Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pretty in Pink: Color and Gender

Okay - I have a question and maybe not an answer. In the past two days, two different media outlets made me think about the relationship between color and gender...specifically the color pink.

On one of my favorite train-wreck shows, Wife Swap, I watched women from two radically different homes. One came from a hippie, creative, loosey-goosey home where the dad made money as a clown and the two young boys did pretty much whatever they wanted. The oldest boy - probably about 9 - had hair down to his waist and loved the color pink. In fact, he loved it so much that he always dressed in pink and painted his room hot pink.

The other mom was from a football family in Texas. Her sons breathed football and believed that all cleaning and cooking was women's work. The results were not surprising. The football mom was horrified by pink boy and insisted that he cut his hair and paint his room a "normal" boy color: blue or green.

This little scrawny 9-year-old stood firm. He would not cut is hair, "I like the way it feels when I swing my head." And, he refused to paint his room.

The next day, on Moody Radio, a caller wrote in saying she was very worried about her three-year-old son who wanted to dress up for Halloween as a princess. Yes, a princess - not a prince. Other commentators struggled with whether or not that would be okay. Is it wrong to allow this type of gender cross-over for young boys? Is it harmful? Or, as one person suggested, especially at age 3, is it merely the sign of an imaginative mind?

I have mixed feelings myself. I am less worried about the 3-year-old princess. After all, the princesses are far more interesting in fairy tales than the princes. The princes in Cinderella and Snow White barely have personalities - they just show up on a horse at the end. Actually, all that is needed are their magical lips!

But I was a bit more puzzled by the 9-year-old pink boy. Is that okay? At what point does his bold and nontraditional choice become problematic? Who is more worrisome - the 9-year-old who isn't afraid to buck stereotypes and love pink or the football mom who is threatened by it? Are blue and green truly boy colors? What do we do with boys who don't fit stereotypes?

What if they love to cross-stitch (I knew one college guy who proposed to his wife with a sampler)?

What if they love to cook or paint or sew?

Is it okay for a boy to love pink? Does that mean he isn't masculine?

I think we have to be careful. We must encourage our children to be who they are - whether girls are sporty or boys are creative. However, they also have to appreciate their masculine and feminine, God-given qualities.

It is a careful tightrope on which we walk...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler Comes to Life

This woman, who recently won a Chicago contest, is living out my fantasy. She gets to stay for a month in the city's Museum of Science and Industry. She will live there, sleep there, and explore the exhibits night and day.

Why am I jealous? Because, when I was in middle school, I read the wonderful book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. If you haven't read this book - or if your child hasn't - pick up a copy. It is one of my favorite stories of childhood adventure.

A brother and sister run away from home and hide out at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. They survive by getting coins from the fountain and hiding perched on top of toilets to avoid security guards. Such fun!

While this woman might not have the same thrill of escaping - she certainly gets close!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Hoarders and My Heart

I couldn’t turn the television off the other night. I had stumbled on the series, aired by A&ETV, that is focused on compulsive hoarding. Now I consider myself somewhat of a pack rat, but according to a newspaper estimate there are as many as six million compulsive hoarders.

Compulsive hoarders are people who can’t stop accumulating and storing possessions. In this particular episode, there were two women who were threatened with eviction if they did not clean up their living spaces. Their homes were so filled by possessions that they had only very narrow passageways through mounds and mounds of boxes, clothing, and even rotting food. The result was an astounding mess that towered over them in a menacing way.

One woman was desperately ashamed and saddened by her situation. She expressed sorrow that her life had gotten to such a state and cried out to Jesus for help. Her friends, relatives, and a professional counselor were called in to help remedy the situation. She seemed eager to start the cleaning process.

But when the day arrived, the task was not so easy. With each item being considered for the trash pile, whether it was a never opened doll in a box, a bundle of old newspaper clippings, or even leftover birthday party napkins, she would vehemently argue against the decision. “I can’t get rid of that!” she would exclaim. “I need that. I have to keep it.”

Her friends and family were tireless, holding up item after item. The counselor was amazingly patient, telling her she could keep some things and attempting to reason with her in others.

But, in both situations, the possessions won. These things seemed to have an iron-clad hold on both the women and their hearts. In the end, their hoarding would cost them their lives, their homes, and their sanity.

When I was a young girl, I read a small booklet titled “My Heart Christ’s Home” by Robert Munger. The author paints a picture of the heart as an actual residence. When Jesus arrives, the owner of the home proudly shows Him each room. At the living room, he says, this is where my guests love to come. You are welcome here. Come sit by the fireplace on this lovely easy chair.

But Jesus didn’t stop with the living room. He wanted to see the rest of the house. And so the owner showed him it, room by room. When the tour was over, Jesus said, but isn’t their one more room? The owner was mortified. How did Jesus know? How did He guess that the tour was not complete?

There was one more room – but it was a mess. It was cluttered with filth and sin. It was a secret place, where only the owner would go. No one else knew about it. How did Jesus?

This story convicted me at a young age that I needed to turn over all of my heart to Jesus – not just the pretty places. As an adult, I recognize that this task is not always easy. There are some sins, some struggles, so private, that we wish not only to keep them hidden, but to keep them. Like the hoarders who struggle with possessions, we hang on to the very sins that threaten to destroy us.

At the end of the story, the owner pleads with Jesus: "I'll give You the key, but You will have to open the closet and clean it out. I haven't the strength to do it."

"Just give me the key," He said. "Authorize me to take care of that closet and I will."

The owner continues, “With trembling fingers I passed the key to Him. He took it, walked over to the door, opened it, entered, took out all the putrefying stuff that was rotting there, and threw it away. Then He cleaned the closet and painted it. It was done in a moment's time. Oh, what victory and release to have that dead thing out of my life!”

The good news of that simple message encourages me still today.

I don’t have to clean out the closet by myself. I can’t . . . I just have to give Christ the key.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Farmville, Faith, and Fallen Sheep

On the morning news, I heard that McDonald’s started a new promotional game targeted to the reported millions of Americans who are playing the Facebook game FarmVille.

The press release says, "Our mission is to connect the world through games by offering consumers meaningful experiences that enhance their game play. Tens of millions of people play FarmVille daily and this unique campaign with McDonald's . . . further strengthens our commitment to delivering high quality in-game brand experiences."

Now, I must stop here and admit something.

I was one of those millions. I once owned a farm on FarmVille.

It started innocently enough. I was checking Facebook, and an update appeared on my wall. One of my friends had just expanded his farm.

“What is that?” my daughter asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. Just a game some people play where you own a virtual farm.
“I want a farm,” she said. “Do it!”

We made the fatal click.

It started with a little patch of virtual land. I could buy pretend seeds, plant them, and harvest them. Innocent enough, right? Even biblical really – the Bible says a lot about seeds.

Then, I found out that I could expand my farm. Seek new territory. Acquire a barn and fences and trees and goats and even a hot air balloon.

Again – nothing wrong with expansion. Look at the Bible. The Israelites expanded into the Promised Land – bigger and better. Abraham went to a far off place to become the father of many nations. And all with God’s blessing!
This was fun! I liked it!

My farm grew to an impressive state. I had at least 100 fruit trees and many cows. In fact, I had so many animals that I had to corral them into fences and buildings. I had to buy a seeder to plant my newly expanded fields and a harvester to keep up with the bounty of crops.

In the meantime, I was being charitable. I was even helping friends.

I was also winning. Farm Ville lets you know how you are doing. I was ahead of many of my friends. I would visit their “so-called” farms – they were pitiful. Little single plots of land with wilted crops.

And I was jealous of some. A married couple I know had taken over Farm Ville. Their farms were amazing and impressive. Nicely arranged. Beautiful barns. Multiple machines. In fact, once I visited their farms, my own seemed insignificant.

Then something terrible happened. My farm got completely out of control.
I had so many cows to milk. I had so many sheep to shear.I had so many crops to seed and plant and harvest that I could not keep up. Things started dying. My crops were turning brown and wilting before I could reach them. I could not keep up this frantic pace.

I was getting physically stressed by FarmVille . . . by my virtual farm.

I knew this was crazy. In the midst of one mad milking and harvesting session, I stopped and asked myself…. Have I lost my mind?

Am I really worrying about a virtual farm that does not even exist? Do I need this stress in my life? I am a busy woman – I work full time. I am a mother. I have a long commute. I don’t have time to be a pretend farmer!

I knew I needed to stop.

Stopping was easier than I imagined. With one simple touch of a button, my farm disappeared. And with it, went my stress. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to just end the madness, just to walk away.

In keeping with the farming metaphor, I think of Isaiah 53:6. The text says, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (NIV).

I had indeed gone astray. This was not my intent when I built my farm. It was supposed to be fun! It was just some little silly thing to do with my daughter. How had it gotten out of control?

The New Living Translation says, “All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own.”

My experience with FarmVille has a parallel with my own life. My life can, at times, be much like that game. It can easily get out of control. Like Isaiah so clearly states, I leave God’s path and follow my own.

Leaving the path is not really a conscious decision. It starts with many, many good things.

I am success driven. I like to be recognized for doing a good job. But personal ambition can have a bad result when I accept a position or responsibility I do not want, simply because it brings me prestige or honor or money. I leave God’s path when I become secretly jealous of a colleague who gets recognition. I leave when I consider an opportunity that would not suit me, simply because it would mean I am successful.

Although I try to be content, I tend to want more. More stuff. More out of life. More money. When will we, like Solomon, recognize the vanity of this never-ending cycle of life? This mistake is common. We are not alone in our chasing after the wind.

The McDonald’s rep says that tens of millions of Americans play this game. Tens of millions! Why?

I think it is because FarmVille reflects our culture. We want to do more, to be more, than what we are or, even, more than what is best for us.

We encourage our kids in this direction. Children today lead incredibly busy lives. They are participating in so many good things- but have we gone overboard? They are asked to join clubs. To play sports. To prioritize academic achievement.

As adults, we want to be the head of the PTA, in charge of that church committee, a leader in our workplace. And with each responsibility we add, our frantic life spins a bit faster.

This pursuit of success can easily spin out of control.

These successful lives we pursue can get so busy, so overwhelming, that individual experiences lose their meaning. In our effort to build our bigger and better farms, we forget about the pleasure of growing one plant.

God calls us to put an end to this madness. He wants us to be counter-culture.

I readily admit it. I tend to be one of those sheep. But there are moments in my life when I have felt the call to stop and question everything.

How do we hit delete when the game of life gets out of control?

It starts with a prayer for help. We need help to stop the cycle. We need help to make changes to our busy crazy lifestyles. We need help to renew our minds and our hearts. We must recognize that no matter what our title, no matter how great our achievements, we are merely sheep, and we are in desperate need for a Shepherd.

For me, for right now, my FarmVille account is staying closed.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Extravagant Birthdays and Extreme Poverty

This week, we will celebrate my daughter's 13th birthday. It is so hard to realize that this little baby we once held is now going to be a teenager.

We will also celebrate our other "daughter's" birthday on the same day.

I have never met her. Noelia lives in the Dominican Republic.

Several years ago, while anticipating Sabrina's birthday, we started supporting Noelia each month through the ministry of World Vision.

This blog, that I originally wrote to air on Moody Radio, explains why:

When Tom Cruise and his wife Katie celebrated their daughter’s 2nd birthday, they spent a reported $100 thousand to commemorate her special day. $45 thousand in food; $17 thousand in fresh flowers and one thousand butterflies to fly around their daughter’s head.

While this celebrity style bash may make seem over-the-top extravagant, I have noticed that many parents like myself feel an increasing amount of pressure to celebrate our children’s birthdays with style. In my suburban neighborhood, it is not unusual to rent a giant air-filled jump tent or a pony for the kids to ride. After awhile, my husband and I felt ourselves getting caught up in this trend.

One year we took a group of my daughter’s friends to a miniature golf and arcade center. The next year, we celebrated with a tour of a donut chain. Since my daughter is an only child, this wasn’t too hard on us financially. It didn’t really bother me until my daughter turned to me and asked, “What are we going to do to celebrate my birthday this year?”

Her question made me stop and think about the values I was instilling in her life.

I reassured myself that my daughter is not a spoiled child. She is generous and kind and undemanding. Yet, the toys that she and her classmates were beginning to want were growing increasingly expensive. Electronic hand held game systems and the games that went with them were pricey. Where would it end?

The world of materialism was quickly encroaching on our lives. I was troubled by the radical difference between my daughter’s suburban life and the lives of millions of children in other less affluent countries.

All you have to do is google “world hunger” and “children” and you will gain much needed perspective.

One site estimates that every year 15 million children die of hunger. The World Health Organization estimates that one third of the world is well fed, one third is under fed, and other third is starving. Nearly one in four people, 1.3 billion – live on less than $1 per day. Approximately 183 million children weigh less than they should for their age – while, in the United States, one of the biggest growing problems facing our children is obesity.

It is impossible to read those statistics and not feel slightly ill at our propensity for indulgence and over-spending. In these economic times, many of us are making adjustments to decrease spending. But, I think an even more radical adjustment must be made in our hearts and passed down to our children. They must not be allowed to grow up and think that they are entitled to pony rides and inflatable jump tents. They must not be allowed to think that every child has such riches.

My efforts to correct this have been stumbling and slow. Two years ago, we began to sponsor a young girl through World Vision. I chose this particular child because she shared the same birthday as my daughter. She is 11, and when she sends us letters she writes about school, her pet goat, her favorite soup, and her church.

We write to her, and my daughter uses a part of her allowance to support her. It has been good for her to understand that there is another girl – her exact same age –who is so different and yet so similar.

World Vision is one of many organizations that offer an opportunity to teach children about giving and the desperate needs of many who share our globe. Samaritan’s Purse does this as well through Operation Christmas Child. Packing a shoe box of gifts for a child in another country – giving in a time often focused on wish lists, Santa and getting, can give our kids much needed perspective.

These and many other worthy organizations deserve our prayers and financial support. But, they can also be useful in teaching our children an important lesson. It is my prayer that our kids will realize the extravagant way that God has blessed their lives. I pray that we can teach them to be thankful, to be generous, and to be burdened for those less fortunate.

Here is a link to World Vision for those of you who might want to start supporting your own child!