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!
Here we are 70 years later. It has been a mere 70 years since allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy to keep the free world free. “On June 6, 1944, more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily fortified French coastline, to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which, ‘we will accept nothing less than full victory.’ More than 5,000 Ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end, the Allies gained a foot-hold in Continental Europe. The cost in lives on D-Day was high. More than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded, but their sacrifice allowed more than 100,000 Soldiers to begin the slow, hard slog across Europe, to defeat Adolph Hitler’s crack troops.” (Army.Mil) Five French beaches were taken by the allies: Juno, Gold, Sword, Omaha, and Utah. So why DO I care? Why should any of us care? Most often, there is an assumption that I care because my husband spent 23 years in the United States Air Force. Or others think, “Oh sure you care and know a lot about D-Day because you are veteran of Desert Storm. You care because you have been connected to the military most of your adult years.” But that is simply not true. Yes, I care about D-Day for all of those reasons, but if those reasons did not exist, would I still be teaching my children the facts about D-Day, Pearl Harbor, Battle of the Bulge, Gettysburg, Valley Forge? Even if it were true that our income were not dependent upon the military for the last 23 years, and even if it were true that their dad had a 9-5 job that found him home most evenings and weekends, would I still be teaching them the importance of D-Day? Would I recognize the impact it has made on their lives, as they unwittingly enjoy all the privileges that are afforded them-which has been at the expense of literally thousands upon thousands of American lives? If for any reason, I would choose not to teach my kids the facts of D-Day, the importance of that day which truly will always live in infamy, then God help me. I recently started substitute teaching in the schools. Every day we stand and say the pledge of allegiance to the American flag in our schools. It always tugs at my heart a little when kids either do not stand, or do not place their hands over their hearts. Why should they? If they know absolutely nothing-not a single fact behind the reason for the flag and what it represents, why would they show respect to this very special symbol that represents their own history. And what they don’t know could hurt them. What we don’t know can contribute to a life that revolves around me! Not a life that revolves around serving others. If I know what happened on those beaches 70 years ago, and truly understand the losses that took place there, the profound stories of survival and death, it’s hard to remain smug and pious about my material wealth, my freedom, my time, money, and everything that I own! The more I know, the better off I am, and the better off are those around me, those I influence every single day of my life, both personally and professionally. This is something I know: On Omaha beach alone, there were over 2500 casualties on D-Day. The 116th regiment belonging to the 29th Infantry Division was believed to have lost over 75% of their entire regiment. That is a staggering statistic. In his book “D-Day,” Stephen Ambrose calls this chapter, “Visitors to Hell.” The 116th was in the first wave onto Omaha Beach, which later became known as “Bloody Omaha,” due to the horrific fighting and loss of lives on both sides that took place that day. I know the importance of that day simply because I read and study about it. And I read and study about it because I care about the sacrifices these men and women and their families have made literally so I can come and go as I choose. I care about those sacrifices in much the same way that I care about the sacrifices my husband makes for my family and I every day. It doesn’t take enlistment in a military career, a military paycheck or any other form of military service in order for us to care about this incredible event. It just takes common sense. It takes gratitude for everything you have. Here we are 70 years later. What have we learned? More importantly, what have I learned? Some might say, “The last thing I need is another history lesson.” But 70 years later, that is exactly what we need. D-Day was a pivotal battle(s). It was a turning point in WWII that eventually led to victory in Europe, and peace once again in places where people truly believed there may never be peace again. I hope that this year, on this 70th anniversary of D-Day, you will take a little time, just a few minutes to read about one hero from that day. There were thousands. Just pick one. Share the story of your hero with your kids and your family. And then just be thankful.
We have lots and lots of beggars, if you will, who frequent the main intersections along the highway frontage road near our house. Usually I try to keep a few bucks handy, and if traffic lights and timing allow, I’ll hand it out the window, as I pass by, to the waiting hand on the other side. One day my daughter Shelby and I were sitting at the red light when I said out loud, mostly to myself, “I have no money on me.” I glanced over at Shelby (then 16 years old) who without saying a word, was quietly rummaging through her own wallet, and promptly withdrew $5 of her meager babysitting earnings. I told her that she didn’t have to give that much, but she shrugged her shoulders and gladly passed it over to me. I think her heart was breaking for that guy who asked for money. And if mine wasn’t before we stopped at the traffic light, it certainly was now. Shelby’s generosity and compassion did not require an application, a questionnaire or any prior knowledge of that man’s life situation. Her heart took over, and she acted on it. That’s what a broken heart does. It acts. Maybe that doesn’t always happen by giving money. It could be time, food, talents, coffee, smiles, hugs, or just your availability. But I hope first of all that your heart breaks for something, for someone! And second of all, I hope when it does, you act on it. Sometimes my heart breaks for a friend who is going through a tough time with their child (lots of empathy going on here) and I am compelled to send them a note of encouragement, reminding than that God is their provider and their safety net. Sometimes my heart breaks for teenagers (a lot of the time) who seem to be bent on a path of destruction and often seem to think that a relationship with a boyfriend or a girlfriend is going to solve all of their problems, when really what they crave is a relationship with a parent who takes the time to help them navigate these impressionable years with love and accountability. Sometimes I just look into the faces of students when I am substitute teaching in school or when teaching a college class, and my heart breaks for all the stories in that room to which I am not privy. Sometimes the only way I can “act” on that heartbreak is to treat them with respect and offer them a reassuring smile. Sometimes my heart breaks when I see that same woman at that same intersection with that same sign asking for help. She’s about my age. But she’s much taller. Her hair always seems dirty, and her face always seems to be lined with worry. That face stays with me in my mind’s eye long after I pass by. My heart breaks when I read about young girls abducted into sexual slavery, taken By force from their homes and their mothers. My heart breaks when I visit the nursing home on a local mission with my church, and elderly faces stare up at you with gratitude for taking only 3 hours out of an entire month to listen to their stories. Incredible stories of loss, love, joy, war, heroism, and hard work! Yet they are grateful to me-for what? For taking 2 or 3 measly hours away from the hustle and bustle of my comfy life to visit with them. My heart breaks. If your heart never breaks, you should ask yourself one simple question. “Why not?” Not always, but sometimes this invincible heart is facilitated by one or two overriding factors. The first is “I’m too busy with my own life, to have a broken heart over someone else’s!” And secondly, we pass judgement quickly, and abruptly then bypass our hearts all together. We often act as judge and jury over someone’s life even when we often know very little about them. But when we do, the judgement is pronounced and no mercy is forth given. Common statements to this effect might include, “He asked for that!” “She had it coming!” Regardless of the reason, when our heart fails to break, we fail to act. And regardless of the reasons-in that moment-no one-not anybody is more undeserving than we are of a hot meal, a warm bed, fresh water, protection, a listening ear, hope, inspiration, or help. Being a good steward of our money and our time, while having compassion and generosity for others can indeed coexist. We build big beautiful houses, and then use them only for ourselves. We drive cars that cost as much as a small house, and yet are unwilling to part with either our money OR our time for those less fortunate. Well, perhaps-unless we know a LOT about them and their life situation! There’s more than enough hurt in this world to go around. There is no shortage of opportunities to lend a hand or a dollar. The only way I know how to deal with a broken heart is to help mend someone else’s. Try emptying your mind of all of your preconceived notions about who is and who is not deserving. Free yourself of the self-imposed restrictions hindering you from meeting someone’s need. The end result could be life changing for someone, maybe even you.
“The crowd protesting Saturday recited the pledge of allegiance, and many offered prayers. Others waved placards reading, “This land is your land,” and “We teach our children not to bully. How do we teach our government not to be big bullies?” according to ABC News. Let me get this straight, you wield weapons, intimidating and threatening the lives of federal agents carrying out their sworn duties, and you say THIS is a lesson for your kids on how NOT to bully, as you (the parent) epitomize and define the very essence of bullying in your protest. And THEN YOU are going to suggest that this was a peaceful first amendment protest? How do you reconcile the freedom of speech and to assemble protected in the first amendment, with bringing mass numbers of semi automatic weapons to the protest? Can the two coexist at one event? Or wouldn’t it be true that as a protester you are threatening the sacredness of the first amendment by combining it with your second amendment? Is it really a peaceful assembly at that point? I don’t think so. And when you are there NOT for the set purpose of protesting, BUT RATHER, the purpose of preventing the government from carrying out their sworn duties? That’s-well-illegal. The right to free assembly and freedom of speech does not in ANY way, give Americans the right to “obstruct justice” or interfere with an ongoinig investigation. When we do, we are subject to arrest and jail time. Period. And when a Republican governor has this to say, it is a sad commentary on his unwillingness to denounce the illegal and gross misconduct taken by his Nevada citizens: “The safety of all individuals involved in this matter has been my highest priority. Given the circumstances, today’s outcome is the best we could have hoped for. I appreciate that the Department of the Interior and the BLM were willing to listen to the concerns of the people of Nevada.” Really? He says that as if “the people of Nevada” had been in diplomatic discussions all day in a meeting with coffee and donuts. But that’s not true. The “Nevada people” were out brandishing their weapons, breaking the law-obstructing justice. Not to mention, making blatant and flagrant claims that they were willing to use those weapons against innocent employees of the government if they didn’t get their way. Well, get their way they DID. Furthermore, ZERO admonishing on the part of Governor Sandoval for his state’s citizens to go home and leave the federal agents to do their job was forthcoming. In this country we have an adversarial system. It’s named, in short and in simple terms, the American legal process. What that means, is if you are an American citizen you always have a way to appeal decisions by the government, a right that is unheard of in many many countries around the world. Mr. Bundy and his militia friends have chosen not to pursue this legal course of action that is available to them and what has been used successfully for hundreds of years to impact and change multiple political and social issues. Instead, they have chosen to stage a coup more or less and overthrow the Bureau of Land management. Was there a moral basis for this act of violence and rebellion? Had the BLM been threatening lives of citizens? No. Had they been accepting bribes and practicing open corruption? Not by any reports or accounts! Were they doing ANYTHING that might demand such interference and bullying on the part of concerned citizens? No, they were just carrying out their sworn duties under the umbrella of the same adversarial system that grants the defendant the right of appeal. No indeed. The federal government first ordered Cliven Bundy to remove his cattle in 1998. They have made repeated efforts, seeking his legal and peaceful compliance with the law for over 16 long years! But apparently, unlike other ranchers in the area, Cliven Bundy is above the law. “This is a matter of fairness and equity, and we remain disappointed that Cliven Bundy continues to not comply with the same laws that 16,000 public-lands ranchers do every year. After 20 years and multiple court orders to remove the trespass cattle, Mr. Bundy owes the American taxpayers in excess of $1 million. The BLM will continue to work to resolve the matter administratively and judicially,” BLM Chief Kornze. I think Governor Sandoval is an embarrassment to the Republican party as much as Vance McAllister and his staffer affair could ever hope to be. When a governor (as well as state congressmen) give their blessing to the grossly inappropriate actions of red neck bullies, (think two year olds with weapons) it’s embarrassing to his political party. This whole event and public display of insolence should be embarrassing and mortifying to all of us as citizens. If you are a Christian, it should be equally mortifying every time one of the militia men recites a prayer!
If you are a proponent of prayer in school, but never pray at home or with your children, don’t talk to me. If you believe the bible should be taught in school, but never read the bible at home, don’t talk to me. If you think the bible should be the guiding principles in our country, but you never apply timeless biblical principles to your own life, or that of your children’s’ lives, don’t talk to me. You have heard it said, “some talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk.” This directly applies here. If you have a bumper sticker that says “Abortion kills! What part of kill don’t you understand?” your ability to be a loving and caring Christ-like example to an unwed pregnant girl, could be in question. If you have a Christian fish on your car, and then speed through a parking lot while honking wildly at the elderly lady trying to park her vehicle, lose the fish! We live in a culture that easily disconnects their actions and words from what they proclaim to believe! It’s easy for all of us to talk more than we listen. Not only is this true of us individually, but it is also true of our political representation. Unfortunately, we are very keen on pointing out this shortcoming when it comes to our elected officials, but much less likely to see the truth of it in our own lives. Finally, it is especially sad and misleading when Christians choose to talk a talk that they just don’t walk. So back to the beginning of this messy blog. Issues like prayer in school, teaching from the bible, and the public display of the Ten commandments are all issues that in the last 20 or so years have often been at the forefront of town hall meetings, school board agendas and congressional lobbying. Many well-meaning and well-intentioned Christians have carried the torch on such issues as getting prayer back in school, creationism taught in the science curriculum and often feel insulted when they feel like Christianity is not accommodated either in politics or policy, or in the public venue in a way they think it should be. We have an organization/club at our junior high called “Cats for Christ.” This group conducts seemingly wonderful events like public “prayer at the flag pole.” My girls (the two who attended this school) never chose to participate in this club in spite of their own Christian faith. We were discussing it one day, and they were very frank in saying, “the kids we know who are members of this group,” commonly drop expletives in the hallways, treat others rudely, and have a general display of behavior that is absolutely contrary to the principles outlined in “Cats for Christ!” Of course no one is perfect, but consistent patterns of negative behavior with no appearance of regret or apology-let’s face it-probably isn’t who you want representing an organization that is supposed to point people to Christ, NOT confuse his message and mar his image.
But maybe a fresh look at real statistics of Christian adults and parents, might shed some light on why the actions of Christian junior high students in this particular situation IS what it is. One “Bible Engagement” study of 2900 Protestant Christians, revealed that 90% of those polled, “desire to please God,” but only a mere 19% of them actually admit to reading the bible daily or with any regularity whatsoever. (Christianity Today 9/7/2012). Another similar study concluded that of over 2 billion confessing Christians in this world, less than 30% will ever read through the entire bible. “The fact is over 82% of Christian Americans only read their bibles while in church on Sunday.” (Ponce Foundation 2013) And since in my own church on Sundays, I virtually never see a single parishioner carrying a bible, I am assuming that latter statement means they are either reading the bible from their electronic device in church (great resource) or (what is more likely), they are reading the scriptures on the projection screen referenced there by the pastor.
Another poll of Christians (evangelical and otherwise) reports on average, annual giving of only 2.4% of their income to the church! Some quick and simple math of my own family finances, revealed that just our monthly cable/internet and telephone/cell phones total about 2% of our income. Throw in a few coffee shop splurges, discretionary spending on entertainment and extra curricular activities for our kids, and the percentage of our disposable income DISPOSED on something other than charitable giving, becomes much much higher than the 2.4% donated on average by Christians. Lest you think this is only about church tithing, average charitable contribution By Americans (church giving or otherwise) according to their Federal tax returns filed in 2011 was about 2.1 percent of income. In actual dollars, the average was well less than $1200 per household, a number far far below what the majority of us spend on gourmet coffees, fast food, cable tv and data plans every year! (Urban Institute National Center for Charitable Statistics, November 2013) And what about serving others, sharing Jesus through selfless acts of love and benevolence? The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2013 just a mere 1/4 (25.2%) of ALL Americans (Christians and others) volunteer their time throughout the year in some capacity. While it’s true that a large number of that 25% are “church goers,” it follows that well less than 1/4 of All Americans serving as volunteers in any capacity are actually Christians.
And those are individual statistics. Perhaps you are relying on your government’s efforts to spread the love of Jesus, particularly those of us who live in politically conservative states touting family values as paramount. In Texas, in spite of an often prolific political platform of conservative Christian principles, they still have the 3rd largest teen pregnancy rate in the nation. (Huffington Post March 19, 2014). Recently (2013-2014), Texas lawmakers have attempted to legislate an enormous decrease in the number of abortion clinics in the state. However, the number of state supported pregnancy crisis centers (many of them faith-based) supposedly offering girls and women alternatives to abortion have been riddled with problems. An independent study cited multiple violations ranging from safety to breaching of client privacy, while at the same time, little attention was allocated to the medical or emotional needs of their clients. Subcontractors at these centers often work in “counselor” positions that require no special training or certification. (ThinkProgress.org 2011) In my own beloved Sooner state of Oklahoma, a marriage initiative launched by a very conservative state government to combat divorce and strengthen families in Oklahoma, has, by all perceivable accounts, been an epic fail. After 14 years and 70 million dollars, divorce increased to 13.5% in 2012 up from 11.6% in the year 2000. There is a state contracted company who made a LOT of money from this initiative. However, Oklahoma still has the 3rd highest divorce rate in the country (Oklahoma Watch November 2013) And that-in spite of its geographical position, squarely centered in the middle of the traditional American bible belt!
What’s the answer? The answer has always been the same. It has never changed. Jesus! But how we message that to others, could prove to be either helpful or hateful! Bill Hybels said “The local church is the hope of the world!” I believe that could be your Protestant church, Parrish, synagogue, and most certainly your home. The church is not a building. The English word “church” comes from the Greek word kyriakos, “belonging to the Lord” (kyrios). Its defined as “an assembly, congregation, church; the Church, the whole body of Christian believers.”
Remember the study earlier discussed on “Bible Engagement?” Lifeway Christian Resources concluded that such an engagement with the bible was correlated to “Having been discipled or mentored one-on-one by a more spiritually mature Christian.” It’s authentic relationships and daily spiritual disciplines that are going to compel us to serve others, give our money to the needy, love the unlovely, and give hope to the hopeless. This kind of religion can not be legislated. It cannot be canned into a program or sustained by your school board or town hall. And it cannot, by any measure, be mercilessly hammered into the heads and hearts of the opposition by a Christian who has not applied biblical principles and teaching in his/her own life. LifeWay president Ed Stetzer says “Bible engagement points people toward maturity and maturing Christians have practices that correspond to Bible reading. Almost all churchgoers want to honor God, but more than a third indicate obedience is not something they have done when it is costly to them.”
I know the way I started this blog, seemed harsh, but I am inclined to end it the same way. If you have fish on your car or a cross on your wall, or a bumper sticker that confuses Christianity with condemnation, and yet you don’t feel the need to seek God with your family inside the very confounds of your home or in serving your own community, don’t talk to me about your right to pray at the football game on Friday night. At some point, we have divorced ourselves from common sense Christianity, from grace and mercy- and instead have aligned ourselves with politics inside and outside of the church. I don’t really care if you pray out loud at school. But I do care if you pray at home with your family. It’s time as Christians we lead the charge in applying the scripture to our own life. Get a mentor. Be a mentor. Start practicing in your own daily life, in your marriage, and with your children what you claim you believe.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” Ecclesiastes 4:9
My best friends aren’t my best friends because they make me feel good about myself-at least not all the time. Over the years I’ve been told by my best friends: “You really are kind of hard on your kids.” “He’s your husband Judy. His needs are as important as yours.” “You might want to pick your battles and decide if that’s a hill you really want to die on.”(parenting and marriage) “You need to be quiet and listen sometime.” “You should think about the concequences of your actions if you take that route.” In a world of very confusing messages on the expectations of motherhood, marriage, and the workplace, it’s often difficult to glean the good from the garbage; the cream from the crop; or the truth from the fiction. So that being said, it follows that surrounding yourself with one, two, or three well rounded, wise, imperfect but learned women, is unequivocally important for separating the truth in our lives from the lies which we can otherwise easily believe about ourselves and our present circumstances. On its face, this sounds like a plausible concept. Yes, cultivate a few close BFF’s so I can receive my daily affirmation. But the flip side of this storied union of gal pals, is the pervading question: Can you take it when they are not necessarily “affirming” you? Can you accept constructive criticism from someone you know and trust? True acceptance of critism is illustrated by a subsequent response of serious deliberation, and if neccesay, action taken as a result of the criticism. When my sister expressed her veiw, over a perceived lack of respect on my part for my husband’s feelings and position on a matter in our marriage, it wasn’t at all what I beleived she would say or what I wanted to hear. But as I mulled it over in my mind, this is what I did know about the source of the criticism: 1 This person has no hidden agendas. 2 This person cares for me unconditionally.
3 This person has my best interests at heart. 4 This person isn’t trying to fortify her own position in my life or in the given situation. (a personal agenda) In fact, if anything, when a true “best friend” meets the 1st three criteria of this “measuring stick,” it’s highly likely that she knows she’s risking her relationship with you. She is taking a chance and trusting that you will, in turn, trust what you know about her, and therefore listen to her with that credibility in mind. So the next time you have a friend say something critical to you, first make a conscious decision to explore the truth in the criticism. Apply the measuring stick above. If you know or believe in your heart that the advice giver has an ulterior motive for taking this opposite stance, then glean what you can from her observations. Don’t respond in kind, meaning don’t respond to what you perceive as ill intent on her part. But consider this: while she may not be the person in whom you can put your trust for sound advice when the road is tough, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn something about yourself from what she said. But on the other hand, if your friend really does meet all three criteria on our measuring stick of credibility, and you Still choose to NOT listen to her, much less act on anything she says, then you might consider the possibility that you are unteachable. That is a strong word I know. However, over the years of my single, married, parenting life, and in the workplace, I have had my own share of unteachable moments.
Finally, if all you ever hear from your “besties,” is how much they totally agree with you, how wonderful you are as a parent, employee or spouse, then you might consider diversifying your relationship investments so to speak. Maybe you should invest some time cultivating a relationship with someone who has a proven track record of making mistakes and learning from them-someone who is full of humility and grace. These women can teach me a lot.
Okay, the truth is my best friends do hold me accountable. I fully trust and know if I left my husband, or dropped the proverbial ball drastically in parenting, they would be the first to call me (or tackle me) look me in the eye, and say “What the heck is going on?” And it’s highly unlikely that would be in a text message! Furthermore, if they knew something about my kid that I did not know, i.e inappropriate posting on social networking, or inexcusable behavior away from home, I would fully expect them to fill me in! BUT they are also the very first to comfort and affirm me. Remember the measuring stick? People who love us hold us accountable. So it just goes without saying, they will affirm and validate me as well.
None of us are an island unto ourselves. As much as I think I want to be sometimes, it’s not how God created me. I need my friends, and my friends need me. My family needs then to be in my life as well. And I need then to speak into the lives of my daughters with both their words and their actions. I am a better person-not perfect by any measuring stick-but better mom, wife, employee, thanks to their input. My best friends are made up of equal doses of love and truth, the two ingredients needed to make a great friend. They challenge me to be a better human being.
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!