Party On–Joy in the Face of Judgment

I have an annual tradition for Mother’s Day that began about five years ago.  Every year, I throw a party for my local mommy-friends.  We gather without husbands and children with no purpose other than to celebrate the one thing that we all have in common—being mothers.  I can always tell that those who are new to the party aren’t sure what to expect because there’s no agenda at all.  I’m not trying to sell Pampered Chef, Norwex or Lula Roe.  I’m not raising money for a charity.  We’re not throwing a baby shower for anyone, and most difficult for these sweet women to wrap their heads around is that I don’t need them to bring anything.  They are so accustomed to helping and serving that showing up to something empty-handed, and then consuming food and drink, seems selfish.

And that’s exactly why I do this.  Moms throw parties for their children.  They bring food to families welcoming newborn babies, struggling with serious illness or recovering from surgeries, or mourning a loss.  They are always so busy working, working working—inside and outside their homes, that they often forget how it feels to enjoy their own brand of fun.

My Mother’s Day parties have varied in their style and size over the years.  One was a fancy brunch, several were evening parties with lots of snacks and wine and a chick-flick about motherhood.  We’ve played funny ice-breaker games at a couple, and at my first one I asked everyone to bring photos of them with their mothers or of them with their children.  But one thing that all my parties have had in common is an interesting blend of women.

My friendship spheres sometimes intersect, but many times they don’t, and what I love about my parties is that they are comprised of women from many different countries: Americans, Brits, South Africans, Canadians, Swiss, Australians, Luxembourgers, Belgians.  They’ve been comprised of women with different religious beliefs: Atheists, Christians and Muslims.  I’ve invited moms I’ve met through church, mom’s groups, the gym, my neighborhood, my children’s’ school, and through some very random connections.  I’ve invited women from different ethnic backgrounds.  And the beauty of this gathering is to see them begin to open up to one another as they laugh and relax, to watch them discover the things that they have in common with each other as they gather as mothers.  In a world where we tend to congregate with those groups of people who are most like us, what I seek to provide in this environment is an opportunity for the Lord to reveal His nature in the surprise that comes when we find a kindred spirit in someone we may never have spoken to otherwise.

But this year, when I decided to go with a Zumba theme for my party, I discovered that Phariseeism is alive and well. I know that my party idea this year was a little unusual, but it’s very frustrating when people assume the worst about something you’re doing simply because they misjudge your intentions.  Because I know that God desires hearts and community, I knew that He could even use my Zumba party to spark conversations about Him, and to build friendships that can lead to testimonies of His goodness.

On the outside looking in, apparently that wasn’t the conclusion for some people.  They questioned the holiness of Zumba-style dancing—even though there were no men around for women to grind on, and no children to influence one way or another.  They questioned the lyrics of the song choices—even though I went over and over the playlist to ensure there were no offensive curse words or extremely suggestive lyrics.  They questioned the fact that I served alcohol—even though almost every gathering in the Bible involved wine because it’s a social beverage, and I barely served enough for my guests to have more than two drinks.

And I don’t know what judging a fellow sister in Christ for throwing a dance party will profit anyone.  Does it make the judge happier to declare the party unholy or inappropriate?  No, it just divides the family of God even more because it pits one person against another over something that’s really a gray area.  I bet if I asked those critical of the party if they really thought that Jesus loves them more because they think my party was a bad idea, they’d honestly say no, so why bother judging?

Would it benefit me to argue with people to try to convince them that my way was right, that my party was okay?  No, because it’s not my job to try to win an argument and allow myself to be distracted by someone’s opinion of me.  And to get wrapped up in defending myself would waste energy that I could be spending loving on people, and it would make me angry instead of filling my heart with compassion for those who are picking my choices apart.

Would it be better for the party not to happen and for none of these women to interact and socialize?  I say no, because God is all about seeking people out and building relationships and opportunities to share the gospel.  So by now, the ladies who came to my soiree and are still reading, have learned that my surface goal was to have fun with my menagerie of friends from my life here in Raleigh, NC, but as usual with me, there was an underlying purpose, which was to serve up just a taste of the goodness and extravagance of the Lord’s love by loving on my friends.  To show them what joy and fellowship and diversity exists in the kingdom and family of God.  And I don’t think that any Pharisee could argue with that.

And you know what?  I suspect that Jesus loved a good party, and maybe even a little dancing.

zumba group

“You’ll Never Sleep Again” and Other Myths

People love to give you their worst-case scenarios.  Seriously, from the moment I got engaged to my husband 13 years ago, people started telling me how terrible my marriage would be in 15 years.  Maybe I was surrounded by the wrong people, and yes there probably were people with great marriages who were genuinely happy for me, but for some reason my brain lingered on the bad, the scary, especially from those I perceived had experience and probably knew a thing or two.  Were these people right?  I didn’t want to believe them.

It got worse when I was obviously pregnant with my oldest child.  Suddenly there was tidal wave of strong opinions rushing my way about the best way to take care of my body, to raise a child, to adjust my life to parenthood.  And, oh, the list of “you’ll nevers.”  I got so scared after getting pregnant because so many people started implying that my life was going to get so, so hard and so, so exhausting.

Now that I have come through the most intense years of motherhood—pregnancy, breast-feeding, caring for infants, keeping toddlers alive, and am entering the school-aged years, I want to debunk some of the myths that are told to expectant and new parents that are not entirely, and certainly don’t have to be, true.  Unless there are health and development problems in your family, or you have serious financial limitations or perhaps are a single parent, you’ll probably see how false these myths really are.  The truth lies somewhere beneath the myth, and it’s this that can give you hope as a parent.

So below, I’ve tackled five of the myths I hear most often when people bemoan the changes of becoming parents.

Myth #1: You’ll never sleep again.  Sleep is that one thing that you do every day of your life that doesn’t seem so important until you aren’t getting it any longer.  And there’s no foolproof way to prepare expectant parents for the mind-numb, zombielike, caffeine-guzzling creature they’ll become in those first few months of parenting, so many people just resort to extremes by telling them to get used to it because it’ll never end.  The good news is, your child will start sleeping through the night, it’s just a question of when.  The timeframe depends on numerous factors: the child, the sleep-training techniques the parents use, the sleeping arrangements, health.  But I promise you, your child will most likely enter the preschool years as a great sleeper.  Have you ever met an elementary aged child who doesn’t sleep?  Be patient—it’ll happen.

Myth #2:  You’ll never fit into your old clothes.  Pregnancy does quite the number on a woman.  Your skin stretches to an extent you didn’t think possible.  Your ankles and feet swell and you’re permanently a size 9 in shoes and no longer an 8.5.  Even your vision can change!  But to throw out all your old clothes would be hasty.   This truth is one that you must work for—you won’t suddenly lose the weight like your child suddenly starts sleeping through the night.  You must plan, prioritize, and dedicate yourself to making this one a reality.  It absolutely is possible to get back into your skinny jeans.  It’s all a question of whether you want it badly enough.  As a former personal trainer and fitness enthusiast, I know this to be true.  Your body is fully capable of being fit after giving birth—if you decide to put it to work.

Myth #3: Your house will never be clean.  I sometimes feel like this is just something people say when they feel guilty because they haven’t picked up all week.  They blame the mess on the kids, when the reality is, just a little intention and discipline can keep the mess at bay.  Dedicate one room to toys so they don’t spread across the entire house; put things away as you go; wash the dishes as soon as a meal is over; make your bed when you wake up in the morning.  As you discipline yourself to clean up and put things away, you will indirectly teach your children to do the same.  They are teachable—if cleaning up is important to you, you can train them to do it as well.

Myth #4: You and your husband will never travel again.  I think this one bothers me the most because so many of us look back on the trips we took with our spouses as some of our favorite experiences together—discovering new foods, places, and people.  To think that those days are over until we’re empty nesters is downright depressing.  That’s why I’m here to tell you that it does not have to be true!  My husband and I have gone on many trips alone together since our kids were born, and to make this possible you need do just two things: ask someone you trust to keep your children and relinquish control of their childcare for the duration of your time away.  If you are blessed to have helpful family members living nearby, the only thing standing between you and some time away is you just exploring this possibility.  If you don’t have family but you do have some disposable income, consider paying a nanny.  There are several reputable sights where you can search for and interview nannies for extended time away from your children.  And all of us have close friends to whom we would trust our children for a few nights.  If cost is an issue but travel is something you’d really like to do–drop some extra-curriculars or eat at restaurants less to save money for a trip.  My point is: the possibility of spending a few nights away from your children is not unreachable, but most of us are too nervous to ask for help or are too controlling in our role as parents to take some time off.  And it’s precisely the controlling parents who need time away the most!

Myth #5: Your children will turn into jerks when they become teenagers.  So, to be fair, I don’t know for sure that this one isn’t true because my kids are only 7, 5, and 3.  But, because I know that people love to tell you how bad things are going to be, and because all the preceding “nevers” have not proven true for me, I suspect that the above myth is not true either.  Because, I have great kids.  Yes, they can be jerks sometimes, but so can I, and that doesn’t mean that I am actually a jerk.  It just means that I have bad days when I can use a little more grace, not that I’m without hope.  I fully intend for my kids to go through some difficult developmental years, but I’m not dreading the years ahead.  I’m enjoying the moments with them, and all their changes as they grow, and dealing with the hard days as they come.  (And spending a lot of time in prayer.)  After all, what good will it do me or my children if I dread the teen years before they even arrive?  Most likely, they’ll turn out to be better than I expected.  I’ll learn a lot and look back on them with fondness, much like I’m doing now when I think about my children in their infancy, years ago.

See, what people should say to you when you’re expecting, is that the degree to which you enjoy your role as a mother depends on your ability to let go of your past.  If you cling to the “used to be’s” you’ll only focus on what you’ve lost: 8 hours of careless sleep, a neat but silent house, a flexible yet self-focused schedule—and you’ll become someone who recites the “never myths” to other parents with sarcastic flair.  But, if you approach parenthood embracing your new normal and not trying to be the same person you were, you’ll be pleasantly surprised, and your opportunities to enjoy the small pleasures that remind you of your carefree days will only be limited by your creativity.

So my advice, if you want it, is much simpler: Never believe the “you’ll never’s,” because there’s always the hope that you can.

My Month of Dresses

I spent the entire month of December wearing a dress, well, at least publicly.  At the end of 2017, an organization called the Dressember Foundation launched a campaign to raise 2 million dollars of support for victims of human trafficking worldwide.  People were encouraged to advocate for Dressember’s mission as individuals or teams via social media outlets.  Around 80% of victims of sex trafficking are women and girls, and as a victim of rape myself, this subject as been close to my heart for many years.  Whereas my assault was an isolated incident, a crime that was immediately reported, sex trafficking is usually a nightmare that goes on and on for its victims, with no end in sight.  Also, it’s a profitable business across the globe, making it easier to push on the dark web and almost directly under people’s noses.

So, when I found out about Dressember’s mission during the month of December, my interest was piqued.  All I was asked to do as an advocate was wear a dress every day, take photos of myself and post them to social media, and ask people to donate.  That last part was the most intimidating for me because I’m not a natural salesperson, and December is already a heavy spending month for people; I felt a little awkward asking them to stretch their budgets even more.

But several things surprised me about my month of dresses.  Wearing a dress didn’t seem like such a big commitment or statement to me at first, probably because I’m a girly-girl and I like to wear dresses anyway.  But as the first week ended and the second week began, my perspective on my limited wardrobe options changed.

First, I noticed that I was relegated to about four dresses that suited the wintry weather in December in North Carolina, and that got me thinking about women in second and third world countries who may not even have that many dresses for the season.  The fact that I had four warm and fashionable dresses and then went out and easily purchased a skirt to wear with some of my sweaters, just because I could, increased my gratitude.  Second, as I had to decide which dress or skirt was better for that day’s schedule or itinerary—was it grocery shopping, hiking with my family, church or yard-work—I was aware that pants are a recent and western adornment for women, and that for centuries (and even today in certain parts of the world) women performed every task under the sun in a dress.  It’s not comfortable to squat, to lift, or to sweat in a bulky skirt.  This awareness tied my heart to women of all nationalities and races, past and present, and increased my resolve.

Finally, as I posted photos of myself in my dresses (more uncomfortably as the month went along), I learned how little people know about this issue, and how desperately most want to help once they become aware of its scale and power.  Human trafficking, and sex trafficking in particular, is often regarded as something that happens in third world countries.  Americans don’t believe that it’s a problem in their own country.  But as I continued to post my photos with statistics about sex trafficking in the USA, I saw support pour in from women AND men, old friends and recent acquaintances who wanted to help somehow.  I started to see the dress as a symbol not only of femininity and beauty, but of solidarity and strength to overcome.

If I’m being honest, yes, I really missed my jeans.  There were days that month when the last thing I wanted to do was to pull on my tights and shimmy into a dress, but then I thought of all the women and girls who are victims of human trafficking.  How many days have they wished that they could stay in their sweats, or just walk down the street in jeans and comfortable shoes in freedom?  How many times have they been forced to shimmy into a tight miniskirt and step into strappy heels, only to walk down the street as slaves?  The dress-wearing ended for me on December 31 and I began a new year in clothes of my own choosing.  For victims of sex trafficking, 2018 brought no comfortable options.  This year when you choose to wear a dress, I hope that you’ll stop and consider women across the world, across time, and that you’ll be grateful for the freedom your wardrobe represents.

To find out more about how you can donate to or partner with the Dressember Foundation, please visit http://www.dressember.org.

 

 

When Being in Control Controls You

Come with me for a moment and picture this—you’re sitting on the bow of a boat in rough water.  The boat moves steadily toward an approaching wave.  It’s big, and you know when you reach it the boat will tilt upward and slam down hard on the other side of the wave.  It may hurt, it may jolt you from your seat, so your body tenses in anticipation.  You grab onto your towel and the handle beside your seat.  And sure enough, you feel some pain after that wave.  You may come away with some bruises from knocking sideways into the hull.  But here comes another wave, and another, and soon your jaw hurts from clenching your teeth so hard every time the boat crests the water.  So you decide to let go, and when the next wave approaches and the boat rolls over it, you intentionally relax your muscles, loosen your grip, and allow the movement of the boat to pass through you.  The downward dip doesn’t seem as steep, you haven’t lost your place and you find yourself leaning forward, ready for the next wave.

Trying to maintain control of forces and people out of your control is like the above scenario.  Over the last ten years, I’ve been noticing and pondering the differences in people’s reactions when things don’t go their way.  When someone realizes that they have no control there are a myriad of ways they can respond.  Perhaps they’ll be angry and bitter, frightened and immobilized.  They can become withdrawn and uncommunicative.  Or they can step back and take stock of the situation, understand they have something to learn or some plans to adjust, and they can change course and sail on.

What makes the difference for people in how they respond to drastic change or loss of control?  For so much of our lives we are taught to become independent, to set goals and make plans, but I think there’s a flip-side to setting goals that you can only learn through failure.

Teddy Roosevelt said, “there is no effort without error and shortcoming, so that doers shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory or defeat.”  Teddy Roosevelt talks about action, about effort and perseverance.  Truly, it’s a mark of maturity to work, to plan for our futures.  To sit idly by expecting fortune to smile upon us is vain and irresponsible.  There is definitely a time to plan, to rebound and be a “doer.”

But it’s also a mark of maturity for us to be at peace in the midst of adversity and unwanted change.  There is an element of humility and trust that goes along with remaining flexible and teachable.  The book of James speaks about contentment, perseverance, generally a humble and positive perspective toward life, but what I really like is this remark about making plans.

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’  As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes.  All such boasting is evil.” James 4: 13-17

Ouch, that stings a little, doesn’t it?  How many of us have laid out blueprints for our lives only to see the colors smear and run when rain begins to fall?  Yet, these are good precepts to keep in mind.  As far as I know, there is only One who knows exactly how my life will turn out.  And after moving 14 times in my 39 years of life, being a victim of abduction and sexual assault, suffering three miscarriages, watching friendships die, dealing with personal temptation and sin, I can say with certainty that my life has not gone the way I expected.

Yet, I have a wonderful life.  I can only be grateful, and it’s because of my trials, defeats, failures, that I can recognize today’s blessings.  It’s because I have tasted humility and sorrow and heartache that I can have compassion, acceptance, and empathy for others when they are tempted to withdraw or lash out because their lives take a dip.  If I had never experienced these dips in life, I wouldn’t see when I’ve crested the waves.  And because I have gratitude, I have perseverance, because I know there’s always hope.  This gives me the courage to not remain defeated.

A recognition of my lack of complete control also prevents me from giving full reign to judgment.  Because of my past struggles, I know that at any moment, everything that I hold dear could be taken from me or I could make a mistake that would cost me peace and stability.  This last year I’ve seen good friends suddenly lose loved ones.  I’ve talked to people whose lives have changed drastically in mere hours due to hurricanes, health diagnoses, marital bombshells, and more.  And as I get older, these things seem to happen more frequently.

When days and weeks and months of comfort go by, I count my blessings.  I know that they come as a gift from my good Father.  But I must confess that I am tempted to soak in that comfort and look down my nose at others who are struggling and wonder what they could have done to earn these difficulties It’s tempting to judge people, to sit back and analyze and smugly prescribe a solution for someone’s problem.  My compassion weakens.  My humility suffers.  And I don’t like myself that way because it means that I’m starting to worship my blessings more than the One who blessed me.  I forget that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1: 17).

I have a trick for bringing myself back to earth when I tend to mentally boast in how “together” I am.  To me, the ultimate test for how I’d handle utter lack of control, human dependence and find out for sure how much I depend upon the Lord would be if I suddenly lost my husband.  There have been nights when he’s been late getting home from a business trip and I’ve wondered: is he okay?  Is he alive?  And then that gets me thinking, what if he doesn’t come home tonight?  So, every once in a while, I’ll allow myself to ask the “what if” questions.  What would I do, how would I respond if I no longer had Bryan?  How would I live if my bread-winner was gone?  Would I trust in the Lord for my daily bread?  How would I sleep at night and feel comforted if my lover wasn’t in bed beside me, holding me?  Would I cling to my Comforter and the Lover of my soul?  Would I remember that no matter how quickly my life changes, my Father does not change?

It’s these “what-if” questions in life’s comfortable moments that turn into living, breathing “what now” questions in life’s terrible moments.  Because the fact is, as much as we like to pretend that we do, we don’t have absolute control over our lives.  And living under the pretense that we do makes us self-focused, fearful, judgmental people.  We grip so tightly to whatever is in our reach, whether that’s diet control, health control, emotional control, child control, spouse control, calendar control, to the point that we bring ourselves more pain, more fear, more reluctance to let go and ride the wave.

Life is an unpredictable sea rich with depths and storms and doldrums and peaceful currents.  At times we will cruise comfortably, but rough waters are always a possibility.  Then we will get jostled.  Things around us will roll and tumble and fall.  We can fight the wave and come away bruised and weakened, dreading what comes next.  Or, we can loosen our grip and trust the boat to carry us over the swells to smoother waters once again.  Either way, we will reach them, but our approach to the next swells will largely depend upon our posture in the past, and who we trust more, ourselves or the boat.

I trust the boat every time because it has an Anchor, a Life Preserver, and a Captain.  Only He is fully equipped to guide me safely across the sea.

The Slavery of Secrets

John 8:32, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

In grade school you’d hear it when you and a friend were caught whispering and giggling to each other— “secrets don’t make friends!”  It was a chastising idiom that reminded you to not exclude others.  Because when you lifted your hand to hide your mouth as you whispered into someone’s ear, while throwing glances around to see who was watching, you automatically gave the impression that you were hiding something at best, or at worst, stirring up trouble.

It’s one thing to keep someone’s confidence and trust.  Those kinds of secrets can build relationships and lend silent support when someone who trusts you is going through a challenging time.  But, what I’ve noticed recently about American culture is that we tend to hide too easily.  We are very good, especially in American Christian spheres, about putting on our makeup, our best smiles, and pretending that our lives are perfect while we struggle privately.

And I know why we do it.  We don’t want to look weak.  Sometimes our struggles are too painful and personal to discuss.  Perhaps they are too embarrassing and reveal parts of us that we’d rather not show.  Maybe we know that our problems are not easily fixed or could last a while.  In some cases, we may even secretly enjoy something that we know we shouldn’t enjoy, and speaking of it would require us to acknowledge a sin that the Lord needs to remove from our lives.

The snow has been falling steadily today as I’ve written this.  It collects little by little—just tiny flakes that settle on the ground, lawn chairs and children’s garden toys until they are a nebulous conglomerate of snow that turn recognizable objects into unidentifiable lumps.  It’s hard to know or remember exactly what’s covered up by all the snow.  When the blanket of white is that thick, it can be dangerous to walk around my own backyard because I might stumble over a rock or root that I can’t see anymore.

Secrets can be just like this—they disguise the truth of what’s under the surface.  They cover up our flaws with a pleasant, soft layer which is far more fragile than we want to acknowledge.  They can turn familiar ground into dangerous, sensitive territory.  Sooner or later, they must melt away, and we must acknowledge the raw and real materials left behind.

In the last couple of years, many of my friends have experienced great trials in their marriages and families.  I have grieved with many over the shock and loss of peace in their home, and have rejoiced with others as they’ve experienced restoration that only Jesus can bring to their lives.  But in the moments when they revealed their secrets, two things happened: 1) They talked about loss—loss of peace, safety, security and belief in someone or something.  2)  I felt compassion for them—a need to pray for them and a desire to help in any way that I could.

This is what honesty and openness does—it brings people closer.  It breaks down façades and walls and reminds us that we all struggle.  It provides opportunities for us to show compassion and love.  Being vulnerable is risky, but it also gives us the ability to admire people without idolizing them and assuming they “have it all together.”

And it’s also this openness that shows us how much we need a Savior.  Jesus said in Mark 2:17, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  I am grateful for those people who have allowed me to enter their mess, because it strengthens the bond of community that we have as people who need the healing, restorative work of Jesus.  I’m glad that I don’t believe that lie that anyone is perfect, because then Jesus would be inconsequential and unimportant.  And once we allow Him to shine His light onto our darkest secrets they stop looking so scary and destructive.  They lose their power and we begin to take steps in freedom.  What was once a secret that enslaved us becomes a testimony of hope and deliverance.

This happened for me lately too.  I was keeping something to myself for about a year and a half.  I wrestled with something, prayed about it, tried to pretend it wasn’t a big deal, until I was faced with it again and realized that keeping it private was making the problem bigger than it really was.  I was afraid to confess to my husband, fearing his anger and rejection.  But a beautiful thing happened when my silence began costing my peace—I sincerely asked God for a way out and He gave it to me.  I told my husband about it, in tears, and he showed me compassion and grace.  He prayed for me and comforted me and expressed understanding, not condemnation.  His reaction did two things: 1) it made me more grateful to the Lord and more aware of the power of confession, and 2) it reminded me of why I love my husband so much—he freely offers me the forgiveness of Christ and loves me just as I am.

So, let’s say that your life suddenly changed yesterday, or three months ago, or last week.  Or maybe it will tomorrow, or five months from now because of someone’s poor choices, disregard, sin, negligence, distraction.  Maybe it’s your own problems that got you into a mess.   If you’re tempted to hide and stew over your anger and sadness and shame—don’t.  Let God shine His holy spotlight onto your secret.  I know from experience—it won’t seem as daunting once it’s exposed.  Watch your secrets melt away under the warmth of His love.  You’ll be amazed by the beauty they uncover.

Raising a Man

As this year closes, the news has been full of reports of allegations of men abusing and mistreating women.  I’ve been reading these headlines, while also spending the month of December fundraising and bringing awareness to the global money-making shame of human trafficking.  And it all has me thinking a lot about the kind of man I want my son to become, the hopes that I have for his character.  I have been praying for my son since the day he was born.  My prayers have been very specific for him as a male.  I pray for strength, a heart for the Lord, a heart for justice, a kind spirit and most of all, integrity.  This is a personal trait that is becoming more precious, more valuable, and rarer every day.  It’s defined as the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.  And almost every time I check the headlines I see men lying about their actions, making excuses for their misdeeds and expecting people to serve their whims instead of recognizing when their whims subject others to abuse.

And I look at my son, who is now only three, but who will soon have desires which will be admirable and gracious on some days, yet embarrassing and selfish on others.  How do I begin to teach him to care about his choices and the impact they have on other people?  How do I begin to explain to him that girls outside his family will always deserve the same respect and kindness that he shows to his sisters?  How will he learn to sacrifice his creature comforts for the legitimate needs of those less fortunate in his path?  How will he figure out how to use his strength to fight injustice?  How will I coach his behavior so that he doesn’t become another woman’s disgraceful memory or headline?

Much of this he will learn from his father, who is a kind and generous man.  He teaches our son that his job is to protect and never to harm.  Much of it he will learn from me, as I demand that he minds his manners.  I require him to say “please” and “thank you,” to ask me nicely for things instead of expecting me to get what he wants.  Much of it he will learn from his female siblings as they ask for his help and show him familial love.

But there’s a message passing through our culture that I don’t want him to hear: and that message is that there is nothing special about him as a male.  Because when women start emasculating men, men stop caring about women.  When we tell them they don’t matter, that we can live without them, they don’t see the need to practice integrity.  Why would we as women expect kindness and respect from men we don’t respect ourselves?

I want my son to know that his God-given strengths and tendencies are valuable.  I want him to see his maleness as the other half of the beautiful design God created in humanity.  When he notices the differences between himself and girls, I hope that the mystery produces a sense of awe and wonder in his mind, and not lust or greed.

I will continue to lift him up in my prayers even when I can no longer lift him in my arms.  I will speak for him until, God willing, my prayers become his own.

Bigger Clothes, Bigger Problems: Hot-Button Issues with My Daughters

girlsIn the very first days after my eldest daughter was born, I remember grieving my loss of sleep and discussing my exhaustion with my mom.  She empathized with me and then said something that has stuck with me as I’ve navigated the twisted roads of motherhood.  It went a little like this: “When your kids are very young they need your energy and constant attention because their problems are frequent but small.  They are easy to fix but they happen repeatedly.  When they’re older, your kids need your wisdom and your heart because their problems are fewer, but they’re bigger and there is less you can do on your own to fix them.”

Vivienne turned seven this month and her younger sister Georgia recently turned five, and although they still have many years head of them, I’m astounded at the depth of our conversations at this point in their lives.  I’m always a little sad when I realize they are old enough to comprehend that the world isn’t perfect, that some people are mean or that I can’t give them every answer to soothe their tender emotions or settle their confused minds.

All moms are familiar with the gut-sinking-bitter-sweetness that comes when you discover that your kids have outgrown their clothes and need an entirely new wardrobe.  There’s a double-whammy that hits while weeding out old clothes and buying new ones for our children.  The first punch goes to our checking account—time to budget for clothing this month!  The second punch goes to our hearts—our babies are getting bigger.  And bigger.  And as their bodies grow so do their minds.  Their brains fill with new information, new concepts.  Their eyes notice behavior and social structures.  Pretty soon these children start to ask very good questions, very challenging questions that make us stop and consider, “Hmm, how am I going to answer/handle this?”

And what complicates this for me even more is that my girls are SO different.  They have shared a room since my younger daughter was five-months-old, a bed since she was two, and they are the best of friends.  But they could not be more opposite if they were characters in a story.  Often a tactic or method or even tone of voice that I use with one does not go over well with the other.  I must get creative with tailoring much of my mothering-methods to each of my three children (because my youngest is a boy—talk about different!) and their personalities, while maintaining the convictions and ideologies that my husband and I feel are important for our family.

My night-and-day daughters have tested me lately in my ability to succinctly yet thoroughly answer their concerns in a way that will assuage their fears, teach truth and be considerate of their immature emotions.  My oldest daughter is very into science and dinosaurs.  She has just learned to read and will devour any text about dinosaurs that she can find.  But not all these books agree about exactly when dinosaurs existed, how long they lived and how they became extinct.  My husband and I are Christians and believe in Creation, but we are old-Earth Christians, so we tend to agree with scientists who maintain that the earth is much older than the 6,000 years that the new-Earthers claim.  We happen to own a book about dinosaurs by one of these new-Earth apologists, Ken Hamm, that we picked up from our local consignment store before we realized its angle.  He claims that dinosaurs were roaming the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve.  But just last week, Vivienne came home with a book about dinosaurs from her school library which supports the traditional scientific view that dinosaurs predated humans and even evolved into birds!  (An entire blog-post could be derived from this example about different schooling options for Christian families, but I’m not going to go there right now).

vivi dinosaur

You can imagine Vivi’s confusion when she read these two conflicting accounts.  I pointed out to her that the school library book was aging the earth at millions of years old, whereas Ken Hamm’s account ages it at around 6,000 years.  I asked her what she thought.  She said she agreed with the library book from the school because: “There’s no way people and dinosaurs could have lived at the same time because the dinos would have crushed or eaten the people!”

(Amazing the logic of little kids sometimes.)

So, I ended up encouraging her to take a faith-filled posture on this one.  I explained to her that there are some things we will never know this side of heaven.  But what we do know is that everything comes from something.  Every creation has a Creator, and the timing is mostly irrelevant.  We believe that God created all things for His glory and purpose, and that science helps us to learn about His creation and to reveal Him within it.  She seemed satisfied with that.  I believe her very words were, “I know that Mommy.”  And then she waved me away so she could continue reading her book on her own.

Georgia’s interests are not in science.  They are in performance, dancing, play-acting and looking pretty.  I think that this is a confusing are for girls and women in our current climate.  On one hand, people spend way too much money and time worrying about being beautiful.  Just the number of YouTube make-up tutorials, Pinterest pins and beauty products is overwhelming.  On the other hand, there is a growing movement among feminists which is telling females that beauty is shallow and unnecessary.  This perspective suggests that beautiful women who take care of themselves are enslaved to some patriarchal system, and that they are brainwashed ignorant bimbos.

I believe both groups are wrong.  I believe that my God loves beauty—it’s all around us in the animals we admire, the gardens that we cultivate, the mountains upon which we gaze, and yes, the diverse patchwork of humanity across this globe.  So, my task with Georgia is not to squelch her interest in beauty and the pleasure she takes in looking pretty.  My task is to put beauty in its proper place, to encourage her to focus more on cultivating a beautiful spirit and heart than on wearing an outfit or a hairstyle that others will notice.

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She threw a fit the other day when I would not allow her to wear her play make-up to school.  Now, the child is five, so it’s not like she was going to be in full super-model make-up anyway.  But I know that she sees me wearing make-up most days, and she has asked me why I do it.  I must be very careful about my answers because I don’t want her to ever think that her value lies in her beauty.  And she is lovely—she has creamy white skin, big blue eyes and light blonde hair.  She is blessed with a lean, muscular frame and her muscles are well-defined without that much physical effort.  But I know that God created us in His image, and all beauty is ultimately there to point to Him.  It’s nothing we can claim on our own because it was given to us.  I also know that nothing spoils beauty in a person like an ungrateful and selfish heart.

More questions and explanations are sure to come.  I hope that God gives me enough wisdom to communicate what He’s taught me, and that He’ll help me to tap into His grace when I get things wrong.  Please pray for me as I continue to nurture these feminine souls, knowing the struggles and expectations that are waiting for my girls as they grow.  Now my son, Roman, well…he’ll be an entirely different ball of wax!

What Entertains Us? Thoughts on Weinstein and Pornography.

Yes. Me too.  I was abducted at gun point, robbed and sexually assaulted when I was 21.  I can assure you that being assaulted changes your life in a heartbeat.  Those are the testimonies that we’re hearing from these women who were bullied and assaulted by Harvey Weinstein.  Listening to the now infamous audio tape, it seems that he liked scaring them, wielding his power in the business over them, threatening their future.  And many of them walked away from “the industry” at that point.  They realized that they couldn’t participate in a game where their success depended on their willingness to surrender their morals.  As Weinstein said in the audio, “everybody does it.”

And apparently everyone knew about it.  From the jokes about Weinstein on shows like 30 Rock, to jabs at award shows, it truly seems as though this behavior had been happening for quite some time.  As one person was quoted as saying, “it was the most open secret in Hollywood.”  Yet the Weinstein Company and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences are just now expelling Weinstein to distance themselves from his soiled reputation.

This tells me one thing, and I think we need to be reminded of this:  Hollywood, powerful people, entertainers—they did not care about those women or their futures or they would have stepped in long ago.  And guess what?  They don’t care about you, or me, or our kids.  They care about us insofar as we pay their bills, and that’s all.

So what can we do to stop sexual assault and harassment from happening in America alone?  I believe that sin and selfishness are going to drive this sort of mistreatment until the end of time, but there is one thing that I do believe could help in stopping the endless flow of damaging sexual images, ideals, and practices into our own homes and minds.

If people really want to see a better future, I think we need to start asking ourselves some tough questions: Although we may tell our children how to treat others, how to respect them, give them space, are we following that up with what we allow to pass from our eyes or ears to our brains as “entertainment?” Weinstein is a movie producer after all–how did he get so powerful? His very pockets were lined by us! He has produced some 80 films, and many of them are blockbusters.

What we pass off as entertainment is damaging business and relationships and teaching our children harmful messages about intimacy.  What music, TV shows, and films are we hooked on which promote casual, dangerous, selfish physical indulgence? It has been proven that pornography rewires the brain and viewing it releases dopamine which satisfies that “seeker” habit, however, after a while just watching isn’t enough, and the viewer must act out their fantasies. I wonder if this is what happened to Weinstein? And did you know that the pornography industry made $4 billion last year alone? That is symptomatic of a serious problem because it reveals a “need” that is feeding this business, and also because real people don’t respond to sexual advances the same way that actors do.  It is not “normal” for people to watch porn–it’s destructive, plain and simple, and I don’t know a single man who has had a problem with pornography and is recovering from it who has ever been proud that he was exposed to it.

Here’s something pretty pornographic (and I apologize in advance but I felt this was important).  A billboard hit about three summers ago contained these lines:

“You’re the hottest bitch in this place…”

“I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two.”

The song?  Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke and Pharrell.  And it was featured on Jimmy Kimmel, The Voice, So You Can Think You Can Dance, played over the radio all summer (we heard it over and over again while living in Luxembourg), and who knows what other TV shows.  Teens were listening to this for months and months.  They were being taught, through music, that it’s appropriate for men to tease women in this way.

I was going to post a photo of Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus when they performed the song together on MTV in 2013, but it was just too gross.  Perhaps the most disturbing part of those images is while Miley is twerking all over Robin Thicke, young fans are reaching up worshipfully, in complete support of the perverse mess happening right in front of them.  It’s no wonder Thicke’s wife Paula Patton divorced him after that.

Mainstream TV and movies, Netflix and Amazon originals are not much better. What people defend as artistic license appeals to the most carnal instincts in a person and is inherently damaging. When our children are little we want them watching educational television that will stimulate their brains, but as adults we entertain ourselves with tawdry trash that feeds perversion in people like Harvey Weinstein.  I’m not blaming the public for his indiscretions. He of course is responsible for his actions, but I can’t help but think that the growing obsession with sex and self-gratification and lack of accountability in this country largely contributes to the twisted reasoning of people like Weinstein, and helped keep his secret quiet for a long time.

I think that it’s time we back up our words with our choices.  This may require us to give up our favorite shows, to walk out of movie theaters or be a little less cool.  So be it.  Let’s stop lining Hollywood’s pockets when they don’t care enough about us to stop abuse.

I’d like to leave you with a picture of a man who did care.  He was a champion for a woman who was being harassed and whose very life was being threatened.  She had exercised poor judgment and cheated on her husband.  A group of powerful men laid most of the blame on her and we have no mention of whether her lover was tried at all.  But they dragged her into the street and prepared to throw rocks at her until she died.  That’s when Jesus stepped in front of her and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her,” (John 8:7).  The crowd, in its shame, dispersed, and the woman presumably learned from her own mistakes and walked away unscathed, her future ahead of her.  So I don’t want to wholesale lay the blame on men and patriarchy.  There are great men who follow Christ’s example in their fair and noble treatment of women.

In contemplating people’s indiscretions and sins, I think we should mourn the pain and loss that one miserable person caused, but we should also pray for them and search our own hearts, ask the Lord to reveal how we can contribute to change.  It will take humility and grace to heal what has been broken.