Thursday, December 28, 2006

Peace and Pain Aren't Mututally Exclusive With God's Help

I have a column due for January 6. I decided to upgrade a previous post for the column topic, especially since I have even more "perspective" now after the horrendous Christmas I had this year.

I usually keep my Christmas decorations up until after January 1, but this year, I ripped them down December 26th. What's so ironic is that from Thanksgiving on, I could feel that old, deep, warm Christmas feeling rising like I hadn't in years, like in the times before I battled depression. Actually, I almost felt giddy.

I never saw what was coming. And I never want a repeat of this year again, although wishing doesn't make it so. So if it does happen again, I hope I can remember that I am connected to the source of all peace, and that some trials only paralyze you if you give in to them. Well, here it is.


Here's the newspaper copy from January 6:

Peace and pain aren't mutually exclusive with God's help


Unless we smell smoke or hear glass break, we usually don't pay much attention to our kids' bickering. Recently, though, we noticed our daughter Kristin reacting peculiarly toward her older brother Jordan, who was taunting her with normal sibling stuff like, "I got the last Pop Tart," or "The dog loves me more than you."

While he rambled, we watched Kristin raise her thumb and forefinger about an inch apart, frame Jordan's head between them, squint one eye, then calmly and with vengeful pleasure compress his head like snuffing out a flame. She then turned smugly and left him standing there with a half-finished wisecrack. Big brothers live for this stuff, but we all cracked up.

Anyway, noting how effective the technique was for Kristin, the rest of us started squashing our own daily irritants. I personally work this magic on rude drivers who approach our intersection, clearly see me backing out of my drive but plow on through the stop just to make sure they don't have to wait a millisecond for me to straighten my wheels.

I suppose the reason it feels so good is that it keeps annoyances in perspective. Once you miniaturize a problem, it becomes laughable and loses its power to frustrate.

Of course, "the pinch" doesn't work on every problem. One night two weeks ago, I wanted to squash Christmas and New Year's Eve, due to a death in the family and other trials that crashed in on us like very unwelcome holiday guests. But I couldn't run, hide or snuff out my pain; I had to live through it.

Lying awake, I felt the relevance of my faith once again: I couldn't escape suffering, but I could still have peace. It seems a contradiction, but pain and peace are not mutually exclusive. My life history has had an undercurrent of peace like a quiet babbling brook, a gentle but constant force because of Christ.
I remembered the scripture, "Then, because you belong to Christ Jesus, God will bless you with peace that no one can completely understand. And this peace will control the way you think and feel . . . keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. Don't ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise. You know the teachings I gave you, and you know what you heard me say and saw me do. So follow my example. And God, who gives peace, will be with you (Philippians 4:7-9).

Resolved for 2007: Don't sweat the small stuff; pinch it! With my mother-in-law's passing, I'm reminded that the summer of life inevitably slips into winter, when the grand picnic will be remembered either as the battle against the flies or the feast of sweet strawberries, depending on your perspective and your connection to the source of peace.

This year, I'm going to focus on letting the Prince of Peace conduct the way I think and feel. May he reign on the world's stage, in our relationships and in our hearts in 2007.

Linda Crow, Muncie, is the mother of three teenagers and works in youth ministry. Visit her blog at

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Words of Hope for the Depressed

Here is the final version of this column that appeared in the Muncie Star Press on November 6, 2006. They called it, "Words of Hope for the Depressed."
Lauren sits at the Thanksgiving table with her head gratefully bowed, realizing she's holding the hands of God's cornucopia of love: family. But Lauren's Thanksgiving prayer is an exercise in faith and maturity because she doesn't feel much emotional warmth or connection. She is numb. Lauren is fighting depression that intensifies during the holidays, when the pressure is on to be happy.

Can believers, claiming to know the source of peace and wholeness, be depressed? From David, who poured out his intense angst in the Psalms, to you and me, it happens. Whether by circumstance or biology, people of faith struggle with this paradox.

Others simplistically advise, "Read your Bible more," or "Quit navel-gazing and go work in a soup kitchen," or "Depression is a part of life. Get over it." The depressed person knows that compared to those in Darfur or those facing catastrophic illness and loss, she has nothing to moan about, so the admonishment only contributes to her implosion -- guilt and shame are heavyweights. Some people are born seeing their proverbial gravy boats half full instead of half empty, and they will never understand persistent depression.

Many in the heat of the battle faithfully follow directives for coping, including counseling, medication, serving others, exercising, keeping a gratitude journal, etc. They are committed to slogging through the wet cement of depression. Still, they are wondering, "Will this ever end?"

It will.

The key is not to ask, "How long, O Lord?" but to continually affirm, "His grace (strength) is sufficient for me," whether enduring the holidays or 3 a.m. insomnia. Just because you don't feel spiritual doesn't mean God has left you; relationship is more than feelings. The verse 2 Timothy 2:13 says, "If we are faithless, he will remain faithful."

Sometimes we travel through dark tunnels we never saw coming. We look around, and others don't seem to be affected. We look ahead and can't see any light. We pray and hear an echo. Pretty soon we just sit quietly, confused and anxious.

Keep praying -- your prayers are heard.

The shortest distance between two points, the beginning and end of your tunnel, is a straight line. Don't be so impatient to stop the pain that you lurch out sideways; you'll feel the wall you throw yourself into. Listen for the voice that says, "This is the way, walk in it; do not turn to the right or to the left."

You are going to come out on the other side of depression like waking from a coma. Your spiritual eyes will open, and you'll see how God was with you, teaching you, comforting you. You won't be so tired anymore. Your relationships will be meaningful again. The glass wall between you and others will shatter. You'll be glad you hung in there for one more day ... then one more day.

Your purpose and destiny are not nullified because of this struggle. In fact, you'll be able to help others better because you'll be spiritually richer, more compassionate, more humble, more usable, and more in love with God.

So stay the course. The darkness is almost over. Hold on one more day ... and then one more.

Linda Crow, Muncie, is the mother of three teenagers and works in youth ministry. View her blog at

Thursday, August 31, 2006

What's On Your Permanent Record?

At Franklin Middle School, my seventh grade teacher of family and consumer science (that’s home-ec to geezers over twenty) possessed one weapon in her disciplinary arsenal: the Red F. Every day, she threatened to emblazon Red F’s on our PERMANENT RECORD if we didn’t behave.

I can’t remember her name, but I remember how she looked during Red F tirades. By the end of the period, her head and neck looked like a tree that was attached to gigantic roots (neck tendons) bulging through topsoil. [Mrs. Home-Ec, I’m sorry if you have truckloads of chiropractic bills from all that neck tension, but at least now you know the genesis of your affliction. You’re welcome.]

When I was older and wiser, I realized that unless I had some fancy felonies up my sleeve, I didn’t need to worry about my permanent record. In fact, I stopped believing in it.

Now, however, I’m back to believing in a new kind of permanent record, one that holds both public and private information and is available to anyone at the click of a mouse.

To borrow a popular slogan, “What happens on the Internet stays on the Internet.”

For example, I once published an article on an online magazine. On a whim, I recently searched and re-read it for the first time in years—discovering appalling, obnoxious writing. I was embarrassed that those words were floating around out there with my name attached to them. I wanted to scream, “That’s not how I write! I don’t normally talk like King James! I want a do-over!” I re-wrote the article for my blog, but the original mortifying writing is on my PERMANENT RECORD, out of my control--forever. Obviously, when I published the piece, I was confident it was good enough for public consumption. Now I’m a victim of the old joke, “It seemed like a good idea at the time . . . .”

Aside from Internet predators and identity thieves, you can be your own worst online enemy.

For instance, suppose you’re someone who doesn’t exactly live on the edge, and you decide to jolt your friends by staging some risqué photos of yourself engaging in illegal behavior or other dubious conduct, just for laughs. Even though it’s just a private joke, the joke could be on you when your future employer searches your name and sees your prank. She may not be impressed that at 17, you were able to hang upside down from a tree limb drinking a Corona in your underwear.

Does that sound far-fetched? In the June 6, 2006, issue of New Scientist, Jon Callas, Chief Security Officer of PGP Corporation (a software encryption company) warned, “You should always assume anything you write online is stapled to your resume. People don’t realise you get Googled just to get a job interview these days.” So whatever you blog about yourself could provide interesting tidbits of personal info to a prospective employer, but you’ll be left out of the loop.

You may think that built-in security options protect you, but compromising info has a way of slipping through the system. Students have actually been expelled or implicated in crimes because of friends’ indiscretions. One simple “forward” could set you back in reaching your goals.

An article entitled Facebook connecting more than students from relates this example of students implicating themselves online:
At Fisher College, a small liberal-arts school in Boston, controversy arose after two students were expelled for conduct on their Facebook accounts. Kurt Vachon and Cameron Walker, a sophomore and the Student Government Association president, were both members of a group expressing anger at a specific university police officer. A confidential investigation began when a fellow student came to university officials with concern over the group. According to John McLaughlin, Fisher College chief of police and spokesman, members of the group were going so far as to plan a scheme to get the officer in trouble in a sexual-assault setup. "Essentially they were students conspiring to set up a police officer on campus," he said.

However, the students involved contend their group was simply an online joke. Walker told the Brown University Daily Herald newspaper in November, "I had bad judgment, but I did not deserve to be expelled. I clarified that the Facebook group was a joke ... but (Fisher administrators) chose to take it seriously anyway. They chose to make it an issue when it didn't really have to be."

What messes we get ourselves into.

On another level, there’s a spiritual record of our messes, as well. I used to think God monitored me so that he could instantly engrave Red F’s on my permanent record. Whenever I asked for forgiveness, I felt somewhat better, but the specter of the Red F haunted me.

One day, I read John 3:17: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn its people. He sent him to save them!” (CEV) I began to understand that God’s favorite pastime is not keeping a grade book on his creation, that he was quite eager to forgive and forget when asked. The forgiving part was familiar; the forgetting part, the expunging, was too good to believe, and yet there it was in black and white throughout the Bible: “He doesn't punish us as our sins deserve. How great is God's love for all who worship him? Greater than the distance between heaven and earth! How far has the LORD taken our sins from us? Farther than the distance from east to west!” (Psalm 103:1-12 CEV)

One of my favorite songs is “Ocean Floor” by Audio Adrenalin because the chorus encourages you to see and accept that you can be completely pardoned:

Your sins are behind you
They'll never find you
They're out on the ocean floor
Your sins are erased
And they are no more
They're out on the ocean floor

At the end of the song, eerie sonar beeps remind you how deep and dark and cold the ocean floor is--unfathomable. It’s comforting to know that when we own up to our sins and ask for forgiveness, God takes great pleasure in plunging the Red F’s of our permanent record to the ocean floor, where they dissipate into nothingness forever.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Whatever We're Called at Home or School, God Has a Special Name for Each of Us

August 12, 2006

Back to school -- ahhh, the memories I'd like to forget.
For instance, I had an oddball last name: Batt. Other than allowing me to whip across two T's in one express stroke, "Batt" brought nothing but school days opened with and hemmed in by Batt jokes. By middle school, I learned to answer clever quips like, "Hey, is that your Battmobile? Is that coat your Battcape? Is Battman your dad? Do you live in the Battcave?" the way you answer a two year-old: "Yep, umm-hmm. Gee, you're funny." Or sometimes, I'd sarcastically go along, "Yes! And this is my Battpencil, my Battdesk, my Battclassroom and Battschool!" I became pretty tired of "Battworld." offers this charming Batt history: "Origin and meaning are not clear, but it is perhaps akin to batt 'cudgel' and so, as a byname, given to a thick-set man or a belligerent one." I guess that includes thick-set, belligerent females, too, which I am at least once a month.

Like a lot of little girls, I dreamed of Prince Charming. Only along with his shock of dark hair and white teeth, his name would be "Someone Smith," or "Somebody Jones." Yes, I daydreamed we would seal our love with a K.I.S.S.: Keep Important Surname Simple.

And then I met the Prince. Dark hair, white teeth, athletic, funny, dark skin, religious, and very, very smart. One problem: His last name was Crow.
Imagine that. I had fought the black flying-object battle my entire life, knowing that there would be light at the end of the Batt Tunnel upon marriage. I found "the one" but --holy irony, Battman! -- his name denoted another black flying object, proving once and for all that God has a sense of humor.

Eventually, the Prince and I prepared for little Crows. I didn't know whether to read Dr. Spock or Caring for Nestlings. I did read one piece of advice that seemed pretty useful in a Crow handbook: Before you decide to tackle the job of raising a baby crow, there are a few things you should consider. Baby crows, depending on their stage of growth, will need to be fed every 30 minutes up to every couple of hours from sun up to sun down. My teenaged son still eats by that schedule, usually at a popular local Mexican restaurant. His name is Jordan, but having a witty English major for a mom, he's lucky he didn't get named "Edgar Allan Crow."
I don't mind my name anymore. Someday it's going to change again for good -- not by legal document or marriage but by the Lord, who promised in Revelation 2:17, "I will also give [her] a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to [her] who receives it."

Why is this exciting? Because a long time ago, God created and then Adam named. Someday, I'll hear my creator himself say my name, and it will be a perfect fit. Until then, I am content to be the daughter of a Batt and wife of a Crow. Anyway, it could be worse -- I've seen the surname "Butt."
So no matter what name you're called by at home or at school, remember that the truest thing about you is what God says about you -- that you are loved beyond mere human words. He has a special name waiting for you, too.

Linda Crow, Muncie, is the mother of three teenagers and works in youth ministry. Read her blog at

Originally published August 12, 2006

Monday, June 5, 2006

Promise in a Fox Hole

In 1942, on the NBC Radio “Army Hour,” Lieutenant-Colonel William J. Clear commented wryly, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” Of course, he was generalizing, but many people facing imminent death do pray frantically in order to be spared or carried to heaven if they don’t survive. In fact, those in peril often beg, barter or surrender their souls to God in that somber moment. I wonder how many of those foxhole promises are kept.

The first time I understood the foxhole observation, I was a teenager, asking my mother how my dad became a Christian. She was ironing, wearing a cotton print shirtdress, eyes down and head moving back and forth with the iron as she told the riveting story. And like most people who lived through that war, she told it without drama or exaggeration.

She began, “It was in St. Lazare-Lorient, France. Your dad was driving his jeep when heavy shelling began. He was really scared; it was his very first time to be attacked like that. He jumped out of his jeep, got down in a bank at the side of the road and prayed, ‘God, if you will just see me through this, I promise I will live for you and serve you the rest of my life.’” She didn’t look up; she just kept ironing.

After a second of heart-stopping visualization, I understood. A foxhole is a trench or a pit—a muddy, undignified hole in the ground. A lonely place to die. My dad, at only twenty years old, had lain in a rut on the other side of the world crying out to a God he did not know. My throat tightened, and my eyes filled with tears from a daughter’s love and belated fear for her father. For the first time, I deeply appreciated the sacrifices my dad and so many others made for freedom and for our country. Later I found out that he saw other foxholes, shellings and open graves, although he was always reluctant to talk about them.

“And so, did he keep his promise?” I asked.

“Yes, when he came home, we got re-acquainted and started our life together. He said, ‘I told God I would serve him, and I’m going to do what I promised.’ So we started going to church.” That simple--promise made, promise kept.

My father didn’t follow through grudgingly, either. He had a powerful conversion experience and stayed loyal to his faith to this very day, at 84 years old. My parents have attended the same church for over 50 years, serving in almost every capacity except preaching. And really, although Dad may not have taught from behind a pulpit, more than one person has told me that his life has been a living sermon.

Most of us can’t relate to a literal foxhole experience, but we do have our own personal ruts, and muddy, undignified existences. Like my dad, we have to choose our next course of action. We can cower alone in a pit for the rest of our lives, or we can surrender to our enemy and be subjected to a miserable life of slavery or even a cruel death. Or we can cry out to God with a tiny bit of faith. And if we resign our helpless selves to him and he does lift us from the pit, what then? Can he give us meaningful, worthwhile lives?

I know what one soldier would say. I know what his wife would say. I know what his children and grandchildren and great grandchildren would say. Generations have been blessed because my dad was not a bitter atheist in a foxhole, just a very young man who kept a word heard only by God in a moment of crisis many years ago. I am honored to dedicate this column about youth and faith to an example of the two attributes at their finest: my beloved father, Virgil H. Batt.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

What Labels Are You Stuck With?

The last person you’d expect to be interested in a primitive hand-held label maker would be a thirteen year-old girl who enjoys Mp3 players and blogging. But my daughter was mesmerized by one at my office and then obsessed with owning one. In what may be one of the least spiritually relevant, tacky parental moves ever, I put a label maker in her Easter basket.
She was elated.

As days passed, I was repeatedly informed by strategically placed labels about the running of our household. I found labels that read, “Kristin’s hairbrush,” or “Kristin’s window,” or “Kristin’s laundry.” On her mirror, the label simply said, “Kristin,” in an apparent effort to clear up any confusion about who was looking back when she checked herself out. Thank goodness she had the good sense to label everything she owned. Before the labels, I’m not sure how I found my way through this domestic labyrinth otherwise known as, “Kristin’s house.”

Soon, objective labels morphed into subjective statements such as, “Kristin rules,” and my personal favorite, “Zoe is the best” stuck on the backside of our four-pound Yorkshire Terrier.

Enter a seventeen year-old brother. I don’t know who struck first, but soon I discovered a silent battle of the labels in full swing, with insults alternately showing up daily on each other’s bedroom doors. All I know is, the label on Kristin’s door no longer said, “Kristin’s room” but “Craphead’s room.” (Note to my mother: I do not know where they learned this word. Must be that crappy public school system! Geesh!)

Later, Jordan’s door read, “Pretty, pretty princess’s room.” And so it went.

Sometimes in life, just like in the game “tag,” you get stuck with a label that you never saw coming. Or maybe you rebound from being hurt by labeling someone else.

“Slow learner,” “smart,” “backward child,” “clumsy,” “shy,” “all-boy,” “life of the party,” “nerd”--we stick all kinds of labels on our kids; our kids stick them on their friends, and we even stick them on our selves, as silly as that is. For instance, we might stick “ugly" or “loser” on our mirror just to remind us how worthless the person looking back is. Sometimes we label other people to lower them in comparison to us, as if life is a competition.

The Bible has all kinds of references to slandering and judging others, and there’s even one reference to slamming each other with insults: “But I promise you that if you are angry with someone, you will have to stand trial. If you call someone a fool, you will be taken to court. And if you say that someone is worthless, you will be in danger of the fires of hell” (Matt. 5:22, Contemporary English Version).

Maybe one of the reasons God loathes name-calling is that even when he removes a label, stubborn glue remains, attracting other dirt. In other words, scraping the underlying glue is more tedious than peeling the label. Likewise, even after God breaks through our negative self-images and envelopes in his love, sometimes past hurts affect our relationships and cause us to react defensively toward others. We need the Holy Spirit to remove the residue and provide touch-ups from time to time.

As they scrubbed the glue from each other’s bedroom doors, my kids discovered that labels are more than paper deep. I hope they remember the consequences the next time they’re tempted to call someone a name. And if one day they teach their children about the battle of the labels, what a great teaching tool the hand-held Easter basket labeler turned out to be.

Revised 08.19.06

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

The Chicken Chronicles (Newspaper Story)

(a journal about my backyard chickens)

The rooster is getting a comb. I watched him groom himself today. It is a strange thing to see a chicken lie down, not at all like a dog. They look like they’re slowly dying, and they often lounge on their sides as if they are centerfolds.

May 23, 2001

I went outside to sit with the chickens. I put my lawn chair in their yard and let them out. They pecked around, and I watched them, and it was great entertainment. Today the rain left everything dewy, and the chickens were around me, the squirrels were on the fence about 10 ft. away, a cardinal watched us for a while, and a rabbit hopped up to us. I felt like I was in that old margarine commercial as that lady playing “Mother Nature.”

I have put the finishing touches on, painting it barn red, adding an American flag in the yard, a mailbox and doorbell. Yes, they have received not one but two pieces of mail, one from the May family and one from the kid next door, who I think really believes the chickens can read. I painted flowers on the outside of the door. When you pull down the door, there is a rung for the chickens to get their grip so that they do not slide down and get discombobulated anymore. I purchased a small sign and nailed it below the rung: “Watch your step!” Chickens are very observant, so every time they come out, they stand on that door and look at that sign as if they are reading it and reminding each other.

Painting the barn was sort of an ordeal. First I painted the red parts, then the white parts, then the grass, some leaves, some bricks, my clothes, and Dandy, by accident. At one point, I fell over the straw bale backwards and spilled red all over. Then when I was standing holding the white paint, the limbs of the trees got into my tray. But I just kept at it, no matter what obstacles befell me. I was painting over straw that was on the wood, grass that was growing next to the wall, chicken wire, chicken poop, whatever was in my path got painted. At one point, Dandy got scared of something (probably his own reflection in the water bowl) and ran through the pan, thus painting himself and the grass where he kept on running. He still has red paint on one side of him and white paint on the front of his legs.

As I gathered my painting tools, I stood back to admire my work and looked around me. I turned to see a crew of roofing men across the street watching me. They waved. I bet my face was as red as the coop.

When we installed the roost, it was comical to see the chickens attempt to stay on. Evidently, the instinct is there, but the ability has to be developed. They looked like log rollers until we found a way to stabilize the roost

I was sitting in my chair, and the hen went under me and repeatedly pecked my rumpus, at least the parts that were pooching through the plastic slats. How embarrassing. Was it that noticeable that she had to peck at me like I was a melon slice or something? When I got up, I laid the phone on my chair and walked away, and they both jumped up there and walked all over it, even the phone. Yes, George, the very phone you put by your mouth.

P.S. I think I figured out why my chickens’ droppings are gargantuan—I caught them eating throwaway Styrofoam left over from the construction. This would definitely add bulk.

Speaking of farm folk (like myself), Katie and I clipped their wings so that they will stop flying so much. I held them out, and she cut them. She is now a farm girl, too. Anyway, it seems to have worked. When they take off, they bank to the left or right because we didn’t cut them even. Oh well.

Clipping their wings did not affect their running speed, however. There is nothing faster than a scared chicken. They look just like the RoadRunner. Jordan usually helps me corral them, but I have to use the big black rake to catch them because I can’t get close enough. It’s a little like catching a butterfly with a net, only magnified 50 times. Every time we go through this, I can swear I hear Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs’ banjo music going while we chase them! This routine happens frequently. As you might guess, the chickens are now deathly afraid of the rake. If they just see me with it in the yard, they go bonkers.

They are also deathly afraid of anything flying overhead, which is understandable. But the rooster is extra skittish because it’s his job to protect everyone. But my rooster is like Barney Fife, trying to run and find his one bullet at the same time. His eyes are even big and wild like Barney’s.

I went outside today to sit a spell with the chickens. I lay back in the lounge chair and closed my eyes. I could feel them pulling on my clothes and hear them snapping the grass. It was nice to lie there, looking up through the leaves of the tree into the beautiful sky. The breeze was barely perceptible. The temp. was perfect. I dozed off.

The next thing I knew, I was startled by a great slashing pain on my thighs. Dandy Randy had jumped up on me and was walking up my body to visit my face. He stopped on my chest and was peering down at me. He would look and then cock his head and look some more, keenly observing me as if he were an alien who had landed on me. I tried not to make a giant noise or movement because I’m always trying to show them they don’t need to fear me (except when I’m wielding a rake). So I held it in, but then I thought, “Oh no! He’s going to go for the eyes!” They peck everything out of curiosity, you know. At that moment, Daisy joined him and tore up my remaining flesh. Just then Kristin walked out of the house toward me, stopped dead in her tracks and yelled, “Mom! What are you doing????” Of course, this spooked the daylights out of the chickens who puffed up their feathers and banked a left turn, tumbled on the ground and then ran like the sky was falling and hid in their coop. Can’t wait ‘til we get that privacy fence up.

Advice for Dealing with Your Senior Year

When you’re 15 and waiting for the day you’re eligible to get your driver’s license, the months pass so slowly they can seem the gestation period of an elephant. Fast-forward to your senior year of high school, and time can blur like the view from a frenzied, nonstop merry-go-round.

So what’s the best way for a senior to deal with the last few months of school—that tricky time of maintaining academic standards and friendships and planning for the future? Many students find that having a life guided and enriched by strong spiritual faith is the answer.

Keegan Ferris, a Delta senior, says, “My biggest challenge will be staying balanced—preparing for the future while realizing that I have the opportunity to influence younger kids daily. I don’t always do things perfectly, but God reminds me every night that tomorrow is another day. I’m just going to keep things light with my friends and live for the day.”

Wes-Del senior Josh Zimmerman adds: “Balancing time between family, school work and friends is already an issue. Your senior year requires lots of responsibility, but it also has many distractions. I’ve found that as along as I put quiet time with God first, the other things seem to fall in place and get done. That relationship gives me peace and calm about my future.”

Anderson University freshman Katie Crow (my daughter) offers perspective: “Surrounding myself with a group of friends who shared my values and beliefs helped support and keep me accountable. As for friendships, try not to project the future sadness of separating onto the time you have together now.”

And what about the great unknown after graduation? Katie suggests, “Pray about what to do and where to go. If a door doesn’t close, go forward; that’s probably God’s will. It may be just for a short time or a lifetime. Whatever you decide, God can use it to your and his advantage if you believe he will.”

This is Katie, the wise freshman

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

How Do You Hear God Speak?

Teens of Different Faiths Share How They Hear God Speaking to Them

The controversial show, “The Book of Daniel,” is cancelled. That was fast. I wanted to see for myself what all of the hubbub was about because the only commercial I saw intrigued me. It was the one where the Episcopalian priest is driving along, and what do you know, Jesus appears right there in the passenger’s seat. You can’t hear what they’re saying, but they look like they’re having an ordinary conversation, maybe about whether the new coffee shop is really necessary, or possibly something a little deeper, like providing help to inner city families.

Anyway, the commercial unsettled me, but not in the way most Christians were troubled. Mulling over my uneasiness, I realized I actually envied the priest’s experience with Jesus. I mean, how many times have I walked to the mailbox, waited in line or driven somewhere, casually praying and even imagining what it would be like if Jesus were there with me in person? How would I react? Would I still be familiar and casual in my prayer, or would I immediately switch to a more reverent attitude? What would He look like? Would He smile at me? Would He share a deep meaningful truth or offer something simple enough for me to grasp instantly, like, “Better keep your eyes on the road.” Hey, that could be either simple or deep, depending on how you interpret it! Whatever would happen, I yearn for His presence; I want Him by my side.

I haven’t always felt that way, especially when I was a teenager. In fact, the possibility of God popping up and giving me a verbal scathing if not a lightning bolt terrified me. Although I wouldn’t have admitted this, I secretly believed God didn’t really care for me personally because I messed up so much. However, because He said in scripture that He would love and accept anyone who came to Him, I figured He sort of had to keep His word and at least tolerate me. No wonder I feared Him more than I loved Him! It saddens me to know that my level of intimacy and communication with God was so misguided and underdeveloped that I missed a lot of precious opportunities to be in a deeper relationship with Him. However, when I had children of my own, almost immediately, I experienced unconditional, extravagant love and made the connection that my parental love was miniature model of God’s parental love, and my life was changed forever.

Because of my teenage experience, I’ve been wondering how today’s teenagers think about communicating with God. Do they fear Him? Do they yearn for Him? Do they sense Him guiding them, protecting them? Do they talk to Him daily or mainly whenever they need help? How do teens hear God in spite of distractions such as media, friends and activities? And because I’m interested in and love teenagers as individuals and children of God, even when their beliefs are radically different from mine, I want to know how kids of different faiths talk to God, as well.

I asked Solomon Sajjad, Muslim and senior at Yorktown High School, about his prayer life.

“As a Muslim, I follow the laws of Islam and pray five times a day. At the Islamic Center of Muncie, the Imam leads the prayers, and we follow. When I am at home, I may slowly recite a prayer, and if I concentrate intently, I believe Allah is watching me. If I need something, if I am very, very sincere, I believe He sees me.”

When asked what he would do or say if Allah were suddenly in front of him, Solomon said, “I would ask Him to help me follow his laws, guide me to Paradise, and save me from Hellfire.”

Brady Ridge, a junior at Delta High School who belongs to the Latter Day Saints faith, says, “My Heavenly Father often prompts me as I read scripture to make corrections in my life or to do more to serve Him. I usually pray when I wake up, or during the day if trouble comes up, or if I’m thankful for something, and again at night. My Heavenly Father is always available to me.”

When asked if his prayers were conversational or formal, he replied, “They are conversational but with respect and reverence. I would never begin a prayer like, “Yo, God!”

Brady’s reply to God suddenly appearing beside him was, “I guess I would be like the biblical characters and fall on my face out of reverence, or at least kneel. I would be at a loss for words, and I would probably cry. As for what He would say to me, I hope He would give me words of encouragement and instruction, and I hope He would say He is proud of me, and I know He would say He loves me.”

Bethany Planton, a Christian who attends Heritage Hall, shared, “Right now, it seems like God is telling me ‘No’ to one of my prayers, which has been very hard to deal with, but I keep trusting His perfect plan. Prayer does change my perspective. Each time I pray about something, I usually see it in a new light. I had to really pray about going on a mission trip this summer, but because I prayed about it, it made the decision a lot easier.”

Kraig Lehman has pastored Christian youth for 13 years. He offers this insight: “In my experience, I feel there are some young people that we, ‘the elderly,’ can learn from. While many teenagers do not have a personal relationship with Jesus, there are those who have the child-like faith that Jesus speaks of in the gospels. In fact, teenagers who have such a strong faith in God and know that He answers prayers have helped shape my faith. In fact, I have asked myself, ‘Why don’t I have that same kind of childlike faith?’ As a result, at a recent funeral, I was imagining how incredible it would be to see the dead rise from their caskets as they did in Jesus’ day. I found myself praying for that person to rise up, and I can’t help but think it’s because I have been around young people for so long that those thoughts enter my mind.”

Stacy Wall spent five years working with students through Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. She encourages teenagers to keep talking to God even when they can’t hear or sense a concrete answer to prayer. Stacy suggests, “Just the same way you’re trying to figure out your relationship with your parents or friends, you have to stay in communication with God, even when you’re unsure about the relationship. Having doubts or struggles is OK and normal, but don’t stop pursuing your relationship with Him; don’t give up because you don’t ‘feel’ an immediate solution or answer. ”

For some reason, God chose prayer as the main method of communication between Him and us. It was His idea, and He loves for us to talk to Him and listen for His voice. What an awesome thought--that the God of the universe likes for us to verbalize what’s on our finite minds to Him--whether we’re on our knees or stopped at a light. Every once in a while, my childlike faith emerges, and I steal a glance at the passenger seat, in hopes of seeing Him there, smiling.

Sunday, January 1, 2006

Ever Get the Church Giggles?

When I was little, my parents attended church every time there was an opportunity, so I was quite comfortable and uninhibited there. Familiarity grew into boredom, which bred misbehavior almost always manifested in giggling, especially when I sat with my best friend, Melodee. What an instigator! Want an example of what could set off two girls into barely-controllable snort laughter? Shamefully, certain hymns were hysterical to us. For example, Melodee and I thought, “There never was a sweeter mel-o-dy; ‘tis a mel-o-dy of love . . .” was hilarious because we sang her name with exaggerated enunciation and volume (Think George Beverly Shea). Once something triggered us, there was no turning back. Very naughty, but great memories.

So why do kids get church giggles?

Notes written on bulletins. Recently, I confiscated a series of playful insults. I do have to give them credit for creatively pulling from the scripture reading: “Your teeth are like a flock of shorn sheep.”

Ringing cell phone. Adults squirm, but what kid doesn’t enjoy watching a frantic, embarrassed adult fumbling to push the right button?

“Usher Tango.” When the plate travels down the wrong row, or two plates meet mid-row, compelling the ushers to dart back and forth to make it all come out even. Very entertaining.

“Sanctuary Re-Entry Disorientation.” The moment when someone returning from a “break” suddenly realizes he has passed his seat and can’t seem to find it again. For kids, this is like church Candid Camera.

“The Dozer.” Provides expanded moments of entertainment. Every head bob or low rumble causes shoulders to shake with laughter.

Rowdy babies, squealing microphones, and excessively demonstrative singers round out the list.

As long as all of these events don’t happen within the same service, the giggles will work themselves out. Some churches actually welcome laughter as a form of worship, and getting carried away could be deemed biblical: “Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away,” Isaiah 35:10.

At least church giggles are a step above a worse fate: funeral giggles.
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