You Know You’re in the South When…

You know you are in the South when a perfect stranger on the elevator asks you, “So, you ready for some Bama football?”

Yep. That happened to me just this week. Welcome to the land of Dixie where football reigns supreme, and you might just get your tail kicked for shooting off your mouth about the wrong team. Football is serious business here in the Deep South.

But it’s all in good fun, right? Of course. I’m not anti football. Really, I’m not. I’m not really a fan either, though. Growing up where football is elevated higher than pretty much anything can simply wear a person out on the whole scene.

My kids weren’t brought up with this phenomenon, so when I moved them back to Birmingham after a twelve year hiatus, the football culture caught them a bit off guard. My youngest came home from his first day in third grade at the elementary school in Trussville, Alabama and asked me, “Who are we for?”

Not really paying close attention, I asked, “What?

He repeated the question. “Who are we for?”

Then it dawned on me. He had probably been asked all day long this most pivotal question… and he had no idea what the right answer was. He didn’t even know what the question really meant. Of everything the kids could have found out about my kid, all they really cared about was who he was for… Alabama or Auburn. Nice.

After an eye roll that would have made any teenager proud, I told him, “Just tell them Alabama. It’ll make your life easier.” He shrugged his shoulders, and said, “Okay.”

I’ve written some lately about parents helping kids find their passion and living that out. Some parents think they really don’t know how to do that. Yet here in the south, here in Bama country, that’s not true. Growing up, if I wanted to eat and sleep inside, I had better root for Alabama. I’m exaggerating a bit, but even now, if I wear blue and orange in the same outfit to my parent’s house, I can expect a snarky comment. As a kid, I learned to yell and cheer with the best of them for the Crimson Tide.

Alabama parents know how to groom passion in their kids. You have doubts? Just start talking college football. Ridicule their favorite team. See what happens. If we can teach our kids to stand up for their favorite college football team, we should be able to teach them to stand up for righteousness in their schools. If we can teach them (and model for them) how to cheer exuberantly for their favorite football team, we can teach them (and model for them) how to worship with that same fervor.

Doesn’t the Savior of the world deserve at least that much enthusiasm?

I’ve seen the same kids who scream, and jump, and clap at a football game, stand stark still at church unable to worship God with that same zeal, unsure of what that even should or could look like. It’s a real shame, really.

In a recent conversation with my youngest son, now in middle school, we were talking about the local football obsession. He wrote off our disinterest in the whole subject by saying that we are “just not a sports-minded family”. It’s true. We aren’t. But I had to tell him that it’s more than that. I told him that while there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a fun sporting event, it’s just not something we want to give our lives to. It’s not what we are passionate about, and that we want to give our lives to that which we are passionate about… Those things that will matter for eternity.

It’s all about perspective. As parents, we should be teaching our kids to show at least as much passion or zeal for their God as we show for our favorite ball teams. The best way to do that is to model that for them. Are we, as parents, cheering as loudly for our Savior? Well, are we?

An Accidental Pilot

Ever wake up one day and wonder how in the world you ended up where you are? Did your life turn out differently than you thought or hoped it would? Maybe better, maybe not as good as you’d hoped?

Our lives take turns we don’t expect sometimes. I can testify to the truth in that statement.

Matthew and I have been married for over twenty-two years so one might think that I would have heard all of my father-in-law’s stories. The man has some stories. But I sat with him at dinner recently and heard one, that somehow, I had not heard before. And it was a good one.

I had asked Paul, who had been a Navy pilot, if he had always wanted to be a pilot. He cocked his head to the side, and with a smile and a gleam in his eye, he said, “No. Have you not heard that story before?”

Here it is. Well, the abridged version. Did I mention Paul has some stories?

He had finished one year of college when he and a friend decided rather than going back to college, they’d join the Navy. Ah, the split second decisions of youth. The first time Paul had ever seen a plane was when he climbed aboard the one that took him far away from home to join the Navy and start boot camp.

It was during those early weeks of boot camp that he heard about the Navy’s new nuclear submarine program. Paul was always fairly adept at math and science, and the subject intrigued him. He inquired about it, and was told he could take an exam to test his aptitude for the subject.

On the day of the exam, he entered the testing room, took a seat, and was handed the exam booklet. He couldn’t figure out what any of the questions had to do with submarines. He raised his hand to ask about it, but the officer in charge told him to hush and take the test. He did.

But he had taken the wrong test. He had gone into the wrong room. His exam for nuclear submarines was in another room sitting there untaken. However, he must have done well on the exam he did take for before too long, he was assigned to the Navy Cadet Program that would lead to flight training.

The test he had taken was for future Navy pilot hopefuls.

He tried to explain to whomever would listen, but he was destined to fly…. Not submerge.

He did eventually get to take the submarine exam, and was offered the choice of going to flight school or going into the nuclear submarine training. In the end, he chose flight training.

I’m glad he did. My life would be far different if he had not. He would not have met my mother-in-law, and my husband would not have been born. Paul had an idea that nuclear subs sounded interesting, but God wanted Paul to soar.

The Bible teaches us that,

“The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.” Psalm 37:23

I’ve never heard a better story of the Lord stepping in and changing the course of a life than that one. But those stories are too numerous to count in the lives of those who love Jesus.

We each have a destiny, a unique purpose on the earth. Sometimes we need a nudge from His hand to keep us heading in the direction He chooses. Sometimes the nudge is uncomfortable. Sometimes we walk through barren places on our way to fulfilling our purpose.

But take a look at verse 24 of Psalm 37:

“Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.”

He is with us, walking beside us, leading us by the hand so that we will not stumble. I believe the Lord had Paul by the hand the day he took the wrong exam, and every day since.

Parents, Working Ourselves Out of a Job

As my kids grow up and out, I have to learn to let them do things on their own. I’m not really so very good at this as my husband fairly regularly points out. I grew up in a home where my mother just did for us. She literally did everything for my brother and me until the day we moved out on our own. Laundry, cooking, cleaning. She did it all. When it comes to her family, my mother has a servant’s heart. It’s a wonder we don’t still live with her.

She did it out of love and out of a desire for things to be done right. It was mostly just easier to do it herself. I understand this completely. At forty-five, I have made it pretty well. I have had to learn lots of things on my own, but I’m a pretty smart cookie sometimes, and I have figured out that being a great cook (among other things) is not really a requirement. We get by. Thank the Lord for frozen, boxed and canned foods… and for a phone to call my mother to ask her how to do this or that.

Still, I am trying to help my kids along, so that when it is time for them to fly from the nest, they will soar rather than plunge. Case in point: Last week I sent my two oldest children to a new dentist on their own. You would have thought I was sending them up a creek without a paddle when I told them I would not be going with them. But they did just fine. No cavities.

I read somewhere once, that as a parent, if we are doing anything for our children-whether at two or twenty- that they can do for themselves, we are doing them a disservice. Ouch.

Some of us love parenting so much we have forgotten that to be successful at it, we are supposed to work ourselves out of a job.

As Christian parents, we are also charged with teaching our children to lean on their Heavenly Father. While our lives here on earth are finite, it is their Heavenly Father that will go one long after we have said our final goodbyes. We have to teach them to depend less and less on us, and more and more on Him.

As kids growing up, my parents never wanted me or my brother to worry about money. I never knew when there was or wasn’t money in my parent’s bank account. They tell me now of times when things were lean and they didn’t know how they would make it, but I had no idea at the time. They didn’t feel that those kinds of things were something to worry a child over. I can appreciate that they wanted to protect us from that stress, but they also kept something else very important from us as a result.

I depended upon my parents to meet my needs. And they did. I never once wondered where my next meal would come from or if I would have a pillow to lay my head upon at night. They were always there to help me solve problems that came along in my life. What I didn’t get to see was what they did when a problem was too big for them. Where did they go when something too great for even them to handle came along?

Matthew and I try to handle those times a little bit differently. We are not trying to stress our children out, but we want them to know that while mom and dad can fix almost anything, we can’t fix everything, and when those times come, we turn to our Heavenly Father and ask Him for help.

Most of the time, when our kids come to us, we can fix what is broken or advise them how they can best handle a situation. I often tell them, “Mom can fix almost anything.” But on the rare occasion that there is no good earthly solution, we must teach our children to go to their Father in heaven for help. The best way to teach them this lesson is for them to see us doing that very same thing. When problems come that overwhelm us as parents, we don’t always need to go behind closed doors with those problems. Sometimes we need to show them that when there seems to be no answer, we trust that God will make a way.

Children need to know that when they leave the protection and provision of their parents one day, they still have the protection and provision of their Heavenly Father to rely upon. And they learn best when they see that modeled for them in us.

Raising Great Commission Kids

We are into the first week of school here in the Benson house. So far, so good. I am sad that our summer is over, but time does march on. My oldest is into his second year of college. Time, indeed, does march on.

I remember when he was starting to kindergarten. As a pastor’s child, we just assumed he should go to a Christian school. We looked into all the “best” ones in town, and one after one, we crossed them off our list. We found them to be just so very… separate. The Lord began to impress upon us how we are supposed to be salt and light in this dark and dying world and how could we do that if we were always separating ourselves from it? Sometimes when you work in ministry, it’s hard to cultivate relationships outside of church. I know plenty of ministers who don’t know a single lost person.

So we made the decision to put our kids in public school. I’m not slamming people that decide otherwise. Those who home school or decide on Christian schools for their kids do so for many reasons. I do, however, think when we make those decisions we are deciding, by default, to separate ourselves from a part of the world, regardless of our motivation.

My daughter would love to join a home school co-operative. She finds going to public high school a real challenge. As a child of the light, she feels the darkness brush up against her in the halls and classrooms. (If, as a Christian, you have ever found yourself in a decidedly non-Christian environment, you know the feeling I am talking about.)

She would love to be able to spend more of her time with her church friends who encourage her and edify her rather than among school kids far from Christ whom she is called to serve and lead. She is called to be among those who need what she has in Jesus. Those halls and classrooms are her mission field.

As a parent, I know for her to be home schooled or go to a private Christian school would be safer. I could put that protection up for her. I could, but God does not call us to a safe life, not really. You’d be hard pressed to find scripture that supports that idea. Actually the opposite is true. It tells us to go. Telling us to go into the world and be salt and light means we do have to actually go into the world. It’s not always safe there, but we cannot answer the call of the Great Commission from the safety of our Christian bubble. Our children can’t, either.

My job is to make sure she’s properly equipped to be in the world. I can’t just push her out the door and say, “Good luck with all that saving the world stuff!” She needs to know how to put on the full armor of God first. (Ephesians 6:10-18) The fight she faces is not really a physical one at all, but a spiritual one.

The helmet of salvation to remind her whose she is and that she is secure. The breastplate of righteousness to guard her heart as criticisms come at her for the different way she lives her life. The belt of truth to measure against ideas that are not truth. Her feet fit with the readiness of the gospel of peace to calm her and to share with others. The shield of faith to fend off attacks from the evil one.

Only when our children are fully dressed in that armor are they prepared to go into the world to make a difference. We can keep them safely locked inside our insulated Christian world, but that’s not how any of us came to be followers of Christ. Someone, sometime, had to venture out and come get us. It wasn’t safe, it was risky, but they did it for us.

If we want to raise up the next generation of Great Commission followers, we have to worry less about protecting them from the world, and concern ourselves more with preparing them for it.