A Bold, Crafty Devil

Between wiping my beagle’s bottom, wiping the kitchen floor and standing outside in the cold while she strains to go, I’m writing my sermon for this Sunday.  I hear you Baptists gasping.  Some of you.

We follow the Liturgical Calendar at the church I attend and this Sunday, the first Sunday of Lent, is all about temptation.

And since the WordPress word of the day is “doubt,” I thought I’d share a little of what I’m writing – just to put Jesus on the grid.

I’m highlighting the crafty tools the devil uses to tempt us, reruns of the ways he tempted Jesus.

One such crafty tool is doubt.

“Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,

so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”  – Matthew 4

Jesus was tired. He was weak. He was forty days fasted. But He wasn’t stupid. And He had no doubt.

“Are you kidding me?,” He replied. “‘If you are the Son of God’? Please. What did my Father say right back there at the end of chapter 3, right before you led me into this God-forsaken wilderness? I’ll give you a hint:  ‘This is my Son!”? [paraphrase, italics, bold, underline and exclamation point mine.]

Jesus wasn’t stupid, but we are. Sometimes.  He didn’t doubt, but we do. Often. He had nothing to prove, but we think we do.  And that’s when the temptation to lie, cheat, claw, and shamelessly promote ourselves while holding others back does its best.

This particular trick of the devil’s trade – doubt – probably hits teenagers the hardest.  They want to know: Do I have what it takes? Am I desirable?

Do I have what it takes to be popular, to be cool, to get a man, to succeed, to make you proud?

That’s all they want to know.

And in seeking the answers to those questions they are enticed to do some foolish and sadly sleazy things.

Beat the devil at his game.  Instead of fasting from something this Lent, take something on. Take on the challenge of telling your teens – in big, small, creative and crafty  ways – every day for the next 40 days – that they DO have what it takes, that they ARE desirable – to everyone who does and will matter.

Tell them in ways that aren’t obvious. Tell them in ways that are true.

Tell them, tell them, tell them.

And leave no doubt.

I’m not going to say all this on Sunday ‘cuz I’ve got other stuff to say, but the word of the day got me elaborating.

Who’s had a paczke?



Cake and Ice Cream

Back in June my daughter shared a bit of local news:

A woman drop-kicked a birthday cake at Kroger because it didn’t turn out as she imagined.

When they couldn’t fix it to her liking she pushed her way behind the bakery counter and attempted to fix it herself. She was then told she could not be in the food prep area so she took her cake, headed toward the front door and then… you know.

“They ruined my son’s birthday,” she yelled, as she stomped on the cake.

“Whoa!,” I commented, “There’s a lot more there to ruin that child’s birthday than the cake.”

Wound tight and wound cheap.

If your Batman vs. Superman cake HAS to be perfect in order for your 7-year-old’s birthday party to be anything but ruined, you order from Charm City Cakes, not Kroger.

Kroger prices and reasonable Kroger expectations do not warrant drop-kicking anything.

Charm City expectations and prices – airfare and all – do not warrant drop-kicking anything either for that matter. But disappointment would be understandable.

If your Batman vs. Superman cake HAS to be perfect in order for you to give the illusion that you are the perfect mom and/or the perfect birthday party thrower, then you need some perspective. And a very large chill pill.

We shrugged and laughed – another high maintenance customer. Sightings are frequent around here.

I chalked it up to a frayed rope; the straw that broke the camel’s back.

But today she is back in the news.

Last summer she smacked a worker in an ice cream parlor because they didn’t have the flavor she wanted. Just smacked and ran. No birthday party pressure that day. Stopping for an ice cream cone – alone – has got to be about as pressure free as it gets.

Eleven months later the manager of the ice cream shop read a newspaper article about the Kroger incident and recognized the assailant as the same woman from the attack in her shop.


The look on her attorney’s face says it all.

You can see the ice cream surveillance tape here: Cake and ice cream.

What the heck?

I was in the customer service line at Walmart one day a few years ago. A man was trying to return a television set.  He had no box, just the TV- the old, heavy, hard-to-get-your-arms-around kind.

The young woman behind the counter explained that the TV could not take be returned because Walmart no longer sells that particular television – hasn’t for years.

The man did a lot of yelling, grabbed the TV off the counter and took a few steps toward the door.

Suddenly he turned, walked briskly back, flung the TV over the customer service counter while yelling, “It doesn’t do me any good if it doesn’t work!” and then stormed out.

I don’t know whether he was stopped on his way out or whether the very young customer service worker was too stunned to react, but he should have been. He should have been charged with disorderly conduct, with disturbing the peace – my peace – and for destruction of property.  He should have been made to sweep up the broken glass.

My friend, Helen, used to run impulse-control groups at a prison on Saturdays.  (Just imagine that for a minute – a woman alone in a room with a group of men who lack impulse control.)

According to her, lack of impulse control is a huge issue among inmates. Well, yeah.

At the bond hearing for the ice cream assault, the judge said the woman is not allowed to own a firearm or any sort of weapon.

So now I’m wondering a few things:

  1. At what developmental stage is impulse control acquired?
  2. What factors prevent acquiring it?
  3. Is there a test for impulse control – or lack thereof – that could be administered before the issuing of a gun license.  Not that those who lack impulse control would have the patience to apply for a gun license. Or the self-control to refrain from striking the person who denied it.

All this over cake and ice cream.

The world has gone mad.


My heart is broken today.

Experts say the minimum age to allow your children to start dating is 16. Those who start dating before they are 16 are much more likely to become sexually active before graduating from high school than those who start dating after age 16.

But I gave my daughter something better than a minimum age, back when she was in high school, I gave her a minimum standard. I told her she could start dating when she was mature enough to hold another person’s heart in her hands without wrecking it.

It takes a lot of love and maturity to be truly careful with someone’s heart.

I wish ALL mommas would teach their children to hold hearts with the utmost care.

To not use and abuse.

To not bide their time in a “lie.”

To see the holding of another’s heart as a precious, sacred privilege.

I wish ALL young men would take the same care that my daughter takes.

My friend Dale used to say that he could tell within 3 dates whether a woman was right for him. If he wasn’t feeling “it” by the third date he would end things right then, before the woman’s heart became attached.

By “it” he meant potential marriage.

If most men know within 3 dates whether or not a woman is right for them, then anything beyond a third date is just plain selfish.

And reckless.

Because you can’t detach an attached heart without doing some damage, without leaving some scar tissue.

It seems so unfair that a beautiful, kindhearted young woman, who has always held the hearts of others so carefully, has had her own heart smashed into a thousand pieces.

The only thing that comes close to the excruciating, soul-crushing pain of a breakup is watching someone you love walk through it.

Even when you can see a bright future ahead.

Next time a young man comes along I’m going to want to advise her to bail after the third date.  Make him work for it. Make him prove he really wants her before she allows him into her heart.

I’m going to want to build a protective hedge around her.

But then I’ll think about my husband and how impressed I was that he was brave enough to open his heart to me after all he had been through.

And I’ll remember that Jesus knows something about giving one’s heart to the reckless, the clueless, the unworthy.

And yet He keeps taking the risk.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18





Silence Hates

Linda over at Just Writing! wrote about the fallout from our country’s crisis of faith.  As a counselor, she sees much devastation from our casual and ignorant attitudes toward sex.

As an abstinence speaker, former social worker and former crisis pregnancy center director, I’ve seen the devastation, too.

So I added my amen to her post by leaving this comment:

99.99% 0f all cervical cancer is caused by strains of HPV.  There is a rise in mouth and throat cancers due to the epidemic of HPV. There is a link between breast cancer and aborting a first pregnancy.

Some of us think God is a killjoy.  God is a protector.

Some think God punishes sin. God protects from sin.

If a mom tells her two year old not to touch a hot stove, it’s not to spoil her two year old’s fun.

If the two year old touches the hot stove anyway and gets burned, the burn is not a punishment for disobedience, it’s a consequence of not heeding her mother’s protective warning.

Foolish people.  We aren’t sheep without a shepherd, we HAVE a Shepherd. We’re sheep with wool over our eyes.

Do yourself a favor. Do your kids a favor. Do your country a favor.  Educate yourself. Educate them.  You can start here: Public Service Announcement: It Ought to Come with a Warning.

And then speak up. Speak up and Love.




A Mighty Four-Year-Old Fist

She sat, legs outstretched, hair towel-wrapped, back against the wall, on her bed in a rented house in the historic part of town. An old house near the tracks, just barely safe, just barely respectable, just barely far enough away from the drunks in the flophouse. Her out of place sophistication and beauty did not go unnoticed by the beer guzzling neighbors on her right and on her left.

She called her little house the meat in a redneck sandwich. It was a temporary dwelling, until she got back on her feet.

She was on the phone, midway through a dreary conversation, when her daughter appeared beside the bed and took the receiver from her hand.  Clenching her little four-year-old-fist she spoke into the mouthpiece loud and clear:

“I want to know why you don’t live with us anymore!”

There was a pause. She held her breath wondering how he would answer. She wanted to know, too.

His stern reply came through loud enough for her to hear:

“Put your mother back on.”

She was stunned. Stunned by the courage and stunned by the cowardice.

That sweet, gentle, smart little girl with the impressive vocabulary had a question brewing in her little heart that her mom knew nothing about.  It had been over a year since her father left, and she was just now asking it.

Perhaps it took more than a year to muster the courage. Perhaps at two-and-a-half she didn’t know what to ask.  Perhaps she hadn’t noticed, until she was four, that the dads of other kids lived with them, so why didn’t he? Perhaps she had thought he was away for a while and the while had grown too long.

“I’m just as surprised as you are,” she replied after being berated for putting their daughter up to it, “and someday you are going to have to answer her question.”

Courage inspires. Cowardice disappoints.

Sitting on her bed, receiver back in its cradle, she was disappointed.

The only answer she had ever gotten when she had asked the question was, “Marriage isn’t what I thought it was going to be and I don’t want it anymore.”

But in that breath-held moment she hoped he would muster enough courage of his own to give his daughter a gentle, truthful, more specific answer. Or at least a gentle, truthful promise to talk with her about it later, in person, when he wasn’t caught so off-guard.

But he chose angry defensiveness instead. He chose his discomfort over his daughter’s brave, vulnerable, broken, suddenly demanding little heart.

Sitting on her bed, receiver back in it’s cradle, she was inspired, impressed, in awe.

Her little girl was BRAVE.  Her little girl was going to be okay in life. Her little girl had the courage to ask tough questions, to risk anger and disappointment, to speak up. Her little girl had the courage to ask for something more than the status quo.

He never answered his daughter’s question with words, but he answered it.

He answered it in the choice of his second wife, a lovely woman who is kind and nurturing and not the sharpest tool in the box, not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Sometimes she marvels at the fact that he doesn’t appear bothered by the dullness of her bulb.  But, then, she supposes, perhaps that is what he imagined marriage should be.

And (@ANNELAMOTT), if she remembers correctly, his you-know-what was kinda’ small.



Love Wins When We Let God Be God

There is a trend among pastors to make God more palatable, especially to young people, in an effort to entice them back to church.  Theirs is a walk on a tight rope, a deft balancing act.

Wanting to help young people find their way back to church is a noble desire, a noble goal, but the strategy they employ requires them to ignore portions of Scripture in order to reach their goal.  It requires them to labor over slick semantics in their endeavor to beckon the young without losing the old.

Their mission is to prove that God is infinitely, recklessly good.

And God is infinitely, recklessly good.

God was never the problem, the church has been the problem.

Yet the trend appears to be a repackaging of God.

A pastor whom I admire and whom I am growing to love, wrestles with a phrase in the story of David and Bathsheba: “the Lord sent.” The NIV words it like this: “the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill.” (2 Samuel 12:15)

In his wrestling the pastor wrote, “But we also know from the canon–from Scripture read as a whole–and from the tradition that God does not send a disease into an innocent child. All evil is a deprivation of the good and so is a consequence of our turn from Love.”

In that statement lies part of the problem.

First, the whole canon of Scripture does reveal that God sometimes sends things that cause the loss of life of innocent children.  No doubt some of the firstborn Egyptians who died in the Passover plague God sent were children.  No doubt some who were swallowed up in the earthquake God sent as a result of Korah’s rebellion were children.

We know from the whole canon of Scripture that God is good, but we’d have to ignore significant portions of the whole canon of Scripture to say that He never sends harm to a child.

Which brings me to the second problem I see in the statement: “All evil is a deprivation of the good and so is a consequence of our turn from Love.”

Sickness is not evil.  Sickness is a tragic consequence of a corrupted world.

The loss of life is not evil.  Murder/terrorism, such as was committed in Orlando early Sunday morning, is evil.  But the loss of life in itself is not evil. It, too, is a tragic consequence of a corrupted world.

Jesus seems to be less concerned with bodies than He is with souls, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

God is good AND God is hard.

Lots of people quit following Jesus (John 6:53-69) because His teaching about eating His flesh and drinking His blood was too violent for them.  They wanted no part of it.

Jesus didn’t chase after them in order to offer them a sugar-coated alternative. He didn’t chase after them at all. He just let them go.  He said that no one can come to Him (and stick with Him) unless the Father enables them to do so.  Then He asked His disciples, “You don’t want to leave too, do you?”

“Where else would we go,” they answered, “You have the words of life.”

When Peter confessed, “you are the Christ,” Jesus responded, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.

According to Jesus, it does no good to chase young people who are leaving God because His teachings are too hard.  Nothing/no one but God can draw them, keep them, reveal the truth to them.

Chasing after those who are leaving the church may be a different matter.

If the problem is the church, then repackaging the church, not God, might be the key.

Parenting styles.

Anyone who has taken basic psychology or child development or sociology classes knows that parenting styles have been characterized into 4 types:

Authoritative parenting – demanding and responsive – yields healthy results.

Authoritarian parenting – demanding but not responsive, indulgent parenting – responsive but not demanding, and neglectful parenting – not responsive and not demanding, all yield unhealthy results.

God is an authoritative parent.

Here’s what Wikipedia says about authoritative parenting:

Authoritative parenting is characterized by a child-centered approach that holds high expectations of maturity. Authoritative parents can understand how their children are feeling and teach them how to regulate their feelings. Even with high expectations of maturity, authoritative parents are usually forgiving of any possible shortcomings. They often help their children to find appropriate outlets to solve problems. Authoritative parents encourage children to be independent but still place limits on their actions.Extensive verbal give-and-take is not refused, and parents try to be warm and nurturing toward the child. Authoritative parents are not usually as controlling as authoritarian parents, allowing the child to explore more freely, thus having them make their own decisions based upon their own reasoning. Often, authoritative parents produce children who are more independent and self-reliant. An authoritative parenting style mainly results when there is high parental responsiveness and high parental demands.

Authoritative parents will set clear standards for their children, monitor the limits that they set, and also allow children to develop autonomy. They also expect mature, independent, and age-appropriate behavior of children. Punishments for misbehavior are measured and consistent, not arbitrary or violent. Often behaviors are not punished but the natural consequences of the child’s actions are explored and discussed – allowing the child to see that the behavior is inappropriate and not to be repeated, rather than not repeated to merely avoid adverse consequences. Authoritative parents set limits and demand maturity. They also tend to give more positive encouragement at the right places. However, when punishing a child, the parent will explain his or her motive for their punishment. Children are more likely to respond to authoritative parenting punishment because it is reasonable and fair.  A child knows why they are being punished because an authoritative parent makes the reasons known. As a result, children of authoritative parents are more likely to be successful, well liked by those around them, generous and capable of self-determination.

David experienced God this way.

After David raped Bathsheba and killed Uriah, he was miserable. His bones felt like they were wasting away, he groaned all day long, the weight of his guilt was heavy upon him, his strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.

Society at the time may have accepted it as perfectly okay for a king to rape and kill anyone he pleased, but David’s soul knew better, and his soul was not well.

No parent wants to see His child miserable, so being the healthy authoritative Parent that He is, God sent a prophet, Nathan, to help David.

You may know the story.  After Nathan helped David see the wretchedness of his actions, he laid out three consequences.  One of those consequences was the death of his son.

“After Nathan had gone home, the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill.”

Perhaps that bit in bold is the key.  Perhaps God did not permit David to keep the boy because Bathsheba was Uriah’s wife when the boy was conceived.

Perhaps the story is not about David and what God did or did not do to him and his innocent child.

Perhaps the story is about God’s infinite, reckless goodness to the victim.

Perhaps the story is about God’s goodness to Uriah.

I know you’re already reading a lot, but later you can read this if you want to know more about the relationship between David and Uriah.

Scripture tells us that God avenges on our behalf. Like He avenged Abel.

Perhaps the sickness God sent on the boy was His way of avenging the murder of Uriah.

The boy did not die when he died, he went home to his infinitely good Father, who awarded custody of him to his legal dad.

When I look at that little phrase “the Lord sent”  from the victims’ point of view, I don’t have to ignore large portions of Scripture to prove that God is good.  God was very good to Uriah.  And even to Bathsheba, who loved her husband Uriah.

And even to David.  Because laying down consequences demonstrates love and fosters respect.

David pleaded for his son’s life knowing that mercy was within the realm of possibility.  David pleaded with God because in God’s parenting style “extensive verbal give-and-take is not refused.”

David did not hold it against God, or accuse Him of killing his son, when the boy died. He knew that it was his sin that killed his son. Nathan made that clear.

David’s relationship with God was so tight that God likely imparted a deep knowing in his heart.  A knowing that understood the boy wasn’t his. A knowing that understood that God doesn’t allow His children to keep ill-gotten gain.

The Pit and the Pendulum.

The church has historically presented God as authoritarian in order to control behavior. People have fled from that.

To get those people back, the church seems to be swinging its pendulum to the opposite extreme, now presenting God as an indulgent parent.

The authoritarian God of the past was not God and this indulgent parent of the present is not God.

If we truly want to love Love, we have to love all of Him – His holiness as well as His compassion.

We won’t do young people or the church at large any favors if we withhold a single glorious and awful bit of God.



family, love

Tender little Hearts

I’m still thinking about the girl from Thursday.

And I’m wondering whether she overheard an adult blithely say of her older brothers, “They’re probably dead by now.”

Not stopping to think about how those words would affect a young heart.

Where else would she have gotten the notion?

Adults may think, She’s adopted now, she is being provided a good life.

And leave it at that.

But her life didn’t begin with the adoption. There were already people residing in her tender little heart when she arrived. People she cannot forget. People to whom her heart is still connected.

And thank God she cannot forget them.

Thank God her heart is still soft.

But I saw a budding hardness in her pleading eyes.

And I’m praying that it will dawn on someone.

That children are not mini adults.

That they need answers and reassurances.

That no information is worse than unfortunate information.

And that we will all be better at respecting and protecting childhood.


Another Brick in the Wallet

I was looking out over a sea, well, maybe a pond, of beautiful faces.  Clean, fresh, well-mannered, beautiful faces.

We were talking about the dangers that can come at a kid.

A boy in the back raised his hand. A sixth grade boy.

“I used to play with my neighbor all the time.  Then he started looking at that stuff online. Now he never comes outside.”

I caught the eyes of a boy in the center of the room, just to my right, just before he hung his head. I saw it in his eyes.

I told them my friend’s story. The one I told you.

If you have kids, or love kids, you should probably read this, too.

Hey! Billion dollar porn industry! Leave them kids alone! All in all they’re just another bill in your wallet.




life, Light

Totally Depraved?

Your idea of Saturday morning fun may not include reading up on total depravity, but that’s what I did this snowy April morn. (By “reading up” I mean I read the Wikipedia entry.)

Why on earth?

Because I got up at 5 am, fed my friends and then headed to leaders meeting where leader after leader affirmed the doctrine of the total depravity of man. One wonderful leader, a friend, supposed that even during the 1,000 year reign of Jesus (Revelation 20), even with Satan’s lying lips silenced, the behavior of people will spiral out of control.

But where in Scripture does it say that?

When God created mankind, He declared His work, “very good.”

Adam and Eve showed no signs of depravity until the deceiver showed up and, well, deceived them.

There is no mention in Scripture of any sort of rebellion during the 1,000 year reign of Christ. It isn’t until the serpent is released from the Abyss and starts deceiving people again that an army forms and marches against God. I agree that sin is present in every man, but in the beginning (Genesis 3) and in the end (Revelation 20) rebellion needed to be coaxed by deception.

Rebellions need a leader. An instigator.

That’s why who your child hangs out with is important.

That’s why who you listen to is important.

That’s why most – probably all – people have to be radicalized before they commit terrorist atrocities.

I know Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure,” (17:9) but back up your Bible reading bus and look what he said just before that: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man…” (v. 5) “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord…” (v. 7)

So here’s what I want us Christians to do: Check the Scriptures before we promulgate a man made doctrine. See if it’s written in red by Jesus, or in stone by the prophets.

Maybe even check Wikipedia to see where it originated.

And speaking of Saint Augustine, I cannot read or hear his name without being warmed by the memories of my many visits to St. George Street, Flagler College, Castillo de San Marcos, the Alligator Farm and even Fort Matanzas. I’m way past due for a return trip.


St. George St., Saint Augustine, FL photo credit: Evangelio Gonzalez, Creative Commons

Bottom line:  If the doctrine you hold so dear originated with man, take it with a grain of salt. air.

Ahhhh, salt air.


Group Therapy

She came through the back door, removed her backpack and kicked off her shoes.

“Group therapy is intense.”

“What was the topic this week?”


“Oh boy.”

For those who are new to this blog, my daughter is in grad school working on her masters in counseling.  Since her group therapy class began three weeks ago they have discussed their issues with the counseling program, one another and now their mothers.

“There are a lot of bad mothers,” she sighed.

She paused and said, “It’s not so much the things they did that make them so bad, it’s their refusal to own up to them. My classmates’ moms’ versions of their childhoods make them wonder whose house they grew up in.” She paused again and said, “They’re the opposite of you.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know how you sometimes apologize for things that were no big deal?”

“Yeah, that’s because when you hold your baby, you want her life to be perfectly healthy in every way – physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally.  When I first held you, I resolved to do my best to give you a happy, healthy, gentle childhood, to do everything right. Now, when I look back, I realize that I could have done some things better. And when I think of those things, I apologize.”

As an aside, I’ll share one of my regrets right now, for the benefit of those who are still rearing their children:

I wish I had given her chores.

Looking back, I realize that doing chores gives a child a sense of competence. It builds a belief that they have something to contribute.

I didn’t give my daughter chores because, as a single mom, it was quicker and easier to just do it myself. I didn’t give her chores because she was always playing so nicely and quietly in her room and I didn’t want to disturb her creativity.

But now I regret not giving her the opportunity to feel like she had something to contribute, not allowing her to build an early sense of competence, and of being a needed part of the team.

So when we are driving along in the car and my thoughts go there, I apologize.

And she always replies, “But I am competent. And when I lived on my own I knew how to clean my apartment and my house.”

“I know,” I say.

It’s not the skills she is missing. She doesn’t appear to be missing anything, but I still believe there is something to be gained by doing chores as a child, and I wish it had occurred to me then.

Yesterday morning, as my daughter was unloading the dishwasher, we continued our discussion from the night before.

“I guess it comes down to this,” I concluded, ‘the difference between a good mom and a bad mom is not in the mistakes we make, it’s in how we handle them. When you love someone, their feelings are more important to you than saving your own face. So you apologize.”

It’s just too much of a double whammy to be deeply hurt, and then to have the person who hurt you deny it happened – or minimize it – making it abundantly clear that they love their reputation, their pride, their fantasy of who they are way more than they love you.

Love covers a multitude of mistakes.