Saturday, March 31, 2007

Rethinking Intervention

How was Odysseus freed from his captivity on Calypso’s island? Keep in mind, Odysseus had fallen into despair, resigning to the fact that he would never again see his cherished homeland of Ithaca. The mighty hero was in a helpless situation. Intervention had to come from outside the island, from Zeus himself. Why did the gods intervene in this situation? Because they heard the cries of Odysseus and decided to once again step into his story. Do you know adolescents who are involved in destructive relationships?

Be Aware

Just as the gods noticed the tears of Odysseus, we as adult leaders need to be aware of changes in our students’ behavior. Is a normally happy and upbeat girl now depressed and teary-eyed? Is a boy who is normally talkative suddenly quiet? Is an easygoing student becoming touchy and irritable? Granted, there could be many reasons for such a change, but pay attention to who it is they are spending time with.

If you are a teacher or school counselor, spend time in the hallways or the cafeteria. You would be amazed at what you can learn from time spent daily in the hallways between classes or in the cafeteria during lunch. If you are a coach, pay attention to what is discussed in the locker room or on the field. There you will find adolescents at their most unvarnished. Try to notice who students sit with during unstructured time. This may sound sneaky, but listen in on their conversations. Remember that this is a war for the hearts of the young people in our care! This will reveal a great deal about what is happening in their lives and give you clues as to how you can intervene in destructive relationships.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Rethinking Captivity

Odysseus, drifting in an endless sea of despair, washed ashore on an unknown island. All he understood was that his face was against the rough, grainy sand of a beach, and that he was for the moment safe from Poseidon’s apparently unyielding wrath. His vision skewed due to lack of sleep and his taxing ordeal, he came upon a shimmering apparition. He asked this strange being where he had landed. With voice enticing, she assured him that he was now home. Feeling the hope arise in his heart, the hero supposed that he had arrived in Ithaca; however, he was very much mistaken, for he had actually landed on the island of the sea nymph, Calypso.

Homer tells us that this intoxicating divinity had fallen in love with the mortal Odysseus. The poet gives us no indication that this love wasn’t the real thing. Calypso passionately loved Odysseus. Nonetheless, he knew that his fate lay along another path. His heart's longing was for his true home and for his family. The sea nymph’s tidal passion for Odysseus caused her to, in essence, imprison him on her island. Being battered and faint from his horrendous trials, the hero collapsed into the loving embrace of Calypso.

Calypso’s beauty and strong enchantments powerfully diverted Odysseus from the hurts and pains of his past. For close to two years, the Greek hero set aside his ultimate goal, the return to his dear Penelope and Ithaca. Lost in the haze of Calypso’s charms, he began to believe that he would remain eternally with this alluring beauty—that this was, as Calypso had declared, his home.

If Odysseus had ended his journey on the island of this sea-nymph, we would have been left wanting more. True, this island and its beautiful mistress provided a sharp contrast to the ferocity of Poseidon’s anger, but they did not provide what Odysseus ultimately wanted most. The aching hunger to return to his home and family resurfaced, and tears began to flow. Painful, yes, but the sorrow often reflects a good pain, an emptiness that moves us on, that forces us to remember that we were made for more than this. The romance and beauty that Calypso gave to Odysseus had only served to thwart his quest. Does this story have a familiar ring to anyone?

The gods of Olympus heard the cries of the hero-king and, considering his destiny, sent the messenger-god to the island prison. Hermes came to Calypso and relayed the will of Zeus. He declared that Odysseus was to be set free from the bonds of this island and was to be permitted to continue his quest. Embittered by this word from on high, Calypso protested. Finally, Hermes warned the goddess that dire consequences drive her island to the bottom of Poseidon's sea if she insisted on keeping Odysseus captive. Calypso relented at last, and Odysseus was free to journey on!

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Rethinking Monsters

Odysseus, on his long journey home to his wife Penelope and son Telemachus, had survived the terrors of a hideous monster, Scylla, who devoured many of his crew in the shadows of a narrow sea passage. The blind prophet Teiresias had warned the mighty hero of the dangers of this terrible foe, but desiring home more than fearing for his life, Odysseus chanced the terrors of Scylla. He and his men courageously sailed through the narrow, rocky passage where she lurked in the shadows. In a few awful moments, the multiheaded Scylla tore the sailors to pieces with gnashing, razorlike teeth, and one by one devoured the bloody remains. Watching in helpless horror, Odysseus and the few men left rowed with all their might, fleeing the fearsome monster.

In an unrelenting succession of terror, the Greek warship then edged ever closer to the monstrous tidal pool known as Charybdis. The ever-hungry whirlpool swallowed the rest of his crew, only Odysseus managing to escape with his life, though it wouldn’t be much of a life now. Battered and broken, brave Odysseus clung desperately to a piece of wreckage and was tossed by the waves of the Poseidon’s sea. Believing now that he would never see his sweet Ithaca again, he felt himself falling into darkness, with the sea god’s curse echoing through the recesses of his mind.

Not many adolescents have had encounters with mythological monsters like Scylla and Charybdis. However, considering the formidable experiences they have faced heretofore, one could contend that they are nearly equivalent to the horrors that confronted Odysseus. While the students may not have stared into the daggerlike teeth of Scylla, there are those who have been abused physically, emotionally, and sexually. None of them have been drowned in the powerful whirling waters of Charybdis, but there are those who have drowned in the overpowering expectations and demands of parents and friends. Many students have encountered monsters just as ghastly as those described in Homer’s epic. Where do they turn for solace and shelter from the storm? Where did Odysseus turn?

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Rethinking "Love"

Woe to the man whose heart has not learned while young to hope, to
love—and to put its trust in life. — Joseph Conrad

You don’t love a woman because she is beautiful, but she is beautiful because you love her. — Anonymous

Teens today have been wounded in a variety of ways. They are hurting. Outwardly, things may seem fine, but below the waters, there is a immense private suffering. Look at our society. What is put forth as the solution to our problems and our pain? It's romantic love, isn't it? Watch a few TV shows. The shows aimed at young people portray the main character trying to get a boyfriend or girlfriend. No doubt, it can be entertaining, but it won’t make things right in the world. Commercials communicate the same message. “Wear this deodorant and you’ll have to fight the girls off!” “Try this shampoo and the boys will flock to your side!” There are so many messages in our culture that sear the idea into the minds of adolescents that if you find the right person, it will make everything all right.

It makes sense then that when students search for answers to life’s heavy questions, they take their quest to the opposite sex. How many girls at the school lunch table have conversations that focus on boys? Quite a few! Do adolescent boys feel pressure to have sex with a girl? Absolutely! There are a great many unhealthy relationships in our secondary schools today. Why? Because students are looking for the answers they seek and the healing for their soul-wounds in the opposite sex, with little or no guidance from parents or teachers. Odysseus came upon such a dilemma when he encountered the beautiful sea nymph Calypso.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Rethinking Doors

When you follow your bliss...doors will open where you would not have thought there would be doors, and where there wouldn't be a door for anyone else. - Joseph Campbell

Whenever we have something set upon our heart to do, we feel a rush of excitement. We feel refreshed, "At last, this is the thing I was meant to do!" But, the voices of doubt slowly creep in. "This is too big for me." "I couldn't possibly do something like this." "Nobody would want to listen to what I have to say." "What would others think?" Whatever the voices say, remember that the enemy would love to shred your dreams and visions before they can even take root. What is in your heart is a threat to him.

Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid! - Goethe

When you listen to what has been placed in your heart, you are listening to the voice of God, for that is where God speaks to us. When you follow your dreams, you will find you have a powerful Ally. So doors will open before us and paths will be made clear before us where we never thought possible. Your dreams and desires will meet resistance, but that only helps you see beyond to the enemy that attacks what he most fears. Keep looking for the open doors.

Don't ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. - Harold Whitman

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Rethinking Why We Fight

I just returned from watching the movie 300. The visuals were stunning and the violence, graphic. For those of you who know your history, you remember that in 480 B.C. the Persian king, Xerxes, set out with tens upon thousands of troops to conquer the free city-states of Greece, including Athens and Sparta. Three hundred Spartans, under the command of Leonidas, stood in the gap between the Persian hordes and the unprepared Greek peoples. Resisting wave after wave of Persian onslaught, the Spartans held the narrow pass of Thermopylae for days, allowing the rest of Greece to prepare for battle. They were ultimately defeated, by an act of betrayal, but their valiant stand enabled the Athenian navy to defeat the Persian fleet at Salamis.

If the Persians had conquered Greece, Western Civilization may have been wiped out in its infancy. Did the Spartans understand this while bravely standing in the gap for their countrymen? Probably not. Rather, they what they knew to be the right thing at the right time.

Sometimes our battle for the young people in our lives seems overwhelming and the assaults seem to be unrelenting. Sometimes we feel betrayed. But standing in the gap for the young against the forces that would tear them apart is always the right thing to do. Looking back with some perspective, we may be able to see how our fight has influenced lives and changed destinies. Then again, we may not be able to see all ends. The important thing is to do what your heart tells you is right at the right moment. In the end, that makes all the difference.

"Our arrows will blot out the sun." - the Persians

"So much the better, we shall fight in the shade." - Dienekes, Spartan Soldier

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Rethinking Mastering the Tides

Remember, your actions—no matter how affirming and strong—will not end the trials and tribulations that the adolescents in our lives must endure, but they will go a long way toward helping them establish a healthy identity and sense of self-worth. As Gandalf, the wise wizard in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, so eloquently said:

Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Rethinking Gifts V

The mythical pattern encourages us, as authority figures, not only to affirm and encourage the young with our words but also to present them with a concrete demonstration that we actually believe what we are saying about them. This is the gift. As Menelaus gave Telemachus a priceless silver bowl handcrafted by the gods and Obi-Wan gave Luke his father’s light saber, so too must we give a gift that expresses the reality of our words. What gifts do you have to give the students in your life? Oftentimes, the gift can be an opportunity, similar to the opportunity adult leaders gave to Manuel, Jordan, and Meredith. Other times, it can be a literal, physical present.

I had the privilege of mentoring a young man, a high school senior, who had unfortunately managed to get into a great deal of trouble. His father was active in his life and wanted to be a part of the mentoring process whenever possible. As the boy made progress throughout the year and became accountable for his actions, his relationship with his father improved. Throughout his mentoring sessions, his father affirmed the good and noble characteristics that he observed in his son’s life. Though a frequently painful process, the young man began to make significant strides. Upon his graduation from high school, his father presented him with a gift that blew him away! He gave his son an actual sword, a real Scottish Claymore like the one William Wallace used in the movie Braveheart (1995). With this gift, the young man knew that his father actually believed that he could be trusted with something dangerous. He was trustworthy.

When you consider this aspect of the mythical archetype, ask yourself some questions about a student you want to impact. What gift would provide the student with an understanding that your words have real meaning—that they are not empty? Can you arrange some opportunity for this young person that would communicate your trust in her or allow her to realize the strength she doesn’t believe she possesses?

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Rethinking Affirmation

Look for opportunities to affirm the good qualities of the students in your circle. Remember that your words are more powerful than you will ever know! Some students will make it more challenging than others to find positive qualities, but don’t give up! Look for what they could be, not what they are right now. Keep in mind that adolescents are often unable to see those traits in themselves. Discover those positive characteristics and call attention to them!

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Rethinking the Past

There is a craving deep inside each of us to understand where we came from. If we know the story of our heritage, our roots, then recognizing our own place in the world will be a little easier. Just as Telemachus sought out the truth about his father, so do today’s adolescents long to know the story of their families. Too many families in our day and age have no real connection to their pasts. Moving from city to city, state to state, and even country to country, more students are feeling the sense of being disconnected with their traditions and heritage.

A few years ago, I assigned my students a family history project. I was amazed at how motivated these adolescents were when it came to studying the story of their families. There were some who managed to reconstruct their own family history, based on conversations with older relatives. This is an superb way to connect the vigor of the young with the wisdom and experience of the elderly!

Students sat and listened to the stories of their grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles. This helped many of the students to see themselves as a part of a continuum, an important piece of something much larger than themselves. The students were further instructed that they were to design their own family crest, a medieval shield bearing symbols, colors, or pictures of positive character traits that were important to their family. This was something concrete that they could take with them as a reminder of where they came from and the solid traditions that were a crucial part of their heritage. Even in the most dysfunctional families, we were able to draw out that which was good and worth passing on.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Rethinking the Journey IV

Bruce Feiler, host of PBS's Walking the Bible miniseries, eloquently reflected that, "Some journeys we choose to go on...some journeys choose us." It's probably truer than most of us realize. Which journeys in your life have you felt an urge to begin? Which journeys have chosen you?

Many of you who work with students know that they come in and out of your life. Some we are able to stay in touch with, while others continue down a path that doesn’t intersect with ours again. That’s okay. That’s the way it’s meant to be. I don’t know what has become of many of my students. Occasionally they cross my mind, but they are on a journey all their own. What I do know is that while I was in a position of influence over these young lives, I fought for their hearts in a way that has been passed down to us through the great stories of yesterday and today.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Rethinking What We See

Adolescents will often begin to see the things that we identify in them. If we point out a liar, a thief, a failure, or a drain on society, they will tend to follow that lead and begin to believe those things about themselves. On the other hand, if you see an adolescent who has the potential to be an honest person, someone who is capable of being trustworthy, or one who could possibly make a significant contribution to the world—and you tell them about it—they are much more likely to see those good characteristics in themselves. Someone once said that the word potential simply means “they haven’t done it yet.” In a sense, that’s true. That is why it is important to follow the mythical pattern we’ve been examining. A gift or task always follows the affirmation. Give students an opportunity to work out that potential in their own lives. Tremendous things have humble beginnings. It is a reoccurring theme in the cosmos. Remember the Big Bang!

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Rethinking Meredith

Meredith was a high school sophomore who went out for the summer league swim team. She was an incredibly hard worker who gave 110 percent to each workout. Her swim coach, Ms. Nida, liked Meredith right away and, as her coach, naturally wanted her to experience success in the pool. If we look deep enough into anyone’s eyes, we will see the smoke from a battle raging within. It was no different with this young lady. You see, Meredith had been labeled a “choker,” meaning that she swam well in practice, but when it came time to perform in a swim meet, she always seemed to come up short.

Meredith’s swim team, the Lake Shore Sharks, was preparing to swim against one of their strongest summer league rivals, the Kahkwa Cruisers. Both the boys and girls teams were excited and nervous about the annual swim meet. The week prior to the event, they turned their excess energy into making signs and slogan-bearing T-shirts and a lot of splashing and hollering. This swim meet was the highlight of the year! The 200-meter freestyle relay was the most anticipated event of the meet. All the swimmers waited anxiously to see whom the coaches would choose to enter in the relay.

Ms. Nida decided that this was the right time to intervene in Meredith’s story. The relay assignments would not be posted until the day of the swim meet, but she had a chance to speak with Meredith the prior to the race. She told her that she was so pleased with her work ethic in practice and that it was time for that effort to produce some results. Ms. Nida let her know that she had the “right stuff” to be a champion. These were words Meredith had heard before, but this time the coach went a step further. She gave her a quest, her own Gorgon to slay. Well, maybe not a literal monster, but a hobgoblin of the heart, which is no less terrifying. Ms. Nida told her that she had decided to give her the coveted anchor position on the girls’ 18-and-under relay.

The blood drained from Meredith’s face. It was indeed a gift, but she didn’t see it as such . . . yet. The lies of the villain Meredith had believed about herself began to flow out of her mouth like water. “I’m a choker! The other girls will hate me if I don’t win it for them! I can’t do it!” But her coach simply said, “Meredith, I believe you can.”

Meredith didn’t get much sleep that night, thinking about her race the next day. Finally, the day arrived. Banners, crowds, cheers, and nerves filled the natatorium. As they headed into the final relays, the pressure was on! When Meredith stepped onto the starting block to anchor the 200 freestyle relay, the cheers erupted. Her heart was racing!

Did Meredith win in a close race allowing Lake Shore to prevail? No. This story didn’t end with a win. Quite the contrary, Kahkwa beat Lake Shore handily. However, a victory was secured that probably went undetected by most. Meredith swam her heart out! She didn’t choke. They didn’t win the race, but Meredith swam the fastest time of her life! People must have thought it strange that day to see Ms. Nida, the swim coach, jumping up and down with excitement on the pool deck as the team was losing to its rival. She was cheering for a team member who didn’t even win the blue ribbon!

Despite what some parents and coaches might say, youth sports aren’t about winning; they’re about building character and heart. The battles for the heart are often subtly won or lost, like the marathon runner who places 127th, but finishes the race. Meredith’s Medusa was slain that day; she just needed the gift of the magical sword with which to dispatch the hideous monster. In this case the sword was the anchor position on the girls’ relay team. Her new identity began to form as one who could come through when it counts. She was no longer the choker.

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Rethinking Treasure

This morning, Joel Osteen delivered a message about doing the things in life that set in your heart. There are all sorts of powers that will set themselves against you when you set out to live your dreams, things which will test your resolve and shake you to the core.

Osteen later made a comment that really struck me as profound. He asked the question, "Where is the greatest treasure in all the world?" He then went on to say that it wasn't in the diamond mines of South Africa, or the oil fields of the Middle East. Rather, it lies just beneath the cemeteries and graveyards of our world. How many dreams lay down there, unrealized? How many books went unwritten? How many cures for diseases went undiscovered? How many deeds went undone out of the fear of stepping into our desire?

Harold Whitman writes, "Don't ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."

If we bury our dreams and desires too long, we may find that they will remain that way forever. Follow your bliss...

So baby dry your eyes
Save all the tears you've cried
Oh, that's what dreams are made of
Oh baby, we belong in a world that must be strong
Oh, that's what dreams are made of

And in the end on dreams we will depend
'Cause that's what love is made of

Van Halen - Dreams

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Rethinking Jordan

A few years earlier, a youth worker named Siofra had had the opportunity to come in contact with a young lady who was going into her junior year of high school. She was attending a camp known as the Gateway Teen Institute, where Siofra was working as a summer counselor. The girl’s name was Jordan, and Siofra could tell from her actions that she would rather have been invisible. She was quiet, the sort of kid that tends to fly under the radar, the kind that adult leaders often overlook.

After some time had passed, the counselors met to discuss the students that were participating in the summer camp. When Jordan’s name came up, no one could say anything about her. That immediately sent up a red flag. It was troubling that there seemed to be a nonentity at the camp. The counselors put their heads together and came up with a plan to engage her. What did Jordan’s actions reveal concerning her beliefs about herself? She may have been clinging to the misconception that she had nothing valuable to offer the group. Perhaps she believed that no one would want to listen to her ideas. That was where they as adult leaders needed to intercede.

The counselors arranged to meet with Jordan not long after this discussion. Siofra shared the positive attributes of her character and personality. The other counselors discussed how they observed her caring for others in a soft, quiet manner. Then they had the opportunity to challenge her to rise up. One by one, they each related how they believed that she carried within her the ability to be a gifted leader. It is very important to note that, when we affirm young people, we must be honest about what we see in them. Adolescents have an uncanny ability to spot a phony!

Following the mythical pattern, Siofra next needed to present Jordan with a gift. While winged sandals, a personal army, or a helmet of invisibility would have been really neat gifts, she thought that something else might be just as potent. Siofra instead declared her to be the new team captain for her camping team! From this point on, Jordan had to approve all decisions made by the team, and everyone else was obligated to discuss their ideas with Jordan.

Now, Jordan didn’t discover a cure for cancer or bring about world peace during her tenure as captain, but she did make some valuable contributions to the team. She began to open up to other students, made some friends, and explored the possibility that she had something important to offer.

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