Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars (TFioS) - From the Parent of Middle Schoolers

Curt and I are the proud owners of two middle schoolers.  They rock at being in middle school.  Sure they are learning to deal with hormones and shifting emotions but what kid in their genre isn't?  Grant and Katie are embracing greater responsibility and new freedoms with gusto, taking ownership of their actions, their grades, the sports they play, and their friendships.  They are growing in their knowledge of who Jesus is, what following Him means, and why it matters to them right now.  We couldn't be prouder of them.

I have watched with interest how popular books attract a cult-like teenage following and are made into blockbuster Hollywood movies with all the hysteria and paraphernalia that follows.  If merchandisers think teenage girls will buy it, they make it.

Curt and I are more liberal with what we let our kids read than what we let them watch.  We're earning a reputation of being Super Strict (teenage code for MEAN) when it comes to watching movies.  In my opinion, it's one thing to read a book and imagine the scene the author is creating with their words.  It's another thing entirely to watch it on a big screen.  Images are very difficult to remove from our minds.

When I was a little kid we had a babysitter that forced us to watch the annual showing of The Wizard of Oz.  I was way too young for the scary creatures and that horrifying witch.  I had nightmares for YEARS and I'm certain that experience shaped the way I parent my kids when it comes to what they view.  I don't want the same thing to happen to them.

We've said no to every PG-13 movie (and a handful of PG movies we dubbed "too scary") the kids have wanted to watch, using the logic that they aren't thirteen.  One of our friends challenged our logic in saying no just because of age.  "You know who sets those limits right?  It's Hollywood.  Don't you think you know your kids better than some person sitting at desk in Hollywood?  I wouldn't let that be the sole standard that guides you in making your decision." 

We know that as our kids grow and mature, we have to give them a little more freedom to voice their opinion and test their wings. Grant is now 13 and has been talking to us about a few movies he'd like to see.  Katie isn't 13 yet, but she's been talking to us about the movies she'd like to view as well.  She feels left out that her friends are allowed to watch certain movies that we've said no to.  It's a valid point to consider moving forward.

One book that is all the rage this year is by John Greene.  It's called The Fault in our Stars (or TFioS as all the kids are calling it).  Katie, Grant and I all read it within a week of each other.  Katie loved it. Grant thought it was "the stupidest book ever."  I will admit to crying toward the end but my overall impression of the book was more toward Grant's opinion than Katie's.

This story is packed with over-the-top drama.  One kid with cancer falls in love with another kid with cancer.  They question the meaning of life.  Fear oblivion.  Come from good families with parents who are grieving that their children are dying.  One of them dies.

I have enough friends who are suffering great tragedy in their real life, every day digging deep within to find the strength to face another day.  Reading a fictional account of more hurting people is not my idea of fun.  But I want to know what my kids are reading and engage in educated conversation with them about it, so I'm reading all kinds of teenage literature right now.

There are some good parts to the story.  Both main characters come from stable homes and have parents who love them and enforce boundaries.  Their romance starts as friendship and slowly develops into a romantic relationship, something any parent of a teenager will appreciate being promoted.

But there was cussing in the book.  Quite a bit.  The book contains references to casual sex, inferring that everybody who is cool is doing it.  The characters spend a lot of time playing violent video games.  And the main characters have sex (even though they are only 16 and 17 years old) within minutes of sharing their first kiss.  It made for good discussion with the kids on what worldview the book projects and where it does and does not match up with our worldview, family values, and their calling as followers of Jesus.

This weekend was the movie premiere of The Fault in Our Stars.  I was hoping to avoid the movie but Katie got invited to go with a group of her friends on opening night.  My initial thought was, "No way."  But I don't want to make parenting decisions that are fear or ignorance based.  So I started asking my friends why or why not they were letting their daughter view the movie.  And then I started looking for movie reviews.  Since it wasn't officially released yet all I found was the movie trailer.  The sex scene was promoted in the trailer.  It was the sticking point for me.

It froths me that Hollywood presents our kids with a glamorized version of sex.  Cause most teenagers kiss for the first time and then hop in bed together five minutes later right?  And they have no regrets or shame or fear of pregnancy and STD's five minutes after they put their clothes back on, right?  Wrong.  I have never talked to anyone who had sex as a teenager that doesn't carry scars from it as well.  But that's not what the movies show.  Unfortunately our kids view what they see on the screen as a reality they desire for themselves. (Stepping off my soap box now).

Curt, Katie, and I talked about the pros and cons of seeing the movie.  Katie really wanted to go to the movie but was completely uncomfortable watching the sex scene.  We finally decided that I would tag along to the movie and that we would take a strategically timed potty break when the sex scene came.  Since we'd both read the book we knew it was after the visit to the Anne Frank museum.

I've never been to a movie premier like this.  The line wrapped around the theater.  99% of the people in line were pre-teen and teenage girls.  When the gates were opened the girls started shrieking at the top of their lungs and rushed the theater.  Similar reactions happened when the movie started playing, and when the boy in the love story came on the screen for the first time.  Katie, one of her friends, and I took our well-timed potty break, then came back for the remainder of the movie.

The movie wasn't even halfway over when girls started sobbing.  And I'm not talking sniffling.  I'm talking all out sobbing, bordering on wailing.  By the end of movie I was pretty sure they were going to have to mop the tears off the floor.  It was really, really surreal.

Overall The Fault in Our Stars was a decent movie.  Thankfully a lot of the swearing that was in the book was eliminated for the movie although stronger language (including the F word) was added in one scene to make it more intense.   The causal references to sex and the violent video game playing that occur in the book were eliminated from the movie as well which I appreciated.

The movie was passionately acted.  The characters were believable and funny in parts.  There were a few places where I laughed out loud.  The story line is just so laden with drama and sadness.  It gets emotionally tiring to watch.

Katie loved participating in the group outing.  She enjoyed the movie and was relieved to not watch the sex scene.  She brought up the fact that there was language that she didn't appreciate but none of it is stuff she doesn't hears every day at school.  Katie liked the love story between the characters and only cried quietly once toward the end of the movie.

I came away from the experience with mixed emotions.  I very much enjoyed spending time with Katie, her group of friends, and the mom who was hosting the gathering.  I learned a lot through the process of talking through this decision with Katie and Curt.  I liked compromising and thinking outside the box to make the movie fit our criteria of what we felt was appropriate for Katie.

However I was sad about how enthralled the girls were with fictional characters and how the characters in this book are shaping what these impressionable girls believe to be true about life.  I also was disappointed in the fact that this movie could easily have been rated PG if the producers would have taken out the cussing and the sex scene.  What benefit did those things serve to the viewer?  My final disappointment was the previews.   Stepping up to a PG-13 rating exposed the  girls to some pretty terrible previews, including a horror film where the actors were inviting evil spirits to join them.  I looked around and all the girls had their heads down, were diverting their eyes, or watching but screaming through the whole preview.  I think the next time we see a movie in the theater we'll come just as the movie starts and skip the previews.

We don't regret letting Katie watch this movie because we eliminated the parts that we felt would be damaging for her.  I'm sure we'll go through a similar process for movies in the future and I know we all learned a lot. If you do choose to go see The Fault in Our Stars, bring a box of Kleenex.  If you don't need it chances are the people on either side of you and all down the aisle will.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Strong Enough to Bend - Catherine Creek Hike

On Memorial Day the kids and I drove to the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge and hiked 4.2 miles around Catherine Creek.  We drove far enough east that we hiked in high desert terrain.  The almost constant winds and low precipitation make for a hostile environment for wildlife to survive.  Signs on the nature trail told us that plants have to learn to adapt to the harsh conditions in order to thrive.  They dig their roots deep.  Pollinate when they can.  Bend in the wind.  And hold on tight for the few times each year when rain nourishes them.  More on this later...

When my best friend Kelly asked me if we had fun on the hike I paused.  Then answered, "I think so?"

A lot of parents ask me about hiking with kids.  The two most common questions I get are: "Is it safe? And how do you get your kids to go hiking?"

The answer to the first question is, "It depends on the hike and on your kids. Do your research before heading out."  The answer to the second question is, "I make them."

Typically when I tell the kids we're going on an adventure and it includes hiking, their first response is to groan, whine, or beg to go to a friend's house instead.  But we live in paradise.  It would be a tragedy to not take advantage of the rugged beauty and untamed wilderness that makes up so much of Oregon and Washington.   So I tell them to grab their backpacks and their good attitudes and get in the car.  They almost always have fun once we get there.

If Curt is out of town and I'm the sole parent facilitating the adventure, I often join the kids in the Crabmaster General army.  It's a ton of work to pack enough food and water for an entire day, make sure kids have survival gear and proper foot attire, and fill the car with gas.  Then I have to grab the hiking book and my camera, stock my backpack, and be ready to pull out of the driveway early enough in the morning that we can get the hike done and be back before bedtime.  

We often spend the first five minutes in the car on the way to the hike revisiting all the ways we could have spoken kinder, used nicer tones of voice, been slower to get angry and quicker to listen. Then we apologize and pray that the Holy Spirit will help us refocus our attitudes and emotions in ways that are productive, kind and fun.

It would be easy to look at the photographs of stunning scenery and smiling kids and draw the conclusion that our kids never fight and that Curt and I don't blow it on a regular basis.  But it simply isn't true.   Just ask anyone who does life with us.  

The truth is that on this particular hike the wildflowers that were supposed to be filling the meadows were done blooming.  In their place was killer grass that sliced into our socks and shoes.   The trail system was not marked well and we did quite a bit of backtracking and bushwhacking. One or two Stilp children laid down in the middle of the path and dramatically whined, "Are we done yet?"  Katie lost her favorite water bottle.  We all lost our tempers and had mini tantrums, except Paige who was angelic on this hike.  (Thank you Paigey).  Kids bickered and pushed each others buttons.  We used the most disgusting outhouse of all time and got stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic for an hour heading back into Portland.  Momma got tired of choosing grace and switched to the side of justice, assigning two of the four Stilp children massive amounts of mandatory homework to do in the car on the way home.  

One of my greatest battles in motherhood is not believing the Enemy's lies that I am a failure as a mom.  "You screwed that up.  Lost your temper.  Raised your voice.  Got impatient when you should have been loving.  Gave a rebuke instead of hug.  This whole day is a failure.  All everyone did was fight and bicker.  Your kids will never get along.  Never like each other.  Never like you.  How will your children ever grow up without scars that YOU inflicted?"  These lies are the reason I paused when Kelly asked me if we had fun.  

But there's more to this story.  The truth is also this.  We laughed our heads off.  Prayed together.  Sang loudly and off key in the car.  Played creative games while we hiked.  All five us mingled in different little groups throughout the day, each of us enjoying spending alone time with each other.  We picnicked on a bluff overlooking the gorge with Mt. Hood looming in the distance.  Marveled at how the meadow grasses danced in the wind.  Went out to eat - something we rarely do - and thoroughly enjoyed the worst hamburgers on the planet.  The truth is we made incredible memories together on the Catherine Creek hike.

The truth is Jesus died to set me free.  Because of the cross, sin and shame are powerless.  Because of Jesus' great love and mercy, I don't have to be defined by my failures.  My kids don't have to be defined by their failures.  We are being made new each day. 

So which truth do I dwell on?  

I choose to throw away the rotten lies of the enemy, the tantrums, and lack of self control.  I choose to make the good memories - the fun, the laughter, the greasy burgers and sunshine on our faces - be the memories I file in my mind.   But it's not always easy.

The day after our hike I asked a small group of my older and wiser friends to help me process some of the scratch-your-head mothering moments where I just don't know what to do.  Our conversation came back to prayer and how we could pray specifically for our kids.  My very wise friend Di hears from God through words.  She poetically said, "Pray that our kids will bend to Jesus' lordship and find relief in his love."  

Di says I hear from God in pictures.  Which brings me back to the beginning of this story.  Remember the harsh desert conditions that force plants to adapt to survive?  I had photographed a tree in the meadow where we picnicked.  It was all bent over to adapt to the constant winds but clearly thriving. 

After I photographed the tree, I asked my crew of Little People to go stand by the tree and pose for a photo.  They didn't want to, but they love me enough to do it anyway.  I'm going to frame this photo and caption it:  "Jesus, May we be strong enough to bend to your lordship and find relief in your love."
Jesus, may we bend to your lordship and find relief in your love.

I learned a few things from our Catherine Creek outing.  We won't stop in Cascade Locks again for greasy burgers and I will add more toilet paper to the backpack so we can avoid overflowing outhouses.  But I also learned to pray that God will make me strong enough to bend to his lordship and find relief in his love.

Keizer Marathon

Hi Friends.

A few weeks ago I ran a second marathon.   I wrote about it for Sole Sisters, the fitness blog I co-write for.

If you're interested, you can find the story by clicking this LINK.

Sorry for all the non-writing.  I have a list of stuff to write about.  If only I had the time...

I hope you are all doing well.