One of my favorite stories comes from Max Lucado’s book, Cure for the Common Life. He tells the story of a business man who is invited to speak at a dinner gathering in a distant city. His flight is delayed; bad weather creates a traffic snarl which further delays his arrival at his hotel. Once in his room, he has just enough time for a quick shave and shower before dressing to be picked up to go to the dinner speech. As he towels off, he throws open his suitcase only to find it filled with a mini-skirt, stiletto high heels and a blouse with a plunging neckline. What does he do? Dress in the contents of the wrong suitcase? Lucado goes on to suggest that we too arrive in Life with a suitcase packed for us. Sometimes we enviously look over at someone else’s suitcase and lament, “But I want to wear what she has!”

 Still, the truth is, we arrive with exactly what we need

 for the work to which we are called.

Amending  Lucado’s wonderful metaphor, I’d add that one way parents can help their teens is to guide them in examining the contents of their suitcases. If our teen finds a passion for fish and the ocean, a map of the Pacific Ocean floor, a snorkel and flippers, chances are, she’s not meant to be a ballerina in New York City.

But far from guiding teens to explore themselves, their own gifts and talents, most schools today seem to want to craft kids into some sort of standardized, assembly line product. With just a slight adjustment, it is easy to see that what schools really want standardized is the chance at a solid education on which any student successfully can build his future. With our devotion to our child in all his particularity, it falls to parents to customize the search for identity and finally to help our teen locate his True Vocation.

Let’s be clear that “particularity” encompasses not only intentional aspects of a life, like education or enrichment, but the unintentional matters as well: having a handicapped sister; being a native speaker of Spanish; suffering with learning disabilities; being picked on by the cool kids in fourth grade. Of course, we consider a child’s personal attributes: intelligence, athletic ability, artistic aptitude, height, beauty, maybe even having a deep, booming voice. I’ve come to feel that there are no “scraps” in life. Every piece of us can be put into service of our Vocation.

One guy’s mother swore that he came out of the womb  bouncing a ball. He always had a ball: bouncing it, tossing it, rolling it with his foot. And even if she sternly took it away from him, as they headed into church for example, the next thing anyone knew, he’d folded a wad of paper into a tiny ball. She complained that if she’d told him once, she’d told him a million times not to bounce the ball in the house.

Fast forward the story ten years and she is visiting him after he’d graduated from a college with a degree in social work. She’d gone to help him move into the new apartment he’d gotten after accepting a job with Big Brothers, Big Sisters. Carrying boxes to his car, he tossed open the trunk. It was full of balls of every sort. Tennis balls and racquets; baseballs and gloves and a bat; a soccer ball; even a hacky sack ball.

“What’s this, the traveling athletic department?” she teased.

“So Mom, ever tried to do an intake interview with a hostile thirteen year old boy? I just take him out to the playground and show him my trunk. I ask if there’s  anything in there he’d like to try. Ever tried to hacky sack? Wanna hit a few golf balls?  Few minutes later, as we’re playing away, I ask how things are with his mom, with his teachers. I’m telling you, nothing like it” He grinned.

If we believe that each individual is uniquely created, there are no wasted parts. Still, the challenge for a teen is to figure out what’s in his “suitcase” and how to make a life with it! Our job as parents is to delight in the surprises!