Transparency as a personality trait is a good thing. Too many people hide behind their gifts, talents, education level, careers, money, or daily calendars! None of us know who you truly are or what you’re truly about when you allow yourself to only be seen through the filter of all you have accomplished. Transparency is about bringing authenticity to your relationships. Being real. One way we do this is by personal disclosure. This is very rarely accomplished by vomiting every detail of your life (sordid or perfect) to those you meet along the way. But it is about being honest with others in a way that requires us to admit such things as our faults, our fears, our confusion, or in general-admitting we just don’t have it all together. Ah yes, we don’t always have it all together. We’re imperfect parents, spouses, Christians, friends, bosses, employees! We are imperfect creatures created by a perfect God. But often what makes us imperfect also makes us different. And well, that’s a good thing. Transparency also makes us approachable. No one is going to feel like they can stack up next to super mom, or a super hero colleague! Nope! You who cannot in any way practice transparency need never worry about someone confiding in you about their struggles or their fears, or most probably even their hopes or their dreams. So being an opaque (yes that would be the opposite of transparent) kind of gal may seem productive to you, but it’s unfortunate for those closest to you. Think of your kids, husband, neighbors and friends. All people who would benefit greatly from knowing the real you, but instead, being convinced you are unapproachable, and “I could never be that perfect….” I remember once, when my kids were babies and my husband was deployed a LOT, speaking with an older wiser friend who had experienced a similar military lifestyle to mine. I confided to her that the struggle of “family reintegration” when Paul returned home was challenging and arguing often ensued. Her exact words to me “oh well my husband and I never argued.” I said “Well, congratulations.” And that was the last time I ever shared a single concern with her again. There are plenty of people in this world who do plenty of things much better than I ever could. That is a truth that will never change. But what’s in my grasp is to be to others a true picture of someone who has often failed on the way to all things wonderful in life. Transparent people invite change in others. Transparency also fosters hope and provides a safe place for someone else to reach their full potential on their way to all things wonderful in life.
The last two days I have seen all three of my daughters off very early in the morning for mission trips associated with our church. Halle and Katie Ann are serving in NYC. Shelby is serving in the Dominican Republic, the first of her sisters to serve in a third world country. Among my many prayers for their trip and their efforts, one that you will NOT hear, is a prayer for their spiritual growth and maturity. Nor am I praying that they embrace their faith in a more personal way as result of this trip. Now before you say anything like “What-are you crazy?” Let me explain. My prayer is that they are salt and light in the darkness, a positive and gentle reminder of what is good in the world. IN other words, my prayer is that they come and do good to others, not the other way around. They are the missionaries, not the mission. Even Jesus said in John 10:10 “I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” His mission was for others to receive hope and help from Him! Again-NOT the other way around. Sure, right now you may be thinking “Judy is way over thinking this. It’s not that complicated.” Recently, a young enthusiastic Columbia medical student wrote an article about the “Narcissism of Global Volunteerism.” Her writing was very one-sided about her personal experience on a medical brigade volunteer trip to Africa. All in all it was a pretty negative article that seemed to recklessly deposit every global volunteer effort into the same pit of despair in which hers had sunk. Her thinking was that global volunteer efforts are completely narcissistic on the part of the volunteer(s), and furthermore, that it enabled entire cultures to remain oppressed and dependent on others for their daily sustenance, if not also, for their political structure. In particular, she slammed the wide use of social media, picture taking and subsequent posting, as a visual means of showcasing our good works for everyone to view and adore! While her article was entirely too ambitious in its attempts at lumping together all aspects of global volunteerism and all volunteer organizations, I did feel there was something to be learned from it. Indeed there is a grain of truth for us as volunteers both domestic and international, to be gleaned from her sometimes pompous thoughts. And so, on the eve of their departure to their respective mission trip destinations, I made this article required reading for all three of my girls. As I told them, “It begs the question, do we exploit the poor and impoverished for our own spiritual gain? Do we exploit their lot in life and their humble estate in order to elevate ourselves spiritually in the eyes of the world, our church, our friends and family? Is it through the inherent humility of the downtrodden that we seek out the “magic bullet” to practice humility for ourselves?” My girls had some eye-opening thoughts. They agreed that the author might be a little skewed in her narrow opinion of global volunteerism based solely on her own experiences. But they also agreed that the answer to some of those questions could indeed be “yes!” In the end, we had a round of prayer and I prayed for the girls to be exactly what I started this blog with-salt and light to those they come in contact with-NOT for the girls’ personal gain, even personal spiritual gain. I did not pray for them to become better more behaved daughters, or to necessarily enjoy every moment of every day they are there. Okay, you are exactly right reader: Spiritual growth is not something you can turn on and off with a power switch. You know the old adage applies here: “You can’t stop a train.” It’s highly unlikely that the girls will come out of this experience, and not grow spiritually. But let that be the work of our God, not our work. Ephesians 2:8 says “It is not by works we are saved, but by grace.” The same holds truth for spiritual growth. It happens NOT when we benefit personally from our acts of service, but rather when we are obedient to our God. I would submit if you are going on any mission trip as a “self-help” mission for either yourself or your child, then rethink your participation on that trip. And I would go so far as to say, if you don’t know the people in your own neighborhood by name, or if you have never so much as volunteered a single hour in the community where you live, then for Pete’s sake, get your priorities straight. Greet your neighbors with genuine interest. Have someone over to your home for dinner. Practice hospitality. Try making real life application of Romans 12:13 in your home! Join a local service project. Do these things first. Don’t expect a thing in return. Not so much as a friendly wave from the next door neighbor after delivering him those cookies! THEN, if you feel the conviction and the Holy Spirit’s tug to go on an overseas mission trip (or to the inner city of NYC), knock yourself out, and pray that you truly see people with Jesus filters. This is something you have heard a 1000 times in your life, and if you haven’t, allow me to be the first to introduce you to the concept: “It ain’t about us.” It’s never about us. Ever. Even if it is my precious girls who I love more than my own life. It’s not about them. And God help me, I’m trying to teach them that!
I still have the fondest memories of our wedding ceremony. I had memorized the vows. Paul had not. Our “special song,” went on a little too long so I decided to straighten his collar while we waited. We had a saber guard, and as we strolled under the swords during our exit, our friend Mike, (I thought), using his saber, gave the bride the traditional rear end swat with just a little bit to much exuberance! Really Mike, I thought it was supposed to be a light pat! I was a young 28 year old, Paul was a mere 27. (Yes, he is 6 months younger than me-a fact he loves repeating!) It’s true I kissed a lot of frogs before finding my prince. But that experience, though painful, helped bring me to a place of awareness about my relationship with men, and the importance I placed on those relationships in my life. In other words, there was a time when having a romantic-love like-relationship mattered to me more than it should have. It mattered at a time when truly, it shouldn’t have mattered at all! I was making decisions that were emotionally charged from an emotionally bankrupt heart, resulting in reckless judgement and decisions. I had not the advantage of a father or a mother to navigate me through adolescence with the unconditional love necessary for successful adulthood. Nor was there anyone standing in that emotional gap. I erroneously thought that love, and ultimately marriage, would complete me.
Now there are all kinds of reasons why people believe this marital myth. Though sad, but hardly rare, my personal experience is not meant to imply that only orphans or children of single parents harbor this misunderstanding. Young people from two parent homes with successful careers, steady incomes, and strong family values can also adopt this as truth.
Clearly and absolutely, parents need to demonstrate and model vibrant, healthy marriages for their kids. It is undoubtedly our responsibility to model marriages that deal with conflict effectively while enjoying intimacy and passion in matrimony! However, more importantly, parents are chiefly responsible for teaching our kids how important they are in the eyes of their Creator-that they live for an audience of One! The rickety part of that approach is that it does not guarantee marriage or grandchildren. Paul the Apostle’s words resound in my ear when he said in 1 Corinthians 7, “It is better to choose to be single, but if you must marry, better to do so than burn with passion.” As parents, our perceived “need” or desire for grandchildren, and/or our sincere and loving concern for our child’s future happiness and security, and/or our traditional beliefs that with marriage your salvation is sealed or somehow actualized, can often interfere with child rearing as we help navigate our kids through their teens and twenties. Any of these ideas, when over the years are peppered or infused into conversations, expectations, discipline, and other life decisions, send a message to our kids that without marriage (and/or children) well-you’re simply incomplete, fallen short of God’s glory, or out of His will. This couldn’t be further from the truth. And therein lies the myth, you must be married to be complete.
I hardly think Paul the Apostle was out of God’s will or not content (See Philippians 4:11-13). I love imagining an interview with Paul the Apostle on the evening news. It might go something like this:
Journalist: Paul how do you possibly get along in life and in your ministry single? No wife?
Paul: (Brow furrowed with quizzical a look) Don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there. God, not your marital status, defines your life. Don’t think I’m being harder on you than on the others. I give this same counsel in all the churches. (1 Corinthians 7:16-17 The Message)
Journalist: But since you are not married, don’t you feel a little incomplete spiritually?
Paul: Sometimes I wish everyone were single like me—a simpler life in many ways! But celibacy is not for everyone any more than marriage is. God gives the gift of the single life to some, the gift of the married life to others. (1 Corinthians 7:7)
Journalist: How are you qualified to lead others or to hand out marital advice?
Paul: In my judgement she is happier if she stays as she is (single), and I think I too have the Spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 7:40 NIV)
Journalist: (Sheepishly and sputtering) Well….I uh…wasn’t trying to imply that you don’t have the spirit of God Paul….
If you are married, read and reread 1 Corinthians chapter 7. There are terrific and timeless spiritual lessons for making and keeping your marriage strong and passionate.
If you are single, read and reread 1 Corinthians chapter 7. There are terrific and timeless spiritual lessons for making and keeping your life strong and passionate.
Marriage is a beautiful thing, so much so that in Ephesians chapter 5, our beloved Apostle Paul compared the relationship between Christ and the church to the love relationship between a man and his wife. And God may purpose this for you at 25, 40 or 60 years of age. Or He may have a better and even greater purpose for your life. The bottom line is (as parents especially) we don’t want to and should not pressure our kids into marriage, or communicate the message that somehow marriage saves them, completes them or makes them worthy. Only God can do this. And if we do, shame on us for derailing God’s efforts in their lives by perpetuating such a myth.
Just as we can never expect another person to “make us happy,” so we cannot expect the marriage union to complete us and make us finally “worthy,” of God’s mercy. Nor should we expect it to gain the love and approval from our family and friends that we so covet.
Finally, after he finishes admonishing married men and women for sometimes being so distracted by their marriage that they neglect God, Paul says to BOTH married and single folks, “I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:35 NIV) In other words, Paul knows the equation for contentment and happiness, and it is the latter, undivided attention to one’s Creator. Use your marriage for God’s glory. Use your single status for this also. And so be happy and content, full of life and compassion and passion. Full of hope and joy and love overflowing.
And isn’t that what’s most important? You want happiness? Completion? Fulfillment? And what about your children? Do you want these latter things for them more than anything else?
Then make sure you prioritize this teaching from Paul the Apostle in their life. Tell them they are precious in the eye of their Creator just as they are! I have three daughters of my own. The last thing I want is for those precious girls to believe that a boy (or a man) is the magic bullet for their happiness and worthiness. Give the job of finding their mate back to God.
Allow Him to mold them, unmarried or otherwise, the way He wants them to be-on the path He wants them to take. That job was never ours to begin with.
We live in a world that is having a one way conversation with our kids. That one way conversation is this: “You will have sex before marriage. That’s ‘normal,’ a given, the only question that remains then, is how soon will it happen?” Read the headlines of popular magazines while waiting to check out at the grocery store. Watch a Miley Cyrus music video. Watch just about any music video. Follow Lady Gaga on twitter. Read an article in Seventeen magazine. Read an article in Cosmopolitan magazine. Watch a movie. I challenge you to find one piece of media-TV show, magazine article, movie, any media vehicle, any tv ad spot, anywhere, anytime-I challenge you to show me one of these sources that simply says “Um….You have a choice. You can say no to sex….” Show me one. Okay, maybe the abstinence message built into my girls’ 6th grade health class curriculum. Or maybe the various “Let’s Wait..” programs found for teens in faith based religions. But from a media source? Show me one. We have taken a little bit of an unorthodox approach with our kids with regard to this subject matter. We actually told them, “Yes, you can have sex before marriage, undoubtedly, that is true. But, (and here’s the clincher), you don’t have to! And then we have followed that up with a healthy dose of unconditional love, boundaries, natural consequences for their behaviors, right and wrong, and a great big open door to come tell us ANYTHING. We fully understand that this ugly, self centered, self gratifying world that we live in-the one who craves immediate gratification in all of life, and sells that as a total possibility in advertising-is sending ONE message to our girls. “You will have sex before marriage. The only question is when.” Like I said, it’s a one way conversation. We realized quickly that we needed to make it a two way conversation. We did a simple thing, guided by our faith and convictions, and as importantly, a deep seated love for our precious daughters, we did the only sensible thing we could do. We gave them back the choice. We told them, “Oh and by the way, you can say no!” This is something that everyone can sink their teeth into, regardless of your faith, your belief systems, or your political position. Giving our kids a choice is certainly something we can all agree on. So why then do most parents conform to this cultural message about their kids, effectively taking that choice away? Because, sex in our culture is an easy sell. The message is embedded in a self gratifying culture that we live and function in every day, and therefore, in the very fabric of our lives. Sometimes it’s easier to go along with the “Jones,” than it is to have such serious conversations with our kids beyond the ones that just cover the day’s logistics. For instance, “I’ll pick you up from school at 3:00. Don’t forget you have a dentist appt. at 3:30 and soccer at 5:00.” But if we all know and agree that having sex too early, too young, and outside of a loving, intimate marriage relationship, is emotionally damaging to our kids, then why aren’t more of us making this a two way discussion? Why are we sticking our heads in the sand, and allowing total strangers to have so much power and influence over our children’s decision about their sexuality, their worth, and their potential to succeed in life? It may be because no one ever talked to us about this important subject matter. As children, many of us were thrown to the wolves when it came to learning about sex and sexuality. But that doesn’t mean we should perpetuate that cycle. It could be because we are too dang busy. Who has time for “special weekends,” family dinners at the kitchen table, board games, family vacations? It could be that we have allowed our children to watch Rated R movies and TV since, well, I don’t know when, and the mindset has already been set in stone. Maybe it’s a combination of all the above, and consequently, you don’t feel adequate in having this loving and honoring conversation with your son or daughter. Don’t believe that lie. No one loves your child like you do, with the one exception of their Creator. And God is greater than all of our mistakes. So wade into the waters with your babies. Be a spiritual leader in their life. Be their champion. For God’s sake, don’t give that job away.
So, say we don’t buy into the lie that almost everyone will have sex prior to marriage. What does that mean and what does it not mean?
1. It doesn’t mean you lie to your kids about your own sexual virtue. If you were not a virgin before you were married, for goodness sakes, tell them the truth when the inevitable can no longer be avoided. You can bet the question is going to come up. Lying to our kids is treacherous ground and makes navigating through life situations in the ensuing years very difficult. There were a lot of things I did as a teenager and a young person that I don’t want my children to do. I mean-think about it. If you are a recovered narcotics addict, would you say, “Well, I did it, so my kids will too!” I hope not! On the contrary, you would be all the wiser about those choices and their consequences. And you can and should share that with your kids at age appropriate times and in the right setting. You will know when it is right.
2. It also doesn’t mean you abdicate the responsibility of sex education for your children. C’mon parents! Put your big girl and big boy pants on, and talk to them. They want to hear it from you. They might not act like it. But if you want your girl to learn about sex and ALL that is involved in her sexuality from “Johnny boy,” the kid in her 9th grade biology class, then don’t tell her anything. “Johnny boy” will most certainly take care of that for you. Just know that if you don’t, sadly someone else will! And the likelihood of that being emotionally devastating for your son or daughter is great.
3. It does mean that if you are the mom, you designate a “special weekend” with your girl, just you and her. If you can, go out of town. If you can’t, do a day trip or have everyone else in the family leave the house for the weekend. Give yourselves time to prepare. Have her write down questions or listen to CD’s about sex and sexuality beforehand. Passport to Purity is a great source (milylife.com/find-help/key-resources/passport2purity#.UmrmwaXn2LE) But there are many! Google! Go out to eat. Shop. Do something fun. Send her the message that she is precious and special to you, that she is special to her Creator. I think 6th or 7th grade is a great time to do this with your girl or boy. It should closely coincide with onset of puberty. I wouldn’t do it much earlier or later than this. Likewise, it means if you are the dad, you do the special weekend trip with your son. Prepare in the same ways moms do with their girls. Tell him how special he is to you and his Creator. You answer his questions and talk to him about your expectations and you also teach him how to treat women, starting with his mom and sisters and then of course other girls and women. Buy a special small gift or piece of jewelry for your son or daughter at the end of the weekend which reminds them how much they are loved and cared for, and that their purity is honorable and healthy.
1 Corinthians 10:23 says “You say, I have the right to do anything, but not everything is beneficial. I have the right to do everything, but not everything is constructive.” 1 Corinthians 6:12 says “Everything is permissible for me, but not everything beneficial. Everything is permissible for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. Verse 19 tells us “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, not your own, you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”
I see kids all the time who are disconnected from the people who love them the most. I have also seen unbelievable sexual text messages to my girls from other teens (boys and girls), and unbelievable sexual posts on social networks by tweens and teens. But I never see them lose their social networking privileges, and I see the posts over and over again. Be involved with your teen. They need to know there is no person on earth that loves and cares for them like you. For them to know that, we have to actually spend time with them. Passing them like ships in the night doesn’t give them what they need from us. Having conversations is a good start. And when it comes to their sexuality, love them enough to make this a two way discussion. Reverse this cultural message they get clobbered with every single day. Give them back the choice!
My Gratitude by Halle McCarver
All the people who risked their lives
Gave their most, gave their all,
It’s an honor that such brave men
Did it for my family,
My counrty and my friends
How courageous, through those times,
When the world’s at war,
their every moment at risk,
I only hope I show my gratitude,
as well as they show their love for the ones
they don’t know;
we forever show
Our gratitutde and our sorrow.
Over Christmas break 2011, we traveled to Prague, and then on the way home, through Nuremberg, Germany. The Nuremberg exhibit was absolutely incredible. Apparently the exhibit just opened (unbeknownst to us when we traveled there) on Nov. 22nd of this year. The girls were really moved by it. It is a very lengthy audio guide exhibit. But even so, they remained engaged through the majority of it. Every entry in the audio guide is intriguing. Even Halle and Katie listened far longer than I would have imagined them capable. Plus, there was video on hand also that was used as exhibits in the trial, and I think they knew their limits. It was sobering and troubling. I had a great discussion with the girls that night about their impressions of the trials, and unwittingly that led to the history of the church, and that led to us discussing how 75% of Czech republic (according to Helena our tour guide the first day in Prague) is agnostic. She said it is “a practical matter.” They have seen the church only as abusive and they want nothing to do with it. (The remaining 25% of the population is split-mostly catholic of course, some Protestant. Typically, those too are not evangelistic in nature. Traditionally in Catholic and Lutheran Protestant churches in Europe, faith is defined by a religion that is very legalistic in nature. It is a routine matter.) The girls and I talked about how this approach by the church has continued on many levels for 100s of years. The Catholic church literally ruled with an iron fist for centuries. They were indeed the law and the church in one. In the 16th century, william Tyndale was the first to translate considerable parts of the Bible into English, for a public, lay leadership. In 1535 he was tried by the church for heresy and was strangled and burned at the stake for taking the word of God to the populace. For centuries Catholic Leadership imprisoned the Jewish population in ghettos all over Europe, exposing them to horrible living conditions, disease and isolation. Now, there’s an argument for separation of church and state. (we shan’t open that can of worms in this post).
The girls and I discussed how we are guilty of that today-burning people at the stake, not literally but emotionally and spiritually. How often do we ignore those in need, that kid in your class who is hard to get along with, the next door neighbor who needs a helping hand, someone in our life who needs something we have plenty of? And then we ended by dissecting 1 Peter 3:15. The first part (“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord,”) was the starting point. This is the foundational premise of this verse. Then I reminded the girls of different instances for each of them wherein they were distraught over some sin they had committed or something they had done wrong, and how their joy was restored after they had confessed that sin and asked for forgiveness. It is amazing to me how faithful God is with our experiences. Nothing is wasted on God. The girls had immediate recall to those vivid memories. And that connected to the middle part of that verse (“be prepared to give everyone who asks you the reason for the hope that you have”) I reminded them it is never enough for this hard hearted world we live in to tell them only part of the gospel, that Jesus died on the Cross for our sins and gave us eternal life as a gift. We live in a pretentious and
Self-centered world who believe they have no need for a Savior. The key to breaking through that wall lies in our sharing our own personal experience, how that truth has impacted you personally; this is paramount in our message. We all have a story. We must be prepared to share it. Otherwise, it is the same rhetoric that the unbeliever has been listening to for 100’s of years just as the hammer fell. Finally, the last part of the verse, (“But do so with gentleness and respect.”) We may set apart Christ in our hearts as Lord, we may have a story to tell, but try delivering that information to someone in a spirit of anger, abuse, self-righteousness, or disrespect, and she will not hear a word you say.
The girls were intrigued and engaged. Yes, it is true, the very next morning I was refereeing a ridiculous disagreement between them, but that night in that moment, God gave us a relevant conversation that everyone was engaged in. And he provided the material effortlessly. It was something I will never forget. I hope they don’t either.