Friday, November 27, 2009

First Time Altar Boy

Zach got to be an altar boy for the very first time on Thanksgiving Day!  He knew only "big boys" get to serve on the altar so when the opportunity arose for him to serve on the altar, he was both ecstatic and nervous.  He's my thinker and planner.  He wants to know all the specifics before diving into anything.  Thankfully daddy was serving on the altar also so he could direct Zach and teach him where to go and when.  He really enjoyed being an altar boy!  (His younger brother, Chris, was jealous and attempted to show me he could stand still and be quiet in church to prove to me he's able to serve on the altar himself...soon my Chris...soon.)  :)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Discussions with Teenagers

I originally created this blog as an extension of my website.  The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to document our family living our Orthodox Christian life through one year.  Not all the details have made it to this blog as I originally intended but I do try to hit the highlights as time provides the opportunities.

I watched a movie with my 15 year-old daughter tonight which leaves me awake reflecting on the discussion and lessons learned using the movie (and book) as a catalyst.  I've found over the years that using books and movies have provided a path to conversations about heavy or sensitive topics that would otherwise be hard to bring up out of the blue.  It also allows for the conversation to be a bit less embarrassing to discuss...with your parents - by talking about the topics in the context of the characters first and then relating it to real life...their life...our lives.

Tonight we watched "Frankenstein" based on the book by Mary Shelley.  After the movie ended (and yes, the movie was a bit graphic and gruesome so you may want to watch it first if you're not sure whether or not you want your child watching it), the two of us had a lengthy conversation about God as the Creator, abortion, stem cell research, respect for your body (tatoos, piercings, etc), death (life after death), meaning of life, playing God, etc.  

Frankenstein's creation sees himself as someone essentially good (or at least not evil) as he hides in a barn and slowly learns/remembers how to speak, read, and interact with people again by watching a farming family through the cracks in the stable into the family's home. He secretly helps the family plow their frozen potato crop because he's enamored by them. Through a misunderstanding, the family first learns about their secret tenant when he tries to help the grandpa. In that moment of misunderstanding, the farmer beats the monster with a pole and crushes the monster's hope for love from the family because of the emotional pain inflicted with the beating (not the physical). Niki and I discussed how one comment, one joke, one snide remark can cause permanent damage between you and the person you said the words to. It is so important to be kind to others at all times because by mere words, we can permanently affect someone to the point we hurt them so deeply, they can't even discuss it with anyone - internalizing it and wreaking havoc in that person's mind for the rest of their life. Think about the damage that can be caused when someone is teased about their weight or told they are stupid or if they feel abandoned. There's so many ways mere words can alter a person's thoughts about themselves....for long lengths of time if not permanently. That's where apologizing and asking forgiveness comes into play as a remedy for the wound.

The "monster" is trying to understand his meaning in life. He quickly realizes he doesn't have parents like everyone else. He's made from parts of other people. Were these good people? Evil people? Does he have a soul? He's outcasted by all those he comes in contact with - he doesn't belong. So where does he fit into this life? What's his purpose? His creator sees him as a monster - so he was created and brought into a world where not only he's different from everyone else but even his creator/father sees him as evil. How does he even have a chance to be good in these circumstances? Where is he to find love? What's life worth without love?  So many topics discussed.

It's not the first time I've done this.  I think it was about 6th grade that we read "The Giver" by Louis Lowry together.  I wasn't prepared for the content of the book and was a little shocked while I was reading aloud to her on the couch.  (One summer, the two of us would sit on the couch at night when Les was on a business trip and read to each other.  One of those books was "The Giver".)  Instead of censoring it - like I instinctively wanted to do - I would finish out the paragraph or chapter then stop and discuss the story.  We talked about abortion, euthanasia, and birth control.  These are not topics I would naturally think to bring up while lounging around on a lazy summer night with my daughter...but the opportunity presented itself.  Instead of shying away from the topic, I used it to my advantage.  Today, my daughter is not afraid to state her opinion - and give reasons to support her opinion - when her beliefs are challenged by friends.  This may simply be part of her personality but I'd like to think that our discussions while reading books helped her to mold and define her strong beliefs to the point of feeling comfortable defending those beliefs.  I'd prefer she learn about these things from me (or my husband) instead of from her friends who may or may not agree with our own beliefs.

Another example of books used for sensitive topics was the "Twilight" Series.  Again, we had a lengthy conversation about sex before marriage, relationships (does a "perfect" boyfriend/husband exist?), abortion, death (life after death), etc.  Yes, there are some big topics in this series.  My daughter was introduced to the series back in 8th grade when a friend at school gave her the first book to read.  Today, my daughter is very sensitive to voluntarily telling people she's read the Twilight Series.  She enjoyed the story but she doesn't want to be confused with the girls who excitedly exclaim they are a "Twilighter" - which again, was a topic of discussion.  Twighters are the cultic following of fans who have evolved and emerged trying to bring the fantasy into their real lives.  I'm really happy that my daughter doesn't want to be associated with this.  This past weekend, friends of ours' teenage son was over visiting us.  A short discussion got brought up over the Twilight books.  He said, "I don't like them.  How am I supposed to compete with it?"  Referring to the fact that the main male character, Edward, is portrayed in the series as THE PERFECT boyfriend/husband.  He has a valid and good point.  The focus of the relationship is being put on superficial, external characteristics instead of a relationship that places God at its center. I drift off to sleep...I'm thankful for yet another opportunity to have had an open and wonderful discussion with my teenage daughter.  It was a great way to talk about what we believe - strengthening her knowledge of her faith as well as guiding her for her future life as an adult.