Monday, March 28, 2011

Managing Risk for Life's Adventure

Whitewater rafting is dangerous, which is what makes it so much fun.  Dana and I sat overlooking the Seidel's Suckhole on the Arkansas River near Buena Vista, Colorado and watched rafts flip, a potentially life threatening event.  (You can see one video here: Seidel's Suckhole.)  Is it dangerous?  Yes.  Is there risk?  Yes.  But, there is risk with almost anything worthwhile.  The key is managing risk.

A prime parenting task is to teach our children how to manage risk.  For a five year old, it might be learning which streets to cross and how to do that safely--some streets aren't safe, ever.  Some crossings require knowledge and maturity a five year old just isn't ready for.  So much of life is in assessment, preparation, and facing risk.  Risk is everywhere, from the decision to let a toddler use a fork to teenage driving and dating to guys like me deciding whether to climb up on the roof to fix a shingle.  How do we manage risk in life so our children can be bravehearts?

The first step to good risk management is assessing the risk.  Is there "no real danger," "danger to manage," or "danger to avoid."  Making this decision isn't easy. Lying down to take a nap in your bed sounds like "no real danger."  Unless bed bugs have found a home there. Good risk assessment often involves using a lot of information, which is why we don't let ten year olds drive; wisdom of age, experience, and training make some things safe for some people but a danger to avoid for others.  We often practice risk assessment without really thinking about it, but intentional thought will help you make good decisions about risks, opening some doors and closing others.

The second step for risk management is preparation.  If a teenager is mature enough to drive, good training and practice will make it a "risk to manage" and doable.  The video of the rafts at Seidel's does not show what happens before and after the rapids to manage the risk.  Seidel's is safer than it looks for the customers of whitewater companies who have prepared well.  A video clip, a news story, or a rumor doesn't always give an accurate picture of risk because they focus on the danger and not the preparation that makes the risk safer.

While managing the risk appropriately did not originate with Noah's Ark Whitewater Rafting and Adventure Company(Noah's Ark Colorado Rafting), it is where I first saw it implemented well.  While other companies may manage risk by careful preparation, Noah's certainly has developed a strong plan for preparation that comes long before any dangerous rapids and prepares for safety after the rapids.

To minimize risk, the guides prepare intensively by studying books, then riding with others on the river and swimming the rapids to experience the danger first hand.  Then they row the rapids again and again until each is checked out by a supervisor before taking a commercial group in that section of the river.  They have learned to avoid dangerous situations.  And, they have practiced emergency situations like flipped and torn boats, know emergency aid, and organize their pods of boats so that newer guides are always under the watchful wings of experts who can help if needed.

If there was a Noah's Ark raft at Seidel's and the video looked down river, to the right, you would see Noah's Ark guides standing in the water with rescue lines and boats ready to help anyone in trouble.  Not only did they prepare to minimize risk before the rapids, but were ready to make it safe if there was a problem with help to get out.  Risk, yes.  But strong preparation with experience and a way out, if needed.  A solid approach to risk management for anything.  (For a video on Noah's rafting click here: Noah's Ark - Colorado Rafting video.)

Teaching a five year old to cross the street begins with maturity.  Then, preparation begins with verbal instruction followed by practice with mom or dad holding his hand.  Next, crossing while a parent watches beside the road.  Finally, a solo trip with a parent probably peeking out a window to make sure he gets to the neighbor's house.  Always ready to yell or rescue until the child has the practice and experience to do it alone.

A few years ago, our daughter, Kristie, travelled for two months throughout Central America with another young lady, Hannah.  Our parental wisdom was questioned a few times by friends.  But, we had assessed the risk.  Kristie and Hannah had worked as river and mountain guides.  They had experience travelling to other countries and big cities, even organizing trips and being responsible for others.  They had a track record of making good decisions, knowing people, and being resourceful.

They had a plan.  And, a back up plan for safe homes and places if something didn't go right, which was good, because the first spot to stay for a week was a sustainable farm community that was so spooky they left after one day.  They followed Plan B, wading through miles of mud instead of waiting for the twice-a-week bus to get to a safe place. Kristie even dyed her hair dark to avoid being noticed because they had learned ahead of time about the common macho approach to girls from young men.  They prepared well.

The girls had maturity and experience.  They planned well and had backup plans.  The trip was wonderful, with rich stories after they made it home.  It was not entirely safe; the trip was risky.  But, what could we do as parents?  Deny the trip for which they had carefully prepared?  As Madeleine L'engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time, asks:  "But do we want unmarked children?  Are they to go out into the adult world all bland and similar and unscarred?  Is wrapping in cotton wool, literary or otherwise, the kind of guidance we owe them?"

Do we really want children who are safe but heartless, protected with padding we provide and shaded by the umbrella we carry over them, so they can watch the world happen?  The goal is to teach them to live an abundant life.  Good risk management makes living this adventure possible and allows bravehearts to grow.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Places for Boys

Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys makes the case that young men now live through an extended adolescence into their twenties.  I have caught myself writing more often about young braveheart women than young braveheart men.  Courageous girls have made strong strides in areas like leadership, business, athletics, war, and education, areas which more often belonged to men in the past.  Is something going on with young men?

In the Wall Street Journal, Kay Hymowitz, author of Manning Up says:  "What explains this puerile shallowness? I see it as an expression of our cultural uncertainty about the social role of men. It's been an almost universal rule of civilization that girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, but boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors and providers. Today, however, with women moving ahead in our advanced economy, husbands and fathers are now optional, and the qualities of character men once needed to play their roles—fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity—are obsolete, even a little embarrassing."

Meg Meeker in Boys Should Be Boys adds, “But today that natural, healthy boyhood is under attack.  It is threatened by an educational establishment that devalues masculinity and boyishness, and not only by widely remarked societal changes including widespread divorce and the rise of single-parent households that deprive boys of the responsible fathers they need, but by a noxious popular culture that is as degrading to boys as it is dangerous to girls."

Are boys in trouble?  I don't think so.  But, it does seem that the traditional realms where boys developed faith and courage have become increasingly diminished or confused, perhaps causing boys to hold back.  Recently a boy wrestler forfeited his match in the state tournament because he would be wrestling a girl.  He said it was based on conviction, which is a legitimate reason.  But, I have also known boys who forfeited because wrestling a girl was a lose-lose situation.  If the boy wins, there is no honor in beating the girl. If he loses, there is ridicule, so why try?  Maybe there is some truth to the effect of braveheart girls on the growth of braveheart boys.

What to do?  Meg Meeker suggests this:  “The world of our sons is not the world we lived in when we were young.  Most boys can’t ride their bikes until sunset without worrying about being abducted.  The world has grown sad for our boys.  But the good news is:  we can bring them back.  We can reinstitute some of the joy of boyhood for them, and we can ease their pressures (even the ones we think are beneficial for them, like earning good grades to get into an Ivy League school) by giving them the freedom to be boys:  to simply enjoy pick-up games of basketball in their neighborhoods, to find that safe acreage of woods where they can hike and imagine, and to have that home library where classic adventure books await."

Andy Crouch tells about three places where we can find ourselves in Culture Making.  We can be in the "wilderness," which is hard to find anymore and is seriously dangerous if we don't take the proper cultural tools like maps and tents.  Or, we can be in the "theme park" where everything is done for us, there is no risk, you are never alone, and there is nothing to create or tend.  It is a made up world where danger is pretend and shallow fun trumps deep life.

And, then there is the Garden. "Though it is indeed sheltered, it is a place of ultimate moral seriousness because it is a place where the Creator himself, having provided all the essentials of the good life yet also having allowed risk and choice (how else can we explain the presence of the serpent?) withdraws for a time to allow the divine image bearers to fulfill their calling to culture, returning only to walk in the garden in the cool of the day."

Where do our young men need to use faith and courage, places and situations where they can be boys and men?  Where is their Garden? Away from the fake life of video games and reality television to real risk and meaning. As we help our girls become bravehearts, lets keep a watchful eye and strong hand to make sure our boys can become Davids and Joshuas.  Maybe we do need to create arenas just for them, places and situations where they can risk and grow, places that are not canned or fraught with the toe stepping of political correctness.

A few months ago, my son Luke wrote this about his childhood.  Maybe it will help as we think about what we can do.

Luke and I a long time ago

"My childhood, as best as I can remember it, consisted of a mix of books, outdoors and family dinners.  The outdoors part especially has shaped me in a way that has imbued me with a sense of the braveheartedness that I wouldn't have had otherwise.  At any whim I was allowed to venture into the thirty acres of woods behind our house for hours and days.  I was an explorer.  Michael Chabon in his essay, 'The Wilderness of Childhood' writes that 'Childhood is a branch of cartography.' I was allowed to explore, allowed to roam and fill in my 'mental map' of the area that I live in.  Chabon writes, 'every story of adventure is in part the story of a landscape.' I got to know the landscape and myself.  And this confidence of exploration, as much as anything, has given me a freedom to explore worlds far beyond our woods."


It doesn't have to be the woods,  but it does have to offer real adventure and need for courage and faith.  In your world, where can he be a braveheart boy making choices that mean something and allow him to become a man who knows how to make a difference in life?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Amanda's Story

Let me introduce you to Amanda Glenn, a wonderful young lady who is a braveheart.  Amanda recently shared in our school chapels about her eleven month missionary journey with The World Race.  Her story was so powerful, I asked her if we could do an "interview."  Amanda answers my questions below.

As you read, you might notice what Amanda's parents did to help her have courage including such things as their example and support.  And, as Amanda tells her story, notice how her passion and courage allow Amanda to love and to be loved.  Be sure to click on Amanda's blog at the end (I especially love the pictures!).  Thanks, Amanda.

1. What is the Race?

"The World Race is a missionary journey with Adventures in Missions. The World Race is unique because missionaries travel to eleven different countries in eleven months to minister to a variety of cultures. With essentially our backpacks and tents, we were sent to live among the poorest of poor, feed the hungry, bring hope to prostitutes, care for orphans, and simply love people for who they are-where they are."

2. How did you become involved in the Race?

"I have known since I was a sophomore in high school that I wanted to serve the Lord in full-time ministry. I attended Ouachita Baptist University where I received a degree in Biblical Studies. During university I was very engaged in a wide array of ministries from youth camp counseling, to women's prison ministry, to elderly service. I love to love people! After studying poverty around the world as well as the Lord's heart for social justice in Scripture my desire to love people expanded to include the nations. It became my heart’s desire to make a difference globally and to serve those who are hurting and in need. My dad saw an advertisement for the World Race and encouraged me to look into it. My heart was for the world, not particularly a specific region or country, so I was overjoyed to find a program that would allow the Lord to use me on four different continents!"

3. How did God use you? What did you do?

"The Lord used me to reveal his heart to individuals. Each country provided a different need to meet. The following is a list of the countries that I visited and some of the kinds of people that the Lord sent me to love:

New Zealand- struggling adolescents
Australia- a Hippie Community who rejects Jesus and a Swiss man needing English teaching
Philippines- street families in poverty
Cambodia- a Buddhist village
Thailand/Laos- oppressed believers
Kenya- families in Kibera slums
Tanzania- those sold to witchcraft
Uganda- Lepers/Outcasts
Romania- a rejected community of Gypsies
Czech Republic- atheist tourists, locals, and homeless
Ukraine- University students and handicapped orphans

I did everything from painting homes, working in restaurants, feeding families, preaching sermons, door-to-door evangelism, to just sitting and holding people's hands. The Lord sent me to reveal His love to His creation. Each individual needed to see the Lord's love in a completely unique way."

4. What impacted you the most?

"When I was in Kumi, Uganda, I had the incredible privilege of spending time with a leper named Mary. The disease had a profound impact on her body. She had no toes, only a few twisted fingers, and not much of a nose left. Her family had disowned her. We did not speak each other’s language, but I just sat and held her hand. In that moment I realized that Mary could do nothing to make me love her more. As a “do-er” who found my significance from my actions it transformed my understanding of the Father’s love for us! A love that has no stipulations, no requirements to receive."

5. What was the hardest part of the Race?

"I recognized very quickly that while the Lord was using me, I was being very broken and transformed as well. The World Race is not just about loving people around the world, it is about breaking you down in a real, raw, exposed form- pliable for the Lord to mold into His image. Loving people purely hurts deeply because it requires true humility. Humility is painful because it cuts out the pride and selfishness and the idea that we deserve something. It was painful for me to be in a position where I was vulnerable and to let others in to love me. I like being the one DOING, the one in control of loving. On the Race you have to live with six other teammates 24/7. The hardest part of the Race for me was to allow the Lord to cut out the pride in me and allow myself to be loved by my teammates."

6. How did you have the courage to do the Race?

"Well, to be honest, I do not have many fears! The encouragement from my parents played a significant role in giving me the courage to step out in faith. The adventure of the Race combined with the Lord’s call to go and love was very exciting for me!"

7. What is the best thing your parents did while you were growing up to help you prepare?

"When I was seven years old my parents left very prominent careers in Texas to enter into ministry in Arkansas. I saw them live out their faith in huge ways such as the move, to every day pursuit of Christ in their personal quiet time. They taught me how to love with compassion by example, as well as service by instilling in us a great work ethic. It was also very helpful that I had been raising financial support alongside them all my life, so the funds that I had to raise did not seem as daunting as it was to most. They encouraged me every step of the way. I also had complete confidence that I was in their prayers."

Click here to see Amanda's blog for the World Race