Eternity in Our Hearts

Bringing what endures into everyday life


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a 13-reasons-why response

I haven’t watched the Netflix series that’s generating conversation about teen suicide. But I’m deeply concerned that teens might be drawn into the raw program without processing these sensitive, graphic issues with a trusted adult.

This is another example of the way that books, television shows, and movies engage young people with shocking, grim, and reckless stories. I understand that teenagers are ready to delve into what fascinates and scares them about real life, without the phoniness of a handsome prince swooping in to guarantee the happy ending.  Yet, I’m convinced that a biblical perspective is essential for our children to learn to spiritually, cognitively, and emotionally process the realities of this fallen world. This is an opportunity for Christian parents to disciple our kids within a biblical framework in which Jesus reigns and hope lives.

Yesterday, I ventured into the conversation for the first time with my 15-year-old daughter. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I asked her if she’s heard of “13 Reasons Why.” She attends a Christian school, and to be honest, my perception is that she lives a fairly sheltered life. Our appetite for compelling television is fed by “The Amazing Race” and “The Spring Baking Championship.”

“Oh, yeah – everyone’s talking about it.”

I suppose that confirmed my reluctant suspicions that these kids aren’t so sheltered after all.

About 20 minutes into our conversation, we received an email from a teacher about the series, another confirmation that yes, parents need to be aware and engaged in this discussion. It doesn’t mean that we have to watch the program, but we need to be present and willing to have two-way conversations about hard issues like bullying, rejection, abuse, sexuality, self-harm, anxiety, and depression. While our teens are growing, they need roots to anchor them. All of us do, in times like these. We need to be rooted in Christ’s love in order to see ourselves through His acceptance, to perceive our circumstances through His sovereignty, and to establish our hope in His victory.

For my daughter and her peers, plus my small group of 10th grade girls – allow these 13-reasons-why-you-can-have-hope and these truths from Scripture to sink deep in your heart. You are fiercely and unconditionally loved. 

Please read 13 Reasons Why You Can Have Hope at my Shortest Season blog.


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questions while sitting in the fog

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Questions fill my days, looming like a murky and stubborn fog, without sudden breakthroughs. I don’t know that they’re good questions. They’re just …. questions, those uncertainties which accompany me when I don’t see the next step ahead. Clarity is quite appealing, I think. I mean, the questions, good or not, are keeping me awake at night. A direct answer would make a nice pillow after all. Then, when I rise to a bright and clear morning, I’ll do what God tells me to do.

All I’m looking for is a “yes” or a “no.”

This morning, after another night of wondering, of wrestling, a memory came to mind. (I knew it was a thought not my own, seeing that I was pre-caffeinated.) I remembered how, just days before, in a training session on small group leadership, I described the skill of asking good questions, the kind which are open-ended, which can’t be answered with the simple “yes” or “no.”

Good questions are those which invite group members to process and think and reflect, even to struggle a bit, if that’s what it takes to move information from the head to the heart. As Jim Branch says, “A good question creates dialogue and interaction and life … A good question invites us to go inward, to the very core of our being, and seek something deep within ourselves.”

As a mom of a teenager, one question in particular haunts me: Who am I going to be when she leaves?

It’s not a question that can be answered with a “yes” or a “no.” Perhaps more than any question I’ve ever asked, it’s this one that invites me to go inward.

Jesus wants the core of my being. And He is so committed to developing faith in me that He might not give pat answers, for those answers make trust unnecessary. Instead, He leads me to the open-ends, which usually means waiting and mystery and longing. The open-ends create space for grace where I slowly learn that the way of faith is not something I achieve. The Way of faith is a Person I receive.

This kind of faith transforms my questions.  I am prone to pray, “What do You want me to do?” But the Holy Spirit leads me to pray, “Who do You want me to become?”

It’s a tremendous shift, one that says “yes” to relationship, which involves more than simply following directives. It invites the Spirit to do tough, tender transformation within my soul. It is the work of grace and not the work of works. It is open-handedness, requiring all of me, nothing closed off, everything made plain to see, all surrendered.

“Who do You want me to become?” is a question that acknowledges that life is not a linear experience from one simple task to another. Rather, it’s a layered story, with subplots and loose ends and mystery. And I might be tempted to think my story is all about me, but God is writing the pages, crafting each chapter in due season. It’s His story.

It’s not that I have an answer for “Who I am going to be when she leaves?” as much as I have an Author who will guide me through that chapter when it comes.  And in the fog, faith says that’s all I need to see for now.

What questions are you asking today?

Of course, we all know, don’t we, that there are other kinds of questions. These are cries of a heart that is broken and grieving. Maybe we aren’t necessary looking for answers, for sometimes an explanation for “Why?” can’t change the situation anyway.

King David expressed this kind of heart’s cry: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.” (Psalm 22:1–2)

In our small group training, we discussed the value of silence. Anyone who’s led a small group knows the awkwardness of asking a question that’s met with silence. And we are tempted to fill that uncomfortable void with our voices, perhaps cutting off the opportunity for deeper reflection and movement from head to heart. As an introvert, I need time and quietness to process my thoughts inwardly before jumping to quick answers. But when the Lord seems to reply with silence, I feel frustrated, confused, even rejected. Obviously, my pain hasn’t caught Him off-guard, as if He needs time to formulate solutions.

God is never truly silent; the truth is that He speaks all the time in creation and in His Word. But sometimes we perceive His silence in ways that seem almost palpable, like a wilderness where we hunger and thirst without relief. But could it be that, only in the ways of God, silence is still a conversation, deeply inward? It can be a space where we learn to trust His promises and not our perceptions, where we come to discover Him in ways we missed when we walked by sight, where we seek Him not for the fixing but for His face.

Here, perhaps once again, the good question isn’t “what?” or even “why?” but “Who?” When we haven’t received the answers, when we can’t perceive His voice, let us lean in to knowing Him more, the Author who knows all mysteries and holds grace in their midst.

A Prayer for Those Sitting in the Fog ~

We confess our love of cloudless days, bright mornings, clearly marked pathways. We confess our discomfort in the fog but recognize a longing we discover there too. Even as we confess our desire for answers, may we learn to walk humbly with questions. Help us to find your company beside us as we crouch in the darkness and wait for the first light of dawn. Help us to know Your presence in ways we may have overlooked if not for our inability to see.  Emily P. Freeman, Simply Tuesday.

 

 

 

 


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Powerless

I wouldn’t call it “outrage,” but deep within I’m down, restless, antsy, tired. I think maybe you are too.

I visited mom today, and I struggle with this role reversal, this constant wondering if I am serving her well. Since mom fell, we hired home health care to assist with her personal needs. The quality of care, I’ve discovered, depends on the person working with her and varies greatly, as this particular agency has difficulty in finding a consistent caregiver. This morning, I was saddened and concerned with what I observed.  When I left, the word “powerless” came to my mind.

I’m not one to complain. If I order a salad without mushrooms, and it arrives with mushrooms, I will pick through my salad rather than send it back (I see this as a tendency to shrink back, something I’m not proud of).

But when competent care for a loved one is what’s not being delivered, it’s a much different matter, and I have to speak. And so, I am learning – slowly, reluctantly – to “complain,” to make the phone calls, to be that client, to give words to something that isn’t right.

Sometimes, I admit, this feels like an imposition – it cramps my style, it goes against the grain of who I am. Speaking up, for me, is uncomfortable. But today, I realized afresh that this situation isn’t about me at all. It’s about my mother, and her right to be treated with kindness and dignity. If I have to speak up, I need to remember that I am giving words for her as much as I am speaking words against someone else’s lack of care.

The ladies at the place where mom lives always say things like, “Oh, you have such a good daughter.” And I wince, because really, I can very much be that clanging gong in 1 Corinthians 13 who goes through the acts of service without the purity of love in my heart. And every day, I must ask Jesus to make my heart a receptacle into which He pours His love. I am a needful soul who deeply wants to get over herself and learn what it looks like to reflect the One who was our advocate when we were powerless.

For at just the right time, while we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Romans 5:6

And I am not alone. Especially today, I see it in us, a common and visceral reaction when people are stripped of dignity and are left to wonder if they have any worth, in the eyes of a society that is most interested in applauding and preserving the attractive, self-reliant, young, and strong. I am sad when I observe, in many ways and degrees, how the world sees human worth in conjunction with externals. Those who are capable of contributing to society enjoy an elevated degree of status, according to the world’s standards, while the weaker members are marginalized.

From the incarnation to the Cross, Jesus identified with the vulnerable, and His Gospel defines human dignity. Our natural attraction to power is reframed at the Cross where Christ submitted Himself to weakness and death so that we may be reconciled to Him and our brothers and sisters as well.

And we must speak up. I want to be part of the response to the inequities. Like you, I want to speak against a cultural perspective that places people along a spectrum of power and worth.

Not everyone is powerless but it’s obvious in our society than some have less power than others. What would our world be like if this were not so?

Perhaps it would look like neighbor being for neighbor, regardless of zip-code or ethnicity. Men treating women like vessels of honor instead of pawns for pleasure. Women building each other up rather than backstabbing. Elderly persons participating in community rather than being cast to the margins. Refugees receiving welcome. A child who feels safe in a home.

Yes, sometimes we must speak against, but let us actively look for ways to speak for.  This doesn’t have to involve words at all. Sometimes it looks like listening. Sometimes it means looking away from a phone to meet one another eye to eye.

But may we remember that our tongues possess power, like a ship’s tiny rudder. Let us not give in to the lie of insignificance, for simple, heartfelt words or actions can steer a fellow traveler in the path of hope where she is no less than fully valued by Jesus, the all-powerful Lord of all.

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My hope for us in the new year

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Every now and then, when driving, I realize that I’ve traveled a distance without being consciously aware of surrounding sights and sounds. (Does this ever happen to anyone else?) The radio is playing as usual, and my car traverses the intended course, and – as far as I know – I’ve observed all traffic laws.  All of the senses commanding my vehicle, however, are seemingly on auto-pilot.

This time, the real action was going on inside my mind, driving me further down a regretful road of would-haves, could-haves, and should-haves, and a remembrance of all my shortcomings was buckled securely in the passenger seat.

When I “came to,” I heard O Holy Night on the radio and reached to change the station. (Though O Holy Night is a cherished hymn of Christmas ages, I confess it’s not a personal favorite. Who – except those with voices that belong in the heavenly chorus – can hit all those notes?) But my ears – and my heart – heard this, as if for the first time:

Long lay the world in sin and error pining, Till He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.

As we welcome a new year, when we typically choose our resolutions or our “one-word,” I want this ‘the soul felt its worth’ – this reason for the incarnation – to inhabit my heart.  This one phrase was a gift to me in the moment, yet my soul needs more than momentary relief. I need to re-open the truths of who I am in Christ every day.

I’ve tended to avoid new year’s resolutions because I fear setting myself up for more failure. But if we think of reviewing the year behind us and resolving for changes in the year ahead through a lens of grace, we might come to see ourselves less as achievers and more as receivers. For what could we possibly accomplish except for the grace of Christ within?

And I think of my daughter and my mother and my family & friends and you, dear readers, and I ask the Holy Spirit to transform us with the truth that we can’t achieve life in Christ. For life in Christ is only received. In the year to come, it remains true – our acceptance in Christ doesn’t depend upon our resolve to be better people.  The Father purchased our souls with the priceless, life-giving blood of His Son. Once we’ve received this gift, there is no failure, no disappointment, no would-have, could-have, or should-have on our parts that can invalidate it.

Rather than resolving to fix ourselves, may we fix our eyes on the One who clothes us in His peace and righteousness. I wish for you and for me the kind of release that comes when we live for Christ, not under a yoke of compulsion, but with a heart compelled by love to worship and serve Him. May we always reach to change the station when our inner critics hit the airwaves. Let us rest in the understanding that our worth lies not in what we do but only what He has done, and may each day find us receiving more of His grace-gift.

What’s more, understanding the worth of souls is understanding that Christ died for our neighbors and the sex slaves and the orphans and the refugees and the people of a different color or nationality or faith.  May that truth transform how we see and treat life – whether young or old; rich or poor; able-bodied or impaired; slave or free; weak or strong.

Friends, as beloved children of God, we are the receivers who grow more fully in God’s image when we are also the releasers. When we give bountifully out of our resources and our hearts, we reflect the generous character of Him who gave His Son. As Romans 5 says, God pours His love into our hearts, not only to satisfy us but to spill from us. Think of how different our world might be if our homes and communities were soaked with the overflow of God’s love.

And may worship happen as we live our lives as the image-bearers, offering our souls the space to breathe and receive grace, allowing God to design the canvas, yielding to the vision of the Artist, and ascribing all worth to Him. The weight of maintaining self-worth is more than we are meant to bear, and we will never have true peace or satisfaction until our souls turn to the purest, most-worthy Object of our worship. The beauty of our lives is drawn out of our response to God, and He meets us, not just on Sundays (and not only if our voices hit the high notes).

May our worship – our ascribing worth to God – be deeply drawn and offered from a place of receiving and honoring worth in our and every soul.

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In the end, there are only two ways to live. We can live with either clenched fists or with open hands. You can’t have them both. Clenched fists are a refusal: a refusal to let go, a refusal to trust, a refusal to give up control. And unfortunately, in the spiritual life, clenched fists also keep you from being able to receive anything from God. Only empty hands can receive. Therefore, we must let go for whatever our hands are full of before we can ever expect to receive any of the fullness, or the life, that God wants to give us. Jim Branch, The Blue Book


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Our starter house, 22 years later (theology of place)

I had no intentions of staying in this house for very long. In my mind, it was the guys’ place, where they had set up a weight room in the dining room and taped posters of pro athletes on the walls. My future husband, John, rented his living space in this house from his friend Mark. It was the stereotypical but legit bachelor pad.

But Mark received an amazing job opportunity in Costa Rica just as John and I were looking for a place to live. So, Mark sold the 1970’s-era ranch on Ironkettle Road to us, and after our honeymoon I moved in, temporarily I thought.

Almost 23 years later, the “starter house” on Ironkettle is still our home.

We put it on the market once, thinking that it was time for us to move onto a bigger and better place. There was this house I longed for, which was for sale on Porch Swing Lane, with brick, two stories, a front porch, a garage even! But nothing happened with our own house, not a hint of interest. I couldn’t blame the potential buyers who made an appointment for a showing but then decided that they didn’t even want to walk in. John and I didn’t know much about curb appeal, especially since I wasn’t emotionally invested in this space. And there was no HGTV back then.

So, we took down the “for sale” sign, and we’ve never considered trying that again. Although years later, we could probably sell easily. Our little home has a new roof, new siding, new windows, new shutters, established perennials and trees, new kitchen, expanded master bed & bath, and is a neighborhood school for the highest-rated schools in our city.  With my parents’ assistance and my brother’s talents for building and carpentry, our “fixer-upper” looks pretty good for a 1970’s house.

But still, I have struggled with mixed sentiments about this place for 22 years. Somehow, we landed in a section of our city where the average income is high. Our humble and older street, which exists without a neighborhood association or a pool or clubhouse, shares a zip code with country club neighborhoods and million-dollar homes. When we visit the homes of friends we’ve made through church or our daughter’s school, I just struggle. As Theodore Roosevelt wisely said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Those houses, after all, have the space and the shine which we lack. I return home, and the house feels tiny and worn and dated. For all our efforts to fix her up inside and out, she is what she is.

These feelings are relative, of course, and cause a messy tension between contentment and longing and guilt within. Because we have also returned to the house on Ironkettle from our travels to some of the poorest places on earth, and we understand that our family possesses abundance well beyond our needs. We have what we have, and it is very good.

Even if we could afford to move, we’ve decided that our starter house is our keeper home, Lord willing. This little home on Ironkettle houses our most cherished memories. Our daughter took her first steps here. Sometimes when I look out at the backyard, I can still picture her little feet stomping in the mud at the bottom of the slide. Every first-day-of-school photo is taken where the sidewalk meets the driveway, in front of the lantana. Daddy’s knack for fixing anything is evident throughout these rooms. We planted the crepe myrtle which now stretches far above the roofline. Inside and outside, my brother crafted all the trim by hand. Somewhere between the carpet and the baseboard, I’m sure you could find pine needles from 22 Christmas trees. We have celebrated and cried hard within these walls.

For all the joys we’ve experienced within our little home, we’re increasingly aware that God is up to something on the outside too. Our pastor calls it “theology of place,” based on Paul’s sermon recorded in Acts 17: From one man God made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’

This Scripture assures us that the house on Ironkettle is our divinely appointed home. Of course, we can’t presume that He will always keep us here, but for now we see “the boundary of our land” as an opportunity gifted by God. Through our current circumstances and in our hearts, we sense Him telling us to stay and let these roots grow deeper. We are called where we are, until God moves us.

It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching. (2)

Except for the first 6 years of my life and 4 years of college, I have lived in two homes – my parent’s home and my present home. Both addresses are one street off of Providence Road. I think this is sweetly providential and reminds me that “theology of place” ordains each context with divine purpose and ministry.

Looking beyond this “starter home,” as I did for so many years, diminishes the sacred importance of what’s happening on Ironkettle. I started to realize this, not long ago, when my next-door neighbor mistakenly thought that we placed a “for sale” sign in the yard.  Turns out that her vision is not so good, and it was just a garden flag.

But she told me that she had a moment of panic, thinking that we were leaving. And it occurred to me that perhaps we really do matter, in this house, on this street. These neighborly relationships are where, by His grace, God is teaching us to see Scott, not just as the guy who mows his grass every Sunday but as a soul, an image-bearer of God who is created for His saving love and redemption. Just as freshly-strewn seeds of grass occasionally take flight on the wind and land amongst our neighbors’ yards, we believe that God has entrusted our family with grace to spread.

It takes courage to go and talk to Scott. We’ve been to China, the Dominican Republic, and Albania to share the Gospel and yet we pause over the prompting to cross the street. This is where our faith is most stretched. Yet God is stirring up our love for Scott and his family. We know that Jesus loves them and can use any person and any means He wishes to bring Scott to Himself. But what an incredible faith-building blessing we could miss if we choose to look the other way, grab the mail and retreat, and not say yes to the opportunity to be God’s messenger.  And we don’t know … tonight could be the night that Scott’s car doesn’t ever return to his driveway.

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And so, our starter home is the place where God is starting His new work in my heart, that I might seek what He is doing in my ordinary, ordained mission field. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I march across the street and whip out my carefully-scripted Gospel presentation on Scott. But it starts with valuing and engaging my neighbors. It begins as I stop making excuses about the stains and the square footage and I choose a spirit of hospitality, opening my home in an effort to serve and to love. As my pastor likes to say, “The Gospel moves at the speed of relationship.” To me, this means that in the daily rhythms of life we look for ways to talk with people, to prayerfully discern where the Holy Spirit is moving in this context, and humbly display a life of dependence on Christ, being ready and obedient when He tells us to move –

– as we stay, on Ironkettle Road.

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image courtesy of Holley Gerth

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Need a pick-up? Holley is writing today on “gratitude when you’ve got an attitude” (like I have sometimes about my house!) She’s also hosting a link-up for writers who are sharing words of encouragement, Coffee for your Heart {here}.


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About Halloween:: what’s a Christian family to do?

Our daughter was invited to her first Halloween party when she was 8 months old, where she was, no doubt, the cutest ladybug ever.

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Before we had a child, my husband and I were pretty unenthusiastic about Halloween. As Christians, we were leery of anything that celebrated or even resembled what we perceived as spiritual darkness. But another young mom from “Books and Babies” at our community library surprised us with an invitation to their Halloween party. It was a prime opportunity to get to know our new friends, and what harm could there be in a party for babies after all?

So we went, and the evening was filled with laughter, friendship, and over-the-top cuteness. For the first time, we experienced Halloween in a really positive and personal way.

Since our daughter’s Halloween debut, October 31 has become a “commercial juggernaut” – second only to Christmas in retail sales. “It’s a legitimate industry now,” says the president of the Haunted Attraction Association, “Now we’re a season.” As a Christian family, it’s difficult to be neutral about a “season” which can present itself in disturbing ways.

In these fourteen years of parenting, we’ve had increasing opportunities to participate in Halloween observances which are decreasingly innocent. The days of ladybug babies are over, and our daughter is invited to parties where the themes and activities are scary, gory, and everything that made us leery in the first place.

Several years ago, our daughter caught onto our conflicted feelings about Halloween. Local fall festivals and “trunk-or-treat” events were once popular options, but they seemingly vaporized like a ghost. Our church decided not to continue its October 31st event. This was during our daughter’s princess phase. All she knew of Halloween was the opportunity to receive free candy while becoming Belle or Cinderella (with plastic, sparkly heels!) for the night.

What’s a Christian parent to do?

I understand that most people take Halloween as silly fun. When summer is past, daylight is waning, and cold weather approaches, Halloween offers an opportunity for creativity (and candy). And community (and candy). But I digress…

More than creativity and chocolate, there are psychological and biological reasons why people are drawn to Halloween:

The haunted-attraction industry (haunted houses and theme parks) generate 300 – 500 million dollars in ticket sales.  And morbidly supernatural themes, once limited to movie screens, are spilling over into television series. This sort of entertainment is successful because audiences are looking for the adrenaline rush that comes through being “scared to death.” The human brain craves the hormonal energy that’s produced when danger is simulated in an intentional, contained, and safe setting.

Also, Halloween costumes offer the opportunity for an imaginary, uninhibited, and temporary experience. According to Tom Harris, author of The Love of Halloween, “People in costumes often say and do things they probably wouldn’t say or do in their everyday life. It’s very satisfying to step into another character for a while, even (or especially) for a grown-up.”

Perhaps most importantly, Halloween is an occasion for cultures to make light of death, bringing the unknown realm into the open to be parodied with other people. Movies editor Steven Casey Murray says, “Horror movies cause us to ask the eternal question ‘what if,’ and allow us to safely delve into our primal fears.”

As parents with a Christian worldview, my husband and I believe that there are spiritual reasons for the life and death tension in our culture. I don’t believe that a demon is hiding under every rock, but I believe that God’s Word is true when it says that the enemy of our souls is real and active (Ephesians 6:12; 1 Peter 5:8). The ruler of the kingdom of darkness wants to keep people separated from God, in a grip of evil and fear.

Therefore, we want our daughter to learn how to think about the culture in which she lives in an examined way, with discernment. I set out to learn about the origins of Halloween, as a way to begin conversation. It seemed important to explore the question – is this a season, an observance, a celebration, something we ignore, or what?

Hundreds of years ago, a people group called the Celts lived 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).

 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.

For our family, it was important to understand that the traditions of Halloween are rooted in fear and superstition. But it was also essential to communicate to our daughter that the day itself, October 31, is NOT an evil day. Like every other day, it is a day that the Lord has made.

Followers of Christ are a part of the Kingdom of Light (Colossians 1: 12 – 14). 1 John 4 says that GREATER is HE (Christ) who is in us than he (satan) who is in the world and that perfect love (the love of Christ) drives out fear (verses 4 & 18). Jesus is victorious every single day of the year!

So while our family gained some head knowledge – and spiritual reassurance – through our examination of Halloween, we still needed to figure out how to respond.

Around this season in our parenting, our pastor and church leaders started to challenge our church family to examine how we engage with our community. Our pastor encouraged us to investigate the question What are you for? It’s a relevant inquiry as Christians are increasingly known for what we’re against.

What are you for?” speaks of the redemptive power of relationships, of not simply turning our backs on this world but by finding intentional ways to shine light in the darkness.

We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.” ~ Madeline L’Engle

Around the same time that we were thinking of all these things, and as leaves turned yellow and red, I picked up Paul David Tripp’s book, Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens. We were still far from the teen years, but we had (still have) so much to learn.

In his chapter, Life in the Real World, Tripp illustrates 2 common Christian responses to culture: rejection and assimilation. I think my husband and I, in our early parenting philosophy, would have chosen rejection of the culture, when it comes to all things Halloween: no parties, trick-or-treating only at fall festivals (churches), nothing spooky, lights off at our house, etc, etc … But we caught a glimpse, eight months into parenting, that Halloween can be one of the most neighborly days of the year.

Yet, we’re not comfortable with throwing ourselves head-long into Halloween either. 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.

While we believe that families are free to decide for themselves, neither rejection or assimilation 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).

Paul David Tripp suggests that if isolation from the culture (rejection) is on one end of the spectrum, and immersion in the culture (assimilation) is on the other end, then Christians can find a biblically-appropriate place between the two. He calls this place, “redemption interaction.”

Regardless of Halloween’s origins, we believe that our family can give a redemptive meaning to October 31. Instead of isolating from or immersing into culture, we want to interact with it. Matthew 5:14 – 16 tells us how:

“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

Our family believes that God has purposefully 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? We began to understand the purpose behind our church’s decision to end the fall festival, thereby encouraging the congregation to return to our neighbors around our city instead.

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.”

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While we wavered about Halloween, our neighbors did something which helped us to participate in a meaningful way. As trick-or-treaters filled the street, our neighbors brought huge stockpots of jambalaya outside, and a tradition began. Each year, the crowd grows, and Halloween has become THE gathering event of the year.

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We’re grateful that someone took the initiative and we enjoy the benefits. And we’re inspired and challenged to forward the neighborly momentum down the street. I think this year, instead of waiting for little ones to come to our door, we’ll set up a table in the front yard with cider and cookies and greet the parents. On Halloween, acquaintances, even strangers, expectantly come to our house, and we can take advantage of the occasion to initiate and advance relationships. We’re excited about neighbors being part of one another’s lives beyond October 31.

As Tim Challies says, “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.”

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!

As our family scoops out our pumpkin, 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.

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Join us, wherever God has placed you, and let it shine!

 


10 Comments

Dear parents of boys

Dear parents of boys,

My husband and I are raising our only child, a teenage daughter. So I don’t know what it’s like to have a young man in my home, but I deeply appreciate the responsibility that you, parents of boys, have. 

Obviously parents of girls have significant responsibilities too, and at home, we’re trying to keep lines of communication open, even when – especially when – the conversations get a little uncomfortable. We know that it’s essential to give our daughter a safe place to talk about guys, sex, and purity.  At the same time, current events remind me of the mixed and confusing messages about masculinity, so we have to talk about that too. I don’t buy the cultural assumption that men are just this way. I don’t want my daughter to grow up believing that either. And so, parents of boys, I highly value your influence in your son’s life.

Like most girls her age, my daughter dreams of the future – of finding THE one who will love her for her soul and her mind and who will treat her with tenderness and honor. I’m grateful that she can still believe such a man might be in God’s plans for her. I credit her father for that, because he is the primary man who models what a gentleman looks like, who recognizes her inner beauty, and who encourages her to be the gifted, strong, intelligent, creative, honorable woman that God has created her to be.

Of course, my husband and I don’t know if God’s plans for our daughter’s life include marriage, but we naturally wish for her to step into her school, her church, her job, her everyday-coming-and-going and be valued for who she is on the inside.

My husband and I pray for men – classmates, mentors, co-workers, neighbors, friends, potential suitors – to enter our daughter’s life and model what gentlemen look like, who recognize her inner beauty, and who encourage her to be the gifted, strong, intelligent, creative, honorable woman that God has created her to be.

Your son could be one of those men.

So, despite all the societal, highly-sexualized mess that surrounds us and our children, I believe in the best for you as parents and for your son. I know that there are dads and moms who are raising boys to be difference-makers in their generation. We believe that the enemy distorts what the Father created for good, so we intentionally seek out His original design and give thanks for a community of parents who do the same.

To you, I express gratitude –

        For teaching your son that “boys will be boys” is a lie that undermines their ability to rise above the objectification and harassment of women.

        For intentionally connecting with him and knowing his influences, his friends, his concerns, and his dreams.

        For expecting him to treat his mother with the utmost respect.

        For teaching your son that he is not defined by his appearance, athletic prowess, grades, or ability to win the attention of girls.

        For teaching him that girls are not defined by externals either.

        For communicating that “locker room banter” isn’t a normal indicator of masculinity.

        For monitoring his screen time.

        For teaching your son that he is capable of respecting other people’s bodies and personal space and he is capable of controlling his emotions and passions.

        For communicating that sexting isn’t just harmless goofing around.

        For teaching him to avoid aggressive girls because he deserves better than their manipulative ways.

        For modeling the traits of God’s design for masculinity, including courage, humility, personal responsibility, servanthood, provision, and protection.

        For being a safe place when your son has questions about something he has heard about sex from peers or the media that runs contrary to God’s standards.

        For teaching him to be FOR the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical purity of every girl he encounters.

        For emulating a heart after God and for living out sermons at your kitchen tables, in your living rooms, and on the ballfields. For putting flesh and bone on the concepts of integrity, faithfulness, repentance, forgiveness, and submission to God.

        For affirming your son and imparting words of blessing to him, including appropriate physical affection, so that he doesn’t seek intimacy in false or harmful ways.

        For imparting vision for his future so that he can expect the best of himself in every situation.

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I know that your son, as a person designed after God’s image, is created to be gifted, strong, intelligent, creative, and honorable. With you, I grieve the fact that there are such tainted ideas about what it means to be a real man. But parents, we can still pursue God’s principles and pray His promises for the generations that follow us. God’s honor and His purposes far exceed any political platform or candidate or societal trend. We can stand against the objectification and harassment of women AND men. Together, we can strive FOR kindness, considerateness, graciousness, and charity toward our fellow image bearers. I want you to know that my husband and I are trying to teach these lessons to our daughter too, so that she and your son can treat one another, in whatever setting they find themselves, with dignity and respect.

We know that we can’t own our children’s successes or failings, and there will likely be mistakes along the way, but God’s grace is sufficient and His wisdom is promised when we ask. God’s Word assures us that the Holy Spirit equips those who follow Jesus with everything they need for life and purity.  Let’s reject the cultural cynicism and embrace this very high calling with confidence, not in our parenting skills or in our children, but in God who has created our sons and daughters with purpose and with joy. In them, He is able to do more than we could ask or imagine.

In an uncertain world, He is unchanging.

Gratefully,

Renee

More encouragement, such good, truth-filled words here:

Kristen Welch, Raising Sons in a World that Disrespects Women.

Russell Moore, Rescuing Men from Fake Love and Fake War

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Linking today with Holley Gerth’s Coffee for Your Heart where writers share words of encouragement.

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