Boys Will Be Boys… If We Let Them

“The warrior must learn to yield his heart to nothing. Not to kill his heart for fear of falling into temptation, but to protect his heart for nobler things, to keep the integrity of his heart as a great reservoir of passionate strength and holy desire.” John Eldredge

Because I am on that crazy Twitter thing, I get a front row seat to the latest cultural outrages and moral lessons du jour we all are supposed to be having big opinions about. The latest brouhaha being the Gillette razor company and their new ad challenging men to confront their innately barbaric behaviors and act more civil. Depending on your personal views, it’s either touching or pandering propaganda. Regardless, for some reason it’s going down as one of the most ‘disliked’ ads in internet history. In an interview, the president of the company said,

“By holding each other accountable, eliminating excuses for bad behavior, and supporting a new generation working toward their personal ‘best,’ we can help create positive change that will matter for years to come.”

It sounds nice and good on the surface I suppose. Lots of buzzy buzzwords, but it’s not horrible. Everyone should at least aim to not be a jerk to others in life, right? A new generation y’all… working toward their personal best, whatever that may be. We are holding each other accountable for what, exactly? The criminal behavior of some? Or just behavior we deem unsavory and disagreeable? Who decides what everyone’s personal best should be? 

Some in the Twitter-verse called this ad “breathtaking and necessary”, jumping on the idea that toxic masculinity has ruined basically everything, and a new kind of modern masculinity needs to take it’s place. Others say the condescension is just too much… imagine a shampoo commercial asking women to rise above their innate manipulative cattiness… I don’t see that succeeding in the same way. See the problem? It’s not that anyone is actually threatened by a silly razor commercial, or even against the idea of respecting one another… it’s the continual, relentless message to men and boys that something is inherently wrong with them because they are male, and the one-sided argument that they (never women) contribute to a toxic kind of society. The Dove commercial parades women of all shapes and sizes around and tells us “you’re fine just how you are!”, while the message to the guys is, “men, you have some work to do.”

As a mom of two boys, it is definitely NOT my goal to raise hyper-aggressive, emotionless man-bullies. My basic dream in life is that they grow up to be godly men of character, integrity and morals. I just don’t believe in neutralizing or stifling what makes them who they are and replacing it with something completely unnatural.

Men are born warriors. Whether we like it or not, whether it offends us or not, they have innate drives in them to protect, to compete and well… be different than us women. Just last night my teenage son “accidentally” kicked his foot through a wall in our game room because he lost a ping-pong game to his little brother. A foot through a wall you guys. My first words were, “Whyyyyyy would you do that?!” My brain can’t comprehend it. Of course I don’t want ragey, angry boys parading through the house punching things when they don’t get their way… but I know that sometimes boys will be boys. (The Gillette commercial says I can’t use that phrase to excuse terrible behavior, but I’m using it.) There is biological stuff happening here, and if women can use the hormone argument, so can growing boys. It doesn’t mean it’s excused or that there isn’t a consequence – he’s going to pay up for the new drywall, I assure you. It doesn’t mean my kid is a neanderthal either. No, a girl would probably not kick a hole in a wall over a ping-pong game, but you know what? My boys would never spread gossipy rumors about people the way some girls at school do on a daily basis. Pick your poison, because it goes both ways. Masculinity run amuck is indeed harmful, and so is its feminine counterpart.

Just last week, The American Psychological Association  came out with what they say are very well-researched ‘guidelines’ regarding what they think makes a healthy man. Being adventurous, taking risks, stoicism and competitiveness are out. It’s scientifically acceptable for a man to want to become a woman, but abnormal for a man to pursue the innate drives that make him an actual man. What garbage. 

So, to the John Eldredge quote and why I am addressing this topic: we can’t kill our hearts just because we don’t know how to completely control them. Yes, we humans have a terrible knack for veering off course with our God-given abilities and drives… but if we would yield to our Creator and His purposes… if we would channel all that passion into a great reservoir of holy desire as he calls it… wow. A change of heart, not a change in gender roles, makes men and women Godly and effective. Trying to squash boys down to fit some new idea of masculinity won’t lead to a better culture. Showing them how to protect their heart for the pursuit of noble and better things though, that makes a man. In fact, it makes us all better in the end because we are being who we were created to be.

Hooray to a razor company for wanting to raise the bar a little in our bottom-feeder culture… but no to thinking that the way to do it is by taking away the very things that make men (and women) who they are. God created us to be different. It’s a shocker, I know. Our hearts don’t need to be tamed, they need to be directed. Full-steam ahead, passionate men and women with a holy desire are a force to be reckoned with.

“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

How We Contend

To contend: battlecompeteface offfightracerivalvie

The little book of Jude at the end of the New Testament is easy to overlook. It begins and ends with the promise that we serve a God who keeps us and preserves us (v. 1, 24). The body of the short letter however, is a call to arms. Jude pleads with believers that they must not fall into complacency because a ton of people have come onto the scene promising big things but delivering emptiness.

Jude says these folks are “grumblers and complainers” who go around using flattering words to get what they want (v.16). Sound familiar? Complaining while at the same time using smooth and savvy words to get their way. It’s apparently nothing new to humanity, but we seem to live in a culture that has perfected this little art form.

So how do we “contend” for our faith? Jude tells us we have to build ourselves up in prayer and keep ourselves in the love of God (v. 20). Interestingly, he gives us an instruction for dealing with people who have gone astray: Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear (v. 22-23). 

Sometimes contending means showing mercy and compassion, not knocking someone over the head with the latest how-to book. It doesn’t mean we don’t fight, but we do so with love. Doubt can be effectively chipped away at with steady doses of truth.

I also like the next verse that says sometimes you just have to snatch people out of the fire. It’s not always intellectual or neat. Sometimes people are standing at the precipice needing to be pulled back. 1 Peter 3:15 says that we always need to “Be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”

The way we contend is important… we always need elements of truth mixed with love. I love the verse in 1 Peter because it reminds us that we are to be living with a hope inside us that makes people stop and wonder… “what’s going on there?” If we walk around like the grumblers and complainers, nobody is going to see anything worth having. Gentleness mixed with reverence for what Jesus can do in a person’s heart is a powerful thing.

How do we contend? How do we fight the good fight? With both words and actions, but above all else, with the power of Christ working through us. Sometimes it’s a gentle word to a friend, other times it’s a walk into the fire with them.

“Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord.” (Zechariah 4:6). 

The Choice To Start

I wrote the other day about how disappointed I felt in myself for not following through with some things I wanted to do last year. The biggest one for me by far was not making the time to sit down and share with my boys things that I felt would be helpful to them in their walk with Christ. There were a few books that really impacted me, books that deal with this crazy upside down culture and our role as Jesus-followers in it. If you have kids, you know the feeling: I want them to get this! I want them to understand this! If they can just see through all this nonsense to the truth… maybe they won’t fall for the lies… maybe they will be different…

I spend a lot of time floundering around in the sad reality that we live in a world that is basically amusing itself to death, sacrificing everything meaningful for superficial ‘likes’ and virtual approval from total strangers. This isn’t the world I grew up in and it’s hard for me to relate to how deeply this affects them sometimes. The things I struggled with seem like small potatoes compared to what my kids have already seen first-hand. You Tube influencers confound me. Idol-worship of people so completely in love with themselves makes me cringe. The absence of the ability to think for themselves scares me. G.K. Chesterton said, “We shall soon be in a world in which a man may be howled down for saying that two and two make four, in which people will persecute the heresy of calling a triangle a three-sided figure, and hang a man for maddening a mob with news that the grass is green.” We are there, and sometimes I feel like an eighty year old grandmother who can’t adjust to the times. The reality though, is that I am a Jesus-follower and a parent who is charged with discipling two young men in a world turned inside-out. The reality is that God never changes, even when culture does. The truth is, in the past I have let it overwhelm me to the point of inaction. It’s so much easier to just cruise on through the days, dealing with things as they come, but never really being intentional about getting to the heart of it all. What’s that old saying? “The days are long but the years are short.” It’s true. Suddenly I have a high schooler. In a moment he will be out on his own. A minute after that, his brother will follow. What do I want them to hear from me before they go? We spend our time doing the best we can, telling them what not to do, lecturing them on the dangers that lurk behind every corner, but are we giving them something to actually live for?

Proverbs 29:18 says “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint.”  We have to have a vision from God, something positive and promising to go after, if we are going to really live. Without it, we just run wild without any direction or intent. This explains why “good” kids do really dumb things. Adults too, for that matter.

So this morning, I decided to just get going. I sat down and began a little folder for each of my boys. I don’t really have a well thought out plan, and that’s ok. The problem I encountered last year is that I had so much I wanted to share, I didn’t share anything. I couldn’t organize my thoughts, so I did nothing. Today, I started with this verse and a C.S. Lewis essay called “Men Without Chests” about how head knowledge is no match for the unbridled passions in our belly that override our reason. We need a chest to help the head rule the belly. Strong men know how to keep the fire in the belly from burning down the house. Seemed like something good for young men to hear. I crudely typed out some thoughts, printed them out and stuck it in a folder for each of them. I boldly asked for 20 minutes of their time, which in a world where online games rule the day, is a bigger deal than it may seem. We started. They were mildly interested, and that’s ok. I hope we can build on it.

We put too much pressure on getting things just right before we start anything and we wind up doing nothing. I liken our time today to the first time a person exercises in awhile… kind of a hot mess, but better than nothing. Little moments of faithfulness every day, like exercise or a good daily vitamin, is worth far more than sporadic moments here and there. I have a vision based on God’s promises and that gives me hope that we can grow together in His wisdom. It’s never too late. There will be eye rolls along the way to be sure, there will be dramatic whining and bad attitudes at times, and that’s ok. It won’t be perfect, but with time and faithfulness, I hope that they can have a prophetic vision all their own to keep chasing after.

The Stirring

“Aren’t we quick to jump toward Jesus but slow to walk the journey out with Him? When He asks, “What do you want?” Jesus is asking us, What do you really want for your life, because you have to know this going in. You can’t just follow Me without understanding what following Me means, and at some point you have to stop being constantly stirred but never compelled enough to take action. Do you want the now life? Or do you want Me more than anything else? Having Me will be the greatest fulfillment of your life, but fulfilling doesn’t always mean pain-free. Do you want to be the normal, everyday person who is flawed and doesn’t have life all together but watches God do amazing things through your life? God help us, this is tough, but we cannot continue to dip only our toe in the pool of faith, teasing God, not being serious about Him.” Lisa Whittle/I Want God

When I was a teen, by best friend and I would get each other new journals for the new year. It was exciting times for us… looking back over the past year and starting over in a new one. When you’re 14, a year can bring a lifetime of change. As I got older, I continued to journal, but in different ways. I didn’t keep track of events in the same way, but I did write verses or quotes that inspired me. Last New Years I began reading a book I just knew would be good for my family to read together, so I made pages of notes and promised myself we’d all sit every day and spend time learning together.

Spoiler alert: we did not. I sit now with the same journal and feel frustrated and disappointed in myself. It’s not that we didn’t do other good things, we certainly did. I just got myself too psyched out over the whole thing and waited for the perfect moment, which if you have ever met teenagers, you know never comes. I was stirred up to be sure… but I never was compelled enough to just take action.

The same thing happened with my cycling routine I told myself I would have. I had the indoor bike and the time to do it. I had a plan. January turned to February, before I knew it Easter had come and gone… and I was not doing it. In my mind I was stirred up, but I wanted other things more.

It’s perfectly fine to have these setbacks, it’s normal. It did get me thinking, however, about how fast we are to jump into things but how half-heartedly we do it. Noble things. Healthy things. When Jesus asks the two men following Him in John 1:38, “What do you want?”, He’s asking them to take a minute and think about what they are about to do. Do you really want to follow Me down this road? It means you have to want Me more than all that other stuff. You have to be serious about Me.

So just because things aren’t perfect doesn’t mean we have to wait it out. God holds out a hand and motions for us to just get started. I think the most frustrating thing for us this time of year is the stirring in our hearts we have for change and the inability to actually carry it out… they are incompatible. Before the well-laid plans can come to fruition, we have to answer Jesus’ question honestly and seriously: What do I want?

The spiritual answer is of course, “I want You Lord!”! The more realistic answer would probably fall more into the category of “I want You BUT… I also want my comfort and security.” Yes, we want Jesus, but we aren’t willing to put everything down on the altar for Him just yet. He doesn’t force us to but both feet downstream, so we stand halfway in and halfway out, holding our little idols and getting nowhere fast. It’s scary as can be sometimes, but I want to be able to just put both feet in and go.

Why don’t we do this? Why didn’t I just get the family together and share what was on my heart and read the book with them? Why didn’t I hop on that silly bike at all? The brutal truth is because it required sacrifice. Time. Energy. I chose the path of least resistance.

I feel the stirring… many of us do this time of year. The question is, will we be all-in with Jesus or will we keep living halfway and getting nowhere fast? Goals are great, but before we can see them

In Haggai chapter 1, the prophet challenges the Jewish people to get going on the project they had abandoned: the rebuilding of the temple. They had become more concerned with their personal comfort than in completing their God-given task.

“You have sown so much, and bring in little; You eat, but you do not have enough; You drink, but you are not filled with drink; You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; And he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes.” (v.6)

Ouch. Everything they are running after and pouring their time into is a giant waste. Sound familiar at all?

We are flawed, selfish people. We want things to be better, but our past failures have taught us that our good intentions don’t carry us far. There is a surrender that has to take the place of our stubbornness. Both feet in. All the lovely wishing in the world won’t get us where we need to go if we don’t actually want to put Jesus first. It means sacrifice.

“What do you want?” 

I want to jump in. I want to want Him more than my little idols or even my goals. It’s January and we are stirred up – let’s not wait until things are perfect to begin walking out all those things He’s planted in our hearts. I don’t want to sow and have no crop. I don’t want to continue throwing money into a bag with holes. To have more of God, we have to actually want more of Him. He’s so good you guys… when we just surrender, He’ll take it from there.

So… hello 2019! What do you really, really want this year?

Leaving The Bitter Barn

“Do not call me Naomi (i.e., pleasant or sweet), call me Mara (i.e., bitter), for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has afflicted me (i.e., testified against me) and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” Ruth 1:20-21

The story of Ruth and Naomi is a fascinating look into the human heart and our differing responses to hardship and tragedy. It’s a fascinating look at how some blame God, some have pity-parties and some just forge on ahead. The redemptive thread weaves itself through the whole thing, and the ending is more moving than a Saturday Hallmark love story.

This was the time of the Judges, Israel had arrived in their promised land, but failed to follow through on the conquest. Joshua was gone and they did not yet have a king. We are told “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25) and it was a time of compromise and confusion amongst the people. They were warned repeatedly to stop following idols and continually refused the instructions of the Lord. It’s no surprise then, that the book of Ruth opens with Naomi and her family  wandering into enemy territory in search of relief from a drought. We are told they remain in Moab about ten years, long enough for Naomi’s sons to take Moabite wives and begin a new life.

In an unfortunate turn of events, Naomi loses her husband and both sons. She is left in a foreign country with only her daughters-in-law. Naomi pleads with them to leave her, for she is old and convinced the Lords hand is against her (Ruth 1:14). While the first daughter-in-law leaves, we are told Ruth clung to Naomi and refused to go. This agitated Naomi so much apparently that when she saw how determined Ruth was to remain with her she “stopped speaking to her” (v.18). This makes me chuckle. Ruth is determined to remain faithful to her mother-in-law, to the point where she will uproot herself and move to a foreign land.

Their return to Bethlehem should be a somewhat happy time, we are told it’s the beginning of the harvest and that the entire city was excited to see Naomi coming home (v 19). Clearly, she was no insignificant woman if years later so many people were gathering to welcome her home. When they inquired after her though, saying “is this Naomi?” her response is nothing short of depressing: “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me” (v. 20).

She up and changed her name from “delightful” to “bitter”. It’s understandable, to some extent, the woman is returning from her exile childless and husbandless, and she has a firm belief that God has orchestrated all of this. I don’t think its a black and white issue, but probably a mix of many factors. Israel as a whole had been living in disobedience and there were consequences to those choices. Famine was one of them. What Naomi couldn’t see past was that the daughter-in-law she tried to shoo away was going to be a huge part of her story, which (contrary to what she believed) was not over just yet.

Naomi and her family were forced out of their homeland by a drought. They sought refuge in a foreign land with foreign people. It’s easy to point and say they never should have left or married into a pagan culture in the first place. Sin has far reaching consequences, though doesn’t it? The famine was a natural consequence of Israel’s disobedience which the people brought on themselves. Naomi’s initial response to cry ‘woe is me’ is understandable, but not helpful. I love how Ruth sticks by her regardless of Naomi’s pleas to basically leave her for dead. Sometimes, we can’t see the forest for the trees and we need someone by our side to listen and say “no… I’m not leaving you, we are going to get through this.”

Instead of arguing whether God intended or even initiated these events, I think it’s more helpful to look at the bigger picture: when circumstances go wildly off the rails, the God of the universe isn’t for one single second fretting about how to fix it. He wove the story of Ruth and Naomi so masterfully, we cannot help but be in awe of His desire to redeem and restore what we have knotted up and seemingly wrecked.

I feel so incredibly sad for Naomi and her circumstances, but her spiral into a pity-party is a warning to us. Fainting onto the couch and calling ourselves ‘bitter’ is not helpful. God was for her the entire time, regardless of what may have happened to her, she just refused to see it. Thankfully she had a Ruth by her side who refused to let her go down like that. We need people like this in our lives who stubbornly stand by us no matter our level of crazy, and we also need to be the friend who stands strong when someone is crumbling.

I have a confession: I struggle with people who choose to wallow in their circumstances instead of getting up and joining God. I want to be a friend like Ruth, but sometimes I feel like that other daughter-in-law who headed for the hills. It can suck the life out of you if you let it, which is neither Biblical nor helpful. I love Ruth’s relentlessness with Naomi, her refusal to let any of the negativity affect her. She had something inside her that understood the bigger picture, and I want to be able to point people to that.

What should keep us going then when we or someone in our life just want to throw in the towel and dwell in the bitter barn? The closing verses of the book of Ruth are my answer:

“The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel!He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.” Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him.The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.” Ruth 4:14-17

Can you even believe the beauty in this? The townspeople are gathered around Naomi marveling at how blessed and redeemed she now is. She is holding her grandson, who will be in direct lineage to the Savior Himself. It’s almost too much to take in. The focus isn’t even on faithful Ruth, the focus at the end of the book is on Naomi, who is restored. What a beautiful thing that her little pity-party was interrupted by a true friend. Bitterness has turned to beauty and the beginnings of an even bigger story have just begun to unfold.

God can weave redemption where there was disobedience. May we know when we need to stubbornly cling to people who have given up. May we likewise never, ever rename ourselves ‘bitter’ as a result of our own painful circumstances, but look to the God who knows how to weave redemption into everything.

Searching For Spring – And Finding It

March is a funny month, in like a lion, out like a lamb and all that… we here in Colorado enjoy warm days and blizzards all in one weekend at times. I’m a seasonal girl, I love the flow of one season to the next, and I get as excited for fall as I do for summer. Winter is harder though, once Christmas passes I kind of lose my mojo. The rhythm feels a little off, there isn’t much to be excited about when the sun sets at 5:30. March brings a little change though, something is on the horizon: Target puts out their cheery spring decor. Under all that sloppy snow some green shoots are beginning to poke out of the ground. My boys are getting restless with school and starting to talk about their summer plans. I’m aching to just make it to spring break vacation so my pale self can soak up some warm sun. March makes me start to search for springtime.

I was honored to get to review Christine Hoover’s new book Searching For Spring because it addresses one of the very cries of my heart… how can we find beauty in the winter of our lives? Are we meant to just hunker down and pray for spring, or does God actually have something beautiful for us in the midst of our winter waiting? Using Ecclesiastes 3 as a backdrop, Christine takes us on a sensory journey through the seasons as God created them and reminds us that we can’t place all our hope in decaying things, but rather in a God who has promised to make all things new in their time.

Admittedly, I am not a fan of the popular Christian-ish idea that “life is messy and broken! embrace your big messy broken life!” That little mantra covers real sin up as no big deal and makes a mockery of the redemption story. This book does a beautiful job of addressing the truth of our current brokenness while providing us with hope that there is a light at the end of this dark tunnel. It was refreshing to see the whole picture presented. Hoover does a beautiful job weaving together the truth that while we live in a broken world, we belong to a Savior that has promised to make all things beautiful, including our “inconsolable things” as she calls them, the things that simply will not be made whole in this lifetime.

I look out my window and see bare trees, dried up grass and the remnants of last summers raspberry patch. It looks just awful right now, but I don’t wake up lamenting the barrenness of it all because I know something is happening down in places I can’t see. In a few weeks I’ll be able to see tiny buds on the raspberry stalks. A rogue wildflower will pop up in the backyard. God wants us to recognize that drumbeat, that rhythm He has created in our lives as well. It’s hard sometimes to see any beauty in our long winters, but we must not believe it isn’t there. His creation knows it: there will soon be a nest on my front porch, the geese at our little pond will disappear for another year, the black bear in the ravine will poke his head out into the sun and start to roam. Because life continues on.

We need to act in a way that honors God’s rhythms. “To everything there is a season” He tells us, but how often do we demand a perpetual spring or summer?

“Perhaps you’re waiting for something to be made beautiful. What can you do in the meantime? Give yourself to creative good. Give your life to love and serve in the ways you’ve been gifted. Draw your own perspective back to the small beauties of everyday life.” (page 196)

Just like nature renews itself through death and new life, so must we. Jesus never told us life would be a perpetual summer, in fact we are assured that sometimes there will be suffering. We don’t need to run from it, and we aren’t exactly supposed to embrace it either, we are to walk with Jesus where He leads. There’s a beautiful part of the book where Hoover talks about faith in the “minor keys” and how that rubs us the wrong way, because the minor keys aren’t natural, they call us to repent and lay down the selfish parts of ourselves. We like life to be in the major keys because it just feels right and good. She does a great job showing us how we need both, just like winter and summer.

“We’re made to be beauty seekers but too often we’re merely surviving. We are restless from a lack of wonder and sometimes we’re pierced by more than just restlessness; depression, anxiety, apathy, bitterness, and hopelessness. We exist in a crafted busyness where we attempt to silence our heart’s craving. What is the point of seeking beauty anyway? Why awaken our hearts to the risk of emotion when life’s pain is too deep? 

Because beauty is the most potent weapon we have with which to fight back.”

What a blessing and what a relief. Beauty amidst ugliness. Beauty in wintertime. Hope that our spring is coming and that Jesus has made and is continuing to make all things new.

Here’s a link for the book if you’d like to check it out, it was a huge blessing for me and has me getting out some of those Easter decorations already… enjoy friends!