Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Justice Utopia

So, I had never thought about it too much, but the other day, I was thinking about the fact that my parents raised me in a sort of perfectly just utopia. I was thinking about this because of my parents paying off the last portion of our car loan and writing a receipt that says, "For financial integrity and responsibility." That's pure awesome. Honestly, if it would have been a post-it note on a Ding-Dong that said "For financial integrity and responsibility," I would have been overjoyed as well. From my very first memories to today, my parents were incredibly fair, consistent, giving, and systematic.

In my opinion, as a parent, you kind of have two options: prepare your kids for how life should be OR prepare your kids for how life is. We've all seen the parents who prepare kids for how life is. The mom who puts the toy back on the shelf and says, "We don't have any money right now," and when the kid starts to get upset says, "Well I don't know what to tell you. Life's not fair." Or the Dad in line to check out at the grocery store who gets his kid to shut up by throwing a candy bar on the conveyor belt. It's bad behavior, but as adults, when we whine enough, we can usually get a candy bar (or something analogous in our adult situation).

Kids who are raised being prepared for how life is are... well, just that. Prepared to live within a broken society's broken standards. The good news is, they'll be just fine when they start school. They'll be used to life being unfair. Heck, they'll be the kid making sure it's unfair for everyone. Their hearts won't be broken every five minutes and they'll be tough enough for this life.

My parents chose the "Road Less Parented" though. They raised my sister and me in a Justice Utopia. It wasn't like we got everything we wanted and were totally happy all of the time. BUT we were learning how to live life how it SHOULD BE. There were expectations. Oh... so many expectations. By two and four, MacKenzie and I were better behaved and more accountable than most adults. Sometimes when I check out at the grocery store, I still get excited neck prickles when I see candy I want. When we were kids, we were never allowed to ask for candy, toys, etc. or it was just known that we wouldn't get any. I'm not even talking fit throwing. I'm saying that we weren't allowed to say, "Oh father dearest, may I please have a candy bar?" Except when the neck prickles got the best of me. I'd hold my breath to keep them at bay, but when they took over I'd gasp, "Caaaandy bar?" Dad would just frown softly and shake his head no. But oh the glorious days when I could keep the neck prickles at bay, and Dad would look into eyes and smile and say, "Would you like a piece of candy?" Oh what a glorious day. That's how life should work.

But it doesn't.

I remember some of my first glimpses on the other side of Justice Utopia. One of my first memories outside Justice Utopia was an McLaughlin Farm Park summer camp. And that particular year... when I was about four... they had... wait for it... BABY KITTENS! And my summer camp class got to hold them and pet them! Except, all of the little a-holes in my summer camp class pushed ahead of me, grabbing the kittens, and cutting in line. My first reaction was for my eyes to tear up a bit, but then I said NO. I knew how I would react to this. So I stepped back, and let the other kids play with them. Surely I would be handsomely rewarded for my kindness and patience. After a few minutes the counselor said, "Ok, I'm putting the kittens away."

Whoa, what?

I marched up to her to file my grievance. "Um, hi," I said. "There has been a mistake. The other kids pushed me out of the way, and I never got to pet or hold the kittens."

This is the point where my parents would have said, "Good job waiting your turn, Ali" and I would have gotten some awesome one-on-one baby kitten time that trumped anytime the greedy kids got. But do you know what that camp counselor said?

"Sorry. Maybe you should pushed to the front too."

What? That STILL ticks me off when I think about it. But that's life, right? The trouble with raising kids to live life how it SHOULD BE is that when they go into the real world (I'm talking Kindergarten, not the work force), their worlds will crumble a little. You'll have to give them talks entitled:

"Why not EVERYONE wants to hear you sing 'Meet in the Middle' by Diamond Rio."
"Why the kid on the bus stole your glove."
"Why Brittney Schoen won't share her colored pencils and pointed out that she has exactly four more lines in the 2nd grade play than you do."

Or, in my poor sister MacKenzie's case (she wanted to cling to Justice Utopia even more than me):
"Why you can't choke kids in your kindergarten class when they give you insincere apologies."

But when you raise kids in Justice Utopia, they want to propagate it. They want to reward hard work, root for the underdog, and defeat the bad guys. This world will make them cynical, but they'll always fight just a little bit harder than the rest of the world to spread the joy of Justice Utopia just a bit farther.

In honor of my parents, I'll always fight for Justice Utopia. I know that neck prickles, whether for a grocery check-out candy bar or an overpriced purse or electronic item are never worth giving into, and that God is smiling down at my self-control and he will offer me something even better. Because God parents to how life SHOULD BE too.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Three Reasons I Don't Want to Hear Your Salvation Story

Sorry if my title offended you...But look, here you are, still reading.  Even if you are offended, you are apparently also intrigued.  See?  You're caught.  Anyway, here are three reasons I don't want to hear about your coming to Jesus.

1.)  I don't have a good one.
2.)  They don't call us fishers of men for nothing.
3.)  I'd rather hear about your trip than putting your key in the ignition.

I'll just go ahead and address these in order, beginning with the fact that I don't have a good salvation story.  I'd say my salvation is upward trending.  So like, if I made a chart of the strength of my relationship with God, time and strength would be positively correlated...It's always getting better...but it's definitely not a straight line.  It's a line with many dips, dives and detours.

When I was little, I accepted Jesus into my heart as my savior with my parents help and guidance.  My children's story Bible was by far my favorite book...Good strong start.

In fourth grade, I had my first church experience.  I was invited to church with my friend from school, and I was really excited.  I actually went to church a lot with her for the next couple years.  I went to Sunday service, Sunday school and Wednesday night PRIME TIME, haha.  I was a regular Bible thumper!  Here's the thing though...I felt like they weren't talking about MY God.  My friend's church was ultra legalistic and...well, I don't think a lot of the kids were very engaged.  Several examples stand out to me.  One night at Prime Time, one of the students raised their hand and said, "Will my dog be in heaven to greet me when I die?"  Our stellar Christian leader...a middle aged man...said, "No, animals don't have souls, so they don't go to heaven."  Cue terrified wailing from all the fourth graders and a silent agreement to boycott the Pearly Gates.  I also remember our version of small group where we talked about school and such.  Several of our kids went to school together, so we brought up the fat bully in our class and how he made recess a nightmare.  "You're going to need to lift him up to God," the same teacher said.  In one of my wittiest moments to date, I replied, "We're gonna need more people!"  When he realized that I was making a fat joke and not calling for an outreach, I had to go sit in the corner.  I also had to take a Sunday School test on Noah that included a multiple choice question about how many windows were on the ark.  My God might have been there, but I couldn't feel him.

For a long time after that, God and I really flat-lined.  There were a few blips...and I really never doubted he was there...I just preferred the Christian Atheist lifestyle.  And there were just a lot of times when I was angry with God because I wanted him to be there more (whatever that means). When I was 16 or 17, God and I really started picking up momentum again...but there weren't any fireworks or anything.  When my mom started going to Bridgeway, she would beg me every week to come.  She'd try different tactics to get me to go, but none of them ever worked.  I had been to Church, and God wasn't there...Not for me at least.  Do you know when I started going?  When she stopped asking.  Well, that's only partly true.  I started going when she stopped asking me to go and started asking God for me to go.  She prayed, I went.  I didn't know she was praying...I thought maybe she had Jedi mind powers.  So ya, there's the worst salvation story ever - mine.

 I'm honestly really jealous of people who have great salvation stories, but I think I'm not alone in having a lame one.  At least I hope I'm not alone.  But I know that sometimes it seems like everyone has an epic "moment" and I don't.  Which brings us to reason two:

They don't call us fishers of men for nothing!  When you think of epic, well-meaning, partially fabricated but overall for a good cause stories, what do you think of?  I think of fishermen.  Not like legit fishermen, but the weekend warriors who are constantly telling fishing stories.  Fishermen don't stretch the truth to hurt anyone...they just want to share their "good news."  Sound familiar?

And fishermen are like Christians in another way, in my experience.  One fisherman (or one Christian) is usually more harmless than a group of them.

If fisherman A's fish was this big, fisherman B's fish was THIIIS big and he caught it without bait.

If Christian A felt God's presence speak within them, Christian B audibly heard God speaking.  Maybe he saw God too or physically felt his touch.  And they hung out for a while and played a game of billiards.  And then Christian B prayed a prayer of forgiveness and his hair caught on fire and now it doesn't get so frizzy when it's humid out.

Of course I'm joking, but I think Christians put a lot of pressure into salvation stories.  It's the "wedding day" of your relationship with God, if you will.  It's a ceremonial marker, but it doesn't define the relationship.  It just really doesn't.  I Googled "Christian Salvation stories" to assure myself that I wasn't the only one with a lackluster story.  Unfortunately, apparently I am.  The Christianity page on (that seems reputable, right?) has several salvation stories from Christians that seem unreal.  Not unreal in the sense of awe-inspiring...Unreal in the sense that they aren't real.  I shouldn't say that...I firmly believe that God connects with different people in different ways, so I won't doubt their stories.  I just wonder how God picks who gets the miraculous recovery from a headshot salvation stories versus who gets stories like mine.

On to reason three: I'd rather hear about your trip than putting your key in the ignition. If I found out that you had road-tripped to California and asked you about it, you probably wouldn't spend 10 minutes discussing the preparation for the trip and getting in the car and then say, "And then we were in California!" But that's what a lot of people do with their salvation stories. "Then I found God... and here I am today!"

If you're a meth addict and pray a prayer of salvation OF COURSE the salvation is instant, but it's not like God straps a sweater vest on you and teleports you to the nearest PTA meeting. A deep faith relationship takes work. It's a journey, not a destination... Especially not an instant destination.

So there's why I don't want to hear your salvation story. I always love hearing about about people's faith journeys, but much less into the holy "Goodness, Grace, and Great Balls of Fire" salvation stories (See what I did there?). You don't want the best day of your marriage to be your wedding day, and you don't want your best day of your faith to be your salvation day. It's okay to reminisce, but keep pushing forward. Growth is the name of the game!