Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Second Look at Mormonism: "Just Read the New Testament"

Craig* was and still remains one of my top ten favorite students from all my sixteen years of teaching.  He's the type of young man whose intelligence, work ethic, and open kindness stay with you long after he has moved on.  He's also the only student I ever offered to do an Independent Study for, mainly because "Independent Study" is college slang for "zero salary."  Working for free just didn't make sense to me...until he asked for my help.

During that semester, Craig came by to see me every week, the two of us discussing the audio lectures I'd been sending him and any questions he had about the literature.  He easily quoted Scripture, had done mission work, and lived a morally upright life.  His open smile, the way he carried himself--just everything about him made me love him as if he were my own child.  At the time, I thought how blessed I would be if I had a son who grew up to have the character qualities this young man did.

Yet, I struggled with one thing.  Craig was a committed Mormon.

He did not believe Jesus Christ was the one and only Son of God.  He did not believe faith in Jesus Christ was the only way to attain entrance into heaven.  Instead, Craig believed Joseph Smith's Book of Mormon to be a complementary, if not superior, text to The Bible.  His was a works-based faith where men sought to achieve heaven and god-hood by their good works.

My heart was broken for this beautiful young man's lost-ness. To this day, I am still burdened for Craig's soul because I know the God of the New Testament and the Jesus of The Bible are not the same God and Jesus found in The Book of Mormon.  I can't see a photograph of him, his wife, and his sons on Facebook without my heart being crushed for him to know the truth.  Not a week goes by that I don't pray for God to send him someone to show him the truth of the real Jesus.

Perhaps Craig's story is why Lynn Wilder's Unveiling Grace: The Story of How We Found Our Way Out of the Mormon Church reached out to me and begged to be read.  The text is an easy-read autobiography detailing her family's thirty years spent in the Mormon church.

Wilder breaks her text into three parts.  The first third demonstrates how she and her husband found their way into the Mormon church, their life as a typical Mormon family with duties in the church, and Wilder's less-than-traditional work as a professor seeking tenure at BYU (Brigham Young University) in Utah.

Part Two illustrates the part of her family's life when their hearts begin to be burdened that things were not right in Utah's Mormon culture where, among other things, polygamy and racism still existed in the mainstream Mormon church.  In the midst of this heart turmoil, their son, Micah, broke from Mormonism and called upon his family to "just read the New Testament," believing that if they did, they, too, would see the discrepancies between the words of Christ and the words of Joseph Smith.

The final third of the book describes her entire family's attempt to start their lives over in Florida, leaving behind the Mormon church.  This section is chock full of Scripture as Wilder shows over and over again where God showed her truths in New Testament Scripture that illuminated the twisted truth she had believed for thirty years in Mormonism. 

At the very end of the narrative, she then provides a "Quick Doctrinal Comparison" between Mormonism and The Bible, giving not interpretations but merely quotes of Mormon Scripture and Bible Scripture.

Wilder's text is a must read for anyone with friends or relatives who are Mormon.  It is eye opening.  It is sad.  It is real.

And "Craig"--if you're reading this, know that I do still pray for you to find the truth, to believe in your heart that Jesus is the only way to eternal life in heaven.

I am extending the same challenge to you that Micah extended to his mother: just read the New Testament.

I challenge you to commit yourself to reading the Words of Jesus Christ and compare them to The Book of Mormon, to the Mormon Doctrine & Covenants.  Do not blindly accept the religion of your youth; do not be deceived by pride or fearful of what you may find, but test the Scriptures.

I honestly believe if you will seek the truth of God, you will find Him--not just for the sake of your soul but for your wife and little boys as well.

*My former student's name has been changed to protect his identity.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Do I Really Mean What I Write?

It was two weeks ago, June 7, when I wrote about learning to let go of that controlling death grip on our children we mothers can get, especially where our sons are concerned.

The late afternoon sun was still a scorching 95 degrees when I was filled with a strong conviction that as hard as it was to not be everything, do everything, and know everything for my children, I was not called be the Holy Spirit in their lives.

Yes, a mother's job was to train up her child in the Lord, to protect them from everything possible, and to teach them to love and live like Jesus.  Yet, as a mother, I had to realize there is only way to protect them from everything wrong in this world, and that is is to place them in a bubble where they cannot be given the chance to be lights and witnesses to the world around them.

Unbeknownst to me, as I pressed "publish," the truth of my words were already being tested.

As I typed, on the other end of the farm, my oldest son, Wyatt, had fallen to the ground while running at play with his sister.  Two hours later when he returned home, he complained that his finger hurt from the fall.  I looked at it, shrugged, and sent him on to bed.

Saturday morning found the finger swollen, bruised, and painful enough to bring tears.  One trip to the After Hours clinic and several worried hours later after waiting on a specialist, we received word it was only a sprain, not a fracture as the first technician had thought.

Wyatt would spend the next week wearing a splint and crying for three nights because his finger hurt even with the Ibuprofen.

There was nothing I could do. 

Each night he cried, I ached at my limitations.  I hurt with my son.

The following Friday, Wyatt removed the splint, a happy boy once more.  But less than twenty-four hours later, husband was headed for his second trip to the After Hours clinic, this time with son #2.

As I was cleaning up after supper in the kitchen, Emerson had run full-speed down the stairs, tripped, and fallen into the wall on the landing in front of him.  His screams and the blood gushing through his pudgy fingers were typical of a head wound.  Still, it was terrifying enough for Wyatt to look at him and start yelling in hysteria, "He's going to D-I-E!!!"

No stitches.  Just glue...and an admonishment to not let him sweat for 5-10 days or the oils in the skin would loosen the glue, reopening up the wound. In South Louisiana where it's 86 degrees before 9am, Emerson had just been punished to a solid week indoors.  I would often catch him gingerly rubbing his eye near the wound.  It hurt.   

Again, there was nothing I could do.   I hurt with my second son.

That entire week was spent obeying doctor's orders.  The children and I lived indoors and went only places with air conditioning.  Yet, as Wednesday turned to Thursday, my oldest son began to grow inexplicably ill with what I thought at the time were unrelated symptoms. 

Wyatt was unusually clingy, longing to spend hours reading quietly or sitting curled up in my lap for love.  Then, he stopped eating  anything in the evenings and only his favorites at lunchtime.  He began complaining of severe stomach pains at random times.  And by Thursday, he began to cry again at night, this time claiming he was cold and needing socks.

Last night (Friday) was the worst, his little body clammy with chills after an unusual two hour nap, his lips suddenly developing a dehydrated appearance, and him crying in a tight ball as husband rocked him.  Time for trip #3 to After Hours.

This time?  Food poisoning.  The doctor said to keep hydrating him, be watchful, and go home.

Really!?  There's nothing I can do.....again!?

This time, I was worried more than the others.  Maybe it's that I was concerned due to my last bout with food poisoning.  Or maybe it's just that this was trauma number three in fourteen days' time so it seemed more dangerous.

I prayed.  I texted my pastor for prayer. I called my in laws and parents for prayer.

Please. Pray.

By 4:00 this afternoon, Wyatt was back to his old self again--annoying his little sister, talking nonstop, and having an actual appetite. I gave thanks to God for his rapid healing.

It's been a long time since I felt like I was under attack like this. 

I felt God asking me in each of these events, "Did you really mean what you wrote?  Are you really willing to give your children to me to protect them in all things?  Do you really understand how little you can do for them and how much  I can do?"

My answer is now a more humbled, more understanding, weaker, "yes."

My children belong to Him.  Even my best isn't good enough.  Daily, I need my God to watch over them, protect them, and lead me to be a good, Godly mother who loves and leads them to the One who loves them more than I ever could.

Image: Our Tuesday outing to the well-air conditioned youth ballet of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream at the mall.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Finders Keepers: Obeying God When No One Else is Looking

Week after week, the children and I are out there with our pastor and a couple other brothers and sisters, our well-worn shoes pounding the pavement.  Thursday mornings will find our small group canvasing the neighborhoods within a five mile radius of our church.

At eight a.m. when we hit the streets, most people have already gone to work, so we've grown accustomed to greeting more dogs and cats than humans as we stuff Bible tracts in the edge of every house's front door.  Other than my children's ever-present chatter and my few words of spoken prayer, the only sounds are those of the early morning birds singing high on the rooftops and the squeak of rubber tennis shoes on the pavement.

This is my Jerusalem.

For two years, I've set my alarm early and left Scripture for more strangers than I can count, believing in my heart that God will remain true to His promise which says, "My word that comes from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do" (Is. 55:11).

Success is obedience to obey God and the Great Commission of Acts 1:8.  It's not results.  

I've become one of those Christians I once labelled as "crazy" during my teenage years, the kind of Christian who puts herself out there as completely sold out to Jesus, who hands out the Word of God in and out of season...even when she sees no massive (or even small) revival as a result.

Still, sometimes, my flesh wants results.  Some days, it would be nice to see a new couple visit our church because we cared enough to invite them.  It would do my heart wonders to hear that someone turned his life to Jesus because of the Word of God we left for him.  In other words, it would be nice to know not THAT my service matters but to see just HOW that service was used by God.

But that's not how it works, not usually anyway.

Two weeks ago, our church was preparing for Vacation Bible School.  Instead of our usual one hour per week, we prayer walked four times in one week, leaving tracts and VBS invites throughout several of the big neighborhoods.

On day four, I was having to encourage, cajole, and handhold the twins to get them to just. move.  Living in South Louisiana where the heat index has already exceeded 100 degrees and the humidity is even higher, even an 8 am walk is a recipe for dehydration if you're not careful. 

By the one hour mark, we had seen nobodyNot one person.  Our group would normally meet one or two people walking their dogs, running, or leaving for work, but this neighborhood was like a ghost town...likely due to the heat.

The twins had already given up the pretense of helping and sat on the sidewalk to wait while I approached yet another cookie cutter house.  That's when I noticed it--a watch, lying deep in the overgrown grass.

As soon as I picked it up, I knew this wasn't a Wal-mart special.  It was heavy, the kind like you would buy at a jewelers.  On the front was a circle of encrusted fake diamonds surrounding the opalescent face with a series of hands and dials.  Flipping it on its back, I noted the clasp, the fancy name brand and that it was stainless steel.   

As horrible as it sounds, the thought popped into my head that I could just slip the watch into my pocket and no one would ever know.  It was on the ground.  By the road.  It could belong to anyone.  Maybe not even the person in this house.  Finders, keepers....right? 

Three steps later, I was at the door.  A chair sat beside it, just waiting for me.  I sighed.  Even if this were one of those ethical gray areas, my conscience would never allow me to enjoy the watch.  It simply wasn't mine.  And if it didn't belong to this person?  Then, that was on his conscience.

I carefully placed the watch on the chair, slipped the Bible tract in the door's edge, and went back down the sidewalk.  I reached the main road and turned to move on to the next house, then did a double take in surprise.  The door behind me opened and out walked a man dressed in a white button-down shirt, tie, and dress slacks.

As he bent to pick up the fallen tract, I called back at him, pointed to the watch I found in the grass, and told him we were praying for the neighborhoods.

He expressed his thanks (and surprise) for my finding the watch, and the children and I moved on.

Hot and sweaty as I was, I suddenly found myself with  goosebumps.  This was the first person I had laid eyes on the entire morning, and it "just so happened" to be at the house where I had been faced with an ethical dilemma.

I had been thinking about results, about whether I would ever know if my distributing these tracts had any impact on others.  And here I was, being humbled by my Father who was showing me that this was today's result.

 I wonder if my honesty will impact that man at all.  Or was it all a lesson just for me, to remind me that even when I see no results in others or in my own life, my Father is ever watching my faithfulness, ever testing me to make me more like Christ?

Too many times, I think I get it all wrong, my wondering how I'm impacting others with my service when I don't even see how my service is impacting me.

We prefer to see ourselves as the one who is ministering, giving to others, not the one needing to be ministered to, not the ones needing to be perfected in Christ.  They need help, not us.  

 Yet, the deeper I look, the more I'm seeing that each time I seek to do for others, my service is actually doing more to impact who I am in Christ. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sherlock Holmes Meets Jesus

My father has always been an avid Sherlock Holmes fan.  Since before I can remember, he began indoctrinating me into the world of eccentric British detectives like the infamous Dr. Watson, Mrs. Marple, and Poirot, making their names a common occurrence in my childhood vocabulary.

Even now, I find myself drawn to newer BBC and PBS adaptations of those same characters.  No matter the actors chosen to play the part (yes, even if Watson is cast as the female Lucy Liu), the dynamics between the brilliant yet quasi-insane Holmes and the ever-stodgy, solid Watson remain the same, always holding true to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original fifty-six short stories and four novels.

Never, though, could I have imagined the rather arrogant, cigar-smoking, alcohol-drinking, uber-rational scientist Sherlock Holmes in the same short story as my favorite Bible characters, much less the famous detective pouring over the pages of Scripture to discover its meaning.

However, author Len Bailey has done just that.

In Bailey's newest novel, Sherlock Holmes and the Needle's Eye: The World's Greatest Detective Tackles the Bible's Ultimate Mysteries, he sends Holmes and Dr. Watson back through time to solve ten mysteries from both the Old and New Testament.

The ten interconnected short stories range from solving the mystery of why David took five stones when going out to kill Goliath to what Jesus was writing in the dirt when the priests caught the woman in adultery to why God commanded the Israelites to march around the walls of Jericho seven times only on the seventh day.

While the novel may be read straight through as a narrative, at the end of the novel is a section entitled "Investigative Study Questions," designed to lead the reader through the Scripture, himself, before reading the narrative where Holmes solves the mystery behind the Scripture.

Some chapters' stories are common enough to where these study questions aren't that insightful, but there were a couple narrative chapters filled with so many Old Testament names (like Chapter 8 containing Jehu, Joram, Jezebel, Jehoiachin, Jehoiakin, and Jeremiah--yikes!) or so many New Testament locations (like Chapter 5 on Paul's missionary journeys) that without reading the Scripture first, it was easy to get lost in Bailey's narrative.

Obviously, such a book is not intended to address all the commentators' possible interpretations of each question.  In some cases, such as the chapter where Holmes searches for the answer concerning why Jesus delayed coming until after Lazarus' death, I felt Bailey left out pertinent information, such as the Jews' belief about the soul leaving the body after three days.

Even so, I really enjoyed this as a "fun summer read."  Overall, Bailey's novel is a good choice for Sherlock Holmes fans, as he remains true to Holmes' traditional characteristics, Professor Moriarty, Mrs. Hudson, and the house on Baker Street.

**I have received no compensation for my favorable or unfavorable review. Alas.  No bribes on this blog.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Motherhood: The Process of Letting Go

The twins donned their aqua blue shark and Pepto Bismol pink kitty helmets to pedal down the gravel drive towards the halfway point by our designated "turnaround tree."  As usual, I was bent towards the ground to pull more knee-high weeds that I was certain I had eliminated only a few days before.

Summer conditions in South Louisiana resemble a rain forest, only the steam and direct heat make the weeds grow and real plants die.  Both send up new shoots and set tender leaves with each downpour of blessed rain.  Then, while the weeds continue to thrive, the plants' new growth scalds in the late afternoon sun, the lower ninety degree heat curling the edges of baby leaves and burning them to a brown crisp typical of autumn.

In other words, weeding is such a big part of summer that the children quickly grow bored and abandon me.  It's typical.  Yet, the next time I stood up to give my back a rest, I realized all was too quiet.  Sure enough, a half mile across the hay field, I noticed a flash of pink and blue by the barns and sprawling vegetable garden.

Without permission, the twins had decided to extend their path of freedom all the way to Oma and Opa's end of the farm. With no big brother Wyatt around to explain how much trouble they would get into for breaking this farm rule, they had decided to test their limits.

Minutes later, penitent, bawling, little ones were peddling back down the drive towards a stint in their room as this mama's blue Schwinn crept slowly behind to make certain they made it there.

"Oh, they just wanted to come see us!" my mother in law cooed.  "With those bikes, it's just so hard to not be independent!  You know, when we were younger, we spent all summer on our bikes.  And we never told our mama when we drove down to Maw Maw Kemp's house."

My mother has regaled me with similar stories of her childhood, the kind that make my jaw drop.  The worst is when she and her friends would just decide at random that they would skip the bus ride home from school.  Instead, they would walk the three and a half miles home down the gravel road.

Three and a half miles.  Even at a good clip (which they probably weren't, if teenagers then were even remotely similar to modern teens), that choice would put them an extra hour later getting home....all without even a call to give their mother a head's up about what they were doing.

This lifestyle is so foreign to me.  A child of the 70s and 80s, I would have had my hide tanned if I had gone next door to my grandmother's house without permission, and there wasn't a football field's distance between her house and mine!

My mother's mom.  My mother-in-law's mom.  These mothers started letting go of their children at ages when our present society would say, "Are you crazy!?"  Today, they could be accused of child neglect.  But then?  It was just an accepted part of being a parent.

In our present-day culture, we do the opposite.  Sure, times are different, and we parents must be vigilant to protect our children.  Still, sometimes, we hold so tightly that we smother.  Sometimes, we become so wrapped up in protecting and policing that we don't allow our children the freedom and independence to become responsible young adults and make their own choices, draw their own conclusions.

I see this prominently with conservative Christians but also (and more so) with our young men, too many of whom are trapped in an eternal childhood of bachelorhood, unburdened by real responsibility.  As a college teacher of the traditional twenty-something set and as the Christian mother of two very young men, this concerns me.

I want to be the mother who protects but  not the one who sets herself up to be/do everything he needs.  I am not God, nor do I want to be for my children.  It's a tough balance between wanting to teach them everything I know while still protecting them to the utmost, yet also wanting my boys to learn to be independent, Godly men who can be the head of their own household.

I must learn when to let go, when to allow the Holy Spirit (and not mom) to convict their souls.

This week, I sent my oldest son to live with his grandmother--five days for this six year old who has never been away from me for more than a night.

It was a long week.

I missed Wyatt's bossy chatter, his hugs, and our reading cuddles each evening.  But I also loved how he quickly adapted to living in a different household.

By the second day, he had learned to dial my number and would call twice a day--once to tell me how Vacation Bible School went and another to wish me good night, something he's seen me do for years with my own mother.  When I "visited" on Thursday, he kissed me goodbye and even walked me to my car.

This afternoon, I've been happy to have him back home with me.  For that, I'm thankful.  And then the togetherness is broken, that desire for independence always coming back too soon.

"Can we bike down to Oma and Opa's for movie night?"

Smiling, I point to the door, and six running legs head for their helmets.

Image: Bossy big brother warning younger twins away from the crawfish pot.  (Image courtesy of my sister in law, since this mother wasn't there to be OCD about pinching claws and scalding hot water).

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tiny Monuments: Teaching a Child to Read

Seven months, and it all comes down to one Lego man and one Lego lady.  He's a groovy, flower-holding hippie and she's the fairy Tinker Bell.

I know.  It's rather anticlimactic for the end of an era to be marked not in chiseled stone but in molded plastic.  Still, these figures are tangible reminders of how far we have come.  They're monuments of a sort.  And they are worthy of great celebration (as well as excited phone calls to both Grandmama and daddy at work).

Last October 27 began a journey of working with my twins, Amelia and Emerson, to help them unlock entire worlds as yet undiscovered.  I had promised they could start learning to read after their fourth birthday, but they were ready several months before when older brother Wyatt began bringing home kindergarten tales of excitement and wonder.  He was ever explaining (pronounced gl-oa-t-ing) that the key to such fun was knowing how to read...which they couldn't do, of course.

In his eyes, the twins were babies and he was grown up, all because he had cracked the secret code that transformed random ABCs into words and sentences infused with meaning.

Amelia tolerated Wyatt's condescending pride with a nonchalant attitude.  In other words, she flat out ignored him.  Emerson, on the other hand, was less than accepting of the inferior status imposed upon him.  He was his brother's equal. Period.  And so, each afternoon found Emerson standing by Wyatt's side, watching him play Earobics spelling/reading games on the computer, or paying careful attention when Wyatt tried to teach him how to sound out words in thin air and spell them.

Despite their different responses to Wyatt's taunts over their inability to read, both Amelia and Emerson were on the exact same page when it came to the tangible rewards they could earn from reading.

A small army of seventeen Lego figures stood prominently atop the bookshelf at the end of Wyatt's bed.  The space alien with pink crystal skull, the robber with the red bandanna covering his face, the copper-green colored Statue of Liberty, the King Triton merman, the vampire bat with fangs displayed for a bite.  These were visual reminders of Wyatt's ability to read, monuments of his own journey to become a reader, and promises of what the twins could earn if they practiced, too.

The twins knew each Lego mini figure represented one whole reader Wyatt had demolished.  He would read to me a chapter or two every afternoon in Row,Peterson's Alice and Jerry series or the Ginn series of 1940s readers our parents and grandparents once read.  Although it took him a month or two (or sometimes three) to finish each reader, he would always keep plodding forward to earn his prize, a $2.50 piece of plastic.

The incentive plan worked, so much so that by the time Wyatt started kindergarten last August, he had read through all the primer, first, and second grade readers.  While in kindergarten, he continued to read through all four third-grade readers, which averaged 350 pages each.

With each new Lego man added to Wyatt's collection, Emerson and Amelia grew more interested in their own chance to learn how to read....and to earn their own Lego figures.

It wasn't surprising then, when Emerson approached me at the breakfast table the morning after the candles and cake.  Could they begin the reading lessons today?

My heart sunk that morning.  I remembered the drama associated with Wyatt taking his first steps towards phonetic-reading independence and was less than excited to take even the first tiny step on this journey with not one but two children.  Still, I had no excuses.

After seven months of fear, frustration, trepidation, laughter, prayer (did I mention prayer?), pride, encouragement and crazy joy, today, we ended strong, two lessons in one day because two excited children simply couldn't wait until tomorrow to reach their long-awaited goal. 

When their daddy asked if this meant reading lessons were now over, Emerson's eyes glistened bright as he said, "Nooooo!  Tomorrow, we get to read Alice and Jerry! And get another Lego man!!!"  Amelia even broke out into a silly song I made up a year ago: "Practice makes perfect; soon you'll see it's worth it."  I couldn't help but grin at this happiness now discovered in perseverance--both mine and theirs.

The thick yellow tome of Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons has been a fixture in my kitchen for several years, first with Wyatt and then with the twins.  I could pack the book away or gift it to another family.  At $10, it's not really worth much.

Instead, I place the book on my office shelf.

Who knows.

God may yet send me someone else's child to teach this same love of reading.