Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Sex-traffickers, the Prophets and Jen Hatmaker

The past few weeks God has been creating a perfect storm that is MESSING. ME. UP.  I feel compelled to write, but I'm not even sure I can express clearly what is churning in me. I want to be polite, clear, and logical in challenging people, like the ever-gracious Tim Elmore, but my discontent is so deep right now that I think I'll probably slip more into a Matt Walsh-esque degree of snarkiness.

Except that, honestly, I don't feel snarky.  I feel desperate.

Here's the storm:

I have recently begun working to put on a 5k to raise money for She is Safe, an organization that works to fight human trafficking through prevention, rescue and restoration.  I've been interested in the issue for several years, but in recruiting helpers for my cause, I have been reading and re-reading stories of girls affected by human trafficking.  I am sickened by the number of cases in which it is actually a girl's family that sells her into slavery to be used up and abused as a commodity to satisfy the greed and perversion of oppressors.  What kind of parent would sell a child into prostitution?

At the same time, my chronological read-through of the Bible has landed me in Jeremiah (aka, the weeping prophet).  Turns out he was weeping because he was commanded to give God's message of judgement to a people who didn't want to hear it (Jeremiah 7:27). As He speaks through Jeremiah, God calls His people "adulterous" and accuses them of prostituting themselves to other gods.

Meanwhile, during my break from teaching, I am also finally reading the book 7:An Experimental Assault on Excess by Jen Hatmaker, which was recommended by a friend.  While reading the chapter on her drastic reduction of media consumption, the final "disturbance" collided with the previous two to produce a spiritual typhoon within me.  I don't know what it was specifically about that particular chapter (conviction, perhaps?), but suddenly the realization hit me full in the gut:

How can I be enraged by impoverished parents selling their daughters, when we here in the land of plenty are prostituting our own children to idols?  Because whether we realize it or not, I'm afraid we are.

For the past nine years I have worked in the youth ministry at our church.  For the past eight years I have taught writing classes to Middle School and High School students.  Every year for the past four years, the young people I've encountered have gotten markedly more self-absorbed, demanding and apathetic about the Gospel.  And I'm talking about the good kids.   This does not make me angry; it breaks my heart, because I LOVE these kids!

Sincere, godly parents bring their kids to church faithfully, send them to camp, VBS, and mission trips.  What they don't recognize is that their kids don't even see the spiritual feast laid before them because they can't take their gaze and attention away from their smart phones.  They have no interest in the Word of God because they are too busy broadcasting their own words and images into cyberspace and then compulsively checking their "approval ratings."  (I once listened to a group of 14- and 15-year-olds discuss their marketing strategies for getting Instagram followers.)

I've watched as teens receive praise and honor (heck, I've been one of the adults heaping praise) for worshipping at the altar of achievement, even when the pursuit of that success has become a source of identity, an idol, in the life of that student.  I've watched when that success leads to arrogance, pride and contempt for those less talented.

I've witnessed teens who obediently sit in church, passionless and bored, critiquing not the content of the message, but the entertainment value or delivery.  If it doesn't satisfy them, they feel they are absolved of the responsibility to listen--because the Word of God is no longer good enough on its own.  Yet I've seen these same seemingly passionless kids raising their hands in adoration for a boy band or football team. I know many girls who know exponentially more about the members of One Direction or Luke Bryant than they do about Jesus, and many boys who know more about their favorite athlete or video game than they do about their Savior.

More often than not, I leave my time spent with youth grieving for them and the emptiness that they don't even realize is their life.  I'm not blaming this entirely on the adults in their lives.  The culture that surrounds them certainly plays an overwhelming role, relentlessly bombarding them with lies and distractions.  I constantly thank God that I did not have to navigate my teen years during this generation.

But here is the conviction that is crushing me.  We tell our kids to follow Christ, but then we give them full access to every possible distraction that isn't blatantly evil.  We avoid boundaries because we fear stirring up a heart of rebellion.  Wanting to extend grace, we make excuses for "little"sins so often that I fear this generation doesn't see the need for a Savior, because they don't really think their sin is all that bad.

It's tempting to simply shrug these trends off and say, "Well, they're teenagers--it's a stage---they'll outgrow it."  We would be buying a lie.  According to Jen Hatmaker's research for 7, "94% of evangelical churches reported loss or no growth" last year.  She claims, "We are losing three million people annually, flooding out the back door and never returning."  The people flooding out are those who have been raised in church--those we thought were just going through a stage and would outgrow it.  Why do they leave?  Because they have found something else to worship.

Honestly, if I found out that one of my kids was battling an addiction to drugs, I would WAGE WAR on those drugs.  Why, then, do I buy into the notion that it's unreasonable to wage war on an addiction to an ipod, video game, cell phone or shopping?

My aim is not to point fingers or place blame, but simply to challenge us ALL to examine our role in the lives of our young people.

In my case, I know the first heart I need to examine is my own.  Do I have idols that pull me from Jesus?  Do I need to remove anything from my life that competes for first place?  Am I placing importance on any thing or behavior that is actually misplaced worship?  Am I making excuses for my own sins, rather than agreeing with God, being honest about them and repenting?  I want to start with myself because the best way to help the young people in my life is to set the example of honestly and humbly tearing down the idols in my own life.

Next, (and, I have to confess, this is MUCH harder for me), I need to put in place and enforce appropriate boundaries in the lives of those over whom I have authority.  This task is tough for me because I hate confrontation--and boundaries create confrontations.  Boundaries are not popular--and I want people to like me.  In many cases, the boundaries I need to set will be very countercultural. People will think I am weird--or worse--judgmental.  For a weak-willed, distractible people-pleaser like me, enforcing boundaries is a daunting task.

But God calls me to speak the truth, and the truth is this:  Anything that keeps a person from full surrender to Jesus is an idol, and we as parents, teachers, mentors, have an obligation to protect our young people from idolatry.   If not, we are prostituting them.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Five Minute Friday (okay, Saturday): LAST


What a great word as we are beginning Cross Country season again.

My kids are blessed to be part of the most encouraging team in the nation. (I'm not exaggerating.)

Coaches, parents, and any athlete who is not currently running-- all of them line the course to cheer for every team member.

Even the very last one.

At 6'1" and 200 pounds, my son is built more like a linebacker rather than a runner, so he is occasionally the last finisher from our boys' team.  I'm so grateful for the cheering section that is always there for him!

The beauty of Cross Country is that although every race has a first place finisher, every athlete competes primarily against himself.  It's not just about did you win, but did you improve.

I love Cross Country because you can be last and still have a victory!

Last night even as he charged across the finish as the last man on the team over the line, my son had victory--because his time was a full two minutes faster than his previous race.

Even so, the sport of Cross Country is not an individual sport because each runner is also part of a TEAM.  Although he competes against himself, every runner's effort contributes to the success of the team.

It reminds me of The Race of which Paul speaks in Scripture: the spiritual one.

Like running, spiritual success requires hard training, rest, and nourishment. (And if I attempted to cover all of that, this would not be a five minute writing...)

Like running, spiritual success should be measured in such a way that growth is a victory.

I'm so grateful for coaches who teach through sports what Christ models in the spiritual realm.  They have a unique training plan for every athlete based on that athlete's needs, experience and fitness.  It's not a one-size-fits-all work-out.  They hold the runners accountable for doing the work they prescribe, and they emphasize how their individual efforts improve the entire team.

Best of all, they get just as excited over a victory for the last man across the line, when he is running with his whole heart, as they do the first.

Oh, Lord, let me live this way as I seek to be a disciple who makes disciples.  Let me see each person as a unique creation with a unique history.  Let me love them where they are at and encourage them to move deeper into You.  Let me help show them how their efforts and progress contribute to the success of Your Body and Your mission in this world.  Above all,  let me be thrilled for the progress of the one who may be last, but who is running hard after You.

In my own walk, let me measure myself not by how I compare to others, but by how much I am growing to look like You.

Share your thoughts on Five Minute Fridays

Monday, August 5, 2013

Who's counting? I am.

2000.  Spring rain to green the farm

2001. My chatty cowboy, up early and ready to talk.

2002. Cows romping in a new roll of hay.

2003. Birthday Boy in his fez.

2006. Laughing around the dinner table...THIS is why cooking is worth the effort!

2007. Being a "retirement home" for an old horse.

2008. Old friends and new helping my boy celebrate 15.

2009. Two big boys perched timidly on horses.

2010. Outside chores on a gorgeous day.

2011. Pair of chicks with the sandhill cranes.

2012. Digging for truth even when it hurts.

2013.  Nineteen years of Katie.

2014. Sunrise Easter service over the lake.

2015. Adorable Bocce ball partner--the cuban version of our Camille.

2016.  Hugs from my man-child.

2017. A painful break for a child, but one that will bring healing.

2018.  Holy Spirit pause so I can offer a kind response to an abrasive e-mail.

2019. My boy showing he's a man by loving on a hurting sister.

2020. Choosing what is best (people) over what is urgent (lists!)

2021.  A family of sandhills stopping traffic to cross the road.

2022. The Wobble!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Graceful Parenting

When my oldest was in preschool, the school involved parents by asking two parents each day to stay and help out with the class, supervising and participating along with the kids.  On one of my "helper" days, the other mom in class came over and complimented me on my daughter's sweet disposition and cooperative spirit and asked, "How did you do that?"

I could only respond, "I didn't do anything, she was just born that way.  I guess I'm lucky."

Smiling ironically, she commented, "Ohhh, I see now.  God didn't have anything to teach you."

As it turned out, she and her husband, both accomplished professionals, had delayed having children until they were firmly established in their careers and financially stable.

She told me, "Before we were parents we would spend time with my brother and his family, and when their kids acted out, we'd look at each other knowingly and simultaneously think 'our children will never behave like that.'"  Apparently, prior to embarking on the parenting journey, they had studied up on all the best methods of child-rearing.  Therefore, they were confident that because they were so knowledgable in the art of parenting, their offspring would be a constant delight.

She chuckled then and added, "...and so God gave us Tess."

Tess was a beautiful little red-headed spitfire with an iron will and relentless spirit.  Daily she rammed head-on into her parents' boundaries, causing them to slam the parenting books shut and hit their knees.  It paid off, because I was often impressed with how they handled the tumultuous girl with grace, firmness and abundant love.

Still, at four she was rarely a delight to be with.

Tess's momma realized that God was using her little fireball to humble her proud heart.  "If I had had a sweet-natured child like Katie, I would have been sure it was due to my excellent parenting.  With Tess, I have to cling daily to Jesus and know that only by His grace will we survive her childhood."

I've often wished I could see Tess now that she's nineteen.  I'm sure she's still strong-willed, but I bet her parents' consistency and love in those early years helped her to learn at the very least that she is not the center of the universe and that her actions have consequences.  I suspect that were I to meet her now, I would find her to be a delight.

I share this exchange because I think we all need a little humility like Tess's mom. It's so easy to look at a young person of excellent character and attribute every success to their parents.  It is also far too easy to witness the wrong choices of another child and shake our heads and speculate about what the parents did wrong to produce such results. I've certainly been guilty of both.

Just today I heard a mom applauding her daughter's lifestyle choices. She ended with the observation: "I guess I did something right."

I'm sure that mom probably did do something right (and if she's like me, she probably did some things wrong, too). Unfortunately, the unintended implication of a comment like that is that the parent of a child making different choices must have done something wrong, which may not be the case at all.

Children are not products: If you put in the right ingredients you get a predictable result.  No, they are fallen humans made in the image of God--just like their parents are.

I'm not saying that parents have no influence on their kids, they do.  We each have a sacred and important stewardship in raising them.

However,  this parenting adventure in a community of believers has shown me that even if a parent does everything right,  kids still have free will.  One of them--or all of them--might make choices that go against everything they have been taught.

Conversely, I know that parents can do a multitude of things WRONG and still have kids that own their choices, rise above the mistakes and lead productive and wholesome lives.

So this is my rally cry to parents to give grace to the wounded, grieve with those who grieve, support one another, pray for one another, celebrate victories and acknowledge that every parenting victory belongs to God alone.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Springtime Blessings

1900. Friends who will carry me to the Cross when I am too overwhelmed even to crawl there.

1906. Thursday morning class--my weekly blessing of enthusiasm.

1911. Trusty brown stapler: still going strong after 25 years and countless moves.

1935.  Ishaan's funny comments: "Mrs. Odell, I was telling my dad all about what you are like, and he said, 'That doesn't make any sense!'" (How I wish I could have heard his description!)

1940. Recipes the old-fashioned way--in the mail from my mom.

1946.  The innocent and compassionate heart of Jon C.

1950.  Fair Week and a Reserve Grand Champion pig!

1967. Tearful kids saying goodbye to their 4-H animals.

1968. My boy/man setting his sights on something and rallying others to achieve a goal.

1983. Tiny raccoon footprints scooting across the marsh.

1990. Twenty years with my Cowboy.

1995. The unconditional acceptance of farm dogs.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Heart of Modesty

I ended my previous post on modesty promising to elaborate on the following convictions:

1. Modesty IS important, but it's an attitude, not a dress code.

2.  Modesty is everyone's responsibility.

3. It's not about you, (and it IS about you).

Although I have read extensively on the topic, when it comes right down to it, every one of my convictions about modesty is based on just one passage:

"One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question:  “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”  Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments." Matthew 22:36-40

I have just tossed out a long post explaining how I came about my convictions, because I've changed my mind about elaborating.

In the process of writing, I came to the conclusion that no one needs anymore explanation than the Scripture above. Any sincere follower of Christ who faithfully and humbly applies it by focusing first on love for God and then on love for others will live out biblical modesty.  

In the words of my good friend Kyle Kent, "Simply keep in mind that we are pointing others  to God and His salvation with everything we do, wear and say." 

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Gifts: Just a Smattering to Catch Up

1682. Sunday School lesson taught by Grace, Happy Girl, Ana and Hannah.  Such sincerity!

1684. Beautiful heart-crafted wedding vows by two kids who really understand what they mean.

1691. Sweet-smelling beeswax scenting the house.

1700.  Lisa D., always willing to share her thoughts and heart.

1705.  Surprise visitors: Jeff and Emily C. toting a microwave.

1711. The ability to give blood--a great reminder of The Blood that bought my freedom.

1723. Timely prayer for my family, straight from God's word:

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your LORD, you must continue to follow Him.  Let your roots grow down into Him, and let your lives be built on Him.  Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. Colossians 2:6-7

1732.  The outlaw Frank, whining from "jail" after he's killed chicken.

1738.  Matty W. on castration day, "I am SO glad I'm not a cow."

1750. Another chance to get over myself.

1756.  Sweet Denae, so emotional in all the right ways.

1777. Ishaan's excitement over giving a gift.  He truly finds it better to give than to receive!

1780. Failures to keep me humble and re-focus me.

1783.  Friendly pig, pressed against the fence, eager for attention.

1790. A sacrificial man who desires to carry the load of providing regardless of the cost to himself.

1794. Morning fellowship with my God:  Him reaching down to me as I reach up with only praise.

1797. Sleepless nights for praying.

1800. From the Word: "Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and we will share a meal as friends." (Spoken to the lukewarm church.  He still knocks.)

1802. Sister pictures:  Barncoat and boots with gussied and glitter.

1805. The assurance that I am never alone.  Even when I feel alone.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Problem with Modesty

It being summer, and this being Florida, my e-mail and Facebook are blowing up with "shares" of articles about modesty.

I will confess: I have a rather conflicted relationship with this topic.

For most of my life, I naively thought that I could choose my clothing based on what suited my body type and what I thought was cute.

Then I started dating my husband.

Most of our early disagreements were over my bathing suits.  He explained to me very patiently and logically that, regardless of MY rationale for choosing a particular suit, "cute" was not the adjective going through the minds of the Marines he ran around with when they saw me in my tiny little bathing suit.

I thought he was ridiculous.

I had freckles for crying out loud...freckles just SCREAM innocence, do they not?

Years later we moved to The South, became more regularly and actively involved in church, and eventually decided to homeschool.  Now, don't get overly stereotypical on me, but suffice it to say that we ran in fairly conservative circles.

One day a well-meaning acquaintance of mine casually informed me that she taught her son (who was five at the time) to look away from women in two-piece bathing suits because they were hussies.

Mind you, I had already been to the beach with this family--multiple times--sporting a two-piece.

That's me: The hussy mom.

(Okay, I feel I should give a disclaimer:  The actual delivery may not have been quite that harsh.  I'm a people-pleaser by nature and therefore a wee bit sensitive to criticism--but I do know the word hussy was used.)

So, being one who would rather have a root canal without pain medication than offend anyone, I jumped right on the modesty bandwagon.

Over time Scripture reinforced the importance of modesty, so please don't read from my comments that I do not find modesty important.  I do.

The problem I have is how messed up we get trying to APPLY the practice of modesty.

First of all, I think it has become a tool of the enemy to cause otherwise loving and godly people to become critical and judgmental of one another.  Whether or not it is appropriate to wear a two-piece bathing suit, the wearing of one does not automatically make a woman a hussy.  On the flip side, choosing to cover more rather than less does not make a woman uptight, holier-than-thou, or prissy.  Yet I've seen us so easily jump to both of these conclusions about one another!

In the blogs I've read recently there seem to be two "camps."

On the one hand, articles exhort young women to consider the visual nature of men and dress in a way that protects them from wrong thinking.   (It's all our responsibility.)

On the other hand are posts conceding that women should be modest "within reason" but that men need to suck it up and control themselves and their thought lives. (It's all their responsibility--look away!)

As a mother of both daughters and a son, I have issues with both camps.

In my experience, the biggest frustration when trying to teach young women about modesty is that if we focus solely on clothing, it's almost impossible to define in a way that people agree on.

I have been asked to teach girls in youth group the "rules" in place for dress, only to walk out of the room and see the adult leaders (wonderful, sincere women, by the way) breaking the rules I just outlined.

Ooops.  So, do we need to have a dress code for grown-ups now?

I had a sweet girl in my Sunday School class who wore short skirts and spike heels to church every week.  The skirts were so short that I could see her underwear even when she sat with her legs crossed demurely. It was a bit distracting to me, and I'm a woman! I confess to thinking, "I can't believe her parents are okay with this outfit!"  But her parents saw nothing wrong with how she dressed.

However, I later found out that they were a little scandalized by the fact that I let my daughters wear pants--jeans even (gasp!)--to church.

Do you see what I mean?  I'm not trying to argue that there isn't a right or wrong when it comes to attire, just that a fixation on rules can cause us to miss seeing the valuable young woman and heart beneath the clothes.

It's so easy for modesty to become an issue where rules trump grace--which is NOT a gospel-centered mindset.

(As a side note, the best set of guidelines I've seen for modest attire come from a camp my kids attend: 

1. If you have trouble getting into it, or out of it, it's probably not modest. 

2. If you have to be careful when you sit down or bend over, it is probably not modest.

3. If people look at any part of your body before looking at your face, it is probably not modest.

4. If you can see your most private parts or an outline of those parts under the fabric, it is probably not modest.

I love it.  So simple without being legalistic.)

Honestly, I am still working through this. I do have a few points I would make with conviction--and will elaborate on later, so stay tuned.

1.  Modesty IS important, but it's an attitude, not a dress code.

2.  Modesty is everyone's responsibility.

3. It's really not about you, (and it IS about you).

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

My Independent Thinkers


Someone has been teaching my children to think for themselves, to search for truth and not just blindly accept ideas just because some authority says so.

...Oh, wait, that was me....

When I began homeschooling about six thousand years ago, one of my heart-felt convictions was that I wanted my children to know how to THINK independently.

I taught them to show honor and submit to authority, but also I wanted them to wrestle through the tough questions and challenge weak logic so that after the wrestling, the convictions that remained would be unshakable.

Beware of what you wish for.

Here's the thing...(cringe)...

I always kind of assumed that their convictions would end up matching mine--because I'm right.

My idea was that they would wrestle and search and get all grown-up and independent in their thinking and then come to the very deeply-held conviction that Mommy Knows Best.  (I do, you know.)

Imagine my frustration, then, the first time my beloved child--a child I carried in my womb for months, nursed, potty-trained, nurtured and poured truth into---had the audacity to disagree with me.


It started when my oldest was about 14 years old, but back then I was the mom and I could still "say so."  She didn't have to agree with me, but she had to obey me.

We're entering new territory now.

My oldest is now 19--an adult in the eyes of the law--with two siblings close behind her.  If she wants, she can get a tattoo and there's nothing (legal) I can do about it.

She has legal grounds for saying, "You're not the boss of me!" (To her credit, she is wise enough NOT to say it...)

I can't even talk to the health insurance company to clear up a claim without her consent because "she's an adult." (Yeah, whatever... who pays the premiums?)

It's a bit unnerving, this loss of authority.

I raised my kids right--or as right as I knew how.

I encouraged them to think biblically and then taught them to do it.

I challenged their thinking when I thought it was faulty, and I instructed them to challenge mine when it contradicted the truth of the Bible.

I urged them to form their own values and convictions and hold them tightly.

And now...


I have to release them to live by their convictions.

When their convictions match mine,  it's a beautiful and exciting thing to behold.

When they don't, it's annoying.

In some cases it's even terrifying--because I realize that part of releasing them to live their convictions means allowing them to experience the full effect of the consequences of those beliefs.

What I really need to release is this notion that I have control, that their destiny is my responsibility.

It never was.

God gave me a job to do, but their lives are in His hands.  I need to release them not to themselves, but to Him.

They may mess up...just like I did.

Even in moments when they can't be trusted, He can.

Didn't He use even my gravest sins to bring me closer to Him?

Maybe I need to remember that the Father Knows Best. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Winter Gratitude Remembered in Summer: Just some highlights

1587. Bright orange beanies on our star runners that show they take their sport--but not themselves--seriously.

1590. Crisp mornings and long-sleeve shirts.

1591. Steer and pig playing tag...so sweet, but so dangerous!

1597. Cooler, off-season runs with my kids.  I love that it's hard to keep up (and that I almost can!)

1602. A break for the Cowboy to "relax" and enjoy the farm.

1608. A gift from the Word: "God is so rich in mercy and He loved us so much that though we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life when He raised Christ from the dead."

1609. Children who are growing up to be my friends.

1612. Good words about humble orthodoxy.

1618. Overlooking an offense--a chance to give rather than receive grace.  (... and the proof that God was in it: all these months later, I don't even remember what the offense was!)

1624. Four calves running up to the fence in greeting.

1627. Surprise backyard visitor: Stymie!  No need to mow.

1642.  Working in a tidy house.

1644.  "Carl," the neighbor's dopey Irish setter.

1645. Dinner with my favorite teenage Max, listening to his system of annotation: "Pink highlighting stands for woman logic."

1647. Songbird tromping up from the barn in her pajama bottoms and her Daddy's field jacket.

1649. Josh and Gage who tearfully offer up prayers for their "beloved Mr. Mike."  Love these boys!

1653. Cousin Ashley showing at the fair.

1655. The gift of not enough--to show me the One who is enough.

1670.  Tears shamelessly shed by strong, godly men over the loss of a friend.

1674. New friends sharing our campsite.

1678. Celebrating a life that was lived for the right reasons.

1688. The first batch of honey.

1700. Happy Girl's amazing photos of a wild hive.


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