Riding the Pendulum

My oldest sister left for college when I was four years old. I remember that, as well as one of her first visits home a few weeks later. She was bringing friends home, and I was instructed by my mother not to show off for her guests.

But here’s the thing—I honestly didn’t know what “showing off” meant. But, because I was a four-year-old living in a house full of adults, I usually understood these things. I had also already internalized a lesson I grew to appreciate as I got older: when you don’t understand something, keep quiet about it. If you start asking too many questions, they may decide you’re too young for the conversation and send you out of the room. The best information comes when they forget you’re there and start talking freely.

So the friends arrived. They fussed over me for a little while, then got distracted by talking to each other. Desperate to swing the conversation back over to ME, I grabbed a toy off my bed (which was, ironically, a pillow shaped like a hot dog on a bun), and walked casually through the living room. My second-oldest sister pulled me aside and informed me that I was showing off. It was truly a light-bulb moment for me. Oh, so THAT’S what “showing off” means. I remember then hiding in my room in embarrassment. I’m sure, though, my humiliation was short-lived, and I regrouped enough to display further brattiness over the course of the weekend.

I hope to have a more developed post on this idea up at OOTO on Monday, but I’ve been thinking about how our lives swing between wanting people to look at us, then hiding in shame when they do.

Besides that, you can only fit so many anecdotes into one blog post, so this one is going here.

I have a lot of other examples of this. Some of them aren’t that interesting; many of them can’t be shared. There are times when I have embarrassed myself so badly I thought it would be fatal (or perhaps just wished it would be fatal). There are times when I have been too timid for my own good. Some of those things had serious consequences. In others, circumstances arose that prevented me from creating too much of a disaster.

We are determined to mess up our lives. We are either scrambling for attention or hiding in shame. But God is in ultimately in control. He is sovereign over all. And even if his intervention might not mean a lot to the world at large, it often means a great deal to us personally.

Mourning With Those Who Mourn

During college, I worked at a large hospital in the city of St. Louis. The neighborhood seems better now, but at the time it was one of the most dangerous in the city.

Late one night, I was heading for my car in the parking garage. I stepped on the parking garage elevator as a man was stepping off.

The doors were just starting to close when the man whirled around and wedged his body between the two doors. Terrified, I cowered against the back of the elevator and gasped. I was too scared to scream. In less than a second, I imagined all sorts of awful outcomes.

The man instantly realized how his actions appeared. His face softened. “Sorry,” he said. He backed out of the elevator and let me continue alone.

Once I calmed down, it became clear what had really happened. He had simply forgotten something in his car and needed to go back. He had no plans to harm me. When he saw my distress, he kindly chose to wait for another elevator so I wouldn’t be frightened.

And before I write further, I should probably mention that the man in this story was white.

With the news out of Ferguson, I’ve been thinking a lot about my seven years in St. Louis. I’ve wondered about several of my former coworkers who lived in the North County suburbs. When I later worked for a retail chain, I even filled in a few times at a store in Ferguson. It was a quiet there then, nothing like what’s being portrayed in the media.

While I was still working at the hospital, a black coworker mentioned she would be stopping at a nearby grocery store after work. I warned her to be careful. A friend had been loading her groceries there one afternoon when a man got in her car with a gun and told her to drive. She was lucky that all he wanted was a ride. My coworker shook her head. “I’m safe there, because I belong in that neighborhood. You and your friends don’t.”

Another time, another coworker and her husband were looking for a house. I mentioned a new subdivision I had driven by in the south part of the county. She laughed. “Me, live down there? That’s hilarious.”

And that was the thing. We worked together, ate lunch together, laughed together, and discussed our lives together. But after work, they would drive north, and I would drive south. Unless your workplace was integrated, you could spend most of your days interacting with only those of your own race. I’ve seen a lot of racism, and most of it started with ignorance. We can’t cure ignorance if we’re not interacting.

I think of another friend, white, whose son was murdered. Yes, his own bad choices had put him in that place on that night, but that’s not what we talked about. I didn’t shrug because he wasn’t making a valuable contribution to society anyway. I mourned the loss, both of life and potential. I could be that grieving parent. That’s what we do when something happens to teenagers who look like my son. We aren’t so quick tell ourselves that it won’t happen to our kids, because we know it could.

The gospel requires us to take an honest look at the evil we harbor in our hearts. Becoming a follower of Christ means we set aside our self-righteousness and trade it for the only thing that can make us right with God—the righteousness of Jesus Christ. That great exchange discussed in 1 Corinthians 5:21 has implications for all of eternity (1 Corinthians 15:19), but the change it effects, that future perfection that we long for (Romans 8:23), begins here (Romans 6:4–5). It begins imperfectly, and we still fail, but it begins. So, how should the gospel inform our thinking about Ferguson?

We Can Be Honest About Sin

The gospel strips away any hope of self-justification. Self-justification is the only hope of the non-believer, but we have something better—something that actually works. We don’t have to be afraid when sin is exposed, because that’s when the light can shine in (Ephesians 5:13–14, Psalm 112:7).

What sin am I referring to here (i.e. Which “side” am I on)? All of it. The sin of racism. The sin of violence. The sin of injustice. The sin of using a tragedy for personal gain. The sin of half-truth. The sin of covering up. We should rejoice at the truth, even if it hurts our “side” and forces us to rethink our position on certain issues.

We Can Be Honest About Death

Death is the enemy (1 Corinthians 15:24–26). Our society often tries to sugarcoat it by saying “it’s a natural part of life” or mock it by making it entertainment. But when death separates us from the ones we love, we mourn. We don’t need anyone to explain that this shouldn’t be so, because we feel it in the wrenching of our souls. When a believer dies, we do have the comfort of knowing they are with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8), but even then we still grieve.

We Can Be Honest About Our Unworthiness

We don’t deserve our salvation. We can’t do anything to earn it. We can’t make ourselves worthy of the grace of God. That unworthiness then affects how we view others.

Sometimes, like in the story of the Good Samaritan, it means helping the hurting at personal cost. The Good Samaritan didn’t evaluate if the injured man deserved his fate. He didn’t weigh whether the injured man would properly appreciate his help. He just helped. Helping someone is a journey of many steps; the first is not looking away.

Michael Brown was created in the image of God. That alone makes his death a tragedy. His death is a tragedy whether he was an honor student or a criminal. Measuring a person’s worth by their contribution to society is the same evil that gave birth to eugenics and Nazism. It’s the same evil used to justify abortion and assisted suicide. Mourning the death of Michael Brown doesn’t automatically condemn the officer’s actions any more than mourning the murder of my friend’s son celebrates drug deals made in back alleys.

I think back to the man on the parking garage elevator. I jumped to the wrong conclusion that night. But it was a conclusion based solely on that man’s actions, not his race. As long as white people are hitting the locks on their car doors just because a black man is walking by, we still have a problem in this country. As long as we have groups of people who have been silenced so often that they expect it, we have work to do.

The problems in St. Louis started generations ago. They won’t be fixed in a day. But we need to stop looking away. We need to stop telling ourselves why it won’t happen to our kids and realize that it’s only by the grace of God if it doesn’t. Then we need to weep with those who weep.

I’ve decided to keep the comments closed on this one. Thanks for understanding.

When trials surprise us

Out of the OrdinaryIt’s my turn at Out of the Ordinary today:

I was talking with a friend about various trials we sometimes encounter. “It’s the surprises that get me,” she said. “The things that come up when you assumed everything was fine, only to realize they weren’t.” I knew exactly what she meant. Such trials feel like a punch in the stomach, and I’m often sent reeling and gasping for breath.

Join me over there as I talk about When Life Leaves You Reeling.

More Than Just the Here and Now

Out of the OrdinaryIt’s my turn at Out of the Ordinary today.

But I am still far too invested in the here and now. Things like home repairs, college costs, and taxes loom large in my mind. So much so that I can even forget that our testimonies are not just stories for this world, but part of God’s eternal glory.

Join me over there!

Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl

BoyCrazyGirlHello. My name is Staci, and I used to be a boy-crazy girl. So was Paula Hendricks, but she has taken her story and done a great service to young Christian girls.

Part personal account and part gentle encouragement, Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl explores the struggle many single women have: how to desire the good gift of a husband without letting that desire rule you. Drawing often from her own journal entries, Paula tells of times when she thought she’d found The One, only to have her hopes dashed—and how she had to learn afresh to trust God in all things. Her story is honest and real, and I saw a lot of myself in it.

This is a hard subject to keep in balance, and you can fall off the fence on either side. Some writers, trying to communicate that Jesus is sufficient, wind up remaking Jesus in our image. Rather than depicting him as our Savior, he becomes an ideal, imaginary boyfriend (a subject my friend Persis recently tackled so well). This teaching borders on blasphemy, and it’s time to put it to rest. I am so glad Paula didn’t go there.

And while she emphasizes that God is sovereign—even over our love lives—she doesn’t verge off into stoicism. Marriage is a good gift, and women are not ungodly if they want this. Women are free to ask God to fulfill this desire; the struggle is not allowing it to consume them.

What I also appreciated about Paula’s story was how it doesn’t end with how she finally let go and God sent the perfect guy. She is, in fact still single (she might not appreciate that quite as much as me). Although it does sometimes happen that way, it can imply that Mr. Right will come if you just stop wanting him to. As a result, rather than encouraging honestly wrestling with God in prayer, it becomes a reverse psychology mind game. This leads to a low view of God and his goodness.

And that’s Paula’s story: turning back to God over and over again. Realizing afresh how easily her mind can dart ahead to an imagined future with a guy she’s only just met. It’s a common tendency among women, and one that men don’t seem to understand.

This book will mostly appeal to young women college age and younger. I also wouldn’t hesitate to hand it to younger teenagers, and I think it could trigger some great conversations between mothers and daughters. I would like to mention, though, that at one point in Paula’s story she had to explore her position on marriage after divorce. Her conclusions might differ from those of your church leadership. If your daughter is younger, you may want to be ready to have that discussion (which we should be doing anyway).

I highly recommend this book. There is a lot of bad teaching on this subject, and it’s a great joy to see it handled so well.

I also have a sign copy of Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl to give away. To be placed in the drawing, please enter your name and email address in the form below. I will draw the winner a week from today on February 21, 2014.

For more information about Paula and Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl, visit her webiste.

I received a copy of this book for review purposes. This review reflects my honest opinion.

Status Report: February

Status ReportSitting…at my desk.

Drinking…coffee. This won’t be my last cup today.

Debuting…my new blog look. What do you think? I still want to adjust some things, but I’ve looked at it so long I can’t make up my mind anymore. I’m going to let it simmer for a few days.

Trying…to wake up. Last Monday we got an inch or so of snow/sleet mix, with a layer of freezing rain to cement it all together. The result was a hard, icy shell. And then it stayed below freezing. Sheets of ice make the gravel roads in our rural school district too much for buses, so school was out all last week. It feels very much like the first day back after Christmas break.

Wondering…how the poor teachers are going to fare today. And what our eleven snow days (so far) will do to the school calendar.

Noticing…that more snow is on the way. I typically don’t mind winter. This year might be the exception.

Lamenting…that my productivity plummets during snow days. I seem to think the only thing to do when snow is on the ground is sit and sip coffee. Which works better when the snow melts in less than 48 hours.

Reading…Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl by Paula Hendricks. I wish that book had been around 25+ years ago. I’ll have a review and giveaway up tomorrow, Lord willing.

Excited…about Cruciform’s March release. I’ve liked them all, but this one, geared to women, is special. I hope Grace Is Free blesses other women as much as it’s blessed me.

Noticing…that it’s time to get up and get going. Happy Monday!

Links I’ve Liked

I Don’t Have to Read the Book or See the Movie to Know Heaven is Real by Nancy Guthrie – “Isn’t it interesting that Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament, did not include details about what he saw in his personal guided tour of heaven and said, in fact, that it should not be talked about?”

Don’t Give My Husband Romance Lessons, Thank You by Kim Shay – “I am not an overly romantic person, and that’s good, because my husband isn’t the type, either. And that’s okay with us. If he was to sit down, at candlelight, look into my eyes, and recite poetry, we’d both end up laughing.”

7 Signs You’re Reading a Book by a Prosperity Preacher by Aaron Armstrong – “God is Not Mad at You, Reposition Yourself, Your Best Life Now, Become a Better You, It’s Your Time… I’m noticing a trend here. Someone’s a pretty big deal, and apparently that someone is me.”

The motivation for sound doctrine

DugDownDeep

For different reasons many Christians in my generation and older generations are leery of too much emphasis on doctrine. They have come to equate doctrine with church splits, hate mail, arrogance, and angry diatribes. They have seen how easy it is for life-giving truths to be reduced to empty formulas. No wonder that, for them, Christian doctrine can seem more hindrance than help when it comes to cultivating a vibrant relationship with Jesus.

I understand. If my heart is cold toward God, I can turn the most precious truth into an end in itself or a weapon to attack others. This is part of the reason I find the story of the wise builder so instructive. It reminds me that doctrine isn’t about me or my little tribe. Jesus said that the person who digs down to the rock is the one who comes to him. This has to be the first and final motivation. Pursuing orthodoxy and sound doctrine has to begin with a heart drawing close to Jesus—not to a theological system, denomination, or book.

– Joshua Harris, Dug Down Deep, page 30.