By: Jason Heppner
“He reminded me that I am His child and even though I might not be enough for people on earth, I am everything to Him.” High School Student
Remember the days of old when you went to a far distant land to retreat away from your normal life-rhythm, away from your parents, away from homework, and away from distractions? Remember the sounds of walking on gravel paths…laughing, sharing stories, talking about God, and singing songs of praise to God?
Well, those days still happen. For our High School Fall Retreat we loaded buses full of eager students and adult leaders and traveled 2.5 hours down to Westminster Woods Camp for what would be a weekend packed full of worship, jumping around, laughing, sharing stories, an epic Lip Sync Battle, reading Scripture in stillness, hearing God’s voice, hiking, and encountering the living God.
It was a different kind of retreat. It was our first time at Westminster Woods Camp, and we were excited to experience a retreat at a new place just for high school students. We had meaningful conversations, dug deep into God’s Word, and engaged in small groups with authenticity. Even the cold didn’t keep us from walking the trails, playing basketball, gaga ball, and archery tag, or walking down to the lake to skip rocks and fish.
Our theme was Tune In and our speaker, Steve Weatherford, helped focus our attention on listening to God’s voice of truth and tuning into the gospel, rather than listening to all the noisy distractions that so easily grab our attention. Steve challenged us to consider:
“If you want to hear from God, you have to spend time with God, you have to listen, and you have to have a relationship with God.”
Powerful words of truth.
It was a device-free weekend with the goal for students to have meaningful face-to-face conversations. That was exactly what some of our students needed to reorient their lives back to God. For other students, it was the first time they heard the voice of God or were awakened to God’s relentless love through the person of Jesus Christ.
Living in a culture that has a problem with silence, do we take time to enter into silence to hear God’s voice? Are we afraid of silence? We fill up the silence with distraction and doubt when we should be intentional in getting to know God. Students discovered that God is not a distant God and that He desires to be in an intimate relationship with each of us. They realized they have real access to God through His written Word and that we can be even more in tune to what He’s doing and saying if we take intentional steps to pause and spend time with God.
Kate, an 11th Grader, shared this about her experience while at Fall Retreat,
“God is your cheerleader…you should just go to Him because He’s always there for you and you don’t have to fear anything with Him.”
What do you need to tune out in order to tune in to God’s voice? How are you pausing to seek and listen for God’s voice in your life? What are you hoping to hear from God? How can you enter into silence to be with God?
If you really don’t want to know how your kid’s day went, ask them how their day went. I mean really, has that ever worked on any consistent basis?
The over-used “How was your day?” question rarely engenders any useful or meaningful dialogue, yet we continue to use it to gain insight into the lives of our children. There has to be a better way to engage our kids in conversation about their Monday lives!
This is where I find such great wisdom in the person of Jesus. He was masterful in the way He drew things out of people in the questions He asked and the stories He told. Can you imagine Jesus simply asking His disciples how their day was? No way. He would have some compelling question, perplexing parable, or intriguing inquiry that would lead to something deep, rich, and meaningful. How can we do the same with our families?
Let me offer five simple and fun alternative ways to ask your kids about their day, without asking your kids about their day. These are all practices we have used in various ways and at different times in our own family. And I should make it clear that parents are expected to be participants and not just facilitators in these practices. You can’t expect your kids to share about their days if you don’t model it for them.
True or False
Everyone at the table has to go around and share two things that happened that day. The trick is that one of those things must be totally false. Then the rest of the family has to vote to decide which one was true and which one was false. Once the truth is revealed then you can begin to ask more questions around that specific story. Clearly that story was significant in some way if they chose for it to be the true thing that happened that day. You now have an inroad to their day through this story.
Fill in the Blank
This is my favorite question to ask my kids at the dinner table because of how it both provides insight into their day and helps them process their feelings. Here is how it works. You choose someone at the table and then you choose a feeling. Once those are selected, you phrase the fill in the blank statement in this way. “Something that made Pearl frustrated was ________” The person then thinks back on their day through the lens of that feeling. It is always good to mix up the feelings you choose to help your children process a wide range of emotions. Not only do you learn more about their day, but this practice gives you the chance to help your kids process how and why they feel certain things.
High and Low
This is probably the most classic tactic, but it still works so well. You simply share the high and low points of your day. Similar to the fill in the blank question, this helps develop healthy categories of joy and sorrow in life. It is vital that our children know they have the freedom and permission to share the pains and heartaches of their life. We all know that life isn’t perfect, and this is a good way to provide a safe space to process the realities of our fallen world.
This one requires a little more creativity, but it is the one that produces the most laughter and smiles around our table. Have everyone choose something about their day that they want to share in story form. So rather than just reporting the facts of what happened, everyone recounts a particular event as if it were a fairy tale, sci-fi, mystery, or any kind of story. After the story-telling, ask them to translate it. For example, the dragon that they slayed in their story might be a metaphor for the spelling test that they got a perfect score on. The fun part is seeing the creativity of your kids and how they describe the ordinary things of their day in extraordinary ways.
Each person selects a story to share from their day, but they have to retell it in the most opposite way. Then everyone else has to try and interpret what really happened by flipping the story upside down. The fine part of this tactic is that it gets everyone at the table talking together and focusing on one story. It is also quite hilarious at times to see what your kids consider to be the opposite of things in their day.
These suggestions are by no means the silver bullets that will make your dinner table discussions or car ride conversations deep and rich with your kids. But these small practices can build a culture and tradition of more transparent sharing in your family.
What practices and traditions have you found to be helpful in creating spaces for conversation with your family?
In the coming weeks many of our students will be returning to school. Some will return to the schools they were in last year, while others are starting afresh on a new campus, or in a new building with new teachers and new classmates.
No doubt some of them are finding this season to be fraught with difficulty, while others may be elated by the chance to reconnect with old friends, or make new friends. Regardless of where they are on the emotional spectrum, we wanted to share this prayer of blessing as they continue on in their calling as students in this season of life.
Whether you have kids or not, we invite you to pray this prayer over all of our students.
Father in heaven, the start of every school year brings with it a mix of emotions. With so many changes that can be both overwhelmingly joyful and unbearably sorrowful, we pray that you would be found to be the unchanging God who remains constant in a world of ever changing variables.
Lord, as our students enter their schools may they know that you are already there and that you have gone before them. If they go to chemistry class, behold you are there. As they ride the school bus, you are also there. When they enter the locker room, indeed you are there.
But may they not simply be aware of your presence in their lives. May they also see your glory and your hand at work in the subjects that they study. May they see your beauty in their art classes. May they see the glory of your creation in biology. May they see your providential hand in world history. May they see your creative brilliance in mathematics.
And in all of this, may they see your great love as they grow in the knowledge of you and your world.
We pray that this year would be a year of relational, intellectual, moral, cultural, and spiritual renewal for our students and for those that they come in contact with. May they come to see the beauty and truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ that tells of the good news that we have not just been saved from something, but that we have been saved for something. May they live as your “sent ones” in the world as they display your goodness, proclaim your truth, and live out your mission.
Oh Lord, may this year be used by you to equip our students to more faithfully and fruitfully love and serve others for the common good of all and to the glory of your name.
We pray this in the name of Christ and for his glory.
In college, you become an adult. At least, that’s what they tell you.
But sometimes, I wonder if that’s true. I know just last month, I had popcorn and carrot sticks for dinner.
Nevertheless, my undergraduate education is in the rear view mirror. And I managed to leave school with good friends, great memories, some savings, and a degree.
Not too bad, if you ask me.
In the next month, thousands of freshmen will begin their college careers at campuses across the country. And a good number of students from our church will head off to the places God has called them to learn and grow.
It’s an exciting time. But in the midst of the frantic activity that accompanies this period of incredible change, it can be easy to neglect long-term planning. Few people take intentional steps to cultivate their mental, emotional, and relational health while at college.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Here are four things first-year students can do in their first five days on campus to ensure that their time at school is healthy, balanced, and well spent.
1. ESTABLISH A RHYTHM
Habits are easy to form, harder to break, and impossible to avoid. Given time, everyone develops a rhythm. In your first five days at school, think carefully about your routine. How will you fill your day?
If your first few nights end on YouTube at 3am, chances are high that you’ll have a nocturnal semester. If you spend those early afternoons at the gym, your odds of uncovering that six pack by Spring Break will dramatically increase. If you go to church your first Sunday, you’ll keep going. If you don’t, you probably won’t start. Habits are like that. They develop quickly and sometimes unintentionally.
There are many ways to craft a routine. The worst way is without any thought.
Be deliberate about what you do during your early days on campus. Establish an enjoyable, sustainable, and healthy schedule. In November, you’ll be thankful you did.
2. TEXT NEW PEOPLE
It will be impossible to accurately describe the things you’ve done and the people you’ve met to your high school besties. So don’t. Stop texting them so often. Live where you are.
Too many first-year students avoid the healthy social awkwardness that accompanies new places and unfamiliar people by doubling down on their digital relationships with old friends. Don’t make that mistake. Old friends are good. But new friends are worth making. And your first five days at college present an unequaled opportunity for beginning new relationships. Everyone’s looking for friends. New bonds are easily formed.
This incredible social openness only lasts a little while. Don’t waste your time.
Join clubs and attend events. Get new numbers. Make plans. Do fun and fascinating things on your new campus with new people. Then, you’ll have good stories to share when you see your old friends at home during Thanksgiving Break.
3. GET REAL WITH YOUR ROOMIE
Dorm life and international flights have a lot in common. Both involve sharing a small space for a long time with a relative stranger. Though polite conversation can make the first hours pass pleasantly, the moment comes when you realize you’re stuck with the person next to you until the trip is over.
You’ll be living with your college roommate for the next eight months. The honeymoon will end. Friction is coming. Start preparing now.
Many take time to get to know their college roommate in their first few days on campus. But few establish healthy lines of communication that will facilitate successful coexistence over the long run.
Though it’s exciting to explore a roommate’s past loves, favorite movies and biggest regrets, the discussion must progress. It’s important to determine how you will approach each other with frustrations, to set expectations for borrowing items and inviting guests into your space, and to schedule regular times to address simmering conflicts or to clean common areas.
These discussions aren’t always fun. But they’re the kinds of conversations that make long-term relationships work.
Healthy communication with your roommate will go a long way in guaranteeing that your first year on campus is absent from unnecessary conflict and stress.
4. REFLECT THOUGHTFULLY
College will change you. Expect it. Exposure to new ideas and people brings transformation.
But not all change is good change.
Before the semester has time and space to shape you, sit down with a pen and paper. Give yourself 10 minutes. Write down who you want to be, what you’d like to do, and how you want to interact with others. And be honest. This exercise is worthless if you aren’t.
This written record of your aspirations and values won’t be useful for a few months, so store it someplace safe. But after some time has passed, pull it out and read it. See if you’re still on track to be the person you wanted to be.
Maybe your goals have changed. If they have, ask why. Use this document to assess if your new perspectives and ambitions are for better or for worse.
A college student who reflects on who they are and how they are changing is a rare thing. Making this small effort during your first five days on campus could pay huge dividends, allowing you to use your four years on campus to bring about the type of maturity and growth you’ve wanted when you began.
College life flies by fast. Your first five days will be over before you know it.
Enjoy them. Fill them. And use them wisely. Take time to do what’s meaningful and healthy. A little bit of thinking and effort at the beginning can save you from a whole lot of problem solving at the end.
Coleman Barnes was a typical high school student. Involved in deep friendships, focused on class work, participated in extracurriculars, preparing for the future after graduation. Coleman was not so typical in the fact that, at the young age of 18, he had already begun to leave a legacy of lasting impact: Coleman worked to make a way for five kids in Jamaica to attend school for the next five years.
Coleman traveled with Student Ministries from Christ Community’s Leawood Campus in partnership with Won by One for two summers to Harmons, Jamaica. While there, he fell in love with the people, the food, and the kids they served. As he spoke with local parents, they shared how inaccessible education was for them. They shared how they had to decide whether to send their kids to school or put food on the table.
Coleman could not imagine the cost of such a choice. Food or education? If families picked food on the table, their children’s futures were limited; if they chose education, their children might starve. It was a dangerous cycle of poverty that represented heartache.
One morning Coleman was talking with a Jamaican woman named Sandra. She teared up as she told him the news that her little daughter had been sponsored for school. She was overwhelmed with joy that her daughter would have an opportunity she never had: to receive an education so someday she could be able to provide for her family and break this poverty cycle. As Coleman saw how much school sponsorship meant to this family, he knew he wanted to get involved.
Coleman left Jamaica after that week of serving, but the desire to make a difference didn’t leave him. Challenged in one of his leadership classes at school to make an impact on behalf of others, Coleman immediately thought of Jamaica and the idea of educational scholarships. As a high school student, he did not have the money to sponsor a child, even at $40 a month. So he enlisted a couple of friends, Laken and Jack, to help begin dreaming of a way for students at Blue Valley West High School to collectively make a difference in the lives of kids in Jamaica. Heart for Hope was born with the idea to have each class at school raise money to sponsor a child in Jamaica and make it a friendly competition to raise $5,000.
Coleman, Laken, and Jack had a three-pronged approach to getting five Jamaican students sponsored for two years of school. First, English Language Arts classes at every grade level would introduce, by video, the students to the Jamaican child their class would be sponsoring. These videos would provide a face, a name, and a story to build connection and motivate that class to bring their loose change and dollars to sponsor their child. Second, they sold Heart for Hope T-shirts for $10 and encouraged everyone attending the basketball game that week to wear them and make a schoolwide statement of hope. They sold over 450 shirts. Third, they put together a silent auction of donated items at that basketball game.
Watch the video that Coleman and his friends put together for their fundraiser.
Coleman, Laken, and Jack were blown away as fellow students brought more than loose change to the donation jars. Students gave $10 and $20 bills and the money began adding up. The ambitious goal of $5,000 in two weeks to support five kids for two years of education was completely shattered! Coleman and his peers were able to raise $12,000 to help five kids— Rahein, Atalia, Aleana, Victor, and Sashante—for five years each through school, which genuinely changed their lives.
Coleman said, “We were truly blown away by the response we had for Heart for Hope, and it’s been so cool for me to see our school come together and get behind kids they don’t know and will never meet.”
Coleman has seen God on display in the hearts of fellow students who said: I want to make a difference, and I want to provide hope to these kids and make a tangible impact on their lives. For Coleman, it’s been unbelievable to see the incredible generosity of his peers and God’s faithfulness through this whole process.
“Heart for Hope,” written by Dawn Heckert, originally appeared as an article in Homefront magazine, June 2018 edition, pp. 38-39.