Parenting, Thoughts

Divorce, Custody, and the Government–Oh MY!

IMG-20120520-00484Sunday was my 17th wedding anniversary.  With every year that passes, I am more and more grateful for the man who said “I do” even though “for worse” at times describes our lives more than “for better” does.  We have learned, grown, and gone through trials. As we come out still married at the end of each bump in the road, we realize that we are part of a rare crew – those who stay married.  We do not say this with pride because it has less to do with us than it does to do with God and His role in our lives and in our marriage.  Maybe a little bit of stubbornness plays a role in our sticking it out, but really – the glory goes to God.

Yesterday morning I woke up and, as often is the case, I read some news on my phone. I typically scroll through the headlines and read those that catch my eye.  I care less about how many fish the Minnesota governor caught during the fishing opener than I do the laws that await his signing.  Today, the headline about a statute that hits home in my own life caught my eye.

Click on the title to read it: Proposed Custody Changes Await Governor’s Signature

I posted info about this on Facebook and asked my plethora of friends to respond.  I heard from many whom I anticipated would respond, and I also heard from some voices that are not normally in my “commenting” crowd.  All had strong opinions and good questions.  Many spoke from personal experience as a child of divorce or parents who had been through a divorce.

Thank you to all who responded as you have assisted me in clarifying my own thoughts!

Thought #1

As much as possible, I firmly believe that those who bring children into the world should stay together.  I doubt that those who legalized divorce in (insert statistics here) ever anticipated that in 2011 more children would live without both biological parents than those who do. In my faith life, I would definitely say that no one should seek to tear apart what God has joined together. My preference would be that our country be filled with marriages and families with a firm foundation of faith; however, the divorce rate is as high (if not higher) in the Christian church in the US than in the general population.

In my opinion, we have become victims to a lie that we deserve better than what we have chosen, that we should not have to work so hard at our marriages, and that infractions or betrayals are “good enough” reasons to abandon the marriage ship.  However, if forgiveness reigns in our hearts, lives, relationships, and marriages, staying together can be an option. (Note: I do not support anyone staying in dangerous relationship, so please, please do not hear that!!!)

When my husband and I do the premarriage counseling session on communication and forgiveness, he always states that we do not forgive our spouse or expect forgiveness from our spouse because we deserve it.  We do so because God forgives us through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross – an act of forgiveness that we did not deserve.  Those who look in on our marriage might wonder, “What struggles have they had that they would even know what I have endured?”  Although I am very candid in my blog, I have not “bared all”…and there are things that we have struggled through that have been very difficult – in the same way that most couples would be able to say this.  There are times that we have both wondered, “What did I get into?”

And we have chosen to forgive –  not because the other deserved it but because we chose to follow God’s example in this area.  Staying together is not easy, but separating does not seem all that easy either.

Thought #2

Divorce happens.

Because we are human, we make choices, others make choices, and sometimes all of that ends in divorce.  I would not stand on this side of the blog and say that I judge another because they have gone through divorce because that is not my place. It is my place to encourage and support marriages to stay together; in fact, regardless of our faith convictions, we probably can all agree that –in the majority of cases – staying married is the best choice.

Although we can believe this, know this, and live this, we have to recognize that divorce happens. I can believe what I stated in Thought #1, still be a realist, and accept that divorce happens.

Thought #3

Divorce hurts everyone involved, but it causes a great deal of issues for children. No one whom I respect argues with this.  I know this personally as my own parents were divorced when I was very young. Although I believe that everyone involved did the best that they were able, I still had a very rough time navigating what it meant for my parents not to be together.

Thought #4
The government should not have to legislate common sense.  A couple of the commenters on the Facebook thread really took this to task.  Why are we legislating what should be common sense?  Research supports that children survive divorce better when both parents are involved.  If that is common sense, then why should we have a law on the books?
I have to say that I tend to agree.
However, common sense has not ruled since custody battles started.  A couple of dad commenters (so glad to hear from them!!!) supported the need for legislation to support their rights to co-parent.  In the past, there has been a stigma against dads; yet, I know many who have been raised entirely by their dads, and they have come out with no more issues than I who grew up with my mom having 100% custody (ok…no crack jokes about my subscription of issues!!).

In fact, IF we are going to legislate at all, why are we going only to 35% and not to 50%?  Why would we not start out with the understanding that children who have 50% of the DNA from each parent should have input from each parent 50% of the time?  Honestly, these are just questions….I don’t really have all the answers – even if I act like I do…

Thought #5

In Stacy’s world, this is how things would go:

  • Unless there is compelling evidence of abuse, all custody arrangements should start at 50-50.   As a nation, we need to recognize that both parents are necessary in a child’s life.  If there is evidence or concern of abuse or neglect, that should be brought up to the court and taken into consideration.  However, dads have been neglected for far too long, and – in some cases – they have been allowed to neglect for far too long.
  • Every child whose parents are getting divorced should be assigned a guardian ad litum (yes – parents would have to pay for this as part of the divorce).  Guardians are “pro-child” – they are not to have anyone’s interest in mind except the child’s interest.  They would recommend to the parents and the courts what would be best if the 50-50 was not the best choice.  There might be times when 50-50 living conditions are hard (example: when children attend school in a district that is far from one parent’s home).  This needs to be addressed.
  • Parents need to realize that their lives will be inconvenienced, and that is just how it should happen.  While the ones who could not “make it work” move on (often re-marry, etc.), children go on living in the state of divorced-ness for the rest of their lives.  The parents are the ones who need to bend over backwards to make sure that life is as health as possible for their children.
My Last Thought

What is best for most children is that they are raised by the two parents who contributed their creation.  However, as in the case also of foster care and adoption, this is not true of children with divorced parents.  Because of this, legislation should not be in place, but judges and other law-parts involved in custody cases should be educated that both parents (except in exceptions) should be allowed and expected to have involvement in their children’s lives.

In closing, ParentFurther.com has a FREE webinar (click here to sign up!) coming up about how moms can make room for fathers.  I know that I often get in the way of my husband’s fathering, so I plan to attend and see what they have to say.  You can too – they are always at noon, so take your lunch hour and learn some parenting stuff!


Filed under Education, faith, Parenting

The Bully Project: My Review and Response

bullypicEven though I had few moments to spare on Saturday as I prepared for a trip for which I left yesterday, I headed to the Lagoon Theatre in Uptown for the afternoon showing of The Bully Project. I have wanted to see this movie since reading about it and because of the recent writing gig on resilience and bullying that I did for ParentFurther, the parenting resource of Search Institute. With their upcoming webinar about bullying on May 16 only days away now, I wanted to be sure that I had seen the movie before attending the webinar.

The movie met all of my expectations based on what I had read prior to attending. The documentary follows the lives (and suicides in two cases) of five teens who have endured extreme bullying situations. Although there are no real answers given in the movie, the director did an excellent job of creating one story cohesive story of what occurs in schools around the United States with the five stories shared. As my son said following the movie, the intention is to evoke emotions and heighten awareness about the issue.

And that it does. I cried through most of the movie – not sobs, but just a steady stream of sad tears. At times, I was angry. I wanted to stand up and scream at the adults involved.

There was the assistant principal who said to the mother of a boy who was strangled, stabbed with pencils, punched, sat on, and called names while riding the bus, “I have ridden that bus. The children are good as gold.” Seriously? What adult can be that naïve? Of course they are going to be good when the principal is on the bus! Maybe she should ride the bus every day…Read more about Alex’s story by clicking here.

Although all of the stories were very moving, this boy’s story hit my daughter and me pretty hard. As he mom showed pictures of his premature birth and described him as a miracle, I thought of the many children in my life now who have similar stories. And it breaks my heart to think that kids may be treating those I know with the same disdain and cruelty that kids in this boy’s school treated him. That possibility multiplied my anger.

Side note: My daughter wants to be an occupational therapist and work with special needs kids; she has a heart for them in ways that few people do. Both of my kids seem to advocate for those with challenges and come alongside them rather than ostracize them. I did not do anything magical to make this happen except to expect that they treat everyone with kindness and respect. Why is that so hard for other kids to do?

Then there was the school board and school administration who did not attend the town meeting called by the parents of a teenager who had hung himself in desperation after being tormented. I am a school administrator, and I am shocked that anyone in a position of authority would not attend a town meeting called to address a school issue. Someone should have been there at least to listen. Shame on them all.  Read more about Tyler’s story by clicking here.

I honestly cannot even fathom the way that almost an entire town in Oklahoma treated Kelby, a girl who came out as a lesbian. She shared about a time when a teacher did role call and said, ”Boys. Girls. Kelby.” Seriously? I caught a sob before it escaped loudly from me when she shared about the day that she sat down in the classroom – a full class without extra seats – and everyone around her got up and moved. The heartbreak on her face and the faces of her family was so evident every time they spoke.  Read more about Kelby’s story by clicking here.

And perhaps the most concerning was the law official involved when the fourteen year old girl took a gun on the school bus “just to scare” those who had been picking on her – to make it stop. While I agree with him that something must be done in this situation, twenty-some counts of kidnapping and aggravated assault with a weapon (100 years in prison) does not seem appropriate. Thankfully a judge or prosecuting attorney saw the light and had the girl get psychiatric help rather than a lifetime in prison.  Read more about Ja’Meya’s story by clicking here.

Seeing the movie reinforced in my mind that something needs to be done, and building assets and resiliency in children and teens – let’s be honest…and in adults! – is something that we all need to start doing. This is not just a parenting issue. This is not justa school issue. This is an issue that pervades every area where we find children and teens, and we all need to get on board and step up. Our country needs asset-rich young people who become contributing citizens.

While anti-bullying programs have good intentions, I assert that they do not get to the heart of the issue which is that everyone has worth and that we all need to be kind to each other regardless of our differences. Check out the Search Institute’s program called Building Assets Reducing Risks which addresses the issues which underlie the bullying problem and addresses it on a system-wide, proactive level rather than a reactive, single student or single incident level.

What can we do?
  • Model appropriate interactions and conflict resolution.
  • Attend the ParentFurther webinarabout building assets and raising resilient children.
  • See The Bully Project movie.  Warning: there are several F-bombs at the beginning, but after that the content is difficult but tame (no sexual issues).
  • Visit the website shared at the end of The Bully Project.
  • Have eyes on our own kids and on the kids of others.
  • Consider these thoughts by Dr Robyn Silverman.

Have you seen the movie?  What did you think?

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Bullying: Some Helpful Content

383389_797930400770_184905552_36091203_899226902_nIt has been a while since I posted on my blog.  I have been away doing a number of things including, as the photo to the left suggests, attending a few Twins games with my family!  But one of the most exciting of those things was writing some web content for a website: ParentFurther.com, a parenting outreach from the Search Institute.  I have a great deal of respect for the work of both of these entities, and I highly recommend that you bop on over to their websites.  Regardless of your “state” in life, there is information there for you.  Their premise is that community members help raise children in addition to parents and schools.  I agree!

I sort of fell into this writing gig with ParentFurther by way of blogging!  Back when the Grammy Award show aired, I wrote a blog about Taylor Swift rising above her bullies in the music industry.  The ParentFuther peeps found it (because I tagged Search Institute in the tags!), and they sent me an email.  Within a week, we were talking, and they asked me to write some (10,000 words) stuff for them that went live on the their bullying section of the website this week.

It was so exciting to get an email blast about their upcoming May webinar about bullying, and it had my content in the email!  I about fell out of my chair at work!

Click here if you want to attend the webinar (it is FREE!).  They do webinars every third Wednesday of the month, and each month is different.

Because this is a hot topic right now, there are loads of resources available. I think everyone needs to get behind children and teens being kinder to each others.  Life is hard enough if we can’t be nice to each other!

I also have to see the documentary “Bully” sometime soon. I just looked at the showtimes for it this week, and I’m hoping to get there!  Have you seen it? What do you think?

I was even more encouraged to see it after reading an article online titled “Bully: The Seven Problems Revealed Through this Groundbreaking Documentary” by Dr Robyn Silverman.

I need your help…

I want to write a “how to help” guide for parents of those being bullied and for those who are doing the bullying…it would be two separate pieces.  But – I’m struggling because, for the most part, my own children have escaped being either. I know, though, that many readers have had different experiences.  What has helped?  What would have been better?  If you feel comfortable sharing in the comment section, I would really appreciate it.  However, if you would prefer to email me separately, you can send it to me at my work email address: sbender@mtcs.org

I also want to do an FAQ section – like, should we send our kid to self-defense classes?  If you have ideas about questions for that, I would also love to hear from you!

Thank you, readers!  I hope to be back on the blogging bandwagon soon!

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Money Matters–Even to Kids!


There is one thing that seems to be on our minds – all the time: money.

It is everywhere: work, play, home, and – yes – even church.

We cannot get away from talk about money. Seriously, we always need money for something, we are trying to figure out where that bill’s payment will come from, or we are getting money in the mail because it is our birthday.

I wish my birthday was once a month!

Earlier this week, I was testing kiddos up in Thief River Falls, MN, but was also scheduled to attend a webinar hosted by Search Institute and ParentFurther about parenting and money.  The title alone drew me in: “Share Save Spend – Your Money Traits and They Impact Your Children.”  I missed the webinar due to work related items and need for self-care (I have pneumonia!), but the peeps at these organizations have shared a link with a condensed version of the webinar along with helpful notes and hints.  You can click here to access this information, and I highly recommend it.

A slight tangent (and another slight tangent off of this one – I want to spell tangent with an “a” between e and n [tangeant], but that is not right. Anyone else have that problem?).

Ok – back to the tangent:  I LOVE webinars!  They are seriously the best way for busy people to attend great seminars and workshops.  ParentFurther hosts a webinar series typically on the third Wednesday of each month.  In March, their topic was the war against girls and women concerning the way we view our bodies and how that infiltrates how we view ourselves.  Ah-mazing!  You can catch that one (I think it might be the full length version) by clicking here.  Who should watch this?  Seriously – just about everyone.  Not kidding. Especially dads.  There – soap box over.

Back to money…

This weekend, the huz (a pastor man – an awesome one, by the way) was on a rocking retreat (complete with four-wheelers and trapshooting) with a leadership group that he facilitates, so we had a guest pastor.  Ron Norman is the president of the North American Baptist Foundation, a ministry that helps Christians with financial and estate planning.  With that being said, it should not surprise anyone that his sermon was about money.  I am not 100% sure, but his sermon might be up on the church sermon website.

The boy – a 15 year old – assists in our church services by doing the multimedia (SongShow and PowerPoint stuff mostly), and he and the girl also pay pretty close attention in sermons.  Because the huz asks us all for feedback on his sermons most Sunday afternoons, we have become accustomed to being able to give the highs and lows of other sermons as well.   The boy is also in a class at school called “Personal Finance.”  His comment after church today was pretty awesome.

It is interesting that most of what I am being taught in my personal finance class was in the sermon today.

Well, go figure – the Bible makes sense!

Below is a Cliff Notes version of the sermon from today:

  1. Keep Good Records: know what you owe, know what earn, know what you own, and know where it goes (dining out, entertainment, etc.)
  2. Plan Spending: set goals for what you want to do with your money, freedom is based on how we spend, and learn how to live on less so that what is left can be shared (tithe, etc.) or saved.
  3. Save for the Future
  4. Return First Portion to God
  5. Enjoy What You Have: don’t let your yearnings outpace your earnings

This afternoon after completing a writing project (which still has me thinking and is interrupting sleep – therefore, I am up writing a blog post!), I took some time to listen to the ParentFurther webinar.  I was not shocked – but sort of was! – that many of the principles from today’s sermon mirrored the webinar’s concepts.  The webinar did take it a step further by encouraging parents to be in discussion with their children about spending habits and how to create financial stability.  And the webinar had some astounding statistics about child and teen spending as well as information about advertisers targeting children and teens specifically as consumers in order to draw them in at younger and younger ages to spend what they have today without planning or budgeting for tomorrow.

We have not always been the best at this, but many times these principals come back into our lives.  Last August while our kids were away working at Village Creek Bible Camp in Iowa, the huz and I spent many hours in the evening in what can only be called “budget talks.”  I blogged about these instances a bit on August 12.

Throughout the talks were on the same side – Team Bender,  but we had competing values that we brought to the table from our personal “money stories” that we had learned from our parents.  When those values could not be settled in our earthly ways, we often had to ask ourselves just whose money is this?  When we remembered that the money came from God and ultimately belonged to God – entrusted to us to do great things for His kingdom – it was a bit easier to settle our differences because it brought our wants versus our needs into light.  And the concept reminded us that our number one purpose was to use these resources wisely.

These are the concepts about money and spending that we need to pass on to our children.  The sermon today, the webinar, and the personal finance class teach us the how in terms of financial stability, but God wants us to remember at all times the why of financial stability.  When we remember the why – even in times when unexpected expenses come our way or in times when we have made poor choices – we can start again today to see the way we manage our finances as a way to worship and glorify God.

Maybe that thought will make paying the bills and balancing the checkbook just a tad easier next time?

These are concepts that we need to teach to our children from the time that they are old enough to sit in the cart at the grocery store and beg us for that special treat that, honestly, is unhealthy and just is not in the budget.

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