“Hey, Dude Mama.”
The gravelly voice came from a curly haired almost-man ambling into my kitchen with four more of his kind following. These scraggly headed teens were Nathan’s friends, and “Dude Mama” was the name they’d given me. Far from being disrespectful, it was a term of endearment, a sign I had won their angsty teenage trust. It was a moniker I embraced with pride.
“Hi, there.” I smiled. “How are you? How about some pizza?”
The crowd of teenagers gathered hungrily around as I pulled two jumbo pizzas out of the oven, the cheese bubbling deliciously on top. It was a paper-plates night, with glass bottles of root beer. When entertaining teenagers, sometimes the goal of eating healthy must be suspended in favor of winning the food-centered hearts of sixteen-year-old boys. I spent my children’s younger years carefully feeding them carrots, salads, and whole grains. When the teenage years hit, I shamelessly bribed them with grease, cheese, and ice cream.
The crew piled slices of pizza and grapes (my one attempt at healthful food for the evening) on their plates and bungled out to the back porch. I sat with them for a bit, asking them questions about school, sports, dreams, and even venturing momentarily into their romantic lives. I then left them to their own teenage devices, only popping out later with chocolate chip cookies.
I was always a bit amazed when the friends of my teenage kids opened up to me. It felt like an honor to win the trust of these burgeoning adults. Through our occasional weekend visits and back-porch talks, I realized they wanted to be talked to and inquired about. This made me think of my teenage years and the inevitable angst I had felt in growing awkwardly into young adulthood. I knew how I had longed for grace, for someone to help me piece together my half-grown heart without criticism or judgment. And I wanted to relate to these kids in a way that spoke grace to them.
Teen years can stretch a parent’s heart. These kids are at the edge of adulthood—straining for more independent friendships, yet not fully developed in maturity or discretion. I wanted my children to have freedom, but also safety.
The answer to this conundrum to me was obvious—to make our home the best place to be. The most comfortable place to relax and ask questions (any subject fair game). The most fun hangout. And I got them there by tempting them with an unending stream of delicious food and irresistible treats.
Sometimes I think that grace is best experienced through greasy pizza and gentle curiosity.
To me, this strategy was not only a home philosophy, but a disciple- ship principle put in action—perhaps the most important one of all: Discipleship happens at every moment along the way—morning, night, and every time in between.
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