Sunday, August 24, 2014

Modesty Gone Awry

We are part of a small homeschool co-op which was formed last year. It was very laid back with like-minded moms pooling our talents and strengths to best teach our kids. (I'm teaching speech and debate this year. Shocking, I know.) 

We purposely had very few rules last year, choosing instead to focus on Jesus first and joy in our group. It went well and we had a great year.

This year seems to be a different story as more families were added and with them, more structure and more regulations. I get it. We want to prevent chaos and attempt to control drama. Rules are necessary to do that with an abundance of people. 

But one particular rule and the reason behind it picked at a scab. Legalism wounds and leaves a mark. I have them in various stages of healing. Most of the time, they go unnoticed, but occasionally, an event will happen that reminds me I am not fully whole.

Such was the case with the dress code. 

There is nothing wrong with a dress code. Most organizations and schools have them. Some are more conservative than others. The co-op dress code is not overly so. I would've been fine knowing our group chose to establish one if it not for one other detail: The reason behind it.

I never noticed any of the teen girls in our group dressing provocatively or inappropriately last year. However, a teen boy complained that their manner of dress was "distracting." 

He complained to his mother, who went to leadership, and suddenly, rather than just dress code, we were discussing terms of "modesty", who will be the modesty police, enforcing via "Amish clothes" for the day, and prefacing the vote with "What mom wouldn't vote for modesty?" 

Thankfully (or not) I was not at this meeting, but these events were reported to me this way by those on both sides of the issue. 

I have a problem with this on so many levels. Many other writers have addressed some of them more brilliantly than I could. Modesty: I Don't Think it Means What You Think it Means, When Suits Become a Stumbling Block: A Plea to my Brothers in Christ (tongue-in-cheek, but gets the point across), and How 'Modest is Hottest' Is Hurting Christian Women to name just a few. 

The biggest problem for me is the idea that one teen boy has dictated how a whole group of girls must now behave. The fault of his own personal issue was deflected onto them, thereby objectifying these young women. 

Rather than teaching our girls that they are image-bearers of the Most High God and should dress in ways that glorify Him, it instead teaches them that their bodies are shameful and to be hidden lest they inadvertently cause a brother to sin. 

It teaches our boys that when they do fall prey to the sin of lust, rather than manning up and treating it as Jesus commands, they can simply blame it on the girl wearing yoga pants. 

But worse, it sets the stage for something far more sinister. 

One in six women will be the victim of sexual assault. When that happens, the enemy will come in and plant a lie to the victim that it is her fault. He will tell her, You are the one to blame. Something in your behavior or dress or demeanor drew his attention and caused him to attack you. You deserved this.

By agreeing with this teen boy that the girls are to blame for his "distraction" problem and forcing them to change their manner of dress, we moms are laying the groundwork for them to believe this lie if the unthinkable happens and our daughters are victimized. If we are all in that he can't help but lust when they wear shorts rising above fingertip length and we place the responsibility on their shoulders to keep his mind out of the gutter, why would they not?

And that is troubling to me. And I find myself angry, yet powerless. 

I can't rewind. I can't magically transport myself back in time to that meeting to raise my objections before it became "law". But most troubling, I can't erase the fact that my teen daughters knew all of this before I did. They knew about the dress code, the modesty debate, and the reason it all came to be. They know it's not just a dress code. 

All we can do is move forward. We will adhere to the new standards out of respect for those in our group. I'll continue to remind my girls they are image bearers and should do all things to glorify the Lord, including dress. As He convicts them, they should respond. It's a tough balance to strike even for a forty-something like me. They are going to get it wrong sometimes. I do. But there is grace for even that. 

But most importantly, I will teach them that they are responsible for their own sin, their own hearts before God. They are not responsible for the sin of someone else. I don't want them dealing with the scabs and the scars of legalism like their mother. I don't want them dealing with body image problems or the temptation to fall into pride for their "modest" appearance as both often happen in the modest church culture. But I especially don't want them dealing with false guilt put on them by my well-meaning peers. 

Thankfully, there's grace for all of us. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Though He Slays Me

To see with the eyes of heaven is a blessed thing. To glimpse beyond the veil into the light of eternity and walk in that is a gift. To live our lives, to breathe our very existence with our focus off this temporal realm is a discipline and a complete delight. 

There have been glorious days, even seasons, of my life where I have experienced that kind of awareness and purpose. 

The last year and a half, I confess, has not been one of those times. Like a dog returning to his vomit, I returned to my misery and self-pity over and over (Proverbs 26:11). I questioned my faith and my God. I found my dramatic inner-Israelite and asked, "Why did you bring me here to die?!?" (Numbers 20:4) (I take great comfort in those Israelites. They often said out loud what the rest of us are only thinking.)

My rose-colored glasses with the lenses of eternity were lost somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean on the flight home from Serbia. Although, it's possible they survived the trip and housekeeping scooped them up with the soiled sheets in the hospital the week after we came home. 

No matter. The point is, I planted my feet firmly on American, earthly soil and determined that I could do this. All the reasons why we chose to in the first place were pushed to the back burner and soon my vision became so cloudy, I was eventually lost in the fog. 

I turned inward to the only thing I could see clearly...myself. My struggle, my pain, my hurt, my confusion, until eventually, I even lost clarity in that and I was just lost...overwhelming feelings with no meaning. 

Through nothing I did, Jesus fixed my glasses. Over the last few months, He's gently led me out of the fog. Using unlikely people, random events, church messages, radio songs, even herbal supplements (of all things), and of course, His Word, He's woven a theme around my heart of peace and eternity that's drawn me to Him. 

It's not for nothing, this struggle, this hard life. It is not for naught! This loving with no return is never for nothing. When I look at my little boy and smile and get a blank look in return, or worse, a sneer, it's not wasted. When I change his nasty diaper and get pinched hard on the inside of my upper arm, my tears are known, and they matter. All of our pain on the road of obedience has a glorious purpose...and it's temporary.

And then this was played at church this morning and reduced me to a snot-nosed weeping puddle of tears and mascara (I really need to get water-proof next time). 

In my recent memory, this is the most powerful, touching song I've watched on YouTube. The portion of John Piper's message mixed into it is spot on. I encourage you to take a moment and absorb it. 

Though He slays me, I will praise Him. He is enough.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Not Losing It

Swallowed in a blackened sea of near despair, I desperately, frantically look around for help. Where can I turn? Who would understand this?

As my lungs burn for oxygen and I struggle for freedom, faintly, almost as a whisper, I hear my own voice from far away. 

I lift my eyes to the hills - where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
Yes! Jesus, help me! 
And then, peace. 

After the first gulps of oxygen and the quieting of my pulse, and then the focused resting in His presence, comes the replay. 

Where did I go wrong? How did I get so far off track? 

Our lives are stressful as of late. Our newest blessing has developed behaviors that have left all of us feeling undone. Convinced that I could handle this, I went to work researching and trialing behavior modification techniques, ignoring my need to surrender and rest in Him. When nothing worked and behaviors increased, I found myself spiraling. I focused inward, letting resentment build and anger fester. Self-pity returned and misery along with it. My old friend, anxiety, came back for an extended visit. 

In His gentle mercy, God is showing me something. Pride is the root of all of it. Pride is what prompts me to take the reins and convinces me that I can handle it. Pride is what keeps me from seeking Him and seeking help. 

Worse than that, though, is the pride that tells me I deserve better. 

It makes me believe that I shouldn't have to dodge flying objects or clean up poop paintings; that I have the right to sit through a meal without getting hit with food; that I should have my anniversary roses displayed on the table instead of safely tucked on the highest shelf of my closet. It tells me that I don't deserve to be pinched and bitten for simply combing a child's hair.

Pride tells me that I deserve a break, that I'm getting shafted by having to deal with anything different than a "normal" family, that I shouldn't have to put up with all of this. This is not what I signed on for. 

Pride breeds my discontent. 

It makes me think of myself more highly than I ought. 

And it leaves me miserable. 

My arrogance astounds me. Who am I? 

Last night, I was catching up on my friend, Susanna's, blog. Also an adoptive mom, she has faced intense medical and behavioral challenges from her newest treasures. Her words leapt off the page at me: 
We are called to die, so the life of Jesus can shine through us.
At the same time, we humans can be so drawn to the comfortable, the known, the easy, the familiar, the safe.  And that’s not innately a bad thing.
It only becomes problematic for us when God sends us in the opposite direction and we don’t want to go.
Will we as Christ’s people shrink back in fear from His path of sacrifice?  And call it ”counting the cost?”
Will we set our hearts on our own visions and ideals for our lives and families more than we set our hearts on following after Him?  And call it ”the abundant life?” 
Will we preserve for ourselves treasure on earth rather than giving Him our last mite with abandon?   And call it ”being a good steward?”
Of course we will and of course we do...

We had a vision for what we wanted our family to be.  It was a good vision, friends, not a bad one! But it wasn’t God’s vision for our family.  His goals for us are so much greater than our goals for ourselves.  He’s so much more interested in making us better than He is in making our lives better.
Convicting, life-giving, thrilling words that leave me with a choice. Do I want to continue to follow my dreams, my vision, my plans? Or do I want to take up my cross and follow Jesus? 
Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. John 12:25

 I laughed when I saw this particular translation of this Scripture. I can often be heard saying, "I am losing it!" during periods of stress and frustration. Now I know why. 

Because I love my life.

Of course. 

Why else would frustration build to the point that I feel like I am going to blow or "lose it", unless I was feeling like I had lost control of the one thing I value life

If I love my life - my rights, my comforts, my routines, myself - I'm going to lose it. I'm going to lose my head, my cool, my mind, my peace, my life.

But if I hate my life in this world...if I can look beyond my circumstances and see with eyes of eternity, if I can want with longing the life I will one day have...then I can keep it - keep it together, keep it up, keep it going, keep real life - forever

I know I'm taking huge liberties with this Scripture, but I think God's okay with it. 

His Word says, "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up." James 4:10

When I humble myself before Him and repent of this foolish pride, this is how He lifts me up. He reminds me of truth. He encourages me with His Word. He supplies me with grace. He gives me hope. He shows me how to willingly lay down my life. 

And I can do this. 

Without losing it. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Beware the Counterfeit Jesus

Being the vain middle-aged woman that I am, I hate to tell my age, but it's germane to the discussion we're about to have, so here it is: I am forty-four. 

I came to know Jesus, "prayed the prayer", as it were, at the ripe old age of four. For forty years I have walked this walk of faith, sometimes so well it has surprised even me, but more often, humiliatingly badly. I have learned much over the years and questioned more. 

And I have watched the American evangelical church ride waves and stretch and shrink and grow and fight amongst ourselves over the years, as well. 

Recently, the front man for the Christian band Jars of Clay made headlines for a series of tweets he made in support of gay marriage. I wasn't too surprised or disturbed by what he had to say until I read this one: 
Because most people read and interpret scripture wrong. I don't think scripture "clearly" states much of anything regarding morality.

He is not alone.

That Scripture is unclear or easily misinterpreted or that it is simply allegorical and poetic and not really meant to be a basis for our lives is a theme that I've seen over and over recently. Sadly, it seems to be Christians that are leading this charge. 

Some friends and I were discussing it and I struggled to find the words to convey why I think this is and finally responded.

I think it is the backlash of years of morality-based Christianity from American evangelicalism. We put morality on the throne instead of Jesus. We insisted that being good could save us. We not only insisted it could save us, we became convinced it could save America, as well. We picked through Scriptures and highlighted only those that supported our legalistic doctrines. 

We ignored grace and made God's passionate and unfathomable love for us conditional. Because we couldn't receive love, we didn't give it away and thus ignored the two-thousand-plus verses regarding the poor and oppressed. We made ourselves safe, comfortable, little lives in which we cry persecution when someone says, "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." 

People aren't buying what we're selling anymore. Morality-based gospel is finally crumbling and Jesus has been let out of the box. 

Morality-based, legalistic gospel was no gospel at all. I'm thrilled to see it fall. I've been telling broken people, myself included, "God is more interested in your heart than He is your behavior," for years. My heart wells up to see my fellow believers ministering to the poor, standing up against injustice (some of which have been caused by the church), and fighting for the least of these. 

These are good, exciting, and biblically based things. 

The backlash of morality-based gospel, however, is that people swing wide of center.

Instead of searching Scripture to see how it was misapplied, they throw out Scripture altogether and denounce its truth and relevance. 

Counterfeit Jesus, who was only interested in your behavior, was replaced with another counterfeit, as no one took the time to know the real one and put up a watered-down version, instead. 

Nothing was allowed, so now nothing is denied. 

No one was really loved, so now everyone's behavior, ideals, and opinions are embraced as truth in the name of love.   

We did this. 

And it's a hot mess.

We can't replace one counterfeit gospel for another. We can't replace the Word of Truth with passionate feelings. We can't replace the King with a cause. We can't replace real love with mere tolerance. 

When we swing wide of center, we are left holding a lie. 

And people get hurt. 

We need Jesus and we need His Word. We are imperfect people and we are going to get it wrong sometimes. But that doesn't mean we don't try. In my forty years on this faith walk I have learned this:

I am more apt to get it right with His Word than I am without it. 

I humbly admit to resting on my laurels without rightly dividing the Word of Truth in recent months. Years of baptist primary school insured that I have lots of Scripture memorized; living with my pastor father and a year of Bible college added to that. I sat back and relied on memory but I forgot that Scripture is a living Word meant to be a daily diet. 

But no more. I hereby declare that I will not allow social media to tell me what my Jesus stood for or what my Bible says. I'll be getting to know Him more and studying the red words closely. I don't want to get swept up in a shiny counterfeit. 

Will you join me?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Barbie Needs a Hairbrush

(Bam! Bam! Bam!)
(Bam! Bam! Bam!)
(Bam! Bam! Bam!)

My three-year-old was clearly having a crisis as she was beating on my bedroom door while I was changing clothes. My adrenaline and cortisol surged as my mind raced through the awful possibilities.  

Did she spill a gallon of milk? Did the dog barf on her favorite blanket? Was she hurt? Was one of her siblings hit by a car? 

My worst case scenarios came to a screeching halt with her next statement, even though the pitch and fervor of her cries did not.

(Bam! Bam! Bam!)
(Bam! Bam! Bam!)

My heart starting to slow down even as my ire is rising, "Just a minute, KJ."


And that's when it hits me. 

All my recent anxiety and emotional lability can be explained by this one common, insignificant event. 

When you encounter a perceived threat, your body floods itself with hormones that allow you to deal with the threat more efficiently. But when you are constantly in a state of stress, when mini-"threats" bark at you all day long, those hormones stay in your system all the time and can reek havoc on your body...and your mind. 

Every parent knows that everything is an emergency to a child. An empty juice cup, dead batteries in the tv remote, losing Barbie's hairbrush - all can send a child running to you in a panic. 

Multiply that times eight. 

Doctors say that constant amounts of coritsol in your blood is not good for you. Apparently, it's the root of all kinds of health issues. 

So when I jokingly tell my kids, "You're killing me," I'm not that far off. 

I'm only in my early forties. Sometimes, I learn of the death of someone my age. Usually, they died doing something cool. Sky diving or motorcycling through British Colombia.

Not me. 

My obituary will read:

Tara Lakes, 44, mother of eight. Cause of Death: Barbie needed a hairbrush. 

Or maybe I should cultivate better coping skills than carb loading. 


Something to think about. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Man of Action

My husband is a missionary. He'll read this with disbelief, but the words are true. 

I've recently awakened to the fact that our transient, lower class, cross-cultural neighborhood is exactly the kind of place we want to be living. The needs are great here and opportunities to love abound. The kids here need to see a marriage that works, a family that loves, and people that care about them; the adults, too. So I think, I plan, I strategize. How can we build relationships with our neighbors? (Can you tell I am a evangelical pastor's child of the eighties? We need a committee to learn to love.) 

Then I look at my husband and realize that he's already built relationships with our neighbors, and he did so naturally, effortlessly, some of them over years. A point driven home the other day when he was describing the scene of everyone out shoveling snow at the same time. As he was telling me the story I kept interrupting to ask who all these people were to whom he kept referring. He patiently told me where they lived and a little of each of their stories. It was clear that he not only knows their names, he knows them, people I could not even pick out of a line-up. 

When we first married, he was quiet, so quiet. I had enough words for both of us, I suppose. Like a typical extrovert, I played it safe and married an introvert - less competition for attention that way. Over the years, we've both mellowed and matured, he more than me. I still tend to talk at people, rather than with them. I watch in awe as my husband now easily develops friendships with folks, all kinds of folks, but usually, the down-on-their-luck variety...the kind who need Jesus. 

The thing that someone like me, who wants so desperately to love people but can't quite seem to pull it off, can't begin to grasp is how he does it unintentionally. He's not following some sermon or 5-step study of discipleship. He has no vision of how the friendship should progress or when to introduce his faith. Those concepts are foreign to him and probably offensive, as well they should be. 

Recently, while planning a movie/wings night for a group of guys, he announced to me, "Rob's coming." Predictably, I asked who Rob was. "Tattoo Rob?" he reminded me. Surprised, I asked, "You invited your tattoo artist to a movie and wings with the church guys?" Looking at me like I was the idiot that I am, he responded confidently, "Of course."

See, he doesn't see people as projects as I am so tempted to do. Loving them is not a chore to him or a box to be checked. It is simply who he is. The fact that I look at my neighbors as people to be loved instead of just engaging with them shows my bias and my immaturity. I have so far to go in this whole becoming like Christ thing. Thankfully, I'm living with a real life example. Eating wings, shoveling driveways, working on cars, sharing life, building community - these are all just a natural projection of the man my husband has grown to be over the years. 

As is the case with just about everything of importance in our married life, while I'm in here thinking about it, writing about it, praying about it, he's out there actually doing it. Someday, I'm going to grow up and be just like him. In the meantime, you'll find me shoveling alongside him after the next snowfall. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

He Isn't Safe

Like a dog kicked by his master, I curled into a protective ball licking my wounds and keeping myself safe. There was a subtle fear, a lack of trust, that turned into a defensive barrier that separated me from God. 

This post-adoption year was hard. 

Adding a child is never easy, but this has little to do with Bo or his transition to our family. We had our moments and crazy stress, but he has been worth every second of the adventure. For the most part, I am amazed by how easy it was to assimilate him into our family.

I'm talking about the spiritual assault that followed his adoption and knocked me flat. 

I've heard of post-adoption depression which is similar to postpartum depression, something in which I am well versed. I don't know if that's what I had, or not. With my illness in country and subsequent hospitalization upon our return home, I suppose I was ripe for it. I've mentioned before feeling like I may have had some PTSD from the experience.

I just never felt like I regained my spiritual or emotional footing. 

God felt very, very far away. 

I felt isolated. Having two kids with special needs, one with some pretty bizarre behavior, further separated us from other families. I didn't know what to do with him at church. He didn't really fit into any classroom situation and I didn't really know him well enough to know what supports he needed. It seemed like a lot of effort to get everyone ready for church only to have to step out of the service with him. 

So, I just stopped going. 

As the lack of trust intensified, confusion set in. My attention span waned and reading Scripture became a chore for which I couldn't muster energy. My prayers continued, but I felt unheard. 

Everything was hard. I felt raw initially, reacting to everything, and later numb, responding to nothing. While I had visits to clarity, deep fog was my address and I had no idea how to move. 

Bitterness danced at my heart's door. My softness toward my savior disappeared beneath a crusty layer. I was suspicious of those who were plunging ahead in the faith, convinced they didn't fully know what they were doing. 

Several posted on Facebook the lyrics to "Oceans" by Hillsong United:

And I remember thinking in my arrogance, "You have no idea what you're singing. Do you really want to go deeper than your feet could ever wander?!? Are you willing to go without a full night's sleep two hundred thirty-seven nights in a row? What if, instead of stronger faith, you're left without a faith, at all?" 

Toward the end of the year, I recognized some pretty significant lies I'd been believing, which set me on the path to healing. I uncurled from my ball and reviewed the year through fresh eyes. I was able to really see His faithfulness in all of it, even though He felt hidden from me at the time. 

The fog lifted and clarity is returning. I can trust Him. I know this. I'm reminded of my favorite quote about Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:
Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good.
It turns out that the song with the haunting tune and the lyrics that bugged me so much, was right, after all. My faith has been made stronger and I can sing that song with open arms, willing again to go deeper than my feet would ever wander.