Listen to the Right Voice

My husband and I will be speaking at our church this upcoming Sunday morning, so this past week we've been preparing and putting the final touches on our message. I've loved merging our talents and working together.

Meanwhile, this past week I've also had several encounters that have made me legitimately question my aptitude as a parent and a human, encounters that would make me question whether I'm the right person to be entrusted with a microphone and an audience for 30 minutes.

This morning as I was reviewing my message notes, I added this sentence in the margins:
Listen to what God is saying to you and about you, not what a critic is saying, even if that critic is yourself.
As soon as I wrote this, I remembered a painful and complex situation that I was involved in multiple years ago where a person I trusted denigrated my character and questioned my motives. My conscience had been clear about the situation, but the more I dwelt on the accusations (and, friends, I dwelt on them heavily), the more I wondered if they were true, if I really was the awful person who was being described.

After months of miserably grappling with the situation, I finally had an epiphany: If this person's accusations against me were wrong, it was going to be okay because God is my defender. The accusations wouldn't hold.  (Psalm 37:6 says "He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.")  But even if the accusations were accurate, it would still be okay because God was my forgiver. He would cleanse me, forgive me, and restore me. He's a God who specializes in making all things new, so even if they were legitimate, my flaws didn't have to be my story.

Such freedom!  When I am wrongfully accused, God defends! When I'm wrong and come to him repentantly, God forgives!

So today, even while sitting at my kitchen table reviewing our notes for Sunday morning, I was encouraged once again to listen to the right voice. Not the voices of my critics -- and not my inner accusatory voice when I'm my own worst critic. God is speaking something much different, much better, over me.

I love you. I forgive you when you confess your sins to me. I'm protecting you. I defend you. I'm your faithful helper and guide in these circumstances. I will never leave you or forsake you.

That's the right voice to listen to.

Do you have a kid? Do they have a phone? This is a resource for you.

Everyone should have a friend like Christine Carter. Oddly, since Christine and I became acquainted through blogging, we've never met in person (yet). That doesn't dilute my opening statement -- everyone should have a friend like Christine Carter. She's full of life and wildly encouraging. She's left comments on my blog that are so complimentary I've wanted to tattoo them on myself. 

In a nutshell, Chris Carter is for people -- when you read her writing (she publishes broadly and blogs at The Mom Cafe) or interact with her online, you feel like you have a personal cheerleader in life. In fact, the only thing I can find wrong with the woman is that she's an Ohio State fan. (Being that my home team is Penn State, that's a doozy, but Christine is so incredible I can even overlook her misguided college football allegiance.)

Last month Christine, released her second book titled Follow Jesus: A Christian Teen's Guide to Navigating the Online World.  If you have a kid, and your kid has a phone, this is a resource you'll want.

Structured as a workbook, Follow Jesus invites teens to think about their online habits in light of eight distinct values: love, grace, humility, compassion, truth, wisdom, integrity, and faithfulness.  Each section provides practical tips (ex: "always pause and pray for God's guidance before you post any response to bad behavior you see online"), applicable memory verses, checklist questions that invite personal introspection, and action-oriented prompts that challenge readers to take concrete steps to ensure their online habits are safe, reflect their Christian values, and ultimately, give glory to God.

As a person who's grappled with my own online presence and habits -- and as a mother who's raising a young teen and rising tweens who are dipping their toes into the online world -- I found the checklist questions and action-oriented prompts to be most useful.  While I can envision teens using the workbooks personally or in the context of a youth group, I also imagine that parents will benefit from using the resource to prompt healthy discussions that go deeper than the default, "you've-been-on-your-phone-all-afternoon-get-off-of-it" comment, which hits more on the quantity of time our kids spend on devices, rather than the quality of the content they're viewing and interactions they're having.

Follow Jesus hits on those "quality" aspects of the online world -- areas like knowing how to respond kindly (or even walking away) when you encounter inflammatory comments, not using social media to boast, not linking self-worth with the number of likes you receive, learning how to tune into the needs of others as they share online, ferreting out truth in a crowded environment that easily disseminates lies, and interacting online in ways that preserve our personal integrity.

Daresay, these reminders are good for adults to read, too.

I'll be honest: I've felt skiddish and inept as I've mulled over how and when my kids should have access to the online world.  I'm not sure I've always made the right choices.  When should they have a phone? How long should they be permitted to be on their phone each day? How do we best monitor this largely private device?  I want to bubble-wrap my kids and protect them from the corners of the the online world that are trashy and unhealthy.  At the same time, I want them to be able to connect with their friends and have access to online resources and platforms that are productive and entertaining.

Therein lies the rub: as parents, we can't just hand over a device that lets a young person explore EVERYTHING -- good and bad, helpful and harmful, edifying and destructive -- without also arming them with guidance on how to best handle that device.  That's the goal of Follow Jesus: to provide a lifeline of wise biblical guidance so our teens can swim, not sink, and engage online in a healthy, thoughtful, and God-honoring fashion.

And THAT is something I can get behind.

Get your copy of Follow Jesus: A Christian Teen's Guide to Navigating the Online World on Amazon. And while you're at it, visit Christine Carter to hear more of her wit and wisdom at The Mom Cafe!

Let's Chat. It's May.

Envision me tapping a microphone to check if you can still hear me.

HELLO dear readers!  Is this thing still on?  Somehow we've managed to launch ourselves squarely in the month of May. It's been too long since I last wrote, and there's so much for us to catch up on, so let's chat!

When the Yard Comes Alive.  Did you see those beautiful peonies at the top of this post?  Those are in my back yard.  After winter's long stretch of gray, I can't get enough of the vibrancy.  Many evenings my husband and I walk together, observing the daily addition of new blooms, marveling at how green everything is, and commenting on how the grass needs to be cut again. Everything is coming alive.

Funny how a simple walk outside can bring new perspective and peace. Nothing seems urgent when you're admiring tulips, you know?

Another Semester is Complete.  After posting final grades and wrapping up loose ends, last weekend I had the privilege to walk as my department's faculty marshal alongside an incredible student marshal at Penn State's graduation ceremonies.  Spring graduation is always a definitive punctuation mark, as if the university is gently nudging you and saying, "Your work is done for now. Go ahead, put on an awkward hat to celebrate that milestone."

And I'm like, "Sure thing. I always enjoy wearing a board attached to a cap on my head. Let's do this."

An observation about the graduation ceremony: The real hero, beyond the graduates themselves who have put in such exhaustive work to cross that stage, shake those hands, and receive that diploma, is definitely the person who reads all the names.  We're talking about multiple hundreds of names, rapid-fire, back-to-back, with no chances to pause or practice. At one point, I looked at the student marshal, nodded toward the name-reader, and admired: "That man is a champion."

The Week Off.  Tucked between the end of the spring semester and the start of summer classes (which begin on Monday), was the most glorious week where I started to catch up on my own life. I finished editing a piece I'm writing for work. I read two books. I cleaned my house, including closets, baseboards, tops of ceiling fans, and my oven, which prompted multiple introspective questions: Does food get actively murdered while it's cooking in my oven? How does that much splattering happen?  I scheduled a hair cut, squeezed in an appointment at the dentist, and went to the Avengers movie on Tuesday's $5 ticket night with my husband. I prepared my summer syllabi and websites, spray painted two outdoor garden stools that had faded from prior summers, and -- as a cherry on top -- I devoted the entirety of my Friday morning to one task: garage sale shopping.

It's been perfect. I'll return to campus Monday morning feeling like I've exhaled, which is a good way to start the next leg of the race. Even more, it's made me wish I could distribute a week off to everyone I know, that I could be like Oprah during the giveaway episode: "You get a week off, and you get a week off! Everyone gets a week off!"

Now THAT would really be something.

And that, my friends, is what's been happening since I last wrote.  Blogging periodically ebbs and flows given the rhythms of life, but I'm always grateful for you taking the time to visit and read.  Thank you for joining me here!  We'll chat again soon!
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