Saturday, February 28, 2015

This is Our Story

Celebration of Life for Lauren Leone

When my daughter my now fifteen year-old daughter was eight, she and I sat in a school theater together watching 100 students perform Pocahontas.  I'd been invited these Youth Theater shows a half a dozen times before, but until that day, had declined those invitations assuming Youth Theater may be a waste of time. We loved plays and musicals, but if I was going to see a show, I wasn't sure I wanted to see a bunch of kids sing off key and forget their lines.

It was only a matter of moments into the first act I realized this was not just any Youth Theater group. Songs in perfect pitch, complex and spectacular choreography, bold and soft-spoken scenes evoking emotion one expects from a theater experience. In fact, half-way into the first act, I was so absorbed I had forgotten I was watching kids.

It took merely seconds after the final bows for my daughter to turn to me and say, "Mom, I want to do this. I really, really want to do this."  I could hardly ignore how enchanted she was with the magic of it all.

And so it began.  A plunge into the frenzy that is theater.  The seemingly endless hours of rehearsals, and the distinctly endless hours of parent volunteer time.  10 shows in 2 weeks and sometimes even 10 shows in 4 days. Selling tickets, raising money, setting up, tearing down.  Theater is grueling in ways I hadn't expected.  You have no idea what goes on behind-the-scenes to bring about those stunning shows.  But in all honesty, for all of the beauty that is evident on stage.  What goes on behind-the-scenes far exceeds it tenfold.

Ours is a Christian Youth Theater group.  Spotlight's tagline is: Reflecting Christ through the Performing Arts. While not everyone that participates is a follower of Christ, there is no getting around that Jesus takes center stage.  One need only to witness the camaraderie among these kids, the nurturing the older kids provide the younger ones, and the friendships that bloom between parents, to know that Jesus has fashioned an exquisite tribe of his followers here.

Earlier this year, and just a few weeks into our production of Shrek, our tribe lost beautiful, fifteen year-old Lauren.  Her passing was preceded by a medical emergency that left her in a coma for days.   Lauren's tragedy rippled through every one of our homes and families. During this time, countless hours of prayer were spent upon our knees beseeching mercy from our Mighty Physician. Our kids rallied together heartbroken but hopeful.

If you have never been surrounded by dozens of teens, imploring God for a miracle, claiming verse committed to memory and professing complete faith, hope and trust in God's perfect plan despite the outcome...

It was without doubt, one of the most powerful moments I have ever experienced in life.

In Lauren's passing, the faith of these kids grew louder. Where it would have been easy to demonstrate doubt and angst, our kids proclaimed peace and promise.  Tears without question, but through the tears manifested something among us I can't quite articulate. On the day of Lauren's Celebration of Life service, our cast of Shrek closed the ceremony with a song from the show.  They sang that old Monkee's tune, I'm a Believer. A lighthearted tune that scarcely seemed appropriate for a time such as this. But in that moment when 100 kids took the stage of the church outfitted in their vivid colors worn in Lauren's honor, and sang and moved and did what they do best, it seemed no other act would have been more fitting to send off one of their own. With arms outstretched and fingers pointed to the sky, our kids honored our glorious King and the place in which Lauren now stands before Him.  I witnessed the boldness of that faith awestruck and humbled.  To learn from our kids who seek the Lord and all His comfort has to offer in dim and clouded understanding has changed me.

Our productions always end with a Strike party.  It's a time we celebrate the preceding weeks including the moments we have seen the hand of God.  Last night I watched this transpire through a different lense.  A more appreciative one, a greater fondness for this group. An even greater respect for these kids who give every last ounce of themselves both onstage and off.  I'm reminded these kids are the future of the Church and I am so grateful for that.  At the end every Strike, we join hands in prayer and sing the song, How Great is our God.  As we closed this chapter, we sang those words with tears accompanied by a silent acknowledgement of all that has been.  It seemed it took longer than usual for all to disperse this time, or maybe it was just I who elected to linger a little longer.

We have all been changed by one girl's story-one family's story-amid a thousand circumstances all seemingly orchestrated by God. When you see these kids stand with arms outstretched and fingers pointed toward Heaven, know that the beauty of this Youth Theater extends far beyond the stage and behind the scenes, there will forever be a story.  This is our story. God bless us, everyone.

Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. Timothy 4:12

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Not So Grey After All

I've made several attempts to write this post and here is what I've concluded: It's a paper, not a post. It requires a dissertation and a series of lectures. My post won't suffice, but I felt compelled to at least try. I would like to include the disclaimer I don't like to contribute to the noise and hype surrounding Fifty Shades. But I want to discuss what's really black and white about the subject matter.  I think we should talk about the normalization of violence against women. Can we talk about where we've left our young women trying to figure out love and relationships in all of this?   

I am speaking to those who find stalking, controlling, violent, disrespectful men sexy. I am speaking to women looking for love. I am speaking to women who need to understand our responsibility to other women.  

What I question is what it is we find so fascinating about the nature of the relationship between Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele.  I think we have to dig deeper. Get below the surface and look more inwardly at ourselves. I think we basically have to ask ourselves a few questions:

The books and/or movie is fictitious. It's harmless entertainment.  What's the problem? 

The problem is both the heart and mind are like a sponge. What is absorbed creeps deep into the pores, infiltrating the sponge.  You may be able to drain the pores and wash the sponge out, but the really greasy mess, remains deep within. Books and film with these messages influence our girls in a way that should cause us to believe they are influential and not merely entertainment. 

Anastasia engages in these activities of her own free will.  She is not forced, she's a willing participant. 

We could say the same about women who stay in relationships where they are hit. The difference is we wouldn't say it's okay. Women who remain in abusive relationships are often trapped there as a captive in their own minds and usually as a result of deeper personal issues. This doesn't make the results any less damaging. 

What two people do in the privacy of their own bedroom is none of our business. 

You're right.  So why do we invite ourselves into this fictitious bedroom?  Ask yourself why you want to watch other people having sex?  How does this benefit you? 

I don't see the harm in reading or watching this.  Just because it isn't your cup of tea doesn't mean it can't be mine.  If you don't like it - boycott it. 

If your daughter, granddaughter, sister, or friend confided she was involved in the relationship portrayed by these characters, what would you say to her?  Would you tell her you think it erotic? Would you be comfortable knowing she is being stalked, intimidated or feeling pressured to do things she was uncomfortable with?  We have this responsibility to women.  A responsibility to encourage and uplift.  To mentor and support.  You're right, it can be your cup of tea, but not without consequences. We ALL have to boycott such things and remove it's power over us.  To do anything less is to become a contributor of violence against women.  You bring women back many steps in time and you perpetuate the problem. A recent study published in the Women's Journal of Health is very illuminating as to the impact film and books like these have on our young women. 

What is so sexy about it anyway? 

I think we need to ask ourselves just what is so sexy?  Do we want to be dominated?  In the bedroom or otherwise?  Is that what really turns you on or are you simply filling in spaces of emptiness in your own bedroom or relationship? Are you waiting to be rescued from the doldrums of life by Christian Grey? 

Don't we all really long for something deeper? Something reliable? Something satisfying?

I'm raising four girls and my prayer for each of them is to experience an authentically intimate and healthy relationship with her husband.  One that is filled with trust and respect and honor. I hope they live freely and fiercely and are loved deeply and the popularity of things like Fifty Shades doesn't encourage any of that, rather just the opposite. 

I am an advocate against human trafficking.  I have been exposed to hundreds of accounts of dominated women, held and used against their will.  I guess my exposure to this removes my understanding for this as a means of entertainment or any kind of acceptance for it.  I just can't find anything sexy about it. 

As women, let us do more for women.  Let us be more. Because grey doesn't mean grey at all, rather just leaves us a little black and blue.