Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sarah's Story

Sarah, a sophomore at Wheaton College, is my guest today.  I thought you might be encouraged to read her talk at high school graduation on courage.  Sarah will be going into her third year as a river and backpacking guide next summer.

"Peace Like A River"

Graduates, friends. My name is Sarah Neff, and I have this thing for rivers. Yesterday morning, actually, I woke up in Colorado, where I have spent every day of the last two weeks on a river, training to be a whitewater rafting guide.

Does anyone remember the old hymn “It is Well With My Soul”? It begins:

"When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul."

If I have learned anything in the last two weeks, I have learned that rivers aren't peaceful. Tuesday, I had to swim a class III rapid called Last Chance. I am one of the smallest in my guide class, and swimming rapids is really hard for me. When I jumped in, I missed the eddy at the top of the rapid, which meant I went down without a rest or a breathe, about 20 feet too close to the giant rock in the center of the rapid. I cannot remember ever being so afraid. All of the dangers I had learned about—hydrolics, suckholes, strainers, foot entrapments, hypothermia (If I name anything else, my mom won't let me go back)--all these things suddenly made complete sense and were completely eclipsed by this new, undefinable, tangible, cold, wet fear.

And peace? Peace like a river? After Tuesday, that phrase didn't make sense. And yet, when I was in the middle of that rapid, with waves breaking over me, running out of breath, there was this one, still moment, when I crested a wave and looked downriver. And I knew where I was going. That's the safe thing about rivers. You're always headed downstream. Rivers have this beautiful constancy of motion, this assurance that whatever rock, whatever obstacle, is in the way, the water is going to keep flowing, is going to make it past whatever rapid you're in, all the way to the sea.

My favorite poet, this crazy German monk named Rainer Maria Rilke, said something I like a lot. In a poem written to God, he speaks of the future as it flows forward:

"Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing to you as no one ever has,
streaming through widening channels
into the open sea."

From this point onward, we, class of 2009, will be streaming through widening channels. There will be swelling and ebbing currents; there will be deepening tides. There will be moments of calm, yes, but there will also be rapids. We might,as I already have, miss eddies. We might get worked by some hydrolics; we will flip boats and run into rocks. But we can have peace—peace that's like a river. Hear me: It's not a peace that comes with the expectation of an easy journey, but rather a peace that comes with a sure destination. Guys, He who began a good work in us is going to carry it on to completion, until the day of Jesus Christ! We're going to make it to the ocean, if we stay in the current of his will. And what joy, what an adventure. The real danger in these widening channels makes room for real courage.

And so, class of 09, to lend a bit of courage, I could think of no better words than those my rafting instructor prayed over me before I swam Last Chance on Tuesday. This comes from Isaiah 43:

"But now, this is what the Lord says—
'Fear not, for I have redeemed you,
I have summoned you by name;
you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.' "

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Swell of Hope

Without hope, there is no courage.  Hope is a powerful antidote for those without courage, who have lost the heart to try.  Encouragement--the act of giving courage--works best when the encourager helps the discouraged find reasons to hope.

In Endurance, Alfred Lansing tells the story of Ernest Shackleton's voyage and entrapment in ice.  After being stuck for months, a small swell of water leads to hope that shatters the group's complacency and their acceptance of an icy end. Lansing says, "Until the appearance of the swell, many of the men had struggled for months not to let hope creep into their minds...But then came the swell--the physical proof that there really was something outside the limitless prison of ice.  And all their defenses they had so carefully constructed to prevent hope from entering their minds collapsed."  Hope made them different, creating a desperation for leaving the ice rather than accepting their situation.  This was hard on them, but it moved the group from discouragement to action.  Hope is strong.

Like the small swell of water, it may not take much to give your child hope.  Maybe a realization by him that he can do something, that he has abilities and gifts that are valued and can be developed and used.  Maybe something to look forward to.  Maybe preparation that instills confidence and hope, even as simple as helping him prepare for a test or rehearsing the words he will say before a discussion. Often small successes lead to another...and another, as hope and courage build.

Ultimately, mature hope that changes discouragement to courage is rooted in God.  As the Psalmist says, "My hope is in you," not in myself, others, or achievements in this world which come and go.  If a child is discouraged, getting hope of some kind is important.  But, it is best when her hope points her to a faithful Creator and not the creation.

May our lives show our children hope that goes beyond what is seen.  May the little ways we get them to hope change to a hope and trust in the living God who cares for them.  May they get to the point where their dreams become God's dreams and they can say with the Jahaziel in Chronicles, "Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God's."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Braveheart Girls

 A few years ago, a book called The Blessing told us that what we say to our children about who they are and will become changes them. They tend to live up to the things we believe about them.  They need to be blessed by parents, loved unconditionally and encouraged.  I am not sure how blessings in the Bible work. Are the patriarchs simply speaking God's prophetic words when they bless their children? Or, do the patriarchs have special power in proclaiming the future and their children live up to it? I don't know for sure. But, I do know that the words we say affect our children.

I have three daughters--and one son, but this is about girls! Over the years, I tried to be keenly aware of praying with my girls about their character and that God would use them. I tried to not limit them with my world and my dreams. I tried to not talk about being pretty as a standard or fit them in a Leave it to Beaver family image. I tried to use words that gave them a vision to follow God, love Him and people, and be used by Him. I have not always been successful in my words, but I have made a sincere effort to bless them with a vision of usefulness as God leads.

Recently, I heard about a children's sermon where the speaker told boys they should be strong and girls that they should be pretty. My toes kind of curled. I assume the speaker was trying to convey a sense of manhood and womanhood in contrast to some things going on in our culture. But, the vision of girls being pretty and boys strong is not the blessing I was trying to give my daughters.

Our culture uses beauty to sell. Being pretty helps you succeed, makes everybody like you, and gets you what you want according to our world and its marketers. There is nothing wrong with trying to look nice, certainly preferred to the alternative! But when girls see "pretty" as their future it leads to exploitation, insecurity, comparisons, fears, eating disorders, and weakness. Making pretty a vision for girls does not build bravehearts who will have the courage to be and become whom God intends.

I reread Proverbs 31:10-31, the picture of "an excellent wife" whose "worth is far above jewels." After reading how she works, buys and sells, raises crops, helps the poor, and cares for her family, I began to wonder what the husband does! Her children "rise up and bless her" and her husband says, "Many daughters have done nobly, but you excel them all."

The only hint that being pretty is a vision for her is the comment about the nice clothes she makes for herself. Otherwise the writer says that "charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised."

The excellent wife "girds herself with strength and makes her arms strong." "Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future." She "is not afraid of the snow for her household, for all her household are clothed with scarlet." She is a braveheart, entering realms where others fear, with strength and courage. She is praised and set up as an example of an excellent wife.

What vision do we have for our daughters? What words do we say to them about their future? What do we applaud in their lives, outer beauty or strength and dignity? What are commercials, friends, and even trusted church leaders saying to them about whom they should be and become?

The blessing we give our daughters is powerful in a culture that wants to make them something less than God does. Our culture wants pretty to be its standard as it exploits and weakens girls. Or the culture wants to make them independent and dominant. Both extremes miss the blessing of a woman who loves God and people, and courageously lives out her life as she follows God's lead and uses the gifts He has given her.

May you and I pick the right words and build our braveheart daughters by giving them a blessing in the directions that God honors.

P.S. For more, you might try The Blessing by Gary Smalley and John Trent or Growing Strong Daughters by my friend, Lisa McMinn. You might also try John Trent's website:

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Basics of Building a Braveheart

The comics on New Year's Day show the New Year as a baby with a diaper, toddling forward and not burdened like the old man who teeters away with the old year.  The baby is simple, unmarred and full of hope.

Perhaps the best way to start the year for Building Bravehearts is to start with the basics, a simple toddler of ideas, not burdened.  One of my favorite quotes is from Fred Rogers:  "Life is simple and deep.  We make it complex and shallow."  What is simple and deep for building bravehearts?

There are only a handful of passages in the Bible that directly tell parents how to parent.  I am convinced that if we get a grip on these simple and deep ideas, we will build bravehearts who become the people God intended.

What are these basic passages for parents?

Colossians 3:21:  "Fathers do not exasperate your children that they do not lose heart."

This passage is the premise of Building Bravehearts.  The opposite of a lost heart is having heart.  Courage.  A braveheart.  Something children have that should be protected and encouraged, but can be lost.

Ephesians 6:4: "And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." 

"Bring them up" is a phrase used of a nursemaid, someone nurturing, relational, intentional, and caring.  When we bring our children up, it is in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.  Discipline is rooted in discipling and relationship.  Instruction involves words and truth.  This is a passage predicated on parents being there for their children with time, energy, and investment.  Children learn security and strength needed for courage when brought up this way.

Deuteronomy 6:1-25 (largely repeated in Deuteronomy 11):  "Now these are the commandments, the statutes and the judgments which the Lord your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged." 

Notice that the beginning of helping children fear the Lord is that parents "do them," not just know the words, but use them in life so we can model  to our children.  After the part quoted above, the passage continues by telling parents to love God with all our being, to put the words on our hearts first, to teach them to our children day and night, to share them, and to remember who has blessed us.  Courage comes from seeing real faith by parents lived out and then hearing the stories of God's power in life.

There are several Proverbs, mostly on discipline, such as 19:18, "Discipline your son while there is hope" and 13:24, 22:15, and 29:15.  Discipline is part of unconditional love. It gives boundaries which paradoxically allows freedom and security.  Done well, discipline is a powerful tool to train children. Discipline helps courage not be foolish, but to be wise steps of faith in the face of fears.

Maybe you have other basics.  But, out of all of Scripture, these stand out as directions for parents on parenting.  Begin here.  They are really pretty simple.  And, very deep.

Going to the basics is a great way to begin the New Year.  We'll dress up that little New Year baby with other ideas and watch it grow as we go along.  But, let's not lose sight of the handful of directions God gives.  All other thoughts we explore should build on these.  The truths in these passages will help your braveheart grow well.  They are worth your attention.