The Darker Side of Trimming the Tree

1 12 2008

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“What exactly is the point of having a Christmas tree?” enquired one of the neighborhood boys. 

“Um… I don’t know.”  I said fighting with the Christmas tree stand from underneath the tree, while glass ornaments took suicidal jumps off the branches and onto the floor, and the CD player hummed “I’ll be Home for Christmas.”  For a moment, the reason anyone ever bothered decorating seemed to have escaped me.         

“Don’t people normally take their trees down after Christmas?” he asked again staring at the lopsided tree that was standing in our living room with amusement. 

“We’re not taking it down.” Ian, my copartner in tree trimming, answered.  “We’re just… well… starting over again.” 

“You know,” I said while picking tinsel and pine needles out of my hair, “we’ve been working on this silly tree for the past four hours. We’ve had to take all the ornaments off it, and it still doesn’t even stand up straight!” Why do we have Christmas trees?  The word “fun” seems to be coming to mind, but who knows.  

With an “I’m an adult, I can handle it!” attitude Ian and I had set out to make sure the house didn’t burn down, and somehow the Christmas tree was set up by the end of the day.

We threw our hearts into setting up the tree, and in return, the tree threw itself onto our younger sister, the cat, the coffee table, and it threw most of the ornaments onto the living room floor. We even attempted tying our unruly tree to the wall, but it made it clear it was going to have no part of that by pulled the nails out and threatened to rip a hole in the wall if we dared do it again.           

After several hours of blood, sweat and tinsel, we never did successfully “trim the tree.”  When mom returned home, the tree was completely stripped and lying on the floor as if it’d been attacked by a roaming gage of marauders. But in a flash of mother magic, the tree was standing straight in its stand, the garlands were hung with care, and the ornaments were artistically arranged on every branch. Our five hour tree trimming extravaganza had been outdone in a matter of minutes, but at least someone had finally put that tree in its place.

This year, as our countless felines run throughout the house, I’m afraid this year’s tree might not have a Christmas ghost of a chance of staying in its stand. Maybe I’ll settle for a Christmas fern.

Happy holidays, and may all your Christmas trees stay up! clip_image001

Book Review: Girls Gone Mild by Wendy Shailt

18 04 2008


As Wendy Shalit explores in her newest book, Girls Gone Mild, we’re now living in a new paradigm where — unlike pervious generations with bad boys like James Dean or the Fonz — “badness” isn’t regarded as “daring” or “cool” or “sexy”; it’s become the new social norm, which Shalit explains has created a new kind of repression among girls.

In the same way young women of pervious eras were expected to be good, pure and well-mannered.  Today’s girls are faced with the social pressures and expectations to be wild, brought on by the media, skimpy teen clothing, sexualized toys like Bratz, boyfriends, cliques, and sometimes even their own parents.

In this much needed book, Shalit takes on the challenge of making a case for the “good girl.”  To help — as her subtitle says — Young Women Reclaim Self-Respect and Find It’s Not Bad to be Good.

Wendy Shalit’s goal, she says “is not to attack those who want to be ‘wild,’ but rather to expand the range of options for young people, who I believe are suffering because of the limited choices available to them.” In other words, instead of trying to ban “wildness,” she wants purity and innocence to be acknowledged for what they are – valid, practical options, even or especially in our sex-saturated culture.

I was originally under the impression Girls Gone Mild was written to middle school and high school age girls, but although there are short exercises and pop quizzes at the end of each chapter that have a vague teen magazine flare to them, Shalit talks more about girls then to them, and it’s written in more of an upbeat report-style – very well researched and insightful, but not exactly the sort of thing I could see most middle school or high school girls wading through just for fun.  It’s also rather long.

In the first couple of chapters, when Shalit emphasizes how sex-saturated our culture has become, some of the examples (bad examples, but they’re still in there) wouldn’t be appropriate for a lot of preteen or early high school girls. Because of this, even though Shalit doesn’t go into much detail, I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving Girls Gone Mild a recommendation to girls (maybe a select few, but not a general recommendation). 

Although, it isn’t the book I’d originally thought it would be, I do think Girls Gone Mild is a great, eye-opening resource for parents, teachers, youth workers and anyone else hoping to help girls and young women successfully navigate their way through their school years and beyond.  And I hope, for the sake of the girls in their lives, they’ll take advantage of it.

I could also see Girls Gone Mild being a good resource for girls planning or considering living on campus while attending college, because it could provide them with a chance to think through some of the potential problems college students can encounter (co-ed bathrooms, the hookup culture, roommates wanting to hookup in your room, etc.) and how they could handle some of the things they won’t hear about on their college tour.

Wendy Shalit is an Orthodox Jew, but this book isn’t written to those who are religious or conservative in their morals — it’s written to the general population, which I believe is its best feature because in questioning our culture’s view on sexuality, modesty and being good, Shailt has opened the door for further discussion sparked by the question — “Is it so bad to be good?” 

Recommended Age: 17+

Andrew Murray on Surrendering to God

7 03 2008

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“May believers think that when they receive Jesus, He saves them and then helps them in times of trouble. Then they all but deny Him as their Master!  They think they have a right to have their own will and their own way in a thousand different things… they are their own masters and would never dream of saying, ‘Jesus, I forsake all to follow You.’”

– Andrew Murray, From Absolute Surrender

Book Review: The Purity Principle by Randy Alcorn

4 03 2008

Copyright 2008 Kelsey Hough.  All Rights Reserved.

When it comes to Christian purity books, there seem to be two categories: The impure “purity” books, and the fluffy purity books.

Since the first group believes “knowledge is power,” the aim is to inform the reader in great detail about every kind of impurity on the market. Rather than being equipped to deal with living in our sex-saturated culture, though, the reader only comes away with step-by-step instructions of what not to do. It’s about as affective as an anti-drug campaign that teaches kids how to make homemade narcotics.

On the other side of the purity books scale, the goal is to show how romantic purity can be, rather than how painful, devastating and destructive impurity always is. They promise their readers a “happily ever after” if they’ll just follow God’s plan for their love life and relationships. Purity then, sadly, becomes a means to an end – a happy marriage and romantic bliss – rather than the pursuit of God Himself … a life of holiness.

To my surprise and delight, Randy Alcorn’s book The Purity Principle: God’s Safeguards for Life’s Dangerous Trails falls into neither of these two common categories.

The Purity Principle is a small book, but it packs a punch. Chock full of Bible verses, real-life examples, and sound biblical advice, it answers questions like, “What exactly is purity?” and “Why does it even matter?” This is a wonderful book for older teens and adults of any age, and any relational status, who would like to gain a better understanding of what biblical purity is, and why it’s important.

Much like the book of Proverbs, instead of giving you the lowdown on what not to do, or painting an overly romanticized, fluffy picture of purity, Randy Alcorn removes the glimmer of sexual immorality by sharing the real-life stories of men and women who fell into sin by slowly choosing to walk down the wrong road – one small, fatal step at a time.

The Purity Principle shows how the fear of God and the consequences of disobeying His holy law should be what “drives the sense into us” rather than out. And how this fear of God should be what makes us alert, diligent, watchful and drastic when it comes to protecting our own purity and making sure we don’t allow even a hint of sexual immorality into our own lives.

Because The Purity Principle doesn’t take a let-me-tell-you-what-not-to-do approach to purity, and it’s biblically solid, it could be a helpful book for someone who’s currently struggling with issues of morality, while still being an excellent choice for someone who wants to learn how to safeguard their life so they don’t find themselves needing to do an about-face later.

Recommended Age: 16+ Drop me a note if you’d like reprint permission.

The Teen Sexuality Crisis

18 02 2008

Copyright 2008 Kelsey Hough.  All rights reserved.

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“How could someone possibly be so stupid?” exclaimed the critical voice of one mother as she rolled her eyes in disgust. “What on earth was she thinking? I mean, for crying out loud, kids look up to her! Even my twelve-year-old daughter watches her show every day after school.”

“Yes, so does my daughter.” Her friend chimed in. “But my daughter’s smart.” she said proudly. “She’s a good student. She knows right from wrong. She’d never make that kind of mistake.”

Like many parents with young preteen girls, these two mothers were bent out of shape over the most recent celebrity gossip to hit the newsstands – one of the celebrity starlets, adored by preteens, was pregnant.

In their minds, the young starlet had fallen from her pedestal, and these self-righteous mothers blamed it almost entirely on her lack of intellect – she wasn’t smart like their daughters. But brain power really had nothing to do with the latest teen celebrity pregnancy, what I’m sure was missing in this starlet’s life – like many other teens who find themselves in similar situations – wasn’t brain cells, but guidance.

The Cultural Storm

You don’t have to live on the Vegas Strip to be aware of the fact that purity isn’t exactly “in.” Our culture idolizes celebrities whose daily lives resemble an ongoing frat party, even clothing in the preteen departments seems to be screaming, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it!,” and words like virgin, pure and modest — that in previous generations were regarded as something of value — have become synonymous with prude, sheltered and even socially inept.

Not only has our culture’s moral compass gone right out the window, but in a culture that promotes “it’s good to be bad,” even our very ideas of right and wrong have been stood on end.

Our culture not only doesn’t have a biblical view of purity, it also seems to be entering into a new relational paradigm – The Fast-Food Relationship.

As a culture, we often approach relationships the same as we chose which fast-food restaurant to stop at – “Where can I get what I want in the shortest amount of time?” And sadly, because of this fast-food approach to romantic relationships, committed, meaningful relationships seem to have taken a backseat to casual hookups and one night stands, especially in the media. And at the rate our culture’s relational paradigm is shifting, it seems relationships themselves are in danger of becoming extinct.

Regaining a Christian Worldview

It shouldn’t surprise us then when teens living in the very heart of this cultural storm seem to have no sense of morality or respect for virtue, because culture – mainly through the media – has completely redefined reality for them, even right and wrong. They’re not short on brain cells, they’re simply putting this worldview that “it’s good to be bad” and “do whatever makes you happy” into action.

Because of this, when I look at my peers, what I believe Christian teens and young adults are in need of today is to be presented with a practical Christian worldview. We need to understand what purity is (not just what it isn’t), how God views the covenant of marriage, how every aspect of our lives is to bring glory to God, and how Christianity itself is very practical even in our fast paced, twenty-first century world.

The pursuit of purity – the set-apart Christian life – is very practical, but sadly too often when people give “purity talks,” the focus is on what we shouldn’t do in relationships and in life, not what we should do. In our fast-food, hookup culture, though, what’s needed isn’t a list of don’ts, but a practical Christian worldview that provides us with a destination – holiness – and a practical map to show us the way. Drop me a note if you’d like reprint permission.

Stop Test Driving Your Girlfriend

8 02 2008

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I stumbled across an interesting article on Boundless this afternoon and thought I’d share it with the rest of you.  It’s entitled “Stop Test Driving Your Girlfriend” and it’s written specifically to men, but the principles brought up in the article still apply to both men and women in relationships. 

Here’s an excerpt:

“How do I know if she’s the one?”

I can’t think of a question I encounter more often among single Christian men. The point of the question is clear enough. But a rich irony dwells beneath the question. In a culture that allows us to choose the person we’re going to marry, no one wants to make the wrong choice. Especially if, as Christians, we understand that the choice we make is a choice for life.

The question is not merely ironic. If what you’re after is a marriage that will glorify God and produce real joy for you and your bride, it’s also the wrong question. That’s because the unstated goal of the question is “How do I know if she’s the one … for me.”

Excerpt from Stop Testy Driving Your Girlfriend by Michael Lawrence

You can read the full article here: