On Target, School Bathrooms, and the Idol of Safety

So here I am. Posting something about Target and the whole bathroom issue.

It would be easier to just let it go since everyone is so divided and angry about all this, but in everything I've read so far, I still feel like there are some things that haven't been said. 

But let me first start with this: I'm terrified of my children being sexually abused. Always have been. With a background in social work, I have heard stories that would make you want to vomit, unable to sleep for days. I know that, although the accepted idea is that "kids are resilient; they'll be fine," there are abusive situations that damage the psyche of an undeveloped person so horrifically and so deeply that one is unable to fully recover. Before we even had children, I had my speeches about private parts rehearsed and perfected. But even still, the fear lingers. I think it always will.

On top of all this, we don't live in the safest of neighborhoods. There are over 80 registered sex offenders within a mile of our home. Teenage girls have been abducted off the these very streets and trafficked. The greater school system we are a part of had already adopted a gender-neutral bathroom situation before Obama demanded it from on high. My kids don't participate in many extracurricular activities--partly because there's so many children to shuttle around, but mostly because I'm scared to leave them alone with anyone else. 

So, there's my humanity. I can say from the core of my being that I get it. The fear of it all, at least this aspect of the debate.  

Strange men being in the bathroom with you. People potentially planting recording devices. Daughters being assaulted in locker rooms. The rates of abuse are already so high--

as many as 1 in 10 children will be abused before the age of 18

--and now, it seems the government has opened wide the doors of privacy to allow predators even easier access. I get how all of those can be scary thoughts.

Much has already been said about all this, but I want to point out the fact that 

9/10 cases of sexual abuse are perpetrated by someone the victim knows and trusts

, not some stranger in a Target bathroom.

The same applies to the Sex Offender Database. Though it is nice to be able to easily identify people in proximity who have been caught and labeled, it's the ones who are not yet on the list that you need to worry about. Because they're people you'd never suspect; people that, on the outside, look just like you and I. They teach at your child's school, they drive the bus, they attend your church and they live next door. They are even more likely to be grandparents, uncles, and cousins.

The nauseating fact is, it won't be a Target bathroom that opens the door for your child to be abused, it will be YOU.

It will be me. 

And that is the core of the issue here and the source of all the fear--that we as parents will unintentionally expose our children to the very people that will hurt them and not even know it. Perhaps for years. Abusers can get close to a child because you and I know and trust them, too. 

I can barely stomach the thought. The weight of it is crushing. Because even if we talk to our children, equip them with information, guard them, protect them, and watch them--even if we do everything right and keep them safe--it may still happen, because there are situations out of our control.

So you can boycott Target if you want to, but at the end of the day, it's not going to make the world much safer for your little one. A predator won't stop to consider a sign on a restroom, anyways.

So what is a parent to do?

One of the best things you can do for your children, as with any vulnerable population group in the world, is educate them and give them a voice. 

At a very young age in our home, we start talking about body parts. We tell them that they are in charge of their own body, and if someone is doing anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or scared, that they can say NO, and they won't be in trouble. It doesn't matter if it's an adult and adults are in charge--there are things even adults aren't allowed to do, regardless of what they say or threaten. But if something scary ever did happen to them, that 

it's not their fault.

But we go even further then that. We don't just warn them about the strange cars by the park or the adult who approaches them and talks about a lost puppy, but we discuss situations that would signal that something may be wrong involving someone they know. A person picking them up from school that usually doesn't. A teacher bringing them into a room alone and closing a door. A coach who is paying more attention to them then the rest of the team.

This isn't just a one-time conversation. It's often and it's ongoing. 

Parents, it's not Target's job to keep your kids safe. It never was. And while you can accompany them into the restroom at the store or use the Family bathroom (that's what we do), you most likely can't do the same thing at school. So please, please teach them appropriate boundaries and give them a voice! Empower them so they will know the right thing to do when you are not there to hold their hand. Lord willing it will be enough.

But you

 cannot impart what you do not possess. So parents, the absolute best thing you can do for your children is to get healthy yourself. 

Talk to somebody, get therapy, take some medication. Practice and model appropriate boundaries. Deal with your past junk. Show them how to have a voice and respectfully stick up for themselves. Hold people accountable when they cross the line and cause bodily harm in any way.

Aside from first and foremost the power of Jesus Christ, YOU are your child's single biggest weapon against the evil of this world. Don't take that responsibility lightly.

As parents, we should certainly do everything within our power to make sure our kids are safe, but we have a tendency in America to make an idol out of Safety. As a culture, we live in constant fear. Fear of our kids being hurt or abducted, falling on the playground, failing a class. Smearing dirt on our perfect reputation as parents by just being kids.

But there's probably a reason it says more than a hundred times in the Bible, 

"do not be afraid."

NOT, do not do things that make you afraid. 

NOT, do not be around people who make you afraid. 

NOT, do not go places that are scary.

Do not BE afraid.

But that IS our state of being these days, isn't it? As a people, as a country, and most embarrassingly, as a FAITH. And, I'll just be frank here, since we're all friends--that is not what we are called to, my dear Christian brothers and sisters.

Rather, we are called to LOVE one another.

We also know that perfect love casts out all fear. You see, fear is the enemy of love. Fear begins with a label--we name someone, or even an entire group of people, "other." 

These labels come with all sorts of misperceptions and stereotypes, and we boil down a beautiful, colorful, human being made in the image of God into a category: weird, different, strange, wrong, SINFUL...

And we get scared. Because we don't understand. And we don't know what to do. And we worry that they may hurt us or our children, or make it easier for other bad people to hurt our children, because they're different. Or strange. And because we are always trying to make sense out of our existence, we put them into the category of OTHER, and suddenly it's okay to not value them as a person loved by God. They become the enemy, which justifies our fear.

We hold up our idol of safety, and fear makes us not even want to touch anyone different than us with a 39.5 foot pole, let alone LOVE them.

The fact is, truly LOVING one another is dangerous. It will cost you, maybe everything. Just like it did Jesus.

"This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again." John 3:16-17, MSG

A son who would be threatened, plotted against, scorned, beaten...and finally hung on a cross.

For YOU.

For ME.

All because of God's embarrassing, audacious, unconditional, unfathomable LOVE for the world and all the messed up,sinful people in it.

How different things would've turned out if God's top priority had been keeping His Son SAFE.

Please, take a moment and chew on that one, because it took everything in me not to scream it in all caps.

Safety is important, but we turn it into an idol when we make it more important than people. We bow down to Safety when we make it more important than 


 people or doing the hard, scary things God sometimes calls people to do. Obedience trumps safety every time. Just ask Ananias, Moses, Esther, or Jonah, to name a few.

So safety, yes. But don't hide behind it as an excuse not to love. As a reason to put down and hurl insults. As a justification to boycott and walk away, to not engage in difficult things. Love will cost you, and if it doesn't, you're not doing it right. Love in real life is messy, uncomfortable, and hard.

Safety, yes. But not at the expense of people. Not at the expense of loving well. Not at the expense of obedience.

John 13:35 says,


our love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.

But love involves speaking the truth, though, right? 

The thing about love is that it's hard to do on Facebook, where we do a lot of our living and preaching these days. It's hard to throw tangible love out into the internet whitespace. And truth--proclaimed at a deafening vibrato on the internet these days--though

still true

when carelessly flung out into the world of pixels,


just not effective.

I don't know about you, but I can't think of a single person who's come to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ as a result of a moral internet debate or a bible verse posted in a comment section drawing attention to their transgressions.

Because the only way to speak the truth in love involves a human.

A human person to look at in the face, eye to eye. A human with feelings, convictions, and experiences, just like you. A person who, even on their worst day, is so much more like you than different. 

To speak the truth in love is a conversation, a relationship--not a status update. When the truth is haphazardly thrown out into the ether, it's often received like a heavy metal station. Just a bunch of loud, annoying noise. We've gotten in a bad habit of screaming from the rooftops what was meant to be communicated in a one-on-one or small group discipleship relationship. And it's just not working.

God doesn't need us to judge. That's His job.

God doesn't need us to convict. That's the Holy Spirit's job.

I think it's fair to say that He's plenty capable of doing His jobs without our help.

We tend to get our role confused, but the bible clearly says that the world will know we are His disciples by our LOVE for one another


The world will know we are different by our love. They're supposed to want what we have, and we're supposed to be ready with a reason for the hope that sets us apart. The hope that keeps us joyful amidst cultural chaos and gives us reason to remain faithful when it makes absolutely no sense. 

They will know we are Christians by our love.

So, I have to ask... do they?

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Dear Christian: The Hard Truth About Being "Blessed"

The valley was brimming with people now, the steady hum of their presence filling the air. Maybe it was late in the day, the sun pulling close to the horizon in a colorful embrace, and it was time to move on. Or perhaps there were some things just too precious for the masses—things they wouldn't yet understand. But those who loved him, those who were wholly committed and desperate for truth, they followed Him. They climbed with him, following his every step as he wove a dusty path up the mountainside.

And in that solitary place perched atop a hill, away from the chatter and bustle of the world, He sat down with His friends. When His lips parted, the soft whisper of truth emerged.

You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God...

The world applauds those who achieve successful careers, luxury vehicles, 2.5 children and a suburban palace. But the outcasts—the bankrupt, the homeless, the impoverished, the senile, and the addicts—provoke a very different response. Sometimes it's because Haves just don’t understand, and sometimes it's because the least of these remind them of the fact that “failure” in this life is only one bad choice away. One disaster away. One job loss away.

But Jesus whispers of having nothing left. Of no way out, of a sleeve completely void of any last tricks, of bridges burned and contacts tapped. Of circumstances kicking away the material crutches that prop you up and give you a sense of indelibility. Because when you finally get to the end of your rope and fall, God will surely be there to catch you, even if it’s not how you imagined or wished He would.

Truth, you see, is a paradox. It's always the opposite of what we tend to think in our selfish, human nature. Jesus speaks of a world upside down, and He continues:

You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

Bodies forever altered by years of childbearing, lives cut too short, job eliminations and life savings flushed down the stock market toilet. The world tells you that once you’ve lost your figure, your spouse or child, your job of 30 years or your net worth, you no longer have value.

But Jesus whispers of there being space now. Space for him to reach across the brokenhearted divide and pull you close. Space in the hollow of grief for the hope and healing that will make life whole, and worth living, again. It’s always His great mercy to remind us of our dependence on Him, because it’s something we easily forget.

You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

We are a society that is more connected then ever before, and with the simple click of a button, everyone is able to put their best foot forward and showcase it for the world to see. "Friends" are easier to accumulate then pennies in a jar, and the abundance of information, opinions, crafty ideas and shining success stories can make even the most confident person feel as if they don't measure up. Certain talents and gifts are envied, while others, especially ones beyond the glare of the spotlight, are often ignored.

And while humans create a hierarchy of worth based on trending appetites, Jesus whispers that the real blessing lies in knowing who you are, and being content with that. Thriving in your uniqueness, not a mirror image of what’s popular, is the real reward. And the satisfaction found in freely living out your purpose is something money could never buy. 

You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

Our fallenness draws us to comfort foods, to late night snacks on the couch, to eating our emotions and drinking our problems away, but Jesus beckons us to Himself. He invites us to eat the Bread of Life, that He may sustain us when we can't go on. He sees our pain, and He gives us Himself, the only nourishment that will ever truly soothe the hunger inside.

You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

The Selfie Generation, they call us, although that’s merely a symptom of a bigger problem. There has never been a people group more self-focused or self-indulgent then this one, except, perhaps, those that come after us because of the example we set. But Jesus whispers of an outward focus, an others-orientation, a lack of entitlement. Because He knows that even more blessed then the receiver is the giver, and that once we are finally emptied of ourselves we are indeed full.

You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

Family pictures withcolor-coordinated, smiling children in a row; good behavior masquerading as holiness; front lawns pristinely manicured; beds made, houses tidy, and 401K's even tidier. Oh, how the world longs to have it all together and reveres those who appear so.

Jesus whispers from left field that the exterior means nothing without a heart fully devoted to Him. That a life built without Him is one built in vain. That even the most put-together individuals are but whitewashed tombs, dead on the inside, without the love of Christ. That you'll never be able to see God at work in the world, or all the good things He has for you to do, without a heart focused on Him.

You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

There exists this thing called a “comment section.” It’s a sliver of internet dark space in which grown adults are reduced to a bunch of squabbling toddlers, yelling back and forth about whose toy it really is, who has a right to the toy more and for what reason, assuming the worst possible intentions about the other, and spewing horrendous names in the process. And somehow many of these “adults” think this is ok--to shout things from behind the “protection” of a computer screen that they wouldn’t dare mumble to someone’s face.

Whatever place you find yourself in today, whether it’s cyber or reality, Jesus speaks of sowing seeds of peace. Dealing with conflict is a lost art, but learning how to do so is vital to relationships, especially in a family. We were created to turn chaos into order, dissention into reconciliation, squabbling into resolution, and fighting into peace. Working through those clashes and coming out on the other side—that makes for one tight-knit clan.

You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

This bitter taste of persecution is foreign to the tongues of Americans. For most of us, we cannot fathom what it would be like to live in a country where laws dictated a belief system. Where it was illegal to go to church, to own a bible, to pray in public. And even in the information age in which we live, many are still oblivious to the persecution of those around the world, or worse yet, choose to turn a blind eye.

The painful stories drift across the ocean, and when the stench wafts ashore, we praise God that we were born in a free country. A country in which we can believe and live as we choose, where we have just as much a right to be grateful for our freedoms as we have to take them for granted and squander them completely.

But many were not born here, and they didn’t have a say in that decision, either. The hard truth is, God knows. He sees. He hears their cries and collects their tears. He even goes as far as to say count yourselves blessed, for yours is the kingdom of Heaven. Rejoice and be glad, for although this present life is wasting away before your very eyes, great will be the reward in heaven.

To have the kind of unwavering faith that perseveres, that waits for the abstract, blissful promise of heaven’s glory in the face of unimaginable suffering is as foreign as the Middle East. How great is the love of one who willingly walks the green mile out of devotion to Him.

You’re blessed…

Oh, how we squander the richness contained in those words. I truly believe that we don't mean to—most of us are just a product of the culture in which we live. But we take the deep fullness of God contained in blessing and trade it for the material, the temporary. That which will wither like a flower in the hot desert sun, here today and gone tomorrow. We cheapen it, casting aside the indwelling of a Living God and grasping desperately instead for the idol, which, once attained, evaporates as smoke before our very eyes.

True blessing isn’t marked by the degree of temporary comfort or happiness achieved but rather by the unique opportunity provided by less then ideal circumstances to draw close to God. A closeness that couldn’t be achieved except for the sharing of suffering. And that is the blessing: Jesus Himself.

It’s a paradigm shift. The world shouts in our pain, encouraging us to avoid it at all costs. To drown it out, ignore it, bury it, and numb it away. To get out of it as fast as possible, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and go on pursuing the American Dream. And if it turns out to be broken, just throw it away and get a new one.

But Jesus. When the world shouts, he whispers, and sometimes you have to climb to a quiet place just to hear Him, to make out His voice from the crowd. Jesus invites us in, into the pain, into the suffering. He asks us to sit there a while, to soak it all in and not waste a hot second of it. And He’s not only there with us, so we don’t have to go it alone, HE’S THERE.

True blessing exists when we arrive at the end of ourselves, when we have nothing left to give, for it’s there that God resides. What it comes down to with each and every blessing is being stripped of ourselves. Stripped of our self-sufficiency, stripped of our earthly comforts, stripped of our masks, stripped of our fleshly desires, stripped of our selfishness, stripped of our need to perform, stripped of our pride, and stripped of our fear. Like an expert carpenter shaving down a block of wood, strip by strip, to carve from it something beautiful, so the Lord strips us. And with each swipe of the blade, the excess falls away, and we begin to look more and more like the finished product--Jesus. The blessing is always Him.

So whether you need to get over yourself, out from under yourself, past yourself or to the end of yourself, do it today. Because God is waiting there. And I don’t know about you, but I, for one, have a lot to learn about being blessed.

Matthew 5: You’re Blessed {MSG}
1-2 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said: 
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. 
“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. 
“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. 
“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat. 
“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for. 
“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. 
“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family. 
10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. 
11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.