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Dealing with the Cards You’ve Been Dealt

At times, life can seem like a fixed card game.  To your right is a neighbor who is holding pocket aces.  Their family is like a Norman Rockwell painting, and they never seem to struggle.  You, on the other hand?  Your family is more like a reality TV show than a Rockwell painting.  You look at your cards, and you feel like you’ve been dealt a crummy hand.

Wouldn’t it be nice to throw your bad cards away, and reshuffle the deck?  It could be that the teenage years are throwing your home into a tailspin, and you’re tempted to just walk away.  Or perhaps raising your child has been a battle, and you’re thinking about waving the white flag and giving up.  I get it.  Life is not fair.  Sometimes the family members God has placed in our lives aren’t the folks we would have chosen ourselves.  Why is it your kid who has the issues?  Why is your family the one going through so many struggles?

Mom and dad; let me give you some encouragement.  Though we cannot throw in our cards and reshuffle the deck, it’s possible to take what’s been handed to us and turn it into something beautiful, meaningful, and full of blessing.

Don’t Wriggle Away

I heard Chuck Swindoll say something about trials that has stuck with me throughout my years dealing with troubled teens.  He said, “Everything that comes to you has first come through the hands of God.”  Recognizing that God intimately knows whatever teen troubles or family issues you are facing will give you a different perspective on your situation.  Your problems are not unfortunate coincidences; they are divine circumstances!  That teen under your roof was placed there by God.  She’s not an accident or a mistake.  He’s there for a reason.  When you experience conflict or hard times at home, don’t run away or retreat.  Pray for more patience.  Ask for wisdom.  Let the Holy Spirit search your heart in case there are any logs in your own eye adding to the difficulties (Matthew 7:5).

When we try to escape trials by ignoring them, we are like kids who sleep with a textbook under their pillow before a test, hoping that answers will come to them through mental osmosis.  But real life character tests don’t work that way.  We have to work hard to know ourselves and our kids.  And we also have to know how to gently, but firmly, handle conflict.  Then, when the pressure is on, we will have the opportunity to grow and become better parents.  It’s through difficult circumstances that we gain patience, grace, forgiveness, strength, and perseverance.  So when the trials come, don’t wriggle away.  Embrace them as opportunities to grow, knowing God is using hardship to change you.

Expect Bumpiness

C.S. Lewis once said, “I don’t doubt God’s desire to want the best for us—I just wonder how painful it’s going to be!”  I have talked to countless parents who have come to my conferences or seminars, and told me, “I didn’t anticipate the trouble I would have with my child.”  Because these moms and dads weren’t expecting trials, when difficulties came, they were taken off guard.  If you’re the parent of a pre-teen or a teen; expect bumps!  It will not be smooth sailing.  As a teen gradually moves away from mom and dad and achieves a healthy independence, the movements often include unhealthy emotional shoving, jostling, elbowing, and some bumps and bruises.  While it’s not pleasant, it’s a natural part of growing up.

If you are under the impression that your teen will not make mistakes, push your buttons, or try your patience, then you will be unpleasantly surprised when all of this eventually happens.  Handling what has been handed to you means being ready for whatever comes your way.

Take the Long View

I love to water ski.  Around the Heartlight campus in Texas are some of the best lakes in the country to carve the waves (as my kids would say).  But if you’ve never waterskied before, here’s the trick.  Never, ever, ever look at your feet.  If you do, you’ll hit the water at 60 miles an hour, and skip across the surface like a rock.  Instead, find a point in the distance, keep your focus there, and you’ll stay on your feet.

Raising a teenager is a little like water skiing. If you focus on where you are and not where you’re going, you’ll get caught off balance.  In the present you may be discouraged thinking, “How will this ever get better?  When will this turn around?”  Caught up in the troubles of the here and now, you can lose sight of the future.  And what’s the future?  “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you [or your child, teenager, husband, wife, or any other person in your house] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

God is still at work.  He hasn’t handed you this trial only to leave you hanging.  The good work that He started, He promises to finish.  Though you cannot see how God is going to get you through this problem now, or how He is going to turn it around, He can, and He will.

When what’s been handed to you starts to bring you down, look up.  Get a glimpse of the future and know that years from now, you’ll look back and say, “Yes, God was working in that circumstance and in my kid the whole time.”

Work in Community

Trying to cope with parenting a teen all alone is hard, exhausting, and isolating.  It can make you feel like you are the only one struggling.  But that’s just not the case.  There are moms and dads just like you in your church, at work, and in your PTA that are trying to deal with what’s been handed to them.  They need support just as much as you do.  God has put us in our communities so we can come alongside each other, encourage each another, and take comfort in the fact that we have similar problems and issues.

If you’re trying to deal with a troubled teen on your own, stop!  Get together with other people in your church.  Start a weekly gathering.  Share your burdens with each other and find comfort among other believers.  It’s a resource that God wants you to take full advantage of.

Your Child is Right For You

Trust me, there are times when I wonder whether at the hospital certain children got swapped and I took home the wrong kid!  This can’t be my son or daughter who is making life so difficult!  But here’s the truth.  God hand-picked you for a reason.  Of every mom and dad on the planet He chose you to parent your child.  Your son or daughter needs you.  And you need them.  Through your teenager, God is molding and shaping you to be more like Christ.

Handling what’s been handed to you is no easy feat.  I can’t know every struggle or trial that you are facing.  But I do know that it’s possible not only to deal with each situation, but to allow it to be a blessing for you and your child.  You can take that crummy hand and turn it into a winning combination.


Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.