Author Archives: snesbitt

Guys, I wish I Could be Sorry

This post is specifically for you gentlemen out there.

I wish I could say, “I’m sorry” and let that be it.  I could flippantly blow out a “sorry, not sorry,” but that’d just be cold and not helpful.

I have noticed lately that my teenage daughter and I are having some problems communicating with some key men in our lives – me with a friend, her with her boss.  We aren’t being rude, ugly, or nasty.  We’re being open and honest, maybe a bit confrontational in healthy ways (yes, they exist), and compassionate.  We ask questions in a straight-forward way and tend to lean towards “blunt and tactful.”  Her boss has felt attacked for something that wasn’t his fault and that my daughter acknowledges she doesn’t blame him for.  My friend thought I was starting an argument when that wasn’t my intention and my entire system was actually very zen.

Why were we dealing with communication problems when we were both being very clear, concise, and assertive about what we wanted?  Were we doing or saying something wrong?  I analyzed both sets of communiques and determined that there was nothing we could’ve done differently and apparently, the problem lies with the guys with whom we’re communicating.  I’m not saying or implying that we’re perfect and communication problems are always the fault of the other person, and I suspect that the “problem” with the guys isn’t their fault, either.  They’ve been taught/trained poor communication practices by other women in their lives.

So, for what am I not sorry?  Well, the list is longish.

(1) I’m not sorry for the games other women have played with you.  Using tears, threats, or other means of manipulation to get their way has taught you that all women do those things.  I’m here to tell you, we don’t.  But these tactics go back for millennia!  Literally.  Ever hear of a Philistine woman named Delilah?  She used these same tricks on Samson – and they worked.  If a man as physically and spiritually strong as Samson can be manipulated by womanly wiles, many women figure that their man can be, too, and much more easily.

(2) I’m not sorry for being blunt.  As a newlywed wife, I discovered that some families are happy with “reading between the lines” in communicating with each other.  That seems like a recipe for disaster to me, because they may not always read the right message.  One person I encountered several years ago said I’m the “most blunt-speaking Southerner [she’d] ever met.”  Being less than blunt feels too much like game-playing to me, and I don’t have time to play games or to spend an additional two hours trying to communicate my vague hints and innuendos to you, hoping you’ll somehow understand what I’m trying to get across.

(3) I’m not sorry for “fighting like a man.”  High school is a fascinating microcosm in which to observe how people of different genders interact.  When I was in high school and two guys got into a fight, they’d pummel each other for 5-10 minutes, help each other up, and often go out to lunch together.  Two girls on the other hand…  Woowhee!  You’d be looking at six months of gossip, rumor-spreading, backstabbing, catty remarks, pranks, and attempts to steal both friends and boyfriends.  There’d be no reconciliation, no apologies, no forgiveness.  This behavior would go on until both girls were bored with it.  When I was a teen, my mom and I would get into some pretty impressive, holy-crap-are-these-hormones-flying-high fights.  We’d yell for 5-10 minutes and the fight would end with one of us getting tongue-tied and our both laughing or leaving in tears, and the one who didn’t cry would go to the other, apology on her lips, after taking a minute or two to de-escalate.  My female-to-female fights were over, done, and forgotten in fifteen minutes or less.  All my fights are like this, and I have no problem with apologizing.

(4) I’m not sorry for how other women have treated you.  I’ve heard the stories.  There are – pardon my language – some bat-shit crazy women out there.  There are stalkers and bunny boilers (e.g., Fatal Attraction).  There are women who’d cut you for glancing sideways at another woman, even if that woman weighs 300 pounds and is wearing neon spandex when the woman on your arm is wicked-smart with curves in all the right places.  There are women who can’t let go of a relationship when it’s over and who pull out all the stops when it comes to manipulating you after the fact.  That type of mess leaves a mark and colors how you engage with other women.

(5) I’m not sorry for the behavior of the first woman to teach you how to act with a woman – your mother.  Maybe she tried to make you responsible for her happiness or sadness.  (“Now make Momma happy and be a good boy.”)  Maybe every time you tried to assert yourself, your emotions or your willingness to do something, she accused you of not loving her anymore.  Maybe she told you that no other woman would ever understand/love/appreciate you like your momma, which has left you wondering why none of your adult romantic relationships have felt the same.

(6) I’m not sorry for teaching my daughters how to be open, honest communicators.  I can’t apologize for teaching them the right way to share what they’re thinking without apology.  Why should they apologize for being blunt, for being honest, for stating unequivocally what they want?  You’d never expect a man to apologize for blunt honesty, so why expect it of a woman?  They’re both going into male-dominated fields, so communicating “like men” is necessary for their success.

Fellas, I can’t and won’t apologize for the painful mess other women have put you through, as those aren’t my fault.  Likewise, I can’t and won’t apologize for how my daughter and I speak to you, as long as we’re not being malicious or hurtful.  (If one of us levels some truth at you, though, and you don’t like it, that’s on you.)  We feel for you, though.  We can understand the hurt you’ve experienced and have nothing but compassion for you and what you’ve lived through.  All we ask is that you come to realize that not all women are like that, just as you’re probably not like the worst male we’ve ever encountered.  Take us at face value, because there won’t be much guile for you to wade through.

Advertisements

How GenX Made Millenials into Snowflakes

We love them, but we look at them with scorn or derision.  We look at them and wonder how they could be so __________ (fill in the blank).  They are Millenials.  They are in high school or college or freshly out of college, poorly equipped to handle the big, bad world and having no clue why.

They’re spoiled.  They’re entitled.  They believe they’re all that and more, even though they feel like they’re nothing so much of the time.  We adults in GenX and GenY look at these kids and call them “wusses” and “snowflakes.”

Last week, we were discussing these kids.  My teen is a Millenial with none of the above characteristics and a great deal of disdain for her fellow Millenials who have them.  Frankly, I’m quite proud of the fact that she doesn’t have these traits, but as the conversation continued, she said, “Mom, it’s your generation’s fault that we’re like this.”

Well, that bombshell put a serious pause in the conversation, and as my mind raced over the past 20 years, I couldn’t help but come to one clear conclusion:  Damn.  She’s right.

My generation came up with “participation awards.”  Then we gripe about how they reward mediocrity.

My generation decided we need to “protect children’s self esteem” by never giving them negative feedback or poor grades.  Now we wonder why they don’t seem nearly as smart as they should.

My generation got rabid about protecting children from everything – germs, hurt feelings, human traffickers, TV violence, feeling bad, physical punishment… You name it.  We invented “time out,” thinking that two-year-olds are capable of sitting in the special “time out chair” in the corner and understanding how what they did was wrong.  (I studied childhood development from every aspect.  Trust me when I say, they are incapable of doing this.)  Now we have a bunch of kids who are too traumatized when an election doesn’t go a certain way that they can’t fulfill their responsibilities to go to their college classes – and the schools allow this!  What a bunch of fragile, whimpy, weak snowflakes!

And who made them this way?  Yes, my fellow GenXers.  We did.  We screwed up big time with this one.  We didn’t create strong kids at all.  We successfully created children who grow up physically but who can’t handle life.  According to an article in the Washington Post, some Millenials take their parents to job interviews.  Are you kidding me???  They are so used to Mommy and Daddy taking care of things for them that they can’t even handle a job interview alone.

That same article cited a 30-year-old woman who struggled through college, because she didn’t know how to manage her time on her own.  She was used to her parents doing it for her, so 2 a.m. often saw her awake and finishing homework.  This same lady was unable to do her own laundry at 30; her parents had never taught her how, and why should they, when they could do it for her?

We laughed at the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Again, to us, it looked like a bunch of Millenials crying about not getting their way.  They’d gone to college on high-interest student loans, majored in weak fields (e.g., Underwater Fire Prevention), and didn’t understand why they couldn’t find a job that didn’t require asking, “Do you want to supersize your order?”  Mommy and Daddy had taught them for 20+ years that they were special and unique, just the most wonderful kids in the world, so surely these young people’s problems weren’t their fault.  No, they figured it must be the fault of those people who had all the money, the Wall Street folks with the corner offices, like that guy who started out in the mail room and worked his butt off for 20 years to have a window at all and another 10 years for the corner.  And that was after busting that same butt to earn his MBA.

We GenXers passed “Zero tolerance” policies against bullying, and bullying has increased, getting nastier, more hateful, and more vile.  From as young as 6 and 7 years old, children are bullied daily in school, even in schools with these zero tolerance policies.  This isn’t simply some big kid stealing lunch money; it’s two or three big kids against one small one.  And what happens?  The psychologically strongest kids fight back, landing them in the principal’s office for violence.  (I know; I had to go meet with the principal when my teen was in first grade.)  What happens to the weak ones, the ones who’ve been pampered, the ones who are just sick of the bull crap?  They google, “How to make a bomb” and plant one in the school cafeteria halfway through lunch.  They get Dad’s automatic and walk the halls at school, shooting everyone they see.  Often, they get killed by police or eat the gun themselves.  The evangelical conservatives call them “evil.”  The far-left ignores them and cries for more gun regulations.  I call them simply screwed up in the head because of systems we have put in place.

In molly-coddling these children from infancy and well into their 20s, finding ways to build their self-esteem and doing all we could to protect them, GenX created worse problems.  One, we have this generation of young people who literally can do nothing for themselves.  Two, we have a generation of young people who can’t cope with reality.  They are unable to cope with disappointments, bad college roommates, terrible bosses, and time management.  If their failures to handle the responsibilities of reality result in negative consequences, their helicopter parents will be right there wanting the professor or boss to make everything all better for little 30-year-old Susie and little 28-year-old Billy.

Bottom line, reality sucks sometimes.  And sometimes, Mommy and Daddy live several states away and can’t drop everything to rescue their grown children who M&D expect to be able to handle life by now.  When reality crashes so violently against one’s expectations of life, anxiety and depression are often the outcomes.  In fact, an article in Forbes states that depression is on the rise in Millenial business leaders, citing poor boundaries over health and an inability to handle difficult situations.  Furthermore, over the past 20 years, reports of anxiety and depression have increased by 16% and suicidal ideation or acts have increased by 44% among Millenials.  Wow!!!  We have created this mental, psychological, and emotional quagmire that teens and 20somethings are finding themselves in.

So how to fix it?  It’s not enough to say, “Suck it up, buttercup” and expect grown and nearly-grown children to be able to do that.  They have no experience at rolling with the punches.

First, we GenXers have to start NOW making our children do things for themselves.  Problem with a teacher?  Try a bit of empathy with accountability.  “I’m sure it felt like Mr. Jones was being unfair with how he graded your test.  If it’s that important to you, make time to speak to him about it.”  Then – and this is the hard AND important part – back off.  You have just transferred power to your child for dealing with this.  Will it be scary?  Of course.  Will it teach them how to deal with conflict later in life?  Absolutely.

“You’re out of clean clothes for school tomorrow?  That’s tough, but if you start now, you can get a load through before tomorrow morning.”  Then encourage them to Google “how to wash clothes.”  I’m pretty sure that having to research the “how” themselves will make it stick better.  (Our children wanted to learn how to wash their own clothes, so we could teach them at young ages.)

Second, we have to stop rewarding mediocrity.  I’m sure the younger parents will be grateful not to have to dust one… more… meaningless… trophy.  Real life means, you don’t get rewarded for doing what you’re supposed to do.  There’s no special treatment for showing up for class, being on time for work, or doing a day’s worth of work in seven hours instead of eight.  Your “reward” is getting paid or learning the material the professor wants you to know.  The “reward” is not being fired or flunked for being a slacker.

There are already systems in place to reward excellence.  In secondary school, it’s called graduation.  In college and graduate school, it’s a degree.  In the working world, the reward is often a merit raise and a promotion.  It is not the dean’s fault nor the boss’s fault if an individual fails to get the reward; it is purely the fault of the person who didn’t meet and exceed the expectations.

Third, we have to help these millennial children reframe their thinking.  If things don’t go their way, they need to stop blaming others – other people, authority figures, society, or government – and discover what they have done to contribute to the problems they’re facing.  If the problems are legitimately placed onto them from outside sources (i.e., the rent increases by $200 a month), then this is a time for these young people to figure out how to change themselves in order to meet the challenges – them, not Mommy and Daddy.  They need to see problems less as obstacles to prevent their progress and more as opportunities to find different solutions.

I’ve seen this in adults who are… Let’s say, a generation ahead of GenX.  These people are an anomaly but have all the characteristics of current Millennials.  Failures at work are the fault of teammates or bosses.  Money problems are the fault of the government – and Momma is quick with the bail-out.  Afraid of conflict, these people go along with what others want them to do, be it friends, colleagues, or bosses.  So long as these people, along with their Millennial cohorts, can maintain the image they have of themselves – you know, that “you’re so awesome!” image Mom and Dad implanted in them from birth – all is well.

Ask yourself this, and try to be as objective as you can:  Is your child someone you’d want to put up with if they weren’t your child?  Would you want to do everything for them that they need done, or would you want to be around someone who is more responsible?  What feedback have you gotten from others?  The grasping of reality will be brutal and harsh, but it’s completely necessary for young people to grow up to be adults society wants to deal with.  We may love our children to bits and think they are all sorts of amazing, but truth is, they’re only ours to deal with for 18 years.  After that, the rest of the world has to deal with them.  It’s our job as parents to raise children that society has to tolerate.  What do they look like?

 

Every Super Hero Has a Weakness

I see you, Mama.  You’re worn down.  Physically exhausted.  Emotionally exhausted.  Spiritually exhausted.  Even when people surround you at home, you feel lonely.  You’re Supermom, no question.  You get up in the morning, make sure everyone has a good breakfast, and get the kids dressed and off to school and day care on time.  You go to work where you spend the better part of 8 or 9 hours on your feet.  At the end of the day, you come home, and your second job begins – cooking dinner, cleaning the kitchen, washing the dishes, doing laundry, getting the kids to bed, picking up toys, and putting all the laundry away before collapsing into bed, exhausted to tears.  In the midst of these hours of work, you would occasionally look over at your husband, drink in one hand, remote control in the other, and fight the waves of resentment as he “rests” from his job in front of the TV all evening.

Supermom graphic

SuperMom! Ever notice that no male superhero has as many tasks?

So, what’s the deal?  Why is your man leaving you to do all the housework and childcare when you both work full-time jobs?  And why are you putting up with it?  Here are a couple/few thoughts.

(1) You make it look so effortless.  You’re like a well-oiled machine, organized, able to bring up doctor’s appointments, hair appointments, play dates, sports practices, and parent-teacher conferences with a few taps on your phone.  Bam!

(2) It’s your job as a mom.  After all, your mom did it.  Her mom did it.  Her mom before her did it.  Built into the collective unconscious of women is “The man works all day, so the woman takes care of the house and kids.”  Sadly, this message hasn’t changed with the changing status of women as degree winners and bread earners.  The stereotype of the June Cleaver mom – happily doing housework with dress, heels, pearls, and a smile – still influences us, two generations later.

(3) It’s your job to sacrifice yourself.  This has a LOT of religious undertones to it by religious figures – men, of course – who continue to perpetuate the idea that a woman’s job is in the home taking care of her family.  This gets stretched to include the message that, “If you complain (get tired, feel worn down, etc.), then your faith isn’t strong enough and you’re less of a women/wife/mom/Christian.”

Right here, right now, I’m calling BULLSHIT!!! on every single one of those reasons/excuses, because that’s exactly what they are.

Whether or not he’s your favorite superhero, I think we can easily agree that Superman is a pretty awesome superhero.  He’s got the muscles and the speed and those killer blue eyes.  How easily does he seem to guide a crippled passenger plane to a safe landing!  Then he goes on to foil a bank robbery, fearlessly progressing as bullet after bullet strikes his chest.  (Then the robbers throw their guns at him.  What’s up with that?  Like the bullets won’t kill him, but a 14-ounce pistol will?)  And then his supersonic hearing picks up the faint feminine cries of “Superman!  Save me!” and he flies off to pluck Lois Lane out of mid-air, depositing her safely to the ground and, once more, earning her undying gratitude and devotion.  The citizens of Metropolis look up in admiration and applaud him, so grateful he’s once more saved the day!  Ahhh!  If only we Supermoms got that kind of adulation, at least every once in a while!

But Superman has a weakness that those Metropolitans know nothing about.  Superman knows what it is, of course… And so does Lex Luthor.  Things start going bad in the big city of Metropolis, and Superman is nowhere to be found.  People start wondering, speculating, and worrying.  What will happen to their beloved city if Superman doesn’t appear soon?

In an abandoned warehouse near the docks, Superman is bound against steel beams, weaker than a mere Earthling.  Lex Luthor has left him there, intending to deal with him later.  Nearby, a chunk of emerald green stone glows in the darkness of the warehouse.  A couple of teens ditching school duck into the warehouse, looking for a bit of privacy.  The green glowing rock catches their eyes, and then they see the Man of Steel nearby.  Scared and alarmed, they ask him, “Superman?  What happened?”

With a hoarse voice, he manages to rasp out, “Kryptonite.”  The teens get it.  The girl grabs the stone with a pair of nearby tongs and runs it outside, going to the end of the dock before flinging it with all her might into the ocean.  On her way back to the warehouse, she gasps the story in broken, breathless sentences to a couple of guys fishing.  They follow her into the warehouse, shocked to see their hero so weakened.

One of them asks, “Superman, how can we help you?”  A modicum stronger now, he says, “Sunlight.”  The four work to untie him and they carry his heavy, muscular body outside, laying him down on the weathered wood of the boardwalk.  The midday sun is strong and bright overhead, and it takes almost no time for Superman’s strength to return.

Superman was brought low, and he had to communicate (1) what was making him weak, and (2) how to get his strength back.  Supermom, you do, too.  What is exhausting you?  What is making you feel worn to your soul?  What is making you feel stressed, anxious, lonely, and sad?  What has diminished the light in your eyes?

It’s time to open up some communication.  What is making you feel weak, despite sleeping well, eating right, and having a faithful worship and prayer life?  You have to let your family know these things.  They see the nearly effortless way you handle the home and family and don’t realize you are exhausted.  They don’t know your resentments or your anger.  It’s time to release that, to communicate your feelings in a loving, empowering way.  When my words seem to fall on deaf ears, I turn to writing out those feelings.

It’s also time to speak about what will help you regain your strength.  Do you need space to meditate or practice mindfulness, whatever that looks like?  (There are some faith-based meditations, too.)  Do you need your husband/partner to watch the kids, including getting them fed, bathed, and to bed, so you can take a fitness class or do yoga practice?  SAY that.  Don’t pussy-foot around it and be nice; none of this, “Honey, is it OK if I take this class once a week?  It’s OK if it’s not, and I’ll make dinner and take care of the kids before I leave.”  NO NO NO NO NO!!!  Try this instead:  “Honey, I need to take care of me so I can have the strength to take care of y’all.  There’s this class on Tuesday evenings I want to take.  So I can do this, I’ll need you to cook dinner those nights and be front man on getting the kids bathed and to bed.”  That’s clear, concise, and to the point.

As you start feeling better after a few weeks, make time to thank your partner for supporting you in your continuing efforts.  Also, thank your children for being good for the other parent and making his/her life easier.  Occasionally, make something in the crockpot for dinner so your husband/partner can get a little bit of a break.  Weekly, thank your other half for what they do.  This will encourage them to continue supporting you; gratefulness leads to people wanting to help, and everyone likes feeling appreciated.

It’s time we SuperMoms owned up to our weaknesses and claimed what we need to regain our strength.  I was diligently doing cardio 2-3 days/evenings a week and strength training at least twice a week.  I ate a healthy, balanced diet and got sufficient sleep.  My body was healthy.  I taught Bible daily, prayed at least once a day (not including blessing meals), and still went to church each week.  My spirit was healthy.  Yet, my spirit was also feeling worn down.  My body was feeling worn down.  Why?  Because my mental and emotional health was weak.  I had a big ol’ dose of compassion fatigue on top of anxiety, and those two things were negatively impacting the entire rest of my being.

Now, since my being is tied to others’ beings, my being worn down also adversely affected how well I was doing at the wife thing, mom thing, and friend thing.  Once I realized what was going on, owned it, and asked for help and support from people in my circles (my church circle has been especially supportive!), I am on my way back to complete, wholistic health.

SuperMom, you have got to claim a break for yourself every single day.  All you need are ten minutes a day to be quiet and mindful.  Some days, you need more time, especially if you’re working out.  Your children’s dad needs to realize that there’s more to parenting than his 10-second contribution.  Giving him these moments will help him build bonds with his children that’ll last a lifetime, so you’re doing him a favor, too.

Be Like Little Children

Vacation Bible School has started, and my teen is lead teacher of the 4- and 5-year-olds.  She doesn’t understand why none of the youth jumped at the opportunity to lead them.  Sure, they’re wild, noisy, and hyper, but that’s how kids this age are supposed to be.  They’re also silly, lovable, and enthusiastic.  And for whatever reason, my teen just perfectly grooves with them.  She was telling me about one little boy, a member of the church, who’s cute as can be.  She said, “He’s really ADHD.”

I said, “We never diagnosed ADHD in kids younger than 3rd grade.  God designed y’all to be hyper and not sit still for hours at a time when you’re little.”

My younger daughter who’s 8 piped up from the back seat, “Jesus said for little children to come to him, and he accepts them when they’re hyper, too.”

Let’s visit this for a bit.  Jesus bids his disciples quite a few times to allow the little children to come to him.  He also holds little children up as examples of faithfulness.  We are to be like little children.

What would that look like for our lives of discipleship?

We’d be lovable.  Little children accept and love people, no matter what.  At the same time, they’re open to receiving love and care, too.  They can be amazing caregivers, and they are pretty good about allowing others to care for them when necessary.  In allowing others to care for us, we’re giving them the opportunity to live out their own faith in servitude.

We’d be enthusiastic.  Whether it’s dinosaurs or a new doll or a trip to the beach, children are exuberantly happy about those things or events.  What would our lives look like if we enthusiastically proclaimed, “I love Jesus!” or said with so much joy, “Let me tell you what our pastor said Sunday.  It was so good!”

We’d be silly.  I’m not talking clown-silly or immature-silly.  I’m talking twirling-with-excitement silly or dancing-in-the-streets silly, all because we have this amazing gift of complete love and acceptance.  We as Christ-followers should have so much joy that it spills over into silliness.  So many believers think that such expressions of joy are unholy, maybe even blasphemous or sinful.  I know someone who I met after she accepted Christ as her Savior.  She’s one of the most dour, unhappy, unsmiling people I’ve ever met.  Someone who knew her before her conversion told me that she used to be a lot more fun to be around before she became a Christian.  What’s up with that?  Sure, our behaviors and attitudes need to change once we start following Jesus, but we should still be people that others wish to be around.

As anyone who’s been around little kids knows, it’s not all silly giggle fits and hugs.  Sometimes it’s tantrums and tired crankies.  Sometimes it’s stubborn refusals to eat what we serve them or to do what we ask.  Sometimes it’s fights with siblings and breaking the lovely (???) vase your husband’s aunt gave you as a wedding present (though, is that really that much of a loss?).  Many times, it’s streaking through the house (quite literally for my wannabe nudist younger daughter) and climbing over the backs of furniture.  Any minute, you expect to see someone swinging from the lighting fixture over the kitchen table.  Whew!  Remember how exhausting those days were?

We have our adult equivalent to those things.  We get tired and irritable and pitch a hissy fit when too many things are going wrong.  We fight with our spouses (or siblings, friends, or that obnoxious drunk neighbor).  And in a fit of pique, we may even accidentally-on-purpose annihilate the tacky serving bowl from a person we don’t remember.

But you know what’s cool?  The Jesus who loves and welcomes little children, the Jesus who practically gathers them up to come over for a story, a blessing, and a hug, even with their stubbornness, hyperactivity, and tantrum-throwing, does the same for us.  He makes it more adult:  “Come to me all who are weary, and I will give you rest.”  The same welcoming embrace that Jesus offers little children is ours as well.  But we have to go.  Jesus bids the children come, and he calls us adults to come, too.  He calls us to bring our pride, our stubbornness, our bad attitudes, and our issues to him and to trade those things in for peace and comfort, for living water and eternal life, for unconditional love and acceptance.

So, what’s it gonna be?  Why not shed a few layers of uptight adultness and wrap ourselves in some exuberant, joyful child-of-God-hood?  I feel lighter and happier already.

Do you want to know more about how to get Jesus’ peace?  Drop a comment below, and I’ll share with you how that can be yours.  The grace is free, but it is costly, because we still have to answer the summons.

 

The Kingdom Needs to Corrupt

What shall I compare the kingdom of God to?  It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough. (Luke 13:20-21, NIV)

The Kingdom of God needs to be a corrupting force in the world.  That just sounds bad, doesn’t it?  The cognitive dissonance strikes the brain and the ears like fingernails on a chalkboard or the stridency of the bow across the strings by a novice violinist.  After all, Kingdom of God = good; corruption = bad.

What Jesus is saying here and in its parallel passage in Matthew is that the Kingdom is like yeast that a woman is mixing into a LOT of flour.  Yeast is a fungus, and fungi were considered unclean in Jewish culture and religion.  Worse, there is a woman – a second-class citizen – working with this yeast.  What in the world was Jesus trying to say here?  That the sacred Kingdom of God is like fungus and involves women?!?!

Have you ever made bread from scratch?  To illustrate this idea, I talked the girls into making some yeast bread with me (not a terribly hard stretch).  We made a batch that made a short loaf and a scrumptious 9″x9″ fake focaccia (we called it “fauxcaccia”).  It took just one packet, about 2 teaspoons, of yeast to make these, so definitely not much compared to the 4+ cups of flour.  I’ll show off our pictures and share the recipe link, then swing it back to the teaching of Jesus.

 Mixing bowlsOur dishes ready to go

buttered glass baking pans

Pans buttered

Flour in a bowl

Four cups of flour

yeast mixture

Our tiny little package of yeast getting activated in warm water and sugar

bread dough

Everything mixed together – all 5 ingredients!

bread dough in pan and bowl

Part of the dough poured into my loaf pan, and the rest will go to my fauxcaccia.

focaccia going into oven

Rosemary + Olive oil “fauxcaccia” ready to go into the oven

Freshly baked focaccia

This is our fauxcaccia steaming hot and fresh out of the oven. If only you had a scratch and sniff screen!

freshly baked bread

Our dinky loaf of plain peasant bread

Interestingly enough, this recipe is called Peasant Bread.  It’s a 5-ingredient, no-knead, ridiculously fast and easy yeast bread that came out absolutely delicious!  You can find the recipe for it here.

Going back to the verse I cited at the beginning of this…  What is Jesus saying here?  Just as it doesn’t take a lot of yeast to impact cups (or, in the passage from Luke, pounds) of flour, it likewise doesn’t take a great deal of our corrupting our culture with Jesus to make a difference.

It makes no difference who we are, be it a CEO or a “lesser” citizen whose duties are isolated to menial tasks.  We have a responsibility to be that corrupting influence in the world.

What would that look like?  It looks like having integrity, which I define as “doing what’s right, even when no one is looking.”  I wish I could remember the original source, but at a preaching lecture led by Thomas Long, professor emeritus from Chandler School of Theology at Emory University, he recounted the story of a man in a group therapy session.  It was near Christmas, and that man had some warrants out on him.  He was planning on turning himself in to the police after that meeting.  That man was corrupting his corner of society by doing what was right.

I’ve spoken before about being counter-cultural and even counter-church cultural.  Is there something you can do to get ahead of someone else, either in prestige, position, or power?  Don’t do that.  Jesus didn’t do that, so we shouldn’t do that.  How, in fact, can we make ourselves low?  Are we willing to inconvenience ourselves in order to raise someone else up?  Are we willing to lift others up – with absolutely NO benefit for ourselves?  Can we do this quietly, secretly, like the way yeast impacts flour when we make bread?  When that becomes our way of doing life, then through us will the Kingdom of God corrupt our society and our culture.

Being Counter Church Cultural

We believers hear it often:  We must be counter-cultural.  We’re not supposed to follow the popular culture; we’re called to be different.  The problem is, our churches are increasingly co-opting to the popular culture.

First seeker churches burst onto the scene.  Seeker churches can be beneficial starting points for those seeking to know more about the Christian faith.  However, these churches rely greatly on brewing up some neurochemicals to stir people up and not so much on the power of the Holy Spirit.  Those young in the faith don’t have the knowledge and experience to discern between the two.  The worship experience might get some oxytocin going, making worshipers feel deeply emotional.  Think about how you feel when you see baby animals or hear a sad story.  That’s oxy.  Worshipers might feel excited, particularly in response to the drums and guitars.  That’s caused by endorphins.  Certain worship experiences cause people’s brains to produce cortisol and adrenaline, making them feel scared, worried, or fearful.  Hellfire & brimstone preachers rely on those chemicals for “conversions.”  Whatever the emotion is, many believers who are young in the faith interpret these chemical responses as the moving and working of the Spirit.

Alongside seeker churches came what we know today as contemporary Christian music, and this music is a crucial part of many worship services around the world.  (Funny to note here…  When I was a teen, Bill Gaither was considered a contemporary music artist.  Now his songs are in our hymnal.)  We used to attend a worship service that features contemporary Christian music.  I enjoyed the worship experience, but I didn’t always enjoy the music, yet I couldn’t figure out why not.  Then I started focusing on the words.  They were very seldom about God at all.  They were about us.  We were the objects of our worship songs.  I recently looked up the lyrics to “I Can Only Imagine,” which is very hot right now.  If the incidences of the ratio of references to “myself” versus references to Jesus/God indicate their relative importance, then I am more than twice as important as the Messiah (46:20).

A lady I know once shared an incident that happened to her.  She accidentally pulled out in front of a car.  Who hasn’t done this?  Right?  The driver of the other car blew her horn at her.  Who hasn’t also done this?  The teacher remarked, “I thought, How horrible to spend your life being so unforgiving!”  I thought, How horrible to live your life being so judgmental!  The teacher genuinely felt that she was the wronged party and the other driver was an awful person for blowing her horn at her.  But this isn’t the Jesus way.  We’re not called to judge others based on one moment of their lives.  We’re not called to think we’re so much better than others.  To do that makes us no better than the Pharisee in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke’s gospel, self-aggrandizing because of our righteousness and missing the cries for mercy from people around us.

Being self-centered is the world’s way of being.  Being Christ-centered is God’s way of being.  Judging others is the world’s way of being.  Showing mercy is God’s way of being.  Increasingly, the things I see at church are very worldly.  That leader who uses manipulative tactics to get people to help or to draw people to the church.  That’s worldly.  The worship music that talks about us is worldly.  The cliques and exclusive social groups that prevail in every church are worldly.  Clapping for the “entertainers” is worldly.  Oh, sure, people say they’re praising God with their clapping, but if that’s the case, why aren’t they “praising God” when the offering plates go back to the front of the church or after the sermon by one of those preachers who couldn’t preach to save his life?

We have attempted to make the church counter-cultural, but instead, we’ve made the church completely cultural, just with a little God talk thrown in.  I guess that God-talk is supposed to make us stand out?  I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem to be doing the trick.  Thing is, Jesus pretty much never talked about being in church.  He stated that Peter would be the rock on which Jesus would build his church, but that was it.  Jesus did church.  Jesus went to where the people were and entered into their lives.  Jesus didn’t sit in the same building with the same familiar faces week after week.  Jesus went to people where they were, people who often were different – from a different region, Gentile as opposed to Jewish, diseased as opposed to well.  We are called to do likewise.

When our church experiences are truly Christ-centered, Bible-based, and ministry-focused in deed as well as word, then we’ll be truly counter-cultural.  When we dissolve cliques and factions within the church, then we will be separate from the world and stand out from it.  When our worship once more is all about God and not about us, then we will experience revival.  Then and only then will church once more be transformative in the lives of all who enter therein.

 

Before You Speak, THINK!

Shut up for a minute before you dive into the fray.  Before you start repeating the latest chant or the moment’s trendiest #hashtag, just stop and be quiet for a few.

My teen is taking a language arts class with a friend of mine, and this lady has been amazing about teaching the kids in the class the power of words and how to use them for good.  Yesterday, she was talking about the etymology of words used in politics and the discussion, naturally, came around to the previous Saturday’s March for Our Lives in Wilmington.  Thousands of people marched, and even young children – some the age of my younger daughter – spoke out for school safety and against assault rifles.  The instructor went on to empower the students to speak out and to develop an ease of speaking so that, even if put on the spot, they can speak eloquently and confidently.

But there was one thing the instructor left out.  She didn’t tell them to think carefully first.  Friends with school students talked to their kids ahead of a previous Wednesday’s walk-out in protest of school violence.  Some of them had no idea why they were walking out.  They just did it because everyone else was doing it.  I wonder how many of those school children have researched all the facets of this argument?  How many have investigated both sides of the debate?  To argue intelligently against something, one needs to know why they are against it.

What is the actual issue at hand?

Why does this need to change?

What does the other side believe?  Why do they believe that?

What are possible consequences of each side “winning”?

What are possible consequences of each side “losing”?

Only after answering these questions can someone own a clear, convicted voice for their side of the discussion.  It takes more than just blind following and a hashtag to embrace a belief.

I can see both sides of this issue.  I have friends who have assault rifles just because they can.  They’re mentally stable and won’t go into a school and kill people.  Assault rifles aren’t only available at sporting goods stores.  They’re available at pawn shops and the trunks of dark-colored sedans parked on shadowy streets in certain parts of cities.  Sadly, whatever’s banned or restricted is always available on the black market, and banning something won’t keep people who want it from acquiring it.  Ever hear of Prohibition?  Or underground churches in China?  Good or bad, it can be had.

With the news of each school shooting, my girls are grateful to be homeschooled.  When I was in school, we had fire drills and tornado drills.  There were no lock-down drills, no active shooter drills, and no metal detectors.  When the news reports a situation at an area high school, my teen immediately starts mentally scrolling through her friends to see which one might be in the middle of that.  When it’s not one of her best friends, she breathes easily again.

For heaven’s sake, it’s hard enough being a teenager in school without having to worry each and every day if it’s going to be your last!  Freshmen are trying to navigate high school itself.  Sophomores are thinking about getting their licenses.  Juniors are wondering about prom and the first round of SATs or ACTs.  And seniors are fretting about college and scholarships.  These are all important parts of a schooled teen’s life.  The last thing they need to think about is their own personal safety while they’re sitting in a desk trying to learn.

Those students for whom this fear is a living, breathing part of their everyday existence have every right to peaceably protest the ease with which people can get weapons to kill them.  They have the right to feel disgusted when those who are supposed to be representing their rights and best interests instead represent entities who don’t value them as people.  Many people on “the other side” are scoffing at them:  “They’re just kids.  What do they know?”  The seniors in the crowd have studied US Civics and know how government is supposed to work.  And they’ll be voting in November’s mid-term elections.  These teens from Florida know that someone came into their school and killed 17 people who shouldn’t have died that day.  Other teens from other schools know that such senseless violence can happen anywhere and are doing what they can to prevent it.

Before insulting the children for being “too young” or “too immature” or “too stupid” to effect change, take a moment and consider the situation through their lenses.  Imagine every day having to go to school and possibly being killed by some mentally unstable person just because you’re in the right place at the wrong time.  Before jumping on the “take away all the guns!” bandwagon, consider those people who use guns to hunt for food for their families and those private homeowners who own guns responsibly for their own safety and that of their families.  Step into the skin of the other person and see things from their point-of-view.  Then, and only then, can you argue for either side with authority and conviction.

Woman, You’re Forbidden to Come!

And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.  She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. (Mark 5: 25-26, NIV)

I was sitting in church this morning, preparing my heart and mind for worship in the silence of the full sanctuary.  There was no music playing, and most people were refraining from talking, or at least talking loudly.  Behind us were three middle-aged women sitting together.  Two rows up was a new mom with her baby and mother.  Whisper, whisper, whisper from behind me, and what I heard were some thin judgments against this mother for bringing her baby to church on such a cold, miserable day.  “I wouldn’t have brought a baby out in this weather.”  “I’d have waited until it was at least 65 before bringing a baby out.”  They didn’t know as I did that this baby had come fully dressed and wrapped snugly in a beautiful baby afghan. The woman in the passage from Mark had had an “issue of blood,” as the King James phrases it.  We don’t know what this bleeding looked like, but having this problem went farther than a mere physical ailment. First, the treatment of the discharge had rendered the woman financially broke.  Mark tells us that this woman had gone to many doctors seeking treatment for her hemorrhage to no avail.  In fact, the woman had spent all her money seeking treatment for her bleeding and was not only left broke, but worse physically.  I’m sure that financial worries certainly didn’t help her physical state any! Secondly, the woman’s discharge of blood isolated her from others.  The Jewish law was very strict about bloody discharges, whether from menstruation or other causes, causing someone to be unclean.  If a person touched this woman at all, he or she would be unclean.  Truthfully, most people went around in a state of uncleanness, and students who came before me have figured out when to do certain behaviors whose “unclean” effects would wear off at sunset.  (Timing is everything!)  It’s one thing for her husband, if she had one, to be unclean, but worship was absolutely forbidden for this woman as long as she had this discharge.  (Lev. 15:25-31) I want to make sure what I say is clear:  This woman was forbidden from going to the sanctuary for twelve years because of this physical ailment. It is hard for us to fathom telling someone “You can’t go to church.”  Women have their menstrual cycles privately, so the person sitting in the pew with us doesn’t know we’re “unclean,” unless that person is our husband.  In fact, many ailments that kept ancient Israelites from worship are no big deal today. Yet, let’s take a look at this new mother who was in church.  She brought her baby with her to a lovely Palm Sunday service when it was very chilly out.  That same mother had had to take her baby for checkups when it was cold out, too.  People want to judge the new mothers (never the dad, though he might be right there with them) for taking their newborns out in less-than-optimal conditions.  But do these folks ever consider the isolation of new motherhood? My older daughter was born in the warmth of summer and a month early.  Since she was little and premature, I chose to wait that month before taking her to church, all for her safety.  My husband would go to church, but I ended up staying home with her.  Were it not for visits from friends from church and school in addition to our parents and my aunt, I’d have gone mad with loneliness.  My friends especially brought Christian community to me at a time when I needed it the most. When we judge others for seeking out Christian community and bringing their babies with them into that community, we are telling them, “You’re not allowed to be here.”  We are communicating to them, “It’s dumb of you to do that.”  We’re saying, “You’re unclean.  You’re forbidden from being here.” Instead, we need to celebrate that the new parents are bringing children to church.  We need to fawn over and adore the sweet little one and make sure the mom especially is doing well and is getting what she needs.  Being a new mom is hard, and being a single new mom is overwhelming as she adjusts to a new normal while also taking care of this precious little life.  Instead of dishing out judgment, we need to be dishing up compassion.

Decluttering From Church

I’m sure it’s the trial of many, many parents of kids in church.  They come home with reams of paper announcements about special events and wonderful, fun happenings.  If they’re involved in anything musical, there are stacks of CDs, built gradually over the years, often two or three a year – special programs and VBS.  Multiply that by multiple children, and that stack can be pretty impressive.

My “crafty stuff” board on Pinterest has new additions – things to do with old CDs.  Some of the ideas are incredibly gorgeous, but I know my schedule won’t allow the time to do them.  My teen and I loved the CD mosaic arts – tables, flower pots, and frames.  In fact, I’m thinking if there’s any way I could whip up some of these crafts in time for my next selling event.  Let’s see…  Two children times six years times average 2 weeks of Vacation Bible School each year, plus 2 children’s programs each year…  I could probably mosaic an entire wall of our living room at this point!

pic of CDs

About what this pile of children’s CDs looks like after a combined 15 years of programs.

Our children are getting to take part in a really fun event this coming week.  Our children’s minister emailed out the flyer for it a couple of weeks ago.  I loved that!  It’s right there in my email until it’s in the past, and it’s so easy to plug those dates into my digital calendar.  Best yet, no paper!  Churches love distributing paper.  In fact, I’ve been offered paper copies of that digital file four times since I received it.  You wouldn’t believe the “you must be the antichrist!” looks I received from some people when I declined it!  When I get paper flyers, I end up having to deal with them later – sort and recycle.  It’s kind of the same with paper bills, which only our utility company sends anymore; all the rest are electronic.  That’s great for me, because less paper means less waste.  Even paper recycling requires fossil fuel to process.  We’re trying our best to eliminate waste in our lives and our environment and working to reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible.  This is a huge part of our family’s environmental ethic as we live it out in our stewardship of God’s creation.

Stacks of CDs and full-color printed flyers that will likely get trashed or recycled…  I look at all this stuff and I look around at our community and can’t help but think, Is this really the best use of our church’s resources?  Posting flyers around the children’s center, an announcement in the bulletin, and an email would more than cover it, I think.  Could the paper/copies line item on that segment of the budget flip to some sort of family crafting event where we make stuff with all those CDs?  Could those be sold to create a scholarship fund for children to go to mission camp?  (I’m just brainstorming here.)  Or maybe that money could go towards one of the fab children’s’ charities we help support in our area.  The potential to create from the clutter is significant.

Take a look at my Crafty board and tell me what you think of the ideas I’ve pinned.  What ideas would you add?  Oh look!  What to do with CDs and 1000+ fish extender gifts.  I think I have time til our next cruise to come up with something brilliant between the two of those.

I Went to Mexico Last Week

A simple vacation changed my life.  My mom treated the girls and me to a week-long cruise last week, with ports-of-call in Key West, Costa Maya, Cozumel, and Castaway Cay.  Costa Maya and Cozumel are in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, and Castaway Cay is Disney’s private island in the Bahamas.  A week ago right now, for example, we were just beginning an excursion to Mayan ruins in Cozumel under the expert leadership of our tour guide, Nico.

This was my first trip to Mexico.  This was my first experience being a minority in a predominantly Hispanic place.  Being there, both in Costa Maya with its gorgeous beaches and in Cozumel with its rich history and environmental initiatives, whetted my appetite to learn more about these areas, the people who live there, and their history.

I’m far from a naive traveler.  I know that tourism is the top industry in these areas, and the natives’ solicitous behavior was in the hopes – rightly so – of good tips.  We learned from Nico that the “high season” is November through April, so what income they earn through tours, excursions, and tips must carry them through the six-month “low season” when cruise ships are not as prevalent in their ports.

We had two days in Mexico, one in Costa Maya, the other in Cozumel.  We had planned to swim and snorkel in Costa Maya, but rough seas made it unsafe for my youngster to snorkel.  Still, we enjoyed the beach break and the hospitality of the islanders.  While we were swimming, I overheard a guide with a group of snorkelers ask his group, “And how do we say <indistinguishable> in Mayan?”  To which the group answered, and I thought, “The Mayan language is still spoken?  Cool!”  My mind immediately began humming with questions and trying to determine how to find the answers – not from books, but from people.  Maybe find random Costa Mayans on Facebook?  Yeah, possibly.

Costa Maya

My first view of Mexico in Costa Maya where guests are greeted in a village setting

The next day saw us in Cozumel.  Truthfully, I liked Costa Maya as a place more than Cozumel; the latter was Americanized touristy.  I get that they must present like that in order to keep the Spring Breakers and tourists happy, but I was desiring a more authentic experience.  Both places have awesome stuff to see, however.  In Cozumel, all those questions found their answers, thanks to Nico.  Unfortunately, those answers just spawned more questions.  (Ahh, the joys of being a lifelong learner.)

Ancient Mayan ruins

The ruins of an ancient Mayan temple. The pillars represent the Sun and Moon.

Yes, the Mayan language is still spoken.  Forty percent of Mexicans are direct descendants of the Mayans and are distinguished by their short stature, straight hair, and high cheekbones.  (What about the other 60%?)  After the Spaniards conquered the Mayans, only a few dozen remained to preserve their culture, history, traditions, and customs.  The written Mayan language didn’t last, but all other aspects of the people did.  Mexican religion is a hybrid of Christian Catholicism and Mayan paganism.  I still have questions that I’ll hopefully get to pepper some of the soccer parents with.

Something else happened last week that wormed its way into my mind.  On Disney Cruise Lines, there is a room host for small groupings of staterooms.  These hosts make the beds, tidy the room (Jhe, our host, even folded a couple of my older daughter’s clothes that she was going to take care of after dinner), create the towel animals, replenish bath linens, turn down the beds, and leave chocolates.  Another thing that happens on DCL is, your servers at dinner follow you all week from restaurant to restaurant.  This way, they learn your likes, dislikes, and preferences.  After our first night, our little one never again had tomatoes on her salads, though she did have double cucumbers.

Our servers, Charles and Wayan, were from India and the Philippines, respectively.  Jhe, our host, was from Indonesia.  It struck me that the “brown-skinned” cast members had the least desirable, more grunt-service jobs, whereas the lighter skinned cast members from Australia, Europe, and North America were higher up in the hierarchy – just under the captain, for example, or working directly with the kids in the youth clubs.  They often held supervisory positions as well.  Yet, we seldom saw and interacted with those cast members.  It was Jhe who took care of our stateroom all day, every day, and Charles and Wayan were the ones providing us with exceptionally attentive dinner service.  Being a White American lady, I am aware of the glamour – or lack thereof – of service jobs.  I can also see the color and cringe at what seems to be unfairness.

My youngster only saw “people.”  All of us spoke to the room hosts along our hall on our way to the stairs and elevators.  Whether in her Princess Elena dress or tee and shorts, my eight-year-old dropped a curtsey to Jhe every time she saw him.  She doesn’t know that you only curtsey to nobility; to her, he is a noble person and worthy of her honor and respect.  In the simple act of the curtsey, she elevated him above his position of bed-maker and clothes-folder.  That’s beautiful to me.  How often do we elevate people by our actions each day?  Or would we rather they just keep in “their place” to which the White majority has assigned them?

It takes surprisingly little effort to raise someone up.  Let’s all take a moment to lift up someone in the coming week, regardless of who they are.