Category Archives: Letters to My Daughter

It’s Okay to Choose Starburst in a Hershey’s World – A letter to my daughter

Dear C,

So you don’t like chocolate. Big deal, right? You’ve been a pretty good sport when faced with a lot of light-hearted teasing about this; and true, some of it has come from your own mother.

– I mean, how is it that we share DNA?

But seriously, honey, I really am sorry. For a long time, I thought that you didn’t like chocolate the same way that people refuse Brussels sprouts (having never actually tasted Brussels sprouts). And I thought when you eventually realized the error of your ways that, along with chocolate, a whole new world of green beans, spinach, and cauliflower would open up to you.

Yeah. Right.

But as you’re growing up, I’m starting to realize that your dislike of chocolate has become something that makes you, you. Perhaps, you’re learning, in a small way, that your choices become a part of who you are, and it’s okay to own your differences. Sometimes your choices are based on your preferences (like Starburst instead of Hershey’s kisses), and that’s fine, but as you grow up, you’ll find that the most important choices are based upon your convictions and your standards. In a world that follows the masses, these choices might be the ones that single you out.

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It’s one thing to know what you like in a dessert and another thing to know what you like in a friend.

Choose well, honey.

There are few decisions in life that will influence you as much as your choice of friends. The preteen years, especially for girls, are known for all sorts of relational drama, and you can choose to play the parts or not.

As you’re growing up, you’re making more of your own choices, and that’s the way it should be. But for now, your Dad and I are going to keep a close watch on your choice of friends. It’s our God-given authority and responsibility as your parents to steer you in the direction of positive peer pressure.

So you’re probably wondering what’s positive about peer pressure. Am I right? It’s okay, if I am :)

Peer pressure is basically the desire to fit in with others, which is not necessarily a bad thing. God designed us to be in relationships and community with people. Kids, teens, and adults learn interpersonal skills in order to navigate the world of relationships. We learn how and why to be polite and conform to basic societal norms; for example, people wear regular clothes (not pajamas) and cover up their underwear when they go to the store. Because we are living in an anything-goes culture, however, such societal norms are breaking down as people communicate a lack of respect for community in general. (Oh, pardon me – I’ve stumbled upon a soapbox, haven’t I?)

Anyway, Daddy and I want you to be a friend and to have friends who positively influence one another. Healthy peer pressure motivates a person to engage other people in respectful and meaningful ways. It can bring out the best in yourself and your friends. Positive friendships are established through authenticity, acceptance, and intention.

What does this mean? It means that you be yourself and spend enough face-to-face time with your friends to know and value them for who they truly are. Face-to-face time means looking at each other instead of just being together and looking at your tech gadgets. In positive friendships, you commit to also looking out for one another. You actively look for ways to support and cheer for each other. There’s no competition or jealousy or pressure to conform to any behavior or standard that goes against the truths and values that each of you stand for.

Your relationships are going to change during these years as you seek out the girls with whom you want to identify. During this time, you need to remember your identity. You are a child of God, set apart, completely loved, and chosen by Him for a beautiful purpose. Daddy and I pray that you will identify with other girls who are grounded in the same identity and that together you will love Jesus and determine to honor Him in every way. Does this sound too spiritual for a group of preteen girls? Not at all! I trust that my Starburst-loving girl has the character and courage to be different and live out the pure and purposeful calling that God has placed on your life.

The enemy wants to distract you from this high calling; he wants you to conform to anything apart from Christ, and one of his favorite strategies is to preoccupy girls with their outward appearance.  It’s becoming increasingly true in our culture that image is everything and integrity is nothing. But remember that God’s purpose in conformity is that you will become (and you will influence others to become) who you are truly created to be – an image bearer of God. His is the only image that truly matters. It is purity and goodness, grace and truth, joy and gentleness, justice and mercy, strength and patience. When girls help one another bind these traits upon the heart, their bonds of friendship don’t break.

And yes, we do want you to have relationships with people aren’t Christ-followers. That’s how you learn to be salt and light in your world. Forming those relationships is the first step to making disciples. But your closest friends will be those girls who share your values, goals, and principles, who sharpen you, who speak truth into your life, and who walk closely alongside in life’s milestones, deepest joys, and darkest moments.

I don’t mean to say that your friends should be exactly like you. Remember that the Bible tells us that differences are good – especially because God has fashioned each one of us uniquely. Our Creator could have made us exactly the same. But a world filled with only Starburst would be too tart and totally boring!

You know that Priscilla Shirer is one of my favorite teachers, so let me share with you some of her wisdom:
Unity does not mean sameness. It means oneness of purpose.

My dream for you, sweet one, is that you will choose friends who are one with you in purpose. Friends who help you grow up to be like Jesus.

It’s cool if they like chocolate. It’s all right if their clothing style is different (as long as it’s modest). It’s okay if they have a different skin color or body type. Maybe you have friends who are on the honor roll and friends who can’t deal with geometry. Or friends who attend a different church. It’s cool to have friends who are into sports and friends who can’t stand P.E. class. It’s good to have friends who have way bigger or way smaller houses. That’s all okay.

What matters, remember, is that your choice of friends is based not on sameness but on godly standards.

If you choose friends based on sameness, it’s pretty likely that you’re going to get caught up in a clique. A clique is a distortion of community; it’s an exclusive place where girls (and guys, but mostly girls) jockey for position and power. This means that there will be gossip, jealousy, competition, and teasing. But – whether in a family, church, or a group of friends – communities as God intends are places of mutual respect, acceptance, humility, honorable accountability, and love. This seems like a really big goal, but sweetheart, you and your friends can live up to it.

And in the inevitable times when you are hurting or lonely, remember that Jesus is truly your best friend. I really mean it – He will never fail you. Your Mom and Dad can’t love you as perfectly as He does, but we will do our best to fill our home with love, support, guidance, discipline (yes), and encouragement.

We are so proud of the lovely young woman that you are becoming. Keep choosing well, honey.

Love,
Mom

“Leave Something on Someone’s Heart”

While going through Daddy’s things, we’ve discovered some gems of family & social history. Daddy was adventurous and nostalgic, and his possessions speak of his glory days in drag racing, travels around the world, and his heritage. We’ve stumbled upon some photographs of our ancestors, and this family looks like a real lively bunch. In comparison with today’s photography norms, one might guess that this crew is highly bored, maybe even irritated.

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You’ve probably seen older photographs like this, and have you ever wondered why everyone’s so formal and somber? Were those days that dull and bothersome? Perhaps in some cases, but a little research into these expressionless faces offered a few explanations:

Early film required long exposure times to capture an image (perhaps several minutes). It was difficult to hold a smile for this length of time, so people avoided smiling all together.

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Having a photograph taken was unusual and special, so people who might be remembered by only one picture took the occasion very seriously. When cameras became more portable, amateur photographers increased in number and captured more casual, animated images.

A broad smile captured in a photo was often thought to be unwise and reckless. A closed smile was acceptable, but showing teeth? Definitely not. Consider the opinion of funny guy Mark Twain who wrote, “A photograph is a most important document, and there is nothing more (unfavorable) to go down to posterity than a silly, foolish smile caught and fixed forever.”

(What would he think now?? Yikes. Perhaps such photographic prudence should be a lesson we take to heart.)

Apparently image was important then too, but in terms of visible representation, it was much simpler to handle. Image management, once an industry primarily for famous people, is now relevant to anyone with a social media account.

Lately I think a lot about teaching my 12 year old daughter the differences between image, identity, and influence. She’s discovering who she is while learning to navigate an increasingly ‘image is everything’ world, and that’s complicated.

Image management can be enhanced or comprised by media but it isn’t limited to media. As a confessed people-pleaser, I’ve been overly concerned with what others think of me, long before the days of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WordPress, or Snapchat. My hope for my daughter is that she will find security and affirmation in the eyes of Jesus rather the eyes of people.

I googled “image management,” and learned that, yes, it is truly serious business. Take into account this definition:

“Image Management is the ongoing, pro-active process of evaluating and controlling the impact of your appearance on you, on others, and the achievement of your goals. It is a science and an art that provides a framework, addressing all the elements – clothing, grooming practices, body language and etiquette and vocal communication – that help create the right image for each role that a person undertakes at different occasions. Given that each person is unique, image management takes into account the person’s personal style, enhances strengths and downplays weaknesses while making optimal use of resources.”

Does anyone else think this sounds exhausting??

Yet we do this every day. It’s how we learn to navigate multiple roles and cultural norms. It’s okay to be concerned with how we present ourselves at job interviews. It’s okay to present ourselves differently at football games (while keeping some common sense, of course!)

Perhaps it’s because I recently lost my father that I think more these days about influence and less about image. In our digital world, image has a fleeting quality, because unlike our ancestors who may have had one literal shot to capture their likeness, we can present ourselves in hundreds of ways. When you lose someone you love, the pictures are precious, but it’s their character and lasting influence that stays with you.

Image management gets thorny, I think, where it is used to promote oneself above respect and relationships. We live in a world of entitlement and self-promotion. Discerning the motives behind our manner of presentation is more important than ever. It’s okay to encourage my daughter to dress nicely and speak politely at a future job interview in order to demonstrate that she respects the organization, the opportunity, and the person who is considering her. I want her to intentionally look people in the eyes because face-to-face connection is becoming a lost skill. And politeness still communicates respect for others.

It says more about a person when her first concern, above promoting her own image, is to honor the image of God in other people.

Everyone presents an image. Everyone makes impressions. I want my daughter to be an influencer. I pray that she will value respect and honor relationships; and that instead of promoting herself, she will demonstrate a preference for others (Philippians 2: 3 – 4).

When I asked Caroline what it means to be an influence, she replied, “Well, a person can be a good influence or a bad influence.” True. So assuming that I mean good influence, what does that look like?

“I think it means to leave something on someone’s heart.”

I couldn’t say it any better.

So, how do we do this? Here are some things that I want my daughter (and myself) to think about …

* God created us with needs for affirmation and acceptance. So often we look to the world to meet these needs, but the world is fickle, especially with failures. It’s inevitable – we’re going to mess up, fall, and fail. Only God can love us perfectly and unconditionally. It’s an amazing mystery that we are so human and yet we bear the image of God. We must learn to define and ground ourselves in this truth. Finding our worth in the eyes of Jesus and securing our identity in His image frees us from the futility of promoting and managing our image in the world’s eyes.

* Along with respect and relationships, integrity is a key that opens the opportunity for influence. When our church was getting to know our new pastor, someone said of him: “He is the same person on stage as he is in ordinary moments.” I consider that to be a very high compliment.

Think about this: “Integrity not only calls us to live inside-out, it keeps the outside from coming in. Consistency in our walk and in our talk becomes a transportable cloak of protection around us, going anywhere we go. Life becomes so much simpler when there aren’t so many costume changes” (Beth Moore, Daniel Bible study).

* Understand that everyone is wired differently. For me, finally understanding and owning the qualities of an introvert helped me to accept that I will never be the life of the party. And it’s okay. We don’t need to try so hard. God has given you and me unique ways to be an influence. Be true to the personality that God has given you.

* Don’t find it so important to capture memories with a device. Sure, it provides a visual reminder of the moment, but can you capture it with your other senses (while zooming and focusing?) If there’s always a phone in the middle of memory-making moments, consider the impact upon your relationships.

In an increasingly visual world, appreciate all of your senses when it comes to making and persevering memories. While I enjoy looking at pictures of Daddy, it’s the recordings of his voice and the clothing with his smell that bring his memory to life. While your loved ones are still with you, notice and appreciate those qualities.

So, be present. Technology is meant to make life easier, but if we allow it, it can make life more shallow. Our communication devices often interrupt the natural flow of conversation.  “The cognitive challenge children and youth will face (as we are beginning to face now) is integrity, the state of being whole and undivided. There will be a premium on the skill of maintaining presence, of mindfulness, of awareness in the face of persistent and pervasive tool extensions and incursions into our lives.” *

* Find out who your true friends are. When I was my daughter’s age, I found friends who are still among the closest people in my life. I was painfully shy and awkward, and in those crucial middle-school days my image couldn’t possibly enhance theirs. They didn’t care about that. They took time to get to know me. Their investment in and their influence upon my life are priceless. True connectedness is an intentional choice to remove our masks, look up from our screens, and engage people authentically.

* Forget comparison. Remember this quote: “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel” (Pastor Steven Furtick).

* Release your expectations of people who, for whatever reason – perhaps it’s simply something about the way that they are wired – don’t pat you on the back. Find your satisfaction in a job done well and faithfully, working as for God, not the praises of people (Colossians 3:23). Sometimes while we are busy trying to look important in front of important people, we bypass opportunities to serve the least of these – the very work that is most important in the eyes of God.

* Embrace your weaknesses. The professional definition of image management would disagree, of course, because our world would rather “downplay” weaknesses. Unflattering pictures should be deleted. Life is not a snapshot, however; it’s a full album of the good, the bad, and the ugly. My moments of greatest failure have taught me that life is meant to be received rather than achieved. It’s all about a gift of grace. I don’t have to be a “good girl” in the world’s eyes. I can’t be, not all the time.

Trying to achieve that image is inauthentic. But Jesus has taken this heart and made it good.

Sweet daughter, what He has done is your heart is the most important, influential thing about you. If you share anything with this world, share that and leave it on someone else’s heart.

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“Integrity is not a conditional word. It doesn’t blow in the wind or change with the weather. It is your inner image of yourself, and if you look in there and see a man who won’t cheat, then you know he never will.” ~ John D. McDonald

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Resources:

Michael Zhang – http://petapixel.com/2013/09/23/didnt-people-smile-old-photos/

Robinson Meyer – http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/09/why-didnt-people-smile-in-old-portraits/279880/

Nicholas Jeeves – http://publicdomainreview.org/2013/09/18/the-serious-and-the-smirk-the-smile-in-portraiture/#sthash.87vIitKw.dpuf

Ohio Historical Society – http://ohiohistory.wordpress.com/2011/09/22/why-dont-people-smile-in-old-photographs/

Image Consulting Institute – http://www.imageconsultinginstitute.com/image-management/

* Quote by Barry Chudakov from the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto. http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/02/doomed-or-lucky-predicting-the-future-of-the-internet-generation/

You Are Important – A Letter to My Daughter

Dear C:

Do you remember that conversation we had the other night, right before you went to sleep? It went something like this:

You (in a sleepy little whisper): “Mommy has a new job – Mommy is important!”

Me (trying to sound casually curious): “So … I’m important now that I have a job?”

You: “Well … yeah.”

Me: “Honey, it’s not a job that makes a person important.”

You: “Oh, okay …” zzzzz

I know you were only half-awake and I think I know what you meant. But I haven’t been able to let this conversation go. I want to know what you really think about this. But more importantly, you need to know for yourself –

What makes a person important? Is it a job? Your parents? Friends? Talents? Accomplishments? Possessions?

Who decides whether a person is important – or not?

Because I like words and I like to know where words come from, I looked up the word “important” in the dictionary.

Important(adjective): of great significance or value; likely to have a profound effect on success, survival, or well-being

This adjective stems from the verb “import” which was first recorded around the early 15th century. Materials that a country could not produce with its own resources were “imported” (brought into port) from another country. Because these imported goods typically became vital to a country’s well-being, they were considered “important.”

Interesting, huh? The underlying concept of importance comes from one’s ability to produce something for someone else. If you are able to bring happiness, success, security, or value to someone else, you are important.

In my head I hear “What Have You Done for Me Lately?” (oh, it’s one of those classic 80’s songs). But the question is widespread in various forms –

Can you make this company more profitable?
Can you help this team win?
If I hang out with you, can you make me popular?
Can you cook, do laundry, keep the house clean?
Can you get a scholarship?

In today’s language, the word “important” has synonyms like “valuable” and “worthy.” We tend to think of these words in the context of what our world considers to be significant.

BUT, as followers of Jesus, we must live in the context of the WORD and not the world.

The world says “What you are worth (your importance) is based upon what you do (your performance).”

The WORD says “What you are worth (your importance) is based upon what Jesus did (His peace, achieved for you).” (Romans 5:1).

Sweetheart, the WORD says that you are valuable and significant.

Who you are is based upon what Jesus did. You don’t have to do anything else.

Ultimately, our worth doesn’t come from our ability to bring security or happiness to other people. Our worth comes from what Jesus has brought to us. He has brought us peace with God and freedom from self-righteousness, from the performance-trap, and from the opinions of this world.

But if being important originates from bringing something, that’s okay. Because you bring something to your Heavenly Father. It doesn’t come from your “doing;” it comes from your “being.”

Your being His –

As the object of His love, you bring Him tremendous delight and joy – Zephaniah 3:17.

As someone who is chosen and adopted into His family, you bring Him great pleasure – Ephesians 1:4.

As a child who is being transformed into your Father’s image, you bring Him glory – 2 Corinthians 3:18.

My child, You ARE important. And as the Father’s child you always will be.
I love you,
Mommy

Don’t Be Afraid – A Letter to my Daughter

A letter to my 11 year old daughter:

Dear C,

It’s been almost a year, and I remember that day so clearly. First, I noticed hints of the news as I read words of shock, disgust, and despair on my Facebook page. What in the world happened? I wondered. Soon I learned that the “in the world” answer to my question happened in a little place called Newtown.

And your school bus would not come soon enough for me. I tried to keep the television turned off, but over the course of the weekend, you knew. You knew that something unspeakably tragic happened in a place just like the place where you spend most of your days.

On Monday morning you cried. With an aching heart I drove you to that place where you spend most of your days. Sweetie, I hurt so deeply for your fear and I wanted so badly to keep you home. I promised you that it would be alright, and you asked, “How do you know?”

I didn’t know.

How do things like this happen at Christmas? At anytime, but especially Christmas?

And my heart asks why hospitals and cancer centers and funeral homes have to stay open at Christmas? Seems like December is supposed to be different.

But I drove you to school and encouraged you to leave the comfort of the car. Because I needed both of us to know that we don’t live in fear.

Because Jesus left the comfort of heaven.

The story of Christmas has a message that you and I have to remember every time we step out of comfort and into this world.

Don’t be afraid.” (Luke 1:12; 1:30; 2:10) It was a message for Zechariah, Mary, and the shepherds. And it is a message for us:

He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High … His kingdom will never end” (Luke 2:32 – 33).

According to the world’s terms I can’t promise you that everything will be alright but because we trust Jesus we have the promise that eternally it will be so.

We hear a lot about the Reverend Billy Graham these days, don’t we? You know, he’s very frail now, like Poppy was in his last days with us. For all the many messages that Billy Graham has spoken and written to millions of people around the world, I think the reason for his hope could be summed up in one of his quotes:

“I have read the last page of the Bible, and it’s all going to turn out alright.”

In Revelation 22, the final chapter of the Bible, we see Jesus. In December we usually think about Him as a baby. But more than ever at Christmas I think about Him on the cross. I’m sorry to have to say it, but you’re beginning to understand more fully that there’s a curse that keeps hospitals, cancer centers, and funeral homes busy, even in December.

Jesus came to pay a price. Without the cross there is no reason for Christmas.

Revelation 22:3 says, “No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb (that’s Jesus) will be in the city, and his servants (like Poppy) will serve him.”

No more curse. No more fear. Don’t be afraid.

Remember that Monday, when you were so upset, I came to eat lunch with you? And a local police officer came to sit and eat and laugh with us? I promise I didn’t say anything to anybody about your tears earlier that morning. That was just God’s special way of giving you (and me) some comfort.

“Advent” means “coming.” Because of the first Advent, we remember that He came to sit with us. Laugh (and cry) with us. That’s God’s way of giving us comfort.

My heart, while thankful for the first Advent, is especially comforted with an expectation of the second Advent:

“He who testifies to these things (that’s Jesus) says, “Yes I am coming soon.” (Revelation 22:20)

Amen, Come, Lord Jesus.

Sweetheart, it’s all going to turn out alright.

You Belong – A letter to my daughter

Dear C,

Have you ever noticed how people talk as if they’re a part of their favorite sports team? Like just last week, when Daddy talked about the World Series, he said things like “We’ve got to win tonight!” or “We can’t let them take this game from us.” Obviously Daddy is not a team member of the Boston Red Sox, Carolina Panthers, or the Demon Deacons. And Daddy’s certainly not alone in this – just look around at cars these days. Lots of them display some sort of tag, magnet, sticker, or flag for their favorite team(s). Also, we choose clothes to announce our allegiances. Some fans even wear t-shirts to proclaim themselves “Property of (Team).”

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People like to affiliate – or connect – themselves with other people around a common goal. For sports fans, the goal is winning at the highest possible level. So Boston fans, especially right now, take pride in being a part of “Red Sox Nation.”

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People like belonging. Even when a team is good at losing, their fans will unite in common disappointment or armchair quarterbacking. And – ugh, it’s not Christ-like – but fans will also rally around the demise of the archrival. Your mom and dad are so guilty (and Duke is still puke).

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Whether we’re for or we’re against, we’re wired for togetherness. People call this “camaraderie” – which means solidarity or fellowship. We enjoy being a part of something bigger than ourselves.

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Honey, you belong. And you’re at an age when you need to take that truth to the bank (I know you don’t have a bank account; it’s a figure of speech!) Belonging influences everything about you – from the big things like what you think, the friends you choose, the words you speak, and how you treat others to things that may not seem as big (but are really, really important) like how you dress and how you care for your body.

So, first of all, remember always that you belong to God. He uniquely created you for His purposes (Philippians 1:6, Jeremiah 29:11; Psalm 139:14-16). You are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” He knows why you love reading and why writing comes more easily to you than math. God is delighted in the big heart that He gave to you.

And God not only created you, He loves you unconditionally and adopted you into His forever family(Ephesians 1: 4). Because Jesus lives in your heart, there is never, ever anything that will separate you from your Heavenly Father’s love and commitment to you (Romans 8: 38 – 39). Remember when you were trying SO hard to move up to the next level in swimming? Every time you finished a lap, you raised your head out of the water and immediately looked for the deck manager – the one who makes the decisions. I could see the frustration on your face when she wasn’t watching you. Honey, God’s not like that. You are never out of His sight. In fact, He says that you are precious in His eyes (Isaiah 43:4) and He keeps up with every little thing about you (Matthew 10: 29 – 31), even swimming!

You know, though, there are going to be times when, like me and Daddy and everyone else, you’ll fall short. God loves you as you are and not as you ought to be. You don’t need to be perfect. Because of Jesus, you are forgiven. (Romans 3:23-24). All He asks is that you receive His gift by faith. Because you’ve done that, you bear His seal of ownership and you are “Property of the King” (Ephesians 1:11-14).

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And you belong in our family. There are special things about “us” – our silly habits, meaningful traditions, and Saturday morning games in our pajamas. These things build camaraderie in a family. You know how lots of cars have, in addition to the team stickers, those stick figure families in the windows? That’s another display of belonging.

Our family isn’t perfect; we make mistakes and learn humbling lessons about grace and forgiveness. As you grow older, Daddy and I are increasingly aware that you don’t belong to us in a possessive kind of way. But you belong to us in a secure kind of way, meaning that we hope to give you the grace, confidence, and freedom to become the young woman that God has created you to be. Knowing the difference is not always going to come easily for us. God has entrusted you to us, and we entrust you daily to Him.

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And you belong in the church. I don’t mean you belong at a church building. More importantly you’re a member of the Body of Christ. It’s way better than Red Sox Nation. It’s an everlasting KINGDOM! I don’t know if you are an eye or a foot or an arm in this Body. But Scripture promises that you have an important role for an eternal reason (1 Corinthians 12). May you grow into great joy by using the gifts that God has given you.

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,” said a wise theologian named Frederick Buechner. My prayer, sweetheart, is that God will lead you into this place.

I believe that will happen when you know who you are and Whose you are. One day you’ll understand that deep gladness comes from a place of belonging – not to a club or a set of friends or a team. It’s more than camaraderie – it’s communion. Your relationship with Him is not restricted by your appearance, popularity, performance, or grade-point average. The presence of Christ is a safe, secure place to rest in His forever love and acceptance. It’s where you belong.

I love you,
Mommy

Why (and how) our family does Halloween, Part 2

Dear C,
I really like your Halloween costume this year! And I won’t give your idea away, but I think you and Toby are going to look super-cute in your outfits. That’s a fun part of Halloween, isn’t it? It always brings out your creativity. You carefully plan and create your costume (sometimes with Grandma’s help). And with each year you take on a little more responsibility for designing and carving our jack-o-lantern. Last year was the first time you were willing to help us scoop out the goopy insides. Feel free to do that job all by yourself this year :)

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Today I wondered about pumpkin-carving – who first did it and why? It’s really interesting to discover why our traditions became traditions in the first place. So here’s a little history lesson for today …. (hang with me – you won’t think it’s boring!)

Hundreds of years ago, a people group called the Celts lived in Europe and on the British Isles. They believed that the souls of dead people visited earth on October 31. Fearful that evil spirits would destroy their crops, they built bonfires and wore scary costumes to frighten them away. The Celts also carved frightful faces into turnips or gourds, put burning coal inside to turn them into lanterns, and set them outside their homes. And by leaving food (treats) on the outskirts of their towns, they hoped that evil spirits would not enter their villages (and perform tricks). Get it?

In the 8th century, the Catholic Church declared November 1 as a day to remember honorable Catholics who had passed away. It was commonly called “All Hallows’ Day,” and the night before (October 31) became known as Allhallowe’en. Somewhere along the way, as a mix of European settlers came to America, their customs blended into what we now know as Halloween.

So, why did I explain all of that? I think it’s important for you to realize that the traditions of Halloween have always been rooted in fear and superstition. (“Superstition” is a way of behaving that is based on the fear of the unknown and belief in magic or luck). But the day itself, October 31, is NOT an evil day. Like every other day, it is a day that the Lord has made. (It’s also “Reformation Day” – a very important day in our Christian history that highlights our freedom in Christ. We’ll talk about that another time).

As you know, there are signs of this fearful, superstitious side of Halloween all around us. In our culture, Halloween brings out a fascination with images of death, darkness, and the supernatural. It’s true that there is a kingdom of darkness ruled by Satan. He wants to keep people separated from God, in a grip of evil and fear. But honey, you don’t need to be afraid. As a follower of Christ, you are a part of the Kingdom of Light (Colossians 1: 12 – 14). 1 John 4 says that GREATER is HE who is in you (Christ) than he who is in the world (Satan) and that perfect love (the love of Christ) drives out fear (verses 4 & 18). Jesus is victorious every single day of the year!

So what do we do about Halloween? Christian families respond in different ways.

Some families avoid Halloween all together. I understand that. Perhaps they try to find alternatives to Halloween, and Daddy and I once considered that. You might say that this choice is like “isolation from the culture.”

Some families see Halloween, even the creepy business, as harmless fun. I get that too. We are wired in a way that we get a little kick out of being spooked. You could describe this approach as “immersion in the culture.”

While Daddy and I believe that families are free to decide for themselves, neither of these two choices is entirely appealing to us. The Bible tells us that although we are not of this world, we are still in it (see Jesus’ words in John 17: 14 – 15). In fact, we’re called to be Light in our world. While there are appropriate ways and times to protect you, we don’t want you to live in a bubble. And yet, the Bible also tells us to think on things that are pure and honorable to God, and it’s our personal conviction that the creepy side of Halloween puts our thoughts elsewhere. So, regardless of Halloween’s origins, we believe that our family can give a new meaning to October 31. Instead of isolating from or immersing into culture, we want to interact with it – but with discernment (knowing how to make wise choices).

You’re 11 now, so you can understand that Halloween is an opportunity for you to learn how to discern when you must separate from culture and when you can be a redemptive participant in it.

What does being a “redemptive participant” mean? I’m so glad you asked! :)

Let’s think about this biblically –

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5: 14 – 16

Honey, it’s getting harder to engage in our world, meaning that our phones and our gadgets keep us from actually talking to each other (weird, but true). Face to face interaction is more valuable than ever. Your dad and I believe that God has deliberately placed us in this city, in this neighborhood, and on this street to care about our neighbors. How can we effectively do that if we don’t take opportunities to see them face to face? If we keep our lamp under a bowl?

While we struggled for a while about Halloween, our perspective changed when Mr. Sam and Mrs. Ellen started their annual tradition next door. When Mr. Sam brought his huge stockpots of jambalaya outside, the neighbors came. And the next year, we and the neighbors brought food too. By talking face to face, admiring the little ones’ costumes, and eating together, we connect. When we connect, we care more. And then you go down the street with the neighbors’ families and get free chocolate (oops, I mean candy, since you don’t like chocolate). And either Daddy or I stay at the house with the light on, and people come.

People are drawn to light – and to each other – and that’s what Halloween means to our family.

So, we’ll treat Halloween not as a holiday, but as an event. We’ll see this event as an opportunity to be for community. We’ll concentrate less on being against the darkness and focus more on being for the light. The light always wins! We (I mean, you) will scoop out our pumpkin and we’ll talk about how great it is that Jesus has cleaned us up on the inside and put His light there. And we’ll put that light on display.

Sweetheart, let it shine!

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Love,
Mommy

In his book, Celebration of Discipline (1978), Richard Foster says, “Why allow Halloween to be a pagan holiday in commemoration of the powers of darkness? Fill the house or church with light; sing and celebrate the victory of Christ over darkness.”

I like this thought too – “One night does not a neighbor make (and one night does not a pagan make), but Halloween is the one night of the year where the good neighborliness that flows from being in Christ is communicated and reinforced. We are citizens of another Kingdom where The Light is always on.” – from the blog post, “Halloween – Treat or Retreat?” by Tim Challies. http://www.challies.com/articles/halloween-trick-or-retreat

Other helpful sources –
Jennifer E. Jones – Banning Halloween http://www.cbn.com/spirituallife/biblestudyandtheology/perspectives/jej_BanningHalloween07.aspx

“Christians and Halloween” on the Grace to You website – http://www.gty.org/resources/articles/a123

The concept of “redemptive interaction” with culture is explained so well by Paul David Tripp in his book Age of Opportunity. http://paultripp.com/age-of-opportunity

I Think You are Courageous – Another Letter to my Daughter

First of all, I’m sorry. The Bible provides timeless principles for raising kids but I haven’t yet found specific instructions for “what to do when your child wants to do something really hard for a sixth grade project.” And so, being a little overwhelmed for you, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about your project, was I? Truthfully, we know that I tried to talk you into doing something different – something easier.

Sweetheart, I’m learning so much as your Mom. While you are an imaginative, positive, creative thinker, I’m realistic and sensible.

You dream up a project and say “That has potential!”
I consider your ideas and ask, “Is that possible?”

It’s my responsibility as a parent to be reasonable and practical. I think about costs and time and effort. Some people would say that’s being “down-to-earth.”

And yet, honey, I never ever want to ground your dreams to fly.

I was afraid that you would be disappointed. And that your idea might be a failure. And you’d be working on Plan B at the very last minute.

But now I understand that protecting you from failure doesn’t serve you well. The time for you to fail is now. Doesn’t that sound weird? It’s not that I want your ideas to fall flat or I’m hoping that you will miss the cut. But my better responsibility as a parent is to be a safe place when you try. If you fail, if you don’t make the team, if you don’t make the grade, if you’re disappointed after the big audition, I will love you. And support you. And cheer for you anyway.

I want you to try.

As you walk with Jesus, He will take you on a narrow road. You might think that this was just a history assignment, but I’m proud of you for not shying away from a difficult choice. Take it as a life lesson — as part of your own story.

Of course I want you to think and plan and practice wisely. Learning how to do this is a process of growing up. Learning how to let you learn is a process of growing as a parent. You’re just beginning middle school, and your decisions are going to become much bigger than what to do for a school project. We have a lot of learning and growing to do together.

We’re going to make mistakes. I just did, as a mom. I’m writing about it. Failure is not final. I think somebody famous said something like that. Oh, Winston Churchill. (I just looked it up.) You’ll probably learn about him this year.

Ok, here’s what he really said: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

So, all day long, on Saturday you worked. And shed a few tears. And continued.

“I can do it, Mommy.”

Sweetheart, I think you are courageous.

Kids and parents are discussing the life application of courage this month at our church. How appropriate, huh? Last week, our leader asked us to talk at home about things that have been hard and scary. I told you that, for me, 2013 has been a year of hard things like going on a mission trip without you and Daddy, taking a class on pastoral care at the hospital, and watching our dearest loved ones go through surgeries and chemotherapy.

At the class in the hospital, I had to go into the rooms of strangers and offer a word of hope or prayer. Sometimes those strangers were thankful and friendly and sometimes not. The director of the program knew that this was hard for a shy person like me.

“I think you are courageous,” he said.

His words gave me encouragement. Get it? En-COURAGE-ment. Just hearing that someone considered me courageous made me feel courageous.

But I couldn’t ultimately depend on courage coming from within myself or from the words of another person. An unkind word could just as easily dis-courage me. Before I could raise my fist to knock on another hospital room door, I had to rely on a promise that the Lord gave to Joshua:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

The Lord is with you, sweet girl. By His Spirit, you are courageous. Continue in hard things.

I remember now where I saw that quote from Winston Churchill. It was posted in a room where your Poppy received a treatment for his cancer.

Cancer is a hard thing. Your Grammy knows that too.

Poppy and Grammy are courageous. Sometimes you have to be courageous about things that you don’t choose.  But no matter what, God chooses to love you and stay with you, just as He continues to do so for your grandparents.

It is the courage to continue that counts.

Colossians 1: 6 – 7 says, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in Him….”

Continue on, sweetheart. He will give you roots and let you fly.