A Changed Life

A mom’s story of her time at Shelterwood and how she came to see a changed life

IMG 4278 copy 300x225 A Changed Life First, let me say this talk was not pre-approved by Shelterwood. As I was sharing with my husband this morning what I wanted to share he kept saying: it’s too negative and I kept saying: wait until the end. So as I am talking if you think it is too negative: wait until the end!

I knew who I wanted to address tonight. I wanted to speak to the mama that is sitting here wondering how she ended up here. The mama that doesn’t want to be here or want her son to be here either because that is exactly how I felt sitting here last spring family weekend. I want to speak to the mom who remembers holding that baby boy close to her chest, the one who shared with everyone who would listen all the cute things her preschooler said and did and then the mom who after her son went through puberty wanted to take the same hands that held her baby close and strangle her teenager because of all the horrible decisions he was making. The mom , dad, or grandparent who no matter what they tried they couldn’t stop their son from going down a path that led to destruction. That is exactly where our family was a year ago. Thank God for Shelterwood.

As my husband and I realized things were deteriorating with Connor we began a daily practice of listening prayer. I first encountered Listening Prayer in a book by a nun to India, Mary Geegh. The very first time we prayed this way together we each heard individually in our hearts Connor can’t stay in Dothan. One theme in Mary Geegh’s book is “where God guides, God provides” and that is what we experienced. God led us on a clear path to send Connor to Shelterwood. This is not what I would have chosen. To date bringing Connor here against his will is the hardest thing I have ever done. Yes, it is a Christian boarding school. Yes, each person employed here loves and cares about each one of our sons, but that didn’t alleviate my pain.

IMG 4356 copy 300x225 A Changed LifeIn fact, the pain would get worse before it got better. When we began our calls with Connor after a few weeks it was excruciatingly painful. He would tell us in great detail how horrible Shelterwood was. He didn’t deserve to be here. Everyone laughed at him when he told them why he was here. They had all done MUCH worse. Bless our counselor Leanne’s heart during that time for all the babysitting and comforting she did for me. And I’ll be honest with you when we came for parent’s weekend after Connor had been here a couple of months it didn’t help much. I wanted to grab Connor and run back home. One thing I remember from last year’s parent’s weekend was Rujon saying just think if you couldn’t handle one teenager in your home can you imagine how hard it is for our staff. And she was right! Things were not going well when Connor was home. At least here he was safe. Safe from himself and safe from the influence of his peers. Here he had young men called by God to speak truth into his life. A staff that cared about him. I was also thankful during that time that we had had clear direction from God about sending Connor here because as the doubts surfaced I held on to that. As circumstances around me still looked bad and not better I held on to what God had spoken to us. At parents weekend I heard so many times “trust the process” I wanted to throw up. In my head I was shouting, “What process!!!! You people are so stinkin slow!!! Hurry this up!”

Months into “the process” a wonderful thing began to happen. Connor was working hard & liking the person he was becoming. We saw progress. We saw change. But I didn’t completely trust the process because after 6 months we allowed Connor to come home before graduating the program. He convinced us that he did not want to go back to his old ways. Leanne warned us against it. She said he had made great progress but wasn’t ready. Connor told us graduating the program was no big deal. EVERYONE that did went back to their old ways. Staying a couple of more months wouldn’t make a difference. Which makes me think of something I left out about last year’s parent’s weekend. A young man who had recently graduated the program spoke. He did an excellent job and began to alleviate my fears. I remember thinking maybe Shelterwood can help Connor. Afterwards, Connor told us oh he’s so fake. I heard he still smokes pot. Manipulation, manipulation.

When Connor arrived home to begin his senior year, it didn’t take long for things to deteriorate IMG 4401 copy 300x225 A Changed Lifeagain. During this time I felt like we had made the wrong decision sending him to Shelterwood. He was angry with us and resentful. I felt like we were worse off than better. I heard God speaking to my spirit: there is nothing you can say or do to change Connor King only the Holy Spirit can change him. I held on to this promise for several LONG months. Again things got a lot worse before they got better. Have you ever prayed and prayed for something and didn’t realize it was being answered because it wasn’t happening the way you envisioned? Well, that’s what happened next. Connor has already told you about going on the life changing mission trip to Haiti. When he came home and asked to go back to Shelterwood. The school he was begging to come home from a few short months before. I couldn’t even process it all. He had convinced me last summer Shelterwood was not helping him & was making him worse. So I questioned and questioned Connor, what about this, what about when you said this about the school? His response to all of my questions was: believe me mom I’ve thought about ALL that. I knew the Holy Spirit had moved in Connor’s life when he told us he couldn’t be who he wanted to be and live in Dothan, AL. He needed to, actually wanted to go back to Shelterwood to graduate the program. Connor spoke out loud the words that Leslie and I had heard in our hearts the first time we prayed about what we could do to help Connor.

My part of the story should end there shouldn’t it? Connor speaking the words we had heard God speak into our hearts. But to be honest, I hesitated. In my wildest dreams I never expected Connor to ASK to come back. I had it all planned out. How it would work out with him staying in Dothan. I haven’t mentioned yet how thankful I am for the few close friends I had praying for us during this time. My sweet friends have been faithful to encourage and pray with me. If you don’t have someone like that please come see me during the weekend. I’d be honor to pray for your family during this difficult time. Or should I say during this process.

As I was questioning and doubting God’s answer I had one of those wise friends speak truth into my life. She looked at me and ask, “Lea, what have you been praying for?” I slowly began to realize God had answered my prayer for Connor in a way I never imagined. God had done immeasurably more than I could ask or imagine. We are calling it a miracle in our family.

We are looking forward to Connor graduating the program. Connor is looking forward to graduating the program. Turns out it is a BIG deal when your heart changes. Connor has even asked my parents if they would make the long journey for it. Now, I trust the process. As we are discussing with Connor options for the summer, Leanne’s opinion matters a lot to me. She understands the process.

Connor, words cannot express how proud your dad and I are of you. We are so proud of the hard decisions, the hard choices you have made as the world has been trying to pull you in the opposite direction. It’s hard to give up friends who are bringing you down at any age, but especially when you are young. It’s hard to leave the comforts of home to do what is best for yourself. I am reminded of the Bible verse God gave me concerning you when you were in preschool and I see it being played out now. Ephesians 2:10 “For you are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, to do good works which God planned in advance for you to do.”

I have one more thing to say. As I look around the room and see the Shelterwood staff, I wish I could look into each of your eyes and thank you for all the time, energy, and effort you have put into Connor’s life & every student’s life. I may not have mentioned you by name in our story, but I know you contributed to our story. Whether you have had direct or indirect contact with Connor what you do matters. It matters for the kingdom of God. If we receive crowns in heaven, I know there is a jewel on each of yours with the initials CWK for Connor Winn King and this mama’s heart is eternally grateful to each of you!

Lea shared this talk with fellow parents at our most recent Family Weekend

Take control back from Manipulative Teens

Tired of being manipulated? Want to take control back from the manipulative teens in your home?  Find out what makes us as parents an especially easy mark for our own kids to take advantage of.

First (Knowledge) – our kids know us pretty well.  After all, they have been watching our every move for many years and have a deep understanding of our verbal and non-verbal cues.

Second (Predictability) – we tend to be pretty predictable.  As adults our values remain pretty consistent and therefore we rarely alter our opinions, comments, or expectations.  We tend to walk through disagreements and decisions with our kids using the same rationale, delivered in the same manner and even at similar times of the day.

Third (Instability) – as parents we are not sure where our kids stand.  Their undeveloped commitment to values makes them appear less stable and this flexibility gives them a tremendous edge during debate.  Unable to pin them down parents tend to put a lot of extra effort into explaining themselves.  It is like they are able to confuse us.  While we make a concerted effort to communicate in a logical, methodical, and calm manner the manipulative teen keeps his or her parents guessing as to how to lead in the home.

Manipulative teens might act confused and deliberately “misunderstand” what is being said, keeping parents off balance.  Unsure of how to get their point across parents will eventually become worn down, leading to ambivalence regarding outcomes.

Their ability to act confused gives them the upper hand in debate and usually takes the steam out of a parent’s argument.  Any time we are required to repeat ourselves the impact of our message is reduced.

Now that you understand how a manipulative teen is getting what they want through their use of the ‘Confusion Principle’ maybe it is time to use this same approach occasionally yourself.

The Principle of Confusion works so effectively because it destabilizes ones world and forces them to think at a deeper level. Jesus was a fantastic example of someone that always changed the pattern of interaction.  He used parables to change the paradigm of discussion and it always had the same effect.  It stopped the manipulative Pharisees in their tracks, forcing them to go away and think more deeply about themselves and their approach.

Watch this video to learn more.

Eliminate Fighting

Tired of the fighting?

Are you struggling to connect with your teen?  Tired of the fighting or the silent treatment and ready to eliminate fighting?

Learn how to take the energy of their anger and resistance and redirect it into change with these 5 simple steps.

Step 1 – Take a time out

Just like with a frantic team, a wise coach sometimes needs to call a time-out. The time out is for you as a parent to gain perspective – change the momentum of the debate – and reduce the tension in the game.

We have found that successful families have parents that take time out to assess their approach to parenting.

So ask yourself…
-what type of parent do I want to be?  
-how do I want to be remembered when my teen grows up?
-What fears & insecurities do I have about being a parent and how are they affecting my teen?

Step 2 – Reflect on your role

Identify which one of these three methods your teen is employing as their defense against your requests.

Rebellion

Distance

Compliance

The rebellious angry teen is so busy fighting against other people’s goals that they are unable to set their own and are thereby still being controlled by someone else.  Of course to be successful the rebel needs someone to rebel against. Unfortunately, it is easy for us as parents to fall into this role, playing the challenger and telling the rebel what to do. The more you catch mistakes and confront, the more defensive they will become. 

Other teens deal with demands by leaving either physically or emotionally.  This can be as subtle as turning on the television, tuning out of a conversation, or as dramatic as running away.  Those who distance themselves usually do so because they feel powerless and they don’t see any way to be themselves in a close relationship with the one they perceive as having all the power. These teens can appear to be very independent, but like the rebels, it is only a facade to protect their insecurity.

A compliant teens’ technique is much more subtle.  They are willing to maintain peace at any price because the fear of conflict is just too great. It might seem strange to suggest that obedience is a technique to gain freedom within the home, but often teens are willing to conform outwardly while holding different beliefs internally. The freedom that they gain is a freedom within the heart and mind. If there is ‘acting out’ it will be secretive or delayed until they are out of their parents’ view.

Step 3 – Simply listen

Now that you have identified your own fears as a parent and determined how your teen is masking their true struggle – it is time for the third step in your dynamic move.  And it is to simply listen.  Recognize your teen is in a difficult spot but don’t try to convince them of anything.  Confrontations will always lead to some form of resistance.  Your teen is busy trying to establish their independence and prove to you that they are capable.  So let go of the rope – it should not be a tug of war – the battle should not be with you.

Step 4 – Ask open-ended questions 

Your questions should help them consider their current choices with the future in mind and stimulate elaboration like, “How do you see this happening?” or “What do you think you will do?”

Even if they are hostile or confused, affirm their passion to find a solution to the problem.

Remember that you are trying to build a relationship with them.  It isn’t about getting them to do what you want.  Or proving you are right.

Step 5 – Provide motivation

Like a coach motivating their team your teen will need to be encouraged and cheered on. Teens often feel very alone and are trying to negotiate a lot of instability that they feel exists in their lives.  One of the best ways to create movement is through shared goals. Find simple goals you can agree on and work together towards those.

Believe in their abilities. Build on their strengths.

Teens don’t typically want to fail in life, but they get in binds and find it hard to escape. As a leader in your home, look for ways to release your teen by focusing on where they want to go – their hopes and aspirations – not their mistakes and past failures.