Talking with Teens

My sons have temperaments on opposite ends of the spectrum. One wears his heart on his sleeve. He’ll tell me anything (sometimes more than I want to know). The other holds his cards close, and I have to pay special attention for the times when he might feel more talkative.

Still, over their lifetimes we’ve cultivated an openness as a family. We talk about what’s going on in each of our lives–our joys and hurts, our successes and failures–so that no topic will be off the table. Our kids know that nothing they do or say will ever change our love for them, though some actions may result in consequences. They know they–and their friends–will always be welcome and safe with us, warts and all.

Recently I watched a sitcom in which two parents lamented that their teenage children had started to pull away from them. The idea arose to “date” their kids, to intentionally spend time with their kids doing things their kids liked (good idea), and to treat their children like “friends” rather than their children (bad idea).

Mom went on a shopping/lunch date with her teen daughter; Dad went with his son to hear his favorite motivational speaker. Misfires and mishaps were meant to be funny, but they made me sad.

I get it. Families are funny, and the teen years are hard on everyone. It can be terrifying to realize that the tiny you birthed and held and fed and doted on every minute is now independently in charge of their own sleep and feeding and transportation.

Teenagers change. It’s in their job description, but it’s in the parental job description to be available to help them through the changes.

I paused the TV and went to the kitchen for a cup of tea, where Q14 was reheating leftovers. I asked if he thought parents and kids truly had that much trouble communicating. He rattled off a bunch of his friends and their parents and how easily they engage, which makes me grateful that my kid knows a bunch of well-adjusted families.

Parents, please don’t wait until your kids have become teenagers to try to have  important conversations! Talk to them all the time. Listen to them, hear their fears and insecurities, help them deal with their smallness in a big and broken world. Ask them questions every chance you get. Listen without an agenda, and don’t freak out if they confide in you something you didn’t want to know. They will face situations you wish they didn’t have to (think back to when you were a teenager). Thank them for sharing. Help them find appropriate and healthy boundaries and escape routes when necessary.

Some questions to get you going:

What are you looking forward to today (tomorrow, this week or month)?
Who did you sit with at lunch? How did you choose that person/group?
What one piece of information stood out to you today?
What is going on with your friends?
What do you like about your friends?
What made you laugh today?
Which class/teacher/lesson was your favorite (or least favorite) today?
What are you grateful for?
Did anything make you sad or uncomfortable today, and if so, what and why?
What makes you glad to be you?
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would you change and why?
What scares you?
If anyone ever put you in a situation that made you feel uncomfortable, how might you handle it?
What do you imagine your life might be like in five years? Ten years? 20?
How can I help you take another step toward fulfilling your dreams?
Is there anything you’d like to tell me?

Google “questions to ask kids” and you’ll find so many more options. You probably already have a quiver filled with your own favorites. Just get talking. Those conversations might be life-changing for both of you.

Re:Create • Sanctified Imagination

Pictures of cute kittens and babies aside, one of the more useful benefits of social media is connecting with people you haven’t seen in a while. That’s exactly what happened when, a few years ago, I got a message from a friend I hadn’t seen in over 20 years. He had stumbled across our church website, then found my picture, and reached out. Since then I have been grateful to be back in touch, especially through his posts on Facebook and his blog. Quite a thoughtful writer, I am thrilled to have him share on the blog today. We would all do well to consider how the people in our lives shape the stories we read, tell, and live.

re:create recess #2: Randy Ehle

One of the greatest truths of our humanity is that we are created in God’s image. And being created in the image of the Creator God—the creative God—means we, too, are creative. Creation came into being when God spoke. He has revealed himself for all history through his Word, written. His redeeming Son, Jesus, is called The Word. And so my image-of-God creativity is expressed in words.

I grew up in the church, so I knew all the stories, all the books, all the characters. I knew about daring to be a Daniel and being patient like Job (though frankly, Job never seemed all that patient to me once I really read him). I knew the twelve disciples and most of the twelve sons of Jacob. I knew Moses and Joseph, David and Jonathan, Samson and Delilah. I’m sure I had the full set of Little Golden Books, including Jonah’s whale and Jericho’s tumbling walls.

But by the time I’d become a pastor, the stories had become merely that: stories. Even with more translations at my fingertips than Legion’s demons, I could scarcely read my Bible without already knowing what comes next. Familiarity had bred, if not contempt, at least complacency. Then I met Carolyn.

Carolyn volunteered in our church office. Warm, chatty, deeply caring, and ever wanting to learn more about Jesus, Carolyn and I had long conversations about life, the Bible, and whether the God of the Old Testament changed in the New. I learned as much from Carolyn’s questions as she did from any of my seminary-trained insights. I also learned something about disabilities. You see, Carolyn had been in a wheelchair for a quarter century, the result of a freak accident in which her mail jeep overturned, pinning her under a mound of first-class letters, junk mail, and packages.

Carolyn's baptism in the American River

Carolyn’s baptism in the American River

As I got to know Carolyn, I also met anew some men and women I’d been reading about since childhood: the blind men, lepers, and paralytics whose lives intersected with, and were changed by, Jesus. As I heard more of Carolyn’s story—not just the accident, but everyday life with a lower spine injury—I began to wonder about the lives of those biblical men and women.

Though I’ve enjoyed writing since my school days, for most of my life I wrote only for myself. Even when I began writing a blog, I did little to solicit readers. Writing was an outlet for the thoughts and ideas circulating in my head, but I never felt I had much to add to the world’s conversations. Any conversation. Meeting Carolyn began to change that, and led me to think about another paralytic:

His friends created the world’s first skylight, lowered his bed through the hole, and hoped beyond hope they wouldn’t have to lift him out the same way. Waving the swirling dust away from his face, the itinerant healer in the room below spoke … not words of healing, but of conviction!

“Your sins are forgiven.”

We who are familiar readers of the text barely skip a beat here. We rush right on by, scarcely noticing the crowd’s incredulity. We want to get to the good stuff, the miracles, the healing. We know what comes next and love to watch Jesus stick it to the self-righteous religious folks … who, of course, are not we. Because of Carolyn, I read the words with new eyes; like a blind man given new sight, I began to see beyond the words on the page.

The over-crowded room had only packed tighter with the invasion of the horizontal alien from above. The dust and dirt of the impromptu renovation choked throats while the brief cooling from the escaping air was replaced with the heat of the noonday sun now streaming onto their heads.

“Your sins are forgiven.”

What?!? What in the world does that mean?

Neither the hushed crowd nor the prone man could believe what they’d heard. They were equally incredulous, but for vastly different reasons: the crowd, because of the healer’s audacity to think he had the right to forgive sins; the paralytic, because of the audacity to think he—crippled as he was—had even the slightest capacity to sin.

If we were filming in 21st century style, we might pause the action here and focus the camera on the man’s reclined face. He would speak an aside, directly to the audience, revealing his inner thoughts and feelings. Having no such cinematic tools at our disposal, however, we are left to our imaginations – our sanctified imaginations. It’s a term my mom uses often to encourage deep, extra-biblical thinking about feelings, thoughts, and actions the Bible doesn’t tell us. And so I write—or rather, rewrite—from that sanctified imagination.

In recounting the story of the paralytic, the gospel writers are concerned with Jesus’ divine authority. Saying “your sins are forgiven” is easy and shows no visible effect; but causing a known cripple to walk is no cheap trick. In fact, the evangelists tell us, this is more about confirming Jesus’ authority to forgive than about demonstrating mercy.

There’s more to the story; more to the story that’s written, and more to the story that’s not written. Maybe my re:creation—my sanctified imagination—will open others’ eyes to the Creator. Maybe my words will open others’ ears to the Word whose Word is Life. Maybe I have something to add to the conversation, after all.



Randy Ehle is a husband and father, coach and teacher, writer and speaker. He was—and longs again to be—a pastor. He’s lived in Canada, Germany, England, and throughout the United States; and has traveled on four of the seven continents. A self-described “rushed contemplative,” Randy has known life and death, gain and loss, wisdom and foolishness. He uses writing as a creative outlet, spiritual inspiration, and personal challenge for his readers. Find more of Randy’s thoughts at

Talking with Boys in Cars

Long before Guy and I had kids of our own, let alone teenagers, we ran a youth group filled with young people we loved. One of the things we quickly learned: girls like to talk face-to-face while boys talk more openly when engaged in activity. Of course that’s a generality, but we’ve seen it play out so many times in so many conversations.

And now we have our own two boys and so many things – important things – to talk about with them.

The car has been one of my favorite places to talk with my kids. They know I’m watching the road, not their faces. They can predict how long the conversation will last based on location and destination. I have learned not to ask questions too easily dismissed with one-word answers.
Not “How was your day?”
“Fine” or “Boring” or “Tiring.”
Instead, “Tell me something interesting you learned today” or “What made you laugh today?”

I have also learned to shut up and listen. Carpools are great for that, so long as the kids don’t have their noses buried in cell phones. For one year of Teen’s middle school years I drove a van-full of boys home after youth group. No kidding, it might have been my favorite 20 minutes of each week. High energy, completely amped boys talked and laughed and sang and even occasionally got serious about something they’d heard at church or something happening at school. Once in a while they asked me a question or let me chime in, but mostly I listened. And laughed along with them.

Carpooling Kids

Of course the close quarters don’t always incline themselves to conversation. One night as I drove Teen to sports practice I told him I was proud of him.

He snapped, “Why?”
“Because I like the young man you are becoming.”
No response.
So I continued. “You are kind, you work hard, you care for people and animals and the earth…”
Still no response, so I kept talking. He kept not talking.

My mind spun out of control. Why wasn’t he answering me? Had I said something wrong? Do I not offer him compliments regularly enough? Am I so critical that he doesn’t trust my kind words? In our fifteen-minute drive he didn’t say anything. Not even “Goodbye” as he grabbed his duffel bag and dashed to the field.

Guy picked him up after practice and Teen arrived home again in a much better mood, energized from a good workout and time with friends. I asked him about the silent treatment he’d given me.

“What? Oh, Mom, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude. I was just thinking about girls.”

Thinking about girls? Not intentionally ignoring me or snubbing me, but hormonally preoccupied? Sheesh!

A few weeks later, this time he drove to practice while I sat in the passenger seat. He had ‘his’ music playing loud, bass thumping (still surprised I’m riding in the bass-bouncing car). The song was new to me and the lyrics were crass. As the chorus repeated the same vulgar words, I turned down the volume and asked, “Does it not bother you to listen to that with your mom sitting here?”
I repeated my question.
Still confused, “What? Oh, that? Mom, honestly.. I’m sorry, I know this is going to sound bad, but I kind of forgot you were here. I’m not even listening to the music, I’m just thinking about practice tonight.”

I had to laugh! Twice in a month I learned that you can’t read too much into someone’s silence. Especially a teenage boy’s!

One of the few true-for-always things I’ve learned about good parenting: be available when the kids are ready to talk. Which takes presence and time. Lots of both.

During spring break, Tween and I took a long road trip together. To while away the time, I suggested a game: he should say a word, then I’d say another word beginning with the last letter of his word, and so on. Alphabet, telephone, eel, laughter, reach, hungry…

We played for an hour, and surprisingly, we laughed big belly laughs – you have no idea how many words end in ‘e’ and how few words begin with ‘e’ until you’ve played this game! We played it again with cousins when we reached our destination. We played again on the way home, but the game lost its appeal as we repeated all the same words we’d used before.

One morning before school we were talking about how being grateful can affect your attitude. “I know, Mom! Let’s play the word game again, except this time we only say things we’re thankful for.” God, Dad, danger (“adds spice to life!”), redemption, new flowers, senses, safety, you (watery eyes on two faces)… The game we began on a car ride changed the conversation in the house, and we both lived that day with a little more gratitude.

A few years ago I had a conversation with a mom whose child was about to take their driver’s test. She lamented the loss of car time to talk with her child, something I hadn’t yet considered. I gained a new perspective on just how fleeting the daily reality, the chores of parenting, can be.

Today Teen got his driver’s license. He doesn’t have a car so I anticipate a lot of negotiation in our near future. We may continue to drive him to and from school and keep him in carpools for a while; California teens can’t drive anyone under 21 for the first year they have their license.

He lost only one point on his test and the instructor wrote “Good driver” on the bottom. I’m not surprised. I thought being a passenger to my child as driver might freak me out, but his confidence inspires trust. He is a good driver.

I’m proud of him, happy for him. And truthfully, I’m a little bit sad for me at losing our together time in the car. Next-up parenting challenge: I’m going to have to find new shared activities, new ways to be present with him over time, to continue the conversation.

sunset trees 11-14

Instead of “Godspeed” I think I will pray, “God-Slow my child!”