Friday, September 4, 2009

The Elegance That Boys Ain't...

You could hear the tears in her voice. “It isn’t fair,” she remarked at the dinner table. “Why does our culture think boys are better than girls?” Interesting question coming from my eleven year old daughter I thought. “What is our 'culture'?" I asked, wondering if she really knew what that meant. “Well, everybody,” she answered. “Do you think I believe boys are better than girls?” I inquired. She hesitated for a moment and then responded with a less than emphatic “no.” Her hesitation to speak and uninspiring answer provided compelling evidence that she had some doubts. It bothered me. What was she really thinking?

How could she possibly think I believed boys were better than girls? How could she possibly hesitate to answer that question when posed to her? Have I not been careful to persuade her that real worth derives from her similar image to God and not the Hollywood images pervasive in our culture? Can she not discern by all objective standards in our home that her treatment is at least on par, if not more preferential, than that of her two brothers? Have I not been careful to convince my daughter how sweet, precious, and valuable I think she is? Evidently not, my wife enlightened me. “Mary is very sensitive,” she proclaimed. "She is especially sensitive to what you say." Apparently little things I say are contradicting my louder sermons. It made me think hard about potential discrepancies between my practicing and my preaching.

I will claim a certain ignorance, however, when it comes to understanding the fairer sex. I mean, I’m a guy, and I like guy things. I understand the universal language testosterone produces. I like sports, fishing, guns, and sweating. I love competition and conquest too. I spent most of my early years playing every sport you could play and I spent plenty of time in locker rooms where my psyche was apparently damaged beyond repair. We recognized our position on the predatory chain and our generally physical superiority to the female of the species. Those locker rooms indoctrinated my malleable mind with the jock jargon that I carry until this day.

It’s not a particularly high brow method of communication. Mostly it consists of men trying to outdo one another with each successive insult. A caddie at the Greenbrier once reminded me after leaving a ten foot putt short, “I think you left your lipstick over by the edge of the green.” My favorite emasculating insult suffered on the links, however, is, “nice putt, Sally, does your husband play golf too?” One indignity wrought upon the weakest rebounder in basketball practice was called the pink panty drill. All players gathered under the basket as a coach started throwing up balls off the rim while the ravenous wolves below scuffled for the bounding sphere. As each player acquired the ball he sat down leaving the last remaining player to suffer the humiliation of wearing the colorful undergarment atop his shorts for the duration of practice. Multiple variations of this pastel put down exist for other sports too. It never bothered me, though, even if I was the unfortunate cross-dresser. It simply strengthened my resolve to try harder. It's who we are as men. It's the hunter-gatherer instinct. Mostly, it's how we were bred.

So, even now, when my two sons whine or pout or complain about some insignificant malady, I affectionately refer to them as my “two girls.” They respond in kind by calling me their “ugly mother with a moustache.” To us these are terms of endearment, nothing more than playful banter with a slightly subliminal (well ok, maybe not so subliminal) message to toughen up. To us, it doesn’t constitute an insult to women, but rather an exhortation to each other. But, evidently, they are not so endearing to my daughter’s maturing ears when she hears our conversations.

How could I be so stupid? Despite all my other attempts to validate her equality or even superiority to men; she interprets these trivial exchanges as paternal approval for female subjugation. To some extent it’s irrelevant what the truth is because her perception is reality. And, my words have caused her to question herself and potentially damage her already tenuous self esteem at this very vulnerable point in her life. It shouldn’t be that way. I should be the one man in her life who makes her feel good about who she is and the potential she possesses.

I hope she forgives me. I hope it’s not too late to reform my incivility. I hope one day she can say she knows more about God because she knew me. I better get started though, because she’ll be a teenager soon. And, every day I'm becoming more keenly aware of all the work I've left to do on myself and the very short time I've left to do it....

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

To My Children if They're Listening...

I’ve noticed the unexpected deaths of some very young people lately. It got me to thinking. Long and hard I’ve contemplated, pondered, even agonized about the advice I could offer to my children that would be most useful throughout their life. This advice I wanted to record in the event an untimely separation from them occurred, counsel that may be difficult to understand given their current state of youthfulness, but for which time may provide greater clarity. So, I hope they indulge me. I hope they understand and accept these admonitions from an imperfect Father. I hope they know my words are born from personal experience and failure. I hope they know that by writing them down I hope to better live myself. This is what I’ve learned:

A battle rages in spiritual dimensions for your heart and for mine. Satan, like all powerful generals, doesn’t attack where we are strong, but instead where we are weakest. His demonic army provides persistent reconnaissance of human vulnerabilities. He concentrates his efforts there. He lies. He tempts. He devours. To ignore these unseen conflicts between good and evil, to discount the power of these principalities, to pretend they don’t exist and wield no influence is a dangerous journey down a wide and destructive path. He delights in this road. He built it.

Satan will lie to you. He will tell you that you are not good enough, not worthy enough to represent God. He will use guilt from an errant past to destroy your willingness to engage further spiritual warfare. He will tell you that you’re too young, too confused, and too immature to lead others. He will make you discontent and restless. He will persuade you to turn attention inward and focus on what you need, what you want, what makes you happy. He will sufficiently cool your spiritual fire to the lukewarm temperatures he prefers. He will make your prayers rote and lifeless. He will convince you to even question God’s existence. He will force you from the narrow path of a road less traveled in search of more fertile fields. And so these are my requests to you and demands upon myself:

Be generous. Be kind. Be sensitive to the lost and dying all around you. Let your tongues be rudders guiding your ship through positive seas. Replace gossip and criticism with encouraging words. Reserve judgment of others until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes and then, reserve it anyway. Love your wives, your husbands, your children, your family, and then broaden your circle. Be an instrument of God’s love. Make beautiful music. Don’t be a clanging cymbal. Forgive others but don’t always count on the same in return. Be known for your graciousness. Be salt and light regardless of your lot in life. Make a difference for good. Remember, you preach a sermon every day whether you know it or not. Try to recognize the difference between right and wrong and choose right no matter how uncomfortable doing so may be. Be patient. Find those who look different from you then be their friend. Pray without ceasing and then pray some more. Look for the rainbows in the middle of the greatest storms. Be humble. Take time to stop and smell some roses along the way. Never forget that our loving Father has made every day and we should rejoice and be glad in it. And this is the sum of it all:

Remember that God loved us enough to offer his own son in our place. Remember that his tomb was empty on the third day. Remember that we are joint heirs with Christ to all of God’s glory. Know it. Believe it. Mostly, live like it. Remember that our spiritual DNA proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are indeed children of the Most High King. Always remember that even death cannot separate us from the love of God or each other. And, above all else, know that we will live together forever as a family in the greater mansions of that different time.