Wednesday, May 25, 2016

He Asked For Her Number: Part Four

"Guys in my world seemed to value only girls who initiated relationships, flirting, and sex - girls who had absolutely no boundaries around their hearts or bodies.  At age fifteen, I found myself being molded into the kind of girl the world expected me to be.

The next season of my life was the most hellish I have ever experienced.  My desperate search for a prince who would cherish me forever had become my demise. I had listened to the voice of the culture and become the young woman it convinced me to be, hoping that the result would be the discovery of a happily-ever-after tale. Instead, my heart was mercilessly trampled time and time again." 
Leslie Ludy,  Authentic Beauty

Eight years old was really too young to be going to see the movie Grease, but it was 1978, and the movie had just come out in theaters. My mom's collection of vinyl records had already trained me to idolize Olivia Newton John's voice and beauty, and so going to the movie was never in question. In my young heart and mind, it was a nice reprieve from all the Star Wars hoopla from the year before. (Though I enjoyed that one as well. Just not as much. Call me shallow and unsophisticated, it's fine.) But even at eight years old, Olivia disappointed me when she tossed out her poodle skirt for black leather in order to please John Travolta. Something was just so wrong with that in my girlish mind.

I just thought of this but, Maybe Sandy and Danny are the reason I have such a difficult time getting on Team Jess in Rory Gilmore's life!? They set me up to be skeptical and disdainful of rebellious tough guys dressed in leather. I mean, Danny was so sweet and gentlemanly over the summer and at the beach, and he was even turning from his macho ways by showing up at the carnival in a letterman's sweater.  If Sandy had just stuck by her convictions, Danny may have been inspired to so much more. And I can't even talk about Rory's compromises for and because of Logan. It's just depressing.

Anyway, my eight year old ideals did not change much over the years. I continued to believe that women should remain true to themselves fueled by God's image in them and His faithfulness to them. I didn't fully realize it at the time, but one reason for all of this was probably that I had become a Christian right before Grease hit theaters. Now that I think of it, God's timing was so perfect. Had He not sovereignly orchestrated my salvation then, I probably would have been greatly influenced in another direction by Olivia's black leather transformation. And not only that, but by the many opportunities to rebel with peers all around me and conform to the culture.

Oh, I had my moments, but most of them were fairly mild in comparison to the risks others were taking. For example, I did wear a two piece bathing suit once in high school under pressure from my boyfriend's family to "show a little skin." And I may have had a margarita or two while sitting with his parents by the lake. See what I mean? Not exactly what would be considered a walk on the wild side in most circles.

(This is just my story. I believe that all conversions are sovereignly orchestrated and timed, and that all are in equal need of forgiveness from sin. My seemingly goody-two-shoes life was still laden with sin and in need of forgiveness.)

One thing that those early experiences left me with was a deep sadness now when I watch girls compromise their convictions and ideals, their value and worth, their image-bearing status, and their God-given personalities. It brings me to the fourth thing I hope my daughter will cling to as she navigates the dating world.

4. Personality Permanence is Important

This is really just an awkward way of using the letter "P" alliteratively to say Stay true to who you are in Christ, your gifts, your hopes, your dreams, your desires. Resist the urge to try and change yourself to meet the expectations - stated or assumed - of a man or of anyone, really.

Because Kayla,

God put much thought into forming you from the inside out. He wove you together inside my womb. You were fearfully and wonderfully made, and every one of God's works is good. They are purposeful and unique and individual. You were skillfully designed by the ultimate of Creators, and He has a lifetime of days planned for you to, according to your gifts and calling, bring Him glory. (from Psalm 139)

And you are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus ~ and again, created for good works that He prepared for you even before you were born. You were made to walk in those good and God-glorifying works. (from Ephesians 2:10)

You have also been bought with a price, a very expensive one. The brutal, unjust death of Christ Himself. Because of this, you are not your own, but are united to, indwelt by, and belong to Him. (from I Corinthians 6) What a privilege. Who can even fathom it? Our bodies, temples of the Holy Spirit?  Wow.

So, present your body to Him sacrificially in all situations - at home, on the track, on the stage, at church, with friends.  When you do that, you are worshiping Him. In fact, every act of obedience is an act of worship. (My favorite quote from Stepping Heavenward) And don't let the culture, or men, or friends, conform you to their image or ideas, but do let the Lord transform you continually to His image and will. (From Romans 12)

Like Leslie told us in Authentic Beauty, listening to the voice of the culture will not bring you any happily-ever-afters. In fact, it may bring devastation. So, listen to the voice of the Lord. Be true to the person He created you to be, and to His calling, and to the gifts He's given you. That's where protection and life and joy and freedom are found. I can promise you that, because He promises that.

One thing that gives me hope that you will remain true to who you are in Christ is this:

Any guy who can't appreciate the Pegacorn ought to be crossed off the list immediately.

But more importantly, any guy who can't handle Jesus in you should be dropped entirely. You are worth so much more than that.

Monday, May 23, 2016

He Asked For Her Number: Part Three

"The sexual harassment isn’t what irritates me. For me, this isn’t frightening or even that uncomfortable. This is every single day. I leave the house. Men talk to me. I hold my breath and I am polite and I am unshakable and then I get home. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat."

That's a quote from an article I read a couple of months ago entitled Why Women Smile at Men Who Sexualy Harass Us: On Being Nice in the Pursuit of Getting Home Safe.  My friend Erica posted it on Facebook (Thanks, Erica!) and I was intrigued, so I "saved" it.  Did you know you could do that on Facebook? Well, you can, and consequently I have about a hundred articles in my "saved" folder. When I finally got around to reading this one, I knew it was something I needed to talk with my daughter about. I do recommend reading it, but you should be warned that there is some language, and it is not from a Christian perspective. It's written from one woman's perspective on a fairly universal phenomenon, and it's one I could relate to to some extent.

It's why I chose this third item in the list of things I want my daughter to know and practice:

3. Protection May Lie in Politeness

The man who told me he loved my hair as I signed his political petition in front of Whole Foods? I really didn't mind at all. It was broad daylight, and there were lots of people around listening. I smiled, thanked him, and tucked it away as evidence to whip out the next time my dad tells me I really need to start covering up all that gray.

The man who told me I was beautiful as I ran into a Connecticut grocery store early one morning to grab some goodies for my homeschoolers in Hamden? He was clean cut, dressed professionally, and just kept walking on by. So, while it was a bit startling, I didn't feel any real fear.

The man on the bike trail who ran by and commented on my "nice form"? Well, I had to check that one with Robert. Amherst is a strange place, and I wouldn't have put it past the 50-something townie to truly be giving me feedback on my running posture and gait. Really. My husband did not think that was the case, however.

The man in the Stop N Shop on Cape Cod last October, who, as soon as Robert and I parted ways to conquer the grocery list, leaned over my shoulder and whispered in my ear "you are so beautiful"?  Well, that was creepy. And Scary. I was shaken by his boldness. (Me, sweaty after a six mile run, no makeup, and rag tag running clothes. Ugh.)

The man in WalMart, though? The one, late one night, who mysteriously showed up on every aisle I was on, every single time? Even when I tried going to the opposite corner of the store? And then when I went to check out in a hurry, got in line behind right me? Truly frightening. 

I thought about telling the cashier, but didn't want it to ignite the situation. So, I checked out and walked a few steps away from the register. I waited for him to check out and leave the store. It was so late that we may have been the only two left in the store. I tried to watch through the front doors and make sure he got in a car and drove away.  When I was fairly certain that he did I went quickly to mine, locked the doors and drove home crying and shaking all the way. I could hardly get the story out to Robert when I got home. I don't know if I've ever felt so threatened.

Now, if those things are happening to a middle-aged, married, mother of three, they are most certainly going to happen to my youthful, beautiful daughter. My 20-something friend Shannon told me just yesterday that in her experience, the cat-calling started when she and her friends were as young as 12. Ask any woman about her experience with this. I promise you'll get stories. The writer of the article suggests it happens to almost every woman at some point, and that she has learned that ignoring it, or worse, coming back with an attitude, only feeds the fire. 

"When men are quick to remind us that not all men harass women, I’m quicker to remind them that all women (really, all) have experienced this at least once, but more likely, they have experienced it many, many more times than that."

So, I want Kayla to know that politeness, even in the instance of inappropriate gestures and remarks, can diffuse a situation. If ignoring the person is not working, then smile, say thank you and move on as quickly as possible. Sexual harassment is not the time for sassy eye-rolling and tit for tat. In a broken world where fallen masculinity often plays out in dominance, abuse, and twisted sexuality, wisdom is key. Knowing that coming back with an attitude (no matter how justified you feel) will likely only escalate things and then choosing a different response is wise. In fact, it could quite literally save your life.

And by all means, when you come across a gentleman, delight in that discovery, and let him demonstrate his respect for you and other women. There are many men out there who highly value women and womanhood. Let them listen to your ideas. Let them encourage your dreams. Let them open your doors and help you with your coat or your chair. Let them walk you to your car or home and allow them to carry your groceries. Let them fend off the sick and broken men who are just out for a cheap thrill if they will. That's the time for real encouragement and true politeness. That's the way to inspire change in those men who will be inspired.

Friday, May 20, 2016

He Asked For Her Number: Part Two

Happy Friday! Posting on a Friday afternoon is a sure indicator of a blogging rookie. No one reads on Fridays, much less over the weekend.  But I'm just going to go for it.

And I thought I'd give you the bullet points first.  Then you can decide if you really want to keep reading today and into next week.

Here are the five things that came to mind as I've pondered the asking-for-her-number-incident. Things I want my daughter to know. Things I hope she'll strive to be. Things I think will protect her heart, mind and body. I see them in blossoming in her already and I pray she'll grow into them more and more.

1. Prioritize Christ
2. Pretty is as Pretty Does
3. Protection May Lie in Politeness
4. Personality Permanence is Important
5. Permission Should Be Requested 

I didn't intend on alliteration, but it just sort of happened and I went with it. Here are my thoughts on the first two:

Remember Liesl and Rolf in The Sound of Music? Dancing in the gazebo while it rained? Oh, the innocence, the youthful rebellion, the naiveté. That scene is so memorable, because we've all been there or longed to be. Rolf says some very insightful things to Liesl during that romantic interlude:

You are 16 going on 17
Baby its time to think
Better beware
Be canny and careful
Baby you're on the brink 

You are 16 going on 17
Fellows will fall in line
Eager young lads
And roues and cads 
Will offer you fruit and wine

And Rolf is absolutely correct! This will happen. Men are going to ask for phone numbers, and they are going to be very charming and irresistible in the asking. It's all wonderful and good and meant to be, but caution and care are still required. (Roué: lecherous dissipated man, Also one devoted to a life of sensual pleasure; a debauchee) Rolf certainly proves this to be true not long after offering his older, wiser, protection with a kiss in the gazebo. Communist traitor!

So, of course this whole boy-asking-for-my-daughter's-phone-number took me back to my own high school years. I must have been the most naive of what must have been the popular crowd at my high school. I was a cheerleader, and unfortunately that automatically equaled "popular crowd." But I never felt totally comfortable there, and definitely not as cool. (I'm guessing I wasn't alone in this feeling, but no one would have admitted it at the time.) One football player and friend liked to call me "green" i.e. lacking sophistication or worldly experience; naive, easily duped or deceived; gullible, and it was true on so many levels. 

There was one thing that I wasn't completely naive about though, and that was Christ. Oh, I was far from perfect, and I said and did plenty of hurtful things to friends and family the way teens often do, but somehow I knew there were a few boundaries that should not be crossed. Drinking was one. Sex was another. Rebelling against adults and authority yet another. (Yes, a tee-totalling, abstinent, rule-follower. Coolness factor: LOW.) (And yes, I realize there can be problems therein, but it served me well at the time.) It may have been a dysfunctional family that caused me to cling to what shreds of biblical truth I knew at the time, but it was also by God's grace.  I could have gotten into so much trouble, but I didn't. I had many opportunities to ruin my life, but He granted me a strong will and stubborn self-restraint that protected me time and time again.

It brings me to the first of five things I want my daughter to know and do:

1. Prioritize Christ: No, it's not cool. Yes, you will be teased, mocked, maybe bullied. No, it will not win you popularity points or Instagram followers. Yes, people will exclude you because of it. But yes, it is the best and right thing to do. I promise. And I get it. It's even harder to do today than it was in the 1980's, but it is so very important. Not only is Christ the only one worthy of your complete devotion, honoring Him above all speaks to your own strength and confidence. 

Also, Psalm 37:4 says 
"Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart."

Kayla and I just finished reading through a book called Authentic Beauty. I highly recommend it. It does bring up very uncomfortable things from the real life situations of the author's teen years, so beware. I was grateful for the prodding to discuss subjects I would have probably avoided all together. Things no one ever told me, but things I desperately needed to know.

Here's what the author, Leslie Ludy, says about Psalm 37:4:

This is one of my favorite verses.  It illustrates the loving faithfulness of our Lord. As we dwell on Jesus Christ, He fills our hearts with His desires for our lives, and we are completely filled by Him. And yet, most of us have it backward. We aggressively try to meet the desires of our hearts by pursuing romantic relationships, popularity, comfort, material possessions, or achievements instead of truly delighting in Jesus Christ.

Prioritizing Christ is the top priority in "facing a world of men," and I pray my daughter will be strengthened to do just that, now and in the years to come. No matter how uncool it may be. My uncoolness in Christ landed me the caring respect (both then and now) of a long-term high school boyfriend who did not take advantage of me (though I don't recommend high school boyfriends!), and the loving, sacrificial devotion of my husband. I am forever grateful.

I'm already talking too much today, so I'll just do one more of the five in this post, and it has to do with physical beauty. Those boys at the track meet? That stranger at the sushi case? They really only had one thing to go on: attractiveness. Without knowing anything about her except that she can run fast, or that she has a thing for sushi, something compelled them to take it a step further by requesting future contact, and that thing was physical appearance.

What a blessing! What a delight! Every woman. Let me repeat, EVERY woman wants to be beautiful. And yet hardly any woman looks in the mirror and thinks I am just so beautiful. Quite the contrary. So, when a man shows attention based on physical appearance, one of her deepest desires is being met, no matter how shallow it may seem. It's just a fact, and it can actually be a dangerous one. It's another aspect of the created genders. The woman is the crown of creation, the last of the Creator's very good creations. In fact, the only "not good" thing about creation was that it was without her for a time. When she finally arrives on the scene, the man is totally overwhelmed by her beauty, by the gift that she is.  Since the garden, women have enjoyed and have even been created for this response to their appearance.

But Scripture also gives a warning about putting too much emphasis on physical beauty. Proverbs 31 says beauty is deceptive and fleeting. I Peter says that it's fine to have and enjoy external adornments and physical beauty, but that what is most precious is gentleness, kindness and a humble, peaceful spirit. External beauty does not last, but internal beauty does.

So I also want my daughter to know that: 

2. Pretty is as Pretty Does: It's an old-fashioned saying. Chaucer first used it in speaking of men: Handsome is as handsome does. (And this is certainly true as well!) What it means is that you could be quite beautiful on the outside, and quite ugly on the inside. That just because you are good-looking, doesn't necessarily mean you are a good person. Beauty and good looks will eventually fade. The person you are inside will not, so cultivate your inner beauty. And don't be side-tracked by the attention your external beauty receives. In other words, it's great that the boy at the track meet thinks you're pretty, but don't stop pursuing the prettiness of your own heart and character.

I've been privileged to see this play out right before my eyes on numerous occasions, but one stands out. Robert and I were at a weekend conference. Somehow we got seated with the keynote speaker and his wife. She was beautiful. I was mesmerized by her beauty. An older woman, but striking. Is it weird that I notice the beauty of women more than the attractiveness of men?  Well, I do. Honestly, I think many women do. Anyway, it was a very nice, white tablecloth affair and eventually most of us around the table had sipped on our water glasses until they were empty. The table was large and there was a pitcher of water in the middle.  Just as I pondered how to go about getting that pitcher for a refill, the woman got up, gracefully took the water pitcher from the table and proceeded to walk around the entire table filling each one of our water glasses.  She was the beautiful guest of honor, and yet it did not prevent her from serving the rest of us. That's true beauty.

Kayla, you are naturally pretty.  Now, do pretty.

And now, Robert and I are off to that Western Mass Track meet which our very pretty and pretty fast daughter qualified for.  Have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

He Asked For Her Number: Part One

It was several years ago that we were alone in her new kitchen unpacking boxes and talking like only sisters can, when I knew I needed to ask her a question. The divorce papers had been filed, and she had moved to a new town, gotten a new job, and moved into a new house. We'd registered the kids for their new schools and put new shelves in the pantry closet, but there was one new thing I thought she might not have considered yet.

A bit hesitantly, I threw it out there: "What are you going to do when someone asks you out on a date?"

She'll admit even today that the question sort of stopped her in her tracks.  Indeed, it was a new thing she had not yet considered. In fact, I really don't think she thought it would happen anytime soon and she tried to brush it off as unlikely.

I tried to point out the obvious: "But, you're beautiful. You're kind and compassionate. You're fun. You're creative and intelligent. It's going to happen, and you need to be prepared for that moment."

She tucked it away, and I was vindicated when a stranger walked up to her at the Central Market sushi case and asked her out not too long afterward. A complete stranger. Maybe one of his criteria for soul mate was "must love sushi," but my guess is that she could have been in line at Taco Bell and the same thing would have happened.

Fast forward a few years from that moment to this month. This time we weren't in a new kitchen, we were at an away track meet. This time it wasn't my sister, it was my daughter. And this time my foresight in asking preparatory, probing questions was missing. Or maybe I've just been in denial.

We noticed the guys from the other high school hanging around our daughter and some of the girls on her relay team at the meet a couple of weeks ago. Actually, Robert noticed it sooner than I did. When I saw them, I simply thought "What nice, friendly boys. How refreshing." I think I might have even chalked it up to good sportsmanship.  You know, congratulating the other team and stuff.

Those were not my husband's thoughts, of course. And honestly, I don't know what happened to my "shrewd as a snake" instincts, because typically, I am the suspicious one, the discerning one, the skeptical one. I can usually size up a person or a situation in moments, and know exactly what's up, but not this time.

I didn't think about it another minute, until we picked Kayla up back at the high school, and took her to eat at her favorite downtown burger restaurant. She had gotten a PR in the 100 meter dash and qualified for the Western Mass meet, so a celebration seemed appropriate. While enjoying our burgers and bottomless fries, she casually mentioned that one of those guys had asked for her number. Others had overheard and she received some friendly teasing from her teammates on the bus ride back to town.

"What did you say to him?" we asked.

She had given him a smile and a polite "no." And then lied and said she didn't even have a phone, which he knew wasn't true, which then probably landed him some friendly teasing.

We sort of laughed about it for a few minutes, but I didn't sleep much that night.

We have spent a TON of time talking to our kids or reading books about sex, dating, male/female relationships, marriage, etc. Just ask them. They will probably roll their eyes in acknowledgment. So, it's not like we weren't expecting this or preparing them for this, but somehow I was caught off guard, and the incident had me awake grieving something like a loss of innocence in my little girl. My little girl who will be 16 in two short months.

Physical beauty. The attention of men - good and bad. Attraction. Romance. All these things swirling through my head and dreams all night long. Why hadn't I thought to ask my teenaged daughter the same question I'd asked my grown-up sister: What would she do if someone asked her out, or asked for her number? She's almost 16. She's beautiful. She's kind and compassionate.  She's a ton of fun.  She's creative and intelligent. It's bound to happen and she needs to be ready for it.

The problem was that I wasn't ready for it.

I mean, she's homeschooled and she has limited exposure to guys her age. (Running for the high school track team has brought plenty of exposure to all kinds of sexual things though, believe me.) But that's the thing. The quantity of exposure doesn't matter. Men are men. They are created to be attracted to feminine beauty. It's a gift of the Creator Himself, and it's a very good one. Unfortunately, the fall of man and the entry of sin into the world make this a very complicated thing. So, how do I help her navigate this very good thing that can possibly turn into a very bad thing in a heartbeat?

Just a few days ago she was on a walk with a friend and two guys in a truck passed by shouting their approval and a hearty hello. It's just inevitable, and I know it from her experiences, from mine, and from the tell-tale coffee dates with hundreds of young women throughout the years. My denial can no longer be an excuse for putting these conversations off with my own little girl. She is still my little girl though she hovers over me by about 4 inches now.

What do I want my daughter to know so that she will be well-equipped to handle herself in future situations which may not be as easy or friendly? How can I encourage her to maintain the humble confidence which is already in her? An ability to receive attention or compliments, but to keep focused on Christ and wait patiently for His perfect timing and for the right man? How can I help her enjoy friendships and relationships with young men, but protect both her heart and her body?

I truly think she's fairly well-equipped and mature already. She amazes me with her wisdom and understanding many days. But even the best of us fall into traps again and again. And it's not always the end of the world, but sometimes it's close.

The biblical gender role dance is so exciting and beautiful, and illustrates the gospel itself. Christ and His bride. The strong and sacrificial lover and the chosen and cherished beloved. This is what I want for her even though I know it will never be perfect.

So, I've thought of a few things to say to her since the track meet incident, and I'm hoping to write them down here in the next day or so.  Stay tuned. And feel free to send me your own thoughts and ideas in the mean time.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Will You Forget Me Forever?

The assignment was to memorize Psalm 13:1-2.  And 1 Corinthians 10:13 too, but I sort of knew that one already.  So Psalm 13 is where I turned first.

How long, O Lord?
Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
v. 1-2

The assignment was given by a pastor we've had the privilege of meeting with twice a month to talk through ministry, marriage, and parenting challenges. These meetings have been a gift of grace. Who knew there was a colleague nearby who was gifted and trained to come alongside of us for encouragement, wisdom, and support? We would now consider him a friend - a friend unafraid to step into the challenging role of mentor and counselor. We're planning on a near-future double date with he and his wife. That's how encouraging it has been.

But difficult, too, as you can imagine, and as the assignment reveals.

So, I started memorizing.  I said them aloud and copied down the verses to get them in my head and in my heart. The memorizing was not difficult.  I even decided not to stop at verse 2 (and on a fairly sad note), since the lines were coming so easily. Like a familiar cadence, the words and stanzas seemed oddly second nature.

Today I realized why.

I have the week off from teaching my 10th-ish graders today at Classical Conversations. When we plan the teaching schedule for the year during the summer months, I always advocate (beg?) for taking a break the week after Easter rather than the week of Easter.  Holy Week is so wonderful ~ my favorite week of the year ~ but also very full. I'd rather teach that week, packing in one more thing, and then take a true breather from teaching and extra church activity the week afterward.

So today, the day I would have been teaching, I've spent the morning reading God's word, praying, and reflecting. I even re-read my entire current journal which began in September. Not at all riveting, it was six months of what seem to be the exact same cries, pleas, and prayers for renewal, healing, restoration, and hope. John Piper says that the one thing that causes him to question the existence of God is the slowness of his own sanctification and victory over sin. I'm not sure that would be my first answer (I am, sadly, not that godly in my perspective), but his response is certainly confirmed in the pages of my own journal. Sanctification and the putting off of sin are slow in my life.

I have friends who burn their journals when they finish filling one up. And though I love archiving, I guess I can understand that somewhat. I just can't bring myself to do it yet, and don't know that I ever will be. So, for those who may read them in the future, here's a warning: Each one is simply more of the same. (Honestly, there is probably more regress that progress.)

When I got to the October 15th entry of my current journal, there was Psalm 13.  I had written out each stanza with my own prayers interspersed.

I remember it now. On October 14 of this past fall, I was driving to meet a friend for lunch an hour away. The tears had been brimming since I'd awoken that morning, and in an attempt to not spill them all over her during our Panera Bread lunch, I plugged my phone into the auxiliary cord and found the Psalms on my Bible App.  (Taylor Swift does not do the trick in moments like those.) Psalm 1-13 played aloud in the minivan as I drove along Rt. 2 headed for Eastern MA. After Psalm 13, I just hit repeat over and over.

Consider me and answer me, O Lord my God.
Enlighten my eyes or I will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say "I have overcome him,"
and my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken.
v. 3-4

The words of David echoed my own longings and frustrations, and yet the gratitude of my own heart as well. I must have replayed it a dozen times.  No wonder it seemed such a familiar rhythm this spring. No wonder the memorizing came without effort. It was already there.

Five months ago, God had, unbeknownst to me, filled my heart and mind with a prayer that He would use in a very specific way this month.  A Psalm which He would literally assign me to memorize as a way to properly respond to the challenges at hand.

But I have trusted in your lovingkindness
My heart shall rejoice in your salvation
I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me.
v. 5-6

If this isn't proof that He deals bountifully with me, I don't know what is. His seemingly harsh dealings with me were exactly what I was tearful about, and yet there He was providing the words to pray in such a situation. And then reminding me of it today.

No, He has not forgotten me.  (I really thought He might have.)

Yes, He has answered me and prevented the death of my hope and faith. (Not in the removal of the pain, but in the way through it.)

I can trust.

I can even rejoice.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Wonderful Women Of My Week

Last year's women's retreat.  Don't think we'll be playing broom hockey on the frozen lake this year. 
Yesterday at church, I gave an announcement about our upcoming women's retreat. (April 15-17th. You should come!) I love planning for this event each year. I love helping to provide the opportunity for fellowship, good biblical content, and a refreshingly fun time away for the women of my church (and now three other churches as well). It got me thinking about how much I love the women of my church as well as how thankful I am for the other women God has so specifically and generously placed in my life, which then got me thinking about the week-full of women that led up to yesterday.

It really was FULL.  Just take a look. 
MONDAY: This is Sarah, and I only really met her last Thursday. (Technically, I met her about four years ago at a Chili's in Ft. Worth, but that was too quick to count.) I said goodbye to Sarah and her husband Christian on Tuesday morning after spending much of the extended weekend with them ~ even went to Worcester and Boston with them all day Friday.  Robert took them to Vermont all day Monday, and then they were back here for dinner Monday night. They were here checking out the church planting scene and trying to discern a call to ministry in this part of the country. Sarah homeschools four children ages six to twelve and works part time at her church organizing the children's ministry there. Full of life and faith and spunk and practical wisdom, it was so good to laugh together and share background and ministry experiences with her. Don't tell her, but I'm hoping and praying that they come to live in Massachusetts for good.
TUESDAY MORNING: I teach at Classical Conversations all day Tuesday, but sometime early in the day I got a text from my longtime friend Shemaiah. (Not the best pic, sorry.  Had to take a pic of a pic.) We keep in fairly constant contact and prayer this way, especially lately, as the Lord has her on one of the most difficult journeys of her life so far.  It involves a very sick husband (also a longtime and dear friend) who's been in and out of the hospital more times than any of us can count at this point (actually, Shemaiah probably knows the count), and an adoption process that is quite tenuous and extremely emotional. I don't know if there is anyone in my life whom God has entrusted with the amount of trial and suffering this godly friend has carried, but she does it with great faith and strength. She is a constant reminder to me of God's power, sovereignty, and intimate involvement in our lives, and she has been since she was a freshman at Oklahoma State University (which was a LONG time ago).
 TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Our typical routine after Classical Conversations is to take all of our teens to Barnes and Noble for coffee drinks and socializing. (Sometimes I think my homeschooler has way too much socializing.  I can hardly keep up.) Lately though, they've been practicing for a Shakespeare play and have to stay at the church where we meet until after 6pm. That meant that my friend Deb and I could have a Barnes and Noble date by ourselves. I love catching up with Deb and appreciate so much her listening ear and her faithfulness to pray for me ~ always following up and even letting me know how the Lord is leading her to pray specifically.  This particular coffee date really helped me to process a couple of recent struggles, and I'm especially thankful for Deb's gentle, godly wisdom, as well as her willingness to share her own struggles.
Here's Deb again as well as four other WONDERFUL women I get to interact with on a weekly basis.
WEDNESDAY: This is Lizzie.  She's a sophomore at Smith College. (I could be her mom.) Lizzie goes to my church and comes to our Sunday lunch/afternoon discipleship group. Several Sunday mornings ago, I said this to Robert: "I'd really love to start going over to Smith and hanging out with Lizzie and maybe a few of the other girls." Fast forward a few hours, and Lizzie was standing in my kitchen after our small group asking if I might have some time to meet with her in the coming weeks. No doubt that the Lord worked that one out. This past Wednesday we planned to meet at the cafe we had met at previously, but then she texted and suggested getting ice cream at Herrell's since it was nearly 80 degrees. Perfect!  The line was long, so we opted for bubble tea and frozen yogurt down the street, and had a great conversation about her time at a political convention over the weekend, school, family dynamics, God, the Bible, boys, and marriage.  Lizzie is brilliant and brave, and earnestly seeking to grow in Christ.  What a joy to be with her.
 THURSDAY EARLY MORNING: You probably already guessed that Betsy would show up in this list.  We have a run-five-miles-every-Thursday-morning-date. (Well, except for the six Thursdays of winter that we carpool to snow ski in Vermont for a ski school program.) We pack in all of our catching up for the week in this hour of running and driveway chatting, and I love it. Betsy's faith and joy are contagious, and a Thursday never goes by that she doesn't share with me what she's reading in her Bible or praying about, wrestling through, and confessing. This enables me to freely share the same things.  I don't know about you, but this doesn't always happen naturally in friendships with other women.  I'm so thankful she paved the way for this type of authenticity.
Betsy and I have had lots of adventures together, from half-marathons, to White Mountain Backpacking Trips (Yikes), to cross country skiing, to downhill skiing, to soccer games, and basketball games, graduations, and weddings of children. I'm so, so thankful that she's a regular part of my week.
THURSDAY MID MORNING:  Ran home from Betsy's, took a shower, checked in with Kayla on schoolwork, and headed to Gardner for a late breakfast with Christina who is a fellow pastor's wife. (She is also the worship director at her church and the mom of two grown sons.) I got to hear about her recent trip to Rwanda to work with pastors and wives and their churches there.  She brought me Rwandan coffee and shared about the spiritual warfare that seemed evident on their trip overseas as well as the reality of it in their church recently. And not only the battles, but the victories, too. It helps me so much to hear her stories and gives me a more realistic perspective on church ministry. Christina is a deep thinker and full of compassion. She has been a constant and intentional encourager to me through the years (emails and texts and phone calls), and Robert and I have both been helped by Christina and her husband Neal's friendship and godly counsel lately.
FRIDAY: Lauralee and I have been trying to make a lunch date work for about a year now, and we finally accomplished it on Friday. I first met Lauralee just after Kayla (who is about to turn 16) was born and she brought over a meal and a hand painted (by her!) t-shirt as a gift. I didn't even know her! We were new to MA, and the church we attended while planting ours graciously ministered to us by providing a couple of weeks worth of meals once we got home from the hospital with baby #3. Just knowing this about Lauralee should tell you what a kind and compassionate woman she is. Recently, she and her family became members of our church, and so we have re-connected. Lauralee loves the Lord and young people so much. You can usually find her participating in some crazy Young Life skit or mission trip, cheering on teenagers (who are not even her own, but don't tell her that) at their sporting events, or shedding tears over God's goodness and work in other people's lives. We had a heart to heart about life and marriage and parenting over salads at Panera Bread.  Such a sweet time.
SATURDAY: Kayla had play practice until 6pm on Saturday evening. I picked her up and we drove straight to Wilbraham, so that we could spend the evening with one of her best friends, Mary, and one of mine, Izckra ~ Mary's mom. This is just the perfect arrangement. Really. Both moms and both daughters love each other dearly and have for over 12 years. We all went out together for my birthday last month. So fun. Saturday night Kayla and Mary ate pizza at home, baked cookies, and watched a movie while Izckra and I spent about two and a half hours at a local restaurant trying to catch up on each other's lives as best as we could. Izckra is one of the wisest, strongest women I know. And joyful. Her spirits are always up and her eyes are always on Christ even in the most difficult times. I treasure time with her so much.

Now that I've finished telling you about all of these wonderful women, I almost feel guilty. Women are not always easy to relate with, and yet so much of my week was spent being encouraged by women who are full of life and wisdom.  Women who love me for who I really am. Women who love their Lord with their whole lives. Women who are so gifted and so committed to their work, studies, husbands, children, churches. Women who make me want to grow in grace and surrender to the Spirit's work in my life. Women who challenge and sharpen me.

And this was just one week. I didn't even get to mention Kayla (my own daughter is a huge blessing and example to me), or Sarah, or Karla, or Aimee, or Amy, or Chris, or Christie, or Jenna, or Jenn, or Katie, or Kelly, or Kim, or Yvette, or Sherri, or Nichelle, or Rachel, or Rayna, or Molly, or Becky, or Deborah, or Mandie, or Melissa, or Mariah, or Melinda, or Laurie, or Romy, or Lois, or Cindy, or Isabelle or a hundred others, really.

Wonderful women from a recent summer small group.
Some weeks it's more giving than receiving, more ministry than friendship (not this week though!), but really, no matter what, I always receive something in the spending of time with women. God knows my desperate need, and He's provided so generously. Today, I'm thanking Him for the gift of many friendships with incredible women.

And I'm praying that our upcoming women's retreat fosters both intimacy with Christ and with other women.  We have so far to grow in Him and so much to gain from each other in that process.

P.S. Listing all of these women makes me think I should feature one per week on a more in-depth level.  What do you think? That would take me quite a while ~ years actually ~ but it would be really fun. If I did feature a woman per week, what questions would you want her to answer? What things would you like to know?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Only 3.2 Chapters A Day

Last weekend Kayla, her friend Mary, and I got to go to YEC ~ the Youth Encountering Christ conference. It's our denomination's winter teen conference and this was the 35th anniversary. I've dropped kids off there before and picked them up again, but I've never stayed for the whole weekend.  This time I stayed, and I'm so glad I did.
With staff, students, and chaperones, there were nearly 900 people gathered around the theme: He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30) Since it was a big anniversary year, everyone on stage speaking or leading worship was an alumnus of the conference, meaning they had attended as a teenager at some point or possibly every year of middle and high school and then some. (The sound tech beat us all with 35 years of perfect attendance!)
I had the privilege of leading a little breakout session twice on Saturday afternoon called "My Daily Dose: What happens when you read the Bible every day." It was sort of a last minute thing, I didn't really know the exact description of it till the day before, and I was pretty sure it wouldn't be a very popular session, but it turned out to be such a fun time interacting with teens (and their chaperones) about God's Word. 

And I got to make posters, so that was icing on the cake.

The top poster is probably my favorite, artistically speaking (Like my sword?), but this next verse is my favorite of the ones I chose to encourage them that reading God's Word every day draws us close to Him, and accomplishes great things in our hearts and lives ~ guaranteed.

The last half of the session was a bit interactive, as I asked the students to share ways they have learned to incorporate daily Bible reading into their lives.  I don't think I was expecting much of a response.  In fact, I was prepared to give them several tips and ideas for how to do this, but they surprised me in the cutest ways.

A 7th grade girl raised her hand and said she reads two chapters of the New Testament and one chapter of Proverbs every morning, because Proverbs has 31 chapters, so in one month, you finish the whole thing!

So excited and earnest.

A senior boy said he read two chapters of the Old and New Testaments every night before bed, and had recently started taking his Bible to school and finding time to read it once or twice during the day. He used to worry what his friends would think, but not really anymore.

So committed and brave.

And here's the response that got me laughing out loud:

Tiny 7th Grade Girl (twin of the first one!): I read 4 chapters of the Bible a day, because that way I can finish the whole Bible every year.

Me: Wow!  That's great. I don't think I knew that four chapters a day would mean finishing the whole thing in a year.  Thanks for that piece of info!

Me (to the whole group): What if you miss a day or two?  Should you feel bad about that? 

Tiny 7th Grade Girl: No! Because really, it's not 4 chapters. It's 3.5.  So, if you miss a day or two, you'll still finish the Bible in a year.

(Which is NOT what I was getting at, of course!)

Me: Oh!  So, if you go ahead and try to read 4 chapters a day, but then you miss a few days, you'll still finish the Bible in a year?

Tiny 7th Grade Girl: Yes

Me: Got it. Good to know! Thank you!

7th Grade Girl: Actually...

Me: What?

Tiny 7th grade girl: Well,'s 3.2, but I really don't like rounding down.

Me: (cracking up) Are you a statistician?  A mathematician?

Oh my goodness.  Both groups (of about 30 each) were so cute.  The 7th grade twins' mom was in the back of the room. They approached me afterward to thank me for the session and one of her 7th grade daughters gave me a hug and told me how much she LOVED learning about the Bible in our time together.

Pretty sure I loved the time more.

3.2 chapters, friends.  I think we can all manage that.