Monday, June 13, 2016

Speaking of Heartbreak...and Our Only Hope

 Last week I wrote about being heartbroken over good men losing jobs over situations seemingly out of their control. I remain heavy hearted about that to be sure, but yesterday brought on a different sort of heartbreak. I didn't cry or lose sleep over godly men having to make tough sacrifices last week, but I did shed tears over the loss of 50 lives in Florida yesterday, and I woke up this morning having tossed and dreamt about it and related issues all night long. How does life go on here when lives have been shattered not far away? And more lives in one shooting than ever before in history?

Sunday morning was a typical one. Robert and I are up early, and while he gets ready, I make a big breakfast before he and Kayla leave for early service preparation. (He leads and prays with the troops and Kayla fills communion cups) As they were about to walk out the door, I checked Facebook on my phone and saw a couple of the first reports of the shooting in Orlando. I mentioned to Robert that 20 had been killed. We turned on the news for a few minutes while waiting for our almost-16-year-old to make her way downstairs. It was breaking news, and it was bad. 2am. A nightclub. 20 dead and 40 injured. Negotiations. SWAT team.

It felt like I was watching an episode of Blue Bloods (our current indulgence), but these were not actors. They were the real life Jamie, Danny, and Frank Reagans. Local law enforcement having to deal with horror and tragedy, only this one didn't get nicely tied up in the end.

Cooper and I went to church in time for the first service and enjoyed the guest preacher, as our preacher still doesn't have his voice back 100%. We came home with Kayla, had lunch together, and I waited for Robert to arrive home after service number two. As soon as he got home, we left for the first of two back-to-back graduation parties. It was at the first party that I learned the new death toll.

"Did you guys hear about the shooting?" my friend Betsy asked.
"Yes, so terrible. 20 dead and so many more injured," I replied.
Our mutual friend Stacey corrected me, "It's actually 50 now. 50 people dead and almost that many injured."

Heartbreak. In the midst of the joyful milestone celebration of a graduate you've known his whole life. How do you reconcile these things?

On the way to party number two, I told Robert the news, "Honey, the shooter killed 50 people, not just 20."

Is 50 a shocking number? I wasn't even putting it together that it's almost double the amount of lives lost at the Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut. As if the numbers matter. Even one life is too many, but 26? 32 in Virginia? And now 50?

It wasn't until we got home after 5pm that the news stated it loud and clear:

Deadliest mass shooting in U.S. History.

I had to drive Kayla to meet Cooper for youth group at a sister church soon after we got home. On the way, I explained it to her: "Deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, honey."

In the ten minutes we had together, we talked about our relief that it was not someone claiming to be a Christian (this time), and about how we are called to love our neighbor regardless of religious and worldview and lifestyle differences. That these were human beings. They were creations of a good and loving Father in our view, and therefore their lives are precious.

But we also talked about shootings in general and the disturbing status quo nature of other widespread violence and hatred and persecution and intolerance - of which Christians are increasingly a target in the U.S. but even more so globally.

A text I received from my brother yesterday in the midst of all of this illustrates a trend:

"The elders of our church asked our pastor to resign this week due to his change in belief regarding marriage being between one man and one woman."

I applaud those elders for their devotion to God's Word, but there are few others joining in that applause. The cultural pressure for Christians to abandon God's Word and reject His will for marriage and sexuality is great, and I worry about the increasing pressure on my kids as they become adults. Holding to faith can be difficult enough.  Holding to what many consider to be a "hateful" stance feels almost impossible for anyone with a heart or ounce of compassion.

So, Kayla and I talked about love. Loving people without conditions. Having appropriate expectations of those who don't believe God the same way we do. Being a good neighbor to all who are created in His image no matter what.

And we also talked about our only Hope.

If you can get shot in your elementary school, or your local movie theater, or your dorm, or shopping mall, you can also get killed in your worship service, at your church picnic, or on your mission trip. It could happen at random, or it could be due to your faith and belief. Really, it can happen anywhere to anyone. This is the world we live in, and it could get much, much worse. And I don't believe in a rapture out of tribulation. And Jesus warns us of times like these. And no, I'm not forecasting the end of all things here, but there any way to be prepared? What do I teach my kids?

Just this, I think:

"If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master,' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me." John 15: 18-25

Trial and persecution will come.
Suffering is a given.
You might be hated and accused of hatred.
Know that Christ can be trusted.
Walk with Him. Learn Him. Cling to Him.
Cast your fears on Him.
Surrender to His good and perfect will.
Know He is sovereign over all.

Death is not final for those who trust in Christ.
We value our life, but we are also ready to lay it down.

He is our healing in heartbreak.
He is our hope in death.

These are the things I want my kids to know, to hold fast to. (And realities I forget daily, and need to be reminded of, too.)

It was on the way home from dropping her off and having this conversations that the emotions of the day caught up with me and the tears came suddenly.

May tragedies like this serve to shore up the faith of my children. May they be strengthened to stand for Christ with both grace and truth. (Which is so much more difficult than adopting the cultural changes and trends and world views.)

May the many in Florida and beyond find hope in Christ in spite of the current horror and devastation. May He provide abundant grace for those who are grieving and left behind.  And may Christians be the first to stand up and call the tragedy exactly what it is, offering help and hope. These were our neighbors. These are our neighbors.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Will Chip Gaines be Next? (or Leadership is Lonely)

Robert and I had lunch together at our picnic table one day this week. Poor guy has been sick for over a week and has had laryngitis for six days now, so it was good to sit in the sunshine for a while, eating and chatting, which was a bit one sided, since he literally can't speak. Well, he can whisper, but even that is labored.

I was feeling so heavy hearted, because right before we walked outside I had read that Baylor's president resigned. This was only a couple of days after I read that Baylor's athletic director resigned. Two good men. Two men of integrity. One of whom I have known personally for about 15 years.  The other I have met in person and had a very special and meaningful conversation with.

"Chip Gaines will be next," I said, and the man without a voice choked out a laugh.

"No, I'm serious. I mean, as long as we're creating an atmosphere where upstanding men who love their university, and their town, and their jobs, and their God and have accomplished SO MUCH GOOD feel that they must resign, then surely Chip will be the next to go down. It only makes sense. And then at my funeral, you can tell everyone that I died of a broken heart, because that will be the final straw."

It may sound dramatic, but my true sentiments have not been far off. My heart is truly broken.

I think Robert whispered something about Jesus being worthy of life and worship beyond the Baylor scandal, and that He is sovereign over this whole thing anyway, but it honestly wasn't helping in that particular moment.

Apologies if you have no idea who I'm talking about, but I can't get this thing off my mind, and writing somehow helps remedy that. I would tell you to Google it, but I can tell you for certain that THAT will not give you an accurate account. I've even put off writing for a few days, because I know that "A tranquil heart gives life to the body, but passion is rottenness to the bones" (Proverbs 14:30) Believe me when I tell you that this passionate ISTJ has to use that verse often to pray and talk herself down.

Back in March this happened:

What I didn't mention in that Facebook post was that after the Vice President asked Kory what the Baylor administration could do better going forward and how students could be best reached with important information about protecting themselves and reporting incidents of sexual assault safely, Kory didn't answer right away.

Because he too has experienced the sting of criticism in the face of faithful leadership, Kory felt compelled to thank the man for his leadership on Baylor's campus. He told him how much he loves his school and how much the atmosphere on campus has caused him to grow as a student, a leader, a man, and above all, a Christian. He credited much of that to this man and to Baylor's president, Judge Ken Starr.

Can you guess what happened next? 

Those of you who have been in a similar situation might know exactly what happened next. Those of you who have been blamed for things you weren't directly involved in with no recourse. Those who've had your sincere efforts to lead people to growth and betterment rejected or mocked. Those who have had to make difficult decisions that outsiders would simply never understand, but which you could not defend or explain in order to protect others. Those of you who don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Those of you who serve faithfully, unnoticed and unappreciated because you love your Lord.

The man wept.

That's right. Tears streaming down his face. 

Probably tears of a release from stress for at least a few moments. Tears of gratitude. Tears of relief that at least one student acknowledged the difficulty of the job and appreciated it.

Do I believe some terrible things happened to young women at Baylor? Yes. Do I think justice should be done? Yes. Do I think similar and worse things have happened on other campuses? Oh, I KNOW they have. I've talked to the women myself. Do I think that many women put themselves at risk in romantic relationships? Absolutely. MUCH of the time in fact. (Again, I've spoken with them and heard the stories. They initiated things. They went to guys' apartments/dorm rooms/homes and took their clothes off, at times even when the guys could take them or leave them.) Am I blaming the women? Yes. Am I blaming the men? Yes. Do I think that even until the last possible moment the woman should be able to have her "no" honored? Yes. Have I watched the "Tea Consent" video? Yes. (I love it!) Do I think it's stupid for women to go alone, at night, to a guy's apartment, have a few drinks, and take her clothes off? Yes. Do I think the guy is still responsible if she does? Yes. Do I think some women lie? Yes. Do I think some men are violent, abusive, and narcissistic? Yes. Do I think leaders, coaches, bosses are sometimes at a loss and make mistakes that further harm the victims? Yes.

Would I enjoy trying to sort through all of these things as an administrator on the campus of a Christian University who happens to be winning a lot of football games and has a president who vigorously investigated a former president for sexual misconduct? No.

(Do I know that some of you reading this despise him and think him "one of the monumental sleazeballs of our era"? Yes. But I happen to like him. I wrote about meeting him here.)

Do I think Baylor is the perfect target for a scandal and media smear campaign? Yes.

Once, way back in our Texas youth ministry days, we took teenagers on a retreat which included a ropes course component. It was a faith-building and team building exercise, but one kid refused to participate.  Way too cool to climb up a telephone pole or walk a tightrope or jump for a trapeze or zip line to the next element, he sat on the ground and watched his peers try and do scary and seemingly impossible things.

But he didn't only sit and observe. He mocked. He laughed. He ridiculed the other teens when they expressed fear, slipped and fell, dangled from their harnesses, etc.

The youth pastor (a.k.a. Robert) said something like this: "Must be a nice view from the cheap seats."

But I get it. The captain goes down with the ship. It happened on their watch. Having authority implies accountability.

Kory interviewed Ian McCaw for a Leadership Night at Baylor. If anyone has modeled humble
 leadership and encouraged Kory's love for leadership aside from Robert, it's Ian.

I just think we ought to have a little more respect for those risking responsibility and stop scoffing at things we really don't know a whole lot about. Can we humble ourselves for a few moments and consider what it is like to be in those shoes?

I just hope none of the thousands of Magnolia employees ever do anything wrong in their own homes or interpersonal relationships and that Chip misses the email about it, because he's busy trying to lead a business and family. But you know what? That might happen. And the headlines might fly. And the columnists might rake him and his sweet family over the coals. And no one will really get down to brass tack truth, because we'd rather believe the lies. And the good and funny and beneficial things he's done might be forgotten in the blink of an eye. And then, if I survive this week, I really might die of a broken heart.

Monday, May 30, 2016

He Asked For Her Number: Part Five

It was probably about ten or eleven years ago that a kind, well-meaning older woman asked Kayla, who was about five or six years old at the time, what her favorite Christmas Carol was.

"Baby, It's Cold Outside," was her cute, but unfortunate reply.

By definition, a Christmas carol is a "song whose lyrics are on the theme of Christmas," and so Dean Martin's catchy version does not exactly qualify, but Kayla's choice was really my own fault.

A few years prior to the Christmas Carol question, I had read a book called A Return to Modesty. It was on the sidewalk clearance table of a downtown bookstore. Intrigued, I bought it, and soon found out why it made its way to the discard pile so quickly. The author challenges feminist notions regarding the unqualified equalization of men and women, and among other intriguing topics, suggests that there is a correlation between the rise in feminist teaching and the rise in the abuse, assault and rape of women. And though her argument is quite well-documented and compelling, this is not a town that tolerates that type of conservative logic (though embracing "tolerance and diversity" is its self-deemed claim to fame), and so the book had a big red clearance sticker on it just months after its publication. They may have given it to me for free now that I think of it.

A Return to Modesty is where I first heard of the song "Baby, It's Cold Outside." The Jewish author, Wendy Shalit, uses it to illustrate a shift in the culture of dating and the protective devices which a woman used to have at her disposal. It's a bit of a long quote, but here's the excerpt in which this is explained:

"To appreciate the peculiar bind of a nineties girl who wants to say no to sex, first consider the 1948 song, "Baby, It's Cold Outside," by Frank Loesser. In this fuguelike tune, a woman, "the mouse," begins each phrase, and her suitor, "the wolf," chimes in relentlessly, but sweetly, behind her. The man has a hundred reasons why his date should not "hold out" - including, but not limited to, the fact that it is very cold outside. If his poor date were to leave, argues our Wolf, she would freeze, catch pneumonia and die. That, of course, would cause him "lifelong sorrow." If she allowed him to "move in closer," on the other hand, then they would both be nice and warm.  Our Mouse has her own reasons for begging off, which she scatters between his invitations:

My mother will start to worry...and Father will be pacing the floor...the neighbors might sister will be brother will be there at the maiden aunt's mind is vicious...there's bound to be talk least there will be plenty implied.

Now this song is very stereotypical because certainly not all men are hungry wolves and not all women are reticent mice. Indeed, I've known quite a few hungry women and mousey men. However, the simple fact remains that a young woman in 1948 had a hundred and one reasons to say no to sex, if she wanted to say no, and those reasons were credible. The story we are told today is that all these reasons, such as a father waiting up for you, were oppressive to women. And yet in their absence we can appreciate how an earlier generation of girls was made powerful by them. A father waiting up for his daughter gave her room to stand on." 
(Chapter 3: The Fallout)

After reading this, I wanted to hear the song. It happened to be Christmastime, and I was shopping at our local mall which happened to have a music store - records, CD's, and stereos - oh my! This was well before iTunes, Pandora, and Spotify. I even had to ask an employee if they had heard of the song and help me find a CD that included it. "Christmas With The Rat Pack" is the one he found, and it became a new family favorite.  Kayla and I still love to listen to the Dean Martin Pandora station while baking Christmas cookies each December. And while it does include traditional Christmas carols or hymns (you know, about the God made flesh, etc), "Baby, It's Cold Outside" was the one which stuck in my little five year old's mind. Sigh...

Kayla's response may have been a bit embarrassing for me at the time, but maybe it's not all that disappointing. Maybe it's helpful to have those lyrics in mind which reflect a time not so long ago in which there was accountability, responsibility, family unity, and an involved (even nosy) local community. Maybe it's good and right that a father waits up for his daughter, meeting the eyes and shaking the hand of the man who brought her home. Maybe it's good for the young man to know there is someone who is dedicated to protecting both the body and the heart of the young woman he takes out on a date. Maybe he should even have that father's permission to do so.

You might think it's sexist and patriarchal to send the boy to Dad rather than Mom, but just check the research on father-daughter relationships. Mom could be the most perfectly loving and supportive woman a girl (or boy) could ever hope to have in her (or his)  life, but if Dad isn't all those same things, it really doesn't matter as much how loving and supportive Mom is.

So, the fifth thing I want Kayla to know is that, for the young men who want to spend time with her...

5. Permission should be requested.

I'm not sure why this seems like such a crazy thing to require these days, but it IS crazy I'm told.  I'm not sure when we gave teens so much authority and autonomy or when we decided they have the maturity to always make wise decisions about dating. Can we not remember our own need for direction and protection? I love and trust the teens in my house very much, but the truth is they still make really foolish decisions and have extremely faulty logic. As much as they may hate it, it's our responsibility to guide them and place protective boundaries in their lives while they are in our home and even beyond, if they will allow it.

So, I want my daughter to give the boy her dad's number instead of hers. That's right. It's not a fool-proof sifting method for worthy men, of course, but it's a good start at protecting her from unnecessary heartbreak and harm.

We made our boys do this. Want to take a girl to prom? Okay, great!  First you'll need to call her dad and ask him if you can. Want to pursue a dating relationship with a young woman? That's fine. But, you'll need to ask her parents' permission.

One young husband in our church loves to tell how grateful he is that his wife's father took such and interest in him and really ended up discipling him in Christ and modeling how to be a godly husband.

(Here's a great article on that very topic.)

We want our boys to know they are a steward of someone else's treasure. We want them aware that they are accountable for how they care for not only the daughter of a human father, but even more importantly, the daughter of a Heavenly Father. She will not be his for selfish and destructive purposes. She first belongs to someone else and may not ultimately belong to him as a wife. In fact it's likely that she will be someone else's wife someday. We hope they will be sober about that reality, and that it will encourage them to greatly value and care for the woman they are interested in spending time with.

And we want any young man interested in our precious daughter to know the same.

It's what God requires of husbands. Would the requirements for boyfriends be any less?

 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself: for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.
Ephesians 2: 25-30

The End.

(Except that I have about a million more thoughts on each of these things.)

(And I highly recommend A Return To Modesty as well as, Authentic Beauty, Emotional Purity, Sex and the Soul of a Woman, The Mark of a Man, and Let Me Be A Woman.)

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. (RouĂ©: 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.