Sex Talks and Other Crucial Conversations

fullsizeoutput_9377IMG_1013We took a hiking trip and wrote a blog post together.
A celebration of—
Autumn.
Her birthday.
God’s faithfulness, past, present and future.

Angela picked the spot—Algonquin Provincial Park in Canada. The paintings she’d studied in her art history course at Wheaton lured her in for the real experience.

We hopped in her trusty Suburu with the awesome sunroof and heated seats, passports in hand and headed out on our international adventure. It’s not our first gig and hopefully not our last either.

We counted our trips—just the 2 of us.
The first one was 11 years ago, when she turned 13. I tucked an invitation on her pillow. Wide eyed with excitement, she packed her bag and we headed west of the metroplex for an overnight excursion at a Bed and Breakfast in Granbury to dialogue about adolescence and growing up.
Sooner than I could have imagined, there were 3 separate marathon college visit trips.
And our service week in Haiti.
Last October, we travelled to England and Scotland together.
And now, here we are in Canada.

We’re no strangers to road trips. We know the drill. Bring plenty of snacks and water bottles. Don’t forget to download some podcasts, our favorite Spotify playlists and intermingle them both with spontaneous conversation.
I love dialoguing with Angela, always have. As soon as her mouth formed words, she wondered aloud about things, asked a bazillion questions, pensively formulated ideas and analyzed thoughts, her mental cogs always turning.
This trip, we reminisced about the one we took together on the cusp of adolescence and how it impacted her teenage years and beyond.

Like many evangelical Christian families, we adopted select concepts and resources anchored in the purity movement. Personally, I’d not been shepherded through my own adolescence. I’d never received parental guidance regarding sexuality. When I came into marriage, sex fairly blindsided me except for what I’d seen on the silver screen. I wanted to be sure not to do a generational repeat with my daughters. Without a model in my own story, I didn’t have the confidence to trust myself and the Spirit’s words through me with their sexual training. I thought the evangelical experts on the family must know best.
So,
-We read our little girls books like “The Princess and the Kiss” which elevated a kiss as interchangeable with sex in defining purity.
-A curriculum called Passport to Purity guided our process for presenting the topics of peer pressure, dating, sex and the distinct differences between boys and girls in puberty.
-We contemplated “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and the Rebelution’s “Modesty Survey” though we never embraced them explicitly.

Other related resources and ideas in this tradition include:
-Purity rings, though we never gave them to our girls.
-Then there was the umbrella model (Angela’s nemesis), especially popular with the Gothard crowd, which taught that a woman should always be under the protection of a man. First, her father holds her umbrella, i.e. micromanages her life, then he passes off the job off to her husband. In this model, there is no space for a woman to hold her own umbrella at any age.
-And there’s the jean skirt people who generally steer women toward home-making programs after high school redirecting them away from college lest they be indoctrinated by feminism or become kingdom contributors in vocations supplementary to wife and mother.

Through the rear view mirror, I’ve concluded that many of the above parts and pieces can be counterproductive to a healthy perspective on sexuality. It was on my overnight adventure with my youngest that I shelved the curriculum and trusted my gut instead. I wrote about that experience here for anyone who wants to understand my parental journey better: https://hopewebster.com/2017/09/28/firsts-lasts-and-everything-in-between/
Just wish I’d done it sooner.  About 9 years sooner…..

IMG_1074Driving through Canada, Angela recounted her experience like this:

The Passport to Purity curriculum covered a whole host of issues that normal American adolescents might encounter, but I was not a normal adolescent. I was a sheltered homeschooler with a desperate desire to please God and a paralyzing fear of disappointing people.

The rhetoric was fear based—intended to scare me out of making choices that could potentially harm me. The  deep-voiced dude on the cassette tape explained all the ways I could destroy my  life while I completed accompanying activity pages.

He talked about peer pressure and how I could ruin my future if I chose the wrong friends. He made boys sound like sex crazed animals that would lust after me perpetually if I wasn’t modest enough. And he must not have done a very good job explaining sex, because afterwards I still thought people literally slept together. Slept.
 Innocently I asked you, “You mean, they’re not asleep when they do that?”
“That’s an important question. I’m glad you asked,” you said, before verifying that sex is indeed conducted wide awake.”

“There was one activity page that I remember quite vividly—it’s an image of a cliff. In the diagram, the edge of the cliff represents sexual intercourse. Next to the cliff was a list of activities including hand-holding, kissing, kissing while touching each other’s private areas, undressing, and others I can’t quite remember.  The voice on the tape explained my assignment to arrange the items in the list in order of closeness to the edge of the cliff. Then I had to draw a personal boundary line. The line would be my protection from falling off the cliff.
Sensing that proximity to the cliff’s edge was disastrous, I drew my line as far away from the cliff as possible. Innocent little me who had no male friends from the beginning of middle school to the end of high school had no clue how to process this diagram. I basically came away with the idea that any expression of affection that gives me pleasure is dangerous, negative and potentially catastrophic because it moves me down a slippery slope towards the cataclysmic drop off.”

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Then, a little levity to cut through the intensity—we diverged to joking about the curriculum’s discussion of menstruation. It was the only thing the curriculum recommended celebrating.
Angela remarked, “More than the slippery slope, you know what I think really ought to be feared? It’s your menstrual cycle. I just don’t get it—they suggested that we go out to ice cream to celebrate my first cycle.” I agreed, “My take on periods is that the best time to go out to ice cream and celebrate is when you hit menopause.”

She finished recounting her most poignant memories of the curriculum then transitioned to analyzing its impact and how it assimilated into her worldview.

“It’s all scare tactics. The entire thing is meant to scare you out of making any stupid decisions.
This narrative makes reason the highest virtue. If something feels good, it’s impacting your reason adversely, therefore it must be wrong. If I enjoy it, it must be a step toward the cliff.
And here’s the truth—the cliff is a man-made construct.
God didn’t say that a kiss is the thing you’re saving for marriage. He said to save sex. I don’t think it does us a service to draw extra lines as if they are on par with God’s instructions. That’s what the Pharisees are famous for.

When you add a bunch of extra rules, your body becomes a liability instead of a gift. Guys become 2 dimensional and their designed complexity gets minimized. Girls get scared of them and struggle with a false sense of guilt for the way a guy looks at them or responds to their body based on the outfit they choose. Expressions of affection become negative things because they’re a slippery slope toward a lethal fall.

This model reduces relational risk to something dangerous only, and to be avoided at all costs. But some risks are worth taking even when they don’t turn out the way you wanted. Anytime you enter into a relationship with another person, you choose to take a risk because you think they are worth it and the relationship is worth it to you. And in a good risk, you both end up feeling honored by what you shared even when it’s over. There’s no shame in giving your heart away.

I don’t find a fear based approach to dating and sex to be helpful. I think it’s way more helpful to focus on Imago Dei and the indwelling presence of Christ.
Think about the Weight of Glory. In his essay Lewis says,“Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”
If that’s the person you’re in a relationship with, then the way you treat him is a reflection of the way you treat Christ. Because of Jesus, you treat his body and your body with the respect and honor that Jesus asked you to show.

Not being sexually intimate with someone you’re not married to is ultimately something you’re doing for Jesus, not for yourself, and not even for the person who may or may not be your spouse someday.
Jesus gave his life for you and you owe him everything. So if he asks you to do something with your body, you honor what he asks. Period.
That’s it.
Bottom line.”

About that time, she took a long, deep breath.
And I looked over at her admiringly.
What a privilege it’s been to be her mom.
She’s an amazingly beautiful person who is understanding God’s love and grace more deeply these days, as am I.
Both of us, we’re being transformed into His image.

If I got a do-over to when she was 13, it’d sound different.

From the vantage point of life experience, I recognize her words in my own story. When we convolute the gift of sex so directly with shame and fear, women come into marriage afraid, self-protective, mistrusting and we struggle to feel freedom to embrace the beauty of sex after marriage because a finger wagging “no-no” set up shop in our souls.  At least, that’s what it’s been like for me.

I’ve always answered my kids questions as honestly as I know how, before, during and after Passport to Purity. No matter what the topic, we’ve batted it around. We talk about everything. I just wish I’d have had more God confidence– that as His image bearer, He could be trusted to lead me over time, by His spirit through intentional dialogue to communicate whatever He wanted me to say without a boxed curriculum.IMG_1072

And, I wish I’d trusted God’s indwelling in my children’s lives more. I wish that I’d intentionally affirmed their soft hearts to know Him better and by default to love Him more and let that relationship fortify their conviction that He can be trusted with their sexual journey and their plan to work that out.IMG_1113

I wish I’d been a better cheerleader for the innocent and exciting delights of exchanging affection in word and deed rather than blanketing it in fear and condemnation.

Truth is, I haven’t done the mom thing perfectly.
She hasn’t done the kids thing perfectly either.
And our perspectives don’t always intersect.
But there we were together, a few days ago.
At the trail head.

 

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The sign said Caution: Cliff Ahead.
So, we hiked it side by side, along the rim of the cliff.
We could have fallen over the edge if we weren’t discerning. The cliff was dangerous, but it was so much more than that. It was also beautiful.

And that’s the moral of the story: The best life is lived in the tension of the risk and the beauty, holding tightly to the hand of God…even though you’ll likely get a bit scuffed up along the way.

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Easter’s Gardening Miracle

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We lined up the plastic containers and poured premium potting soil with fertilizer in each one. Then Starla gently set 1 seed in each container and covered it with a layer of dirt. Each seed was dormant—lifeless, dead. She watered them dutifully all week and on Easter weekend, they sprouted. One after another the fresh, new green shoots erupted through the soil alive and growing. How kind of God to give us a gardening miracle on Easter weekend. It’s not just our sunflower seeds that have come alive. Jesus is alive. On Easter Sunday we celebrate our future and our hope. We give thanks that we have not received what we deserve and we have received what we didn’t deserve. Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time for everything—

A time to plant and a time to harvest…… 

A time to cry and a time to laugh.

A time to grieve and a time to dance.

Today is a time to harvest, to laugh, to dance because

lent is over and  He is Risen indeed. Hallelujah!

 

Accessible God

 

The phone started singing to me—“I love you, you love me, that makes us so happy….”. It’s my own personal ring tone designated for family recorded by my youngest two sweethearts. I checked caller ID and smiled because it was my grown up sweetheart connecting across the miles. She told me about her trek to the city, first by train then by foot. Motivated by curiosity and an assignment, she and a couple of friends explored a Latin Catholic mass up close and personal. What surprised her most was the separation of “the holy” from the people. “Inaccessible God,” she called it. I hung up the phone, went to my gratitude journal and wrote #223—Accessible God. I reflected thankfully that not only can I connect with Him through nature, His word, His people and a direct line anytime, anywhere through prayer, Accessible God actually lives inside me and communicates in part through my conscience.

Lately, He’s been talking to me about integrity in the “bigs” and the” littles”.

“Big”, as in big bucks …. Our family dog had dental surgery in February. It’s amazing how much easier she is to love now that her breath doesn’t smell like the sewer. On the day of her procedure, the computers at the vet were having a bad hair day. They weren’t able to process my credit card so they took my information the old fashioned way with pen and paper. When I didn’t see the charge on my bill the following month, I wondered…. Briefly I felt a little like a lottery winner and then that Accessible God who lives inside me asked, “What is integrity?” I rationalized that I did my part in this transaction and it’s not my fault they didn’t process my payment. I explained to Him how I could put those funds to good use in other ways. Then I said, just let me think about this awhile. Accessible God reminded me what I tell my kids—that the conscience is a gift sent to protect us from harm. It speaks quietly but if we listen and respond, we will begin to hear it more distinctly with greater volume.   But if we ignore it repeatedly, it becomes so quiet; we can’t really even hear it anymore. And that is a dangerous way to live. God and I had this conversation around midnight just as I was nodding off to dreamland. My final thought was “OK. I’ll go to the vet office tomorrow and resubmit my credit card.” So, I did and the receptionist thanked me for being honest and charged me $484.

And I walked out poorer but richer.

The “littles” are all those 100’s of decisions over Lent about eating and drinking. While I haven’t had even a morsel of chocolate, drinks have been my downfall more than once. I said that I would drink water only—preferably tasteless bottled over Dallas city, but that’s a topic for another time…. Plain old water is just so unsatisfying. In desperation one day I scoured the grocery store’s “gourmet” water varieties looking for something with carbonation minus sweetener. I thought I’d found it because even though there was a long list of words meaning ingredients that are harmful, none of them looked like a sugar substitute or derivative. I purchased it, took a drink and found out I was wrong so dumped it down the sink. Later I noticed my favorite water substitute, ICE, in a new flavor—watermelon-strawberry. I just chose not to resist. I bought it and drank it. Twice. I would have done it a third time save Robyn’s intervention. Our exchange went like this:

Me: “I sure would like a flavored water today.”

Robyn: “Mommy, we said no sweetened drinks.”

Me: “Would it really be so bad if I got a flavored water? After all, it’s got 0 calories and no sugar. Whatever they put in it, isn’t technically sugar.”

Robyn: “Well, I’ll leave it to your conscience to decide if you should drink that water.”

Good answer Robyn! Thankful for my accountability partner and my Accessible God that says I love you even when you blow it.

Historically when I fast from sugar, I lose weight. While that isn’t the objective during Lent, I was honest up front and said that my motives are convoluted. Eating boring lower calorie food that doesn’t even taste very good ought to result in shedding pounds. But, it’s not. Which reinforces what the mirror already tells me. I am past my prime—physically speaking. Midlife has arrived and my metabolism is getting lazy. This, friends, has no quick fix. It’s not a temporary condition. It’s every bit as real as my gray hair and equally undesirable.   So, I lament to God the curse. Aging. The body wearing out and getting fat, the wrinkles, the gray hair, the reading glasses, the aching back…. Accessible God listens and reminds me that He will never leave me. (Even when I am old and gray, you will not forsake me. Psalm 71:18)

That girl on the phone who went to mass told me she walked to the beach afterwards and greeted our friend Lake Michigan. And there He was, Accessible God. She saw Him in the turquoise colored water shimmering in the spring sunlight. She heard him in the rhythmic pounding of the waves against the pier. He was saying: Nothing can separate us from (His) love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from (His) love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:38-39)

I find it everywhere I look. The significance of these 40+ days of Lent. That reminder of the way God’s love is revealed in Jesus Christ first on the cross and then in the empty tomb.

And I write #224: Nothing can separate me from the love of God.

Half-Time: Lent

 

Fall spectator sports rule.

I’m watching a replay of Friday night football in my mind’s eye. All five senses engaged.   I smell the crisp, cool Midwestern air intermingled with the aroma of caramel apples and popcorn. Our frosty breath white against the black night.. Standing outside the chain link fence with my dad, blinding floodlights illuminating the field, we watch the game. Admission fees aren’t accounted for in the family budget so this is our creative alternative. And the view is perfect. So is the company.

Fast-forward to college and my life intersects with the Bible scholar. He’s not only smart, he’s got strong, muscular legs and plays skillfully in uniform. Then, soccer becomes my spectator sport of choice. Rain, shine, snow or sleet, I’m in the stands watching my guy run, pass, slide tackle and head the ball.   I’d almost forgotten the thrill of those fast paced, nail biting games until I sat in the stands last fall with Angela—25 years later. We arrived late—just before half time. Doesn’t really matter if you miss the first part though. The second half is what counts. That’s what determines a win or a loss. Half time sets the trajectory. Teams tweak strategies and recharge to finish well.

So here we are, Robyn and I. Just past half time on this Lenten season and reflecting on the first 3+ weeks….Assessing, re-evaluating, and recommitting to finish strong.

Starting with our Lenten wardrobe minimization plan, I’d have to say that I’m actually kind of liking it. There is a learning curve, like strategically laundering clothes so that we’re not stuck running around in our unmentionables.

And I do feel a little bit “blah” in my grey and black color scheme every day.

The families in my music classes have to be wondering about me. Not only have they seen me in the same outfit for 4 weeks straight, but the week before that, I snagged my knit shirt on a broken plastic container of rhythm instruments and tore a large L shaped rip at the base of my rib cage. And if that’s not embarrassing enough, I didn’t even realize it until after class was over. Humbling….

We did overlook a couple of things in our strategic planning session, like Robyn’s choir dress code and had to make an allowance for that.

And we needed a jacket earlier in Lent.

Bottom line half time assessment is that “Less is More”. Minimal self-assessment. Less self focus.   And no piles of clothes tried on and rejected, heaped in a pile on my closet floor.  I’m amazed at how little I need. I’ve spent an exorbitant amount of time shopping for clothes. And even though I’m affectionately referred to as a “bargain queen” around these parts, I’m ashamed to say that I’ve wasted a lot of money in the process.

When God said He’d clothe me, He didn’t commit to providing a closet overflowing in fashionable attire. And while I have a substantial wardrobe—another expression of His generous abundance- it’s all pretty much overkill. I think it’s time to share the bounty.

While we subtracted clothes from our wardrobe, we added Bible reading and praying together 5 mornings a week. Lovin’ it. Sitting together in the oversized chair in my room, it’s prime cuddling, one on one time with Robyn. She’s sleepy. Sometimes, so am I. Depends how many nights in a row I’ve been burning the 2 a.m. oil. We read today in Matthew about farming—plants and soil. Talked about how the plants reveal the health of the soil. The externals reveal what’s going on unseen. We asked ourselves what we’re doing to nourish the soil in our lives so that we produce what God intended for us. We wondered aloud about people we’ve seen whose spiritual plant died prematurely. Then we prayed for them and for us. I like praying together, lifting up our day to the Lord. Confronting the reality that we need Him.

It’s half time on our Lenten journey—adding and subtracting part 1.

And really, Robyn’s fashion statement says it all.

“Life is good”…..because God is good.

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Candy Dispensing God

candy machineHonestly, I wish God were more like a candy machine.  I pay with obedience, prayer, sacrifice or money.  He delivers my selection.

While it’s an appealing thought, I don’t believe that’s what my Father is like–anymore. The sad thing is that I used to. And it took me way too long to trade lies for truth.

This Lenten season I have the opportunity to partner with Robyn as she confronts the lie of a treat dispenser God.

Our getting up at 7:45 to read the Bible and pray routine is killing her.  She’s practicing faithfulness and integrity though not entirely without a touch of attitude. In return, she’d appreciate it if God would show up with a soul hug or at the very least to take her tiredness away.  So far He hasn’t really come through and it begs the question, Where is He?  Sleeping on the job while she is busy reading the Bible?

I wondered the same thing during my young adult years.  I don’t remember how I came to believe in a candy dispensing God. I think I heard some of those TV evangelists my mom always watched declaring confidently that if we pray for things we want long enough and hard enough, we can be confident God will dispense what we ask for.  I probably misinterpreted their point but kids will do that to make up a story in which they feel secure, loved and in control.

I had my first big opportunity to test the efficacy of prayer+faith= control and the stakes were high—life and death.  My aunt and uncle were in a horrific auto accident and both were critically injured. So I immediately started praying. Like a broken record I cried out to God day after day anticipating a miracle.  Three weeks later, my aunt died and after a grueling 16 months in a vegetative state, my uncle eventually succumbed to pneumonia.  His funeral represented two deaths in my life—his and my childlike understanding of God.  That’s when the battle began…

Much like the person who deposits their money,

chooses their candy code,

waits expectantly for the machine spiral to twirl a few times and drop the candy only to be disappointed by mechanical failure,

I banged it

and said bad things to it

and wrote an IOW and taped it to the machine complaining it was stolen.

This machine owes me I reasoned.

I was just plain disappointed and disillusioned that my candy was withheld.

Stuck fighting the candy machine for at least a decade—maybe closer to two– that was me.

My belief about God’s love for me and sovereignty in my life was totally messed up. I thought that if He loved me, He would do what I ask.  I would be in the driver’s seat of my own destiny inserting my token gestures—prayer, money, service, sacrifice and obedience.  I would say “Jump” and He would say “How High”.

I can’t say there was a moment of clarity but rather a gradual shift in my perspective

as I heard God’s word spoken into my life faithfully week after week and year after year,

as I entered into accountability relationships,

as I lamented my complaints to God in prayer.

At some point I realized that God didn’t owe me proof of His love.  That He had already proved it once and for all on the cross. And because of His resurrection, he can be trusted.

Finally I understood that it wasn’t Him who needed to change something, it was me.

I began to trust rather than demand.

To embrace the mystery of His sovereign, incomprehensible plans for my life and sometimes even appreciate and anticipate His surprises.

Now it’s my turn walk beside Robyn on that path of discovery about God these 40+ days of Lent.

What a journey we are taking together……

 

Happy Heavenly Birthday To You…..

The 16th of March. The day we turned the ventilator off and his chest stopped compressing.  It’s my dad’s official “heavenly birthday”.  I’ve always wondered if he actually died on the 13th, when his chaotic heart rhythm halted to a stop and he slumped over lifeless in his breakfast plate.  While medical technology can shock back into existence a beating heart and machines can make the chest rise and fall, they can’t induce brain waves or breathe words and hugs back into the human shell.  Around his bedside, we sang him up to heaven—The Old Rugged Cross, It is Well with my Soul, Great is thy Faithfulness.  Those were beautiful, terrible holy moments.

And I reflect on the ashes on my forehead less that two weeks ago and the Words that remind me “from dust we came and to dust we will return”.

Having experienced firsthand the exhilarating thrill of new birth and been laid low by the heavy hand of death, the cycle of life can only be described as a mysterious paradox.

Today we celebrate my dad’s sweet life intertwined with ours and his transition to life eternal.  It is our tradition each year to cook a special meal and eat mountainous bowls of ice cream in his memory.  We watch him on a home movie filmed at his 77th birthday party.  His glasses partway down his nose and his deep voice sharing his story of rescue, he tells how God reached out and offered His hand, His heart, Himself and he accepted.  Then we recount the ways “Grampsy” enriched our lives. Starla has no memories, just a picture of the two of them, his arms wrapped lovingly around her tiny body, smiling.  Robyn recalls his generosity.  Lily muses fondly about playing hide and seek with him and his 3 predictable hiding places—behind the door, in the bathtub, and under the bed.  Angela appreciates that he spoke a blessing on her regularly in the words “I’m proud of you”.  Indeed he was.  Brian reminds us of all those yummy treats.–never empty handed.  And I reflect on his prayers, day after day lying in bed for hours taking the names of every person he knew and lifting them into the Father’s care.

I miss his prayer covering most. It is my inheritance.

And I remember this Lenten season that I received a legacy and I am leaving a legacy.  That I had a father and I have a Father. That life is a gift and in Every Season, including the Lenten season, He is making me new.

Ash Wednesday: Facing My Mortality

DSCF5741Do I really look like a senior citizen?

The exchange between the elderly cashier at Belk and I went like this:

Me:  “Do you work a lot of hours?  You’re here every time I shop.”

She looked past me and tiredly nodded “yes”.

Her: “Are you using your Belk charge today?” She asked mechanically.

Me: “No.”

Her: “Are you a senior?” she asked expressionlessly.

Me: “How old do you have to be to be considered a senior?”

Her: “55”

Me: “No, not yet.”

Her: “It sneaks up on you.” She responded with an almost in perceptible sigh.

Indeed.

I walked away from the counter shell shocked.

This was a first—a rite of passage.

Reading my thoughts and sensing the assault on my vanity, Robyn intervened immediately, bless her heart.

“Mommy.  You do not look old!”

“I don’t know what she was thinking.”

“You’re stylish. You’re not fat and your gray hairs look like highlights.”

“You look way younger than all of your friends—well, most of them.”

“You don’t even have hardly any wrinkles.”

Thank you, Robyn.  Your words are a salve.

The car ride home was quiet lacking the typical banter.  I was thinking—processing.  I lifted my pointer finger to my forehead and ran it along one worry crease, then a second and then over the frown lines between my eyes.  I earned those creases and lines, permanently etched across my brow.  They are evidence of years and decades of anxiety, fear, worry about anything and everything.  They age me.

My mind retrieved one image after another.  Snapshots of my life rotating along like a digital slideshow.  All of those times I furrowed my brow and forged my own path, fueled by the adrenalin of fight or flight.  All of those moments when trusting God felt too risky so I formulated my own cowardly plan for self protection—self preservation.

One I could control.

I’m marked by this cycle of worry and anxiety from my family of origin, like a generational fingerprint.  While I “come by it honestly”, says my counselor-friend, continuing the cycle is just plain sin.

It was Ash Wednesday–the Christian holiday where we acknowledge that from dust we came and to dust we will return (Gen. 3:19). We accept that our life is temporary and our plans are fluid.   With penitence, humility and sorrow we admit how greatly we fall short of God’s glory every day of this brief life we are gifted with.

Every day…..

Wasn’t it yesterday I was playing marbles at recess, learned to drive, spoke the vow “till death do us part”, brought my first baby home from the hospital?

The first 47 yesterdays multiplied by 365 slipped past so quickly and the lady at Belk thinks there were already 55.

What about tomorrow?  And the coming year?  The next decade? Perhaps another quarter century or more?

Will my life be adorned with a contrite heart and clothed with strength and dignity, able to laugh without fear of the future? (Prov. 31:25)

Later, I run my finger across my forehead again.  This time, I feel the ashes—palm branches from yester year, incinerated and gritty against my skin.  Forming a cross, covering those worry creases.  Right above the frown lines.

And I feel the gratitude that fuels repentance for all that fretting —all that need to control in order to feel safe.    And it ignites a passion to live courageously, trusting God, taking risks, forging a stronger legacy tomorrow than I did yesterday.

So starts the Lenten season….

Adding and Subtracting: Part 2

DSCF5686Goodbye cupcakes.  Adieu chocolate.  Farewell sugar. Adios corn syrup. So long, sucrose, dextrose, fructose and glucose. You tantalize my tastebuds. You are a counselor, friend, even my drug of choice and parting is such sweet sorrow.

Hello plain old water.  I wish you were as seductive as cheesecake but you are so….. tasteless.  Nevertheless let’s get better acquainted over the next 6 weeks.

And so unfolds, Part 2 of our Lenten season equation involving subtraction and addition.

Together, Robyn and I will take away:

  • sweetened drinks
  • chocolate
  • desserts: cake, pie, brownies, cookies
  • ice cream
  • donuts, sweet breads, muffins, coffee cake
  • candy

And we will add a daily regimen of 8 cups of H20.

While this might be a piece of cake for you, it’s genuine self-denial for me.  They say, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. That would describe Robyn. She and chocolate are already best buds so practicing self restraint now, early in the game, can stunt germination of that apple seed.

The roots of my love affair with sugar run deep.  They were planted in the formative soil of my childhood. I learned to cope with emotions hand to mouth, immediate gratification.  Lonely? Ride my bike to the ice cream store. Sad? Chocolate makes me happy. Angry? Steal some cookies from the cookie jar. Disappointed? Eat a donut. Even now, I daydream about sweets.  I’ve actually driven through a red light while imagining eating my favorite dessert from the Cheesecake Factory. I’m ashamed to admit it but sweets are my “go to” instead of God or in addition to God when He’s just not enough.  And that, my friends, is idolatry.

I’ve made this 40 day commitment before–many times- which is probably why I dread it so much. It expresses a sincere desire of my heart to love God, but serves as a constant reminder of what I actually do love—sugar.  And that’s what I hate about lent.  It forces me to live on the battlefield of temptation facing my greatest opponent—myself.  During these weeks, my idolatry is exposed. I stare it down and cry out to a holy God for mercy and grace.  I deny myself and take up my cross.  I practice restraint. Purging isn’t pretty and it’s painfully hard but it is cathartic, as is drinking 8 cups of water each day.  So, body and soul, I engage the war and God comes along side me and fights with me and for me.  He takes the space that sugar lives in and makes it His dwelling.  And that is what I love about lent.

Time to put on my battle gear,  turn on some Mandisa and start living like an Overcomer.