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Growing up is hard. (I know this because, at age thirty-mumble, I am still in the midst of the process myself.) My precious teenage son has been feeling those growing pains mightily the last few months. He is a head taller than he was a year ago, but his physical growth has easily been outpaced by the changes required of his spirit, heart, and character. There is much more involved in the transition from boy to young man than buying longer jeans and beginning to care about how your hair looks.

We are both new at this: he’s never been fifteen before, and I’ve never parented a fifteen-year-old. Sometimes I have the advantage of others’ wisdom, gained from friends who are decorated veterans of the teen years, and from books on every subject of teen parenting: loving them and being loved by them; exploring their gifts and learning the challenges that are part of those gifts; setting appropriate boundaries and knowing when to bend so we don’t break. But just as often, I am making it up as I go along. I am treading carefully and prayerfully, encouraged by the company and guidance of my sweet husband, but I am absolutely winging it.

Since my own imperfection has long been established, it is no surprise that there are days when I mess up; I over-correct and underestimate, I raise my voice and don’t spend enough time on my knees. But I am trying my best to be present, to be thoughtful, to be unconditionally loving, to make the most of the fact that I am alive and able to do this because I recognize that is no small victory. And it is important to me that in the midst of all this correction and guidance, my firstborn remembers how very gifted and treasured he is. He has a set of grace-given talents and qualities that give him incredible potential, and I wanted to create something concrete that would remind him of those. The pages in this little art journal are the size of playing cards, but they are meant to communicate a big message.

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The envelope in the front contains a personal note to my son, letting him know how special he is to me and how much I appreciate him. It seemed only logical to embrace the growth theme with this art journal, so I used a lot of earth tones and nature imagery. The pages themselves are untreated canvas that I dry-brushed with acrylic paint before layering on rectangles of paper printed with trees, branches, and leaves.

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If there is one thing this journey to adulthood is about, it is embracing and understanding your imperfection. I tried to honor that in my design choices for the journal. I stayed away from perfect corners, hand-cutting the small squares of paper I used as decoration. I also left the edges of the canvas raw so they could fray with handling. (This is not meant as a subtle reference to my nerves, I promise.) I finished the pages by aging them unevenly with tea-colored ink and a little bit of sanding with fine grit sandpaper.

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In the future, I hope this mini-journal reminds my adult son of how those teen years turned out pretty well in the end. For now, I hope it shows him that even on the hardest days, in the midst of all this compromise and growth, it is my great privilege to be his mom.

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