Monday, December 16, 2013

Fear of Missing Out

Today a friend introduced me to a new acronym: FOMO—Fear Of Missing Out. I googled it, and much to my surprise, I found it as an entry not only in the Urban Dictionary, but also in Wikipedia.

Let's just go straight to Wikipedia for the goods:
Fear of missing out or FOMO is a form of social anxiety — a compulsive concern that one might miss an opportunity for social interaction, a novel experience, profitable investment or other satisfying event. This is especially associated with modern technologies such as mobile phones and social networking services.

A study by Andrew Przybylski found that the condition was most common in those who had unsatisfied psychological needs such as wanting to be loved and respected. The condition is also associated with social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn, which provide constant opportunity for comparison of one's status.
The timing couldn't have been better. Just last night my husband, daughter, and I were discussing all of the weddings that have taken place so far this year among people we know and yet we have only been invited to one of them. We certainly didn't expect to get an invitation to them all, but only one?

Not an hour later, I got on Facebook and there was posted a photo of a friend and her entire family at their 18th wedding of the year. Yes, 18th. It took me about 2.7 milliseconds to feel that familiar twinge.

I don't know if anybody else ever feels this way (please let me know if you do), but sometimes I think I must have stopped developing emotionally and socially in about third grade, because to a certain extent being left out still hurts. I say "still" because I have a long experience with the phenomenon.

I was never exactly Miss Popularity and I have had to realize that is OK . . . most of the time. Several years ago when I was lamenting being on the non-receiving end of a social invitation my husband very lovingly said, "Honey, you've never been popular before. What makes you think you would start now?" Yeah, well, he had a point.

My husband tries to look on the bright side. After all, he reasons, if you are going to be near the edge of the circle, it is better to be just outside than just inside. It certainly saves you money and time, after all. I guess . . . but still I find it hard sometimes and I suppose The Double-Edged Sword That Is Facebook is partly to blame.

I mean, before Facebook, all sorts of things could happen and you would never know what you were missing. You might catch wind of a wedding or a party but you wouldn't have a clue as to what it was you actually missed.

Enter Facebook. photos come rolling in, giving those outside the circle of invitation an emotionally painful voyeuristic view of the good time they didn't have. And if those photos are indeed coming in as they happen, thanks to iPhones and Instagram, then you are seeing friends and acquaintances having a jolly old time while you sit on your couch with your bowl of cereal and patrol Facebook for the little green dots that indicate there might be somebody online to talk to.

Longing to belong is quite natural, I think. But longing to belong can be terribly destructive, if not to anybody else, at least to yourself. C.S. Lewis talks about the concept of the Inner Ring (a place I have clearly never been) and concludes, "The quest of the Inner Ring will break your heart unless you break it."

Yes, the quest must be broken. Even when I'm brought face to face with what I've missed. And if the truth is that I didn't make the cut, the greater truth is that there are more of us outside that Inner Ring than within it. I'm in good company and I'm not alone after all.

I'm Dreaming of a......

The photos are coming in. Everywhere on Facebook. A friend posts a photo of a lantern just outside her window, with a backdrop of snow and quaint New England houses. Another friend shares a photo of downtown small-town Pennsylvania, shrouded in snow. My heart aches.

The view from my friend's window
For as long as I can remember I have wanted to live in such an old, snowy place. Originally it was New England. My father and his father and his father going back generation after generation until the first boats of white men were invading those shores, lived and trod and defended that land. It is like there is something in my blood that draws me back.

Over the years I have expanded my dream. It doesn't have to be New England with its arm's length relationships (at least to outsiders and especially southern hillbillies like myself, or so I've heard) and its super-expensive real estate. Any place that is chock full of history and snow, "old and cold," will do. And, of course, let's ditch the cities altogether for a more small town/rural atmosphere.

Sure, maybe I am delusional. I am sure there are plenty who would say that I don't know what I am asking for. I remember one time saying to someone that I wanted to live where it snows a lot and he replied, "No, you don't." Well, really, I do.

So it just hurts, especially at this time of year, to see images of something I have dreamed of for as much of my 50 years as it is capable of dreaming of such things.

Sure, maybe I just want to live in a Currier and Ives etching or a Norman Rockwell print. But I know those places are real because my friends' photos tell me so.

Watch Knob and The Four Brothers, Swannanoa, NC
I cannot, CANNOT complain, really. God has blessed me immensely with living in one of the most beautiful places on earth. I know that. I do not take it for granted. Every, EVERY single time I come around the curve and there before me is the Warren Wilson College Farm being watched over by Watch Knob and The Four Brothers (for you non-locals, these are mountains), with the Craggies (yet more, and higher, mountains) as a backdrop, I thank God for giving me the privilege of living in such a breathtakingly gorgeous place. Every. Single. Time.

I don't know what it is that makes me think I can, or should, have everything I want. I already have so much. Maybe it is my desire to have heaven, or at least MY version of heaven, on earth. Maybe it is my built in Grass Is Always Greener gene, an obvious result of mankind's fallen condition. Maybe it is the I Want What I Want When I Want It, yet another result of the fall. These all result in the spirit of discontentment, within which I live an alarmingly large portion of my life.

Every so often the truth hits me. This life is not all there is. Maybe these longings are good, as they point to something better, to something more. I was not placed on this earth to just get what I want, even if what I want isn't money or fame or fortune but small towns and old houses and snow. I was placed on this earth to love the way God loves me and instructs me to love others, regardless of weather or time or place.

There is an eternity to enjoy heaven, I do not have to have my version of it for this short time on earth. In letting go of that I am free to do what I was created to do. That indeed is good news.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Grasping Grace

Recently, an appalling article has been going around about two daughters who are basically living, breathing, walking, talking billboards for their father's plastic surgery practice. It is all pretty horrifying and really sick on so many fronts.

The cosmetic surgery industry (Note: I am not at all talking about the necessary plastic surgery to repair accidents or congenital abnormalities, I am talking about the type that is intended to turn you into a voluptuous beach babe bombshell, even when you are 60.) is baffling to me. I just don't get it. I'm not one to go for glitz and glamor, bling and fashion. Being more of an overalls and ponytail type of gal, it completely eludes me how anybody could would want to do all that stuff to their body, much less cough up the big bucks to get the goods. But I have to look beyond that and try to understand.

We live in a world where it is not OK to age. It is not OK to not be beautiful. Who you are is defined by how you appear to be and how you appear to be will determine if you are admired, respected, and loved.

That said, it then makes sense that, in certain cultures (just not mine), women go to extreme lengths for "improvement" that their culture demands. They are grasping. Desperately grasping. Then again, I grasp, too.

-Every time I look in the mirror and panic because, well, I ain't what I used to be, I am grasping.

-Every time I pull on a pair of pants that just didn't used to be that tight and am hit with a wave of despair that I am morphing into a middle-aged, frumpy, female Jabba the Hutt, I am grasping.

-Every time I compare my real estate sales production for the year to everybody else's in order to determine whether I am really competent at what I do, I am grasping.

-Every time I write a blog post and put it out there and worry because it isn't getting many comments and I feel naked and ashamed, I am grasping.

-Every time I see some other mother "doing it right" in some way where I failed and I beat myself up and say that God should have never given me children if I was going to fail them so, I am grasping.

-Every time I see that some friend ran a marathon and I can't even run a mile and I feel totally inadequate and lazy to boot, I am grasping.

-Every time somebody says something insightful and wise and I feel a twinge of envy that I wasn't the first to say it, I am grasping.

-Every time I play "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" and lose and I feel like a complete idiot for being such a brainless wonder, I am grasping.

-Every time I fret because I am not as "tough" as I feel I should be to gain respect or ward off physical or emotional pain, I am grasping.

-Really, any time I sit around comparing myself to other people (I have turned it into an art form), I am grasping.

-And any time I believe that it is up to me to control everything I can about this life because it really is all up to me after all, I am grasping.

It is the most natural thing in the world to grasp, I suppose. To reach for all the wrong things that were never, ever meant to define me. So I must let go. Release my pathetic and desperate grasp on the things that will never ever satisfy. Jesus, through his immeasurable grace, has accomplished it all for me. It has been said and done. It is finished. I can never be more loved and secure than I am right now. He has grasped me and will never let go.

I forget this now and again. Too often, I must say. But I am starting to get it, little by little. With each glance in the mirror, and twang of regret, or twitch of envy, I am starting to get it. Next time I grasp, may it be that I grasp for grace.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Remembering Them

It is easy to get lost in the frenzy of the Christmas season. Even those of us who claim to know better, still tend to equate Christmas with family and friends and food and parties and gifts and even snow. Not that there is anything wrong with any of these things, but Christmas, more than any other time of year, can draw such a palpable dividing line between the haves and the have nots. And this doesn't just mean money.

So when you are jolly and joyful with a Ho Ho Ho and a Fa La La La La, stop and remember that your experience doesn't stand for everybody. Be careful of what you post. Be sensitive in what you say. Someone else may not have received the blessings you enjoy.

When you squeeze your loved ones tight and wish them a Merry Christmas, remember those who have experienced unspeakable loss over the past year and are facing this season without joy, but with mourning. And pray for them.

When your kids stream in from college and you are so glad to have your family together again, remember those whose children refuse to come home. Or may never come home. Pray for them.

When your family gathers around a table laden with steamy comfort foods and cups of good cheer, remember those who sit and eat. Alone. And pray for them.

When you open your door to welcome in aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents, remember those who have no aunts or uncles or cousins or grandparents or family of any kind. And pray for them.

When you anticipate a time of great peace and joy in your home, remember those whose homes are filled with no peace or joy, only fighting, neglect and abuse of all kinds. And pray for them.

When your daughter shows up squealing in delight at the gift of shiny engagement ring and the prospect of an upcoming wedding, remember those who have no prospects. And pray for them.

When you offer up a toast in holiday cheer, remember those whose lives are torn apart by the abuse of drink or drugs. And pray for them.

When you lie in your cozy bed in your warm house, remember those who have no warm place to sleep. And pray for them.

When you sit by the fire and read stories to your children, remember those who are sitting by the bedside of a dying loved one, knowing that this will be their last Christmas together. And pray for them.

When you think back on all the warm memories of Christmas of your childhood, remember those who have no such memories, only a hollow emptiness. And pray for them.

When you watch "It's a Wonderful Life" for the 17th time and you get to the part where George Bailey thinks he is worth more dead than alive and plans to jump to his death off the bridge, only to have his plan thwarted by the angel Clarence, remember that for many people life seems just that hopeless, but Clarence never comes. And pray for them.

When you are tempted to get totally caught up in it all and you settle in to the comfort of all your blessings, remember that there are those who have no visible blessings in their lives. And pray for them.

We seem to be all about news at Christmas. But the Good News isn't really about family and friends and food and presents at all. The Good News is that Jesus came for us. And he came for them. He came to seek and save that which was lost. He came to heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds. He came to be a light in the darkness, a beam of glimmering hope in the darkest of corners of humanity. He came to welcome the weary and break the yoke of oppression. He came so that sin and anger and abuse and heartbreak and loneliness will not have the final say.

This alone is the reason to rejoice. For you. For me. And for them.
O ye beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.
—Edmund Sears

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Relief of a Diagnosis

Earlier this week an article came out about Susan Boyle. You know, that woman who totally floored Simon Cowell in "Britain's Got Talent," because nobody suspected that a middle-aged, average looking, frumpily dressed woman could actually sing. Yeah, that one.

Well, it turns out that she was recently diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. And, to her, that diagnosis was a relief.

The exact same thing happened to my 23-year-old daughter two months ago. Same diagnosis. Same sense of relief. So many questions answered. So many opportunities now for growth and development.

People tend to shy away from labels. They don't like being put in boxes. They think that it will handicap them in some way, and sometimes it does. We put off for years getting a couple of our kids evaluated for ADHD, but even with them, the diagnosis came as a relief.

Labels aren't always bad. They can be very good. A friend says that a label is like a handle, it gives you something to hold onto. It is true. The diagnosis can explain and define and give you a framework within which to figure out life.

My oldest child has always been an introvert and a bit on the "bookish" side of things. She is also tremendously private—a trait she most definitely did not receive from me. For years I have said that you enter her world at her invitation only.

Throughout high school she had some struggles, but since she had the same small group of friends and her academic world was pretty much spelled out for her, she did OK. The older she got, though, the harder it seemed to navigate the world of social interactions. They baffled her and several times she actually verbalized the wish that there was a class for social skills. Of course, I had no idea how to teach something like that because, for me, they are just what you DO.

By her senior year in high school, patterns began to emerge. Chunks of time spent with friends wore her out. If she spent the night out, she would come home and sleep for hours on end, shutting out the world. Usually she would also get sick. Then she would get behind, and the more she got behind the more overwhelmed she got, and the more she would shut the world out and escape into an online world of fantasy literature.

I was baffled by this. I love people and learning all about them. I love being out and about. I can't stand staying in one room all day long. I wondered how she would fare in college.

Her first semester in college went fine but soon the novelty wore off. College was a place of interacting with lots of people and lots of abstract thinking and lots of reading the professors' minds about what was expected. None of those tools were in her tool box. She began to shut the world out.

By her sophomore year in college things spun out of control. By the time she called me in early December of that year she had missed weeks of classes and had spent the time on her bed crying. I brought her home.

Treating the depression was Step One and I hoped that getting that taken care of would remedy her struggles. And it did, sort of.

But over the next four years the pattern remained. She seemed happy enough to hole up in a world of her own and let life pass her by. Every so often she would venture out, find a job, and sometimes even a boyfriend, but eventually she would find the interactions and the expectations totally overwhelming and have to shut down again.

Matt and I were absolutely baffled. Our daughter is very, very smart. She was the salutatorian of her class at her academically rigorous high school yet she could not pass an English class at the local community college because it required so much abstract thinking.

She is quite beautiful (a friend compares her to Kate Winslet) yet she would usually only dress in jeans and superhero t-shirts. No makeup. Not a care in the world about her hair or clothes or appearance in general. Comfort and only comfort ruled.

She is exceedingly kind, yet there were times she appeared so self-absorbed and obsessed with a fantasy world that she didn't seem to care about the people around her.

And the more I tried to "fix" things (which I felt the need to do because, obviously, if I had done my job as a mother she would be cruising through life like everybody else her age . . . or so it seemed), the worse things got. In an attempt to find out if there was some trauma in her childhood that was behind her challenges, I asked her what the worst memory of her growing up years was. Her reply? When her youngest sister and brother would make so much noise. Yes, I was baffled.

I had wondered for years about Asperger's, but when I would read about it, things just didn't completely match up. Then this past fall I noticed the cycle starting again. Migraines and feeling bad and missing work and holing up alone for days on end. Concerned that she would endanger her very good job (that she actually liked) and lose all the ground she had recently gained, I sent her to a psychiatrist.

In the meantime, my sister, who has worked in her local school system for 30-plus years, sent me information on Asperger's in females (which presents itself differently than in males). When I saw this chart, I knew. Oh, how I KNEW! Within a week my daughter and I were going over the chart together and she determined that she had all but three of the 45 characteristics listed. At her next visit with the psychiatrist, he confirmed our suspicions.

To say this is a relief is such an understatement. It is a relief for her because instead of feeling weird and alone, she knows that there are other people out there who struggle with exactly the same issues. It is relief for her because with this diagnosis comes hope. There are books, websites, therapists, community groups all dedicated to helping Aspies navigate the very confusing world they are in.

The diagnosis is a relief to more than just my daughter. It is relief to me. Forever the "guilt magnet" (as my husband affectionately calls me), I was convinced that her struggles were all my fault and she was suffering in life because of my failure. Come to find out, her challenges actually run in my husband's extended family. Best of all, I understand my daughter a little more. Not completely, but better.

It seems that there are always articles out there complaining about such labels and claiming that they are just a way for people to avoid responsibility for their own actions. On the contrary! The diagnosis—the label, if you will—provides a framework for taking responsibility. As a wise person once said to me, "Maturity is learning to manage your biology."

For my daughter, for me, for my family, this diagnosis has been a godsend. After all, God is the one who wired her. And now we know how to love her better.

Friday, December 6, 2013

God Has Not Called Me To That

It is no secret that I struggle. A lot. Envy. Shoot, I think I've turned it into an art form. I can glow green over almost anything. Beauty, brains, abilities, accomplishments, circumstances, relationships, weather. Especially weather.

Oh, I've blogged about it before (see Envy Sucks). Written about it in a class project. Spun into despair over this sin.  Spent so much time begging God to change my heart.

Now I am not a charismatic, but I know the work of the Holy Spirit when I see it. One day I was hit with yet another wave of envy and I said to myself, "God has not called me to that."

All I can say is that it felt like that wonderful gasp of air when you have been holding your breath for way too long under water. Or perhaps the feeling of solid ground under your tires when you have slid in the mud. Or that glorious glass of water when you are dying of thirst.

That was not an isolated incident. Since that day, when I feel that sickening sense of envy begin to overtake me, I stop and remind myself once again.

God has not called me to that.

Just yesterday I was trying to figure out why this phrase is so incredibly powerful in blasting to bits my most pervasive sin. I began by dismantling the statement and focusing on the nouns.

God: This reminds me that there is an all loving, all powerful Creator at work. The God who beckons the morning, who numbers the stars, who parts the waters and knows what is in the heart of man, is at work.

Me: This all loving, all powerful Creator, who created even me, is at work in MY life. This is a very personal God who is wholly involved in every aspect of my life, great and small.

That: Whatever that is is just a thing, an experience, a relationship. All dispensable. All of this earth. If God has withheld that from me, be it skills or looks or even the Storm of the Century, it is because he knows that I do not need that.

His ways are higher than mine and his thoughts higher than mine and his working in my life is way beyond my comprehension. And I can trust that it is all good. Ultimately, if not apparently, good.

So today as Winter Storm Cleon (where do they get these names?) works its way across the country, missing me entirely and bestowing the severe weather and beloved snow on seemingly everybody else, I will have to remind myself once again of this truth.

God has not called me to that.

Monday, December 2, 2013

When Your Hero Is a Harlot

You ever had somebody ask you who your hero is? I've heard of this question being on college applications and in job interviews. Sometimes it is used in one of the "getting to know you" games. And I've never had one. Sure, I've had college applications and job interviews and even participated in those social ice breaker games (I met my husband that way, he handed me a penny), but I have never had a hero. Never until a couple of years ago, that is.

Some time in 2011 my daughter came home from the library with Season 1 of CSI: Miami. One episode and I was hooked. Over the next few months we managed to purchase the first five seasons of the show and watched with anticipation and rapt attention. And for the very first time, I found a hero, Calleigh Duquesne.

Calleigh Duquesne, the crime scene investigator ballistics specialist is everything I have ever longed to be. Beautiful (by pretty much anybody's standard), smart, chock full of technical know-how, tough and determined, and rolling in common sense. Totally indispensable to the team. Yet she is also compassionate, loyal and completely trustworthy. If you would ask me who I would want to be when I grew up, I would have to say Calleigh Duquesne. But Calleigh Duquesne is a fictional person, a figment of somebody's imagination. And Calleigh Duquesne doesn't need a Savior.

Enter the harlot. In Luke 7:36-50 we are told a story. Jesus has been invited to have dinner at the home of a Pharisee. All we know about this woman is that she has lived a sinful life and, from what I have read, that means she was likely a harlot, a slut, a prostitute. Yet she longs to see Jesus. This woman comes to Jesus at the dinner party, falls at his feet, and begins washing his feet with her tears and wiping them with her hair. The host is not pleased. Jesus goes on to teach a valuable lesson about forgiveness and love.

But, right now, I just want to focus on the woman. Can you imagine the guts that took? For a harlot to show up at a dinner party in the home of a Pharisee, the most fine and upstanding and righteous of the bunch? And then to pour herself out at the feet of the dinner guest?

I admire her, this harlot. Not for her beauty or her skills. But for her faith. For her brokenness. For her heart. For her determination to bow at the feet of Jesus, no matter what it took. I admire her because she knew she was helpless on her own. She knew where to go with her sin. She KNEW she needed a Savior.

And that is the beauty of it all. Defying social conventions for the sake of the gospel. A real person, a real sinner, real brokenness, real forgiveness at the feet of a real Savior. Yes, this harlot is my hero.

Friday, November 29, 2013

He Forgets Not His Own

Thanksgiving has been one of my favorite holidays. Even as a child there was something wonderful about it. It meant school was out and the house smelled good. It meant that people all sat around the same table and ate together. It meant that I wasn't alone.

We were never one of those families that had hordes of people over. My parents were both only children so we had no uncles, aunts, or cousins. It was just us, (two parents, four kids, one grandmother), but it was a rare time that everyone was in one place at one time. And I wasn't alone.

It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, 1977, when I came home from school and he was gone. My dad. Now, I didn't have a close relationship with him and, for the most part, he had hardly been a part of our home life for years, but that day was it. He was gone. For good.

Two days later was Thanksgiving. What had been a favorite holiday turned into, from then on, a glaring reminder of what was no longer. Knowing that the marriage she had clung to for almost 32 years was over, my mother collapsed in grief. On the floor. Beating her fists. Screaming out her pain. While the turkey sat and I stared.

Thanksgiving was never the same. The holidays were never the same. Life was never the same. Being the youngest of the four, I was the one left at home. Year after year I would sit alone as my mother sobbed, battling my own demons and with no idea or emotional strength to battle hers as well.

God has been gracious. He has put me in a lovely family with a loving and faithful (and fun) husband and four incredible children of my own. I shouldn't be lonely. But still, sometimes, more often than I care to admit, those waves of grief and isolation wash over me. It still hurts. After thirty-six years, it still hurts so bad.

Yesterday we sang "We Gather Together" in our church's Thanksgiving service. A traditional Thanksgiving hymn that at first glance brings up images of pilgrims and Norman Rockwell (though not necessarily at the same table—that would be a meal to remember!). But right there, at the end of the first verse, God reminded me of what I can be most thankful for:

"Sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own."

The God of the universe, in the middle of all the holidays and the hoopla and the turkeys and the trappings and the families and the loneliness, in the middle of all of THAT, does not forget me. I am not alone.

Thank you, Lord Jesus. Thank you.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Abstinence Is Realistic, and So Is Grace

I read Matt Walsh's post about abstinence today and it is wonderful and spot on and totally agree with it. Yes, our culture calls hooking up "freedom" and says it is OK to do it whenever and wherever and with whomever and everybody does it and anything less is repression and you are weird and old-fashioned and unrealistic if you don't give in to your desires and to this I say that is a lie from the pit of hell.

Yes, sex is a very special union to be used as a bonding between a husband and wife, the most ultimate expression of the two becoming one. The ideal is that you will never have intimate relations with anybody but your spouse and that the very act of sexual union will be exactly what God created it to be free of baggage and turmoil and a Pandora's box full of regrets or sickening memories or shame or trauma of any kind.

The problem is that we live in a terribly broken world. When people write on the ideal of abstinence, the ideal of a sexual oneness between a husband and wife, they are describing something that many, many will never experience. It is so all-or-nothing. You are clean or you are crap. For anybody who has a history, whether through their own choices or through no fault of their own (One in four females and one in six males by the age of 18 are abused sexually in some way and therefore, to varying degrees, see themselves as dirty and the whole concept of sex through a distorted lens), this is heartbreaking.

It just seems like there are only two options: There is this wonderful, pure as the driven snow, pinnacle of Christian union or there is this cesspool of human swill. There is a division: Those who have kept themselves pure and those who have not. A heaven and a hell, in some regards.

The truth is, everyone is affected by the fall and, to a certain extent, everyone's idea and experience of sex is affected by the fall. The prostitute, the loose and free groovy twenty-something, the horny high schooler, the broken victim of sexual violence, the confused teenager who gave of her body in exchange for what she hoped upon hope was love. Even, yes EVEN, the pure. The virtuous. The virgins. Those who remain chaste until the day they wed, they, too are affected by the fall.

We are presented with a Biblical ideal but we do not live within a vacuum. Even those who "make it" to marriage without becoming "damaged goods" in the eyes of other believers, can struggle and wrestle and find themselves disillusioned as to what sex means and what sex is. Whether because of what we have seen or what we have heard or what we have imagined, even the abstinent can come to the marriage bed with a certain amount of baggage. There is no area of life, not even the Biblical union of sex, where we do not need the grace of God to cover our fears and ideas and needs and selfish inclinations or the idea that we are entitled to having it really GOOD and really OFTEN because we waited.

But I digress. The truth is that sex is crazy and complicated and messy and the church tends to put things into neat and tidy boxes. In one Boat A you have the erotic heathens of the world and in Boat B, the chaste saints of the church, and everybody who is in the middle is left wondering where they fit and whether or not God has anything to say to them about desires and emptiness and forgiveness and healing, and wondering if maybe they will just drown in the mess of it all. 

Several years ago, after my daughter confessed to me that she had lost her virginity, we talked and talked and then I looked and looked and looked for an article, a book, something somewhere to give her hope. To help her know she wasn't the first, and certainly not the last, young woman to give in in a time of weakness and that there was a kind and gracious and loving God there to forgive her and give her a clean slate and a fresh start. I couldn't find one. Anywhere.

It is like Christians with a sexual history of any kind really (whether by their choice or not) are just plain invisible.

Sometimes I think the church doesn't want to acknowledge that these people exist because if it does, then that somehow gives people permission to cast off all restraint and let the party begin. I don't get that. (Is there a fear that talking about grace for those who have sinned is some sort of Get Out Of Jail Free Card? Well, guess what? We are ALL prisoners and Jesus came to set the captives free.)

This is such a black and white approach. All or nothing. If you can't do it perfectly then there is no use trying at all. It is all well and good to point out the lies of the culture. It is all well and good to explain that God's plan for sex is not only for our good but ultimately for our pleasure. But for so, so many people that offers no hope. One strike and you're out. No second chances. No forgiveness. No redemption.

But last I checked, God was in the business of second chances, forgiveness, and redemption. He is the God who is with us in the struggles, who is not shocked our needs and our desires and our insecurities and our past and even our lusts. He is the God who forgives our sins and heals our diseases and cleanses us white as snow and makes all things new.

It is never a "one strike and you're out" with God.

And for those who do withstand the pressure and, through conviction and prayer, remain celibate until marriage, I respect and admire you. But never forget: Abstinence is good and honorable and even realistic, but even you, the sexually pure, need Jesus, too. We really are all in the same boat after all.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

"What's Your Excuse?"

Yesterday a photo popped up in my newsfeed on Facebook that punched every button I have, turned me certifiably ballistic, and had me saying some not so gracious things on Facebook. You may have seen it, the photo of young mom Maria Kang with her three babies, ages 3, 2, and 8 months, looking uber fit and quite perky in her workout garb/bikini thing.

The photo itself really wasn't an issue, not near as bad as those women who post scantily-clad photos of themselves online with captions like "3 days postpartum," so that the rest of us can ooh and aaah over their amazing ability to look like they never had a baby and leaving us to assume that their offspring really were carried in by the stork after all.

No, the photo, really wasn't the problem. What got me with this woman was the quote that went with the photo. "What's your excuse?" Huh? Did she really say that? You rub your eyes and look again to see if that is, indeed, what is in print. It is. It was. I blew.

I understand that some people really didn't see this as a big deal. Even among my Facebook friends, my not-so-kind-post was met with clearly less outrage than mine (most any amount would be clearly less outrage than mine) and more "good for her" comments than I expected. To be honest, I was shocked at this.

I spent so much of my life hating my body and comparing it to the ideals of our culture . . . from the crazy messages of my childhood to my pathological fear of being fat, through the starvation time and the recovery and the longing to leave behind the cultural mandate that beauty matters most. It was years before I could be at peace with my blossoming body as it grew baby after baby, and trust that, even if my body changed with each baby, it was ok because being a mother meant so much more.

It has been a long, long road. Most days I am OK and I know that what I look like and feel like, my size and my beauty and even, yes, my fitness level, does not define me. But some days it is hard. Some days I have to fight so hard to not give in to the false belief that what I look like matters most. I have to stop and pray and remind myself, and oftentimes my husband has to remind me, that it is OK that my body is not perfect.

Maybe I am the only person, then, that felt that stab, like the flaming finger of Satan, pierce my soul and accuse me that I am, in reality, without excuse. Maybe it is just me, but I don't think so.

I think of all the women out there who have had eating disorders and who have worked hard to set aside their fears and their obsessions to focus on loving their children.

I think of all the women out there whose husbands nag them about their postpartum bodies and compare them to people like Maria Kang.

I think of all the women out there who work at jobs from dawn til dusk and come home to a house full of hungry mouths and mounds of laundry and the thought of even taking a walk, much less working out, is a distant dream.

I think about all the women out there who have pressed and crunched and lifted and run their bodies to death to try to gain some semblance of that figure she taunts us with, only to no avail and now to a feeling of total failure.

I think of moms everywhere who cook and clean and wash and cuddle and shop and drive and nurse and fix and snuggle and referee and wipe and teach and just can't add one more thing to their already hectic lives.

The truth is that God created a number of different shapes and sizes. The truth is that some people will NEVER look like that. The truth is that we all have limited time and limited resources. The truth is that what mothers (or anybody for that matter) look like with or without their clothes on really should not matter. The truth is that not one single mother, not even Maria Kang, will find herself on her death bed saying, "I wish I had worked out just a little bit more."

Don't get me wrong. Taking care of our bodies is a good thing. But flaunting your particular fitness level while chiding fellow mothers for their apparent failure is not a good thing. Not good at all.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Open Arms, No Matter What

She texted me late one evening and asked if we could get together for dinner. That was odd and out of character for her . . . initiating contact. Wanting to talk. It had been a long time. Never a patient person, I asked if she wanted to talk NOW. I drove to her apartment at 11 p.m. (way past my bedtime), feeling strangely refreshed and completely at peace. I knew what was coming.

I don't think well on my feet. I am one of those who always says, after the fact, "Oh, I WISH I had said THIS." But I had rehearsed this moment over and over in my head. I knew it would come because, eventually, A + B will equal C.

She was nervous, I could tell. It took her a few minutes to get to the point. But by then I knew. It was obvious when she stood up to leave the room for a minute and I saw the swollen belly on her rail thin, 20 year-old frame. She came back and handed me a photo of a tiny creature that was adorable, even then, and strangely resembled a Gummi Bear. My daughter was pregnant.

Deep inside I have always struggled with God. The Bible says such wonderful things about him and I knew them in my head, but I just couldn't comprehend how these things applied to me. Sure, other people could receive grace, free of charge on their account, but I didn't qualify. And this stuff about God being there in suffering? That didn't matter if my suffering was a result of my own sin or my own failure or my own being just a creature rather than the Creator. I had assumed in my 30+ years of being a Christian that God stood there with his arms crossed, waiting for me to get my act together and none too happy when I fell on my face . . . again.

But that wasn't what it was like with my daughter. I didn't care that she had wandered away. I didn't care what she had done. I just wanted her to turn to me. I wanted her to know that she could trust me. I just wanted her to know that I loved her, no matter what. No matter what.

It had finally sunk in. What I wanted for my daughter was what God wanted for me. A relationship that loves lavishly and in spite of all the odds. A relationship that doesn't throw around the "I told you so" and the "I am so ashamed of you" and the "You are getting what you jolly well deserved."

My desire to come alongside my daughter and love her and help her and encourage her in her now joy-filled yet difficult role as a single mother is only a small taste of how God longs to love and help and encourage me. It is easy to forget that sometimes, what with all the "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts" that get tossed around out there.

I have to remind myself over and over again, that Jesus came for the sick. He came for the lost. He came for the ones who haven't followed the rules. And he came for them, not to chastise them, but to draw them into a relationship of grace and hope. And he welcomes them, and welcomes me, with open arms. No matter what.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

What We Don't Know

It is just so easy to make assumptions about other people. To jump to conclusions. I do it all the time. I hear others do it, too. We have to always remind ourselves, however, that we may not know the entire story.

Reading this (yes, you MUST read this) broke my heart. Partly because I cannot fathom the pain this mother must be in every. single. day. and how that pain is only magnified exponentially by the assumptions of others. Partly because I have seen this happen to those close to me. And partly because I know all too well the assumptions people have made about me and my own parenting abilities when they have no clue the inside story.

Let's give each other a break, err on the side of grace rather than judgment, and remind ourselves that we don't know everything after all.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Love? Or Sex?

The words twanged out from the radio, "I'm gonna lay you down and love you right" and I giggled and thought to myself, "If you're gonna love her right then you best give her a back massage, a neck massage, and a foot massage and let that poor woman go to sleep." Somehow I doubt that I am the intended audience for that song.

Typically, very little shocks me but I have to admit that I am, not shocked, but baffled. I really, really do not understand the obsession with sex and the confusion of sex with love.

I mean, the phrases are everywhere. "Make love," "Gonna get me some lovin'," "She loved him up and turned him into a horny toad," (name that movie). But they don't really mean love, they mean sex.

It isn't that love and sex are mutually exclusive, they are not. In fact, they were designed to go hand in hand in a very specific relationship. But things have gone all wonky because we desperately crave one, or both, and just lump them all together in one tangled up knot of dysfunction.

(Disclaimer: Now, I know that y'all might not think I know much about the topic but, seriously, I managed to conceive, grow, and birth 4 babies so I must have a least a bit of street cred on the subject. And don't worry, this is not going to be the typical lecture about sex and marriage and what all God intended. Most of you have heard it all before. I don't need to reinvent the wheel.)

I don't know which is worse, really. Calling sex "love," or totally disconnecting the two completely. I am working my way through the seasons of "The Big Bang Theory" and, while I love the characters and find the show is hilarious, I grow quite weary of the constant, never ending, sex theme. Even a legitimate and apparently loving relationship gets defined by sex. Seriously? Get a life!

Now, I know that the desire for sex is a real, legitimate desire. And the desire for love is universal. But we have to be careful how those two play out and how we seek to meet those needs. Think of yourself on a raft in the ocean. You are thirsty. Really, really thirsty. You know that help is on the way, but you don't think you can wait. So you do what makes sense to your thirsting body; you drink sea water. It satisfies your thirst for a bit, but then you are all the more thirsty. And if you continue on, with no intervention, drinking the sea water will KILL you. You will, while remaining desperately thirsty, drink yourself to death.

Whether what you really desire is to be loved, or you actually do crave the physical release of coitus, going after sex outside of a specific, loving, committed relationship (hint: marriage) is like drinking gallon after gallon of sea water. You will always want more and it will never satisfy.

So don't be fooled by the lyrics. The movies. The television shows. The culture at large. Sure, "everybody is doing it," or so they say. But "everybody" seems really thirsty to me. And never satisfied. I think there is a better way.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Acrophobia, Parenthood, and an Ocean Of Grace

Lately I have been more sensitive than ever to the whole parenting thing. You'd think it wouldn't phase me any more, this emphasis on parenting as the be-all and end-all of the Christian life. This idea that you have to do it right. That there is ONE right way. That if you don't do it right then your children, and society as a whole, are doomed. This idea that it is all up to you.

I pushed back in my last post about the idea that young adults leaving the church is the result of parenting. Yet over the past week I see it again and again. It is like a tightrope out there. Walk on this and you succeed. Fall and all is lost. (Maybe I am the only one seeing this. Maybe in my almost 50-year-old brain, I have gone totally loopy and lost perspective and need to get a grip. Maybe I am just tired.)

I don't function well under pressure. Never have. I can be banging out a manifesto, rapid fire, on the computer and then, if someone comes and stands over me to watch, my fingers turn to wet noodles and the words turn to gibberish. I am, in no way, a performing monkey. It is like stage fright of life.

Think of it this way: You are to run in a straight line down the field. The lanes are drawn out so that you have a way to gauge where you are. Almost anybody, really, could run in that lane, given the lines were reasonably wide apart (say 6 feet or so) for a balance check and a fumble or two. Now, make that a 6 foot wide bridge. Over a gorge. A deep gorge. A really, really deep gorge. Now, I hate heights. I go wonky and get total paralysis. So, if I were to be told to run down a 6 foot wide bridge, knowing that a trip or stumble or veering slightly off course meant certain destruction, I wouldn't be able to run. I wouldn't be able to walk. I might not even be able to crawl. I would be frozen in absolute terror and never move a muscle.

The problem is, that is how parenting is painted. That long, narrow, high bridge that you must somehow navigate without error. Any stumble, any failure, is the end of it all. So, I have spent the last two decades, and especially the last few years, standing there, like a deer in the headlights, not knowing what to do next. Any move could prove disastrous.

They tell me how serious it all is, this thing called parenthood. They tell me if I do it right, everything will be fine. They tell me if I don't do it right, my children will suffer and their eternal destiny is at stake. Others seem to have the skill, the boldness, the confidence, to able to forge ahead. I can't move.

Then God changes the scene and opens my eyes. There is a bridge, but it isn't over a gorge. It is alongside the ocean. I need to cross that bridge, but falling off means getting wet, nothing more. Falling off means falling into an ocean of grace. Falling off means climbing back on the bridge and moving on, a little soggy, perhaps, but not destroyed.

Parenthood is nothing to be feared. It is a part of life I have been called to. Nothing less, but nothing more. And below is a sea of grace to wash me clean and keep me going. The pressure is off and life is on.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Matters of the Heart

Last night I ran across another one of those articles that makes a parent's skin crawl and her heart scream. One of those articles that claims to have discovered why young people leave the church. And wouldn't you know? This time the prime ingredient in whether or not our children continue in the church is . . . drum roll please . . . you . . . me . . . us . . . parents! (You can read the article here.)
Not surprisingly, homes modeling lukewarm faith do not create enduring faith in children. Homes modeling vibrant faith do. So these young adults are leaving something they never had a good grasp of in the first place. This is not a crisis of faith, per se, but of parenting.
I don't know about you, but had I known 25 years ago that the spiritual destiny of my children was going to depend on my parenting skills and the modeling of my vibrant faith, I would have crossed my legs for good and never let a child leave my loins (and the world would be minus 5 wonderful people). Answer me this: We have a God who creates out of nothing. Who summons the morning. Who makes streams in the desert. Who divides the sea. Who can cause the sun to stand still. Who sets captives free. Who can count the very hairs on our heads. Who raises the dead. Who conquers sin and death. We have a God who created us in our inmost being. Who created our children within us and designates the number of their days. We have this very powerful, wise, loving God and yet whether or not our children choose to be in and remain in a relationship with him depends on us?

The article talks about the need of the parents to have vibrant faith. How exactly does one define that and how do we know if we have one or not? I know that all too often I am a Mom of Little Faith. But even then there is that mustard seed thing . . .

And then we are to be modeling that vibrant faith? What if you wait until all is quiet to spend your time with God? What if you need the lack of distraction to focus and so your kids don't see you searching for wisdom and pouring your heart out to the Creator of the universe? Does that mean they are doomed? Does God, who sees what you do in secret, not hear your prayers because you aren't putting them on display for your children?

I know we are to teach and train and all that. I have heard that ad nauseum for almost 24 years now. I am not saying that we parents have no responsibility in caring for our children and teaching them truth, I just don't see how God arranged it so that their very hearts are placed in my very incapable hands.

All these articles. All these surveys. All these people ringing their hands. Bob Bennet got it right.
But there's just some things
That numbers can't measure
These fragile pieces of priceless treasure
There's just some things
That numbers can't measure
In Matters of the Heart
I can plant seeds, although I may not get that right. I can water, though my track record with earthly flora isn't so great. But God, and only God, can make them grow.

In all due respect, I guess it is important to do research to try to find out these things. But we must remember that correlation does not necessarily mean causation. Godly parents can have wayward children, and vice versa.

I just really don't think parents need any more pressure to get it right and any more guilt, if it appears that we didn't. Most of us know we don't have what it takes to transform the hearts of our children because we are not the Holy Spirit.

And even if they have wandered away and it is all our fault and what we thought was a vibrant faith turned out to be a tepid dribble of faithless goo, can God not hear our tear-filled, passionate prayers for the souls of our children and draw them back to himself?

Oh, I think he can.

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Dynamic Duo of Destruction

Everybody knows that kids can be a handful. Even just one kid can have enough entropy-loaded oomph to make a mama weep . . . or want to rip her hair out . . . or both. But every so often, God puts together a rather adorable, yet lethal, combination of little darlings and you can be left to pick up the pieces and, much like after a nuclear blast, never quite know exactly what hit you.

We called them Thing One and Thing Two. Partners in Crime. The Dynamic Duo of Destruction.

Thing One was a destroyer from the start. His first word was "apart" because, yes, he had indeed taken apart whatever he had gotten his hands on. It was quite fascinating, actually, and I wondered if this was a marketable skill. I considered hiring him out to Consumer Reports for durability testing, but decided that there were likely child labor laws against such things.

Thing One was a week shy of 21 months old when Thing Two crashed onto the scene. When she was only 6 months old she managed to eat enough of the text of one page of a really, REALLY nice library book that the Powers That Be declared it a total loss. (Did you know that at our library in 1996 you never had to pay more than $50 for a damaged library book, no matter what the actual cost?)

I will never forget the first time I knew that, together, they were trouble. Thing One was at the bottom of the back steps. Three steps up was a dead plant still in its pot of dirt (I'm not good with living things). Thing Two, at that time rather new at locomotion, crawled up the stairs, grabbed a handful of the dirt and slung it at Thing One. Fits of laughter followed—and more dirt slinging. I knew from that day that I was indeed doomed.

There wasn't anything that they wouldn't tackle together. And they were quite creative, really. I never knew where any given household item was because, more than likely, it had been put to some new and unusual use. Nothing was sacred. Some of you may cluck your tongues and shake your heads and say that I clearly did not have control over my household and, truth is, you are probably right. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I must have been on potty break when God was handing out managerial skills. I got none.

Most memorable though, of all their antics, was The Plump. They loved to make The Plump and they did so quite often. To make The Plump they would empty the entire contents of the linen closet and, if need be, strip down all the beds. Then pile the whole mess together in one big lump. Then they'd play King of the Plump or bury each other deep inside the bowels of The Plump (much to the horror of this highly claustrophobic mother). Sometimes they would use The Plump as a landing pad after sledding headfirst down the stairs inside a pillowcase or sleeping bag. It was all great fun until bedtime when someone—that would be me—had to sort through mounds of bedding to find her favorite pillow.

Eventually the Dynamic Duo of Destruction morphed into what I called the Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, as, thanks to raging hormones, they transitioned from destroying the house to destroying each other. I used to ask other moms, while desperately seeking camaraderie, if their kids fought. My question would often be met with a quizzical look and a, "Why no. Not at all." Sometimes it was worse and Perfect Mother Of Non-Warring Children would use uber sweet and syrupy language like "cherish" and "adore" in reference to sibling relations. (Seriously? Just shoot me now.)

Thing One and Thing Two are older now and, amazingly enough, only fight on occasion, usually over the condition of the bathroom they share or the volume of the music. Strangely enough, I actually miss the little terrors they used to be. But time passes on and my granddaughter who, according to developmental psychology is in the Little Scientist phase (as in "Let's experiment with gravity!", Let's experiment with liquids!", "Let's see what happens when we put gravity and liquids together!"), is wreaking her own havoc on the household. It won't be long before Thing One and Thing Two can teach her how to make The Plump. I can't wait.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

I. Am. a. Grandma

I. am. a. grandma.

That seems so . . . not right. Not that I don't like being a grandma. I do. I really, really do. (And it is true what they say. Grandkids ARE indeed the reward you get for not killing your children.) I never knew I could love a little thing so much.

It is just that, no matter what way I turn it, I don't FEEL like a grandma.

When I think of what a grandma is, I think of MY grandma. We called her Grandmama and she lived next door. She was only 61 when I was born but, in 1963, 61 was OLD.

She was tall and skinny and frail, with a gray poodle-puff hairdo that had to be set by the lady at the beauty parlor every Friday morning. She wore stockings and a girdle and skirts and dresses and pumps and hairspray. Every day. Her nails were perfectly manicured and polished. She drove a big, fancy Cadillac and drove it very carefully. She had a pink bathroom and she always smelled of roses. She had to eat delicately, owing to a troubled digestion, and always drank her iced tea half-strength. She was cold, all the time, and thus made me wear a sweater. Even in July. Even if I wasn't cold.

I, on the other hand, am far from frail. I must admit that without the help of Lady Clairol I would sport a disturbingly large mop of gray but it would be far from a poodle-puff. I don't think my hair would puff. Ever. I can't even bring myself to cut it short, like my mother said all women over thirty should do. I've never worn a girdle. I hate panty hose. I don't own a pair of pumps.

I eat anything I jolly well please (minus shrimp and peanuts, due to allergies, and weird animals, because that is just gross). I like my tea strong and my coffee stronger. I prefer a 5-speed vehicle of any kind but my dream ride is an old truck. I do a cartwheel every year on my birthday, just to prove I can.

I spend my time on the floor with my granddaughter or outside pushing her in the swing or around in the wheelbarrow or carrying her around the neighborhood in a backpack. I've taken her to show houses and attend home inspections. Next week she will go to her first, but likely not last, real estate closing.

She has taken to wanting to stand on the dining room table. You can't blame her. She's short. One day I decided to see what the big deal was and determined that standing on a table does have a certain level of appeal. She may be on to something. I have trouble picturing my grandmother standing on a table just for fun.

Several years ago I had the habit of, when typing my name, of getting my right hand off a bit. On several occasions I looked down to see my name not as Ginny, but Gubby. It wasn't long before that became a nickname of sorts and it was determined that this is what our grandchildren would call me—light years in the future, of course. Those light years didn't last too long and I became Gubby at 48.

Of course, little 15-month-old Bundle of Wonderfulness can't say Gubby. She calls me Bubba, or some variation thereof, which I guess fits well with my overall-clad, hillbilly persona. But she knows I will answer to whatever she calls me.

So the next time you see me, don't ask how I like being a grandma. Ask how I like being a Gubby. I will answer that I wouldn't trade it for the world.

To What End?

A few days ago I read an article about some of the lesser known dangers of CrossFit. In case you are not familiar with it, CrossFit is a physical training program that is something along the lines of a boot camp for those who are really serious about fitness. Well, apparently there are people who take the training a bit too far (exactly where the blame falls is up for debate), which can result in rhabdomyolysis, a condition where your muscle breaks down, flooding your blood with muscle cells that then jam up your kidneys, leading to kidney failure and sometimes even death. All because you pushed yourself too hard.

I could so see how that could happen. I see it all the time. A little is good. More is better. Push yourself to the limit. Show that you have what it takes. I would imagine it being not all that different from any extreme sport or high risk activity. Young people, in particular, consider themselves invincible and limits are made to be pushed. Weakness is a sin. The body is to be trained and molded and beat into submission. The sky is the limit.

But to what end?

I know that being in shape is important. But fitness, like any good thing, can become a mini-god, an idol. And idols are evil taskmasters. They require total allegiance and cause you to lose sight of the goal. So, I have discovered that the little phrase, "To what end?" can give me an entire shift in perspective.

Whenever I feel enormous amounts of guilt because I see friends spending hours a day in physical training and running marathons and biking across the state and such and I feel like I am a total wimp for not joining in, I have to ask myself, "To what end?" Would doing these things enable me to better love God and my neighbor? No.

Whenever I am frustrated about my appearance and long to be young and beautiful, I have to stop and ask myself, "To what end?" Would being attractive in any way change my purpose in this life? No.

Whenever I start letting the lust of my eyes get the best of me and I begin drooling over photos of charming old houses or gleaming hardwood floors, I have to stop and ask, "To what end?" Would my quality of life really be enhanced by having such temporary goodies. Probably not.

Whenever I look at the list of real estate agents in the region and see that I am way down the list in sales production for the year and I feel bad that I don't do more business and it must mean that I suck at what I do, I have to ask myself, "To what end?" It is just a number.

And whenever somebody else writes a wonderful blog post that gets shared all over Facebook and my latest post got only 10 "likes" and I feel a mix of discouragement and envy because I want to write good things, too, I have to ask myself, "To what end?" Does that change one iota my value in God's sight? Absolutely not.

If indeed "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever" (Westminster Shorter Catechism), then the other things in life must take a back seat and a smaller portion of my time and attention. It isn't that fitness or beauty or success is wrong in and of itself, it is only wrong when it takes up most of your life instead of just a small piece of it.

So the next time you get wrapped around the axle about a certain pursuit, go ahead and try it. Ask yourself, "To what end?" The change in perspective does a body good.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Children of the Church

It seems that of late there are an awful lot of articles out there about the large number of young people leaving the church and everybody wants to jump on the bandwagon of why this is happening. Most people tend to blame and demonize the things they want to blame and demonize, be it Sunday School (the horrors!), youth groups that are too much fun, or wimpy and shallow worship.

I have no doubt that there are perhaps valid points to some of these ideas, but I think the problem goes much deeper than that. I think the problem has more to due with the fact that, more often than we want to believe or ever admit, the church isn't acting like Christ.

It seems that within so many churches children are written off as unwieldy Tasmanian devils, whose intents are forever evil and who just need a healthy case of discipline and a good and swift wallop on the backside, to bring them in line and mold them into fine upstanding citizens. The problem is, with the exception of the most compliant of children, every child is, at one point or another, going to act like a child, which isn't always pleasant. Growing up is a confusing and bizarre process in and of itself. Life is hard enough.

But some children, an alarmingly larger number than we ever care to consider, are going to struggle with so much more. Let's take the 1 in 4 females and 1 in 6 males who are sexually abused in some way before they are 18 (and that number is NOT smaller in the church) and add to it all the children who face an entire host of other challenges, either through nature and nurture, and you have a lot of kids who are going to struggle with life and it may not be pretty. They need a refuge. They need to be met with the compassion of Christ, not avoidance, indifference, impatience, or only exhortation.

No amount of discipline or catechism ever mended the broken heart of a child who just saw his father walk out the door or his mother beaten. Who has had to endure soul-crushing abuse of many kinds. Who has struggled but never fit in anywhere he went. Who can never live up to the performance of an older sibling or the expectations of a driven parent. Children feel pain just as adults do, only moreso, and what they experience can have a lifetime of consequences.

I know I sound so critical of the church, and I must admit that there are times I get terribly frustrated. I know we, as the body, are not perfect. We won't be in this life. But we can set aside our own agenda, our predisposition to be neat and tidy, our desire to see everyone pull themselves together and hit one for the team, and be what we are called to be, the eyes and mouths and arms and feet of Jesus.

Somewhere along the line the church got sidetracked. The tools that were used to train our kids became an end unto themselves so that value of a child was measured by his ability to sit still, or answer the right questions or memorize scripture or, better yet the catechism, or perform service projects or dress nicely or speak intelligently to the elderly . . . in essence, to be good little boys and girls.

But if you learn, as a child, that the church is for "good" people and that your behavior matters more than your pain, sure, it makes total sense to me that you are going to leave and never look back.

Somewhere along the line the church became about doing and not about being. About programs and not about relationships. About exhortation and not about Good News. About behavior and not about hearts. What children learn about church tells them a lot about God. Heaven forbid we ever give them reason to think God doesn't care.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


I have been struck in the past few years that it seems that just about everything is now an "issue". It is hard to make even the smallest of talk without somebody, somewhere twisting it into some sort of a political pretzel or moral ticking time bomb. The polarization of just about everything is staggering. People believe more passionately and defend more fiercely, it seems, than ever before....or at least that I can remember (my limited recall being under 50 years).

It really is a jungle out there. And because of that, I think that people have come to expect the church to be a refuge, which it should be. The church SHOULD be a refuge for weak and weary sinners in need of grace. The church SHOULD be a refuge for the poor and the oppressed, the widow and the orphan. The church SHOULD be a refuge for the brokenhearted, the downtrodden, the Misfit Toys of this world.

But it seems like lately I am hearing more and more people express the desire that the church remain or become a refuge from anybody who thinks differently. I'm not saying anybody who BELIEVES differently, as in the basics of the gospel and orthodox Christianity and all that. I mean some seem to want the church to be a refuge from those whose faith in God plays out differently in their life. And I am just not so sure that is the role of the church.

Take politics, for example. Should the church be a refuge from those who have different political views? Should the church be the place you can run to and everybody thinks like you and debates like you and votes like you? 

Should the church be a refuge from those who have a different take on social responsibility  or environmental action?

Should the church be a refuge from those who have an "inferior" worship style or those who prefer a different translation of the Bible?

Should the church be a refuge from those who raise their children differently? Discipline their children differently? Educate their children differently? Even FEED their children differently?

I think we have gotten it all mixed up. Last I checked there were 10 Commandments and Jesus summed them up like this:

"Love The Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: "Love your neighbor as yourself." — Matthew 22:37-39

It is only natural that God, in all of his creativity, placed a variety of people in his church. People who are wired differently and think differently and come from different backgrounds and have different life experiences and these very well may result is a huge variation on just how people choose to put loving God and loving their neighbor into practice.

I think that the problem here is that we are mixing up preferences with principles and elevating our preferences, our personal practical applications, into some form of law in and of itself. And we not only use that law to define our faith, but we use that law to measure the faith of the person sitting next to us. And we push . . . push . . . PUSH that law onto our brothers and sisters in Christ.

So, is there anything wrong with wanting to be with like-minded folks? Not at all. Is there anything wrong with expecting everybody in your church to think and talk and look and live and love exactly like you do? Yes, I think there might be. Aside from being unrealistic, a place like that would be downright creepy in a robotic, Clone-A-Matic, Stepford Christians sort of way.

I find it fascinating that Revelation 7:9 speaks of "every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb." We are going to be spending eternity with a whole host of people who may be different from us in almost every way but one: We are washed in the blood of the Lamb.

Oh, I know that it is inevitable, while here on earth, that we are going to join together based on some common ideals and convictions and preferences, but, ultimately, those should not be the things that bind us together, because those are not the things that bind us to Christ. And he is our refuge.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

My Answer to the Modesty Mafia

Almost a month ago I got my panties in a wad over all these modesty posts and sat down and cranked out my own thoughts, but never posted them. I knew that I would receive a lot of pushback and, at the time, there were so many other things going on in my life that I just wasn't up to the task. But the wheels have been turning.

Then, last night, my friend, Rebecca, posted her own thoughts, which sparked my thinking again. You can read it here. I really appreciate the idea of not thinking so much about yourself, period. And that is part of the problem with this Modesty Crusade. One of many problems.

Most modesty articles are pretty much the same. Shock and horror at the immodest dress of teenage girls and even more shock and horror at her parents for letting her out the door dressed in so very little. "Where are her parents?" these people rage. The assumption seems to be that either her parents are asleep at the wheel or complete tramps themselves. Well, I can guarantee that this is not always the case, because I am one of those parents.

Part of the modesty problem is that there is no set-in-stone rule out there for where modesty stops and too much skin starts. But when you start defining modesty by inches of skirt or exposure of shoulder, then you start down a road that can, at the very least, SEEM rather legalistic.

Then there is the practical aspect. My youngest daughter (Daughter #3) works with horses and in the summer she gets beastly hot. The less she has on her body, the better, in her mind. Imposing a specific standard of modesty might not only seem silly and legalistic to her, it can be downright uncomfortable.

Before people jump all over me about this, let me state that I know . . . I KNOW the arguments for modesty. And I am not in disagreement with them. I have also, in the past, added my own concerns, including the need for safety, to these reasons as I have talked to my daughters. But knowing this and even teaching this are very different from enforcing it. And one has to ask at what point and at what age should a parent even attempt to enforce it?

If you have never had teenage daughters or if you have had them but they were super compliant (Daughter #2, for a time) or totally disinterested in fashion and fitting in (Daughter #1), you may not understand just how hard this is for parents. But if you look around at the girls at church and huff and puff about their state of dress or, quite possibly, undress, then I challenge you to take a teenage girl shopping.

Go right ahead, waltz in to Target with a hormonally challenged, star crossed adolescent female who wants nothing more to fit in and try, just try, to find her a dress that fits that arbitrary definition of "modest." Better yet, I challenge you to do so without at least one of you bursting into tears and with your relationship still intact when you walk out the door. It is just plain hard. I know how young women dress is important. But even that does not define them.

Teenage girls, especially, are living through a hormonal hell while trying to find their own identity, outside of their parents. They long to belong. Life is very fragile. We parents know that. Some of us may opt to handle with care and pick our fights.

I am perfectly aware that there are some people that may look at the length of my daughter's dress and, from that, make a full-on judgment about my success as a parent. You know what? I don't care. There comes a point that I have to leave certain issues up to God. And the very last thing I want is an outward compliance without a change in the heart. The last thing I want is for my daughter to believe that she is only acceptable to God if she is wearing the right clothing.

When I was a kid the most awful thing I could hear from my mother was "I'm so ashamed" when it came to something I did or something I was. I refuse to be ashamed of my children. Any of them. For any decision they may make. I may not agree with it or condone it but I refuse to be ashamed. I refuse to be ashamed of my daughter for what she may wear. Sure, I have taught and explained and encouraged, but at some point she has to make the decision herself. Compliance to my standards just to keep me off her back isn't going to be sustainable in the long run. At some point, these convictions have to be between her and God.

People are more than clothing, be it how much or how little that they have on. Modest in other contexts usually means meeting needs without all the extras. When I sell a modest house to my clients, it is one that provides shelter and the comforts of home without all the glitz, without calling attention to itself, and without breaking the bank. If we translated that to clothing, I could say that there is plenty of clothing out there that covers plenty of skin, but is not modest at all. And vice versa.

So the next time you see a young woman whose short shorts are short on material and whose tank top has too much tank and not enough top, don't assume that, in some way, she is the enemy, a tramp to be scorned for her choices. Look beneath the little clothing she may have on and see what she is, a young woman created in the image of God. And don't assume that her parents are unaware. They may be like me, stepping back and letting her work it out with God for herself.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Food For Thought

I have railed on and on about the amount of emphasis these days on food. I spend quite a bit of time . . . a lot of time . . . OK, too much time, on Facebook and there are days when posts seem to be about nothing but food. Food appears to be getting, among the general population, almost as much airplay as sex, and among my friends, much much more.

It cracks me up, really, how broad the spectrum is when it comes to food sensibilities. I see posts encouraging me to eat vegan or paleo or all organic or via the teachings of Weston A. Price. I hear rants about GMOs and am fed (pun intended) an endless supply of articles on just how toxic my food supply really is and that, at some point and likely when I least expect it, my insides will rupture and my nose will turn green (they don't actually say that, but one day they might).

I am told that I need to be eating more butter or coconut oil or certain berries, most which I can neither pronounce nor spell. I am to avoid dairy . . . no, eat dairy . . . so long as it is straight from the cow. I am to avoid gluten and sugar and potatoes and corn and rice, unless it is brown, and then only in small quantities due to arsenic and carbs. I am not supposed to have anything processed, which means I am to work my patootie off making all my food from scratch. I can't make a comment about a headache or an allergy without somebody having the ideal diet solution.

On the other hand, everywhere I turn I see photos of food. And not just basic foods, straight from the earth, those ones they say I am to eat. I see photos of cooked dishes that usually include cool whip and mayo and bags of hash-browned potatoes. It is like an endless church potluck parading itself across my Facebook page.

I really get so tired of it all. I get tired of people telling me what I should and shouldn't eat. I get tired of being preached at and reminded over and over again that if I don't eat X, then Y will happen or if I do eat A, then B is sure to befall me, ruin my life, and bring shame on my family.

I remember being a teenager and longing for the day that I could just eat what I wanted to eat and when I was hungry and not eat when I didn't feel like it. For somebody with a food and weight obsession, that sort of freedom was absolutely unheard of. The truth is, I don't want to think about food. I spent way too many years thinking about nothing BUT food. I know what it is like to be enslaved by an obsession with what I put in my mouth. But for years I have enjoyed freedom and I don't ever want to go back.

So excuse me if I do not jump on your nutritional bandwagon or take part in your food porn. I have more important things to do with my time and my mental and emotional energy, not to mention my dollars. It isn't that I am ignorant or uninformed, it is that I have chosen that food would have a much smaller place in my life so that the more important things have room to grow.

Miley Musings

I think we are just plain schizo. Really. A few nights ago cute little Hannah Montana rocked the country, and maybe the world, with her trashy romp on stage with Robin Thicke at MTV's Video Music Awards ceremony.

No, I didn't watch the video, but I saw plenty of photos. Sure, it was inappropriate. Sure, it was sleazy. Sure, it was outside the boundaries that even the vast majority of our hypersexualized culture deems acceptable behavior. But so far, it seems to be Miley that is getting all the pushback, all the criticism, and all the shame.

Miley Cyrus is 20 years old. Not old enough to buy alcohol in her own country, not old enough to even rent a car. It could be another 5 years before her prefrontal cortex, that part of the brain that makes judgment calls and perceives possible consequences to actions, is even fully developed. In many ways, she really is still a kid, albeit a rather sophisticated one.

I am in no way saying that she should not be held accountable for her actions. Yes, she should know better. But what I am saying is that she did not act in a vacuum.  The photos I saw show her on stage with a man. A man, not a boy. A man who is 36 years-old and MARRIED. Now HE should know better.

Somebody choreographed those moves. Somebody directed that show. There are likely hundreds of somebodies out there who are also partially responsible for that performance and, more than likely, all of them are older and should be wiser and more mature than Miley herself.

What do we expect in a world where sex rules and sex sells? Where little girls' bathing suits can come with push-up bras and young women can expect a boob job to be the ultimate present for high school graduation? Where the majority of songs and television shows and movies paint a hook-up culture as the norm? Where I cannot even find a dress at Target for my teenage daughter that will cover more than half her thigh (another blog post altogether)?

I couldn't help but notice how Miley actually, in her teeny, weeny nude colored bikini or bra-and-panties get-up (same difference) strangely resembled a naked, plastic baby doll, an object that is often cast off and thrown away, and wondered if that was by accident at all.

Why are we so shocked when a girl who has grown up as the center of attention, who never had anything resembling a normal childhood, who will never be able to handle the pressure and expectations our culture puts on her . . . why are we so shocked when she crosses the line of human decency? And why do we lay the blame so heavily on her narrow shoulders?

A few years ago my daughter suffered from abdominal pain and nausea. She had a low grade fever. She was definitely not herself. Sure, she complained of the symptoms, but they were not her problem. Her appendix was. No masking the pain would have remedied the situation. In fact, doing so would have eventually killed her. The symptoms were a sign that something deeper and more serious was at hand.

My heart breaks for Miley and it breaks for all the young women who have believed all the sick, sick lies that our culture throws at them. Miley isn't the problem. Miley is the symptom of a much deeper, more pervasive problem. A problem that treats sex as king and young women as objects.

I think it is time to fight back. And maybe, if we reach out to her with compassion and concern instead of disgust and horror . . . maybe one day Miley will join us.

Monday, August 5, 2013

No Defense

Recently, I read about the idea that you cannot assess the character of someone while you are in the process of defending them. This has got me thinking about defensiveness overall and how it affects us.

Several years ago I took the Sonship Training Course and in it was an exercise where you were supposed to try to go one week without defending yourself. Being the lax student that I am, I didn't even attempt to go there. In fact, I wasn't even sure that it was a worthy goal. I didn't quite get what defensiveness had to do with it. I had a lot to learn.

Fast forward 20 years and I am starting to get it. Defensiveness short circuits the learning process. It balks at self-assessment. It can be indicative of a heart that is not teachable. It loses sight of the gospel.

So what am I to do when faced with an accusation that attacks my actions or my character?

Rather than defending myself I can stop and ask if there is any truth in what was said. This can be horribly painful, but it is necessary. If indeed, the accusation is wholly untrue, then I can explain myself, if necessary, and move on with a clear conscience before both God and man. How the accuser responds is between them and God.

I think most people defend themselves because the accusation is seen as an attack on their character and nobody wants to have their flaws, failures, and sins served up on a platter. But this is where the grace of God comes in. The very essence of sanctification, of growing to be more like Christ, involves humbling ourselves before God as He exposes and transforms every nook and cranny of our lives.

So, in effect, an accusation that might have even a small element of truth in it, is a wonderful opportunity to learn and grow and praise God for His faithfulness to me and His grace that covers all my sins. For the sake of my relationship with God and with my neighbor, I need to have an open and teachable heart that knows the grace of God is the best defense.