Uncomfortable in Church

Recently I sat in an unfamiliar church, surrounded mostly by people I didn’t know, listening to a sermon preached by my oldest son. This experience wasn’t entirely new to me; I’d listened to my husband (who is not a pastor) preach a few times years ago, as he completed the requirements for his seminary degree. Sitting in those pews twenty years apart, I was more relaxed as a mother than as a wife—perhaps due to my greater age and experience, and perhaps because I no longer had several small children to wrangle as I listened.

By the time my son’s sermon began, I felt entirely at ease with the whole situation. The songs were familiar … the liturgy was familiar … there were no surprises here. I wasn’t even the least bit anxious about how my son would do, what he would say or wouldn’t say, or how he would say it. I felt calm, at peace, and ready to hear about King Saul and how he tried to kill David multiple times (1 Samuel 18:6-16 and 1 Samuel 19:8-16). It was a story I knew well. As my son stood at the pulpit to begin his sermon, I settled in and got comfortable, ready to listen.

All was fine until about fifteen minutes in. We’d been given the background of King Saul and his relationship with David—that Saul knew his (already shaky) kingship was threatened by David, his jealousy and hatred because of that threat, how he gave in to his anger and pride, and how he attempted to murder David, over and over, in order to rid himself of his “problem” and continue being king. So far, so good.

Then we were asked to think of ways in which we resemble Saul, and things took a turn that I’d never experienced before in church. It was not “comfortable” at all.

continue reading

In Defense of the Proverbs 31 Woman

I have a friend—let’s call her P31—who is sometimes unfairly misunderstood. This makes me sad, because she used to be well-liked, even highly respected, by women who shared her faith and her faithfulness, who looked up to her as a role model and who were inspired by her. I was (and am) one of those women.

Years ago, as a new Christian and very busy new mom, I was fascinated by the book of Proverbs and was especially drawn to the end of chapter 31—twenty-two verses that offer a picture of a godly wife, or as my Bible describes this passage, “The Woman Who Fears the Lord.”

Baby Christian though I was, I knew I wanted to be a woman who fears the Lord. As I read and reread verses 10-31, I grew in admiration for this godly woman who used the abilities, gifts, and energy that God gave her to bless her family, her extended household, and her community. P31 and I were soul sisters in lots of ways and she was a great blessing to me as I spent years working out what it meant for me to be a Christian wife, mother, wage-earner, neighbor, church member, and citizen.

I just assumed that everyone felt about P31 the way I did, until twenty years later when I was with a few other Christian women and one made a casual, somewhat negative comment about P31. I can’t remember the exact words, but it was accompanied by a heavy sigh and an eye roll.

Initially, I was confused. Had I misunderstood her intent? Was she actually stating a dislike for P31? Later, I did a little searching online and was shocked to find that I had entirely missed an anti-P31 movement within the church as a whole. The Proverbs 31 woman, much to my surprise, was no longer inspiring virtuous, noble qualities and habits in many of my Christian sisters, but instead was inspiring envy, anger, eye-rolling, frustration, feelings of inferiority, negative comparisons, and more.

continue reading
Other Topics

Abortion, Pregnancy Scares, and Perfect Love

For the first 30 years of my life, I was, like everyone else I knew in my family, my schools, and my workplaces, fiercely pro-choice. Today, and for the past 20+ years, my views are unapologetically pro-life. So I’ve totally changed my position on this issue, but equally importantly, I’ve also changed my attitude.

Where I was once loudly adamant, even angry, in my pro-choice views, I’m considerably more thoughtful and measured with my words as someone who is pro-life. Yes, I’ve probably mellowed with age, but as someone who has been on “the other side,” I also have an empathy that I wouldn’t have otherwise had for women who face unplanned or unwanted pregnancies.

Back when I believed strongly in abortion rights, the very thought that a woman’s legal right to an abortion could be taken away was absolutely terrifying to me. And I believe that’s still the case with most pro-choice women today, especially those of child-bearing years. You may see anger in their faces and hear it in their voices, but it’s likely that underlying that anger is fear. Fear of loss of control, fear of personal harm, and fear of being shackled to an uncertain and frightening future.

Now, I’ve never actually had an abortion, although I did come close—in my own head, at least. When I was in my late teens, years before I became a Christian, I had a pregnancy scare. I immediately panicked, but consoled myself with the reminder that if I was pregnant, I knew right where to go for an abortion because a close relative had gone there just a few months before. (This was in the 1980s, when nearly 20,000 abortions were performed in my state alone during every year of that decade.) I knew without a second thought that I would choose this path—the alternative never once entered my mind. The thought of an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy terrified me, and the only possible outcome I could envision was a visit to a doctor and the elimination of the problem. The cost to me, whether financial, physical, and/or emotional, was worth whatever it took.

continue reading

Did God Really Say … ?

When my kids were little, one of our homeschool lessons was on “red flags.” We talked about  what things others might say to get you to do something your parents have told you not to do.

We wrote two examples on small flags made of red construction paper: “No one will know” and “Everybody’s doing it.” We also discussed a few others, including this classic red flag question: “Did your mom or dad really say that? Are you sure? Maybe they actually meant something else.” I stressed that a red flag meant they should stop and think about what they were about to do, and that their parents have given them rules for a reason, even if they don’t understand the reason at the time.

Red flag comments or questions often come from someone who appears to be a friend, or seems wiser or cooler than you are, and/or seems to be having more fun than you are. Through questions or comments like the ones above, they plant some sort of doubt in your mind and encourage you to disobey. This method of sowing seeds of doubt has been ensnaring people, both children and adults, since the beginning of time. Literally.

The very first red flag question in history

The first, and most notorious, act of disobedience in the history of humanity is related in Genesis 3, also known as “the Fall.” Adam and Eve aren’t children, but they are children of God. They are naïve and as yet untested in life. You know the story: God (the Father) had previously forbidden Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and they were tempted by Satan to eat from it. They ate, and sin entered the world.

It’s no coincidence that Satan used the same method that people have been falling for throughout history, the method that we still caution our children about today. The serpent came to Eve with a carefully crafted plan to deceive her, and the first step of the plan was to plant a seed of doubt about God in Eve’s mind. In various Bible translations, here is the common red flag question that Satan asked her:

“Did God really say…”

“Can it really be that God has said…”

“Did God actually say…”

“Is it really true that God said…”

[and even just a pointed and skeptical:] “Really?”

Instead of answering, “Yes, really,” and turning away, Eve allows the serpent to plant a seed of doubt. She then unwisely continues talking, unequipped though she is to tangle with the enemy. She tells him what God said, but she gets part of it wrong (God had said to Adam, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” 2:16-17, but Eve has added, “neither shall you touch it,” 3:3). Her willingness to engage in conversation and misstatement of God’s word (for whatever reason) does not go unnoticed by the serpent.

continue reading
Faith · Parenting

Parents, Gen Z Must Own Their Faith

You’ve done all the right things. You took your child to church from birth, sending them to Sunday school, VBS, and children’s worship. You gave them kids’ devotionals for Christmas and answered all of their childlike theological questions. You made sure that Jesus was the focus of Christmas and Easter. You talked about Jesus openly and frequently in your home, prayed with your child, and involved them in service projects and other outward extensions of your faith.

And yet.

And yet now they’re drifting … drifting away from the faith, heads turned by secular and worldly beliefs and temptations, questioning at least some aspects of what they’ve been taught about God, about Jesus, about Christianity in general.

This probably causes you great concern, especially if you never went through a questioning period in your own life. Maybe your own adolescence and young adulthood were solid as a rock, resting on the foundation of Jesus Christ and the things you had been taught in your church and by your parents. Maybe you never strayed, and you can honestly say that you’ve never known a day when you didn’t know Jesus.

Or maybe you weren’t a Christian until you were an adult, and you were determined to raise your kids in the faith so they would never experience that kind of confusion and wandering. Maybe you were told that if you just followed Proverbs 22:6 and “trained up a child in the way he should go,” your child would not depart from the faith. Maybe you see your own wanderings echoed in your child and you wonder why your sincere, prayerful efforts seemingly didn’t work.

I have many friends who are raising Gen Z (born 1997 to 2012) kids. As the mother of three Gen Zs and one late-model Millennial, I’ve heard a lot of stories, sat with a lot of moms, and prayed a lot of prayers over kids who are drifting from God, questioning what they’ve been taught, and seemingly turning from the faith in which they were raised. Often these changes, for both boys and girls, come about between the impressionable ages of 16 and 21.

continue reading

Testimony of the Mind and Heart

I love hearing Christian testimonies because I’m fascinated by the many ways that God works in the lives of very different people.

I was a Christian for many years before ever fully describing to anyone how I came to Jesus. I was never asked to, and I never volunteered. But when we joined a new congregation a few years ago, as a part of my membership interview I found myself sitting in a room with two elders before church one Sunday morning. My testimony was part of the membership process.

Now, being a person who spent her first 30 years living apart from Christ, and having a somewhat unusual upbringing which led to some poor life choices, my testimony (I now know) takes a good 25 minutes, give or take, to tell properly. But that’s quite a speech, and church was starting soon, so I whittled it down considerably while still conveying the most important parts of God’s saving grace in my life. I made sure to mention how I stumbled across the books that first introduced me to Jesus as a young child, how and why I fell away from the faith for 20 years, and the book that brought me back—first to God, and then to Christ.

I was able to condense 30 years of my spiritual life down to about a ten-minute monologue (the gist of it is here). But as my lips were calmly saying all the things I needed to say, my brain, not at my bidding, was playing a movie in the background just for me: my entire testimony, my entire life, flashed before my eyes. And suddenly I was overcome with emotion—an overwhelming feeling of God’s goodness to me, his faithfulness, his patience … and I found myself finishing my testimony with a spontaneous and heartfelt statement: “I don’t understand why God chose me, why he saved me, of all people. Because I did nothing to deserve this. I had ignored him and avoided him for all those years and he still pursued me and brought me back.” And by then I was crying.

This statement and these tears weren’t at all my intention when I sat down with these two men I didn’t even know all that well. One of them handed me the tissue box and said gently, “It sounds like you came to Christ in a very emotional way, with your heart.” I found this an odd statement at the time, because I thought I’d made it clear to them that God brought me to himself, twice, through books, through reading, through my mind. But here I was, getting choked up over the goodness of God and how he saved a wretch like me. Why did he do it? I still couldn’t fathom it, and it had me in tears. It was an emotional moment, for sure—a moment belonging to the heart.

continue reading

Homeschooling and the Gift of Time

Back in 2007, while watching Meet the Robinsons with my family, I got choked up hearing “Little Wonders” by Rob Thomas. Before I knew the actual title, I thought it was called “These Small Hours,” because it was all about time—how we spend it, how we look back on it, how our memories are made of it.

Our lives are made

In these small hours

These little wonders

These twists and turns of fate . . .

For many years, I took time for granted in our homeschooling. We were homeschoolers, we always had homeschooled, and I didn’t know any differently. But when two of my sons entered (and one later left) the public school system, I began to greatly appreciate the gift of time that homeschooling had provided to us. And time, as most of us in the modern world would agree, is precious—precious like gold or diamonds, to be treasured and protected.

Time in the morning and in the evening

This is an immediate, everyday way that homeschoolers receive the gift of time. When you homeschool, morning time and evening time belong to you and your family, not to a school bus schedule or a homework to-do list. Teenagers can sleep in, past the usual ultra-early required rising time of most high schoolers, at a time in their lives when they need sleep the most.

And, glory be—there is no homework. Ever. You might think that “no homework” would be a blessing to the kids alone, but you’d be wrong. It’s a tremendous blessing to parents and the whole rest of the family, as well. Perhaps there are some children who cheerfully and willingly tackle their homework each night, without arguments, without tears, without whole-family stress. I wouldn’t know. I do know that when I pulled my youngest out of school 3/4 of the way through fourth grade, the most wonderful, freeing thing about that decision (for both of us, I think) was never again having to deal with or even say the words “math homework” or “reading log.”

continue reading

Six Steps Along the Path to Contentment

How content are you with your life? Are you fully content with …

… your job?

… your relationship status?

… your spouse?

… your children—their personalities, interests, and aptitudes?

… your church?

… where you live?

… your degree of worldly success?

… how much stuff you have and how new it is?

… your personal or household income?

… your health or self-image?

Discontentment has been a part of being human since … well, since Adam and Eve, and every generation since. I know I’ve struggled with it my whole life. I’d like to say that when I became a Christian 25+ years ago, I was able to overcome my struggle and have since conquered discontentment … but that’s not true. I still find myself needing frequent reminders, encouragement, and instruction on how to be fully content and accepting of the life that God has chosen to give to me, in every respect.

Along this lifelong path to Christian contentment, I’ve found much support along the way—people and books that have helped me grow in this area, step by step through the years. I can trace the path I’ve taken, book by book, mentor by mentor, and maybe some of this will encourage or help you along your path to contentment, too:

continue reading

What Makes a “Strong Woman” Strong?

“This book is great for girls because it has strong female characters.”

“Vote for her—she’s a strong woman who will fight for your interests.”

“At this college, we prepare strong, independent women for their careers.”

“Strong woman” is a phrase heard often these days, and because I admire both words and women, I’ve been paying attention. It’s used in politics, on campuses, in the media, and even by little girls who know at a very early age to describe themselves as “strong.” It’s made me think about what strong actually means—what is the implication when people say “strong woman”?

The tone used when saying “strong woman,” especially in politics, often sounds as if the speaker is correcting a common misconception that women are generally weak or dependent by virtue of their gender, and that the “strong woman” is an exceptional, out-of-the-ordinary woman. But do people actually view most women—“ordinary” women—as weak? Or even worse, is this the way most women view themselves?

I don’t believe so. I grew up at the height of “women’s lib” in the ’70s, and it’s never occurred to me to think of myself as weak because I’m female. I can’t remember a time when I was ever perceived that way by others, either.

So I wonder sometimes what others’ reactions are to hearing that someone is a “strong woman.” I’ll be honest about my reaction: it grates on my ears. Why is that? Because every time I hear it, my brain has the same reflexive response:

Do I even know any women who are not strong?

But then, maybe my definition and the world’s definition of “strong women” are not the same.

continue reading
Other Topics

“I’m So Sorry” — “Thank You”

My mom had just died (this was twelve and a half years ago, but it’s like yesterday to me), and the sympathy notes were pouring in.

By “pouring in,” I mean I was getting two or three each day, which was a 100% increase over the number of sympathy notes I was accustomed to getting. My mom didn’t have many close friends and was from a rapidly shrinking and mostly estranged family, so the total number of cards came to about 25 in all. But still, that was a large number to me, her only child.

In the midst of my grief (randomly intermittent and shocking in its intensity), in the midst of going through all her worldly possessions (not much to speak of but still a difficult and emotional task), and in the midst of adjusting to the new silence in my life (no daily phone calls from her to tell me about the weather, no daily phone calls from me to tell her what her grandchildren were doing that day), I had an ever-growing stack of notes from people who had taken the time to write to me and offer comfort.

I was pretty sure I didn’t have to “do anything” about those notes—i.e., I didn’t have to respond in any way. Still, because I was raised to Do the Right Thing, etiquette-wise, and because the person who raised me this way was my own mother who had just died, I quickly Googled “do I send thank you’s for sympathy notes?”

continue reading