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September 2, 2009

Faith & Facebook

There's a lot of talk among parents about whether Facebook and other social networking sites are good for young teens.

Personally, I think they're great. My oldest daughter, who just started seventh grade, has kept a Facebook page for several months now. My younger kids in fourth grade and kindergarten? No way -- they'll have to wait.

When Janine launched her Facebook page, I took control of her privacy settings and set the ground rules. For starters, she's required to be "friends" with me and her dad. We've gone over various no-nos: don't approve people you don't know as friends, check with us before you request or approve friends older than you, and be smart about the pictures and links you post.

Beyond having the eyes of her parents on her Facebook page, her pastors and several other adults from our congregation are her Facebook friends, too.

Having them as my daughter's Facebook buddies is a healthy thing for intergenerational bonding. They learn more about my daughter through her posts, and she learns more about them through theirs.

I'm not saying that Facebook friendships are the same as face-to-face relationships. They're not. But I do believe that these sites are valuable and under-utilized tools for giving tweens and teens a sense of place and connectedness to the people with whom they share a community of faith.

What about you? Agree? Disagree?

For more views from parents about the pros and cons of Facebook for young teens, check out these articles by Dr. Wendy Walsh, a clinical psychologist, and Sarah Bowman, the co-Founder of Kids Off the Couch.

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July 22, 2009

Washing out my raunchy mouth

"It's hot as HELL out here!"

Yep. That was me bellowing in my driveway as the kids and I set out on yet another 100-plus-degree day in Central Texas.

Among the words that have mindlessly spilled from my mouth in front of my three children, this particular sentence wasn't my classiest moment. And if you know me, you also know that I'm not one for understatement. Rather than ending my sentence with the gentle exclamation point you read above, I instead punctuated my weather report with a four-letter word that can only be described as "lavatorial."

Suffice to say, it isn't fit for print.

Although the Lone Star State does, in fact, sometimes feel as hot as the Underworld, that's still no excuse for my foul-mouthed tirade. All too often this summer, I've found myself using words that would make me blush if I heard them echoed back by my children.

As a family and faith writer, I'd love to tell you that I never swear in front of my kids. That would be a lie. I also would love to report that I always use my words in ways that model for them the hallmarks of Christian living -- gentleness, patience, kindness and the like. But that, too, would be a lie. In fact, it would be such a lie that it would actually reach the caliber of a "damned lie."

It is time for Mommy to wash out her mouth. I decided to learn more about why I swear and how I can break my raunchy blue streak.

Timothy Jay, the author of "Cursing in America," says swearing often results when strong emotions of frustration and anger collide. He's right. Some of my most creatively profane expressions - complex sentence structures that, if diagrammed, would impress an English professor -- have resulted from that very scenario.

An online trip to the Cuss Control Academy, led by anti-swearing guru James O'Conner, also gave me some practical ideas for curbing my crudeness.

Fortunately, today's weather report calls for highs only in the mid-90s. That translates into a different type of forecast for me: lower-than-normal chances of cussing.

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July 6, 2009

Adam's Speedo and Eve's Bikini

It's harvest season for figs, which means my family's small organic orchard is in full production. By small, I mean there's only one fig tree in our backyard — and by organic, well, that's more a result of sheer laziness than a conscious choice.

Each year around the Fourth of July, hundreds of purple-brown figs ripen on the branches. In the evenings after the air has cooled, we go out to the yard and eat figs for dessert.

Jill and Ben at fig tree

I listened as Ben, 8, told his little sister, Jillian, 5, about the tree.

"These are the leaves that Adam and Eve wore," Ben said.

Jillian looked at him and raised her eyebrows.

One day in Eden, Adam and Eve figured out that they didn't have clothes and they didn't want God to see them naked, Ben explained. "So they made bathing suits," he said.

Ben plucked a leaf and stuffed it inside the waistband of his shorts to make a Speedo. It inspired Jillian to fashion a matching bikini.

"How did they make it stick?" Jillian asked, putting two leaves to her shirt and watching them fall to the ground. "Did they have tape?"

"Probably," Ben said.

I chuckled at my son's answer, but I didn't interrupt their conversation. I think it's sometimes more productive for kids to wrestle with Bible stories such as these on their own terms. With any luck, it will lead to new questions and a deeper sense of wonder.

My kids hadn't asked for my opinion. If they had, there is only one thing I would have told them that I knew for a fact.

Adam and Eve didn't have tape.

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June 30, 2009

Confessions of a VBS Slacker Mom

Jillian, my youngest daughter, spent last week at Vacation Bible School.

Like many ELCA churches across the country, my congregation used the "Discovery Canyon: Explore the Wonders of the Word" curriculum -- and like many ELCA moms and dads nationwide this summer, I was a VBS volunteer.

Volunteer, though, would be a charitable description for what I actually did.

I helped out on only two of the five days, and I wasn't the most energetic or focused assistant. I tended to take every opportunity I could for coffee breaks and snacks, and I stretched out conversations well beyond their appropriate lengths with friends in the hallway. At one point, I even went out to check the air pressure in my minivan tires.

What's more, I'm also known as "The Anticraft" within my congregation. I'm not the one to call upon for help with anything involving Elmer's glue, yarn or popsicle sticks.

If it weren't a church, I would have been fired for being a slacker.

Other moms in my congregation -- the ones I want to be like when I grow up -- have it more together. They keep VBS clicking on a tight schedule as they cheerfully and seamlessly shepherd kids from one activity to the next.

Me? Not so much. Try as I might, I'm just not that into it.

It makes me all the more thankful that others in my church enjoy working with large groups of kids, whether it's VBS or Sunday School. Their efforts this past week have had such an effect on Jillian that she immediately asked to hear the Discovery Canyon soundtrack as soon as we climbed into the minivan to run errands this morning.

"When are we going back to VBS again, Mommy?" Jillian said. "Next time, you should come every day!"

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June 11, 2009

Strangers in the far back pew

A remodeling project has displaced us from our home. For the next month, we're forced to seek shelter elsewhere.

One of the places we retreated to was South Padre Island, where my family and I rented a condominium near the beach for a week. It was a chance to rest and relax as our kitchen and bathrooms fell under the wrecking ball.

During the trip, Janine and I checked out the local Episcopal church -- a small congregation by the water where only about 50 people worshipped. Our church back home has about triple that number, minimally, on any given Sunday.

As visitors sitting in back, it was fun for us to follow along with the Common Book of Prayer, the worship book used at the white stucco St. Andrew's By the Sea. About midway through the service, the best part of the morning happened when the rector announced the Sharing of the Peace.

It lasted for more than five minutes.

Janine and I were welcomed, it seemed, by more than half the church. From our seats, we also got to watch the members hug and shake hands with each other as they moved from person to person. It was like a family reunion filled with relatives who were genuinely glad to see each other.  My daughter and I smiled and chuckled from the sheer sweetness of it.

Looking back, it was one of the best illustrations of church community that I could have scripted for my preteen daughter to see. From Sunday to Sunday at our home church, this time in the liturgy can become all too familiar as we greet those who sit around us. They're mostly the same folks week in and week out.

This particular Sunday morning as new people extended their hands and said "God's peace to you," it felt so different. It was a beautiful and powerful reminder to us of the most basic tenant of our faith: that we are to love and reach out to the strangers we encounter -- including those who show up on random summer weekends and sit quietly in the far back pew.

It's an experience that, days later, my daughter still talks about.

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