Maine-ly About Turning 17

Summer birthdays can be really awesome or really weird. Parties can be big, all-out shindigs, or altogether nonexistent, because all of your besties are camping or traveling or working odd hours in summer jobs. Fortunately, Kayla is happy to celebrate anywhere we happen to be at the time. Due to its July 28th date, we’ve celebrated her special day in various places…once at the home of an old high school friend of mine while visiting D.C, once in Connecticut at the home of fellow church planters, and this year we celebrated in Maine.

We have been going to the same cabin in Ogunquit, Maine every summer for as long as Kayla has been alive. (She started her cabin stays in a Pak N Play, and has since graduated to a twin trundle bed.) The cabin is a ministry to those in ministry, and a has been huge blessing to our family. Robert and I left a couple of days early and stayed in New Hampshire, and then Cooper and Kayla met us on Wednesday for lunch and the rest of the drive into Maine.

We invited Lars Gren to join us for lunch, since he lives very close to our route. If you’ve been reading here for a while, you know that Lars is one of the “Saints on Strawberry Cove.” He is the widower of Elisabeth Elliot, and has now been without her for a little over two years. The last time we had lunch with him was on July 15, 2015 – exactly one month to the day after Elisabeth died. I was eager to catch up with him and see how he’s been. Despite a head on collision with a drunk driver last August, and dealing with residual pain of several compression fractures, he’s doing well.  He had just returned from California where he attended a wedding and spent time with the family of the bride – a young woman who had been homeschooled and part of a conference and ministry at which Lars and Elisabeth were often asked to speak.

We enjoyed his stories and sitting together on the patio, though it was hot and I’m not sure how Lars endured it with his long sleeves and sweater.  He also ordered hot water (with lemon) and let us know that he never drinks anything cold….unless it is a 7-up, and then, of course, it requires ice. When we told him we’d be traveling to Greece for our anniversary, he said he also traveled there “years ago, courtesy of the US Navy.” Said he’d trade duties with other officers and take the night watch, so that he could go and explore the various cities in which they docked during the day.

We discussed the family of Jim Elliot, whose brother died in the last year. Lars traveled to attend Burt’s memorial service, which sadly also ended up being a memorial for Burt’s wife, Colleen, who slipped on ice walking up stairs, hit her head and never recovered. Tragic indeed, but in a strange way also very meaningful to celebrate two lives at once and a marriage dedicated to Christ and missions together.

It was a really nice visit, and the Wenham Tea House was just as you might imagine – little old ladies eating scones, salads, and tea sandwiches catching up on all the local scuttlebutt. If you’re a Gilmore Girls fan, think Emily Gilmore and the ladies of the D.A.R.

Then we drove up to Ogunquit, walked across the drawbridge to Perkins Cove for ice cream, grabbed some chicken and veggies at a cute downtown market to grill for dinner, and played a cutthroat game of Spades.

Cooper’s girlfriend, Madison, joined us for the day on Thursday which was really nice, and began with a big breakfast together at one of our favorite restaurants, The Roost.  Gluten free pancakes, muffins, and waffles are always on the menu there.Friday was Kayla’s birthday, and the only day we spent at the beach. It was nice and sunny that day. Since 17 year olds and 20 year olds like to sleep way past 7am, Robert and I went for a run, stopped at The Love Shack juice bar on our way back (beets and carrots and parsley!) and then started working on the birthday girl’s special breakfast – gluten free waffles (made in one of her birthday gifts, a mini waffle iron) and pancakes, eggs, bacon, and fruit. Her other gift was a pair of long-desired Birkenstocks. Cooper gave her a pair of Crocs, so I’d say she’s all set for summer footwear.

After breakfast, we packed our lunch cooler and headed for the beach.

Though it was warm that day, it was not really warm enough to get in the water. (In my opinion, of course.) Kayla kept begging someone to go in with her, but when Robert finally agreed and hit the waves ahead of her, she wasn’t so sure anymore. Eventually, they both took the frigid plunge

She’s planning a waffle birthday party for herself this week while we’re away in Greece, and has lots of other activities lined up for the week without us – babysitting, assisting a wedding photo shoot, and time with friends.

I know parents are supposed to say wonderful things about their children, and especially on their birthdays, but I don’t feel any obligation to exaggerate here.  Kayla is just a wonderful young woman, and I thank the Lord for giving me the gift of being her mom. We’re watching her work out her own call to ministry and seek the Lord for direction about college and beyond, and I’m always impressed by her discernment and wisdom and willingness to listen to God. She’s focused on meaningful things, and though tempted, not swayed by the different choices and direction of others.Saturday morning had me up with the sun and sitting on a bench along the Marginal Way with my Bible and journal. The gift of quiet and beauty all around, I finished the coastal-view walk with a trip into town for coffee and gluten free muffins for our final breakfast together in the cabin.

I hope Kayla looks back on her 17th birthday with happy memories of “the cabin in Maine” and a day at the beach. Maybe someday she’ll even be glad for the time with Lars (though she baked in the sun and wondered if she’d end up in a blog post) and being joined, even if ever so slightly, to the story of their family and ministry. Maybe she’ll even join their ranks as a missionary and hero of the faith.

She’ll be reading this soon, of course, so I’ll sign off by saying…

Kayla, Yes, you ended up in a blog post again. 😉 I love you and thank God for your life of faith and faithfulness even (and especially) at age 17. God has gifted you with a strength and confidence and calling that I know He plans to use for His glory and the good of others. I really love being your mom, and I can’t wait to watch it all play out in His time.

We Went To Camp: Edition 16.0

Finally getting around to writing about camp today, though we’ve been home almost a week now. It was our 16th year to go to Gordon College for Crosswalk – our regional weeklong summer camp for teens. Robert’s first year on camp staff was the summer I was pregnant with Kayla, and we’ve only missed two years since then.  My kids grew up going to camp long before they were old enough to be campers, as you can see.

On our way to the beach! Gordon is only three miles from the closest beach, and this is how we used to spend a couple of afternoons during the week while dad was working on sermons. (circa 2005?)

Cooper has even made Gordon College his home away from home by going to school there.  He’ll start his second year as a student there this fall, but he’s had 16 years of prior dorm, dining hall, and campus  experience. 😉

We love our week at camp for many reasons, but it feels a little weird to tell you all the highlights without letting you know that the weeks leading up to camp and the week back home have been hard.  The days have been consumed with resolving conflicts, receiving emergency texts and phone calls, making hospital visits, facilitating counseling sessions, encouraging dear friends in crisis, and more. In many ways, the intensity of these situations seems greater than ever before. Daily, we are reminded of and burdened by the effects of sin and darkness, but at the same time we are sustained in Christ’s strength.  Still, we would appreciate your prayers.

So, camp was as wonderful and as exhausting as usual.

The staff arrives 3-4 days prior to the teens in order to prepare for the week. Trying out new games is often a weekend activity, and here you can see Itamar and Jared playing Chinny Penny – or keep a penny flat on your chin without letting anyone knock it off. Last one with a penny on their chin wins.

Reconnecting with returning staff, eating, laughing, catching up, praying, and worshiping together are things we look forward to every year. In texting with our director prior to camp about various questions, I said “Won’t it be nice to enjoy sweet fellowship next week?” We both agreed that it would.

Our Western Massachusetts gang – just after arrival.

After campers arrive and get settled, their days start with Morning Celebration:

LeBron James made an appearance on Celebrity Home Improvement last week, as did Justin Timberlake and Selena Gomez.

 

Afterward the camp pastor sends everyone off to group Bible studies.

While the teens are in Bible study groups, Robert and I spend the time in Bible study with all of the adult chaperones. My group played musical rooms this year, and studied both the book of I John and did an overview of the Seamless study and workbook. (Have I convinced you to do the study yet?)

The dining hall ended up being a terrible place to have Bible study. Food and supplies being wheeled in behind me every five minutes. So loud, too!

After Bible study, it’s “Rec” time, and Gordon has such a beautiful spot for this – “the Quad” – right in the middle of campus.

Anthony and Finn playing dodge ball.

 

Kayla and her fellow “Questies” from our group. Each of these guys will be seniors next year and just completed the Quest Leadership Development program during their junior year.
Kayla loved reconnecting with a few from her Scotland team – Trevor and Nathaniel, here.
Even the chaperones can get in on the fun!
Practicing for Mega Relay – which takes the place of Recreation on the last full day of camp.
Lunch follows Recreation – always kind of a love/hate relationship with dining hall food.

After lunch, the teens head to Activity Tracks.  They can choose anything from Arts and Crafts to Missions to Competitive Sports. (This mission track learned about a really great ministry called Sole Hope during one of their sessions.) Free time follows and many of them just stay on the quad playing frisbee, soccer, and football. They can also swim at the Rec center on campus, play basketball in the gym, or go back to their room and read, play games, or paint each other’s nails.

The evening worship service happens after dinner and a short activity at 6:35pm – called 635. 😉 Robert spends his afternoons polishing off sermons he’s tried his best to prepare before arriving, creating PowerPoint presentations, printing notes, and practicing.

This year’s most memorable image may have been the Jenga Tower of Babel. (All sermons were on things built either by God or humans, since the camp theme was Blueprint.) And if you know Robert at all, then you know that about halfway through the sermon, he knocked that tower right over to illustrate what God did to the plans of humans intent on making a name for themselves rather than for their Creator.
Want to see it in action? Click here for the camp highlight video.

I still don’t know how he pulls this off each year. Well. that’s not really true. It’s God’s grace and His provision of ideas and direction and efficient work. Still, I marvel. Six sermons in six days!

(I would like to take credit for some of his wardrobe choices throughout the week, though. It was a crowd of teenagers after all, and I am able to provide at least a tiny bit of fashion counsel so as not to distract from the message.)

Mercyhouse was well represented at Crosswalk this year.  Just look at these four…

Tommy and Kaitlyn served on staff leading Bible studies, Activity Tracks, and playing in the band.  Sarah served as a chaperone for our girls for the third time, and Chloe served as one of our many adorable camp mascots. She even made appearances in two sermons.

And here is Sarah again with Meghan and Anthony. Pretty sure these three would have won World’s Best Camp Chaperones this year if there was such a thing. They were amazing, and I thank God for their eager investment in our teens’ lives last week. They truly went above and beyond.

Anthony shared about his experience seeing God change hearts and lives at Amherst College.
Kayla shared (with 500 people!)highlights from her experience in Scotland.

Shoutout to Ellen, Patrick, and Nick as well!  So fun to be with Mercyhouse people while away at camp!

One final picture of our group on the last day. They all seemed to have such a fun and meaningful time. Lots of heart transformations and life direction received. Many renewed in their desire to “offer their bodies as living sacrifices” which was the other very tangible image of the week – Robert placing his whole body on a small table to illustrate what a whole burnt offering is all about.

 

Saturday morning it’s all over. One last time with Bible study groups, one last song and short sermons, and all the teens are back on the road with their individual churches.

Staff stays around another hour or so for clean up, which may be the toughest job of all.

Because deflating beach balls, giant pizzas, and ring toss cones is hard work, y’all!

New England Summer Lovin’

We didn’t plan specifically for this, but a classic New England summer has been in full swing lately. Kinda hard not to call it classic when it kicks off with a trip to Fenway Park on a PERFECT June evening.

We were offered two Red Sox tickets by an unnamed source (whose name begins with an A and might just be one of their biggest fans) the morning of the game, and somehow were able to make quick arrangements for a trip to Boston that afternoon. The commuter rail from the Worcester area was suggested for parking and traveling to Fenway and back. I took full advantage of someone else driving by sleeping most of the way back to our car that evening.

Our ticket giver was not too happy about having to forgo the game that night due to being under the weather and exhausted from travel, so we tried to fully enjoy her great seats and even indulged in some Cracker Jacks for the occasion. (I’m just glad it wasn’t a 16 inning game like they had against the Yankees on Saturday night.)

It was on the way to the Red Sox game that we realized that in just five short days, we’d be at Tanglewood in the Berkshires for the John Mellencamp and EmmyLou Harris concert. The only thing that would have made this event more “classic” would have been seeing James Taylor instead, but we’ve done that several times already. (It never gets old, though!)

There were big black trash bags under our blankets and holding our cooler, shoes, jackets, and more. Miraculously, everything stayed dry and we enjoyed our Whole Foods snack dinner before the concert started.

 John Cougar and EmmyLou were fantastic!  We enjoyed every minute – even the minutes we had to snuggle under the umbrella due to a couple of passing rain showers. We did not expect to see the sun at all, but it finally pierced through the clouds and made for a gorgeous evening.

A few days later it was time to celebrate the Fourth of July. With barely a hint from me, Kayla (and then Mary!) agreed to plan, shop for, and prepare ALL of the food for our annual picnic for the Amherst fireworks. I was so relieved! As much as I enjoy hospitality and putting meals together, it can certainly wear on me, and I was just not wanting to go to the effort.

Kayla and Mary to the rescue!

These girls took everything on the to-do list and executed it with zero help from me. (Well, a few cooking consultations, but that was it.) Not only was it a huge relief to me, it was a big blessing to those who joined our picnic that night. They were truly amazed by what we pulled out of our picnic bags and cooler – everything put together beautifully by these two young ladies.

And my kitchen after their afternoon of cooking and baking?

Spotless.

Ahhh…..

Kayla even created her own beautiful shopping list. They WALKED to the store and back (because I wasn’t up for chauffeuring either, and Kayla can’t drive friends yet) and spent several hours in the kitchen. A fruit pizza was not on the list, but it was a part of their vision and such a fun treat! (P.S. The grocery store is only a stone’s throw away. 🙂 )
Vi is every child’s second mama at our church!

Little Joseph was happier than any of us had ever seen him – and he’s definitely already a good natured and happy boy. Dancing and laughing and eating, he was mesmerized by the fireworks, and it was a gift to us all to experience the holiday through his eyes. A gift to be with his mom, too, who had never experienced fireworks in person, and who could not get over the feast that Kayla and Mary had prepared.

Not one bit afraid. Just mesmerized.

The very next day was our last time to meet as a small group. Bittersweet for sure. I loved being with these ladies so much and working our way through the whole Bible and redemption narrative using the Seamless workbook.

Vi made us a set of flash cards for the icons used in the workbook, and so we had a bit of hands-on practice with the order of events. I think I mentioned that we accidentally ordered the wrong book and ended up doing the “teen girls” version. Everyone just rolled with it (still a great, substantive study!), and on our final night together, SouYoung said that she thought it was no accident.

Yes, these grown women eagerly indulged me in my photo taking and flash card games.

“No mistake at all,” is how she worded it. New to faith, to church, and certainly to the Bible, she added a richness and freshness to our study. She enabled us to see Jesus through the eyes of a new believer (her retelling of the story of the woman caught in adultery brought tears), and challenged us with her ability to perfectly recall all thirty events in the redemption narrative. She was truly a gift to us.

The very next day, Robert and I were off to the North Shore of Boston – maybe one of THE most quintessential New England locations – to prepare for a week of youth camp at Gordon College. Dinner at Woodman’s in Essex  (because everyone was hot and sweaty and not up for fine dining) with a few members of the camp staff got us started off right.

EVERYTHING (except onion rings, clam strips, and bread, of course) gluten free. We were shocked…and giddy!

Yes, we had a side fries with our fries.

Not a paleo meal by a long shot, but gluten free fried fish is such a rare treat. It felt like a little taste of heaven, and we ate way too much of it.

(Legal Sea Foods uses all gluten free batter now, too. Woohoo!)

We got settled into our dorm/apartment at Gordon College later that evening, and started preparing for a week of teaching and preaching, of late nights and early mornings, and of ministry to over 500 teenagers and their chaperones from all over New England.
Blueprint was the theme this year. God’s plans for building and rebuilding.

It was an incredible week, and I’ll have to tell you about it next time. We’ve only been home three days now, and are still somewhat in recovery mode. We’re also in planning mode for our next and annual New England adventure – a trip to Ogunquit, Maine.  Planning for our 25th anniversary trip on August 1st as well. I haven’t told many of you about that one either, but it’s a big one and I’ll fill you in soon.

For now, I’ll leave you with a fun pic of our camp staff this year.

Photo Credit: Nancy J. Williams, The Dijitl Group

Feeling really thankful for the privilege of doing ministry (and living life) in New England today.

Bloom Where You Are Planted/Exiled: Part 4

A couple of years ago, I experienced what felt like an all-out betrayal (which is an exile of sorts) by someone close to me. I was hurt, and I grieved the loss of relationship through tears for weeks. When I would recount the experience, listing off all of the felt injustices to my husband, he would say this:

“I know. I’m so sorry.”

“But don’t you love Jesus more now?”

Maybe it seems an insensitive way to respond to a weeping wife (as I did for a split second), but I thank God for a husband who offers truth in the midst of emotion.

You certainly won’t find me out there looking for more betrayals and conflicts, but I do love Jesus more for the ones I’ve experienced. He met me in my grief. He taught me to not put my hope in people. He reminded me of His steadfast love – the kind others aren’t able to give perfectly. I read His Word more. I prayed more. I poured out my heart more and was met with more grace and strength by the One who had experienced a betrayal much, much greater than mine.

Why did God require a 70 year exile to Babylon for His children? Because they had not chosen to know and walk closely with Him at home – in the Promised Land, in Jerusalem, their holy city.

It’s in our exile that we learn to love our real home as we should. And our real home is in Christ.

But listen to that famous verse to exiles again:

“For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.'” Jeremiah 29:10-11

Some versions say “I know the thoughts I think toward you” and this is what Charles Spurgeon had to say about that:

“Yet what God told the exiles through Jeremiah was even better. God does not only think of His people, His thoughts are toward them. The Lord not only thinks of you, but towards you. His thoughts are all drifting your way.”

Instead of punishing the exiles forever and not granting them any hope of redemption or rescue, He assures them of His plan and His promises for the future. He is coming for them eventually, and in the meantime His thoughts and plans are for them.

I don’t really anticipate a permanent return to my home in Texas – at least not anytime soon. But I do love Texas more now than I did when I lived there. I appreciate the temperatures, the landscape, the food, the history, and the culture much more than I did when I was swimming in it – sometimes literally. (Have I mentioned the rivers and lakes? Gorgeous!) And I appreciate my Savior more when He allows different sorts of exiles in my life.

Israel’s sin exiled them from their homeland and the temple leaving them in Babylon. Our sin exiled us from God’s presence and a glorious garden leaving us in this fallen world. But God still promises us a rescue and a return to the garden – if we acknowledge and receive forgiveness for that sin.

The only way He could promise this rescue?

To become an exile Himself.

He did that in Jesus, who chose exile from heaven, put on flesh, and died on a cross for the sin that caused our own banishment. Then He resurrected showing power and authority over the death that sin brought about. (And trust me, the exile from Texas to Massachusetts was really nothing compared to the exile from heaven to earth.)

If you have placed your faith in Jesus you can hope in the same promise the Babylonian exiles received from God – that He is coming back for you. He will eventually return you to your true and new home with Him.

And not only do you have future hope, but you also have present help…Help to bloom where you are planted. Strength to remain, to settle, to surrender – no matter what your current circumstances are.

His plans and His thoughts are all drifting your way.

 

Are you walking through a difficult season (or the end) of marriage?

Is He asking you to be pure, patient, and faithful in your singleness?

Are you exhausted by the difficulties and challenges of parenting?

Is He asking you to keep praying for and being patient with a rebellious child?

Do you need to be strong for and keep striving with a sick child or an elderly parent who requires great care?

Is your family and homeland thousands of miles away?

Are family dynamics a source of pain or discouragement?

Do anxiety or depression (or both) overcome you?

Is your work environment frustrating, demeaning?

Are people taking for granted your faithful volunteer efforts?

Has a friend betrayed you?

Are finances dwindling?

Do you have dreams and desires that seem disregarded or shut down by God Himself?

All of the above, different facets and layers of living in exile. And though seemingly impossible at times, all fertile ground for blooming, too. Not so fun at times. Often uncomfortable. Sometimes totally heart-wrenching. Still, I thank God for my exile and the for the growth and blossoming He’s accomplished through them.

And some sweet day, near or distant, I’ll finally get to return to Tex-Mex and temps above 70.

Just kidding. I’ll finally get to live fully and wholly in and with Jesus.

I can’t wait.

Until then, praying to blossom and grow in this exile.

Bloom Where You Are Planted/Exiled: Part 3

The following July when Kayla turned one (the sun came out, the morning sickness ended, and I found a wonderful OB/GYN and hospital), I looked around my dining room table at the people I’d been able to gather to celebrate her birthday and watch her eat her first cake ~ a teapot cake I’d carefully made for the occasion. There were a couple of local folks and students, two other visitors who were college students we’d known from Oklahoma (Hi Jenny and Jason!), my husband, my two little boys and me. It was not the big gathering of friends and family that my boys had each had back in Texas for their first birthdays, and I wondered why the Lord had sent us to this place. I’m not sure what I expected, and I though I loved ministry and knew that we were here for a good purpose, it seemed like the punishment of exile at the time.

It was sometime after that, that I came across Psalm 37 and I’ve already shared the verses that I began to cling to and try to practice. Here it is again:

Trust in the Lord and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart. v. 3-4

Dwell: reside, live, be settled, stay (Hebrew – Shakan – to establish, abide, remain)

Cultivate: to improve growth by labor and attention, to develop, to dig, till, plow, and fertilize (Hebrew – Ra’ah – to tend, graze; also – befriend, associate with)

Faithfulness: devotion, long-continued and steadfast fidelity, loyal stability

When I read those verses, I knew the Lord was asking me to bloom where I’d been planted – to settle in and be faithful. I wrote the verse out and put it on our refrigerator as a constant reminder. As difficult as I often found it, and as resistant as I could be at times, I knew He was asking me to build my home here.

To plan birthday parties here with whoever is able to come. To pick apples in the fall and learn to eat a lobster. To meet my neighbors. To walk the Freedom Trail and enjoy the local history. To learn to love snowshoeing. To pray for my town and state and region. To join the local Woman’s Club. To purchase a snow blower and some waterproof boots. To join the local organic farm co-op. To lead small group Bible studies for young women and spend time on the college campuses. To invite church folks over for lunch after the worship service and more.

David’s words toward the end of the Psalm in verse 25 gave me the encouragement I needed to live those things out…

I have been young and now I am old, Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken Or his descendants begging bread. v. 25

David was saying, in essence, “I have been alive a very long time, and I’ve been observing how God deals with His children all these years, and NOT ONCE has He forsaken them or left them in need of anything.”

And though I have come to love New England, my town, and my church, Texas still feels very much like home. I was just there last month for my son’s college graduation. Many of you know he went to Baylor University in Waco, TX. If you are a Fixer Upper/Chip and Joanna Gaines fan, you know exactly the place I’m talking about. It’s that sweet little town where the 4 bedroom 2 bath homes are less than $200,000, the marriages are all happy and fun, and the local business owners are all friends and go to church together.

It was warm and sunny  while we were there. I was drinking iced coffee at the Silos and shopping at the market. When I’d go out for a morning run, people smiled and waved. Sometimes they stopped me and engaged me in friendly conversation. (True story.) We stayed with my dad who is healthy and active, but growing older. We cooked steaks on his deck after a few hours of floating the beautiful nearby river.

Did I mention that it was warm and sunny?  Yeah – you could swim in that river without your lips turning blue and your whole body going numb….in mid-May.

Photo Credit: Kayla (You know, that one year old I was talking about in the first paragraph.)

And like the Israelites in exile experienced, there have been some false prophets in my life. During an especially difficult time in ministry a few years back, someone said something like this to me: “You’ve given up over 15 years of your life living in New England and doing what your husband is called to do. I think it’s your turn to live where you want and do what you want now.”

Yikes.

Now, I know that the Lord often speaks through others when He wants to lead us in new directions, but I knew immediately those words were not from God. A true prophet would have known that what’s best for me is to be right where God has called BOTH my husband and me. A real friend would have encouraged me to be faithful to that calling and not tempted me further with my own desires which were mostly self-centered and honestly had much more to do with months of sunshine and southern hospitality than ministry or walking with God.

I knew I needed to disregard those words, because they were so contrary to the “dwell, cultivate, be faithful” commands God had been asking of me all along. And if it’s not a friend or family member playing the role of false prophet, there are plenty of other voices on social media, podcasts, and in your local bookstore. You don’t have to go far to find someone encouraging you to seek out your own personal desires and follow your own heart no matter the cost or consequence, no matter God’s will or purposes.

So many wonderful things have happened in our church and family over the last 18 years. I consider it a great privilege to be here and see first hand the incredible ways God works in people’s lives. The difficult days of ministry and the longings for home have not disappeared, so at times it still feels like exile, but the reality is, we’re all living in a type of exile. This world is not our home. Life here is difficult and riddled with disappointments, yet we are asked to settle here –  as “aliens and strangers” is how the apostle Peter describes it. (Or “sojourners and exiles” if you read the ESV) It’s not the Garden of Eden we were created for, and it’s lasting a lifetime.

But we’re not the only ones who have been asked to dwell and bloom here. That same Hebrew word for “dwell” in Psalm 37 God also uses to describe what He does with and for His people.

Exodus 29:45 I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God.

I Kings 6:13 And I will dwell among the children of Israel and will not forsake my people Israel.”

And even crazier than a God who chooses to dwell among His people in spirit as these Old Testament verses are describing, is a God who chooses to put on flesh and dwell among us in Jesus. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

“Pitched a tent” among us is what the Greek word for “dwell” means in the first chapter of John.

He comes close to us in our exile.

To be continued…

(Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you on Monday!)

Bloom Where You Are Planted/Exiled: Part 2

Okay, so the hostas I reluctantly planted must’ve put down some roots, because they are looking great this year. Healthy, happy, full, and green. And all of this in spite of being uprooted from the foreign land of Betsy’s front yard and exiled to my house a mile away. Evidently, plants can do that sort of thing with quite a bit of resilience.

The Israelites, not so much.

Psalm 137 tells us that in their captivity they sat by the rivers of Babylon and wept. They couldn’t even sing or enjoy music due to the grief of being taken hundreds of miles away from their beloved homeland.

I can relate.

I, too, am hundreds of miles away from my beloved homeland. Thousands, actually. And I had no idea the affect a place can have on a heart. (The hostas and myself are more of a relocation than an exile, but stick with me.)

Despite their deep despair, God tells them (through Jeremiah the prophet) to “bloom where they are planted.” And He’s not vague on the details regarding what “blooming in Babylon” should look like….

Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare. ~Jeremiah 29:5-7

I really don’t think this is what the Israelites had in mind.

Settle down in a pagan culture? Raise families there? Pray for and seek the good of the city? Especially difficult to escape were the words of the false prophets telling them the exile would be short, that God would be coming to rescue them and deliver them back home any day now. In reality, they would spend seventy years in Babylon, which meant that most adults would never see Jerusalem again.

Are you beginning to think of times when God has asked something similar of you? You may not have been literally driven from your home because of your rebellion (or maybe you have), but you’ve been asked to endure uncomfortable circumstances, less than ideal situations, seasons of life that were unexpected and difficult, tragic loss. Not places you’d choose to be, but there you are anyway?

I can relate.

I didn’t grow up anywhere near New England, but I did dream of traveling here one day. In fact, growing up, this Texas girl’s dream honeymoon was a New England one. New England…that far away land in the top right corner of my geography class map. Lobster, bed and breakfasts, quaint small town inns, scenic back road drives with falling leaves, white steepled churches, rocky coastlines, and fires burning in every wood stove. Maine was probably the only state I could name and locate at the time, but it just seemed like the perfect romantic fairy tale to me.

That I did not end up having a New England honeymoon is not just an understatement. The only similarity my real-life honeymoon had to my fantasy honeymoon was its proximity to a coastline. The Gulf Coast coastline in this case. Robert and I spent a week in Galveston, TX staying near a less-than-beautiful beach at a family-friendly resort. (A family I babysat for during college had given us a coupon for the place.) We could hear the older man in the room next to us snoring each night, as well as hordes of children running up and down our hallway on their way to the pool all throughout the day. It was a far cry from my romantic northeastern ideal.

Robert was a youth pastor in Austin,TX at the time, and I was still in my last year of college at the University of Texas. Living on one ministry income while finishing college meant that you gladly take the coupon to the family-friendly resort being offered to you. It was a honeymoon after all, and so it wasn’t that difficult to “bloom where we were planted” in that case.

7 years later, though, the Lord did grant a trip to New England. So far that “trip” has lasted 18 years.

It was not exactly what I had in mind.

In 1999 God opened a door and invited us into ministry in New England. Robert had a desire to plant a church in an area of the country that was in need of more churches, and right after he completed seminary the opportunity came to do that very thing in Amherst, Massachusetts. I think we both thought church planting (which was a fairly new thing at the time) would be something we did in our forties and fifties, not in our late twenties and early thirties. (Now that I think of it, we are still sort of church planting in our forties and almost-fifties, so we weren’t all wrong in our thinking.)

We visited Boston and Amherst in January of 1999 (our first-ever trip to New England) and moved to Amherst with our 4 and 2 year old boys in July of 1999. I was pregnant with my daughter by December of that year and really did not know even one soul in Massachusetts, let alone an OB/GYN. It was bitter cold and snowy. My husband was very busy trying to meet folks in town and plan our first worship services. I was at home on the couch with relentless morning sickness and two toddlers running around, except when I was hosting college students and out-of-town mission teams for meals.

Then, very soon after I found out I was pregnant, the headline of our local newspaper proclaimed the new abortion services being offered at the nearby hospital. I don’t know exactly why, but that glaring headline sitting on my doorstep felt like a tipping point. This foreigner was very lonely, probably depressed, and semi-horrified that I lived in a town proud of its abortion services. Where had God brought us? It was not romantic or fairytale-ish at all.

It felt like exile.

To be continued…

A Trip, A Tea Party, & 3 Winners!

Macy’s on 34th
John Piper’s Advent reading plan on the Bible App has been giving me a lot to think about and be challenged by lately. Here’s part of what day 22 said:
“You can read every fairy tale that was ever written, every mystery thriller, every ghost story, and you will never find anything so shocking, so strange, so weird, so spellbinding as the story of the incarnation of the Son of God.”
Urbanspace on Vanderbilt
Thank you, Jenna, for the recommendation!

You can also travel to New York City and take in all of its elaborate window displays, giant Christmas trees, and holiday music playing everywhere and forget to set your mind on Jesus. You can even host a Christmas tea party for a great group of teen girls, make gingerbread houses, create handmade gifts, and eat Christmas cookies without considering the baby born to die.

But we tried not to do that this week.

Mary & Izckra got to try the gigantic doughnuts.

Just choosing to go to NYC at the beginning of a busy week was an opportunity to trust God! I had to fight the temptation to fret over all that was not yet done back home, but the calmer of the seas was providing peace and helping me to laugh at the days to come.

We tried the pistachio-cardamom gluten free bread and the chocolate truffle cookies.

First we had a taco, cookie, and doughnut feast at Urbanspace on 44th near where we parked. Then it was shopping on 5th Avenue – Topshop, GAP, Uniqlo and more.  Later we hit the H&M near Macy’s, of course.

It was a Sweet Sixteen celebration for Mary!

Skating at Rockefeller was the plan, but the girls decided against it once we were there. It was pretty cold and windy out, so we headed underneath the big tree for dinner and more shopping – gluten free Mediterranean wraps, soup, burgers, sweet potato fries and Starbucks. Wandering around in Anthropologie took us about an hour, but no one dared purchase anything due to the mile-long check out line.

Saks 5th Avenue is directly opposite the Rockefeller tree.  If you’ve been there, you know that if you turn 180 degrees from looking at the tree you see the front of Saks. Not only are the window displays beautiful there, but they do a light show on the front of their building every ten minutes. Such fun treat – and a lot to take in in just one spot!
My old friend Mike stopped by Rockefeller for a quick hello and then swiped us all onto the subway headed in the direction of Macy’s. From there we Ooo-ber’d it took an Uber back to our parking spot and enjoyed chatting with our driver who is planning to enter the NYPD Academy in January and shares a love for the show Blue Bloods. How cool that someday soon he’ll be working for Commishioner Tom Selleck.  😉

Saks 5th Avenue Light Show
Wednesday was spent getting ready for the tea party (and tonight’s open house), and Thursday morning we enjoyed having several of Kayla’s friends over for her annual tea party. I just love this tradition!
Dress Code: Pj’s

Some friends have moved away and some weren’t able to make it this year, but just look at how much they’ve grown! When we first started doing this, I could totally envision this past Thursday’s scene in my kitchen – big girls enjoying all the same tea party activities that they did when they were little.  Does anyone ever outgrow a love for decorating gingerbread (well, graham cracker) houses?

Tea Party 2008
Thanks for reminding me of this pic, Virginia!

After decorating our houses, we moved on to the actual tea party part – eating finger foods and drinking hot tea, hot chocolate, and we’ve added coffee in the last couple of years. We used to read a children’s Christmas book together while everyone was eating, but this year we switched to a passage of Scripture. I chose Mary’s song – the magnificat – to read to these girls who are all probably about the same age as Mary was when she was visited by the angel.  We talked about the meaning of “bondslave” and discussed Mary’s virtuous character and love for God as revealed in her song. I pray that each of these young women continues to grow in her desire to know and serve God in the same way.

Next we made our gifts for mom – a coconut oil, sugar, and peppermint hand and/or foot scrub…

 And pocket sized hand warmers – fabric squares sewed together and filled with rice which can be heated in the microwave. I thought I might have to spend a lot of time helping them with the sewing machine, but thankfully (and impressively!) several of the girls knew how to use it.  I hardly had to help at all, because they just naturally helped each other.

The boys hung around for a while before letting us have the house to ourselves.
So nice to have them home!
So nice to also have Ms. Abbott with us – or “Sabbott” as she is now affectionately known.
Even Sabbott got sewing instructions from Jessica!

There was cookie decorating and game playing later and I enjoyed every minute of the morning into early afternoon – even the kitchen cleaning from which I could hear the girls laughing and chatting in the living room. Truly a delight.

Mary’s song always serves to help me remain in awe and worship during this season…

My soul exalts in the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior…for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on generation after generation toward those who fear Him… Luke 1: 46-50

Thinking on the Mighty One, the Savior, and His mercy have sustained me this week.

John Piper has given me words to pray in request for a heart that is spellbound by the incredible gift of the incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection…

“Oh, how I pray for a breaking forth of the Spirit of God upon me and upon you; for the Holy Spirit to break into my experience in a frightening way, to wake me up to the unimaginable reality of God.”

May your heart be wakened by the Spirit this Christmas to the reality of the God who put on flesh for you, to Emmanuel, the God who came near.

And now for the winners of the giveaway…

(I used this website to help me draw your names!)

For bundle #1: The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield, and the Bird’s Nest Necklace.

Congrats, Itamar!

And for Bundle #2: One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss, and the Bird’s Nest Necklace.
Congrats, Angela!

And I decided to add a third prize: The One Thousand Gifts Devotional by Ann Voskamp.
Congrats, Michelle!

I’ll send these your way mid-January and I pray they encourage you as they have me. And if you’ve already read them, pass them along to someone who could use them!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

I Love Sundays

A half hour to read and review after Robert and Kayla leave…
The cutest, smartest Sunday morning co-pilots you’ve ever seen…
 View to my right…
…and to my left. Proverbs 31:1-9 today…on what makes a man.
Self Control. Sober Judgment. Sacrifice.
 Back home and a helper…
 …coffee brewing…three pots.
Real dishes and silverware…I love real dishes and silverware…
 …and fresh, homemade food. (With help from two talented co-hostesses…Laura…and Laura)
Baked Ziti, Butternut Squash, Tossed Salad, Garlic Bread this week.
Pot Roast, Mashed Potatoes, Roasted Veggies, Pumpkin Souffle last week.
 Half of the smiling faces fit around the table…
 A vegan dessert for one of our favorite “Smithies”
Real conversations about spending both life and death for Christ…
 Inspirational viewing…Williams College…Haystack Prayer Meeting…Student Volunteer Movement
“If we are exiles and refugees on earth (I Peter), and if our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3), and if nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8), and if His steadfast love is better than life (Psalm 63), and if all hardship is working for us an eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians)…
…then we will give to the winds our fears and ‘seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness’ (Matthew 6). We will count everything as rubbish in comparison with Christ (Philippians 3). We will ‘joyfully accept the plundering of our property’ for the sake of unpopular acts of mercy (Hebrews 10)…
…We will choose ‘rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin,’ and we will count ‘the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt. (Hebrews 11)”
~ John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life
I even enjoy washing the Sunday dishes, but I usually have some help…
…even from the pastor at the end of a long day.
Catching up with the college kiddos…tests…friends…football…sermon discussions…
…and then he’s off again…an evening appointment with a non-church couple seeking marriage… but learning Christ for the first time…and how can he refuse that?
Self Control. Sound Judgment. Sacrifice.

My helper is off being a helper to another evening Bible study.  She’s watching the little ones so the bigs ones can freely discuss and share and pray.

So…tea that’s good for the tummy and an epsom salt bath for me, and this, that my dad sent and has taken me weeks to finish…

Texas Monthly articles are LONG, and so are Sundays, but I love them!

Dress Alterations and “All Those Republicans…”

I did not sleep well at all last night. It was cool outside but warm in the house, and the window unit in our room doesn’t think it should cool our room in that situation.  I was hot and achy and tossed around all night long. I’m telling you this, because what follows might just be a result of my sleep deprived crankiness today. I don’t know. I’m asking for forgiveness ahead of time for any rash words.

(Also, I’ll be outing myself politically, though I’m sure it will be no surprise to most. I’ve revealed my leanings on my blog before, but try and stay away from talking about them in church and on Facebook, etc.  I truly want people to hear about Christ first and foremost, and I know that politics, especially conservative politics, is often something that keeps folks from truly understanding Him. Robert, too. We agree on politics, but we also agree that they should not be tied to sharing the Gospel in any way.)

Today was Kayla’s first day of Classical Conversations.  She’s a junior this year and in the Challenge III level with one of my sweetest friends as her tutor – Aimee or Mrs. Gould. (I am not tutoring this year, and though I love CC, it’s so nice to have a break.) I knew I would be dropping Kayla off this morning at 8:15am, so a week ago I made an appointment to have the bridesmaid dress for my sister’s wedding altered just after getting Kayla settled in for her first day of class. My appointment was at 9am, so I read my Bible at Starbucks for a few minutes over hot tea before heading over to the appointment.

Ours is the strapless one on the left. With pockets!

I was greeted by a lovely petite woman with white hair in her late fifties, I’m guessing. Really, she was just so pleasant. I could even tell from her website that she was a gentle and kind person. It’s part of why I chose her shop. We took a look at the dress, and then she left me alone to change.

When she came back in, she began pinning and chatting some more. A few years ahead of me in having a crown of white hair, she asked me if I was highlighting mine.  When I said no, she went on and on about my hair – it’s color (or non-color), it’s cut, it’s length.  It was so sweet, and I love it when people are so free with their genuine and complimentary thoughts. (Though hard to receive!) It’s something I’m trying to get better at myself.

Then the conversation turned to the wedding.  She mentioned hardly ever seeing wedding party dresses with floral prints, but when I explained the outdoor Texas venue, she thought it would be a perfect match. And after telling me about her niece who recently moved to Dallas, she said something about Amherst being so liberal.  At first I couldn’t tell if she thought that was good or bad, but then it became all too clear…

Me: Well, yes, Amherst is very liberal, but I think what pushes it to the far left of left are the colleges and the university.

Seamstress: Yes, because young people finally leave home and get educated.

(I could have been mistaken, but she seemed to be glad that the education led to the liberalness.)

Seamstress: I don’t know if I could live in Texas with all those Republicans. So many Republicans there. It’s so diverse here.

Me: You know, I am originally from Texas, and I find Amherst to be much less diverse than where I’m from – ethnically, ideologically, and politically, but I also lived in the cities of San Antonio and Austin for many years, so maybe that’s why.

Seamstress: Oh, you’re from Texas? Well, I mean we have so many nationalities here because of the colleges. I guess if you lived in a city in Texas, you had some diversity. Dallas seems to be all white Republicans though, or at least the area my niece lives in.

Me: Well, my husband and I both grew up in very small towns in Texas.  He was one of the few white kids on his football team.  Many of my closest friends were Mexican, my head cheerleader, Rhonda, was black, as was the cheerleader, Bernie, from whom I inherited all of my cheerleading uniforms.  My computer science partner, Takeru, was Asian. So was our valedictorian.

(Or something like the above comments, but I’ve tightened them up here for effect.)

Seamstress: Really? Well, I guess it just depends.  There must be a few pockets of diversity there.

Me: Yes, and there are Democrats, too, but I don’t find quite the same diversity of ideals and politics in this area. Everyone here seems to vote the same way.

And then we got to talking about our kids, and being in-laws, and grandparents.  When she heard my oldest was 21, she said not to worry, that kids these days get married really late – even after they’ve bought a house together and settled in, which is nice, because then they often pay for the wedding themselves.

As lovely as this woman was, I couldn’t help but think that this type of presumption and narrow-mindedness is part of what has gotten us into our current polarized political and cultural situation. (By the way, I will be heartbroken if my kids buy houses with their girlfriends or boyfriends and then get married years later. I wonder if she knows how high the divorce rate is for those folks.) And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a similar situation since moving here. Don’t get me wrong. I know it happens in Texas, too – or wherever there is a majority of one ideology or ethnicity. But no one is exempt! Liberal New Englanders don’t get to look down their noses at Conservative Texans and create a narrative about their obvious ignorance and lack of relationships with people of other colors. (We moved here during the 2000 Bush election, so being from the same state as the president automatically meant I must be an idiot. A downtown restaurant changed it’s menu to mock the administration at that time. Diverse? Tolerant? No, not at all.)

So, yes, I am a registered Republican from Texas. I think the government is too big and controlling. I think taxes and spending are out of control. I don’t want babies aborted or laws that encourage it. I desire traditional marriage to be upheld, because I believe it’s by original design and what’s best for kids, and the culture. I want freedom of speech and religion. I think people are better off when they are given a hand up rather than a hand out. For all you political scientists and junkies, I’m sure it all sounds rather simplistic.  (And I’m sure it is maddening to some, too.)

However, I have not voted for the Republican nominee (or the Democratic one) in the last two elections, nor do I plan to vote for the current nominee. (Or his democratic opponent, to be clear.) I have indeed voted in every previous election, but in my opinion, the Republican candidates have not been true conservatives, and I’ve felt pretty discouraged and disillusioned by it all. Voting has been no fun at all. (And my vote doesn’t count for much in this state anyway.)

I’ve never prayed for this country like I have in the past several months.  Prayers of confession mostly – in the same vein as Daniel on behalf of the rebellious nation of Israel. We are truly a mess. It grieves me and causes me to hope for heaven more than ever before – which is our only real hope anyway. So many Christians forget that – including me.

I have been watching and reading up on the election and candidates as much as I can, depressing as it is.

(I honestly thought the Democratic National Convention was very well done – as if that counts for anything. Michelle was the wise woman, wife, and mother she usually is, and Bill was as eloquent as ever. He left a few glaring issues out of his speech, but Slick Willy has never been so convincing.)

I have to thank my friend Josh Torrey for keeping me abreast of great articles on the topic via Facebook. (Thanks, Josh!) Here are a few I’ve read that cause me to think that it’s okay to keep voting in a non-traditional way. If we say we want change, then I think this is what it’s going to take. (And yes, I know you can find articles that say the exact opposite.  I’ve read many of those, too.)

How Not To Waste Your Vote: A Mathematical Analysis

Conservatives Don’t Owe Trump Their Ballot

Four Issues To Consider Before You Support Trump – What Is Really At Stake

Al Mohler and Russell Moore Explain Why They Can’t Support Trump

Though I don’t know if I’ve ever been overly presumptuous (mostly because I’ve never been overly comfortable with religious and political conversations, so be gentle if you choose to comment), my 17 years in New England have helped teach me that presumptions (which are really judgments, and discriminations in disguise) are not helpful. In fact, they are hurtful. Even my sweet seamstress has fallen prey to the narrow-mindedness she accuses the other side of having, but I really don’t think she’ll take it out on my dress. She did like my grey hair after all.

He Asked For Her Number: Part Five

It was probably about ten or eleven years ago that a kind, well-meaning older woman asked Kayla, who was about five or six years old at the time, what her favorite Christmas Carol was.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” was her cute, but unfortunate reply.

By definition, a Christmas carol is a “song whose lyrics are on the theme of Christmas,” and so Dean Martin’s catchy version does not exactly qualify, but Kayla’s choice was really my own fault.

A few years prior to the Christmas Carol question, I had read a book called A Return to Modesty. It was on the sidewalk clearance table of a downtown bookstore. Intrigued, I bought it, and soon found out why it made its way to the discard pile so quickly. The author challenges feminist notions regarding the unqualified equalization of men and women, and among other intriguing topics, suggests that there is a correlation between the rise in feminist teaching and the rise in the abuse, assault and rape of women. And though her argument is quite well-documented and compelling, this is not a town that tolerates that type of conservative logic (though embracing “tolerance and diversity” is its self-deemed claim to fame), and so the book had a big red clearance sticker on it just months after its publication. They may have given it to me for free now that I think of it.

A Return to Modesty is where I first heard of the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” The Jewish author, Wendy Shalit, uses it to illustrate a shift in the culture of dating and the protective devices which a woman used to have at her disposal. It’s a bit of a long quote, but here’s the excerpt in which this is explained:

“To appreciate the peculiar bind of a nineties girl who wants to say no to sex, first consider the 1948 song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” by Frank Loesser. In this fuguelike tune, a woman, “the mouse,” begins each phrase, and her suitor, “the wolf,” chimes in relentlessly, but sweetly, behind her. The man has a hundred reasons why his date should not “hold out” – including, but not limited to, the fact that it is very cold outside. If his poor date were to leave, argues our Wolf, she would freeze, catch pneumonia and die. That, of course, would cause him “lifelong sorrow.” If she allowed him to “move in closer,” on the other hand, then they would both be nice and warm.  Our Mouse has her own reasons for begging off, which she scatters between his invitations:

My mother will start to worry…and Father will be pacing the floor…the neighbors might think…my sister will be suspicious…my brother will be there at the door…my maiden aunt’s mind is vicious…there’s bound to be talk tomorrow…at least there will be plenty implied.

Now this song is very stereotypical because certainly not all men are hungry wolves and not all women are reticent mice. Indeed, I’ve known quite a few hungry women and mousey men. However, the simple fact remains that a young woman in 1948 had a hundred and one reasons to say no to sex, if she wanted to say no, and those reasons were credible. The story we are told today is that all these reasons, such as a father waiting up for you, were oppressive to women. And yet in their absence we can appreciate how an earlier generation of girls was made powerful by them. A father waiting up for his daughter gave her room to stand on.” 
(Chapter 3: The Fallout)

After reading this, I wanted to hear the song. It happened to be Christmastime, and I was shopping at our local mall which happened to have a music store – records, CD’s, and stereos – oh my! This was well before iTunes, Pandora, and Spotify. I even had to ask an employee if they had heard of the song and help me find a CD that included it. “Christmas With The Rat Pack” is the one he found, and it became a new family favorite.  Kayla and I still love to listen to the Dean Martin Pandora station while baking Christmas cookies each December. And while it does include traditional Christmas carols or hymns (you know, about the God made flesh, etc), “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” was the one which stuck in my little five year old’s mind. Sigh…

Kayla’s response may have been a bit embarrassing for me at the time, but maybe it’s not all that disappointing. Maybe it’s helpful to have those lyrics in mind which reflect a time not so long ago in which there was accountability, responsibility, family unity, and an involved (even nosy) local community. Maybe it’s good and right that a father waits up for his daughter, meeting the eyes and shaking the hand of the man who brought her home. Maybe it’s good for the young man to know there is someone who is dedicated to protecting both the body and the heart of the young woman he takes out on a date. Maybe he should even have that father’s permission to do so.

You might think it’s sexist and patriarchal to send the boy to Dad rather than Mom, but just check the research on father-daughter relationships. Mom could be the most perfectly loving and supportive woman a girl (or boy) could ever hope to have in her (or his)  life, but if Dad isn’t all those same things, it really doesn’t matter as much how loving and supportive Mom is.

So, the fifth thing I want Kayla to know is that, for the young men who want to spend time with her…

5. Permission should be requested.

I’m not sure why this seems like such a crazy thing to require these days, but it IS crazy I’m told.  I’m not sure when we gave teens so much authority and autonomy or when we decided they have the maturity to always make wise decisions about dating. Can we not remember our own need for direction and protection? I love and trust the teens in my house very much, but the truth is they still make really foolish decisions and have extremely faulty logic. As much as they may hate it, it’s our responsibility to guide them and place protective boundaries in their lives while they are in our home and even beyond, if they will allow it.

So, I want my daughter to give the boy her dad’s number instead of hers. That’s right. It’s not a fool-proof sifting method for worthy men, of course, but it’s a good start at protecting her from unnecessary heartbreak and harm.

We made our boys do this. Want to take a girl to prom? Okay, great!  First you’ll need to call her dad and ask him if you can. Want to pursue a dating relationship with a young woman? That’s fine. But, you’ll need to ask her parents’ permission.

One young husband in our church loves to tell how grateful he is that his wife’s father took such and interest in him and really ended up discipling him in Christ and modeling how to be a godly husband.

(Here’s a great article on that very topic.)

We want our boys to know they are a steward of someone else’s treasure. We want them aware that they are accountable for how they care for not only the daughter of a human father, but even more importantly, the daughter of a Heavenly Father. She will not be his for selfish and destructive purposes. She first belongs to someone else and may not ultimately belong to him as a wife. In fact it’s likely that she will be someone else’s wife someday. We hope they will be sober about that reality, and that it will encourage them to greatly value and care for the woman they are interested in spending time with.

And we want any young man interested in our precious daughter to know the same.

It’s what God requires of husbands. Would the requirements for boyfriends be any less?

 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself: for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.
Ephesians 2: 25-30

The End.

(Except that I have about a million more thoughts on each of these things.)

(And I highly recommend A Return To Modesty as well as, Authentic Beauty, Emotional Purity, Sex and the Soul of a Woman, The Mark of a Man, and Let Me Be A Woman.)