Monday, June 30, 2014

sorry not sorry--ten things I'm done with (while still being polite)

Some things I've taken my kids out of
school for. Yeah, not sorry.

My daughter posted this video the other day and began a rant discussion about how perhaps rather than stop saying “sorry” we should all—male and female—just be more polite. Amen. A little “sorry” can make for more kindness all around. I plan to keep it in the repertoire.

Yet for whatever reason lately, I started making a mental list called “Things I'll Never Apologize for Again.” I think it's healthy, as long as you don't go overboard and go with the whole, “I am who I am and no one better question it,” thing. 

Honestly, I hate the current “take me as I am” party. I get that women (it's usually women) need to feel empowered and confident. Absolutely. But to imply that the rest of the world had better adjust to whatever you feel like doing and being, regardless of how plain insensitive that may be? Um, no thanks.

We all need questioning once in a while. We all need tweaks of improvement. Sometimes, I need a complete attitude overhaul. I'll be the first to say (before my children do publicly) that I do not have it all together and should not be left as I am to remain as I am. God has more work to do. I appreciate His willingness.

But we apologize all the time for stuff we should not. Then I thought, what the heck? Why not share the list. It's a fairly random list. So, here's my list, so far, of things I am so done apologizing for. What would you add?

1--Telling people the truth. Nicely. I used to worry they might not like me anymore. Now, I worry more about being trusted than liked. I care more about peoples' needs than their good opinions. More them, less me. It's a nice tradeoff. Understand, I don't do this with total strangers. Because 1--I haven't earned the right by hanging in a real relationship, and 2-- I haven't had time to gauge the person's likelihood of owning a firearm. And should I stress again? NICELY.

2--Explaining to a phlebotomist she/he only gets one chance. I have had my blood taken approximately 5 ½ billion times. Give or take. Some of these people could find a vein in the dark and I wouldn't even feel it. Others appear to be on an archaeological dig. I finally decided that if I was going to do this on a bimonthly basis, it would be on my terms. This is particularly relevant right now, as the last person to perform the task hit a nerve, and my left arm is painfully disabled. I will not apologize for never letting him near me again.
Classroom in China, on mission trip where all three kids
were out of school. Gasp. 

3--Being smarter. It starts in school when the smart kids are the ones made fun of. We learn to hide it, pretend it isn't so, and apologize if we give even the hint of an impression we think we know what we're talking about. I'm done. I like to learn, I probably do know the answer, and it's a Reading Rainbow out there, people.

But it's OK. Because you're probably better at math, or more musically talented, or able to make conversation far better than I am. Maybe you're just plain nicer. Or you are an ace at Twitter, which puts you above a lot of us. Odds are really in your favor that you're a better cook. Can we just be happy to be diverse and encourage one another's gifts? Wouldn't that be a great world? I think so.

Birthday zoo trips out of school? Just don't eat the food.
4--Taking my kids out of school to learn something better. Hey, I used to be a teacher. I know what they'll miss in a week. I also know what they'll learn by a mission trip to Latin America or in the museums of Washington DC. I know what they'll remember from a surprise day off with just mom at the zoo. (Besides the food poisoning. That's what Child #3 chiefly remembers from that excursion.) I know which will matter longer.

5--Deciding I don't like something. It's not you, it's the brussels sprouts. And green beans. And wine. And Indian food. And most chick flicks. That kid who sat at the dinner table for five hours because her mom said, “You won't get up from that chair until you've eaten that chop suey? That was me.

I vividly remember the time the wind blew our back door shut and shattered the glass in it. Even my mom would not make me eat chili potentially laced with glass shards.

But now—I've tried those things. I've made it a hobby to try new things and never say never. And if I still don't like it? I don't have to pretend to. It's not you, it's me. And we're both OK to like what we want. That extends to political opinions, by the way.

6--Not explaining why I can't do something. It's taken me years to realize—I don't have to. Conversely, you don't have to explain to me, either. If we're good friends, I trust your decision. If not, it's none of my business. So if you invite me somewhere, and I say I can't, please don't ask why. I am not required to say.

7--Giving people a break. I know, I know. Give them an inch, they'll take a mile. Give the homeless guy a dollar, and he'll use it for booze. Give that kid a second chance, and he'll walk all over you. You've got to protect yourself. It's better to be safe than sorry. You know what? Not so much.

I'd rather give and be taken advantage of than hold back because I might look foolish. I'd rather be walked all over by ten kids if it saves just one. I'd rather give someone a second, third, tenth chance and be wrong than not give one and be wrong. And I'm not going to apologize anymore for having a tender spirit. It's not stupid—it's just an economy of the heart rather than the head. You may be safer. But I'm not at all sorry.

8--Saying, “I don't think that's right.” Firmly and unapologetically.

9--Being a woman and a pastor. I will be polite, respectful, thoughtful, and gracious. But I will not back down. There is too much at stake in the kingdom of God. For me, it's no longer “don't rock the boat with my brothers and sisters.” It's, “God wants to unleash his kingdom, and we're telling half the population they're less qualified to take part.” We're hampering the only real mission there is and paining his creation. That's unacceptable to me anymore.
And last one. Niagara Falls. Because the exchange student
needed to check off one more country she'd been to.
And, it was senior ditch day, after all. 

10--Not once in my life saying totes, adorbs, LOL, or cray cray. Except in cases dripping with sarcasm. Oh wait, not sorry. Not ever been sorry. Scratch that.

OK, your turn. What are you going to stop apologizing for? What have you learned about yourself you don't need to hide?

And maybe later we should talk about—what should we apologize for more often?

Thursday, June 26, 2014


Linking today with a great, fun project. Click and check it out!

No Words Are Needed

Monday, June 23, 2014

what is one thing?

Last week, I mentioned one of my all-time favorite comic strips. The Closet of Anxieties and scary beasties that won't let us sleep. What's the best tactic for tackling that scary place that harbors all our biggest fears and nagging worries?

I found a quote that perfectly sums up my new philosophy of fear.

When I’m afraid, I have a practice of walking right into my fears rather than away from them. If people can get used to that, their fear will dissipate. Most of the power of fear is in your mind; it doesn’t really exist. It’s just this idea that looms because we are unwilling to face it. But the way to declaw it, the way to defuse it, is to step into it—right into the middle of it—and do the thing that you are afraid to do. (Michael Hyatt)

Isn't this true? Simply, plainly, true? But soooo hard. As Princess Mia would say, “The concept is grasped. The execution is a little elusive.”

The way to declaw it is to step into it.” Eek.

So quickly, today—what is one thing you need to declaw? Notice, I didn't say want. I said need.

What is one step you can take to walk straight into it? What equal and opposite reaction might you get when you step forward? (There will always be opposition to change. Inertia has power. That's why it's called a law of the universe.) Can you prepare for that?

Take that one step, and tell me about it. Let's walk together.

And for fun, appreciate the genus of Opus here. We all need a dandelion break.

Monday, June 16, 2014

is safe overrated?

Fear. Risk-taking. Change. Becoming. All words in popular use right now. All words I use a lot in this blog. Words that, on this day after Father's Day, I want to put into the perspective of parenting.

I can't say my parents were the overprotective sort. As the parents of seven kids, they considered crowd control their main activity and lack of injury on any given day a bonus. 

As the last of those seven, I basically flew under any radar that remained. I could have done just about anything. But I didn't. Like Binkley, I lived with a closet full of fears that didn't make a lot of sense if one examined them, but I never did.

Naturally, with that background, I followed the masses who tried to make certain no nasty beasties harmed my wonderfully special children. I covered their ears; I fought their battles; I slapped helmets on their heads and blinders on their eyes. It made sense. Then. (And bicycle helmets still make sense—let's be quite clear on that, my children.)

Now, I have children who want to skydive and take flying lessons and go on archaeological digs in the Middle East (and that's only one of them).

I have a theory. Maybe this regeneration of thrill seeking and risk taking is a result of a generation that has been trussed in bubble wrap and carefully structured from sunrise to bedtime since the day they were born. It's their rebellion against the can't-be-too-safe paranoia of their parents. I don't really blame them.

In fact, quite often I've joined them. It's been terrifyingly freeing. Honestly, you don't know what you're capable of until you're zipping down a mile-long cable over the Costa Rican canopy.

I wonder--maybe all the half-pipe skiers and shark swimmers are one big reaction to American paranoid parenting.

And now, we have studies like this one that surprise us by showing that, when we allow kids to be kids and use their common sense around risk, they actually do better. They are less bored, less violent with one another, and more engaged learners. Maybe, we were wrong to take away the slides and dodgeballs.

Might I turn a corner and suggest this is also true spiritually?

With three-fourths of youth leaving our churches and not intending to return, we have to ask the reasons. And while they are probably complex, I wonder if one of them might not be that we focused too much on protecting said youth. 

We spent too much of our time holding their little ears lest they hear a bad word and too little of our time opening their ears to the world around them and their place in it as God's person.

Young people are turning away because, according to Barna surveys, they find the church too judgmental and too ingrown. Might that be code for “You taught us to stay away from what was wrong but never told us how to make those things right? You kept us in our sanitized Sunday school rooms and homeschool classes but never accepted the messiness of honest life? You kept us safe but pointless? 

(I am NOT blasting homeschooling here. Let us be clear on that. Only some of the reasons people give for doing it. I believe it's a great alternative for reasons other than protectionism.)

Our kids want to go down giant metal slides and feel the wind and yes, sometimes feel the concrete beneath. They want to get on the dodgeball court that is the real world and see if they have what it takes to play hard and long. They find our Holy Grail—safe—overrated. They are leaving the church that has told them that safe is their highest goal. I don't blame them. We lied.

And there's one of my terrors. Going up stairs
you can see through. Many, many stairs.
I see two choices for the church and parents. We can equip them to take on their yearnings with Christ, or we can retreat and let them go at it alone. We can guide them toward the battles worth fighting and the thrills worth seeking, or we can let them jump off cliffs for their thrills, desperate for a feeling but devoid of purpose. We can smugly watch them “get it out of their systems,” or we can point them to the heart worth following, the one that took a giant risk to love us and live among us.

They will go at it. This is a generation that believes in blasting the door off the anxiety closet. If we want them back in the church, we've got to stop steering them away from the doors and instead put the light sabers in their hands. And honestly? If we want to be taken seriously in that, we've got to go through a couple doors ourselves.

Afraid? Try ziplining somewhere. It will put you in the mood.

Monday, June 9, 2014

because accents sell

hey, good for you can be pretty
Overheard at a writing conference I attended:

Writer: “Well, my hero is kind of brash, mega-hot, of course, and . . .”

Editor: “Wait. Can you make him Scottish and immortal? Because that would sell.”

It's no secret to anyone who has even fleetingly seen a book cover the past few years what sells. If it features a vampire, werewolf, zombie, or possibly angel, it sells.

And in romance circles, it's true that if the guy is from Scotland, he's automatically attractive. Well, that one makes sense. I mean, the accent and all. I totally am on board with that preference.

The advent of web 2.0 and the declining budgets of businesses have meant new marketing for just about everyone, those of us in creative and service fields especially. Basically, it's up to us to sell ourselves. So it makes sense to go after what we know sells.

This isn't true solely for writers. It's been conventional wisdom in that other big thing I do—church--for some time. Find out what people want and tailor what we do to meet them where they are. And it makes sense—to a point.

Yet I'm uncomfortable with the whole thing. On one level, yes, agreed. We have to know our audience. We have to determine what they want and need. We should try to fill those needs or we have no real purpose doing what we do. Certainly no rationale for saying we care. Paul said that we should “be all things to all people to reach some.”

But part of me holds back. Part of me whispers, “What about what people need?” Part of me wonders whether serving people and giving them what they want is really synonymous or a semantic game of marketing to the biggest audience.

I'm not sure.

I just completed a grocery shopping trip. I filled the entire cart with produce, pretty much. Organic produce. Pricey stuff, that. I would have liked to fill it with garlic bread and key lime ice cream and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Really, really liked to. But I didn't. I didn't because I know that a diet of those things would result in me being tired, overweight (OK, more overweight), and icky all over. My productivity level would tank.

It's what I want—and the stores know it. That's why there was an entire aisle of only ice cream. But the part of me that knows what I really long-term-goal want—a healthy body that functions for all the things God has for it to do? That part avoids the things before my eyes meant to engage me at the level of “want.” I hunger for need. 

But what I want has so much more curb appeal than what I need. [tweet this].

Who is offering the broccoli while we run after the mac and cheese?

Who is hawking salmon when I'm lured by fish and chips?

Who is waving carrot sticks at me when the 3 Musketeers are turning my head?

Who is speaking the things we may not want to hear, and how are they dong it in an environment where selling a popular self is the only way to get a platform? If no one is, then we will have an entire church of spiritually obese, sluggish, non-disciples. Spiritual obesity is not a pretty sight.

What if we just need a plate of unattractive, unbuttered-up, peas and carrots?

Does a mysterious immortal guy with a scottish accent sell in the marketplace? Yes.

But what if what we really need is an average-looking mortal guy from Pittsburgh who just does the right thing?

Honestly, I think he's easier to live with in the long run anyway.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Shaking hands with skeletons (and other things I don't try)

Remember that scene in Fellowship of the Ring where Pippin knocks the skeleton into the mine shaft? No? Well, I remember it. Of course, I remember all LOTR scenes and could probably reenact any of them, given enough time to get a costume together. But let me recap.

Pippin—the goofball of the fellowship—just has to touch this skeleton's hand. I am not sure why he has to. Touching a skeleton would not be on any of my “Do This Before You Die” lists. But, he is Pippin. He is the Curious George of Middle-earth.

He accidentally knocks it into the shaft, setting off a foreboding echo all through the caves. You guessed it—the bad guys hear the noise and come running. Cue angry eyes and not so fellowship-y words toward Pippin.

But wait. Let's take a look at the chain of events afterward.

>Pippin knocked a skeleton into a well. 

Stay with me here. This has a point.

>This act forced Gandalf to fight one of the aforementioned bad guys, a balrog. 

Because we all know grey just looks like it needs bleach.
not to mention he stars to use basic grooming after that.
>Thus, Gandalf gets to die and return as Gandalf the White, more powerful and, well, clean looking. 

Yeah, this one goes in all kinds of directions
>This allows him to defeat Saruman in Rohan, free Theoden, save the kingdom in war, thus saving Eowyn from death. (Whew!)
Since Eowyn is conveniently alive, this allows her to kill the Witchking and thus save . . . all of Middle-earth. True story.

Without Pippin's dumb act, Frodo would have never made it to the Mountain because everyone else would have died first. And the books would have been a lot shorter. And heaven knows what Peter Jackson would have used to fill out the other movies. (Wait. We're not sure what he's using now. But that's another story . . . )

Some days, I'm a lot like Pippin. Saving the world by screwing up.

*I hurt a friend and offer that look of horrified repentance you often see on Pippin's face. Forgiveness becomes sweeter than what was there before.

*I advertise my failures as a parent in a national magazine. Women relate and feel hope.

*I (unintentionally) torch a dessert meant for company. We laugh over it, and the frailty that is our mask of perfection slips long enough to create real relationships.

*I carelessly leave credit cards around when I know I shouldn't, and suddenly the kid who steals them is living in my house and talking to me about Jesus.

My messes somehow leave more room for God to work, not less. I haven't figured out the math on that. I think it's in 1 Corinthians 1 somewhere. How God can take less and make more when the best mathematician at MIT can't.

I want to be more like Pippin. I calculate too much at times, and I fear failure to a paralyzing extent too often. I prefer being right. I don't play nicely with admitting wrong. Sometimes, I ought to just touch the skeleton's hand to see what will happen.

Leave a place for others to look in the holes and cracks and be comforted. Leave space for an unexpected turn of events that may come from my mistake. Leave room for God to take my weakness and make others stronger.

I knew there was a reason I liked Pippin. Besides the accent.

To read more about Pippin and how much we can relate, check out Hobbits, You, and the Spiritual World of Middle-earth. A devotional/Bible study for teens on Amazon.