Monday, December 22, 2014

How to Do Santa Well (If You're Going to Do the Santa Thing)

Photo credit:

On my last Christmas-related article, “My Kids Will Believe in St. Nick (but They Won’t Believe in Santa)”, I received some contrary responses. I would like to clarify that it was never my intent to offend any parents who “do” Santa, nor did I wish to imply that parents who tell their kids Santa brings gifts are bad parents. I did want to make a statement on the underlying values and theology taught by the tradition of Santa, as well as to provide some questions to guide that thought process.

For those parents who are deciding or have decided, after deliberation, to continue the tradition of Santa in their household, I would like to share some tips for how to do that in a way that doesn’t take away from (but rather illuminates) the story of the birth of Christ.

Know what you are trying to teach them. The story and tradition of Santa is a great way to imbue in children the joy of giving, the beauty of Christmas, and the innocent wonder of stories. Keep in mind what you are trying to teach them, and you will find it easier to avoid what you’re trying not to teach them.

Talk about why Santa gives gifts. Teach your children that Santa gives gifts for the same reason we do: as a reminder of the greatest Gift of all, Jesus.

Use Santa for grace-based theology. In my last post, I mentioned that Santa promotes a works-based theology. Good little boys and girls get gifts, while children on the naughty list get only coal. When you talk about Santa, talk about how he knows when they do bad things, but he forgives them and gives gifts out of love for them. Talk about how this is like Jesus; Jesus knows we can never be good enough to earn heaven, so he came to earth and died for us. Jesus and Santa both give gifts not because we deserve them, but because they love us.

Don’t make Santa the be-all and end-all. Christmas should not be all about Santa. Christmas should not be all about gifts. If Santa and the gifts were to entirely disappear from the Christmas tradition, your child should still be able to recognize Christmas. You can work toward this by using Santa as a parallel for Jesus (as I said before), by attending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day church services, reading the Christmas story as a family, and having a Nativity scene up in your house.

There are lots of ways to do the Santa tradition well, keeping Christ as the center and using Santa to support and illuminate Christ’s birth. My husband and I still won’t teach our children to believe in Santa, but we would never condemn someone who does. Whether you teach Santa, St. Nick, or neither of those, the most important thing is that you remember and teach the true reason for Christmas. At Christmas, God became flesh. On Good Friday, God in flesh, the man Christ Jesus, suffered, died, and was buried for our sins. On Easter, Jesus rose from the dead, conquering sin and death once for all. Whether you do or don’t “do” Santa, do it for Christ.

For more ideas from someone who is “doing the Santa thing”, check out Barefoot and Pregnant’s post on, “The Great Santa Lie Truth”.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Recommended Post: Christians, Stop Staying Pure Until Marriage

Photo Credit: Captured by Kathy K
For those who anxiously await my weekly posts, I'd like to share something to tide you over until I get the next post up. This was written by a young woman named Sarah over at Tumblr, and it sums up my views of purity and marital sexuality perfectly.

As anyone would be, I was hesitant when I came across the title, but it was shared by a Christian friend and former classmate of mine, so I assumed it was at least relevant to my understanding of and belief in purity. I was happily surprised when I found out just how convicting and uplifting the post was...

But if you want to know more, I'll let you read it yourself. Head over, check it out, and let her know Dakotah sent you!

Christians, Stop Staying Pure Until Marriage by Sarah

Monday, December 15, 2014

I'd Rather Read "Game of Thrones" than "Left Behind"

A well-loved family member once told me that I shouldn’t be looking for doctrine* in fiction books, even Christian ones. “If you want doctrine, read the Bible,” she said. At first glance, that sounds like a solid statement. Why should we trust anything but Scripture to teach us our beliefs? If we want a good story, we should read a well-written fiction book, but if we want to know what to believe, we should read the Bible.

If only it were that simple.

Unfortunately, sometimes books give us more than just a good story. Every book ever written has underlying concepts and values, and whether we’re looking for them or not, we’re absorbing them. No matter our age, we learn from what we read. Becoming adults, we develop filters that let us determine whether we will incorporate the values we read into our own lives, but when it comes to doctrine, sometimes things slip past those filters.

Christians for the past 2000 years have believed in the inerrancy of Scripture—the Bible is absolutely true. When we read books that quote the Bible, then, it can be difficult to tell when those books are misinterpreting Scripture and distorting doctrine. Much of Christian literature distorts doctrine by taking Scripture out of context. This is the reason I read very few fiction books in the “Christian” genre.

I’m not going to address all the theological problems with the Left Behind books. As a matter of fact, I’m not going to address the theological problems at all. If you’ve read my Statement of Faith (or the About Me section), you know that I am a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and as such, my understanding of the books is in line with theirs. If you would like to know what the LCMS teaches about Left Behind, you can go to the page LCMS Doctrine FAQ on Left Behind.

You may not think that pure doctrine matters very much. Let’s look at an example that demonstrates why that’s wrong.

Some Christians believe that God created life on earth through evolution (a scientific theory known as theistic evolution). They believe that the six days of creation are not a literal six days, but rather a representation of the time it took to create life. This makes a lot of sense from a scientific standpoint, but theologically (doctrinally) it creates a conundrum that requires us to deny this theory of theistic evolution or deny two of the basic tenets of our faith, original sin and the inerrancy of Scripture.

If theistic evolution is true, creatures had to die before Adam and Eve evolved. If death existed before Adam and Eve, death existed before sin came into the world. If death existed before sin came into the world, sin did not cause death. If sin did not cause death, original sin does not exist. If original sin does not exist, Romans 6:23 is wrong in saying “the wages of sin is death”. If Romans 6:23 is wrong about the wages of sin, Scripture has error. Clearly, the doctrine of a six-day creation, which many Christians call a nonessential, actually affects doctrines essential to salvation, such as original sin. A little false teaching in so-called “nonessentials” leads to a lot of false teaching in “essentials”.

My claim in the title, that “I’d rather read Game of Thrones than Left Behind,” holds true. I’d rather read something that teaches no doctrine than something that teaches a little false doctrine. I’d rather eat an delicious, nutrient-lacking pizza than eat a delicious, nutrient-filled prime rib dinner that has a little rat poison in it. Sure, my body could flush out the rat poison, but the rat poison could just as easily kill me. In the same way, my discernment could flush out the false doctrine in some so-called Christian fiction, but that false doctrine could just as easily destroy my faith.

No matter how enjoyable Christian fiction might be, if it’s not doctrinally solid, I don’t want to read it. Secular fiction might not be building me up spiritually, but it’s not tearing me down like the rat poison of false doctrine found in some** Christian fiction.

*Defined as ”a belief or set of beliefs held and taught by a church, political party, or other group.” For the purpose of this article, the “doctrine” referred to is that of the universal Christian Church. For more information on my personal beliefs and doctrine, please see my Statement of Faith.

**It should be noted that some Christian fiction can be found which has solid doctrine in it. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis are wonderful and enjoyable, and I have not found any doctrinal problems in them to date. If you’re looking for something targeted more toward adults, Dr. Paul L. Maier has written two exciting novels I enjoyed, titled Skeleton in God’s Closet and More than a Skeleton. I highly recommend them—doctrinally solid, engaging, and challenging. (I just discovered he has written three other fiction books in addition to the two I have read, as well as six non-fiction and seven children’s books. See Dr. Maier’swebsite for more information.)

Monday, December 8, 2014

My Kids Will Believe in St. Nick (but They Won't Believe in Santa)

Photo credit:
In the fourth century, in the far away land of Asia Minor, lived a young man named Nicholas. He was raised a Christian, ordained a priest, and became a bishop. He often gave gifts to poor children and used his wealth to help the poor, sick, and needy. We know him as St. Nicholas.

Today, in the far away land of the North Pole, lives a fat, white-bearded man named Nicholas. He spends most of the year watching children to see if they are good or bad. He always gives Christmas gifts to the good boys and girls of the world. We know him as Santa.

What is the difference between Santa and St. Nicholas? Besides the obvious difference (that St. Nicholas actually existed, but Santa is just a story), their tales are fundamentally different. St. Nicholas gave gifts to those who needed them; Santa gives gifts to those who earned them. St. Nicholas exhibited grace; Santa exhibits condemnation. St. Nicholas promoted righteousness by grace; Santa promotes righteousness by works.

We know from Scripture that we can never be “good enough” for God. Isaiah 64:6 says that “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” Ephesians 2:8-9 says we have been saved by “the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one can boast.” We can teach our children that we will never earn gifts from God, but if we teach them that they can earn gifts from Santa, we will, in effect, be negating what we taught on gifts from God. By a child’s understanding, there will be no difference; if they are good enough to earn Santa’s gifts, they are good enough to earn God’s.

I don’t want my kids to think they can be good enough. I want them to see the story of the real St. Nicholas, minister and bishop, filled with zeal for the Gospel. I want them to see the example of a man who did works not out of a desire to earn something, but out of gratitude for his salvation. I want them to see that St. Nicholas gave gifts not to people who deserved them, but to people who need them, in the same way that God gave us His Gift, not to those who deserved His grace, but to those who needed it.

That Gift God gave us is Christ, the Christ that “was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell, but the third day He rose again from the dead! He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty!” (Apostles' Creed) That is the gift I want my children to hear about. I can’t teach my children about that gift by teaching them about Santa, but I can teach them about that gift by teaching them of Nicholas of Myra. My children will believe in St. Nicholas. But they won’t believe in Santa.

I don’t mean to condemn those parents who chose to teach their children about Santa Claus. Before you make a decision either way, though, ask yourself a few things.

What are you trying to teach them by telling them about Santa?

Is the story of Santa supporting or taking away from the story of Jesus’s birth, death, and resurrection?

If you teach your child that Santa and Jesus are both real, but later tell them Santa isn’t real, what conclusion might they reach about Jesus?

Can you use the story of Santa to make sure they hear the Gospel?

Intentional parenting is good parenting. Are you intentional in your Christmas parenting?

Photo Credit:
When Santa Punched a Heretic in the Face: 13 Memes on St. Nicholas

*All Scripture passages referenced are from the ESV Bible*

Edit: It was brought to my attention that the above statement on "intentional parenting" is a bit unclear. I did not intend to say that parents who teach their children about Santa are being unintentional parents. My intent was to say that parents need to be intentional about making the choice. Parents who choose to teach their children to believe in Santa are intentional. Parents who chose to teach their children not to believe in Santa are intentional. Unintentional parenting happens when parents just let one or the other happen. I do not in any way mean to condemn either decision, merely to provoke thoughts on the topic.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure to check out How to Do Santa Well (if You're Going to Do the Santa Thing)!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Guest Blogger: This Isn't Your Parent's Party

Today, we have a guest post by my good friend, classmate, and colleague in ministry, James (Jim) Hutson! Jim is a father of two adolescents, studying Family Life Ministry at Concordia University. He also is the author of the blog A Modern Day Pilgrim's Journey, an ordained chaplain, and a passionate worker for men's ministry. He recently presented in our Youth Cultures class on the Youth Party Scene, and I asked him if he would be willing to change his presentation into a blog post to share with you. We'd both love to hear your feedback, so read, comment, and check out his blog, as well!

God's Blessings,


This Isn’t Your Parent’s Party!
By James A. Hutson

AUTHOR'S NOTE:  As part of my academic education at Concordia University Ann Arbor for the BA in Family Life (Church Work) minor Men's Ministry, I have been blessed to take an independent study class entitled "FAM431: Youth Culture.”  This is a presentation I gave on the topic, "Youth at Risk:  Current Attractions and Addictions" in which I spoke about the use of alcohol and drugs in the adolescent party scene.   Below is a paper based on the presentation and I hope that you are as alarmed, as a parent, as I was and am.

Back in the day, when I was an adolescent (yes, I once was), the party scene was less about drinking and more about socialization.  Socialization is the process of inheriting and disseminating norms, customs and ideologies, providing an individual with the skills and habits necessary for participating within his or her own society.[1]  In layman’s terms, socialization is “the means by which social and cultural continuity are attained.” [2]

Today, for the millennial generation, partying isn’t a social exercise anymore.  The average teenager spends over 44.5 hours per week in front of their computer screens…and some of that time is engaged in socialization, not just computer games and cat videos.  This generation is more socially savvy than my generation ever was, in dangerous and unfulfilling ways.  As one Facebooking teen says, “You know your life’s friends better than yourself” and it’s part of being “in the crowd.”[3]  This relatability between today’s adolescents is another topic, in and of itself, but the electronic and multifaceted means by which they engage has become the socialization process for the majority.

So why is The Party still part of our youth’s social scene?

No matter how you view it, the millennial generation has been bereft of leadership and guidance from the generation before it, the Gen-Xers.  I believe this is because when we [the Gen-Xers] rebelled against our parents, the Boomers, we did so with the idea that there was a promised land and we’d find it at the end of our tethers and restraints that we felt our parents kept us on.  Unfortunately, we didn’t, and so we are embroiled in the chaotic blundering in the proverbial desert of our lives, seeking meaning in the rebellions of our youth.  We have, in the words of Chap Clark, corporately abandoned our youth and have left them to ‘figure it out themselves.’  Maybe [it’s] because we don’t want to restrain or inhibit our children as we once felt we were, but whatever the reason, this hands-off [philosophy] has left a generation without a sexual identity that they will use in the social world they are coming to age in.

And it is these teenagers that are partying.

Far beyond the means by which they ‘party’, these adolescents are coming together to party for the sake of community; to belong, to be accepted, and to be loved.  That “mysterious, miraculous, and unfathomable” phenomenon of the human species, community.[4]  Community, too often interchanged with socialization, is the “feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of common attitudes, interests and goals.”[5]  Instead of learning, they are seeking.  And therein lies the dangers of the modern-day party scene of our youth.

“There is no celebration unless we can falsely create one by altering the state of our lives and even our relationships” is the expectation of the youth that are into the party scene, according to Chap Clark.[6]  To reach this ability to transform their lives into a celebratory event, youth use the ‘traditional’ methods involved at parties, alcohol and drugs.  But, they aren’t the drugs you think and the way you think alcohol is consumed.

Simply put, the party scene is about sex; sex seeking love, attachment, value and caring from peers that seek the same thing….unfortunately, in dangerous and disastrous ways.  Instanteous, if temporary, gratification for their basic needs without intimacy.

The dress apparel of the party scene is to dress as slutty as possible, so that you can be a player in the games.  No, I’m not talking about the party favorites of “pin-the-tail” or “poker,” but games like “Two Article Night” and “ABC Night.”  Nights where you can only wear two articles and where you have to use material like duct tape or red solo cups to make an ‘outfit.’  Or “Color Party,” where one wears a corresponding color to the level of their sexual experience and seek out others of either sex, depending on their preference, that has the same level so that you can experience the next level of sex.  The dance floor is no longer for the enjoyment of rhythm and music, but a grounds for the ‘hook-up’ where you basically ‘bump’ into someone else and dance until the evening ‘progresses.’ 

Remember Clark’s description of celebration?  To loosen their inhibitions and fears, adolescents are using the ‘traditional’ party tools in dangerous ways to create an environment where they are not responsible for, or held accountable by their peers for, the actions they engage in.

Drugs and alcohol are altering our adolescents perceptions.

“Pharm Parties” are used to ‘alter their perceptions’ so that the experience can be maximized for effect.  But it isn’t the drugs of the Gen-Xer generation, hard drugs like hash and rock cocaine, but prescription drugs like Oxytocin, Ritalin and other narcotic painkillers and stimulants that alter perception and lower inhibitions.  “Experimentation” is the method of choice for ‘new experiences’ and things like vaping (electronic cigarettes) and “herb” snorting have become equally as dangerous.  Drugs that produce a strong ‘perception-altering’ effect are sought for, but the danger of overdose is overlooked or unrecognized, especially when mixed with alcohol. 

Of course, this leads us to the most recognized and abused substance of any generation’s party scene: alcohol.  The Millennial, being economically savvy and fiscally responsible, has improved upon how alcohol is used in the party scene.  They simply ‘pre-game.’  Pre-gaming is where you “drink with some purpose” (usually to save money, increase the availability of your supply or simply ‘get your buzz on.’  And drinking games are the mainstay of the pre-game festivities; beer pong, quarters, truth or dare that ‘force’ the participants to drink once a condition agreed upon (missing a shot glass, failing to knock down a cup) is reached.  Another ‘traditional’ means of obtaining alcohol for the pre-game or party has developed with the times as well.  The ‘fake id’ can be bulk ordered from China and is 70% undetected…a far cry from trying to convince the clerk the photo is actually of you and not someone else.

Despite the pre-game, party and accessibility of deception for purchase, alcohol consumption is on the decline for the past several years.  Only 3.5% of eighth graders, 12.8% of tenth graders and 26% of high school seniors reported alcohol use in the past month.  I believe it is because they are mixing drugs with alcohol for effect and therefore use less.  What bothered me the most about my research into the alcohol use of millennials was the stat, “3.5% of 8th graders”…middle school children!

So, what are we as parents to do about this?  How should we respond?

As parents.  Responsible, concerned and caring parents.  What is a parent with those characteristics?  An involved one.  A school site listed several ways we can engage this millennial generation in positive and effective ways. 
  1. Be prepared to talk to you teen about the issues; drugs, alcohol and sexual activity.
  2. Communicate!  And make sure the lines of communication stay open and unrestricted.
  3. As corny as it sounds, teach and practice with your teen the art of saying no.  It’s easy, “No.”
  4. Set firm rules, and discuss consequences of violations to those rules.
  5. Be involved, follow up with adult or responsible party about time and location of party.  It’s not a matter of trust, it’s a matter of responsible parenting.
  6. Discuss exit strategy with teen when party is unsafe due to drugs/drinking or sexual activities and use it.
  7. Practice scenarios about what your teen’s response should be to other’s illegal behavior.
  8. Be awake when your adolescent comes home, don’t just say “Hi, glad you’re home safe,” but touch base with them about their experience.  (Remember number 2).
  9. Discuss safety code.  How will your teen let you know they need your help if they are in a position where they cannot clearly state it.

If you are afraid of upsetting the ‘delicate’ balance of your adolescent, remember this…You are the greatest influence on your child. The Bible tells us to ‘raise our children in the way they should go,” and teaching is only part of that process….maintaining the standards and expectations of behavior and responsibility ourselves speaks volumes to our children and help them emulate them on their own.  How will you know you are being effective in the modeling? 
  1. By knowing your child, being involved with them and knowing what constitutes ‘normalcy’ in their world. 
  2. Stay in touch with them and their peers, know their friend’s parents.  Who knows, you might find an ally in this battle for your adolescent’s health and welfare! 
  3. Keep aware of legitimate drugs/alcohol in the house and amounts.  It’s not a matter of trust, it’s a determent of temptation.
    And lastly,
  4. Do not allow any unchaperoned parties (or other gatherings) to be attended.

It isn’t that you don’t trust your child or a matter of thinking that they cannot handle the world around them; it is simply a matter of being a parent to your child and raising them in an environment where they can learn, grow and be healthy in their physical, social, sexual and spiritual identities so that they can raise their children in the manner in which they should go.


[1] Clausen, John A. (ed.) (1968) Socialization and Society.  Little Brown and Company. p5.
[2] Macionis, Gerber.  Sociology.  7th Canadian Ed. (Pearson Canada, 2010) pg. 104.
[3] Charlotte.  New York Times: The Learning Network. Do You Spend Too Much Time on Facebook? Comments section.
[4] Peck, M. Scott PhD. (1998) The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace.  Touchstone, Simon & Schuster Inc.
[5] “Community.” Merriam-Webster.
[6]  Clark, Chap. (2004). Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers.  Baker Academic.  Grand Rapids, MI.

Resources used, if not footnoted:

Jefferson County School Board. (2014, November 17). Safe and Drug-Free Schools. Retrieved from Jefferson County Public Schools:   
JOIN TOGETHER STAFF. (2005, July 25). Youth Trade Drugs at 'Pharming' Parties. Retrieved from Partnership for a Drug-Free Kids:
Levenson, E., & John, A. (2014, April 9). How the Kids Do It Now: Partying. Retrieved from TheWire.Com: News from the Atlantic:
Nauert PhD, R. (2013, September 4). Partying on Facebook May Spur Teens’ Risky Behavior. Retrieved from 
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014 January).  High School and Youth Trends.  Retrieved from National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Family-Centered, Church-Supported, Christ-Founded (A Family Life Model for Congregations)

Family Life Ministry, as I learned it, is a ministry that is centered on the family, supported by the Church, and founded on Christ. I'd like to share with you why I've found this ministry to be so important.

First, we need to determine what we mean by "family". The Merriam-Webster online dictionary has 11 different definitions with six sub-definitions. I'll share the five most relevant of those. Merriam-Webster says a family is "a group of people who are related to each other," "a group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head," "a group of persons of common ancestry," "the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children; also:  any of various social units differing from but regarded as equivalent to the traditional family," or "spouse and children."

The type of family I will be referring to throughout this post is best defined as a collection of people related legally or biologically that live in a fallen world and are called by God to love and support each other by the power of the Holy Spirit, living within the boundaries of God’s laws.

According to LifeWay research (as cited by Christianity Today), 70% of young adults stop attending church in their youth. Two-thirds of that 70% do return, but that still leaves almost a quarter of all young adults raised in churches leaving and staying away. This number is too high.

Before pointing any fingers, it should be said that 77% of Christian families are doing something right. 47% of young adults that stop attending church return, and 30% never leave. The parents in these families, I propose, are placing a high value on faith, as numerous surveys have shown that parental example and guidance is the best way to ensure youth remain in church throughout their life.

According to a Swiss survey of parental effects on faith formation: "If father and mother are both regular churchgoers: 33 per cent of their children will end up as regular churchgoers with a further 41 per cent attending irregularly. Only a quarter of their children will end up not practising at all.”

The Association of Religious Data Archives reports that only one percent of fifteen- to seventeen-year-olds whose parents considered religion of little import were “highly religious in their mid- to late 20s.” Contrarily, 82% of children that had parents “who talked about faith at home, attached great importance to their beliefs and were active in their congregations” were active in their faith as young adults.

Clearly, the best way to instill faith in young people is to instill it at home. No matter what churches, no matter how many programs congregations run, there is no substitute for parents modeling faith both in church and at home. Pew Research says that mothers spend 13.5 hours per week with their children, and fathers spend 7.3 hours per week with them. Most churches have a church service that lasts one hour and a Sunday school program that also lasts an hour—two hours per week to teach faith to these young people (maybe slightly higher for the year or two preceding Confirmation). Parents are spending three to six times more time with their children than churches do—doesn’t it follow, then, that parents should be spending more time than churches teaching the faith to their children?

Luther’s Small Catechism opens the Ten Commandments with “as the head of the family should teach them to his household.” Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says of the Law, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Ephesians 6:4 exhorts fathers, “do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

Both Scripture and Church tradition set the example for family-centered faith formation. Churches can train parents to teach their children, but they simply do not have enough time to drastically influence the faith formation of children and young adults. The responsibility must inevitably fall to parents, or that 23% of youth that stop attending church for good will rise until we have an entire generation of un-churched adults.

*All Scripture passages referenced are from the ESV Bible.*

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Parent Seminar 3 (Talking to Your Teen about Pornography and Masturbation)

My final parenting seminar at St. John Lutheran Church in Berlin, WI will be on Friday, December 5th, at 5:30 p.m. We will be discussing how to talk to your teen about pornography and masturbation.

As with the other two seminars, we will have a potluck before the seminar, beginning this time at 5:00, open to attendees and their families. I hope everyone who is able will come out and attend!

For this seminar, if you would like childcare, please call the church at least a week in advance at 920-361-9935. Blessings!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

My Friendship Mistakes (How to End a Harmful Relationship in a Loving Manner)

When I was eighteen, I was involved in two harmful friendships. We ended up in a cycle of mutual negative influence. I wanted desperately to impact these young women positively and to minister to them with the Gospel, but it was not the right in my life for me to do that.

The first young woman, who I will call Aurora, lived in my apartment complex. We went to school together and were in a couple of the same classes. I don’t remember how we began to develop a friendship—whether we started talking on the bus, walking back from the bus stop, or some other instance—but we did. Within a few months, I was inviting her to youth group with me, and she was inviting me to the secular afterschool program activities. We’d go to community events or spend time in my parents’ apartment (never in hers) and talk about mutual interests, school activities, and whatever else struck our fancy.

Although she was my friend, I didn’t approve of a lot of Aurora’s behaviors. She smoked, swore, and (if I am remembering and interpreting the signs correctly in retrospect) was a self-harmer. Her overall attitude toward life was negative, and when I spent time with her, I found myself being more negative as well. She also had friends that I did not consider positive influences (for the same reason that I later ended our relationship). Over time, I began to realize that our relationship was having a poor impact on my own attitude and behavior and that it needed to end.

The last time we ever spent any extended time together was pretty much a typical day in our friendship. We were hanging out at my parent’s apartment, talking. Then she got in contact with another friend—one of the previously mentioned friends that I considered negative influences—and invited him over to my parents’ apartment (without asking my thoughts on the matter). Before her friend arrived, she wanted to go buy more cigarettes, so she asked me to walk to the gas station with her. Not wanting to condone her smoking (and being upset with her choice to invite someone to my home without my input), I said I would not go. She said she’d be back in about an hour.

As soon as Aurora left to buy her cigarettes, I went to my mom and asked for her advice. I told her I needed to end the relationship and asked her how, but she didn’t have an answer, so I started looking for an easy way out by myself.
Earlier that day, I had received an invitation to go to another friend’s house (just down the street) that I had rejected in favor of spending the day with Aurora. I seized on that invitation as my “easy-out”. I told my mom that when Aurora came back, she should tell her I forgot she was coming back and went to another friend’s house. I ran down to the other friend and asked her to hide me while I avoided the other person, and we spent a couple hours playing games while I ignored my responsibility to Aurora as a friend and as a Christian.

Aurora confronted me later about my behavior, but I shrugged it off with noncommittal responses and tried to avoid the topic. Finally, she told me that if I was going to treat her like that, she didn’t want to spend time with me anymore. For the rest of the school year, we ignored each other when we passed at school, aside from the angry looks she would give me, looks that I undoubtedly deserved (and I deserved much worse). We haven’t spoken since graduation.

The second young woman (I’ll call her Jasmine) came into my life in the winter of my senior year. I’d been in the town for six months or so, and she was having difficulty getting connected after moving in halfway through her senior year. As with Aurora, Jasmine and I had some common interests which sparked our relationship. I started spending time with her both at school and away, going out for coffee (or the sugared, frozen beverages we substituted for coffee) and spending hours together talking. Jasmine and I were close; on our graduation day, I bought her a bouquet of yellow roses (yellow symbolizing friendship) because she once told me no one had ever bought her roses before. She hugged me, cried, and thanked me over and over again.

Unfortunately, our relationship was not always that positive and supporting. Jasmine struggled with her self-image, dealing with eating disorders. When she would compliment my appearance (which I quickly realized was a remark on my confidence, not my appearance), I would argue with her about how beautiful she was, insisting that she was prettier than me. I didn’t realize that her needs went much deeper than that. She needed to know her identity came from an outside source—from Christ—not to be assured of her identity as beautiful physically.

Jasmine had values that were different from my own. As a Christian, I believed sex should only be within the boundaries of marriage; on more than one occasion, she suggested (only half-jokingly) that she and I take a camping trip with two boys of our choice, in two separate tents, and spend the night doing whatever we wanted with them. I also believe that Christians should not get drunk, but on graduation night, she and I went out bar-hopping with the rest of the graduating class. I (despite the fact that my mom had told me only to drink when we were at Jasmine’s house for the night) had one drink while we were out (a clarification: drinking was legal for 18-year-olds in the country we lived), and she had a few. We had another friend (who had not been drinking) drive us back to her place that evening, where her mom served us strawberry champagne and other drinks. Several girls and a couple boys stayed the night at her house that evening. (While I slept in a different room from the boys, one of them was intoxicated. Were I in the same situation today, I would go home rather than remaining at a co-ed sleepover, and I would never approve of my daughter making the same choice—to stay—that I did that night.)

When I left for college, Jasmine and I did not keep in touch. She stayed in the same town we graduated in, while I left for the US. When I came back over a break, I hoped (selfishly) that we would not run into each other and I would not have to deal with the relationship which I knew was a negative influence. My hope was unfounded. Walking home from the coffee shop one day, I saw a familiar figure walking toward me. Hoping (stupidly) that she wouldn’t recognize me, I crossed the street. She crossed too, and when I was within hearing distance, she said, “Did you think I wouldn’t recognize you?”

Being the sinful human I am, I cheerfully lied. “No, I didn’t recognize you! I wasn’t really paying attention. I had my headphones in.” We stopped and caught up for a few minutes. I don’t remember what we talked about or how the conversation ended, but I’m sure that the insincerity in my friendliness was apparent and hurtful. We haven’t spoken in years, but we never had the clear-cut end to the relationship that we both needed.

For those of you (especially adolescents) that are involved in a friendship that is negatively impacting you—especially a relationship that is leading you to reject your faith—I have some guidelines for you on how to end that without being unnecessarily hurtful. I wish I had known these before I treated Jasmine and Aurora the way I did.
  1. Pray, read Scripture, and talk to others. If the relationship is in opposition to Scripture or is causing you to behave in a way that is contrary to God’s Word, you need to leave. Christian peers and mentors can also help you make the right decision; sometimes an outside opinion is what you need to see the relationship with an unbiased eye.
  2. Be honest with yourself and the other person about your needs. Kindly explain why you feel the relationship needs to end. Don’t hide or try to ignore them like I did. You need a clean break, and they need an honest answer about the relationship.
  3. Set boundaries for what the “end of the relationship” looks like. Will you never speak to each other, or is it ok to say hi when you pass on the street? Can you attend events together with mutual friends, or do you need a complete break from contact?
  4. Decide when and how, if ever, the relationship can be repaired, and communicate that to the other person.
  5. Listen, but remain strong in your convictions. Undoubtedly, the other person will have something to say about the end of the relationship—whether positive or negative. Affirm their feelings (acknowledge the hurt they may be feeling) but don’t let guilt over upsetting them force you to stay in the relationship.

If you are in a situation similar to mine, I hope this helps you make a better choice than I did. Because we live in a broken world, relationships will be hard, they will end, and the endings will be painful. No matter what, though, there is peace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ, who heals all broken relationships—not necessarily during our time in this broken world, but in the Last Day, when we are restored to Him in perfect unity.
Since that time with Jasmine and Aurora, I have grown. I have seen that my actions toward them was sinful, I repented, and I have been forgiven by Christ. Because I lost contact with those two young women, I have not asked them for forgiveness—nor do I believe that attempting to reconnect with them would help heal the hurts I caused back then.

To Jasmine and Aurora, if you are reading this: I am so sorry for my behavior toward you. There is no excuse for the way I treated you. I certainly was not modeling the love of Christ. The only reason I can give for my actions is that I am a sinful human being, with every need for God’s grace. Though I did not show you God’s love, I pray that you would see His grace through the fact that He has forgiven me despite my numerous sins and shortcomings. And finally, I ask that you could someday find yourself able to forgive me, not because I deserve forgiveness, but because I need it.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Suicide and Cutting in the Youth Culture

As you may know, self-harm is a big problem among youth. According to an article by Fox News, 1 in every 200 girls age 13 to 19 cut themselves regularly. 40% of self-harmers are males.
The CDC reports that about 157,000 youth aged 10 to 24 receive medical care each year for self-inflicted injuries. Suicide is an even bigger problem, being the third leading cause of death for people age 15 to 24 according to Fox, 10 to 24 according to the CDC. The CDC did a nationwide survey of 9th to 12th graders that found that 16% of students were seriously considering suicide, 13% had made a plan, and 8% had tried to suicide in the year before the survey. While Millennials may not be the generation with the highest rates of suicide—at this point, that would be the Baby Boomers—these numbers are too high.

Lost All Hope, a website for those considering suicide, reports that in 2012, over half of all suicides were by firearm, almost a quarter were by suffocation or hanging, 16.6% were by poisoning, and 6% were by fall, cutting or piercing, drowning, transportation, and fire or burning.

I couldn’t find anything online about why youth attempt suicide or cut, but Walt Mueller says in his book Youth Culture 101 that they do it because of developmental, familial, and societal factors, as well as feelings of inferiority, desire for attention, revenge, substance abuse, and sexual abuse. We clearly can’t name any one factor for suicide or cutting—or even two or three—because the reasons youth do these things are so varied depending on the individual.

Even though the reasons teens attempt suicide are varied, there are some common warning signs. These include loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable; extreme changes in personality, sleep patterns, energy levels, hygiene, school performance, appetite, and social behaviors; unusual moods or behaviors such as sadness, irritability, aggression, defiance, indifference, guilt or feeling worthless, anxiety, and panic; difficulty concentrating; substance abuse; and hallucinations or strange beliefs. Youth considering suicide may talk about it, have a preoccupation with death, make a suicide plan, and begin giving away personal possessions or putting their affairs in order. Gay and lesbian youth are two to three times more likely than heterosexual youth to attempt suicide, and youth that have previously attempted suicide are at a greater risk of repeated attempts.

A new issue in the youth culture regarding suicide is social media. Some high profile youth suicides over the past few years have been related to cyber-bullying—using the internet to harass someone. Social media can also be used to publicize suicides or suicidal feelings, which may lead to a string of attempted suicides, as may have been the case of a Google+ video by an eighth grade boy in Zionsville, Indiana.

Hashtags, used on many social media websites, are also used to discuss suicide and self-harm, according to an article on Buzzfeed. Because some hashtags such as “suicide” are banned on some of these websites, youth create secret words or phrases to hide their posts—for example, using “sue” or “secretsociety123” for “suicide”. Many of these social media networks try to remain aware of these code words and prevent people from viewing the pages until they have seen a warning or message. For example, I went to Tumblr to search “sue”. Before the website would allow me to view related posts, a page came up with the message “Everything ok? If you or someone you know are experiencing any type of crisis, please know there are people who care about you and are here to help. Consider chatting confidentially with a volunteer trained in crisis intervention at, or anonymously with a trained active listener from 7 Cups of Tea. It might also be nice to fill your dash with inspirational and supportive posts from TWLOHA, Half of Us, the Lifeline, and Love Is Respect.” Then I had the option to go back or to view the search results. Some people on social media networks are attempting to rebrand hashtags such as these by tagging positive, inspirational, or supportive posts with them.

Individuals can help prevent cutting and suicide by knowing the warning signs, talking to the person about the concern, directly asking them if they are cutting or considering suicide, and telling a responsible party—whether a parent, healthcare professional, or other trusted adult. Society, as well, needs to be making an attempt to stop suicide and cutting among youth. We can do this by promoting awareness of the warning signs and ways to prevent it, de-stigmatizing mental health, and attempting to prevent the glorification of suicide, be it by a person with terminal illness or by a rich and famous individual.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Talking to Your Teen about Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Hi, everyone! For those that weren't able to make it to the seminar on Sunday, I wanted to share the content I presented. First is a presentation on what sexual orientation and gender identity is. Below that PowerPoint you can find the definitions of words in the first slide after the title. The second PowerPoint is a presentation on how to talk to your teen about sexual orientation and gender identity.

  • Asexual: Person who is not sexually attracted to anyone or does not have a sexual orientation.
  • Bisexual: A person emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to males/men and females/women. This attraction does not have to be equally split between genders and there may be a preference for one gender over others.
  • Closeted (in the closet): a homosexual, bisexual, trans person or intersex person who will not or cannot disclose their sex, sexuality, sexual orientation or gender identity to their friends, family, co-workers, or society
  • Coming out: the process by which one accepts one’s own, sexuality, gender identity, or status as an intersexed person OR the process by which one shares one’s sexuality, gender identity, or intersexed status with others
  • Gender: a person’s non-biological masculinity or femininity
  • Gender Confirming Surgery/Sex Reassignment Surgery: Medical surgeries used to modify one’s body to be more congruent with one’s gender identity.
  • Gender Dysphoria: the condition of feeling one's emotional and psychological identity as male or female to be opposite to one's biological sex.
  • Homosexual: A person primarily emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to members of the same sex.
  • Intergender: A person whose gender identity is between genders or a combination of genders.
  • Intersexed person: Someone whose sex a doctor has a difficult time categorizing as either male or female. A person whose combination of chromosomes, hormones, internal sex organs, gonads, and/or genitals differs from one of the two expected patterns. Formerly called “hermaphrodite”
  • Lesbian: female-identified people attracted romantically, sexually, and/or emotionally to other female-identified people
  • LGBT/LGBTQ/LGBTQI: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, and Intersexed
  • Pangendered: A person whose gender identity is comprised of all or many gender expressions
  • Pansexual: A person who is sexually attracted to all or many gender expressions.
  • Queer: embraces a matrix of sexual preferences, orientations, and habits of the not-exclusively- heterosexual-and-monogamous majority. Queer includes lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, trans people, intersex persons, the radical sex communities, and many others
  • Sex: A medical term designating a certain combination of gonads, chromosomes, external gender organs, secondary sex characteristics and hormonal balances. Because usually subdivided into ‘male’ and ‘female’, this category does not recognize the existence of intersexed bodies
  • Transgender: A person who lives as a member of a gender other than that expected based on anatomical sex. Sexual orientation varies and is not dependent on gender identity.

As always, please leave comments, questions, and feedback in the comments section! I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

How Pornography Exposure Happens

In my last post, I mentioned that 93% of boys and 62% of girls are exposed to pornography before age 18. You may think that this can't possibly happen in your houseyour filters are too good, your children aren't on websites that could link them to pornography, you know their friends aren't showing it to them, etc. Technology and predators have become more sophisticated, however. The following are some ways children accidentally access pornography online.

Innocent Word Searches

Sometimes a child will image search on Google a word or phrase that they may believe is perfectly innocent. "Miley Cyrus", once a popular, appropriate Disney role model, may be searched by a preteen in hopes of finding a picture of the girl who played in Flicka. The results she finds, with or without "Safesearch" filters on, will certainly include shirtless pictures. Also, "p***y", for a child, often means "kitty-cat", but placed in the context of a Google search, it will yield scarring results.

Misspelled Word Searches

Children, especially young children, aren't always the best spellers. They can be given an assignment to research Virginia for school and end up searching for female genitals. If they want to see pictures of cute clothes, they may accidentally search for "t*ts" instead of "tights". Mistakes like this, also, will not be prevented by a "safe search" filter.

Stealth Sites

A more targeted way pornography is exposed to kids is when they are attempting to access a legitimate websites. Some pornography producers will buy a URL that is only a letter or two away from a perfectly appropriate, child-safe website, and use the alternative URL for pornographic images or videos. Some filters may prevent some of these filters, but no filter is a guarantee.

Shock sites
Shock sites or images, are websites or images intended to shock the viewer, usually with sexually explicit content. They are frequently presented as a legitimate links. For example, Lemon Party, a shock site which depicts a series of homosexual acts involving three elderly men, is often publicized as a political platform.  Other examples of shock sites are blue waffle, 2 Girls 1 Cup, and Goatse(All the previous two links connect to informational articles on the website Know Your Meme, not to the shock sites themselves.) It should also be noted, as I was attempting to locate a list of these shock sites, I was directed to a website with pornographic ads. I had safe search on and was researching from the church, which has Internet filters.

The term clickbait refers to links that are designed with the intention of drawing in viewers or readers. They are often phrased along the lines of "Y
ou won't believe you missed this joke in Frozen!" Young children are particularly susceptible to this, as many of these "clickbait" links reference popular children's shows or icons. Here is an example of clickbait links (that may or may not link to pornographic websites).

Occasionally, pornographic websites will buy a URL that originally belonged to a legitimate or "safe" company but has since expired. They will then use the previously safe link to connect to a pornographic website.

Looping or Mousetrapping
Once a person has clicked on certain pornographic websites, they can be caught in a cycle that prolongs the exposure. One such method of prolonging is called "looping". Looping is when a stream of pop-ups begin to appear on the screen and will not stop until the computer has been entirely shut down. Another method is "mousetrapping", which is when the website will not let you log out, exit, or close the tab.

Children can also be exposed to pornography through pop-up ads, junk or spam email, and free online games.

What can we do?
Obviously filters are not nearly as effective in preventing this exposure as we might hope. However, it is not impossible to protect your children from unintentional pornography access. A few simple techniques can drastically reduce their chances of being exposed.
  1. Be aware of what devices can access the internet in your home. Today, almost every electronic device in the household can access the internet. Even some refrigerators are WiFi-equipped! Knowing which devices can access the internet is the first step in monitoring them.
  2. Make all internet use visible. Depending on your child's age, consider setting a ban on internet use in the bedroom. Periodically peek at the screen while they are using electronics. If they know they are being monitored, they are less likely to intentionally access something. Monitoring also allows you to be aware of what websites they are on (or if they are online when they shouldn't be).
  3. And encourage discussion. Your child should know he or she can always come to you without judgment if they see something they shouldn't. While it's not always possible to shelter them entirely, having an open, honest relationship can reduce the impact of exposure to negative influences.
As always, feel free to comment if you disagree, want clarification, want to give feedback, or have additional information to share!