Tighten Up Your Courage

I’ve written before about the way that God speaks to me. These threads or ideas start swirling in my head, and certain things I encounter in my day to day life seem to glow with significance, and I know they will eventually form into a complete picture, a message from God. But I’ve learned to be patient for that final revelation, because noticing the ideas swirling and the moments that are significant requires me to be present in my life, and that is sometimes as important as the final message.

Lately I’ve been noticing fear, in myself, in my children, in the motivations of people around me. Once you start watching for it, you see how utterly soaked in fear is our entire culture, which is heartbreaking.

Our family is in the middle of some job changes, and it has me very prayerful and cognizant of the environment around us. I’m trying to notice when I’m reacting out of fear, or feeling it, and it is taking energy and practice for me to combat the fear that is, really, an enormous part of our reality as humans. Both I and my oldest daughter, who has always been so spiritually sensitive, have been having dreams about the fear in us and the people around us. So I’ve been praying for freedom from fear, and tuned in to noticing it.

I’m a big musical theatre person, and both in the Hamilton musical and in Beauty in the Beast, I’ve noticed this line “Screw your courage to the sticking place.” It struck me as interesting, so I looked it up and it is a Shakespeare quote, from Macbeth Act 1 Scene 7;

Macbeth:
If we should fail?

Lady Macbeth:
We fail?
But screw your courage to the sticking place,
And we’ll not fail.

It basically means to tighten your courage down to something stronger, like twisting a peg into its hole, to reinforce it. When I realized what they were saying, it was an illuminating moment.

The strength is not in the peg, or in the screw. It is not in us to fight fear and be brave. The strength is in what we attach ourselves to, and how tightly we connect. We need to daily, moment by moment, tighten up our courage to the sticking place.

And the sticking place is, for me, our great God. And if you look at the verses on fear in the Bible, and there are 365 of them (as all of the embroidered pillows you’ve seen on Etsy proclaim), they are all about God being our defense against fear:

For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say: “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” Hebrews 13:5-6

Screw your courage to the sticking place.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 2 Corinthians 4:7-8

Screw your courage to the sticking place.

The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1

Screw your courage to the sticking place.

The action is to tighten into God, not to fight fear. I’ve been getting that wrong, no wonder it has been a frustrating fight. Fighting fear has nothing to do with fighting fear – it has to do with connecting to the author of love (the opposite of fear). Screw your courage to the sticking place.

Right now, where I stand may seem wobbly, and I may feel anything but brave. But if I screw my courage to the sticking place of God’s great love for me and my family, and His power and might, and His plans that never fail, I can take courage and not be afraid.

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A Time to Rest

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Grace, leaping off the dock. So proud of my sweet girl for conquering her fears and leaping.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28

We just went on a big family vacation with my parents, my brother and his family, and my sister and her boyfriend to Lake Martin, a beautiful lake in Alabama. It was a week at a beautiful place, with my favorite people in the world, and everything in me needed to disconnect and refresh and relax. Since we moved to Houston seven months ago, and even the months leading up to the move, we have been sprinting. Our world, and our children’s worlds, were turned upside down (in the best possible ways), and we haven’t had time to really catch our breath. So we go on vacation knowing we need it, that God has ordained rest for us, and that we are ready to receive that rest and renewal and enjoy one another. I, in particular, had several goals in mind as we left Houston:

1. A rest from being me-centered. Fifty one weeks a year our girls have to comply with our schedule, getting up at a certain time, following certain rules, being places sometimes for hours on end while Justin and I work and serve our church. Although they are not deprived (#firstworldproblems), and they love COF and get our mission here, we also know they deserve a week off to relax and enjoy us. So we try, for these times on vacation, to turn our normal paradigm on its head. They can wake up and go swimming at 7:40 in the morning. They can have ice cream sandwiches at 8:30 pm. We bought fireworks for them to shoot off the bow of the boat. If I had just sat down for the first time that day, but they needed something, I tried to not sigh and make it a big deal, but to get up with joy and let them see that they were more important to me than my rest. I don’t believe in a kid-centered home, and I don’t believe in making our children happy at the expense of making them holy, but for this one week, this fantastic week, I determined to do everything in my power to give them magical childhood memories and make it all about them.

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The cousins.

2. A rest from fears. I am a creative mind, and one of the manifestations of that is that I imagine every possible horrific scenario that can occur at any given time, so I can somehow prepare for it. I do this more when I am stressed or tired or feeling out of control, so I went on vacation at an eleven in the freakout category, to be really honest with you. I was having visions of car accidents, drowning, secondary drowning, heat stroke, boating accidents, critters, brain eating amoebas, furniture falling on children, all of it. So this week I asked the Lord for a rest from that nonsense.  I decided to not give those voices an audience in my mind, to pray when I felt fear, and to not be that mom keeping my kids from having fun because of a Facebook posting of a crazy scenario that is designed to perpetuate fear-based news cycles, that could keep a mother and her children curled up in the fetal position forever. So we swam in lakes, let the kids shoot off fireworks, went tubing, let the kids run around with freedom. And guess what? No nightmare scenarios happened, even without my watchful worrying guard.

The three girls were going to hold hands and jump, and Bekah just couldn't do it. It was so funny watching her let go and just stand there.

The three girls were going to hold hands and jump, and Bekah just couldn’t do it. It was so funny watching her let go and just stand there.

3. A rest from ingratitude. Vacationing with kids is hard, as a mom, and a few times I let myself slip into a pity mentality where I felt tired and wanted a break, but I was continually countering that state of mind with the truth that I am blessed, and that this trip was evidence of how blessed I am. I asked the Lord over and over for the gift of gratitude. One morning I was on a kayak in the middle of the quiet cove where our lake house sat, looking back on the dock where our kids were swimming and laughing, with tears in my eyes. This was my dream for our kids, this idyllic childhood moment, and I was not going to miss the chance to be grateful for it. To be grateful to serve at a place where we have not only the vacation time, but the extra funds to pull off a week like this with our kids. To be grateful for a family who loves us and who wants to travel with us. To be grateful for a mom who conquered her fear of lakes to swim with my kids everyday, and a dad who is the best grandfather I could ever have wished for. To be grateful for the relationships with my siblings that are healthy and affirming, full of life and peace. To be grateful for all the Lord has done in our family’s lives this past year, and how He has carried us. Something about my heart needs beauty and quiet to give God the due He always deserves, and in that moment, on that lake, all I could do was cry with gratitude for where we are in life, all by His design.

It was a great vacation, and was the rest my spirit needed. I met God there, in the squeal of my daughter as she jumped off the dock, and the quiet moments alone, and the love of my sister-in-law as she made a meal for our kids, and the laughter of my family. I am grateful for every moment of it.

I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,  he restores my soul. Psalm 23:1

Take a rest, my friends, sometime this summer, doing what your soul needs. You deserve it, and the Lord will use it.
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Accepted

Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe.  God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” Acts 15:7-11

About a week ago I suddenly realized the diversity of my friends. I have crunchy granola anti-vax home birth hippy momma friends, and I have others who, like me, have the pediatrician on speed dial and would have had an epidural for the entire pregnancy if the doctor had let us. I have friends who are right of Ted Cruz and friends who are left of Bill Maher. People who passionately believe like I do and people who just aren’t interested. To illustrate the diversity – one of my friends literally breastfed until her children could ask for it, and I laughed every single time. Who knew I’d ever be friends with a woman like that – me who snuck bottles to my kids when the lactation consultant walked out of the room in the hospital? And yet we are friends and she lights up my days. My friends are all passionate women – I am drawn to strength and my people have it in spades. We can soap-box for hours about the things that make us tick, but those are often fundamentally different opposing viewpoints. And yet we live in peace. We love each other. We don’t see eye to eye on some big hot-button issues, but I could still text them when I’m having a rough day and I know they’ll drop whatever they are doing and talk to me and pray for me, if prayer is their thing.

Taking stock of my friendships struck me for many reasons. First of all – it struck me because I realized what a rarity that kind of unity is, despite our differences. It really is an extraordinary gift. But it struck me also because it sounds strange, but I’m proud of myself that my friendships are so diverse. You see, in my past, I was rejected by people who did not agree with me on some divisive issues, and I lost them because of it. People who should stick by you. Big relationships, lost seemingly forever. To them, the issue was more important than the relationship, and more painful than that, the issue was more important than me.

But not so with my friends – and when I realized it, I had to admit that I let these friendships sneak up on me. For many years I would have guarded my relationships and only gotten close with people like me, simply because I feared the rejection that I thought was inevitably coming because of my past. But I had let them in and we live in peace and joy, and something in me is healing and shifting because they still love me despite my differences from them. I bear the scars of rejection, and scarred skin is always more tough than healthy skin, yet I had somehow let them past my defenses, and they changed my life.

Acceptance.

Rejection.

For me, the theme of my life outside of Christ, the defining characteristic of my darkest memories, the knot in my stomach and the feeling of tears pressing behind my eyes can be summed up in one word: rejection.

You aren’t good enough.

You failed at that.

You behaved badly.

You are too much.

You are not enough.

You are not worth fighting for.

Have you ever thought about how much of the world we live in – our present reality – is marred by the sting of rejection? How many of our losses, the scars that mark our consciousness, the defensive walls we construct, are a direct result of the rejection of someone who was supposed to love us? Someone who should have been safe, but when we let them in, hurt us.

I think it could be the defining characteristic of this fallen world. Rejection. Because even if we are accepted in this world, it is usually only for a season. The other shoe almost always drops. Marriages break up. We stop performing at the right level at work and start being phased out. Our bodies decay. We just can’t seem to measure up to the expectations of that person who means the world to us. Someone decides they are done with us, and they (literally) turn their back.

This week it seemed like the rocks were crying out trying to get me to understand this lesson. Every experience somehow had meaning behind the immediate context.

Because, for me, Christ was revolutionary for this one reason. It sounds cheesy, I know, to my friends who don’t get the whole Jesus thing, but in Him I knew acceptance and unconditional love for the first time, in my life.** It changed me. It healed in me something that felt profoundly and irreversibly broken. I let him in, and now years later I am letting more and more people in. My friendships give testimony to the healing I have experienced,

My hilarious breastfeeding-wonder friend is a direct result of God’s work on my heart and in my life. She, and many others totally opposite of her, are walking talking evidences that I am being made new and that I am not walking in fear like I once walked.

Acceptance. I’ve experienced it and found it worth fighting for, worth risking.

**By the way – acceptance is at the core of the character of Christ. There was none righteous, so He became righteousness for us all. There is almost nothing in this world that makes me more angry than people who reject others and say it is in the name of Christ. Those who claim some people are beyond his love and redemption. That is not Jesus. Jesus accepts us. Jesus loves us. Jesus heals us. Anyone speaking “in his name” saying the opposite does not speak for the Jesus I know. The verse at the top of the post was written in response to people who were trying, 2000 years ago, to limit the scope of Jesus’ acceptance to a select few – and it still happens today. But Jesus accepted then and accepts now and confounds expectations every time, which is why I love him and follow him  (I told you me and my friends could jump on soapboxes).**

Last night I went to an event where the speaker talked about scars that are on our souls- and I saw clearly that my scars are almost all from rejection. But she also talked about when you offer up those scars, when you are vulnerable and honest and let light in to those places of hurt, those scars become your story. You go from being marred to being marked for a purpose beyond yourself. And that starts when you take those scars, those hurts, those rejections, to Jesus. When you relax in the light of acceptance. I still have work to do in this area – still have things I need to release – but I think a shift in me is taking place where I feel and understand the acceptance of Christ more than the rejection of this world, and it is freeing.

Acceptance. Such a hard concept to grasp in this performance-based, rejection-riddled world we live in. But so necessary for freedom.

Tonight one of my girls lost it in a big way in a public place. And honestly, this behavior is not rare or unexpected – it just happens with her occasionally. I kept thinking about this lesson even as she raged, even as I had to isolate her, even as I sat down with her in her room after it was over and she was calm. These are the deep parenting waters that I have waded and sometimes felt I was drowning in, since she was a tiny girl. She has taught me so much about the Lord. She has taught me so much about myself. I know this is hard for her. I have been her. Tonight I kept thinking, as I handled the situation, “How do I show her love and acceptance, how do I impact her heart and her character even as I deal with behavior that cannot be tolerated for her own good?” Because I can’t revel in acceptance and show rejection. If it is the defining characteristic of my new life, it has to be on His terms, not mine. It has to be absolute. So I pull her close, we pray together, we talk about how sweet and beautiful and kind she is, and how I want her choices to reflect that. We talk about how much I love her even in those crazy moments (such a work of Christ in my heart because, let me tell you, I have not always felt that way). We talk about how there is nothing she can do that will ever cause me to not accept her, and how at any time, in any situation, she can pray and Jesus will listen to her because He accepts her too.

Because here is the truth, she lives in this world. She will face rejection over and over and over and over. She will be scarred by it. It will leave a mark and mar her in many ways I’ll never be able to prevent or anticipate. I myself will probably inflict rejection on her in ways I don’t recognize. Rejection will probably be the defining characteristic of her life outside of Christ, just as it was mine.

But the earlier and sooner and stronger I can help her grasp His acceptance – that will make all the difference.

Acceptance. That will be the thing that draws her to Christ. That will be the thing that cements her when the sand of this world shifts. I have prayed since birth over my girls “let them love you with all their hearts” and it is true I want them to, not because I want them to share my religion, but because I want them to love the God who accepts them. Who loves them with a perfect, everlasting love.  I want that healing to begin in their hearts. I want them to know that acceptance. I want them to bask in the light of that love.

Acceptance is at the core of what I believe. It is at the core of what has changed me. And it is at the core of what I want to pass on in this rejection-happy world. May God help me live it and share it with those around me.

Walking Through Hard.

I can always tell when a blog post is churning. These threads float around in my head and I know when I sit down that they will somehow come together as I write. It feels like straining at those pictures that eventually jump out at you, and often for me I finish the blog with comfort that I desperately needed as I began to write.

This week I keep thinking about what we do when things are hard, or confusing. The world has the perspective that hard = bad, especially in this comfort-seeking society we live in.

But we as Believers in Christ know that our reality is different. For us, hard can often mean right. (Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24)

For example, let’s take the topic of having children. When it comes to children, our society seems to have the perspective that children are expensive and time-consuming, and they limit your freedom. I read an article written by Ben Stein for CNN Money, that I couldn’t believe wasn’t satire, that talked about the diminishing return of investment in children, and how that is justification for the declining birth rate in our nation. Let that sink in for a second. If you don’t think that has major implications and explains where we are as a society, you are wrong.

But it plays out on a micro level as well as a macro level. I have had people treat us like the Duggars for our 3 children, and when I’ve mentioned that we want to adopt more a person rather close to me said, “Why would you adopt when you can’t even take care of your own three?” I guess in her mind since we don’t live extravagant lives and our children don’t get everything they want, we aren’t caring for them. Like living in our home is worse than whatever orphanage those kids currently occupy. It was a bizarre moment for me.

Because a Biblical world view doesn’t see children as too hard to take on. As a Christian, valuing children based on their benefit to our lives isn’t an option. They aren’t just an investment that we can measure on a graph. A Christian values children because God told us to. We take the Bible seriously when it says “Children are a blessing and a gift” (Psalm 127:3).

I look at each of my girls and tears press against my eyes as I see their value. There is no limit to how precious they are. Yes, parenting three children is HARD. One is climbing up me now as I type this (so blame her for any and all typos). When we adopt it will be HARD. Some days, marriage is HARD. Ministry is HARD. Faith is HARD. Eating well is HARD. Friendship is HARD. Taking time for Sabbath is HARD. But that doesn’t mean any of it is wrong.

Every year there is a lesson that the Lord seems to teach me over and over. I think this year’s message is this:

Just because it is hard doesn’t mean it is wrong, or I am bad at it.

If I’ve learned anything in 25+ years of faith and 15+ years in ministry, it’s how complicated and confusing and downright hard the Christian life can be. And all the clichés about faith that I’ve heard most of my life are patently false.

God won’t give you more than you can handle. False.

God wants to bless you because He wants you to be happy. Nope.

Those are sweet ideas. They make excellent crocheted pillows. But they aren’t the Christian life.

The Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus went to pray and sweated blood before his crucifixion.

The Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus went to pray  before his crucifixion.

Maybe you’re like me, and things are just hard in life now. And even the options to get out of where you are seem hard. It can feel pretty lonely in that place, and pretty forgotten.

But we serve a God who gets it. He took the path through Gethsemane, He gave up the comforts of heaven, He was spit on and mocked and beaten and whipped and eventually killed.

It was hard, but it was also good. Jesus saved humanity when He faithfully walked through the hard. And he asks us to follow him, keep walking, and trust him.

Keep walking. Try to trust. Turn to Him. Sometimes that is all we can do. And I have to believe God will redeem it.

Lord, you know well I am a self-reliant, pull-myself-up-by-my-bootstraps kind of person. I hate to fail. I hate when things are hard. And lately, there’s been all kinds of hard. I fail daily. And I confess anger toward you sometimes over how hard things are. Sometimes I feel abandoned. But I know those feelings are not the end of the story. I know you have not forgotten us or abandoned us. Please forgive me for all the times I’ve doubted you because it’s hard. Forgive me for all the times I’ve doubted me when it is hard. I trust you. I don’t know what’s next. I don’t know a way out. But I trust you. We need you – and I know that is good. I’m thankful that you never leave or forsake me. Thank you for doing the impossibly hard work of purchasing my redemption. Thank you for every single thing in our world that is hard. I know you have a purpose in every moment, and I wait for you. Please be near to us even in the hard circumstances of our lives. 

With Eyes Fixed

My youngest daughter, Lucy, is an active, exploring four month-old. We love this stage, where you can see on her little face her focus and concentration as she learns about the world around her. I also love this stage because she is showing signs of attachment to me as her mom.

photo-21She will be looking around, checking out her surroundings, and something loud will startle her or scare her. If I am in the room, she will turn to me and stare into my eyes before she reacts. If I look at her, smile at her, talk to her in a sing-song voice, and draw her close, she will smile and return to what she was doing because she knows she is safe. If I don’t give her my attention or draw her close, her bottom lip will stick out and she will begin to cry. It is the sweetest thing. This is a very healthy sign of her attachment to me and her understanding that I am a secure base from which she can explore her world (see Bowlby’s attachment theory).

I was thinking about this today and saw a definite correlation to what I, as an adult, look to when I am afraid. I will be going about my day, busy exploring my world… and something scary will happen. Government shutdown. A terror attack in a major city. An unexpected expense. Something in one of my kid’s behavior that seems abnormal. And it unsettles me – it makes me anxious. The fear starts to spiral.

Until I look into the eyes of my Father. Until I remember that He is in control, that my days are in His hands, and that I have a destiny beyond this world. Then I can calm down, secure in the fact that the God of the universe protects me.

Every time I find myself frantic and anxious it is an indicator that I have forgotten to look to my Father. That I have left my primary attachment relationship. When I am making lists and plans, trying to mitigate all the negative circumstances in our lives, feeling alone and abandoned, my fear defines me.  But when I check in with Him first and settle my heart with the knowledge that He is FOR ME, suddenly the very real, and very scary things in our world lose their power to define me.

I need to fix my eyes. I need to seek His comfort. I need to let His Spirit remind me that I am His, and I have no reason to fear. I need to learn from my little Lucy and look to my Protector.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ESV

The Remedy

Courtesy longwood.edu

Courtesy longwood.edu

I read an article in a Worship Leader magazine today that really impacted me. It was a story about a woman in her late 60s who was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure after several months of shortness of breath, weakness, and feeling shaky. Her doctor explained to her the function of the heart: that the ventricles which are responsible for pumping blood throughout the body must also relax in order to be refilled after each pump. For her, disease had hardened her ventricles and her heart was no longer able to relax and receive the quantity of blood she needed to pump out. So fluid was getting backed up in her body and her life was in jeopardy even though her heart was technically pumping with strength. The magazine used her story to illustrate the need for rest and silence in our spiritual life, and it hit home with me.

I am a wife, mom of three, a student finishing my degree, and a very part-time producer. I have been proud of myself for my ability to juggle all of these balls and get it all done. I have started cooking more, and am breastfeeding my baby girl – both things I had longed to do. Tasks and projects keep getting added to my agenda and I am getting a good portion of them done (and doing a decent job at squashing the guilt from the things I just can’t get to).  It’s not pretty – but I’m working hard and accomplishing quite a bit more than I ever thought I could. So I should feel really accomplished. But I feel tired, out of breath, weak, and shaky. My eyes fill with tears at the strangest times.

I keep looking to my husband to help make me feel better. Maybe he can take me on more dates, or bring me flowers, or write me a sweet note. But he’s busy (his task-list each week rivals or surpasses mine), and I still need more. So I go to church, thinking that just one more worship service, a chance to raise my hands in praise, a sermon that will inspire and convict will get me back on track. But so often I leave church in tears. I still feel crummy. It was exhausting getting our kids up and getting them there, the baby was restless in service so I heard about a fourth of it, and it just didn’t do the trick.

Today when I read the article it hit me. I am a girl in congestive heart failure. I am pumping out as fast and furious as I can, but I’m not filling up. I can’t get a deep breath. I am shaky.

When you are diagnosed with CHF, the goal is to get the blood efficiently moving through the heart again. This means, if possible, reversing the damage to the ventricle so that it can relax and fill normally.  You need to get the blood pressure down, the heart rate stabilized, and the fluid balance of the body back to a healthy set point.

But for people like us, in spiritual congestive heart failure? What is the remedy?

Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself…  Psalm 37:7

The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent. Exodus 14:14

And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. Isaiah 32:17

There are good reasons why Justin and I do all of the things we do. We think each one is necessary for our family’s survival and right now I can’t think of one thing that I can drop without serious consequences. But I think we need to look to Jesus as our example. There was nobody in history with a more vital purpose on earth. He literally came to seek and save that which was lost. His mission was to redeem humanity yet the Bible is clear He took time away to pray and sit in silence. He slept. He rested. He is never portrayed in Scripture as panicked or frantic. In fact, He was almost always infuriatingly calm.

The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” Mark 6:30 (When Jesus said this people were literally chasing after them – this wasn’t a down time or a break in the schedule.)

How can I think that the things on my list are so important that I don’t have time to rest when I have a Savior with tasks infinitely more important who modeled rest for me? And how have I forgotten the truth that Jesus is all I need so much that I am relying on my husband and church to fill me up when I feel empty? I’ve clearly lost my way here.

Somehow, I have to start receiving from the Lord the rest I need to do the important stuff in my life with health and not just efficiency. I’m not sure exactly what that will look like. I’m not sure what things we need to extricate ourselves from. I’m not sure what balls I need to just let fall to the ground despite the consequences. But I’m planning to sit here for a bit in silence until the Lord reveals it. Because I feel like I can’t take a deep breath, and I know living in spiritual CHF is not God’s best for me, my husband, or my kids.

The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. Lamentations 3:24-25

“The Safety Talk”

DangerCautionIt is back to school time, and I am starting to prepare my girls for school – my 6-year-old for first grade and my 4-year-old for her last year of pre-K. Part of our routine is a basic safety talk that I try to casually incorporate into our daily life every few months. This morning I read this blog about guarding kids from pornography exposure, and it reminded me how important open lines of communication are with our children. It is our job to guard their little hearts, minds, and bodies. So I thought I’d post what I say in our safety talk to start the conversation and maybe some of you can share how your family communicates to protect your children.

The Safety Talk

I always start by making sure the conversation is casual, positive, and straightforward. I let the girls know many times during the talk that they can ask any question they want as we go. Here is what we cover:

1. We review the proper names for each part of their bodies, and talk about how our body is our own property. In our family we began using informal names for body parts when they were little, but we have been slowly transitioning to the correct anatomical terms for each part as they’ve gotten older. So sometimes there is giggling when we talk about the vagina, penis, and anus, but we want the girls to know and use the proper terms for each body part. Research has shown that pedophiles typically use pet names for genitalia, and as our children grow older we can teach them to be alert to manipulation and grooming by a potential predator, as well as we will notice if they suddenly change what they are calling their body parts.

2. We talk about the difference between boys’ bodies and girls’ bodies. Sometimes this can get derailed, as can any conversation with a 4 and 6-year-old, and I just keep it light. I am trying here to establish open lines of communication, even about potentially embarrassing topics, to get them to come to me with questions instead of going to Google or to friends.

3. We discuss what to do if someone tries to touch our bodies or make us touch theirs (say no loudly, try to get away, immediately tell a safe adult). We discuss that nobody has the right to touch our bodies unless it is mommy or a doctor, and then only if something is wrong and if they give permission. As they get older, obviously this will transition to include the Sex Talk.

4. We discuss what to do if an adult tries to show us their body or look at our body (say no loudly, try to get away, immediately tell a safe adult). We gear this specifically to deal with adults, just to prevent them from yelling “danger!” in the girls bathroom at school. (As a funny aside, I asked my 4-year-old what to do if an adult tries to show her his penis, and she said, very seriously, “We tell Jesus.” I laughed and said, “Yes, we do tell Jesus, on our way as we run to tell a safe adult!”)  We also discuss what to do if a friend or neighbor asks us to pull down our panties or to show our panties (one of my daughters has already been asked this by a neighbor, and I was surprised when talking to friends to find out how common this is, which prompted this addition to the safety talk). I am not wanting to develop shame about their bodies, but I want to teach them privacy, empower them to say no, and let them know that they have control over their own body.

5. We discuss how to recognize safe adults. I tell them that in a store or at church, a safe adult is usually someone like a mother with children, a police officer, or an adult woman they trust. Instead of teaching “stranger danger” we try to empower them to find and utilize safe adults when necessary. We practice confidently telling an adult what just happened and what we need. Our goal here is to give our kids a voice and teach them to speak up for themselves.

6. We also talk about unsafe adults. We define unsafe adults as people who tell them to keep a secret from mommy and daddy, people who make them feel uncomfortable or who treat them in a strange way, or people who try to isolate them from the group. We teach them to never go anywhere alone with an adult unless mommy and daddy have given permission and are fully aware of where they are at all times. Our goal is to develop in our children discernment, not fear. A Facebook commenter talked about how her family uses a passphrase to help her kids know when someone is picking them up that they weren’t expecting, which I thought was a great idea. Her comment reminded me of another thing I tell my children, that I will never send anyone to pick you up who you do not know, so if someone tries to tell you that – they are lying.

7. We discuss basic emergency procedures. They love this part. I let them practice calling 911 on my phone and they know how to use our alarm system at home to summon the police and fire department. I have them practice what they would say to the person who answers, including reciting their name, our address, and mommy and daddy’s name. We practice how to call their dad and their grandmother in an emergency if something is wrong and I am not able to help them.

This talk will get more complex as they grow older, and especially so once they begin to utilize social media and the internet. If your children are already there, here is one resource I have found and here is a blog I thought was very compelling about social media dangers for children. Jen Wilkin also wrote a great blog about talking to our kids about bad words they have heard, opening the door to them discussing these things with us and not other people. Again our goal with these talks is two-fold: give them information to keep them safe, and open up honest fearless communication so that they will always come to us first, not last.

Nothing can fully protect children from predators, but with open communication, knowledgable kids, and a ton of prayer, I feel more confident sending my babies into the world. What do you experienced parents have to add to this list?

Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in His commands. His children will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Psalm 112:1-2