Raising BRAVE Boys

My home is a battlefield.  If the boys are home, you will hear sounds of battle as Lego robots and mini-figs fight it out in their ships and cars.  My youngest son has mastered the sounds of rapid gunfire and other explosions.  Just the other day, a playmate was over and as they had a battle in the hallway outside their rooms, all I could hear were the sounds of imaginary war along with strategy being planned out.  This is typical, right?

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One of many battle scenes set up for shooting a lego movie.

I believe there are many factors that make up a healthy individual.  For boys, I believe good male role models affect their lives in ways we can’t even comprehend.  Dads, grandfathers, coaches, Sunday school teachers, teachers.  Whoever.  A couple of good men in their lives can make a huge difference.

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King of the Castle is a staple in the winter at our house.

I believe that kids but especially boys, need to learn that they have a purpose here in this world and it’s about living out God’s purpose for them and serving others.  It’s not about them.  This sounds harsh in today’s world.  It’s extremely hard to live this out.  It’s worth it though.  I believe there is more freedom in living out God’s will than in following a self-centred worldview.  Which leads us back to the imaginary fights of boyhood.

It’s important for boys to learn to be brave, to be warriors.  I hear the buts already.  Yes, girls are brave too.  Don’t get me wrong.  However, I’m raising boys, so today that’s who we are discussing.  For boys, courage, bravery, it’s part of them.  Like breathing.  They need to learn to develop it so they can live out their purpose and then encourage others to follow suit.

If you look at all the wonderful male heroes both in the literary and real world you will see men who are brave.  In being brave, men stand for truth, for justice and for good.  They learn to be protectors of faith, family, and good.  If you don’t let a boy learn to be brave, to stand up for what he believes in, you are doing him and society a huge injustice.  We need a few good men in this world.  This world where they are being emasculated.  Where children’s TV makes dads look like the biggest dolts in the world.  Where evil and cruelty seem to be able to walk through cities and countries, carrying away whomever and whatever they want.  No one stops them.  We need a few brave men.

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Light sabre fights and foam swords. Worth every penny. Hours spent in play.

Even though I said this wasn’t about girls, I want to add that to raise brave boys, it takes brave parents.  Because you will be going up against the status quo.  People don’t like that.  They will question your parenting.  They will question your ethics. They will question whether you are sane.  Especially for the mom.  As a teen we’re warned about peer pressure.  They forgot to add that the peer pressure from a group of moms on a mission, is ten times more pressure than a group of teens!  Because we don’t want the label of Bad Parent.  Moms, we have to stand firm.  There will be times we just don’t get it because we don’t have that male mind.  That’s okay.  Stand firm sister!

As a very little boy, our oldest was a climber.  I let him climb on the monkey bars at the park.  I did not hover.  I stood close but I let him climb on his own.  I knew he could do this.  He had incredible balance.  As I let him go, I’d hear other parents gasp.  Interpretation: How can she let him do that?  She’s a bad parent.  She’ll be sorry when he falls.  I was tempted to smother and hover because that meant I was a good parent right?  It’s a lie.

Much older here but still loves to climb!
Much older here but still loves to climb!

As my husband and I struggle through this thing called parenting, we try to give the boys freedom within boundaries.  We have not always done this well.  We have failed as many times as we’ve succeeded.  It’s been very hard at times to let them out of the nest to fly on their own.  Sometimes I’ve closed my eyes, literally, or looked in another direction.  I couldn’t stand to watch.

It’s taken on a different look, this bravery thing, as they’ve gotten older.  No longer about monkey bars, although with boys there is always the dare devil tricks that their minds can dream up, but it’s more about letting them go and make mistakes so they can learn from them.  Because bravery isn’t just about fighting.  It’s about the courage to forge friendships and trust. Being brave means learning how to navigate in this world but not be of it.  It’s about learning to do your best even when you want to quit.  It’s about learning what is important and what can be let go.  Running from temptation.  Being brave is about living.  Not just getting by.

I want more than the world offers for my boys.  I want them to care about what happens not just here at home but around the globe.  I want them to be able to love with abandon and fight with zealousness.  I want them to be honest, kind and just.  I want them to be fulfilled in following the call on their lives.  I want them to be brave.

At the ROM in Toronto, ON.  They loved putting on the armour.
At the ROM in Toronto, ON. They loved putting on the armour.

Is this just a parent’s fanciful dream?  Perhaps.  But my husband and I are willing to fight for them.  To wage war for them until they can take up the battle themselves.  It’s like everything else in parenting.  Kids learn by watching, especially boys.  Brave men are raised by brave parents.

BRAVE: Fighting for Your Life

“I realize now how much courage it takes to choose the life you want, whatever it might be.”                                       (Reached, p. 471, by Ally Condie)

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If you journal, have you every gone back to read them?  I really haven’t.  Occasionally if I am looking for a certain date, I might.  I have journaled since I was ten years old.  Sometimes I wonder why I keep them.  The writer in me hopes they contain the origins of a best seller.  (Yes I know that’s every writer’s dream).  The other part of me thinks they are worthless.

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Yesterday I was searching for certain information in one of them and I read through the whole year.  It was eye-opening.  I don’t remember most of what I wrote.  I don’t recall having those emotions or feelings.  At all.  They weren’t bad, either.  In fact they were good and I’m wondering what happened to make them go away?

It takes only a little more reading to figure it out.  How fear and lies stole them away from me.  I didn’t even put up a fight.  At the time, I was blind to the frauds they were.  The enemy lies to us, making fear the easy choice.  It’s a gate that opens up to choosing nothing.  You stand for nothing.  You feel nothing, except the icy fingers of fear numbing your soul.  You do nothing but hold onto the fear that will slowly kill you.  It’s a painful death.  You watch the world live in vibrant colour as your bones turn to dust.  It only promises anger, bitterness and a whole host of other negative things.

Ally Condie, fiction author of the Matched Trilogy, is right.  It takes courage to choose the life you want to live.  You must be brave to fight for what you want.  Not in a self-serving or greedy way.  That’s full of fear, too.  But to fight for what you believe.  Fight for your purpose in life.  For your family.  To kill the giants that threaten to overtake you, your dream or your family.

It is a fight, whether you choose to engage or not.  The giants are there, waiting, lurking, smirking.  You better have your sword ready.

Fear is not the only lie we must contend with.  The other one is more subtle, cloaked in righteousness and a hint of truth.  But it’s claws are sharp.  Ironically it’s one that Jesus followers and some churches promote as gospel truth.  It’s not.  The lie is this; If we are following God’s will, it will all work out.  All the details will fall into place.  Happily ever after.

What a whopper!  We fall for it way too easily.  I remember talking with a friend about this as we got ready to move.  We were indeed following what we believed to be God’s will.  The timing of selling our house wasn’t great.  There were no guarantees. Yet well meaning people kept telling us it would all work out.  As in our favour.  It doesn’t always.  Sometimes the house doesn’t sell when we want it too.  The diagnosis isn’t what we would have chosen.  The relationship isn’t restored.  The pain doesn’t go away.  Why not?

There is no easy answer.  God sees everything and His plans encompass more than we can ever imagine or realize.  We don’t see the whole picture but one day we will.  It’s still hard.  This is where it’s easy to get entangled in this lie.  Because we think we should have a life that is easy because we surrendered it, right?  Doesn’t that count for something?  Don’t we then deserve some ease?

The answer is simply no.  That’s not what Jesus said.  On the contrary.  He never promised us an easy life all precisely worked out in a nice little package.  Look what he says to his disciples in John 16:1 -4, 32,33 “I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith.  For you will be expelled from the synagogues, and the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God.  This is because they have never known the Father or me….I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”  Our lives are going to be messy.  That is a guarantee.  Because we are human.  Sin entered the world and we will deal with the consequences.  But there is hope here.  Jesus says it at the end.  He has overcome.  He did the work on the cross.

He also promises us that we don’t go into the fight alone.  Deuteronomy 31:8 “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed’.  Satan wants you to believe that following God means a happy ending and if He doesn’t deliver it’s because He doesn’t care about you or your problem, circumstance, Whatever.  Why?  If it doesn’t come prettily wrapped with a beautiful bow, we get discouraged.  We doubt God.  We might give up or quit on the very thing that God intends for us.  It’s what our enemy wants.  Our defeat.  We hand it over like we would the salt shaker.

It not only takes courage to choose the life you want, it also means that you have to be brave in the fight to secure or protect it.  To discover the new normal that God has for you.  To bravely continue on the path set before you.  To courageously trust that He’s got it.  To not just sit back and let life happen.  To give in to fear.

In both the scriptures mentioned, the Israelites and then the disciples were being told to go do something.  They were fighting for what they believed.  For their nationhood.  For the truth to be told everywhere, even where it wasn’t wanted.  They were being called to battle.

To be brave means confronting the lies we believe, the fear that controls.  It means being willing to go out and fight for the life we choose.

PS: The coolest thing is that God has indeed given us a happily every after for those who believe in Jesus.  Heaven.  Eternal life with the most brilliant Author ever.  Can’t wait, one day, to hear some of the stories we wish we’d have answers to in the here and now!

The Heart That Really Matters

I’m not one to give much credence to man-made special days.  Like Valentine’s Day.  I wasn’t a great girlfriend and am probably one of the worst wives ever.  Just ask Mark what I gave him last Valentine’s Day.  Zip.  I feel like I’m being told I have to do something romantic.  So I do just the opposite.  It’s kind of a bah humbug of Valentine’s.  (It’s also strong-willed child in a grown-up syndrome but that’s another blog).

These special calendar days have been gobbled up by the market place.  Instead of being a day where one took the time to remember what was special about someone, what they loved about that person, it has become about money, consumerism and a lot of have to’s and shoulds.  Not very romantic in my opinion.  It has nothing to do with love.  That doesn’t mean I can’t make it about love.

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One year I baked. I know, right?

My own attitude isn’t very romantic either.  Just because the world makes it about stuff, doesn’t mean I have to buy into that. (Good news right Mark?)  Our boys are getting older.  They have questions about relationships.  It’s made me stop and re-examine what kind of example am I setting for them.  Do I want them to be bah humbugging their own sweethearts someday?  No!  I want my boys to grow up to be men who have a little romantic side to them too.  Who better to teach that to them than both of their parents?

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I want them to understand love and relationships from God’s point of view too.  I consider it a year round teachable moment, not just one day.  However February 14th has been on my radar early this year because a certain movie is coming out and everyone is talking about it.  There are blogs and articles and talk shows.  I’ve been trying to figure this all out.  What about you?

Our study of Nehemiah has been timely in the last two weeks. Kelly Minter has really made us stop and think about what we engage in as far as mindless entertainment.  This week we were talking about guarding our hearts.  Between studying Nehemiah, thinking about love, romance and the movie coming out, my brain has been on overdrive.  You may be asking why is any of this important?  I believe it is these everyday little decisions that add up and form our lives.  So this is what I’ve come up with so far.  (Please don’t think for a moment that I have it all figured out.  I don’t.  I feel like I am the last person to be writing this.)  These are my own thoughts.  Please think about it and come up with your own.  The idea is to think first and not just blindly do.

As for me and my house, we choose not to see this movie or read the book.  Not because someone told us not to (again strong-willed child syndrome) but because as I wrote in my last blog, we want to be a parents that do as we say.  We too, have to watch what we put in our minds.  We don’t want our boys looking at porn so shouldn’t that principle apply to us as well?  I want my family to embrace good and to run far, far from temptation.  As parents, we need to model that for our children.  Maybe if more of us did, our kids wouldn’t be so messed up.

If romance and love needs some attention in our own lives, shouldn’t we attend to it?  It will take work on our part.  Hard work.  It isn’t magically going to appear, contrary to all the fairy tales, romance novels and Hollywood.  This is the message of a lot of articles and blogs as this movie comes out.  I follow Jill Savage, who is a writer and speak and her blog the last few weeks has been about marriage.  She and her husband talk candidly about his affair and their journey since then.  It was refreshing and eye-opening.  You can check out her blog here.  Just like our spiritual lives, our marriages need attention.  You ignore it, it’s going to suffer.

Finally as I was listening to the song, Heart of My God by Sarah Hart and Kelly Minter which goes along with the Nehemiah study, it struck me that maybe this Valentine’s Day, the heart I should be pursuing with earnest is God’s.  Do I really know His heart?  Maybe He’d like me to.  Minter talks about how God’s kindness brings us to repentance.  As I thought about that, I wondered about His love.  What does it do to us?  It didn’t take me long to figure it out.  His love, His heart, woos us back to Him.

Isn’t it Jesus’ kindness to the woman caught in adultery, that makes you sigh?  His gentleness with Martha as she shakes with indignation because her sister didn’t help?  His joy over Mary’s choice to sit at His feet?  His care for His mother as he died on the cross?  Aren’t these some of the qualities that we look for and want in our spouses?  And struggle to live out ourselves?  The grace, kindness and love that we crave, do we give back to our true loves?  Ouch.  Guilty.  We mess up and then go running, looking for love and romance in other places.  We won’t find it.  There is only one place it resides.  The heart of God.

Isn’t it His heart, His love and grace for us, so undeserving, that finally brings us to our knees?  That draws us back to Him. Hellfire and brimstone doesn’t accomplishes this.  But love does.

I’m not sure about you, but I want to know what it means to fall in love with God over and over again.  This Valentine’s Day, maybe it’s about discovering the author of true love.  Pure and unconditional love that sacrificed all.  For you.  For me.  An undeserving gift that woos us back to His heart.  To Home.

BRAVE: Owning Up

Do you ever have those days when you feel numb?  When you’d rather just go on doing what your doing and forget everything else?

I’m not feeling particularly brave today.  Today, brave would mean owning up.  It would mean taking a hard look at stuff I’m quite comfortable keeping in the dark.  I’m avoiding doing my bible study homework because it means I will have to do this. Examine my life, my heart.  I feel like a two-year old.  I don’t want to.

This isn’t working for me.  This avoidance.  I facilitate the study.  I can’t NOT do the homework.  It would look bad, right?

If the only thing that is worrying me is that I’ll look bad then I really need this homework.  Pride is obviously an issue.  I’m not denying it isn’t.  We’ve squared off several times before.

The “stuff” we hide in the dark isn’t necessarily big, bad, and scary.  Some of it may be good in the right context.  Some of it isn’t.  It might be pride.  It might be a well concealed lie.  A temper. Gossip.  A stubborn spirit.  Or as Kelly Minter is talking about in the Nehemiah study, what we put into our minds, especially in the areas of entertainment.

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I have to admit this is a struggle for me.  I love the arts.  All of them.  I adore all forms of dance.  I studied art history while painting, drawing and shading my way through year after year of art courses.

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Some projects I did in high school. Yes I kept them!
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High school art.

My son sees the beautiful sculptures of David and others, and questions is this good or bad?  They’re nude right?  We’ve told him that those pictures are not good to look at.  What’s the difference?  How do you define the artistic nuances and purity of Michelangelo’s David versus the lewd pictures on the internet, to a twelve-year old mind?

Yet I believe there is a difference.

This is one of the hardest things about parenting.  As my boys grow, the barrage of images, movies, music and books that gets thrown at them grows exponentially.  I can’t keep up.  We try but really, it’s almost impossible.  Even the most bubble-wrapped child is going to be exposed.  Yet I’m a firm believer of exorcizing the Christian bubble.  The world is what it is and they need to know what is out there and what is good and not good.  To learn to have discrimination and understand what Jesus would want for them in all areas of their lives.  For them to understand free will.  So when they choose good, it’s not because we’ve forced them to.

It opens incredible teaching moments and opportunities for relationship with them.  It lets them know that they can come to us and ask us their questions.  It’s safe.  Do we always get it right?  NOT.

I understand there are inherent risks involved.  We teach as we go.  I heard this; “You can’t unsee something.”  I say that to the boys.  I also tell them what you put in your bodies, your minds is what comes out.  Ahh…. Therein lies the cause of my avoidance.

The relentless nagging, the lovingly, incessant poke of the Spirit.  I don’t always take my own advice.  It’s so easy to tell our children, our spouses, our friends and family what to do.  To blog about it.  It’s incredibly difficult to follow through ourselves.  We dig our heels in and rationalize.  Minimize.  It’s not just in the area of entertainment.  It’s in all the corners of our lives.  I thought I tried to live out what I speak.  Write.  Kelly Minter’s study has made me stop.  Do I really?  Maybe in some areas but some of the darker corners, not so much.  I just go on doing what I want to do.  We all know the areas the Spirit is speaking to us about.  They are different for everyone.

Being brave today would mean taking a flashlight and shining it into those corners that I don’t really want to venture into to.  Because it’s hard to own up.  It’s hard to stop habits that have become a way of life.  It’s going to take some hard work.  It’s going to take some time at the foot of the cross.  It’s answering a question that Jesus has been asking me on and off for a while now.  “Who do you love more?”  That thing you’re holding onto or Me?

It means I have to do my homework.  To be brave.

Reroute

It started with Veronica Roth’s trilogy, Divergent.  The addiction was subtle and quick.  I can’t stop reading these dystopian trilogies.  I’ve always loved young adult fiction and I can’t keep my hands off the “new” crop of titles.  (Some are not so new but when you have little kids, well, you lose about ten years of reading time.)  My house is not getting any cleaner.

However the fiction is rich with themes and ideas. Reading with “older” eyes and more experience in life, makes it that much more meaningful.  Recently I finished the Matched trilogy by Ally Condie.  Good.  The story was enthralling and tense (I had to look ahead. I’m no purist when it comes to reading the ending at the end.)  The writing was…let’s just say that Condie is really good at her craft.  This trilogy had something that some of the others have missed.  It had hope.  It had the promise of change.  I started writing down quotes that kept jumping out at me.

In one chapter, Cassia, one of the main characters, has a choice.  She can either stay where she is or she can take a risk and go someplace else.  As she debates with herself, she thinks, “You cannot change your journey if you are unwilling to move at all.” (Reached, Ally Condie, p. 232.)  It stopped me mid-paragraph.  I had to go read it again.  Truth.  Our journeys remain the same if we continue in the same direction.  To change our journey, we have to put ourselves on a new, different course.  You may not want to change your journey.  Not all of us need to.  But some of us, do.

I’ve needed to change my journey a few times.  The paths were either not where I wanted to go or were leading in a direction that the end result was going to be destructive, not just for myself but those I loved.  I had to be willing to move out of my comfort zone, the desire to blame others and circumstances as well as my fear.  Change can only happen if we let it. Sometimes we are the biggest obstacle to our ourselves.  I’ll admit, I’ve stayed frozen in place, walking the same path more often than I’d care to admit.

Willingness, as Condie writes, is key.  In being willing, we are being brave.  Being willing to change, opens the door to let in the light.  Lies are revealed.  Tapes we’ve been listening to for far too long suddenly sound warped.  We’re incapable of change. This is just who we are.  You are living in a fairy tale if you think it’s gonna change.  These falsehoods are the enemy’s snares to keep us trapped in mediocre lives.  In defeated lives.  In our comfort zones.  But the moment we are willing to change, the light reveals the holes in the lies and the dust bunnies in our zones.  It might be time for an airing out.

Willingness also makes us take ownership of what we are responsible for in our lives.  It guides us to place where we let go of blame.  Yeah, the world can throw us some really hard curves but it can’t dictate how we respond.  Blaming keeps us under a rock.  It pulls us down when we could be soaring.  Being willing to change helps us kick off the chains, whatever they might be, that drag us back to the pit.

Finally being willing to change means we are willing to stand up to the worst bully ever, our fear.  That icy hand that holds us pinned and paralyzed, afraid to turn left or right.  Scared to move.  Being willing to start the process of change in ourselves means we’re ready to move forward despite our fear.  We’ll fight it because it’s losing it’s grip on us.

It’s so hard to change.  That one little sentence seems so innocuous.  Being willing to change so your journey can take on a whole new shape or message, will be a ton of work.  It might require some help from others.  It might require trusting God.  Which can be scary.  The question we need to ask ourselves is; where do I want to end up?  The destination I’m headed now or somewhere totally new?  Maybe someplace great?  Better than we’d ever imagined?

In my own experience, the hard work is definitely worth the pain, sweat and tears.  There’s gonna be a lot of that!  A journey requires work, effort, preparation.  To change a course takes even more intentionality.  Letting life happen to you doesn’t work.  Taking responsibility for our actions, our choices, our words, and attitudes, does.

Changing our journey doesn’t mean it’s suddenly all a rose-coloured picnic.  It does mean that we are in charge of us. I am in control of me and how I respond, instead of letting circumstances and people be the masters that enslave me.  I can be willing to move so I end up in a place I want to be.  A place where I can discover who I was created to be.