Some Suggestions for #GivingTuesday and Beyond

When the holiday season rolls around and minds wander to gift lists and shopping trips, I know a lot of us also consider an extra boost in our charitable giving. I worked in the non-profit sector for 11 years. My husband has worked in the sector for over 9. My parents are on a missionary salary. And one of my brothers is a pastor. So, heck, I don’t care if the only reason you’re giving is for a tax deduction. I know that nonprofits depend on your giving and I’d like to encourage you to give more this season.

Tomorrow (November 28) is #GivingTuesday, a global day of charitable giving organized in response to Black Friday, Shop Local Saturday, Cyber Monday, etc. Nonprofits all over the world are making a push for your donations and, if the projections are correct, giving tomorrow will be enormous.

Whether you donate tomorrow or not, I’d like to offer a few organizations that my family loves, supports, and would suggest for your end-of-year donation.

Local (Cincinnati) and National Organizations-

Habitat for Humanity of Greater Cincinnati a non-profit Christian housing ministry that seeks to eliminate substandard housing locally and globally by building and renovating simple, decent, affordable homes to sell to low-income families in need.

Imago an ecological education organization that is rooted in the concept that living in harmony with the natural world is not only good for the planet, but good for ourselves, our families and our communities. They work for the preservation of urban nature, and provide hands-on green workshops and education programs for youth.

Keep Cincinnati Beautiful “KCB’s education, revitalization and environmental initiatives build community and foster pride in the places where we live, work and play. Our grassroots network of neighbors, sponsors and volunteers put passion to work across all 52 neighborhoods, creating safer, cleaner spaces and a higher quality of life for all Cincinnatians.”

Koinonia Farm– this intentional Christian farm community in Americus, GA is “a demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God.” It is the birthplace of Habitat for Humanity.

Life Forward Cincinnati provides free, confidential, and comprehensive prenatal and parenting services to women in crisis.

MORTAR“Our mission is to enable under-served entrepreneurs and businesses to succeed; creating opportunities to build communities through entrepreneurship”

The Play Librarya library, but for toys!

Point Perk a full-service coffeeshop in Covington, KY, that provides job training and community interaction for adults with disabilities.

United Ministries of Northern Kentucky- a Christian ministry assisting families by establishing a comprehensive system of response to the emergency needs of persons in Southern Kenton County and Boone County.

Woven Oak Initiatives– providing small programs focused on education, mentorship, and community-building in Norwood, Ohio.

Internationally-

Aruna Project, Cincinnati, OH/India- “We free, empower and employ those from the brothel system and bring them into an environment marked by holistic care to help build a bright future.

Leadership Resources, Chicago, IL/worldwide- training indigenous pastors worldwide, especially in places where a seminary education is unavailable or unattainable.

The Parative Project, Cincinnati, OH/India- Designing and selling “products made by businesses that are bringing fair wages, stability, and healing to those who have been freed from human trafficking and poverty.”

Restaurants on Mission, Columbia, South America- “Our goal is to create a global chain of non-profit restaurants that will hire and train individuals from reformation and reintegration programs and provide a step towards a better life. All profits from each restaurant go back into the neighborhoods in which they are located to improve quality of life.”

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Protecting Our Kids from Sexual Abuse

I guess I knew it happened sometimes to some people, but I didn’t understand the pervasiveness of sexual abuse among my peers until I was a young adult and the stories started coming out in deeper conversations. The thought of so much abuse going on around me felt a bit scandalizing at first. But now, 35 years old and a mother of four young children, the statistics are maddening and make me flat-out pissed.

How is this even possible?
Why have we been pretending for so long?

As a kid, sex was not something I spoke about openly with my parents or my peers. And things like molestation and rape were like a plane crash–the chances are so slim that you can’t lay awake worrying about them.

But it turns out we were wrong.

Abuse is everywhere.
It’s in the Church, in our families, in sports and schools and the entertainment industry. (I read this article this morning, which is why I decided it was time to write this.)

We can certainly mince words about what, exactly, qualifies as “sexual abuse.” If I’m totally honest, I’m not really comfortable accepting the most extreme definitions of “abuse” because I do believe there is a difference between an abuser/predator and a confused kid (or an honest misunderstanding about intentions). Human sexuality is more complicated than most of us give it credit for being and the ins and outs of sexual relationships between people are not always cut and dry.

But, that said, nearly every woman I know has a story of sexual misconduct, whether it’s flat-out abuse, molestation, and rape or less overt indiscretions like sexual pressure from a partner, come-ons from a superior at work, or ugly cat-calls on the street.

When I take an honest look back at my life, the picture becomes pretty clear. I have my own share of stories, too.

The flasher who showed up at my 6th grade birthday party. The flasher in the church lobby (!!). The note from a friend (in 7th grade) that said her boyfriend kept pressuring her for oral sex (of course, she didn’t use the word “pressure”). The stories in high school about people having sex just to keep a boyfriend (or girlfriend) but him leaving anyway. The first time I heard someone openly profess to being molested as a child. (And other stories I’d rather not share here.)

Our culture has a sex problem.
And I could write and write and write my thoughts about what the problem is, where it comes from, and how to change it. But I don’t have time for that right now.

Instead, I want to share how I am protecting my children from sexual abuse. And I want to hear your ideas, too. Because even though I can’t keep every danger from our doorstep, I can at least teach my kids what to do when they see it and how to overcome it.

These are some of the steps we are taking as a family:

We talk openly and frequently with our kids about sex and sexual abuse. From a very young age, we teach our kids about sex and anatomy, what their body parts are called and what they do. We encourage them to ask questions when the questions come up, not only when we are having an official “sex talk.” But we do have official lessons about sexuality as a part of our school curriculum because sometimes it feels awkward to bring it up out of nowhere. Our kids are encouraged to use us (not peers) as a first resource and, if at any point they don’t want to talk to us about sex, we have promised to find another adult they can talk to instead of us.

We choose friends and a church community that takes sex and sexual abuse seriously. Because we know that most people who are abused are abused by people close to them, we surround our children with people we trust. It can’t guarantee that they will escape abuse, but it will guarantee a community that will act on abuse and support them rather than an abuser. (We are proud to be members of a denomination that has a firm stance on and policies for protecting its children from sexual abuse.) We teach our kids to look out for each other and for others.

We teach our kids to have boundaries with peers and adults. We teach them to respect the words “stop” and “no.” Once they are bodily-aware (which kicks in somewhere around 3-5 yrs old), we talk about the need for respecting privacy and for expecting the same from others. We tell them that, unless they need help dressing or using the bathroom, it is not appropriate for someone else (adult or child, even family members) to see them naked or touch them in their genital areas. If someone insists on seeing or touching them inappropriately, they need to tell us immediately. (We’ve taught a few “poke their eye out or kick them in their groin” lessons, as well.)

We don’t keep secrets and we teach them that there is never a good reason to keep secrets from us or to keep secrets with other people. (This is one part of the “tricky people” concept, which is a great safety skill for kids and much preferred to the “stranger danger” of my youth.)

We teach them to keep all physical affection and sexual activity in its place. From birth, we work to establish proper attachment with our kids and show consistent, physical affection within our family to help them develop healthy expressions of love and affection. When they are young, we teach them the role of sex in a marriage and reinforce married sex as the standard for behavior. As they get older, this conversation will develop more nuance as we talk about all expressions of sexuality and help them navigate dating and courtship, love and lust and desire.

We introduce the dangers of pornography early and, as they age, will teach them to recognize objectification and sexual idolatry and how they contribute to sexual exploitation and abuse. We will help them avoid sexually explicit materials and images by cultivating a healthy attitude toward the human body and an appetite for better expressions of love and devotion.

We will encourage them to avoid abusing drugs and alcohol, especially in mixed company and with people they don’t know. We will be honest about the connection between intoxication and negligent behavior/abuse.

We encourage immediate, judgement-free conversations about sex. We promise to listen and to answer honestly. We will believe them when they are victimized. We will help them navigate confusing/frustrating situations that arise as they age. Nothing will be a taboo in our house.

 

I’m sure this doesn’t cover everything.
What are you doing to protect your kids from sexual abuse?

Halloween, All Hallow’s Eve, and (some thoughts on) Religious Syncretism

It’s Halloween!
Or All Hallow’s Eve!
Or Sahmain!
Or whatever.

“Happy Holidays.”

My earliest memories of Halloween are of me donning my older brother’s football uniform so I could do the absolute bare minimum for the school costume parade in the third grade.

When I was young, our family’s participation (or lack of participation) evolved over time but, in general, we did not celebrate Halloween. By the time I was in middle school, I sometimes went out looking for candy with my friends, but my mom had adopted a full-on boycott. No candy for visitors. Front porch lights out.

I didn’t quite understand it then. But it makes more and more sense to me now.

Most of us don’t think too seriously about the finer points of syncretism and how it manifests itself in culture and in our religious traditions. Either we take for granted that all our favorite traditions are purely ours or we take for granted that no tradition can be pure. And, either way, we don’t really care too much.

Whether we admit it or not, much of what we do in church (and in life) is influenced by our own culture and the world around us. And some of us fight this influence more strongly than others. In the context of Christian worship, some churches follow a Regulative Principle of worship that says “whatever is not explicitly commanded/affirmed in the Bible has no place in Christian worship,” but most of us are not in this camp. So most will admit that many traditions are a matter of cultural preference–like the difference between an organ and an acoustic guitar–and most of these preferences are really benign. They may have theological implications, but they are not theological prescriptions.

The farther back we go in church history or the more we develop “new” traditions, the more they tend toward two extremes–either the church develops it’s own symbols and traditions based on their distinct Christian-ness or it adopts symbols and traditions of other religions/cultures and “christianizes” them for their own use (aka syncretism).

In 2017 America, since we seem so far removed from First Century paganism and Eastern religions, most Christians don’t give two thoughts about where their traditions came from. It’s assumed that, at this point, the potentially worldly roots of our traditions don’t matter anymore. We are, after all, a culture primarily influenced by Judeo-Christian traditions. And everyone else understand the Christian-ness of our symbols and traditions. Right? Well, maybe sorta. Or maybe not.

For most of America, today is Halloween. It’s an excuse to dress your kid up in funny or scary or ridiculously adorable costumes, visit with neighbors, and collect candy to get you through the long, cold nights until Thanksgiving (our next gluttonous holiday).

But for some people–primarily Catholics and some other Christians who fancy Catholicism–it’s All Hallow’s Eve. In some way or another, it’s a day to revel in the reign of Christ over evil and to mock the devil. (Some Catholics fast today in preparation for tomorrow’s Feast Day of All Saint’s Day so they save their candy for tomorrow. Bummer, right?)

 

 

People think I’m all kinds of crazy when I tell them we don’t celebrate Halloween. Apparently, it means I a) hate talking to my neighbors and giving them things; b) don’t want my kids to enjoy life; c) am just a stodgy old coot. In actuality, none of these things are true about me, I am a reasonable woman, and I have thought this through quite a bit.

Though my level of commitment to abstaining is still evolving–Will I hand out candy? Will we buy a pumpkin for the front stoop because it’s fall and pumpkins are cute? etc.–I am perfectly comfortable saying that, as a family, we don’t do Halloween. I believe this is a matter of personal conscience. It’s not something important enough for me to fight with friends over and it’s not something I’d draw a line about between myself and people I love. But it’s something I’m pretty committed to and I’m going to try and quickly explain my reasoning about the issue because, every year, someone seems surprised that I actually care enough to think about it.

So, here.
Reason with me now.

No one seems to agree about the exact origins of Halloween. Did the Catholic Church institute All Hallow’s Eve as a distinctly Christian holiday, or was it an attempt to christianize the ancient Celtic festival of Sahmain by slapping a Christian name on the same tradition? Were you there? Me neither. All you need is a quick Google search to prove that the jury is still out on this one. And this is true for many of our other holidays, too.

Young in our family life, we decided to try and focus on as many distinctly Christian traditions as possible and avoid pagan, secular, and Eastern traditions if we could. We downplayed Christmas (in the secular Santa sense) and embraced the season of Advent. We skipped the Easter Bunny entirely and focused on Resurrection Day. We tried to “purify” our family expressions of these great holidays as much as possible while admitting that it’s simply impossible to avoid all syncretism. The truth is that even our best intentions have left us with half-baked American traditions like Easter egg hunts and Christmas stockings. Whatever. Imperfect is better than nothing.

One of the biggest questions in my mind has always been about what, exactly, is the nature or intent of the thing we’re appropriating into our expression of our faith? Is this a purely cultural expression? Or is it a religious expression? Can the two every be truly separated?

Take for example Indian culture and the practice of yoga.
A few months ago, I asked my friends on Facebook whether they believed the practice of yoga was a) inherently spiritual, b) imputed with spirituality by those participating in it, or c) purely secular. Responses were mixed. But it has always seemed clear to me that a practice created specifically as a spiritual practice for another religion cannot be stripped of its spiritual element and simply secularized or christianized by another user. We are not dualists; nothing done with our spiritual bodies is purely biological.

But, wait! I eat Indian food! Isn’t some Indian food somewhere prepared by Hindus (potentially) offered to a Hindu god? Well, sure. And if someone came to my table and offered a prayer to Vishnu over my food, I could still eat it (Biblically speaking), but it might make me feel a little weird about it. But knowing someone next door in the YMCA may be doing yoga isn’t the same as actually doing yoga myself, is it? So I see eating Indian food as less like doing yoga and more like wearing yoga pants. Which might be wrong, but for different reasons. (That was a joke. Maybe.)

So, back to Halloween.

Some of my friends seem to think that the only people still celebrating pagan Celtic festivals like Samhain are the 12 Druids living on a commune in New Hampshire. But I can tell you for a fact that pagan Druid spirituality (along with Wicca and actual Satanism) are real. They exist in 21st Century America. And if I had not once stood in a room of a few hundred totally normal American citizens worshiping the planet Earth, I probably wouldn’t believe it either. (Ask me and I’ll tell you the story sometime.)

And this is not even to mention the absurd world of horror movies and haunted houses that capitalize on the scary sentiment of Halloween just to scare the crap out of you and your children. And I won’t even talk about actual spiritual warfare. Ugh.

Okay.
So you’ve decided that Halloween is still no big deal because you want to meet some neighbors and your kid looks really cute as Elsa from Frozen (you returned the Moana costume because it’s culturally insensitive).

Well, my Halloween loving friends, you’re not alone. And I don’t think you’re a terrible person or a devil worshiper. I just think you need to ask yourself some questions about how you’ll celebrate the holiday well.

First: if you are going to use the “All Hallow’s Eve” excuse/clause, you have to ask whether your observance of Halloween really resembles the Christian tradition at all. If you want to know the truth about your family traditions, ask your kids. What do they believe they are celebrating? What do the symbols mean to them?

If I ask your kids can say to me “Oh! We’re mocking the devil because Jesus is King!” I might say, “Well, heck. Right on!”

Second: are you neglecting some of the distinctly Christian traditions in place of the more “fun” ones? If you are a Protestant, did you even tell your kids about Reformation Day today? If you are a Catholic, did you take the opportunity to throw eggs at my car? (Joking again.)

And how should you celebrate? Well, consider how much your family and children miss out on the Christmas story when the entire Advent season is not observed. The same goes for the season of Lent and Easter. If you really believe Halloween is a Christian tradition, then express it as one and go all out. Slip some Testamints into those candy buckets. (Joking. Don’t do that. They taste gross.)

But, here’s the thing about celebrating Halloween: you might think that it’s totally cool and in good fun for Christians to go around the neighborhood merrily mocking the devil by wearing cute superhero costumes, but your neighbors are probably not in on the joke. They might be watching a movie about serial killers to commemorate the occasion or could be waiting in a bloody clown costume to scare the crap out of your kid when she rings the doorbell or could be standing around a tree in the woods chanting about their sacred mother.

Or maybe they’re all in superhero costumes, too, and it’s really no big deal. I’m willing to admit that kids in superhero costumes are really cute.

The short story is this: participating in Halloween just seems really confusing to me–less like wearing yoga pants and more like sniffing the yoga mat. (Gross, I know. Sorry about that picture.) And if I’m not going to do yoga, I’m not gonna sniff the mat. (Most you probably do yoga, so you just realized I wasted all your time.)

Okay, so that was a lot to say about something that, at the end of the day, isn’t really a big deal. Like I said, it’s not a line in the sand for me.

But I do kind of take Halloween seriously. At least seriously enough to think more about it than just what candy I’ll buy.

For the record, I bought kit-kats and fruit snacks. Because we don’t celebrate but we also don’t ever turn away a stranger who knocks on our door, no matter how they’re dressed.

 

 

To The Woman Who Wants To Be A Mom (But Isn’t)

I know it’s dangerous business talking “mothering” to the childless when you have no personal knowledge of childlessness. It’s like a trust fund baby encouraging a friend to “just start saving for the future.” So, I get it. And I’ll try to tread lightly.

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. I’m not much for holidays, but I know this particular day brings a lot of hurt and heartache for some of my friends. Some have lost babies before they were born, some have lost them after, and some have never even had the chance. Some are still longing for a partner to create future babies with and some, with a partner, have tried and tried and tried and nothing works.

I’m sorry.

Even on the worst of mothering days, when I’m crying in the bathroom alone wishing I could un-mother myself for a few minutes, I still know what a miracle children are and what a blessing it is to grow them and to watch them grow. So I try not to talk up mothering too much, and to not belittle it too much, mostly for your sake. Because I know how it feels to see my dreams lived out in the lives of others. And it really hurts.

It wouldn’t help to tell you that Mother’s Day is a lame holiday, just an opportunity for excited children to buy overpriced “Best Mom in the World” coffee mugs and shamed fathers to buy underwhelming roses. It’s a sweet gesture, and I’ll take all the sweet gestures anyone wants to offer, but it’s really not a big deal to me. But when “Mom” is the one name you’ve always wanted, even the overpriced coffee mugs can seem huge and hard to look at.

I can’t make you feel better, but I want to encourage you in three ways.

First, don’t feel the need to explain your desire away or pretend it doesn’t exist.

You are a woman. And in a perfect world, men and women would interact in a way that made the world of dating and marriage and sex easier to navigate. And in a perfect world, all women (and men) would be capable of bearing children and be able to raise them without the pain and heartbreak of infertility or miscarriage or infant loss.

You already know that we don’t live in a perfect world. But it helps to be reminded that part of what you’re feeling is the same thing we all feel, though in different ways. You know the brokenness of human relationships and human bodies. You don’t need to hide the knowledge of your brokenness or the longing for completeness.

To be sure: Motherhood will not “complete” you. Not in the way you really want it to. But I understand the “new life” symbolism of pregnancy and childbirth and motherhood and I understand why you want to embody it.

You may have a million voices telling you that motherhood is not a big deal that that you can do a million other things other than being a mom and still be a woman. In a way, they are right. But, in a way, they are wrong. It’s okay to want the crappy “Best Mom in the World” mug.

But, don’t obsess about motherhood.

Motherhood will not complete you. It will fill your days and at least 18 years of your life and your dreams (and nightmares). But it will not fill the deepest void you feel inside you. And it will not fill the deepest voids you feel between you and your partner.

Turning a good thing (even a very good thing) into the best or ultimate thing distorts its value and purpose. A sure sign of an idol is our all-consuming pursuit of it. If you “will not stop” until you become a mother or if you will pursue it at all costs, you may want to reconsider the depth of your obsession.

The truth is: you may never be a mother. And those of us who are mothers may some day find ourselves childless. There are no guarantees. Obsessing about something so fragile sets us up for crushing disappointment.

Making motherhood an idol serves no one, especially not our children. Don’t let your desire consume you.

But, please, don’t turn it off.

In the meantime, while you are in waiting, don’t suppress your desire to be a mother. Don’t ignore it and try to fill the longing with something unworthy of it. Keep yourself busy, stay faithful in other ways, and embrace life as it is without a child, put please keep your heart open and longing.

I say this, first, for selfish reasons because mothers need non-mothers. We need friends who have things other than potty training and teething and 2nd grade math homework to talk about. We need friends and family who keep the other, non-parent parts of us alive.

But, once you have kids, it’s hard to make friends with people who really don’t like kids. I once saw a t-shirt that said, “Love me, love my cat.” In this case, it’s more like “Love me, love my kids.” I absolutely want friends without children. But not the kind who think I’ve wasted the best years of my life by being bogged down by four attention-hungry children.

And, more importantly, the world needs non-mothers. It needs them badly.

First, there are obvious needs in foster care, education, adoption, after-school programs, church programs, nursing and medicine, etc. These places need women who aren’t afraid to let that mothering part of them pour into a child who is not (or not yet) their own. Their lives often depend, literally, on women like you.

And even if you’re not built for teaching or changing diapers for a stranger’s baby in the church nursery, I can promise that, at some point in your life, your mothering heart will find a “child.”

It may be as simple as a young mother who needs an extra hand while she digs through her purse at the grocery store (I’ve been that woman). It may be the middle child of a large family who feels invisible and wants to make sure someone big and important (like you) sees his drawing.

It may be a lonely child in your neighborhood who likes to look at your flower garden. Or it may be a college student far away from her parents who needs help finding a job or an apartment.

Years down the road, It may be a younger friend who just lost her mother to cancer and needs a shoulder to cry on. Or it may be an older neighbor who needs someone to read her a book when her eyes go out.

I know this might not make you feel better. Heck, it might make you feel worse because it means admitting that it’s possible your desires may never be fulfilled in the way you want them to be.

Nevertheless, even if you never give birth to a child or never manage to save the money to adopt, I hope you never let the mothering part of you die. I hope you leave it soft and open and ready for whoever needs it. Because we’ve all needed it at some point.

The world is full of childless mothers. Go ahead and be one.

First came bright Spirits…
Then, on the left and right, at each side of the forest avenue, came youthful shapes, boys upon one hand, and girls upon the other. If I could remember their singing and write down the notes, no man who read that score would ever grow sick or old. Between them went musicians: and after these a lady in whose honour all this was being done.
“Is it?…is it?” I whispered to my guide.
“Not at all,” said he. “It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name on earth was
Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.”
“She seems to be…well, a person of particular importance?”
“Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things.”
“And who are these gigantic people…look! They’re like emeralds…who are dancing
and throwing flowers before here?”
“Haven’t ye read your Milton? A thousand liveried angels lackey her.”
“And who are all these young men and women on each side?”
“They are her sons and daughters.”
“She must have had a very large family, Sir.”
“Every young man or boy that met her became her son–even if it was only the boy
that brought the meat to her back door. Every girl that met her was her daughter.”
“Isn’t that a bit hard on their own parents?”
“No. There are those that steal other people’s children. But her motherhood was of a different kind. Those on whom it fell went back to their natural parents loving them more. Few men looked on her without becoming, in a certain fashion, her lovers. But it was the kind of love that made them not less true, but truer, to their own wives.”
“And how…but hullo! What are all these animals? A cat – two cats – dozens of cats. And all those dogs…why, I can’t count them. And the birds. And the horses.”
“They are her beasts.”
“Did she keep a sort of zoo? I mean, this is a bit too much.”
“Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love. In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them.”
I looked at my Teacher in amazement.
“Yes,” he said. “It is like when you throw a stone into a pool, and the concentric waves spread out further and further. Who knows where it will end? Redeemed humanity is still young, it has hardly come to its full strength. But already there is joy enough in the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe into life.
The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis

Why I Bring My Kids To Funerals

The first death I remember was a great uncle.
I was elementary school age and I barely knew the man. But he was family and my whole family was there and it was quiet and that’s about all I remember.

For most of us, the death of someone close is the first serious blow to our perceived immortality. For me, I was 14 and it was the death of a favorite uncle. Then, a few months later, a close friend. In the next five or so years, there were a few more: another friend, a few acquaintances, a friend’s little brother, my grandfathers, etc.

I don’t honestly remember much about the ins and outs of the visitations and funerals I attended as a child and an adolescent. I remember how every one was different because every person’s story and family and friends were different. I remember it being confusing. I remember not knowing how quiet I must be, whether or not I could smile at friends and family, whether or not I was saying the right words to those in mourning.

But I remember a lot of hugs. A lot of crying.

And I remember how much the knowledge and experience of death changes us.

 

Death is on my mind because, yesterday, my family attended the funeral of a young man I never met but whose parents are friends. And, of the hundreds of people in the room (maybe more?), my four children were some of the only children there.

 

I bring my kids to funerals.
Not every funeral, of course. And we don’t always last the whole service. (And if I had different kids I might reconsider.)

But I bring my kids to funerals because I don’t believe there are many truly “adult things” (as distinguished from “kid things”) and, even if there are, death is certainly not one of them.

I bring my kids to funerals because they are painful and hard and confusing and uncomfortable. But I’d rather my children fumble through the uncomfortable experiences of life in the safety of a family who loves them and is willing to entertain dumb and silly questions about life and death and how we celebrate and observe them.

I bring my kids to funerals because, some day, someone close to them will die. It might be me. Or their father. It might be their brother or sister or grandparent or best friend. Lord willing, it won’t be for a long time. But it will happen. And, when it happens, I don’t want the experience to feel like showing up to their first job interview wearing the wrong color suit. Hard things take practice. We practice together.

I bring my kids to funerals because my deepest anxieties surround their mortality and I need to be reminded that their lives are gifts and they are here with me now even if I cannot be certain they will be with me tomorrow.

I bring my kids to funerals because I cry–oh boy, do I cry–when someone I love or someone someone I know loves dies. And I don’t let my kids see the vulnerable parts of me enough.

I bring my kids to funerals because babies are like puppies and they cheer people up (when they are not howling or chewing up the paper programs, of course, which is why we don’t always make it through the whole service).

But, more than anything, I bring my kids to funerals because they need to see how people with hope observe death.

I bring them because they need to hear about Jesus and Heaven and “forever” from people who really believe it and breathe it in like it’s the only thing still keeping them standing.

In their short lives, my children have already heard plenty from us about “God loves us” and “God takes care of us,” but they need to hear it from other people–especially people who are standing at that dark cliff of death, are stricken with grief, but can still say “it is well with my soul” (even if they’re not quite 100% there yet).

I bring them because Christians do not grieve as those who have no hope.

Death is still terrible and sad and I hate it with everything inside me. But Christians do death differently. And I want my kids to look at the world and look at the Church and know the difference more fully because they’ve sat in those pews and sang those songs and heard–with their own two ears– the voice of a grieving mothering declare the goodness of God over her child’s death.

This is powerful stuff and, as much as I wish I could, I cannot hide my kids from it.

Beauty, Between Three and a Million Years

IMG_5708

When she hears music, my daughter starts to dance.
No matter what the music is,
something inside her tells her to move.

Yesterday, she heard a song humming
from the phone in the palm of my hand
and came closer to hear,
closer so she could
match her moving to the music.

Then she stopped.
Suddenly.
And looked at me.

“Mommy,” she asked,
“Does God think I’m pretty?”

She is my third child.
Three of four.
And three years old.

In eight years of parenting,
I’ve heard a lot of questions from my kids.

“Why is our house red?”
“Where is Atlanta?”
“How do clouds make rain?”

Now, instead, she asks,
“Mommy,
“does God think I’m pretty?”

It’s such a big, important question
for such a small girl
and it deserves
the best and truest answer
I can muster in the
little time she’ll give me
before this big, important moment
has passed.

In the few seconds it takes me to
quiet the music and
look into her
clear blue, questioning eyes,
her question becomes my question
and my grey-blue-green eyes go misty
and my mind starts to wander.

I see ahead into her future and
I want to warn her that,
eventually,
these silly, simple questions of her
three year-old self will not offer
the answer her 10 year old
or 16 year old
or 30 year old self
wants to hear.

Eventually the question will become,
“Do you think I’m pretty?”
“Does he think I’m pretty?
“Am I pretty enough?”
“Am I prettier than her?”
“Am I as pretty as I used to be?”

And,
more often than not,
the answer she speaks back to herself,
whether it’s true or not,
will be a quick,
painful
“No.”

Because,
in that moment,
whether it’s true or not,
no simple truth will seem
big enough to satisfy her big need.

But, right now,
with three years behind her
and a million years ahead
and those big, clear blue eyes
looking to me for answers,

I tell her the truth
as simply as I can.

I tell her,
“Of course, sweetheart.”

But I don’t stop there.

I tell her,
“The God of the universe–
the God who made the trees
and the rivers
and the flowers
and the mountains–
He made you
exactly the way he wanted you to be.
And when He looks down
at the world he made,
He sees you
and calls you
‘the crown of creation’
and says you are
the most beautiful of all.”

So my daughter smiles
and is satisfied with the answer
and floats away
to tell her big brother and big sister

“God thinks I’m pretty,”

and leaves me to repeat my answer again
but this time to me
because I think it’s been years–
a million years, maybe–
since I was satisfied
with such a silly, simple, honest answer.

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I’m Not A Feminist (and other things you can’t say in public)

Feminism. It’s so hot right now.

Saying “I’m not a feminist” in 2017 is an invitation to making enemies out of friends and strangers alike. And, contrary to what some believe, I do actually care quite a bit what people think of me so I’m sometimes reticent to say it out loud in mixed company.

But, alas, I am not a feminist.
Well, not really.
(Okay, it’s actually kind of complicated.)

I had a different blog once upon a time where I wrote a series about my complicated relationship with womanhood and my struggle with Biblical, cultural, and worldly definitions of femininity. If you know me in real life, I’m happy to tell you all about it, but I’d rather not get into it all here.

The short story is that, somewhere around early high school, I got really uncomfortable with “girl stuff.” It was a mixed reaction to both my insecurities as an awkward young woman, desperate for attention and affection, and my beliefs about modesty and Biblical womanhood. Rather than learn to reconcile the two, I embraced a third option: the anti-girl.

Feminism is a fun thing to flirt with when you’re a kid, especially when you don’t easily fit into whatever “girl” mold your world is currently selling. It’s liberating to be told that you don’t have to shop at a certain store or choose a certain career or kiss a certain number of boys in order to ascend to womanhood. Find your own path; chart your own course.

For me, anti-girl feminism was particularly attractive because I had never been as gentle, graceful, quiet, or pretty as my more “feminine” peers.

I could tell that Seventeen magazine was a load of garbage.
Bitch Magazine was so much cooler.

So, I bought it. Literally.

There is real power in the feminist narrative, especially when women are often misunderstood, objectified, underrepresented, abused, or flat-out ignored. But there was a point at which, for me, the narrative lost its charm.

Like any social or political movement, feminism has changed a lot since its inception. The first-wave suffragettes of yesterday gave birth to the bra burning hippie feminists of the sexual revolution who then gave birth to the third-wave, pussy-hat wearing women of 2017. For some, the third-wave is not yet enough; there is still more ground to cover.

Feminists and I may share the same anatomy (well, some of us), but I have a hard time seeing us as kin. Even when many of my dearest friends proudly wear the “feminist” label.

To a certain degree, my critique of contemporary feminism is unfair because I know that every self-proclaimed “feminist” defines her feminism differently. But at some point, it became obvious to me that the movement–loosely defined as it may be–represents a few particular values or beliefs that I can’t get behind.

To broadly generalize:

Contemporary feminism divorces sex from procreation and procreation from marriage*. It promotes perpetually baby-free sex (through birth control and abortion) as an essential “freedom” and sex, in general, as a basic human right.

Contemporary feminism confuses sexual autonomy with sexual insensitivity. It flaunts sexual freedoms and tells women they owe not an ounce of modesty, decency, or deference to anyone. It gives them warrant to use their sexuality for control, manipulation, pay-back, and attention.

Contemporary feminism divorces womanhood from motherhood. It takes extra measure to establish a woman’s identity apart from the very thing that defines her as a “woman” rather than a “man”: the capacity for bearing children**. It devalues the work inherent in mothering, promoting the pursuit of a career in its place, relegating the nurturing work of mothering to everyone but the mother herself.

Contemporary feminism is predicated on the lie of a great, global anti-woman conspiracy. It sees the bogey-man of The Patriarchy*** as the world’s great evil and perceives even the common courtesies of good men as aggression. It is insecure and plagued by one-upmanship, often seeking to position itself in places of power above–not equal to–men.

These, in short, are the things I simply cannot get behind.

But, you may say, “Feminism is so much more than that!”

Yes! I agree!

Contemporary feminism is also fighting for:
– comprehensive sex ed
– better maternity and postpartum care
– an end to sex and domestic-worker trafficking
– stronger support systems for low-income mothers
– educational opportunities around the world
– help for victims of domestic and sexual abuse
– equal pay for equal work
and so much more.

And, trust me, I do get angsty about women’s issues like these. I am a woman, after all. And a mother. And I want to help build a just and equitable world for myself and my daughters. But I likely disagree with many of my feminist peers about how a just and equitable world is accomplished. Insofar as the feminist agenda revolves around dismantling the nuclear family, redefining womanhood, and dodging motherhood, I will always be an outsider. Mostly by choice.

 

The expectations and limitations of womanhood are complicated and, apparently, extra difficult for people like me. My thoughts on womanhood have evolved significantly since I was a kid, but there is still a lot of my younger Anti-Girl self left inside. Maybe that will always be my most honest expression of womanhood. Maybe not.

My hope is that I move closer and closer to reconciling those two parts of me–the awkward young woman, desperate for attention and affection, and my beliefs about modesty and Biblical womanhood. Because, though I may not raise my daughters as “feminists,” I am raising them to be women. And I am preparing them to embody more than the modern narrative of womanhood that is reduced to power struggles, sex, fashion, and gossip.

Hopefully, they will have it a little easier than I did.
Hopefully, we will have a better world awaiting them when they get there.

 

 

 

 

 

*Footnote: I do not believe that all people must marry and have children, nor that every sexual encounter much be procreative. But I do believe that monogamous sex and fruitful marriages are the paradigm for family structure and a foundation of society.

**Footnote: I do not believe infertility makes a woman less of a “woman,” by definition.

***Footnote: I do believe that there absolutely exist evil men who hate women. But I do not believe that these men are mounting a conspiracy against women. Nor do I believe that Patriarchy is an evil in and of itself.

 

A Life In Books

Two weeks ago, I stole away to ignore the Superbowl and eat dinner alone (!!!) while reading my new book club book. (Any introvert mother knows how valuable time like that is.)

While basking in the beauty of being alone to eat a meal and drink a glass of wine, reading my new book made me reflect back on all the good books I’ve read along the way and how significant a part of my life they’ve been.

Truth is: I don’t remember reading much as a child. And I know that, in high school, I completely faked my way through every book report required. Growing up as a “church kid,” I did read the Bible a lot, and lots of pop Christian literature. But, I don’t remember many specific books before college.

What you’ve read and what you’re reading tells me a lot about who you are. A stranger’s bookshelf is one of the quickest views into his heart and mind. Maybe you’re not a big reader. Maybe you’re not a collector of books. But you’ve probably read something somewhere that made a difference in your life–something that changed your mind, saved your life, or helped shape who you are.

I tried to think back on the books that have made me who I am and came up with 15 titles. These aren’t necessary my favorite books (books I could read over and over again) and they aren’t necessary books I still find as compelling (or still agree with), but they are the books that entered my life at just the right time and, literally, changed me.

In chronological order of when I read them (with quotes when I felt necessary):

 

 

Ragamuffin Gospel– Brennan Manning

When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.

To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means. As Thomas Merton put it, “A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.”

The gospel of grace nullifies our adulation of televangelists, charismatic superstars, and local church heroes. It obliterates the two-class citizenship theory operative in many American churches. For grace proclaims the awesome truth that all is gift. All that is good is ours not by right but by the sheer bounty of a gracious God. While there is much we may have earned–our degree and our salary, our home and garden, a Miller Lite and a good night’s sleep–all this is possible only because we have been given so much: life itself, eyes to see and hands to touch, a mind to shape ideas, and a heart to beat with love. We have been given God in our souls and Christ in our flesh. We have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt. This and so much more is sheer gift; it is not reward for our faithfulness, our generous disposition, or our heroic life of prayer. Even our fidelity is a gift, “If we but turn to God,” said St. Augustine, “that itself is a gift of God.”

My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.

A People’s History of the United States– Howard Zinn

The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don’t listen to it, you will never know what justice is.

The Pursuit of God– A W Tozer

O God, be thou exalted over my possessions. Nothing of earth’s treasures shall seem dear unto me if only thou art glorified in my life. Be thou exalted over my friendships. I am determined that thou shalt be above all, though I must stand deserted and alone in the midst of the earth. Be thou exalted above my comforts. Though it mean the loss of bodily comforts and the carrying of heavy crosses, I shall keep my vow made this day before thee. Be thou exalted over my reputation. Make me ambitious to please thee even if as a result I must sink into obscurity and my name be forgotten as a dream. Rise, O Lord, into thy proper place of honor, above my ambitions, above my likes and dislikes, above my family, my health, and even my life itself. Let me decrease that thou mayest increase; let me sink that thou mayest rise above. Ride forth upon me as thou didst ride into Jerusalem mounted upon the humble little beast, a colt, the foal of an ass, and let me hear the children cry to thee, “Hosanna in the highest.” In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Into The Wild– John Krakauer

No Compromise: The Life Story of Keith Green– Melody Green

Till We Have Faces– C S Lewis

When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?

I And Thou– Martin Buber

Godric– Frederick Buechner

What’s prayer? It’s shooting shafts into the dark. What mark they strike, if any, who’s to say? It’s reaching for a hand you cannot touch. The silence is so fathomless that prayers like plummets vanish into the sea. You beg. You whimper. You load God down with empty praise. You tell him sins that he already knows full well. You seek to change his changeless will. Yet Godric prays the way he breathes, for else his heart would wither in his breast. Prayer is the wind that fills his sail. Else drift with witless tides. And sometimes, by God’s grace, a prayer is heard.

Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Politics of Jesus– John Howard Yoder

Telling The Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale– Frederick Buechner

Switching on the lectern light and clearing his throat, the preacher speaks both the word of tragedy and the word of comedy because they are both of them of the truth and because Jesus speaks them both, blessed be he. The preacher tells the truth by speaking of the visible absence of God because if he doesn’t see and own up to the absence of God in the world, then he is the only one there who doesn’t see it, and who then is going to take him seriously when he tries to make real what he claims also to see as the invisible presence of God in the world? Sin and grace, absence and presence, tragedy and comedy, they divide the world between them and where they meet head on, the Gospel happens. Let the preacher preach the Gospel of their preposterous meeting as the high, unbidden, hilarious thing it is.

Crunchy Cons– Rod Dreher

A CRUNCHY CON MANIFESTO
1. We are conservatives who stand outside the conservative mainstream; therefore, we can see things that matter more clearly.
2. Modern conservatism has become too focused on money, power, and the accumulation of stuff, and insufficiently concerned with the content of our individual and social character.
3. Big business deserves as much skepticism as big government.
4. Culture is more important than politics and economics.
5. A conservatism that does not practice restraint, humility, and good stewardship—especially of the natural world—is not fundamentally conservative.
6. Small, Local, Old, and Particular are almost always better than Big, Global, New, and Abstract.
7. Beauty is more important than efficiency.
8. The relentlessness of media-driven pop culture deadens our senses to authentic truth, beauty, and wisdom.
9. We share Russell Kirk’s conviction that “the institution most essential to conserve is the family.”

Last Child in the Woods– Richard Louv

Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health (and also, by the way, in our own).

Let Me Be A Woman– Elisabeth Elliot

It is a naive sort of feminism that insists that women prove their ability to do all the things that men do. This is a distortion and a travesty. Men have never sought to prove that they can do all the things women do. Why subject women to purely masculine criteria? Women can and ought to be judged by the criteria of femininity, for it is in their femininity that they participate in the human race. And femininity has its limitations. So has masculinity. That is what we’ve been talking about. To do this is not to do that. To be this is not to be that. To be a woman is not to be a man. To be married is not to be single – which may mean not to have a career. To marry this man is not to marry all the others. A choice is a limitation.

Sidewalks In The Kingdom: New Urbanism And the Christian Faith– Eric O Jacobsen

(W)e of all people have a deep history of interest in the city, rooted in our biblical tradition. … When John (the evangelist), exiled on Patmos, is given a picture of our redeemed state, he does not see Eden restored in some kind of agrarian utopia; not does he see the American ideal of a single-family detached house surrounded by a huge yard for every inhabitant of the kingdom. What he sees is a city — New Jerusalem descending from heaven onto earth.