“Logan” is a Bloody, Beautiful Film

The hubs and I went to the movies last night to see Logan. Obviously, I have something to say about the film since I’m writing a post about it. I actually have lots to say. I’ve been processing what I saw since stepping out of the theater. My analysis may contain spoilers. You’ve been warned.

First, speaking of warnings, I experienced a bit of shock at the door of our little town theater. Taped to the window of the box office was sheet of paper–a home computer printed sign that said,

“Logan is rated R for strong, brutal violence and language throughout, also brief nudity. For this reason, no one under age 6 will be admitted.”

Age 6!!! What??!! Clearly, a sign had to be posted because some ass hats were bringing their young children to see the film.

Let me be clear. This film is NOT appropriate for children under 17. This movie depicts violence reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, which I liked BTW. I’m not against violence in films per say. And the violence in Logan didn’t “bother” me. But in places, it did shock me. As it should. We should be shocked by violence. The whole point of violence in “good” movies is to depict how shocking violence is. It’s not a video game or a comic book. In real life, violence is destructive, awful and is only taken lightly by sociopaths.

Violence in films of this nature appropriately shocks me. It would traumatize a child. So get your shit together people.

Okay. I got that part off my chest. Now let me move on to the beautiful parts of this film. And it is beautiful, IMO.

First, it brims with nostalgia. It’s set in the future. But visions of family farms and prayers at the family dinner table, westerns on TV and antique furniture are some of the Americana on display­–harkening us back to “simpler” times contrasted with self-driving semis and factory farming.

The character of Charles Xavier is the elder in the film, at an advanced age when a deeper appreciation of these simple things in life can mean the most. Reminding us not to wait until our days are nearly over to count our blessings and be still in moments of goodness and grace.

But we delude ourselves if we believe the “good ‘ole days” are the best of days. In the movie, a fallen, rusted water tower becomes a tomb. A symbol (at least to me) of how we can become trapped into believing the past was a safer place. Safety is an illusion. Life is a bitch and mostly always has been.

Xavier’s old age and the advanced middle age of Logan himself are also powerful realities in the film. Getting old is painful. Both characters experience physical pain along with the agony of a lifetime of accumulated regrets. Logan also carries the heavy load of caring for Xavier–a common mid-life experience that many theater-goers with elderly parents can probably relate to. Xavier is both a burden and an occasional source of glorious wisdom. Aging brings humiliation. Logan must help Xavier to the toilet. But love brings humility. In love and honor, we lower ourselves to “wash the feet of others.” The relationship between these two in all its figurative father/son frustration, humor and anguish is really quite beautiful.

All along, a child is watching. If you don’t already know, the plot of the movie is about Logan (a “mutant” comic book superhero, or anti-hero if you prefer, known as Wolverine) being saddled with a young girl who happens to be a “mutant” like him. He is charged with spiriting her to “safety” as she’s being hunted by LOTS of corporate, militant, bounty hunter, evil scientist type bad guys.

This is where we see how the endurance of our hardships as we age is palliated with purpose–preparing children how to live, to be better than we were, with better opportunities, and hopefully, fewer hardships.

As I tell most young mothers, children are not born civilized. That’s our job as parents. To teach kids what kindness, restraint, good manners, respect and gratitude look like.

Laura, the child in the film, like most children, already understands love. She wants to be loved and be bound by love to a caring adult. This isn’t something that needs to be taught, but it does need to be nurtured.

The film also depicts the dark side of human nature. That children innately understand violence, revenge and anger. Without a loving adult (or too often with a broken, violent, angry adult in charge) children learn prejudice, hatred and rage. These things grow like a cancer to consume a person’s soul. The fictional adamantium injected into Logan that “makes” him into Wolverine seems symbolic for this kind of destruction: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.

But caring for a child and for her future is why his character pushes on. It’s why we often push through. It’s why my mother did. It’s likely why your parents did and why many grown-ups are driven to be their better selves–so the young might be better off than we were. In this, we offer hope for the future.

This movie is more than an action film, although there is plenty of action. As most good movies are, Logan is a redemption story. Doing something meaningful with our life, even if life has been pretty shitty to us up to now, has a lasting effect beyond our lifetime and possibly for generations to come. To impart goodness, care and love unto others, even at great cost to us, has redeeming benefits that chips away at evil and shines in the darkness. Sound familiar?

My kids often roll their eyes after seeing a movie with me. (No. I didn’t take my kids to see Logan.) I typically leave a theater searching for scenes that I can link back to the bible for the sake of educational conversation. The redemption plot of Logan doesn’t require much linking. It’s clearly biblical.

Jesus’ sacrificial love for all, should we accept and internalize it, will transform our lives for the better and spread like a cure for the cancer that is hatred and spiritual death. That’s my take-away from this movie. I liked it. A lot.

*It doesn’t hurt that I’m also a big Hugh Jackman fan. Whatever.

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A St. Valentine’s Day Epiphany

fullsizerenderOccasionally, I have these parenting epiphanies. Like on Valentine’s Day a few years ago when our then middle grade sons quietly removed the little containers of candy I’d stashed in their lunch. Or later, when I offered a suggestion to a high school teacher about how to best handle our older son when he’s stressed. “Mrs. Johnson,” the teacher said, “if your son requires special treatment from me, it’s probably best he ask me himself.”

Ahhhh…

Yes.

They are growing up.

No more kiddie candy or sandwiches cut into heart shapes in their lunch. And no more trying to stand between them and discomfort. Big boys must learn to navigate the world without mom trying to smooth every path.

But many moms like me don’t see it coming. We think we have more time because sometimes parenting young children feels endless. It’s not. You’re sopping up spilled juice and begging a kid not to wipe boogers on the wall and then… you’re sitting in a chair sipping coffee while your teens make their own lunch. They drive themselves to school. They navigate their own world without you–pretty well I might add. It seems the hubs and I have done a lot of things right.

But this week I had another epiphany. It’s clear that I did something not quite right when they were younger and another thing particularly well.

Here’s the deal. Our younger son, a freshman, is struggling in an honors English class. His older brother took the same class with the same teacher, and although he had similar complaints about the class, he was able to pull off a decent grade. So I question the younger, “what gives?”

His response is telling. In his example he tells about how the class read The Odyssey as part of a unit on Greek mythology. “Some kids who do well on the tests,” he said, “are those who’ve read all of the Percy Jackson books as a kid.”

If you’re unfamiliar, the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan follows the adventures of a boy who discovers he’s a demigod son of Poseidon. The books are beloved by young readers who also happen to absorb a lot of foundational information about Greek mythology.

Our older son read every Percy Jackson book.

Our younger son read Batman comics.

They are both good readers who do well in school. Parents are told it doesn’t matter what kids read as long as they read. I believed that. And it’s probably true up to a point. But like adults who don’t read newspapers or many books, some people lack a depth and/or expanse of knowledge that serves as a building block for understanding other information. I now believe it does matter what children (or all people) read. And for a hot second, I thought I’d failed our younger son.

But then, I attended an art exhibition about Martin Luther and the Reformation at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. While there, I overheard a young boy around 8 years old ask his mother about a painting. The boy discovered this oil on canvas illustrating the decapitated head of John the Baptist and said, “Mom! Is that real? Did that really happen?”

“No,” she answered. “It’s only a painting.”

That’s the moment I was assured I’d done one thing right. You see, when our comic book loving boy was around that same age, we bought him an illustrated bible called The Action Bible. The artwork is similar to comic books but the stories are firmly biblical–and not the shortened, most loved, PG rated versions of bible stories–but the entire bible in graphic novel form. He’s read the whole thing at least twice.

So here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Quality is as important as quantity when it comes to reading material for kids.
  • We’ve got limited time to teach the foundations of our values before our kids launch.
  • One of our kids will have to work harder to make sense of some literature.
  • But both of our kids know the bible and its precepts–that love exists, that God is love, that we are called to love God with all our heart, mind and soul and to love our neighbors as ourselves. That the one thing that really matters… is a faith that expresses itself through love.

Today is Valentine’s Day. The older son checked his lunch and removed the candy I’d stashed inside. But the younger one didn’t peek. So I get one more small opportunity to show love in a “goofy and embarrassing” mom way. I’ll take what I can get and thank God for helping me to not screw this whole parenting thing up completely.

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Improve Your Life by Contributing More Than You Consume

Photo: Sarah Dibbern

Photo: Sarah Dibbern

January has become a favorite time of year. These frozen, grey days on the tundra when the demands of the holiday season are behind me. Spring and summer remain far enough off with their taunts of being short-lived that send Northerners into a frenzy of lawn care, home improvement and patio dining bucket lists. This stretch of time seems to move more slowly–you know, like molasses in January. And slow time feels like more time. More time to create and contribute–a goal not just for January but for the entire year and hopefully, my entire life.

Photo: Sarah Dibbern

Photo: Sarah Dibbern

You see, here’s the thing. Sometimes I get down on myself. Maybe you do too. Like I should be accomplishing so much more with my life. I get up in the morning, pour a cup of coffee, sit in my favorite chair and scroll through my phone to see what’s happening in the world. I read news articles and send funny videos to my teenage kids in an attempt to make their morning crank faces crack a smile. But I also thumb through all the pretty pictures on social media. Maybe you do too.

I consume lots of ideas. Recipes I’ll probably never make. Exercises I’ll likely never do. Home décor trends I can’t replicate. Beauty secrets that remind me of my age. There’s lots of wonderfully curated inspiration in cyberspace. But whenever I consume more than I create or contribute to the world, this digital diet begins to weigh me down with negative self-talk. Why can’t I cook like that? Dress like that? Have a clean house like that?

Because I spend more time consuming ideas than I do creating or implementing ideas. Duh!

When scrolling through Twitter and Instagram become a spiritual discipline, it’s probably time to make a change.

Don’t misunderstand. I love Twitter and Instagram. I love all of the connectivity, inspiration and opportunities available right in the palm of my hand! But am I letting my consumption of content weigh me down rather than get me going? Am I balancing my consumption with contributing positively to a conversation, offering ideas or implementing any of the good ideas I see?

For many folks, January is a time to refocus on health and wellness. Well, a simple rule of healthy living (including our relational, financial, mental and spiritual health) applies to most aspects of daily life–including our digital life. Our contribution to the world should outweigh what we consume from the world.

That’s my mantra for 2017: Contribute & Create more than I Consume.

Contributions and creativity can look any number of ways. What’s your gift? How can you use your gifts to create something or contribute to the world? Writing. Cooking. Designing. Volunteering. Reorganizing. Donating. Entertaining. Scrapbooking. Teaching. Photography. Whatever.

For me, this mantra isn’t about any particular task or checklist of endeavors. It’s simply going to be about reminding myself to spend a little less time scrolling through other people’s worlds and more time contributing to or creating something good in my little corner of the world.

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My Fave Books of 2016 & Why Rogue One May be the Best Star Wars Movie in 36 Years

book-reading

Yesterday, I turned the first page of what will likely be the last book I’ll read in 2016. I chose a rather slender volume in hopes that I might get to count it among my list of books read for the year. Yep. Inspired by my writer friend Nina Badzin, I count ‘em. You can read her list (longer than mine) of books read in 2016 here.

But as I peruse my list and attempt to select my favorite titles of 2016 to share with you, I am struck. Nina says I like serious books. She’s probably right even though I do enjoy the occasional memoir penned by a comedienne. And I loved the self-deprecating wit, charm and punch to the gut reality shared by Nora McInerny-Purmort in It’s Okay to Laugh. Crying is Cool Too. Nora’s book made me giggle and guffaw, but it is, at its heart, still a serious book about relationships, family life, grief and discovering our purpose.

Therein lies the undeniable and reverberating theme of what I’ve loved most about my favorite books (and the Star Wars Rogue One movie) of the past year. So here goes…

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

I enjoy sports, especially baseball. But I’ve never pictured myself as someone who would enjoy reading a sports novel. Not sure why since I love most sports movies with all of their emotionally manipulative themes of against all odds triumph in the face of adversity. Think Rocky, Rudy, Miracle and The Blind Side.

The Art of Fielding isn’t really about baseball even though the game scenes don’t disappoint as they induce as much heart pounding and breath holding as any real life competition with high stakes. But there is so much more at stake than winning games in the lives of these characters who happen to be brought together by the inexplicable randomness of the universe–if the universe were a lot like baseball–as I’m sure many would argue it is. But I digress…

I loved that this book veered from the tried and true path of most sports stories–those stories about a talented athlete from lesser means who is propelled to stardom through sheer grit and unwavering encouragement from a haggard old coach or mentor. You think it’s going to be that. But then it winds through a forest of tragedy, despair, questionable decisions, strained friendships, mental health issues, loss and restoration. This book, like life, doesn’t turn out as we expect or even believe it should. But these very human characters, prone to error and subject to uncontrollable events (and emotions), learn to navigate the human condition and are forced to determine what is most important in life.

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

This brilliantly written book about the life of a Vietnamese communist at the end and just after the Vietnam War is likely one of the best books I’ve ever read. The opportunity to glimpse inside the mind of someone who doesn’t share the same life experiences or worldview as a typical American provides a rare gift of insight and perspective. But this book is so much more than an acerbic (and often comical) critique of western culture and politics. It’s about friendship and family and allegiance to a cause larger than one’s self. It questions how far people are willing to go to serve a cause they believe to be right–how the oppressed can all too easily become the oppressor–and how evil can creep in and gather strength by encouraging people to be convinced of their “rightness.” I actually read the final chapter out loud (alone in my home of course) with tears streaming down my face. It is that powerful.

I won’t take time here to also delve into the author’s brilliant style and craftsmanship. But I still rave about that to those who’ll listen and will likely re-read sections in order to hopefully learn a thing or two about writing well.

Note: I recommended this book to a writer friend who twice tried to enjoy it and didn’t seem to like it nearly as much as I did. So there’s that.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

I picked up this gem at Milkweed Books in Minneapolis. Let’s just say I’m a huge Milkweed fan. Several books published by Milkweed Editions rank among my all time favorites and the selection of titles displayed front and center at their new(ish) bookstore is right up my literary alley–this among them.

It’s another well-written, historical and insightful book that provides an aura of awareness that history repeats itself and that the oppressed are too often tempted to become oppressor. But that’s all in the milieu of a wonderful story of an exiled Russian aristocrat who must reorient himself to an unaccustomed life and determine what is worth living and fighting for. I loved it and said so on Twitter while incidentally saying how much the book was making me crave dinner at Moscow on the Hill. Mr. Towles tweeted back his appreciation and desire to dine at the terrific Russian restaurant in St. Paul someday. I give extra credit to an accomplished author willing to communicate with readers. But despite my fan-girl moment on Twitter, this book actually does fit perfectly with the themes that drew me in this year. Integrity, self-sacrifice and a desire to look beyond this moment in time toward how our lives and decisions play out and contribute to a larger narrative of restoration.

This leads me to my unexpected love of the movie Rogue One. I’m married to a man and am the mother of teen boys. This means most family movies involve super heroes, hand to hand combat, car chases and explosions. I’m mostly up for it. But I didn’t expect that another installment in a mostly worn out and recycled 30-year-old franchise would be my favorite since The Empire Strikes Back. Then it dawned on me.

Rogue One encompasses all of the elements I’ve been appreciating in literature this year. The characters display an appropriate level of horror at wartime atrocities. There is a willingness to take risks for a cause larger than personal comfort. There is a reality of what those risks (especially in wartime) actually cost in human terms. There is an acknowledgment that some endeavors take a long time, often many years, and that our efforts during an entire lifetime may only be a small piece of a larger and more significant storyline playing out across the cosmos. Some say this movie (and many of my favorite books) is too dark. I disagree. The world is dark. I’m drawn to art that shows us how to be a light in that darkness.

That said, the inclusion of a blind, martial arts master and mystic was exactly what this franchise needed! Chirrut Imwe is hands down my favorite Star Wars character ever. Just sayin’.

These books and this movie ask its characters to choose. What I especially love and was likely drawn to in the volatile year of 2016 is how these books and movie seem to also ask us as readers and viewers to also choose. Will we participate in making the universe a better place for future generations? Will we live with integrity even when it’s risky? Do we seek freedom from bondage only to enslave others with whom we disagree? Will we live sacrificially in a culture that encourages selfishness and self-indulgence?

My goals for 2017 are to continue reflecting on these questions and to hopefully, by God’s grace, choose a life of gratitude, integrity, humility and self sacrifice.

Below is the full list of books I’ve read in 2016 starred 1-4 by how much I was moved, challenged, entertained, engrossed or amazed by them. Please share your favorite reads of 2016 in the comments.

For the Love by Jen Hatmaker ***

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom ***

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett ****

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas *

700 Sundays by Billy Crystal *

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates **

Socrates in the City by Eric Metaxas ****

My Brilliant Friend by Elana Ferrante *

Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber ****

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant ***

The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal ****

It’s Okay to Laugh Crying is Cool Too by Nora McInerny-Purmort ****

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbaugh ****

The High Divide by Lin Enger *

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers ***

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks **

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen ****

Zeros by Chuck Wendig **

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood *

You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein **

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue ***

Good Faith by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons **

Radical Reinvention by Kaya Oakes **

You Can’t Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson **

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles ****

Unashamed by Lecrae **

The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt ***

 

 

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When to Call Me “Ma’am” or “Her Majesty”

Okay. I’ve purposely avoided speaking out about the 2016 election. My opinions are strong. But I have no illusion of being able to change your mind with a Tweet, a Facebook meme or a blog post. But I do want to share some thoughts about a particular element at the heart of our current cultural debate–women in leadership. Or about being a modern woman in general…

I recently finished a pretty funny memoir by comedian Jessi Klein titled You’ll Grow Out of It. I started out loving it. Her chapter titled Growing Older had me nodding along while laughing so hard I choked on my morning coffee. But then, she does this thing. That thing too many women do. Even accomplished women. Klein basically starts telling readers about how she equates beauty to sex, lust and youth. She pivots from cracking wise about the banality of our “look young and beautiful at any cost” culture to fantasizing about a “princess moment” at the Emmy Awards, swooning over celebrities and bristling at being called ma’am. (She also attempts to further normalize pornography with a chapter about her interest in it. But doing so is so far off the rails on a train wreck of hypocrisy in terms defending women or decency; I will only roll my eyes and shake my head on that topic. For now.)

First, let me just say that I enjoy looking like a woman. I wear makeup, try to style my hair and often wear high heels (mostly because I’m short, but also because I like how they look.) I am not opposed to girls and women wanting to look or feel beautiful.

I am opposed to letting media, men and an increasingly lewd culture define what is beautiful. High applause for Alicia Keys going sans makeup on The Voice, for high-profile women who allow a crinkle around the eye or a crease in their forehead, for my super classy girlfriend who always looks great but never dresses like her tween daughter.

Then there is the raunchy but funny Amy Schumer skit where she shows up at a picnic of aging actresses who educate her about women in Hollywood only having value if men still want to sleep with them. (The language in this vid is pretty coarse in case you search for it. You’ve been warned.) But if this view is in any way accurate, and I believe it likely is, then why on earth would women want to splash around in that scum pond by focusing more on being/looking “sexy” than on being/looking strong, intelligent, accomplished, wise, classy, lovely, artsy, comfortable, hard-working, etc.

Of course women are sexual beings. I’m not suggesting old-school repression or enforced “modest” dress. I’m just asking WHY would sexually “desirable” be at the top of any list of female aspirations?

And finally, the word “ma’am”…

As with all things, there’s a balance here. An introspective pause button that we should hit when we hear this word.

Klein is frustrated at being called ma’am because she believes it implies she’s “old” and therefore undesirable. I reiterate, if “desirable” is your long-term goal, disappointments will mount (not to mention I’m disappointed in you) and you’ll miss so many opportunities to be someone of greater significance, influence and honor.

Ma’am need not be a curse word or term of degradation. It could be a term of high praise–a word that says you’ve transcended the need to simply be desirable; you’re accomplished. We are mothers, leaders and deep thinkers. We are wise. So fetch me my coffee youngster!

And now, a note of caution to men who think I’ve given you permission to dismiss us with the word ma’am:

A family friend has helped my hubs coach little league baseball for several years. This woman knows as much about the sport (maybe more) than many of the dads on the field trying to relive their glory days.

But one day, an opposing team’s coach attempted to bend the rules, clearly thinking our assistant coach wouldn’t know better–she being a woman and all. She called him on it. He dismissively responded with something like, “Let the ump make the call, ma’am.”

The ump did make the call and she was right. But when she mentioned the exchange to my hubs, he was quizzical. Couldn’t quite figure out why she was still upset. I’m proud to say I helped the hub’s male mind figure it out.

“All other coaching staff is referred to as coach. Your assistant deserves no less. You will inform the opposing team’s coach to refer to your assistant as “coach,” not “ma’am” from now on.”

I could see a light bulb spark to life above my hub’s head. God bless him, he nodded in agreement and walked over to the other team’s coach in an attempt to spread some goodness, decency and respect into the game.

It may seem tricky–when to feel honored and when to be offended. But it’s worth some thought. It’s also worth your time to consider what you want to be known for–being fawned over as a princess? Or being honored as a Queen!

 

P.S. I love the above photo I found online and the video link of women talking about aging. Of course I offer credit. But still, I cringe when an ad for anti-wrinkle cream immediately follows the video. Sigh…

 

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Why I “Pressure” My Children to Achieve

Newsflash! Parenting is hard.

I’m the mother of teens and in many ways, parenting has gotten much, MUCH easier. So I’m not talking about hard in the way that sleepless nights are hard or not being able to have two minutes to yourself is hard or being smeared in baby vomit and diaper dootie is hard. Those parts of parenting are crazy hard–physically and mentally exhausting.

I’m well past that kind of hard. In fact, life with teens has been mostly “easy”. Our boys can bathe and dress themselves, cook for themselves, walk, bike or drive where they need to go, and on most days, they’re pretty darn fun to have around.

shocked-mom-faceBut our oldest is getting to that almost a grown-up stage and I have little idea what’s going on in his brain. Sometimes, when he does confess what he’s thinking, my eyes widen with fear and I’m sure I’ve done everything all wrong.

For example, while on a ski trip to Colorado in February, more than one restaurant server admitted to spending their lives skiing by day and waiting tables by night. Our son said, “That actually sounds like a pretty great life.”

Another time when I must have been talking about the importance of doing well in school so he could get a good job, our son said, “Not everything is about the money.”

It’s these types of statements that make me think… um, yes, not “everything” is about money. But if you’ve ever been broke, if you’ve ever cried yourself to sleep at night wondering how you’re going to pay the rent, suddenly, it’s ALL about the money.

Granted, I’m not talking about luxury or excess. I am talking about shit’s expensive! Rent, utilities, food, clothes, entertainment, vacations, skiing for goodness sake! It’s all expensive. And yes, your dad doesn’t go to work each day vibrating with positive energy because he’s living his dream. He likes his job and his work benefits the world. But it’s difficult work and he certainly wouldn’t do it for free. It’s about the money.

Where I grew up, people worked in factories. Hot, loud, monotonous factories. These were considered dream jobs by the way. Why? Because of the money. Because these jobs offered folks a way to obtain hearth and home and maybe a lake cabin and a snowmobile. But today, those jobs are gone, gone, gone. Wanna live anywhere close to a middle class life? Guess what kiddo? You’re gonna have to eventually think for more than a hot second about the money.

Some say this is too stressful on young people. All that pressure to perform in high school to get into college. Welp, part of life is learning how to manage stress, how to solve problems and how to work for what’s important. I’m no Tiger Mother in the true sense. I let the kids quit piano lessons. There was no math camp or traveling sports teams. They’ve mostly been able to pave their own way. Ultimately, we’ll let them decide their own futures too. But that doesn’t mean they won’t hear from us about what their decisions now mean for the future. It’s time. It’s time to get serious about the groundwork for what is to come. I know that’s a lot to ask of a seventeen year old. Fine. Don’t know what you wanna do? No problem. Just work hard and get a degree in something “useful” and then let fate take it from there.

broke-trans-300x225For now, my kid doesn’t seem to appreciate my style of parenting. But I’m pretty sure he’ll see the light one day when he’s sick of being broke.

In the meantime, I don’t need anybody fueling my kid’s thoughts of me as some kind of pressure monster. Like when a pastor recently told a group of teens something along the lines of, “if your parents are causing you stress with pressure to perform in school, you should know that you’re good enough just the way you are.” Okay. Yes. Of course all humans are created in the image of God and are good enough. Of course I’m not asking my kids to earn my love or God’s love. I’ll always love them no matter how they perform or what they achieve. As human beings and my beloved offspring, they are most definitely good enough.

But as productive members of society, they’ll need to dig a little deeper. Video games and afternoon naps are not even close to good enough. In fact, I’m curious if that pastor ever asked a teenage boy what he’d do with his time if not pressured by their parent to do his homework or study for a test. Because I know the answer. Most parents know this answer. That’s kinda why we pressure them. Cause we know the answer and it’s not good enough.

lazinesshomerWe are created to serve and glorify God. Sloth does not serve or glorify anyone–the self included–even though it can feel good. Trust me. I know. I fight the urge to laze about almost daily. But I want to live a useful life and I believe our kids should too.

God created my wonderful children with certain gifts. And I do try my best to discern what those gifts are and help them move in those directions. But no direction is unacceptable. No choice is a choice. So I’ll continue to “pressure” (their word, not mine) our children to be the best they can be–not because they’re not good enough. I love them for who and what they are and have worked alongside their father to provide them a loving and nurturing home. But one day, they’ll likely want a home of their own. That means at some point they’re going to have to come to terms with what things cost and the “pressure” associated with achievement because… as vulgar as it sounds, it’s very much about the money.

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Talking to Teens When Tragedies Happen. Oh, and Cell Phones…

It’s been a week of heavy lifting in the realm of parenting teens. Most days, the biggest concerns in our lives seem to be getting everybody out of bed and off to school on time, making sure their sports uniforms are clean or at least baptized in Febreze and stopping those perpetually hungry teen boys from gobbling up fistfuls of granola bars right before dinner.

But this week. This has been one of those weeks when sh*t gets real. When I have to find a way to have hard conversations and break my kids’ hearts with reminders about evil that lurks. They act unaffected by news stories, like they’ve got everything under control. Teenagers. Growing and grown­­–on the outside. Still vulnerable and unsteady on the inside like fawns on wobbly legs. It’s my job to help strengthen them. I must do the heavy lifting and point them toward the source of true strength. Encourage them to guard their hearts. And insist on the importance of thinking clearly about our values–that they might live in such a way, loving one another, that others will know to whom they belong.

Stanford~

With teen boys who will one day go off to college and live with a freedom they’ve never known, this story cannot be ignored. My sons must hear me say out loud and with conviction that women should be highly valued even when the culture says they’re not. Even when the culture says women must be thin and pretty and sexy, and that they’re less than… we will reject this premise and we will value women. This is part of our ongoing conversation about relationships, sex and what being a “real” man looks like. They may not want to hear me rant about misogyny or inequality because hearing parents talk about sex can cause a gag reflex in most teens. Too bad. It’s got to be.

A friend told me how he asks his son’s friends, who think because they’re physically strong that they are truly strong, “Are you strong enough to go against the crowd? Are you strong enough to stand up for the weak?” *click here for a more poignant conversation by Ann Voskamp on the topic.

Writer Anne Greenwood Brown spoke about the courage and conviction of the Swedish cyclists who stopped the Stanford rapist and held him until the police arrived.

Not only were those cyclists brave, they were shocked and horrified. A news account mentions how one of the Swedes cried multiple times while giving testimony to police. I want my sons to be horrified if ever they witness evil being done to another human. I hope and pray they too would defend the weak and vulnerable like those cyclists did.

Brown took it a step further by making t-shirts that say “Be a Swedish Bicyclist.” I think that’s pretty terrific!

courtesy Anne Greenwood Brown

courtesy of Ann Greenwood Brown

When I told my boys about the t-shirts and the tagline, I asked them, “Would you be a Swedish bicyclist?” They nod in affirmation. I hope that’s true.

Orlando~

I remember Columbine. The horror of that day, watching the television news in disbelief and with profound sadness. And yet, somehow I knew. I knew it would happen again and keep happening. Because once an event like that gets the desired result–to terrorize and in a twisted way, be memorialized–more lunatics would begin to plot their own personal day of infamy.

In fact, I wish the news would stop proclaiming that the Orlando shooting is the “worst mass shooting in American history” because surely someone out there is evil enough or crazy enough or both to accept that as a challenge.

My heart breaks. Safety is an illusion. I’m sad to have to tell my children this awful truth.

But I’m reminded of a chapter in Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book Accidental Saints. The chapter is called, the Slaughter of the Holy Innocents of Sandy Hook Elementary and in it, Weber attempts to reassure her Lutheran congregation after a horrific school shooting of Christ’s redemption and His solidarity with suffering. She talks about how King Herod ordered the murder of children in an attempt to kill the Christ child.

Evil is not new. It didn’t begin with Columbine. And sadly, it will not end in Orlando. Evil has been with us since shortly after the beginning of our human story.

BUT! In this story, Christ enters into this broken and broken-hearted world, knowing full well how much the place needs fixing. He’s fixing us, if we’ll let him, one by one, heart by heart. Teaching us to trust, to pray, to be kind to each other, to forgive and to live at peace. I tell my sons that it’s part of our job as Christians to bring peace, joy and comfort to the world while we wait for restoration. To bless the suffering and broken-hearted until evil is forever vanquished. We must shine a light in the darkness. Be good. Do good. Point to the source of goodness with how you live your life.

Cell Phones~

Speaking of lights in the darkness. Let me finish with comments about those glowing blue screens. I should have done this before, when we first bestowed those tiny Pandora’s boxes into the palms of our children’s hands. I should have insisted they be phone free overnight.

So now, after those smartphones have become like permanent appendages that seem to cause our boys to take the longest dumps in recorded bathroom history, I’m prepared to pry those devices from their clenched fists like priceless pearls from an oyster. Let ‘em scream, “It hurts. I’ll surely die.”

They will not die. And they need not respond to text messages, Snapchats, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or any other damned digital demon in the wee hours of the night.

No plotting. No drama. No endless conversations about the latest Jordans. It stops. Maybe it never started. But with our youngest about to begin high school and informing us that he now has a girlfriend, late night access to a cell phone is bound to become a source of temptation if not serious frustration.

So, for the summer, I’ve asked our boys to turn in their phones at 10 p.m. They are not pleased. But I feel strongly that I’ve erred by letting this go on up to now, believing they were sleeping whenever I was sleeping. #afoolnomore

That’s it. It’s all I’ve got. This is the best parenting I can do this week. I’m tapped out. Tired. So turn off the news. Turn off the cell phone. Say your prayers and get some sleep. Those kids will likely need us again tomorrow.

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