Sunday, March 15, 2009

A talk with the teenager in my life

We met Emily 4 1/2 years ago. She was 11 1/2 at the time and babysat for us every week for three years (we had small group in our home - she took care of Zach downstairs while the adults met upstairs). The very first night she babysat for us, little Zach (11 1/2 months) was having a hard time so I went downstairs to hang out with them. The three of us were sitting on the couch when Emily asked, "So, did you breastfeed him?" We had an easy discussion about it, but I was shocked that at such a young age she even knew what breastfeeding was! There have been many other grown-up conversations with Emily over the years... To say that she has always been mature is an understatement!

She took care of Zach and Luke for eight hours a day, Friday and Saturday this week, so that I could go to the Women of Faith conference. I didn't see her on Friday night, so when I got home yesterday she was eager to ask about the conference. Mind you, she is almost 16 now and has never been to a conference of any kind... She asked me what it was like, "Did one pastor spend two entire days preaching to you?" She must have thought I was out of my mind to want to sit through that! So, I first explained the format - breaks, different speakers, worship music, lunch... I made a point to mention that Mandisa and Steven Curtis Chapman were there - I figured those names would ring a bell and would not sound boring. Then I told her about how each speaker talked for about 40 minutes and shared pieces of his/her own life experience and the difference that God has made. I quickly listed off several of the topics - eating disorders, depression, divorce, abortion, sexual abuse, pornography, loss of a loved one, body image, financial strain. As I finished listing off the topics, I said that I just really loved how they addressed so many women's issues that we tend to keep private -- so many things that keep us isolated from one another and from God, so many of the things I teach at my support groups.

That statement led to a discussion with her about the support groups I lead, why I lead them, and how incest has impacted my life.. I do not consider this an "adult conversation" and I know that Emily and her parents don't either (I would not have overstepped the boundaries if I thought that her parents would have a problem with this discussion). As Emily and I were talking, I was acutely aware of the fact that many of her peers are survivors of sexual abuse but are unable to talk about it. And that my story was the first of its kind that Emily would hear first hand. As I talked and she listened, I prayed that she would hear the right message... Not stay stuck on, "I can't believe someone would do that to their child", but that she would walk away thinking, "It is amazing what God can do!"

I so clearly remember those days approaching my 16th birthday. Life was exciting, but awkward, painful, and full of secrets too. I carried a lot of "baggage" with me everywhere I went, but didn't know it. I'd never heard of baggage! So, I took some time to talk with Emily about baggage... About how everyone gets hurt and many times we try to rid the pain by turning to something else - boys, parties, being the skinniest girl in school, being the peppiest cheerleader, achieving academic excellence. But none of that can make us permanently feel better - we will eventually have to deal with whatever has hurt us and we will find the most successful healing in the Lord. Emily shared with me then about her friend whose parents have recently divorced. Her friend is having a very difficult time and Emily is doing her best to be a good friend to this young girl. I am so proud of the young woman Emily is and I'm honored to have had the opportunity to talk with her yesterday. She has the compassion and wisdom of a woman many years her senior. God sure did bless us with Emily.

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