Friday, March 1, 2013

New haircut? No, my hair is greasy and I choose not to shower. Thank you for understanding.

Two questions I have been asked several times since Ash Wednesday:  "What are you doing for Lent?  and "Did you recently get your hair cut?"  Surprisingly, there IS a connection between these two questions.  Allow me to explain:

Let me begin by saying that each year as Lent approaches, I pray about what I should "give up," and also what I can "offer to" God.  In the Bible, fasting is not solely about sacrificing.  It is also about adding--through prayer, generosity, or focusing on matters that are important to God.  So, this year, I decided to relinquish hot water for all bathing.  (I still cook and wash clothes with hot water).  I decided that during my cold showers I would offer the Lord prayers for people around the world who lack access to any type of clean water--hot or cold. 

My lofty ideals collided with reality the moment I stepped completely under ice cold water the first time I washed my hair.  My hair is really thick, and there is just no way I can avoid standing completely under frigid water for at least 5 minutes.  The initial 30-60 second shock is the worst--no matter how prepared I think I am, extreme brain freeze commences--like Slurpee brain freeze on steroids.  It leaves me with a headache that lasts about an hour.  My goose bumps erupt into goose mounds and every cell in my body is benumbed.  Yes, I tend to over dramatize a wee bit.

God knows that I am a big, spoiled baby. So, I'm sure it came as no surprise to him that I am NOT praying for others while showering. Instead, I'm feeling sorry for myself. I've told God I would intercede for others AFTER I exit the torture chamber, (a/k/a shower), wrap myself in a fluffy, warm robe, and dry my hair with plenty of hot air.

Because I really dislike cold showers, I have mastered the art of the sponge bath.  These are not pleasant, but they are 100% better than a deluge of chilly water.  I only wash my hair every 3-4 days. Lots of natural oils translate into grungy and grimy hair.  Apparently, when my hair contains a lot of grease, it flattens and lays differently--thus the observation by some that I must have had my hair cut recently.  Disgusting?  Possibly. Do I care?  Not really--not if I can avoid a Siberian prison-style shower for another day.

This exercise has reminded me:  though I am doing without hot water, my family is blessed to have constant and easy access to clean water.  I am trying to be mindful to thank God for something I usually take for granted.  When I fill my girls' sports bottles, I thank God for filtered water that flows from our refrigerator.  When I turn on the faucet to fill a pot, I thank God for clean cooking water that will not make my family sick.  When I push the button on my washing machine, I thank God that I am not consigned to hand-washing our clothes in a pit of standing water that is swimming in fecal matter.

And when the chill has worn off from my frigid shower, these are my supplications:

"God, I pray today for those who have no water.  They are literally dying of thirst.  Please provide for their needs.
 I pray for parents who must choose today between having their children slip further into dehydration or giving them filthy water to drink.
Please comfort those who are mourning as they watch their children's bodies lowered into the ground for burial because they died of preventable water-borne diseases.
Please protect women who must travel miles on foot to gather water for their family and who daily run the risk of rape to obtain this basic necessity.
Help my family and others who are wealthy to be willing to sacrifice and share so that water wells can be constructed for every person in the world that needs them."

And Lord, most of all, help me to remember that you are Living Water, and that those who come to you will never (spiritually) thirst again.  I'm giving up warm showers; God, you sacrificed your Son. Jesus, I worship you because you provide the water that saves and nourishes our souls.
"Whoever believes in me as the scripture has said, streams of living
 water will flow from him."  John 7:38

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

"Marry someone who will love you when you get pudgy in the middle"

In an age of throw away marriages, serial marriages, starter marriages, brief marriages, and loveless marriages, I felt so blessed to celebrate my parents' 50th wedding anniversary with them last November.  Though in our fallen world divorce is sometimes unavoidable, my parents managed to forge a happy and enduring marriage when so many others have been torn asunder. 

As their eldest child, I have had a "ringside seat" to their marriage for 44 years.  While people may try to put on airs and fool other people, you simply cannot fake a good marriage within the walls of your own home.  Kids know, sense, and absorb too much on a daily basis.  They sniff out insincerity and hypocrisy with ease.

Accordingly, when we asked Mom and Dad to share their secrets for a long and happy marriage at their anniversary party, my brother Kevin and I knew they were dispensing the unvarnished truth:
  • Choose someone who shares your values and faith.
  • Marry someone who will love you when your hair turns gray and you get pudgy in the middle. (Amen!)
  • Honor your marriage covenant.
  • Pray together often.
  • Laugh a LOT! 
These are not fluffy, "we have to say these things because we are supposed to" answers!  I can attest that these are principles that my parents have lived and believed, albeit imperfectly, every day of their marriage.

Mom and Dad entered into a marriage covenant on November 17, 1962, but their shared values and faith is the glue that has  held them together all these years. The Beetles sang "All You Need Is Love."  However, recognizing that "marriage is the union of two dreadful sinners"(as one pastor has said),  Mom and Dad understood it was crucial to build their union on a faithful foundation. God and his Word were present at their wedding ceremony and have been at the center of their marriage since Day 1. 

My parents were attractive young people when they married, but as years went by, hair fell out (Dad) and went gray (Mom and Dad).  Their weight has inched upward since their wedding day. There are wrinkles and age spots and health issues that go hand-in-hand with growing older.  But my Dad still looks at my Mom like she is the most beautiful woman he's ever seen, and I still observe them hugging affectionately and stealing kisses.

No matter what curve-ball life threw at them, Mom and Dad were determined to stay married and never let divorce enter their realm of thinking.  They have been devoted to each other for better or worse--and their has definitely been some of both over the past 50 years.  I definitely remember times when it would have been easy for one or both of them to throw in the towel, because life is HARD and even the best spouses DISAPPOINT.  They had the integrity to persevere, and I am so happy that they did.

Mom and Dad prayed faithfully--both individually and together.  As a child in our small house with thin walls, I would often fall asleep to the murmuring voices of my parents in their bedroom at night.  Though I could not make out the words, I knew they were praying.  This is one of my most cherished childhood memories.  When times were happy, Mom and Dad praised God.  When challenges, difficulties, and heartache entered their lives, they laid them at Jesus' feet and trusted in His Sovereignty.  Mom and Dad truly "prayed without ceasing."

My parents both have a great sense of humor.  Dad thinks his jokes are really funny, and my Mom does her best to laugh whether she sees the point in them or not.  They frequently tease and needle each other in order to have fun and  relieve tension.  Their example has taught me I don't need to take everything so seriously. Having fun together and even being silly are good for a marriage. 

Mom and Dad--thank you for the gift of a home where both parents are committed forever and genuinely love AND like each other.   I attribute much of the success I have had in my own marriage to the example I saw in yours.  Jeff and I hope to be celebrating our own 50th wedding anniversary on April 24, 2043 with you two looking down from heaven, cheering us on.  I love you both so very much!

"Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away.  If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned."
Song of Songs 8:7


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Out of the ashes--how will you respond?

Not since 9/11 has an incident occurred on U.S. soil that has impacted and violated such a large swath of Americans.  Some of our most innocent and vulnerable citizens were ripped violently from us in the worst possible way.  I would never presume to understand the pain, grief, and despair that has been visited upon those most closely affected by this tragedy.

For this reason, I will not attempt to address how the victims' families,  the school community, those who live in Newtown, or others intimately touched by the tragedy should respond.  This is their time to grieve, express anger, receive counseling, cry on the shoulders of their loved ones and friends, lean on God for comfort--whatever they need to do for as long as they need to do it. 

But what about the rest of us?  Now that the initial shock has worn away, how should we respond?Americans collectively have had our psychological skin burned, and  healing will take time.  We may hold our children closer, express disbelief, or cry out for some kind of justice in the world. Many of us have profound, but ultimately, unanswerable questions. It is easy to get mired in political, moral, and theological debates. We are in pain and prone to feelings of despair and hopelessness.

However,  I am convinced that if we can take steps, even small ones, towards honoring the victims, showing compassion, and praying to God, our spirits will be soothed and we can begin to travel the road toward healing.  Following are three suggestions--feel free to choose one, two, three, or none.  You may have other ideas or ways of dealing with grief.  Ultimately, our hearts will guide each of us in how to best deal with this tragedy and look towards the future. 

1)  NBC News anchor Ann Curry suggests that people perform 26 random acts of kindness in honor of the 26 Sandy Hook school victims.

2)  The U.S. Post Office has dedicated a special place to receive cards and letters of condolence for the families of those who perished at the school:  P.O. Box 3700, Newtown, CT, 06470.

3)  Most importantly, those who are followers of Jesus Christ have the power, access, and obligation to pray. It is good and right to be brutally honest with our Savior.  If we are angry at God, we should tell him so.  If we want to cry out for him to return quickly and rescue us from this evil and sin-sick world, we should tell him that, too.  If we want answers, ask Him. God is big enough and strong enough to handle our most gut-wrenching questions, doubts, anger, and fears. 

 The prayer suggestions that follow were put together by the Moms in Prayer State Coordinator for Connecticut.  She is asking all Christian prayer warriors throughout her state, our nation, and the world to pray in light of what seems to be a senseless and unthinkable tragedy. 

I can testify that prayer does make a difference!  When I intercede on behalf of others and ask God to comfort those who mourn, I receive comfort as well.  When I ask God to be merciful, gracious, and compassionate to families whose lives have been torn apart, I feel his mercy, grace, and compassion resting on me as well.  Prayer changes others; but it also changes me. 

Prayer requests for Sandy Hook elementary and Newtown: 
For the families of those who lost their lives: That they would turn their lives to you, Father. That in their sorrow you would grant them strength and grace to make it through the coming days and months.  That mercy and comfort would be extended to their tender hearts. That this Christmas our families that are grieving would recognize the glorious peace and comfort that comes through faith in you.           

For the siblings of those who lost their lives: That Our Father would protect them from the enemy of their soul. That they would find comfort in their family and in the knowledge of your great mercy. That Jesus would be present in their sleep and the darkness of their heart would be warmed by His light. That our Abba Father would comfort them during difficult days ahead.

The family of Adam Lanza: That they would not be judged as they mourn the loss of their mother, brother and victims in this tragedy. That the Lord would give the Sandy Hook School families and community strength to forgive. That the Lord would draw the Lanza family into a saving relationship through the blood of Jesus Christ.

The students, faculty and administration of the Sandy Hook Elementary School: For the Lord to bestow mercy to the children's healing hearts as they mourn the loss of their classmates, administrators, teachers and their perceived safety. That Our Lord would restore the school classrooms with spiritual and emotional healing. That children and families would cling to Jesus as their Rock, Fortress and Deliverer. For Christ to be present in the rebuilding of lives and programs in the wake of this tremendous tragedy.

All of our schools and communities across the USA: That we Christian Americans would humble ourselves, pray, seek Our Lord's face and turn from our sinful ways. That the Lord would hear from heaven and forgive our sin and heal our land. That this tragedy would glorify God through a fierce Holy Spirit led cross-country revival.  For repentant hearts that would cling to Jesus. We pray that the Lord would raise up women to join the mighty army of prayer warrior moms and grandmas that stand in the gap for our children and schools.

Revival in our schools: That every student would have the opportunity to hear of the grace and mercy afforded to us by Our Lord Jesus Christ. That Christian students would be beacons of Christ's light to those who are living in darkness. For the Holy Spirit to move among the hallways of each school in the United States. For students to respond to God's great love and  everlasting peace.

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever. Amen".   Ephesians 3: 20-21



Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A space alien travels from Hobby Lobby to Bethlehem

Science fiction?  NOT a fan.  I suffered through Fahrenheit 451 as required reading in school and believe it barely passes as a literary genre.   However, I recently suspended judgement and tapped into a hereto unknown portion of my brain that is fond of pocket universes, gamma rays, and UFOs. Following is a brief yet poignant tale of alien Sork's visit to earth on December 12, 2012:

Sork learns that there is an annual celebration on earth that is out of this world (cheesy, I know). Planetary tourism is Sork's favorite past time, so he hops in his Model #X7Ui5 spaceship, sets his GPS for New York City, and takes off.  As he nears the earth and hovers over our American landscape, he is overwhelmed at what look like stars--a twinkling, dazzling display of millions and millions of tiny lights in every color and size imaginable. "Could this have anything to do with who or what the Americans are celebrating?"  Sork wonders.               

 His GPS is imprecise once he leaves his galaxy, so Sork lands in the Hobby Lobby parking lot in Carrollton, Texas instead of the Big Apple.  Good enough.  He is thrilled when his six eyes  peer inside Hobby Lobby and see thousands of lights similar to those he observed after entering the atmosphere. 

Sork walks inside and is immediately nauseated by the smell.  (Sork has gotten a blended whiff of cinnamon, wintergreen forest, nutmeg, and peppermint scented candles).  Sensory overload strikes when as he is affronted by the lights, the indoor trees, and bright, sparkly, shiny stuff. Sork spots a sign that says "Christmas decorations,"  according to his interplanetary translator machine. "Maybe these earthlings are celebrating something called Christmas!" imagines Sork.

Sork gingerly takes a step onto one aisle, and then another step.  His trains all six eyes on the store's wares, and sees an assortment of unfamiliar items--ornaments by the thousands in every shape, size, and color, stockings, stickers, muffin liners, flower bouquets, itty bitty to extra large gift bags, bows in a wide spectrum of colors, elves, holiday wrapping paper, strands of beads, and ceramic bowls.  Each row seems to feature more glitz and glamour than before.  A curious tag with tiny writing appears on most items.  He holds his trusty translator to read what it says:  "Made in China."  "Hmmmm. This could be a clue!" thinks Sork.

Sork notices an odd image on much of the merchandise--an old man sporting a bright red suit.  He has a shock of white hair, a long beard, and an easy smile. Sometimes he holds gifts in his hands, other times he is being dragged through the universe by some odd-looking earth animals.  "Is this a superhuman, a god, or a chrononaut (time traveller)?  Perhaps HE is the one everybody is excited about !" enthuses Sork.

Sork realizes his life might be in danger when harried shoppers almost step on him, not even noticing there is an alien in their midst (Sork is quite short).  He wants to ask these frenzied earthlings who or what they are shopping for.  But alas, they are too busy stuffing their carts full of plastic and cardboard, glitter and bling, trim and sequins.

He leaves the store dazed and disoriented, but decides to bounce over to the next shopping center and peek inside a few more stores.  Through his translating machine, he could hear shoppers reassure each other, "if you can't find "it" at Hobby Lobby, you can find "it" at Joann, Michaels, and Garden Ridge.  Sork hopes these stores will be different, offering insight into the "it" that inspires unabashed spending and slavish devotion.

 However, he finds the same displays, merchandise, crazed shoppers, and funny man that he hears some humans call "Santa Claus."  On his way out the door, a saleslady asks one of the shoppers, "is there anything I can help you find?"  "I'm looking for baby Jesus," the woman replies.  The saleslady knits her brow and responds, "I don't think we have anything like that here."  Another clue!  Who is Jesus, and what might he have to do with Christmas? 

Sork is chafed from atmospheric exposure and in dire need of a  carbon monoxide smoothie, so he hops in his spaceship.  He summons the intergalactic Internet, hoping to find information about Jesus.   Service is slow, especially 3.7 zillion miles from his home planet.  He hates his Internet provider, but is under contract for another three eons.  He rubs some crystallized lotion into his scales until at last, Alienopedia appears on his screen.  First entry:

Jesus:  King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Wonderful Counselor, Good Shepherd, Servant, Redeemer, Savior, High Priest, Deliverer, The Vine, Holy, Light of the World...Whatthewhat?  "How can Jesus be all these things at once?" Sork wonders.   Being an educated alien, Sork surmises Jesus must be a replicant (artificial alien or genetically engineered replica of a human being).  He continues reading:

God is the just and gracious Creator of all things (even aliens and their galactic abodes).  Earthlings are created by God, but are corrupted by sin.  Jesus Christ alone is able to remove sin through his death and resurrection.  He took the wrath for earthlings' sins.  Humans try and try, but there is nothing they can do to become right with God.  Only though faith in God's Son, Jesus, can humans be forgiven and reconciled.  The eternal destiny of each earthling depends on their response to Jesus.

Sork ponders what he has read and wonders if Jesus might be God's avatar.  He reads on:

Jesus is fully God and fully man.  He left his heavenly home and came to earth as a baby.  This miracle is called the Incarnation.  Believers in Jesus celebrate his birth at Christmastime.  ""Wow--finally I'm getting somewhere!" Sork declares in his cute little alien voice.

Sork furiously scans for information about when God's son was born.  According to Alienopedia, the birth occurred approximately 2012 years ago in a town called Bethlehem.  "Maybe Bethlehem in near China, where Christmas decorations are made," Sork muses.  There's only one way to find out. 

He decides to "regress in space" and see the miracle of the first Christmas himself.  In time travel mode, he can move with superluminal speed and arrive in an hour.  He sets his GPS to Bethlehem and reads the additional directions:  "You will know you are close when you see the giant star.  When you land, follow the shepherds weaving through densely populated narrow streets.  The  smell of animal dung signals your proximity to the target location. Inside, you will find a young couple with a baby.  THIS is Christ, Emmanuel, who earthlings celebrate at Christmas!

Sork arrives in his spaceship and parks near the camels.  In a little room, he finds Mary, Joseph, animals, and a tiny baby. Shepherds are bowed down in worship.  Everything is simple--no triangle trees with twinkly lights, stockings, or elves.  No glitter, no glitz.  The angels hovering over Jesus, however, are lovely and luminescent.   Even a foreign alien can't help but stand amazed.

Sork realizes that although this baby appears small and helpless, he is no ordinary earthling.  He is the greatest, most magnificent being to ever cross the horizon of the world. He has always existed, and he always will (talk about being everywhere in the time/space continuum!)  Jesus is the Savior of mankind, and offers earthlings grace, redemption, and eternal life.  Those who believe are his children and will reign with him forever. 

Sork slips out of the stable and boards his spaceship for his return trip to a galaxy far, far away.  He lights his dilithium fuel tank and astrogates into space.    As he orbits the planet earth, Sork gazes one last time at the Christmas lights twinkling below.  "Just beautiful," muses Sork. As Sork settles into his into his cushy space chair, he ponders his visits to Hobby Lobby and the stable in Bethlehem.  "I'll telepathically synthesize my observations into my intergalactic translator," decides Sork.  Sork is surprised to see that in 3.4 milliseconds, a summary of his earthly visit is transcribed into a simple poem:

"Humans on earth are celebrating Jesus' birth. Often the merchandise and bling obscure the simple majesty of their King.  But however they choose to celebrate, the earthly arrival of God's son is a special date. For this is when Jesus came down from above, to transform earthlings through his great love."  --Sork the Alien

Sunday, December 2, 2012

What Mary and Joseph gave Jesus instead of an xBox

As every year at Christmastime, I feel the tension between joyfully bestowing a limited number of gifts on my children, and feeling pressured to buy them lots of high-tech toys, electronic gadgets, and dolls that are probably manufactured for $10 but cost $100 due to insatiable demand and clever marketing.  Mika (age 8) and Macy's (age 6) Christmas lists: 

DS game system
laptop computer
iphone, ipod, ipad (thanks Apple, you've already indoctorinated my children)
American Girl dolls, clothes, and accessories
jump rope

In affluent suburbia,  most parents, like me, are constantly pressured by their children to buy whatever their friends have and what they see advertised. According to Mika and Macy, they are the most deprived children they know (apparently forgetting the kids we met in Guatemala this summer). The limited amount of technology we make available to them is never enough, and they demand, MORE, MORE, MORE!  The toys and gadgets Mika and Macy long for serve a dual purpose:  they are truly a lot of fun and also allow them to fit in with their peers. 

I look around and see three year olds with itouches (which sometimes land in the toilet); first graders with smart phones, birthday parties for 10 year olds with a $10,000 budget, 16 year olds with brand new cars that cost more than their teachers' annual salaries, and breast augmentation for high school graduation. I begin to wonder that if I can afford to give my girls their hearts' desire on Christmas (or put it on credit), why not?

Much has been said and written about overindulging children with material stuff, and I have no idea where to draw the line.  It's a balancing act that every family must figure out for themselves.  My goal is to keep Mika and Macy from feeling so comfortable in the world that they forget where true satisfaction comes--through a life devoted and surrendered to Christ.  Unlike ipods and game boys that will someday disintegrate, break, and end up in the city dump, living to please God and accomplish his kingdom work will reap eternal rewards that Mika and Macy will enjoy forever and ever, amen.

This quote from the Village Church blog sums my thoughts up well:

"The price tag for suburban affluence, untempered by godly wisdom, is far too high for the Christian parent to pay. The danger, though not physical, is real. We must point our children toward the truth that satisfaction is found in God alone. This need not be a call to asceticism so much as a call to sober reflection: Ultimately, the stuff is not the problem – our hearts are. We must think hard about the choices we make in our spending. With God’s grace we may spare our children from the poverty of a life spent chasing what will not last by pointing them toward what truly satisfies."

I'm humbled when I remember that Jesus grew up in a household devoid of most "wants," yet his earthly family provided him what he needed to prepare for his mission as Savior of the world.

Mary and Joseph hailed from the insignificant village of Nazareth (possibly the "hood" of Galilee?).  They did not possess wealth or social status.  When they took baby Jesus to the temple to be presented to the Lord, they offered a pair of pigeons--the offering of the very poor.  Mary and Joseph were unable to pass on to young Jesus much in the way of education or meaningful cultural experiences.

Despite being materially and culturally disadvantaged, Mary and Joseph were faithful Jews who worshipped the one true God and knew the Holy Scriptures. They provided Jesus with a home that was built on love, faith, and family.  These priceless gifts are as important to children now as they were over two thousand years ago. 

So what exactly is going to end up under the Christmas tree for my girls this year?    I've bought what I consider fun and age appropriate gifts for Mika and Macy, including a puzzle and a jump rope.  Will they feel deprived once they return to school in January and see and hear about all the stuff their classmates received?  Possibly. They might as well get used to it, though, because we won't be bankrolling new cars or boob jobs, either.

It will probably be a long time before they appreciate the things that money can't buy--a  loving home, plenty of family time, and a spiritual heritage that they can pass on to their children and grandchildren.   My prayer is that someday, Mika and Macy will know that the greatest gift at Christmas isn't found under the tree.  It doesn't come with apps, megabytes, consoles, ear buds, or avatars, but it's definitely a keeper. 

The greatest gift at Christmas isn't expensive.  It's priceless!  Jesus, God become man, born to lowly Jewish peasants, the Savior of the World.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Anyone interested in a free Playstation?

Good news:  I don't have to invest $249.99 on Amazon to acquire a Playstation--instead, I can have my children build one of their own!  We received a "Playstation tutorial" from some amazing Guatemalan children we had the privilege of spending the day with when we visited their country this summer.

I know it won't come as a surprise that Guatemalan children live very different lives than our children in the wealthy suburbs. They are missing many things that we consider "blessings."  It is true that most children in Guatemala are impoverished--I grieve the fact that they often do without necessities--clean water, healthy food, and adequate medical care.  But I yearn for the abundance of joy these children derive from the simple pleasures of life. 

Most Guatemalan children don't have an endless list of wants in order to be satisfied or happy.  Nor do they have an entitlement mentality or believe the world revolves around them.  They don't think their parents exist in order to buy them stuff, more stuff, and keep upgrading their stuff.  Instead, they believe that they need to do what they can to contribute to the family's welfare.  They take on difficult tasks or chores (like caring for younger siblings or carrying multiple loads of firewood up a steep, muddy hill) with a positive attitude.  They don't expect adults who are trying to eke out a living to put food on the table to solve their disputes and listen to complaining and backtalk. 

They have learned they are responsible for keeping themselves entertained, and they will find something, (usually outside in nature) to enjoy and play with.  (That is, when they are not working side by side with their parents or performing chores to help the family). Most do not have access to TVs, electronics, video games, and phones, so they have learned to use their creativity and social interaction to make their own merriment.

In addition, Guatemalan children have time for unstructured play.  One reason is because most people simply cannot afford extra-curricular activities for their kids, but even families with more discretionary income do not prioritize lots of scheduled lessons, practices, games, and play dates. Instead, they give children the freedom to play with others, explore their world, and discover how to amuse themselves.  Sure, they play sports, but it is usually kid-initiated and kid-run instead of a highly regulated activity that includes a rulebook, referees, uniforms, appropriate safety gear, and parents screaming at the coaches, players, and each other.

Our family visited an incredible thirty-two year old widow, Carmen, and her six children.  The goal was for Jeff and two other men to fix a huge hole in her roof and lay some pipes and a retaining wall.  My task was to entertain the children, both mine and hers, with crafts and my ability to speak what doesn't even pass as "broken" Spanish.  The crafts were fun for a little while, but soon they were completed.

What was supposed to be a three hour job on the house turned into an all-day project.  I was concerned about what  the children would do all day, but Carmen was not.  Carmen stays busy chopping wood, growing corn, preparing tortillas, hand washing clothes, and preparing "wipee materials" to sell to car washes. She simply does not have time to add "cruise director" to the list.  She knows that her kids, even with no flashy, sophisticated toys available, will easily entertain themselves. And her gracious children are more than happy to include two white-bred U.S. girls (my daughters, ages 6 and 8) into the mix.

I scratched my head and wondered, "what is this gaggle of energetic kids going to do to occupy their time?"

Wait for it:  they invent their own games.  Because the eight children do not speak the same language, they point, gesture, demonstrate, and giggle.  Laughter is universally understood. This family's survival hinges on sharing everything with each other, so the kids patiently wait their turn and make sure everyone is included in the fun.  New ideas and experiences give way to different games and more laughter. 

The children form an impromptu circle and begin to hold hands, dance, and clap on the discolored concrete floor of the house.  After exhausting an interesting combination of "London Bridges" and "Ring Around the Rosy," the gang heads outside.  There isn't a sandbox, a swing set, scooter, or soccer ball in sight.  The Guatemalan children, adept at creating entertainment with natural and discarded objects,  seize upon an opportunity.  They find a large rock and a wooden plank that is yet to be used by the workmen. 

Right before my eyes, A make-shift see-saw comes to life!  I take a few steps back so they cannot see me intently observing them on their newly created "Playstation."  The  children, Guatemalan and American alike, eagerly climb on, two, three, and four at a time.  Sometimes they sit, and sometimes they stand.  Everyone laughs and squeals with delight.  Everyone takes a turn.  Even falling down is fun.  Then one of the children realizes that if a bunch of kids sit on the board, a child standing near each end can push and rotate the board  in a circle to create a merry-go-round effect.  More cheers and laughter.  I can't tell who is having more fun--those sitting or those pushing!

I discreetly pull out my camera for a few pictures, figuring I have a fleeting opportunity to capture the moment.  I know this activity will last 5-10 minutes at the most.  Certainly, the teenager will decide this is a lame activity, a disagreement will ensue, or one gender will gang up on the other.  Nope, I was completely wrong.  They played variations of the see-saw for over an hour--until the board was needed for it's intended purpose of building a wall. 

I don't know when I have seen Mika and Macy so engaged with others and having so much fun without any store bought "props" or adult assistance.  They went from the see-saw to playing in the pile of cement pebbles waiting to be mixed with water.  Everyone ran in circles under the blue Guatemala sky.  Sometimes, and for no apparent reason, they hugged each other.  The laughter I heard that day could rival our highly planned, expensive birthday parties or our visit to Disney World.  Weeks later, I can almost hear the delightful and unabashed laughter of six "poor" Guatemalan children and my "rich" American children ringing in my ears.

We were all sad as the day drew to a close.  Mika and Macy did not want to leave their new friends. Many hugs were exchanged as we wistfully turn to walk back to my friend Chrissy's apartment.  The next day, we boarded an airplane for the U.S.A.

The girls have resumed "life as usual"--toys with all the bells and whistles, a plethora of cartoon choices on TV, 3D movies, and demands that their parents take them from one entertainment venue to the next.  We encounter the challenges of trying to wedge a few "play dates" in around our family's and other family's scheduled camps, lessons, games, and entertainment destinations.   Often it seems like we have returned and picked up right where we left off. 

Some glimmer of impromptu fun and games remains, however.  When others ask Mika and Macy what they liked best about Guatemala, they invariably respond, "the new friends we made!  We had so much fun together!"  Ah, the beauty and wonder of simple childhood play!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

"Magic Jeff" and "Fifty Shades of Pray"

OK, by now, almost everyone has heard of the blockbuster movie "Magic Mike", about a group of gorgeous male strippers, and the "Fifty Shades of Grey" trilogy, a mainstream pornographic series marketed to women about a disturbed, controlling man and his troubled relationship with a young virgin whom he selfishly and callously immerses into the lifestyle of bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism. 

The blogosphere is ripe with both raving fans and angry critics of these books and movies.  Many of the blogs I have read relate to whether Christian women should see/read these wildly popular sensations.  Most have made persuasive arguments based on sound Biblical doctrine, common sense, and the wisdom from seeing the downside to these supposedly "harmless and fun" cultural phenomenons. 

However, this post is not about specific Bible verses, or what individual women should or shouldn't do, Christian or otherwise.  I am speaking from the heart about what I have observed in my own life and marriage.  Obviously, I am writing through the lens of a follower of Christ, since I love and identify with Him.  My convictions run deep and perspective is keenly personal. 

As a  heterosexual woman, I understand the appeal of "Magic Mike."  I can appreciate a buff, good-looking man as much as the next gal.  Having seen the trailer for the movie, I can relate to the excitement of viewing  finely sculpted men with exquisitely perfect six pack abs.  Channing Tatum has mastered the feat of tilting his pelvis while simultaneously removing his clothes and smiling a 'come hither' look without breaking a sweat.  This is eye candy for women, no doubt!!!

But is this really harmless fun?  Is it women's chance to do what men have been doing for many years--objectifying and salivating over naked women? Are women who obsessively devour these books and  book clubs who animatedly discuss "Fifty Shades of Grey" into the early morning hours candidly enjoying themselves and expanding their sexual horizons?  Am I a killjoy, a prude, or both? 

Quite simply, I am convinced there are unintended consequences of this type of entertainment.  As a follower of Christ, I have to constantly be aware of what enters my mind, because my mind likes to travel to the gutter, and the Spirit of the Lord does not dwell there.  (I know, I've looked;)  The effects of my entertainment choices on my own spiritual life will be covered in another post. 

The  thrust (pardon the pun) of this post is to posit the ramifications of my reading and viewing choices on my marriage. No doubt about it,  if I see "Magic Mike" I am choosing to lust over a dude gyrating his junk in front of my face.  If I  read books about a man who is "all that" and who has me completely obsessed by his charms, I am choosing to be intoxicated by a character who gives the Creator the middle finger and perverts something as beautiful as sex into ritualistic control, abuse, and narcissism.

If I really believe that besides God,  my most treasured relationship is with my spouse, I don't want the movies I see or the books I read to subversively tear holes in the fabric of our union. I love my husband and our marriage and want to protect it at all costs.  By God's grace, my prayer is that our marriage will bring glory to God and not fall prey to ruin and destruction. 

This means, of course, that I am committed to being physically faithful to Jeff.  But I also want him to feel that he is incredibly attractive and the only object of my desire.  This does not imply that I watch nothing but rated G movies, limit my reading to the "Little Women" series, or that I don't notice an attractive man.   But I will not pay money to intentionally leer at dancing, prancing strippers for the sake of being titillated and entertained. 

Otherwise, I will communicate to Jeff  on some level that he is not good enough, attractive enough, or sexy enough to satisfy me.  No matter how many organic salads and gluten-free whole grains he consumes or ab-crunches he performs, he is not going to look like a 25-year old stripper (nor am I;)  That's OK--I love him exactly like he is and I believe it is a sign of respect and honor that I lavish all my ogling and compliments regarding a man's physique on him. 

Jeff is as attractive and alluring to me as ever.  I never want to be with anyone else.  My goal is for him to to be the object of all my sexual energy, focus, and attention.  I want to worship him with my body.  Our marriage is exclusive. Since I desire to communicate these things to him in every way possible,  I'll leave "Magic Mike" to others because I have "Magic Jeff" at home. 

In addition, what I find sexy in a man is about much more than fine physical attributes.  I love David Letterman's Top Ten Lists, so in that spirit, I will list 10 things that get my heart pumpin', in reverse order of importance:

10) A man who takes out the trash without being asked...

9)   A man who does the dishes (extra points if is smiles while sudsing extra-greasy pans)...

8)   A man who can make me laugh and reminds me not to take myself so seriously...

7)  A man who makes sure my vehicle is running properly and smoothly at all times.  This includes routine maintenance, diagnosing of "funny noises" that I report the engine is making, coordinating necessary repairs, and purchasing new tires/brakes/timing belts (what the heck is a timing belt, anyway?).  It may include fixing self-inflicted damage like shaving the side mirror off my car or pounding out dings made by accidentally bumping my van into various objects.  Also, I love myself a man who keeps my car filled with gas!
6)  A man who is intent on financially providing for his family.  He will endure anything: difficult bosses,  thankless tasks, and long hours.  If he lost his office job and had no other options, he would gladly work two jobs--one digging ditches and one flipping burgers--to provide for his family's needs.

5)  A man who has integrity with everyone he deals with--whether anyone is watching or not...

4)  A man who has a heart of service and helps others, often without even being asked, and always with a smile and pure motives...

3)  A man who relishes being an exceptional, loving, and devoted father to my children...

2)  A man who is absolutely committed to our marriage and remaining 100% faithful to me...

1)  A man who loves the Lord and his Word and who is the spiritual leader of the home...

Allow me to camp out at #1 for a moment.  NOTHING is more meaningful in our marriage than the spiritual attraction we share.  It is one of the first things that drew me to Jeff and it has been the anchor for our marriage and likely the reason we are still happily married after 19 years.

The type of spiritual leadership I am referring to is not domineering.  It does not consist of a husband bossing his wife around while his children cower in the corner of the room.  Instead, It is humble, kind, loving, and sacrificial.  It is a deep reservoir of genuine faith.  It involves much more than simply saying "All right everybody, get in the car, it's time to go to church," or offering a rote prayer before meals.  It is more than practicing cultural Christianity or going through monotonous religious routine to check off spiritual boxes to supposedly appease God.

I'm speaking of a man like Jeff who has put his faith in the Lord Jesus and humbly desires to live his life in service and devotion to Him.  I'm describing a man who rises early, before anyone is awake, and spends time studying his Bible and praying.  He actively tries to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in his life.  He meets with other godly men who encourage one another, pray with one another, and hold each other accountable.

He reads the Bible to his family and has spiritual conversations with his wife and children.  Jeff makes an effort to "teach" by modeling Christ-like behavior and also turning things that happen in our every-day life into opportunities to grow in Christ.

And my husband prays.  He prays by himself, he prays with others, he prays over his children, and he prays with me.

Is he a saint?  Goodness, no!  Jeff is a sinner, just like everyone else, and he frequently makes mistakes and needs to ask God and sometimes others for forgiveness.  Sometimes he has bad days or even bad weeks.  Occasionally his words or actions do not display the character of Christ.

But Jeff is committed to the spiritual leadership of his family, he is making steps in the right direction, and he is growing.  He knows that he is never stronger than when he is on his knees before the throne of his King.  As his wife, this is all I could ever ask for, expect, or desire.

So let others spend many hours fantasizing about Christian Grey while he seduces a young woman and then subjects her to control, manipulation, and cruelty, all in the name of romance and good sex. I'm gonna stick with "50 Shades of Pray."