“Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story – those He redeemed from the hand of the foe.” (Psalm 107:2)
I love a good story. The kids who have walked through the doors of the Heartlight Campus come brimming with their own personal stories of trials, failures, successes, and reconciliation. Some kids are free and unguarded with their life stories. Others, you have to dig a little, and establish a sense of trust before they open up. But for every teen that graduates from the Heartlight program, they add new, encouraging chapters to their lives that offer them, and their parents, hope. I’ve decided to share some of these accounts with you this week. As you read them, maybe you’ll recognize the issues your own child faces. Or perhaps you’re at the end of your rope, and could use reassurance that God will bring you and your child through these difficult times. That’s the power of a good story—to learn and gain encouragement from the experiences of others.
I guess you could say I was a Daddy’s girl, but that soon changed as I got older. As a teenager, I lived in the constant shadow of my older sister. She was a straight-A student, a ballerina, and a model Christian girl. But I was none of those things. I was more of a tomboy, and liked hanging out with guys, or playing sports. And I was definitely not a great student! I always felt my parent’s disappointment that I couldn’t be like my sister. They constantly got on me about my grades, or who I hung out with, the clothes I was wearing, and a bunch of other characteristics about me that they didn’t like.
Since I couldn’t live up to my parent’s expectations, I decided to go to the other extreme, and be the exact opposite of what they wanted. I got into partying BIG time, and I made a lot of bad decisions. When I would come home, late at night, my parents would jump all over me about it. I would either ignore them, or blow up, and act totally disrespectfully. But I didn’t know any other way! I knew I was messing up, and I knew I was in the wrong, but I wanted my mom and dad to sit down and talk with me, instead of comparing me to my sister.
Being at Heartlight was tough. But over the course of my time there, I learned how to communicate better, and how to listen. My parents learned a lot as well. Now we have a great relationship. They listen to me when I talk, and it makes me want to listen to them when they give me advice. I discovered that it wasn’t that they wanted me to be like my sister; they just wanted what’s best for me. So I put the partying aside, and I’m really focusing on being the best daughter, I can be.
My relationship with my mom was really messed up. She would talk to me like I was one of her adult friends, not like I was her daughter. My mom would share very personal matters, things that a teenager should not hear from her parents. And then she would ask my advice! It was uncomfortable and strange. One minute she would be talking to me like a girlfriend, and the next she would act like a mom and tell me what to do. Since I didn’t feel like her daughter in the relationship, I really didn’t listen to anything she said.
My relationship with my mom got so bad that I couldn’t even stay in the house anymore. I wound up running away to my abusive boyfriend’s house, and staying there. It was sad that I choose to be with an abusive boyfriend over being with my parents.
But the staff and counselors at Heartlight gave me the tools I needed to build a better relationship with my mom. Now, I set boundaries on what she can and cannot tell me. I enjoy talking with her again. It’s feels good knowing that she is my mom first, and my friend second.
I was both a bully and the bullied. I would dread going to school, knowing that kids there were ready to tear me down. Most of the torment centered around me being adopted. The kids would say things like, “No one loves you,” or “Why don’t you just stay home where you belong.” I didn’t want them to know that they could hurt me or affect me, so I would either try to ignore them, or lash out at them the best I could.
In high school, I started having suicidal thoughts and began to hurt others emotionally. I didn’t want to get close to anyone, ever. And every year in high school, it got worse and worse, till I didn’t want to leave my house.
It was at Heartlight that I made the connection between the constant bullying I experienced at school, and my dark thoughts. Though I tried to pretend the taunts and insults didn’t get to me, I had started to believe that what the bullies said was true. I saw how I was trying to protect myself and my feelings by closing others out, and trying to hurt myself. It’s still a long process, and I am working on dealing with these issues, but I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I had a big problem with lying, and I wasn’t even good at it! I never got away with any of the lies I told to my parents or friends. But I couldn’t help myself. Lying was my first impulse. And the more lies I told, the more I believed them myself. It got to the point where I couldn’t distinguish between my lies and the truth very well.
But I was afraid that people would see who I really was. I’ve gone through many tough obstacles in life, and I didn’t want my mom, dad, or friends to know. I was scared that when they saw the “real” me, they would judge me and not understand. I thought it was better to appear normal in someone else’s eyes, than to be normal.
Thankfully, I went to Heartlight, where I could focus on getting past my need to lie about who I was. They taught me how to journal, and write down my goals, likes, and hobbies for myself. It was at Heartlight that I discovered who I really was, and I felt free for the first time in a long time. It’s still tough to be honest and let people see the real me, but I can see the benefits of truth way more than the temporary relief of a lie.
Did you see your child in one of these stories? Or maybe you saw a little bit of yourself. It’s harder than ever to be a teenager these days, and it’s harder to be a parent, as well.
In the midst of trying times with your teenager, remember that the story isn’t over. I’ve been blessed to see the redemptive end to many of my student’s accounts, but there are still many more kids I am praying for as I watch their lives unfold. Mom and Dad, remember that God is not finished writing your son or daughter’s story. Trust that He is faithful, and He will finish what He starts in the life of your teen.
*Names have been changed
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas. For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website. It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Go to www.heartlightministries.org. Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173. Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.