Are there stickers for people who waste their votes?


What does a wasted vote look like?

Is it cast on different paper? With a unique pen? Is the voter who casts it forced to stand at a special booth in an isolated part of the voting location? Is it processed through a different counter than the others? And what about the sticker at the end? Will it say “I wasted my vote?”

I’m curious because several people have told me recently that my vote will be wasted. And though I couldn’t disagree more, I marvel at the fact that so many people have bought into this lie.

The definition of a wasted vote is one that is cast for a candidate who is not formally taking part in an election. So in November, if I write in Winnie the Pooh on my ballot, I will have wasted my vote, since the “chubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff” isn’t actually participating in the 2016 race. Likewise, if I write in the name of a candidate who has not been approved for my state’s ballot, my vote will be wasted because it will not be counted.

A more stringent definition is this: any vote that is cast for a candidate that does not win the election. In other words, on November 8 of this year, it is possible that a whole lot of Republicans or a whole slew of Democrats will have wasted their votes because they cast their vote on behalf of the losing candidate.

Given the latter definition, my vote may very well be “wasted.”

You see, I will not be voting for either candidate, because I believe that each is inept and untrustworthy. I fear them both equally because they are unqualified for the job, but I am not ruled by my fear of what might happen if one of them wins.

John McAlister, former Libertarian candidate for Congress, wrote in 2000 that a vote is as much a message as it is a choice of a winner. He explained that a vote communicates what each voter’s vision of government and leadership looks like. So while my vote will never be the swing vote that wins an election for one candidate over another, it will be my means to communicate my values and beliefs to the leadership of this country.

But this election, like so many before it, isn’t simple to interpret, because while some people will vote for one candidate, others will vote against another. And the distinction is an important one.

Let’s assume for argument’s sake that someone reading this intends to vote for Trump next month. As the returns come in that night, Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus will no doubt puff his chest a little farther with each vote for Trump, and he will mentally congratulate himself for successfully promoting the party’s candidate. But he’s ignoring the possibility that the vote wasn’t so much a vote for Trump as it was a vote against Hillary.

Same with Interim Chair of the Democratic National Convention Donna Brazile: Each vote cast for Hillary will, in the minds of party leadership, affirm the Democratic Party’s platform and agenda. But it will ignore the possibility that the vote was cast by someone for whom Donald Trump was simply not an option.

My vote, on the other hand, will not be difficult to interpret at all. My vote will very clearly send a message to each party that the candidates they have championed do not represent me or my beliefs. My vote will very clearly be a vote against the lie that there are only two parties participating in the election. My vote will send a message to Governor Rick Scott of Florida that he cannot force me into voting for Trump by refusing to allow other candidates to be included on our state’s ballot. My vote will very clearly indicate that I do not support the two parties and their strong-arm tactics against candidates like Bernie Sanders who, although his programs run counter to my beliefs, would make a much better president than the two candidates on the ballot simply because he is trustworthy and honest.

My vote will communicate clearly that I am not willing to sacrifice the things that are important to me on the altar of party loyalty. And my vote will communicate clearly that the leadership of this country should not ever, ever make the mistake of taking my vote for granted.

If Hillary Clinton wins in November, there may be those who will suggest that 3rd-party voters like me helped her get there, but I don’t shrink from that accusation. I embrace it. I whole-heartedly celebrate the fact that there will be consequences for the party that allowed us to get to this place by telling voters one thing in order to win office, and then completely failing to follow through once they were there. I welcome the conversations about politicians who put the good of the party before the good of the country. I relish the discussion about the party whose credibility is such that Trump, in the opening days of his campaign, reserved the right to leave it because he doubted he would be treated fairly; or the party that ensured that Bernie Sanders would never succeed.

And lest you think this is a last-ditch effort to affect the election’s outcome, I assure you it isn’t. I’m not trying to sway anyone to a particular action. I’m simply suggesting that there are more than two options here for people who are unhappy with the choices. I’m simply pointing out that the tired, false contention that a third-party candidate can never be a viable option is touted most often by the two parties who have the most to lose when we, as a populace, latch on to that reality.

~Hebrews 11:16



Do politics Trump friendship?


Perhaps a dividing line somewhere in the middle of the US would do the trick.

We could just draw a horizontal line somewhere in the middle of the United States. All those of one mindset can move to one side, and the remaining ones can move to the other. (A vertical line won’t work. A left and right divide is probably just too obvious.)

We could end the facade of listening to one another and considering other viewpoints. We could stop pretending that there is any common ground to be had, or any real chance at compromise. We can just move to an area where the people are all exactly like us and we can all co-exist happily. And if we cross our fingers and hold our collective breath, perhaps we’ll never disagree about anything again.

We’ll have to “unfriend” everyone whose viewpoints are different than ours, of course. Lucky for us, there’s a handy article being shared around Facebook that offers simple instructions to find, and then unfriend, all your contacts who “like” Donald Trump. It claims you can “drop them like a bad habit” and then “enjoy a bigot-free Facebook feed.”

In my case, that would include 31 of my friends: friends who are intelligent, experienced, politically involved people. Friends who have served this nation in uniform and personally sacrificed for our citizens. Friends whose faith is a vital part of their lives, and others whose family members have worked for years as first-responders in their communities.

Is this really what we’ve come to? Ending our contact with people who disagree with us? Basing our relationships solely on a shared set of political beliefs?

I don’t know why my friends have thrown their support behind Trump, largely because I haven’t asked. But even without knowing, I have not lost sight of what I do know about them. And I respect their right to decide for themselves whom to support, without becoming emotionally involved in their choice.

One of the friends who shared the link about unfriending people is a person I greatly respect. There is very little that he and I agree on politically, but we have had some great discussions about difficult topics, and I admire his candor. I wonder, though, if he  would  really unfriend me if I found some of Trump’s viewpoints thought provoking?

This is a microcosm of what is lacking in this country.

We are largely unwilling to engage in any kind of debate with those whose viewpoints are different than ours. Oh, we’ll argue. We’ll shout our viewpoints from our social media pages and then unfriend anyone who has the audacity to disagree.

But it’s the listening part that we’ve lost. It’s the desire to try to understand another viewpoint that we’re losing.

We are allowing politicians from both sides of the aisle to further divide us, and we’re blindly following along. (And yes. Both sides are doing it.) We are buying into the idea that we couldn’t possibly even remain friends with the people who support the other side.

Women should be angry at men. Blacks should be angry at whites. The lower class should be angry at the upper class. Gun owners should be angry at the gun-control supporters and pro-choice people should be angry at pro-lifers.

We can do better than this. And in fact, some of us are.

I saw an exchange between two young sports enthusiasts on the Internet recently. One was railing against a pitcher who had under-performed in an important game. The other agreed that the performance hadn’t been perfect, but he suggested that the pitcher had built a good career for himself overall, despite the poor performance. And instead of the flame war I thought was coming, the first party agreed that the pitcher had served his team well. And then the second party agreed that the pitcher’s recent performances had been disappointing.

They found a way to hear each other, and find some common ground in the discussion. And though you might argue that this is a much less emotional issue than, say, abortion or gun control, the tenets are still the same.

  • Listen. When the other person is talking, fight the urge to mentally begin building your case against him. Resist the urge to pick apart his argument. Instead, listen. Hear what he is saying.
  • Consider. Allow for the possibility that at least some of what the other person is saying is true. In fact, go a step further. Force yourself to find one small truth in what the other person is saying. If she says the middle class is suffering at the hands of the 1 percent, be willing to agree that the middle class is in trouble. Both parties agree that the middle class is shrinking. Voila. Common ground.
  • Compromise. By definition, it is an agreement made when both sides make concessions. That means that each side will have to give something. There are few, if any, examples of compromise left in our government any more, but we should not accept this as an inevitable truth.
  • Identify. Determine which issues are non-negotiable for you. But realize they can’t ALL be non-negotiable. Decide on the ones that you cannot possibly waver on, and then be willing to give ground in other places. The other person’s non-negotiable may be a place that you can concede a bit of ground. And your non-negotiable may be movable for him.

There is common ground to be had. There may not be much of it, but we have to find it. And there may be some places that we will agree to disagree. But respectful, honest discourse is an excellent start.

Best case: We return civility to our political discourse.

Worst case: We find that politics really do trump friendship.



7 Indisputable Truths About “American Sniper”

"American Sniper poster" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia -

“American Sniper poster” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

Note: This piece is a little late to the conversation about “American Sniper.” I submitted it to a large website two weeks ago in hopes that its reach and readership could broaden the conversation about our military. Instead, the site decided it wasn’t balanced enough so they refused it. I still believe it’s a valid conversation, and I hope you’ll be part of it. 

I can’t generalize about the audiences who are watching “American Sniper.” I don’t know the demographics, or the impressions they are left with once the movie is over. Arguably, no one else can either, although some continue to try.

I do, however, feel minimally qualified to offer an opinion about the movie’s content, because I have spent more than 20 years in the midst of our country’s greatest warriors. I served four years as an Army journalist, and an additional 20 as the wife of a Special Forces soldier. Many of the lessons I’ve learned over the years were present in the movie, and they ring true whether we choose to believe them or not.

One: America’s all-volunteer military willingly serves our nation so that others are not forced to do so. Very often, our service members are tasked with missions that are gut-wrenching, but they are never given the option to choose whether they will comply.

When American troops were assigned to Africa to assist with the spread of the Ebola virus, many families I know struggled with the notion that a family member would be exposed to the potentially deadly virus. But the soldiers went.

And if you find yourself tempted to accuse those families of being self-involved or indifferent to the plight of others, I would ask you to imagine that your family member was being sent. Anyone who is capable of being intellectually honest will understand what I mean.

Two: Many service members who have seen combat have witnessed things that the average person cannot process. In many cases, they are not at liberty to share what they know, which results in impossible second- and third-order effects: they cannot share their experiences with those they love most, and they necessarily become distant from those same people.

Their attempts to compartmentalize their lives cause them to feel like outsiders in their own homes. When they return to find that dinner-table discussions center around American Idol and deflated footballs, they struggle to understand our fascination with the trivial to the exclusion of the horrors occurring around the world.

Every single American should understand that there are atrocities being committed by those on the other side of this war that will likely never be made public. I don’t know if that is because our military isn’t releasing the details or because the details aren’t being sought by those who could report them. Either way, the lack of reporting doesn’t change the reality.

Three: The burden of service to this great nation (and yes, I said great) falls on a very small percentage of our citizens. During World War II, an estimated 16 million Americans served in uniform. Not included in that number are the civilians who worked for the government, and the countless individuals and communities that conserved and rationed items in support of our military efforts.

Today, the Department of Defense reports that 2.5 million members of the military have deployed in support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it absolutely makes a difference that such a small part of our population carries the burden of combat now.

Don’t believe me? A group of students from our on-post high school recently participated in the Kentucky Youth Assembly, a simulation of Kentucky’s democratic process. As part of the effort, they were assigned to draft a bill that would be presented for consideration by the mock assembly.

Our students drafted a bill that proposed free college tuition to children of disabled veterans in the state of Kentucky. Our students were shocked when a group of off-post students disputed the notion that veterans had done anything to earn such preferential treatment; when another student questioned who the term “veteran” referred to, our team was left speechless.

Four: Many Americans are still unabashedly patriotic. We understand that the American people have done great things during the course of our nation’s history. We aren’t so naive as to believe that our nation has never “gotten it wrong.”

Rather, we understand that, just as you might do with a child, you can love America in spite of the less-than-perfect parts of our history. Just as you might do with a child, you can celebrate the good things and try to correct the bad. But just as you might with a child, you should realize that it is punitive and narrow-minded to focus on the bad to the exclusion of the good.

If you’re among the crowd that finds the concept of patriotism offensive, I absolutely respect your right to feel that way. But I maintain that it is ok to be patriotic. It is ok to question our nation’s decisions and actions. And it’s ok to love her because of, and in spite of, those decisions.

Five: It cannot be repeated too often, or too loudly, that our service members protect our right to offer an opinion about anything and everything.

“It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press.

It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us the freedom of speech.

It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.

It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protestor to burn the flag.”

Father Denis Edward O‘Brien, United States Marine Corps

Six: The movie has initiated a dialogue that our country needs to have. A dialogue about war, and about those who fight it. About those who are affected by it, and those who live it. And about the fallout of war.

My daughter’s junior English class recently debated the issue of romanticizing combat, and whether Hollywood should be allowed to do it. (She attends high school on a military base with students who have endured multiple combat deployments by the adults in their lives.)

On one side of the issue, a student argued that we’ve killed innocent people during the course of the wars we have fought. On the other side, a student suggested that there is something inexplicably beautiful about the fact that there are those who will lay down their lives for their country.

The debate stirred emotions that have likely been buried for many years; emotions that have built up over the course of numerous combat deployments. But I am thankful for educators who understand the value of dialogue and debate, and who encourage our students to engage in both.

I am grateful for our teachers who have close ties to the military, and who understand the difficulties inherent in our communities. I am especially grateful for those who aren’t afraid of disagreement: it is to be expected among people with varied experiences and different backgrounds.

Seven: “American Sniper” has become the top grossing war film of all time, passing “Saving Private Ryan” and “Pearl Harbor.” Perhaps audiences are spending their hard-earned money to see what all the controversy is about. Perhaps audiences are angry, as Howard Dean said, and this movie is a reflection of that anger.

Or perhaps Americans are hungry for stories that remind us that our nation is inherently good, even if she isn’t always perfect. Perhaps audiences yearn for stories about heroes, and those whose lives are devoted to some greater purpose. If the popularity of life coaches is any indication, people are hungry for a return to meaningful work and meaningful lives.

Perhaps you, too, are tired of this entire conversation. Certainly no one could blame you for feeling that way, least of all military families who have lived this struggle for 14 years. They understand that seeing a young child on the receiving end of a sniper rifle is beyond difficult.

But they also personally know people who died fighting the War on Terror, so when critics who are angry at the origins of the war lash out at Chris Kyle and those he served with, it feels very personal.

My point is not to argue the merits of this movie, but to celebrate the fact that we are finally discussing the gut-wrenching decisions faced by our military during times of combat. Perhaps the movie isn’t perfect. Perhaps it’s heavy-handed at times. Perhaps it included a distracting prop or it over-simplified a complex issue.

It also included several worthwhile messages about those who wear the uniform of our nation. It shed light on the internal and external struggles our nation’s warriors are waging. It gave a brief, perhaps flawed, glimpse into the lives of our military men and women.

The most important thing we can do is continue the conversation: the good and the bad. We should separate our ambivalence for the war from our feelings for our military. Reach out to a friend who served in the military and ask what he thought. Or reach out to someone currently serving and do the same.

Let’s educate ourselves about world events, not through the skewed eyes of a 24-hour news channel, but rather from unbiased, first-hand accounts. Let’s refuse to be led mindlessly down any path by those with a personal agenda.

As a student of history, I have often wondered what issue might unite us again, and cause us to stand together as a nation of people with a common set of beliefs. Perhaps this is the one?


Brian Williams Shouldn’t Matter

Brian Williams with retired Command Sgt. Major Tim Terpak at a New York Rangers game

Brian Williams with retired Command Sgt. Major Tim Terpak at a New York Rangers game

Brian Williams should not be the story today.

He will, of course, because it seems he was caught telling an untrue story. At issue is Williams’ claim that he was aboard a helicopter that was shot down during the Iraq invasion in 2003. Apparently he and his network, NBC, have perpetuated various versions of the story, ranging from Williams being on a separate helicopter behind the one that was fired upon to him being on board the Chinook that took fire.

The story fell apart last week when Williams spoke at a New York Rangers hockey game to honor a soldier who had provided security that day in Iraq. When a video of the speech was posted to NBC’s Facebook page, a flight engineer that was aboard the helicopter in question posted, saying he didn’t remember Williams being aboard. Lance Reynolds went on to say that he remembered Williams appearing about an hour later, seeking details about what happened.

Williams will be the story today because we love to watch influential people fall. There’s nothing we love more than a good fall from grace. And some of us will be tempted to feel a certain righteous indignation because a member of the media was caught lying.

And this is why “gotcha journalism” sells. Because we’re buying.

Let me begin by saying that I am not defending Williams. Having worked in Army public affairs for four years, I have a decent understanding of the media and its tactics. I still believe in the old-school notion that the media represents the Fourth Estate: that segment of our society that wields enough political and social power to make a positive difference in this nation. I believe the media should be unbiased and honest to a fault.

More importantly, I believe the real story here is that there was a helicopter that was hit by rockets in 2003. There was a crew aboard that helicopter. And the fact that there was no one famous aboard does not somehow diminish the experience.

What if, for example, we spent a few minutes on the internet today researching the details of the actual events. What if we educated ourselves about one piece of the invasion in an attempt to understand what the members of our military endured that day. What if we spent a few minutes pondering the fact that there are service members somewhere in this nation who lived this experience. And they were most likely changed by it.

This is, in my mind, what “American Sniper” seeks to communicate to Americans: that the members of our all-volunteer military have paid a very high price for their service to this nation. They have done it without expectation of fanfare. And they have done it in the face of great political debate.

They have been injured. They have been killed. They have watched their buddies be injured and killed. They bear the lingering injuries of their service to us, and many face uncertain futures because they are changed by the war.

I have lost count of the number of my friends who have debilitating back injuries from the months of wearing body armor and heavy gear. I know many service members who have returned home physically, but who have never returned home mentally, because they left something behind in that war. I saw a young man on base yesterday, probably no more than 30 years old, escorting his kids into the elementary school with the use of a cane.

Most will never publicly complain about their physical or mental injuries, because they know many more who never made it home.

While we leisurely debate the ethical dilemma that Brian Williams finds himself in, there are American soldiers who will find themselves in harm’s way today. They are probably angry that Williams lied, but they have greater problems to solve.

They will watch videos of captive pilots being burned alive by our enemy, all while they prepare to do whatever their nation asks of them.

Resolve to do something positive with this story. Share it as many places as you can, not because I’m seeking statistics for my byline, but because the important story is the soldiers who really were there that day. And the others who lived similar stories other days in other places.

Maybe you know one of these soldiers. Maybe you are one of them. Let’s share these stories in a meager attempt to publicly acknowledge all that our military has endured. Let’s make it our business to educate ourselves, and to stop relying on the media to do it for us.

Let’s begin small and prove to our service members that, although we weren’t there and we can never know first-hand what they know, we’re trying to understand. We’re trying to comprehend the gut-wrenching things that happened. Let’s resolve not to forget about them or the price they’ve paid.

Look up the names of the men that Williams mentioned in his apology: Joseph, Lance, Jonathan, Pate, Michael. Do something good today in honor of these men and others like them. They are the reason that Brian Williams and others are free to report the news today. They are the reason we can take a moment to share things on social media.

Brian Williams is not the story today.

What are you willing to do to combat “gotcha journalism” and start a productive conversation?




Reinforcing Racism?

Note: This is a letter that my daughter wrote as part of a high school English assignment. She and the other students in her class are sending letters to major media outlets in hopes of initiating a national conversation about race. This particular letter went to Greta Van Susteren, Anderson Cooper and Oprah Winfrey.

Americans are known for their unfaltering spirit. The “American Dream” was born in the 1800s as the nation was swept by Manifest Destiny’s call for expansion. This idea has carried on through history to form the concept of the “American Spirit,” built on the principles of freedom, opportunity, and progress. Americans are free to share their opinions, a right highlighted by our Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence in hopes that American citizens would always speak up for what they believe in.

We as a country have embraced that right wholeheartedly, voicing our thoughts with the exception of one subject: race. Tensions have been rising as a result of violence between races, primarily black and white. The issue is carefully avoided by politicians and leaders in our country for fear of offending citizens with opposing views. Race relations remain the proverbial “elephant in the room,” and even those who were elected to protect the best interests of the country haven’t made any attempts to fix it.

I am currently a student at a military high school. The students at the school come from a vast array of different ethnic backgrounds and have seen many parts of the world as a result of living at numerous duty stations. The school is an accepting environment for all students, and race differences have never been an issue.

In fact, the school is so well integrated that its test scores do not reflect the “black-white gap” (African-Americans scoring consistently lower on standardized tests than white students) observed across the country. Although the school is an anomaly, it proves that preconceived ideas about race can be overcome.

In 1992, The Oprah Winfrey Show conducted an experiment on a studio audience. Upon arrival to the set, audience members were separated into groups of brown-eyed people and blue-eyed people. The blue-eyed viewers were required to wear a green collar and were not seated in the studio, while brown-eyed guests were treated to breakfast and were seated early. Finally, the bewildered and angry blue-eyed group was permitted to enter the studio.

Diversity expert Jane Elliot (who has blue eyes) took the stage, and the group sharing her eye color immediately pointed out that she was not wearing a collar. Elliot explained that she did not need a collar, because she “acted brown-eyed.” Within minutes, Elliot had convinced brown-eyed audience members that they were superior to the blue-eyed guests. It was then revealed to the audience that the entire ordeal was meant to exemplify racism and how it is something humans invented in their minds along the way, not a belief hardwired into the brain.

Racial tension in America is a fixable problem. This school has proven that people of all nationalities and backgrounds can coexist and excel, when given the opportunity. Students of all races and nationalities are involved in Student Council, National Honor Society, class offices, and athletic teams in our school.

Researcher Jane Elliot demonstrated that discrimination can be taught, so it would stand to reason that perhaps we in America are reinforcing racism without realizing it. Although it is a conversation that has been avoided for years, it cannot be pushed to the side anymore. Recent events in Missouri and New York are proof that ignoring the problem is making it worse.

Instead, let’s use our freedom of speech responsibly and start a nationwide dialogue about race. Let’s be willing to listen to one another. Let’s not argue for “colorblindness,” but instead for equality. Let’s embrace cultural differences that make each race so unique. Let’s disarm race-baiters, who use racial differences to stoke the fires of anger. Our nation fought a war to stop practices that elevated one race above another. Let’s honor the sacrifice.


Why Your Teenager’s Opinion Matters  

Teenagers have opinions. If you spend any time at all around them, this will not be surprising to you.

It might, however, surprise you to know that their opinions often sound a lot like yours.

During the past week, I have engaged students several times with questions about the upcoming Super Bowl. In the closing moments of class, I asked the students whether they believe the Patriots did, in fact, purposely deflate footballs during their recent game against the Colts. We discussed whether the team’s history of cheating should be a factor. We discussed whether it matters that the game likely would have ended the same way regardless of the deflation. And we discussed the NFL’s role in the controversy, and how it affects everyone involved.

I have lost count of the number of times that students used the phrases “My mom says” or “My dad told me.” Which might not seem like a big deal to you. But it’s huge to me, because it tells me that they are listening.

Last school year, an 8th-grade girl decided that she didn’t like me much. She and I were frequently at odds because she wasn’t interested in doing her work.

One afternoon, at the end of class, I asked the students whether our government has a responsibility to provide nutritional shakes for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay who refuse to eat the meals that are provided.

And the 8th-grade girl absolutely came alive.

She offered an intelligent, reasonable opinion about the issue. She listened intently when kids on the other side of the issue disputed her facts. And then she engaged again, displaying a good understanding of the background of the story.

When I met her dad a few weeks later at a birthday party for our kids, I shared the story with him, and told him that I was really encouraged by her understanding of the issue. And he was absolutely stunned. Because he was certain that she wasn’t hearing anything he said to her at home. He was convinced that she was “checked out” and that his efforts to educate her about the world were fruitless.

The take-away from this is that teenagers are listening. They hear the opinions around them, and they retain much of what they hear.

We can empower our teenagers by asking their opinions: about politics, current events, sports, and anything else happening in the world. We can ask their opinions about things that happen at home, and problems we’re trying to solve in our own lives.

We’ll be giving them an opportunity to think about the things they know and figure out how those things affect them. We’ll be challenging them to become problem solvers. And, most importantly, we’ll teach them the value of dialogue, which our country sorely needs.

It’s worth noting, though, that ours aren’t the only voices they hear. They hear from teachers, administrators, coaches and peers. They also hear from the media and the Internet. And we have little control over those other voices.

It’s possible, too, that if we never ask teenagers their opinions, we’ll raise a generation of kids who base their opinions solely on what other people say. They won’t understand that they have a right to share their own perspectives, and they won’t know that disagreement can be a great motivator. They will rely entirely on other people to shape their beliefs, and they won’t appreciate how their own experiences make them unique from other people.

Given that the world is full of people who could lead our teenagers in the wrong direction, this isn’t a chance we should take.

Ask teenagers their opinions: about school rules; about choices they face; about issues challenging our nation. Engage them in discussions about the world around them. Challenge their opinions about the things they believe. (Admittedly it’s a little easier for me, because I have a captive audience: law requires these kids to be in class and, in their minds, discussion usually trumps written work.)

My relationship with the 8th-grader changed that day, largely because I saw a side of her I’d never noticed before. I discovered her interest in politics, and it gave me a sense of what motivates her. She and I regularly talked politics after that day, and I learned quite a bit from her.

She taught me that teenagers care about the world. She reminded me that they have ideas about how to make things better. And she reminded me that we sometimes forget to ask for their input.

There are likely moments when you have a captive audience, too: when you’re driving him to yet another social event or driving her to soccer practice. Tell her what you think. Challenge her ideas.

Arm your teenager to distinguish between positive and negative voices. Make sure your voice is one of the many he hears.

Parenting, Uncategorized

When a Coincidence Really Isn’t

I could tell by the look on his face that he was lost.

My son was a 6th grader,  standing behind a podium in his school’s library frantically trying to remember the part of his speech that came next. He had won the classroom-level speech competition and had been invited to compete against other classes at the next level of the contest. He had invited me to watch the competition that morning but then greeted me at the library door with the news that he had lost his notecards. He had no copies of his speech and only his memory to draw from.

There was no time for him to recover. He was scheduled to speak first, and he was going to have to muddle through. My heart ached for him, and I wanted nothing more than to whisk him out of that room so that he wouldn’t have to struggle. Three minutes felt like 30, and I was relieved for him when it was all over. He didn’t win the competition. But he survived.

And then he found his notecards inside his binder. And we had a much-needed discussion about organization. And I was thankful that I was there to “dust him off.”

Watching our children struggle can be heart-wrenching. These little people are ours to protect and guide and teach. And even when they fall short or get it wrong because of choices they have made, it’s difficult to fight the urge to rescue them. And it’s even more difficult to equip them to endure the struggles that will surely come.

My daughter has been facing a prolonged struggle at school against a culture of negativity. She has run for office, spoken at meetings, painted bleachers, decorated hallways, rallied support and met with more than a few leaders in our community. The movement enjoyed some early support and she was pleased when many of the students responded positively to the efforts.

But then she was publicly sent out of a meeting because of a misunderstanding between teachers. And then some teachers were less-than-forthcoming about the events that led up to the ejection. And she was chastised for repeating something an adult said to her. And a few adults failed to take a stand when she needed them the most.

And unfortunately that’s just life sometimes.

But there’s good news in this story, and it’s this: I was at home the day that the drama exploded at school, and I was able to drop what I was doing and meet with her for a few minutes when tensions were running high. I should have been working as a substitute teacher that day, but through a strange turn of events, I wasn’t. So I met her in the foyer of the high school and encouraged her to hang tough. I discouraged her from giving up, and I reminded her of Esther, a young Jewish girl in the Bible who found herself in a position of royalty during a time when Haman, a Persian official, wanted to eradicate the Jews. The story challenges that Esther was raised to her “royal position for such a time as this” and affirms that God is sovereign and always in control.

I left my daughter at the high school, and I was encouraged a short while later when, while editing, I found a scripture reference that said “Let us not lose heart in doing good.” So I sent it to her. And I was encouraged again when I received an email from my small group leader at church… about the story of Esther. I forwarded the email to my daughter with a note that we should make sure we don’t miss what God is trying to tell us. And then I watched in awe as the same kind of thing happened repeatedly over the next few days.

Some would chalk it up to coincidence.

The point is that, regardless of whether you are in the camp that believes that God still speaks, He does. He speaks to us through the music that we hear, the words we read, the people we encounter, the trials we face and the circumstances in our lives. His sovereignty doesn’t change simply because we don’t see it.

My friend Jimmy Burgess said it like this: if you drive a Jeep Wrangler, you tend to notice other Jeep Wranglers, because that’s what you’re familiar with. It’s what is relevant in your life. You don’t notice Chevy Malibus on the road, because you aren’t looking for them. They aren’t relevant to you. God doesn’t disappear from my life simply because I don’t make the time to acknowledge him or because I’m not looking for Him. He’s always there. It’s just that when I’m in tune to what He’s doing, I’m more likely to notice. I’m more likely to catch what He’s communicating.

I’m thankful for the past few days, in spite of the fact that they have been so hard on my daughter. I’m grateful for the reminder that good things happen every day, whether we’re watching or not. Like when one of my daughter’s teachers dropped everything to console her after the meeting debacle. And then another teacher who witnessed the ordeal texted me later in the day to make sure my daughter was ok. And I’m inspired by the fact that my daughter has used the experience to re-evaluate her priorities and rethink her commitments.

Don’t miss the good that is happening today. Watch for it. Actively seek it. More importantly, be open to opportunities to be part of the good that is happening.

It’s happening whether you choose to see it or not.