Thursday, December 27, 2007

Happy Do-Overs

We’re in that funny little place we get in each year when the year is nearly finished. Here in the South, it’s the commencement of our true winter, a season of blooming pansies and light dustings of snow, at least down in the foothills. It’s a time when I assess the year, beating myself up because my bottom line has not moved an inch. I brace for winter and a new year and somehow hope surfaces. It’s the season of do-overs and bowl games, winter beginnings and sports endings shaking hands.

I pray your new beginnings, in spite of your bottom line, is powdered with snow and hope and football and faith. Toast and awaken and come alive to the fact that God’s still pondering you and what he might do with you next. You’re in his hands and that’s a reason to throw a party and kiss your friends' ruddy cheeks. You are dearly loved, appreciated, and prayed over by this southern author. Happy New Year, friends!

Monday, December 3, 2007

A Friend Through All Seasons

If you have a friend who is suffering the sorrow of loss through the holidays, you might be feeling a little outside the loop, not knowing what to do or say. That is a normal response, but a better response is that of being a proactive friend during the season that changes all seasons. Today's blog post, the third posting on this theme, is for you. If you don't have a friend experiencing sorrow through the holidays, chances are you will eventually. So printing off these thoughts and saving them for later may serve as a lifeline of comfort sooner or later. Feel free to post questions or ideas that have worked for you or if feel a little wobbly about helping your friend during his/her sacred season of loss. Here goes:

If Your Friend is Recovering From Loss:
• If your friend is grieving through the holidays, she probably won’t tell you what she needs because she is most likely in shock. It’s best to make specific appointments to drop by to clean up her kitchen or bathroom. Even if you tell her to call you if she needs anything, be assured that she won’t call and won’t ask. She's too numb and may assume you’re saying that to be polite.

• Remember that children often don’t know how to express loss. Asking them to draw a picture of their loved one or writing a letter will help them to begin to cope with the loss and to elicit happy memories of their loved one.

• Gender affects how people grieve. Men may tamp down worse than women—the bleaker pain resurfaces when tamped down. Husbands and wives or mothers and fathers should offer a generous amount of grace for those who grieve differently from them or seem to be taking longer to get through the stages of grief.

• Kindly refrain from telling a grieving person that they need closure. There’s no closure until we’re reunited with our loved ones in the afterlife. Instead of using meaningless “happy affirmations” or clichés, simply weep with them without commentary or being a “Job’s Friend.” Sharing tears is a sacred rite of true friendship. Knowing when to fall quiet and listen is a gift.

• If your friend is grieving through the holidays, a phone call or a note in the mail trumps a million Christmas gifts. But one day out of the blue, I received an unexpected express shipped package. In it was a container of Mac eye makeup. A friend had sent it along with a very sweet note and a Winans worship CD. She had taken me once for a Mac make-over and it was her way of remembering the afternoon we had shared. Gestures of love don’t have to cost a lot. It’s the time you take to do them that will mean the most to your friend.

• My dear writer friend Lawana Blackwell asked me Jessi’s birthday at the funeral. It was an odd question at the time. But she wrote it down. She calls me every year on Jessi’s birthday to check on me. Remembering an anniversary date—the birthday, the date of loss, marriage anniversary—is another sacred day you can do something meaningful for your friend.
I'm indebted to my friends who thought that what they were offering me wasn't enough, but it was exactly what I needed or what Randy needed. We live in a world of excess, so the simplicity of small gestures is lost in the noise. God's extravagant love is poured through us and out onto others like perfectly aged wine. A glass of it is all you need.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Season That Changes All Seasons, II

This is part two of the continuing topic of loss recovery through the holidays. Today's post is written especially for the person who has suffered loss and is facing the holiday season under the weight of grief.

If You Are the One Recovering From Loss:
• Be sure you seek out a support system. I never would have made it without my girlfriends who called or emailed to check on me. I remember less about what they said, and more about their quiet vigil of presence. Support groups are available in most every state through ministries like GriefShare. My GriefShare group had mostly widows, though. I recommend groups that share similar loss.

• If you are the grieving person, and your friends offer to come and do specific chores, watch a young child while you nap, etc., then consider letting them. It allows them to express their grief through beneficial works. If you are grieving, chances are they are too. And you will start to feel the weight lifting off your shoulders as you allow friends to help.

• If others do not want to acknowledge your missing loved one, don’t force it. But also don’t allow others to tell you how to grieve. Your grief is yours. Remember that women grieve differently from men, so be easy on your spouse.

•“Closure” is just a latch on the neighbor’s fence. If others tell you that you need to bring closure to your loss, it is only because they haven’t faced your kind of loss. They do mean well. Don’t allow meaningless “happy affirmations” or clichés to ruin your day.

• Augustine’s “Dark Night of the Soul” seeped in every evening at 8:30 for my husband and me, so we learned to go to bed early to “beat the demons” to bed. Rest is a necessary ingredient to recovery from loss.

• Memory loss can be caused by the body’s natural response to shock, a literal washing of the neurons with a numbing chemical generated by your body. Yes, the Creator thought of it all. But the memory loss and feelings of numbness can make you feel as if you’re losing your mind. You’re not. You’re normal.

• It’s fine to give yourself permission to distance yourself from social settings that you know typically create stress for you. Picture yourself in that place in advance. You are the best judge of what you can and cannot handle.

• If your loved one has passed unexpectedly during the holidays, you may want to consider asking a friend to remove their gifts and donate them to charity in honor of your loved one. Our favorites are assistance to AIDS victims and a women’s drug treatment center, but there are homeless people who need gifts, elderly folks, shut-ins, and families in your church who can’t afford to buy gifts. Again, let this be your choice and not something you’ve been pressured to do.

• Avoid mind-numbing solutions to grief such as over-medicating or alcohol. Eventually the effects of those things wears off and you still have to face the loss. If you take anti-depressants under your doctor’s advice, then you and your doctor can decide what is healthy for you.

• Make yourself a cup of your favorite hot drink, start a fire in the fireplace, or light a candle and then journal a letter to your loved one and express what you are feeling through the holidays with them gone. Written expression is helpful for triggering natural coping mechanisms.

• Money can be mismanaged and disappear quickly if someone isn’t minding the till. Allow a trusted friend, pastor, or family member to help oversee your finances through the first year of grief. Grieving widows accustomed to a spouse who oversaw the finances can wake up one day to find the lights shut off or the home going into foreclosure just because you were too numb or inexperienced to keep vigil over your pocketbook. Let others help.

• By making the choice to commence facing my journey of grief right away, the unbearable heaviness didn’t linger as long as it does in denial. So embracing was the best choice for me. When I felt the heaviness seeping in, I mentally confronted. I even held conversations with it—“Oh, it’s you, Grief. Come on in. We’ll talk.” I put feelings to words. Today it feels like . . . It’s different than last week when I felt . . .It’s worse. . . It’s better. . . This anniversary date is killing me . . . When will I stop crying? I had a dream about you. . . Today was amazing.

• Here is one suggestion that I’ve not seen anywhere else, but after asking several grieving parents about this, many agree with my husband and me about the problem caused by music; perhaps it’s worse for parents suffering the loss of a child. Song lyrics are written out of an artist’s emotions. When my emotions were raw and I was still suffering shock, songs about heaven, love, loss, even Christ’s suffering and death sent my emotions into a nosedive. Most radio song themes depict love or pain and so does church music. My husband experienced the same anguish. We both love music. He and our two sons are musicians, so our home is full of music. We kept the radio and CD player off for many months. It was another of those temporary changes we made in order to keep our emotions on an even keel. I visited the neighborhood music store and found recordings of beautiful peaceful music that had no recognizable tune and no lyrics. Sound therapy is soothing. We often fell asleep listening to the soothing sounds. Time eventually healed us in that regard and we were able to enjoy our music again.

Sorrow is a sacred time in a family’s life. It is the season that changes all other seasons. Respect and honor include the practices of sensitivity and patience. Gathering to weep is as important as gathering to laugh. During the holidays, make time for both.

♥If you are suffering loss and don’t have someone to call, please call the Hickmans and we’ll be glad to talk you off any ledges or offer you our own experiences through loss. Tel. 704-655-9390.

"Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak whispers the o'erfraught heart and bids it break." William Shakespeare

“And the people who recover are the people who admit, and are able to talk about it and to share it.”
H. Norman Wright

“Because of the LORD’s great love, we are not consumed, his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
Lam. 3:22,23

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Season that Changes All Seasons

After the sudden loss of our daughter, we were warned by other grieving parents of the “dreaded holiday season.” Our family had always enjoyed our Christmas fanaticism, the neighborhood lights competitions, and the many annual traditions we practiced. Having had loss thrust on us suddenly, we had to reconstruct Christmas. I attribute this one sane response to our family’s dependence on Christ since there is no other logical explanation for a season when all seems illogical. The old traditions were too painful so it became evident that we were going to have to create a new normalcy for the holidays. Because it had always been our tradition to hang the old handmade tree ornaments made by our children over the years, pulling those precious keepsakes out for me as a mom was devastating. We had several discussions with our sons and agreed that for at least a couple of years, we were going to keep the tree in temporary retirement.

Whether it is a tree or some other family heirloom that reminds you of the loved one you have lost, thinking of putting those types of triggers out of sight in advance of the holiday season could help to alleviate some of the stressors that may negatively affect your raw emotions.

However, that didn’t mean we were going to force our boys to sit around the house glum-faced. A friend passed along a timeshare that first Christmas so we visited an island in South Carolina, a new experience for us all that created a fresh memory. We were surprised at how a change of scenery lifted our hearts out of the doldrums. The condo came with a full kitchen and we all cooked something different and fun, but not laborious.

After several years, my holiday spirit did return, the ornaments were pulled out, and I was glad to return to our old Christmas traditions.

The best gift a grieving person can give to himself or herself is permission: permission to change traditions, to create new normals, to kindly say “no” to social settings that place high expectations on you. Another fact you might remember is that people who love you might be afraid of mentioning your loved ones name. Over time, whenever possible I gently dispel this myth to anyone who will listen. My daughter’s name is the sweetest sound to my ears. I carry her with me everywhere I go, so when I noticed everyone around me holding back from mentioning her name, it created an emotional deficit. So my husband and I agreed to mention her whenever we want and sometimes that is almost every day.

For the holidays, personal memorials aid your sense of loss like a healing balm. Holding a candle lighting service in honor of your loved one can be a comfort and allow you to reflect positively about the one you are missing. I wore one of Jessi’s blouses and my husband played one of her CD’s. I sprayed her favorite cologne into the air, closed my eyes, and danced in the aroma. Our youngest son and I collected miniature ornaments that we felt his sister would love. We found a miniature tree with battery operated lights. We decorated the little tree, took it to the cemetery, and gave it to our Jess for Christmas. We felt as though somehow she knew and was there with us. Just as we were leaving the cemetery, a soft winter rain let go and in the dim grayness, we could see Jess’s tree shining out. It was a reminder of the light of Christ that had always shown forth from her heart. That is the power of memory-on-purpose. Purposeful memories bring comfort.

The best thing you can do for yourself and your family is to be certain that you don’t fall into the denial patterns of trying to act like nothing has changed. Of course everything has changed from this time forth. By acknowledging that change you fill that empty space with new memories and reflections; you grieve freely and positively.

Tomorrow, other gentle suggestions for helping yourself or a grieving friend through the holidays.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Holiday Freedom

Even though I have without a doubt the best in-laws in the world, we aren’t traveling to see the Hickmans this year, a decision that was difficult to make but with one too many ministry obligations, we had to bow out. Bowing out can cause guilt to set in, if you allow it.

For many years, my spouse and I experienced great guilt around the holidays, so much so that we started dreading the holidays almost immediately after Halloween had passed. We were supposed to be at both in-laws home on the exact day and at the exact same hour—noon—or else we were horrible folks.

We sang the Thanksgiving song with our children, “Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go,” but all the while there was a knot in the pit of my stomach. I knew that for every minute I lingered at my husband’s family’s home beyond the noon hour, my own mother paced, looking out the window for us to drive up.

My sons are coming of age, meaning the marrying age. My hubby and I have already filled up the holidays with giving outside of ourselves, so much so, that hopefully when our boys take on their own families, if they come home they may join us in our ministry endeavors and if not, we have families outside of our own who need encouragement.

Holiday Freedom is steeped in scriptural truths. Jesus came to lighten our yokes, to set the captives free, to break the bondage of sin off of us; yet we Christians, because of the very nature of family togetherness that we tout, allow it to weaken the very courage and forthrightness we proclaim throughout the rest of the year. Family enablement is not only complicated but unhealthy.

Holidays should be a time of mirth and Thanksgiving; families should gather around the love and freedom that they share in Christ. We should also share that joy with family members who might sense that joy in us and be drawn to it. But if we are forced into some habitual mold designed by someone else for us, it’s going to feel awkward because we were not made to wear the yoke of anyone but our Creator who died fitting it just so lightly.

This week we are joining our church family in some good works and then taking our sons to the mountains. It’s becoming a tradition for us, but one they do not have to follow when they leave us and cleave to their own wives. Expectations ought to be as flexible as God’s grace. I’m thankful for grace.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Hug an Angel

We’re going to blink and be right in the middle of reaching out for the 7th year to angels with HIV/AIDS. Every Christmas we deliver very generous gifts from the Christmas wish lists of children of/with AIDS, meaning that if they don’t have AIDS, either a mom and/or a sibling have it.

If you are one of the lucky people not born with this horrible disease, then you can say a prayer of thanks to God and, if you can, give to the Secret Angels Project. We take any and all sizes and denominations of filthy lucre and have never seen a dollar amount too big or too small.

In the past couple of weeks we’ve reached out to two AIDS patients who have suffered terrible depression. Their precious lives at this writing hang in the balance. These are really young people who feel culturally cornered by this monstrous disease. Cornered people can have desperate thoughts so please pray for these angels who suffer in secrecy.

In the past year since our last Christmas outreach, we’ve given tens of thousands of dollars in:
• utility bills and rent
• pantry items
• clothing
• back-to-school clothes
• Christmas toys and other gifts

We’ve done this while maintaining a low overhead (I’m free) and an always diminishing bank account that miraculously fills back up through the giving of readers, other authors, church folks, not so churchy folks, and other people of compassionate hearts and spirits. This season, we are in desperate need of funds for their health crises as well as our media department. Our website has got to be updated and it isn’t free. If you would like to designate your giving, we honor that as requested.

Next week, we’re going to deliver Thanksgiving dinners to all of the families on our list. Then December 8, we’ll deliver Christmas gifts to 100 children, 72 with AIDS, and the remainder “of” AIDS. This is a lot of manpower to manage in the midst of editing a book and starting a new one. I can’t do it alone, that’s for sure!

If you can give to the Secret Angels Project, you may mail it to us at:
Secret Angels Project
16136 Grafham Circle
Huntersville, NC 28078

If you notice, I don’t offer specific stories of the parents and children who are the recipients of our giving. That’s why we call the charity “secret” angels. Although we realize that you might be moved to give if we rip your heart out with one of their stories (like it rips our hearts out to hear them), our mission and the nature of this compassionate fund allows explanations only in broad and general terms. So thank you for giving in secret and trusting us to be really good stewards on behalf of angels you may never meet this side of heaven.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Upon Closer Examination

My son was once blessed with an art teacher quite crafty in her approach to freeing up the young creative mind. She asked my son to go out into the school yard and find an object, preferably something that would not matter to him. He picked up a chunk of concrete and brought it back. She instructed him to then take his drawing stick of charcoal and tie it to a long stick. Then he had to draw the object—from the tip of that long stick. He had to draw it numerous times until he began to really see the object, see all of its imperfections, the way light fell across it, and how it cast a shadow. He was energized by the exercise and told me, “I didn’t realize how much I could care about something until I had really seen it up close, appreciating it for the space it takes up and the shadows it casts.”

I am reminded through my boy’s art exercise that compassion for others is not likely to come to me. Compassion kicks in when I reach into life and draw back a chunk of it examining where I can serve another. Do you remember when you first heard that as a new believer you were supposed to impact your world? I was a teen and was very engaged in the same rhetoric that I heard from church leadership. But engaging others through service did not make sense to me until I participated in a service project. As much as I gave lip service to compassion, true love for others stayed locked away until I began the practice of examining other lives. Like the art that was hidden in my son’s chunk of concrete, love is fanned into flame when it becomes active. As I wonder how many students had walked past Jared’s chunk of concrete without knowing it as he had known it, I think about the sea of humanity that floats past like flotsam. What will I do with it?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Mercy, Mercy

With my spirit full of Anne Lotz’s teachings, I’ve returned to Nehemiah chapter-by-chapter. What I glean is a lot. In chapter one, Nehemiah is in an intercessor’s posture; he has become cupbearer to King Artaxerxes. While many of his fellow Jews have been taken captive by the Babylonians, he has a peachy job in posh surroundings. His brother and a group of men from Jerusalem come to him to tell him that a remnant of newly returning exiles have found Jerusalem’s walls torn down and the gates burned. He now prays to God that Artaxerxes will allow him to return and help his fellow Jews rebuild the wall and remove their reproach.

I’m often an observer of other’s pain. I sit at my desk in my comfortable neighborhood writing, studying, and then I receive an email or a phone call that someone I know or love is in distress. What is even more troubling than calamity is when I know some insider’s scoop, that the person’s pain was at one point, avoidable; but at a crossroads, they made the wrong choice and fell into a quagmire. That is exactly what has happened to Nehemiah; he references a warning from the Jewish leader Moses and recalls when the Israelites crossed over that line into disobedience. But even in knowing that his neighbors have sinned, he takes the posture of an intercessor meaning that he is confessional on behalf of the whole group. The reason that he can do that is because of his influence among the people and the unity he shares with them. He knows that an exiled people are a humbled people.

It’s very difficult to intercede for a proud person. I find myself asking God simply for mercy. But Nehemiah is repenting for them. That’s a curious prayer. I can repent for myself, but to repent for a whole group takes a shepherd’s burden. I see that burden in my husband, a pastor. Then when I watch a person I love going pall-mall over a cliff metaphorically speaking, I sense that burden creeping into my prayers. It’s painful. I can’t prevent it and no amount of counsel prevented it. I think of how I could spend my prayer time praying for Africa, but no; I’ve got to painfully watch a friend get their ox out of the ditch even though they ran straight into it on a joy ride. Until they decide that they’ve gone the wrong way, I serve as cupbearer to the King. I have to work at not running off the cliff myself on a daily basis.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Turn Up the Volume

On some days, I get a call or an email that someone’s lights are shut off or a landlord has posted an eviction. First I pray, because the funds are always tight, then I tell the group members engaged in this battle with me; we pray and then venture out, like God smugglers making an HIV patient’s load a little lighter.

Here’s how it went one day. I had a certain amount of funds in the Secret Angels account. It was going to take most of it to help keep a mom’s electricity on. She came home from a battered women’s shelter to find the lights off and that the bill had not been paid for quite some time.

I remembered our early days as a couple. We were no where near ready for marriage. We spent most of the time money juggling and working to keep body and soul together. So when I heard this woman’s story, I empathized. What I’ve learned about intentional faith is that there are stages of response. People who hear this woman’s story will often sympathize. Those suffering similar domestic predicaments will empathize. But engaging faith intentionally is when we enter the realm of “becoming Jesus”, a phrase that has become a popular platitude among our rank-and-file.

Becoming Jesus is hearing and then doing. God hears the voices all day long—“Please, do you hear me?” “Can you send me some relief?” “Am I trapped forever in this life?” When we tune our ear to our community and ask God to turn up His volume so we can hear what he hears, then we can become doers, smuggling God’s love into our community in a manner that surpasses politics and programs.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tract -N- Treat

There were many things that I gave up when I joined my husband in ministry and often that involved surrendering holidays to the work that it takes to plan a church event. Instead of being home on Halloween, we were busy assembling dunking booths and setting up tables for cupcake sales and goldfish bowl penny toss games. The church event on Halloween has become an expected event in many communities, so there is no shortage of them. But Randy and I talked about Halloween’s meaning to culture and realized one thing—the one night that our neighbors come knocking at our door, we’re at church.

That is when we birthed the idea Randy calls Tract –N- Treat. We order tracts for our church members to pick up the Sunday before Halloween. In advance, we stamp the backs of the tracts with our ministry info in case someone has questions about God or they just want to find us. For the families who live in an area not highly trafficked by local children, we invite them to our home for chili and fellowship. I wear my usual costume—a giant Hershey’s kiss—and prepare my bowls of treats along with tracts.

We use the kinds of tracts that express the love of God rather than the typical turn-or-burn materials that often get passed around during Halloween. Our neighborhood is kid city and I can’t wait to finally get to meet neighbors that I wouldn’t otherwise meet if I didn’t stay home and prepare for their arrival.

The leaves are beginning to turn orange and yellow and neighbors are already setting pumpkins out on their front porches. As the neighborhood changes from summer to autumn, we look forward to showing neighborly love through a simple tradition.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Filling Up to Overflow

Off and on in the past sixteen years I’ve tried many bible studies in order to do everything from jump start my faith to finally succeed in seeing some real maturity in my life. My first experience with a deeper study followed a spiritual valley where some false teaching was seeping into the Church that directly affected me. I was, frankly, petrified. My husband knew exactly how to refute what he called extra-biblical teachings. My discernment was kicking in along with the Holy Spirit; but I needed to know the precepts of the Bible better to steer confusion away with confidence.

Twelve years ago a friend recommended Bible Study Fellowship, International. I devoured my study every evening. When my leader saw my hunger for knowing the truth of God’s Word, she gave me some teaching tapes of a pretty famous BSF leader by the name of Anne Graham Lotz. Those teachings completely reshaped the way that I taught whether from a platform or in a small group.

This past weekend, I finally had a chance to hear Anne Graham Lotz live at The Cove near Asheville, NC. “Filling Up To Overflow” is a four day seminar that does what it promises. I’m not just filled up, but broken. I’ve moved out of the realm of student of the Word to full blown addict.

I’ve experienced for quite some time the peace of Christ dwelling inside of me. But Anne’s teachings have struck a chord in me words don’t do justice to describe. And the few critiques I’ve found of her conferences simply don’t do Anne justice. I feel as though I’ve been in the presence of a true saint, a person of high spiritual pedigree. What a privilege in a day of spiritual blindness and lethargy to find so apt a teacher!

I’ve enjoyed so many conferences over the years and I always take away something from each of them. But Anne Graham Lotz has challenged me to my knees. I was convicted to the bone; so much so, that when we were given our quiet time to go and pray and study, I sought a quiet meeting room where I knelt, broken, and encountered God in a way that I’ve never encountered before. When I told my sons and husband about it over dinner tonight, I said, “There was a place in the O.T. text she read where God came and spoke to Abraham and He was called the word. How many times have I read that and just missed that reference?” Jesus appears everywhere in the Bible and I knew that, but I realized more than ever that to encounter Him and practice the presence of God, I have to know the word to know The Word.

If you have a chance to participate in Lotz’s “Filling Up to Overflow”, do go. Like her famous dad, all attention that falls on her is humbly returned to Jesus who has blessed her with an amazing gift as a bible expositor.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Big Families

If I’ve been remiss in blogging this week, it is for good reason. The Kittles, friends who go way back to our early ministry days, are in town.

After six attempts to have a girl, number seven was a charm, meaning that they have seven energetic children; not a shy one in the bunch. Like us, they are a family committed to a fasted lifestyle and living a life simplified enough to make home the first line of defense. They are in short what the American dream once was, but in its self-striving reaching, lost in the building of human empires.

I’ve watched Melissa calmly sitting spreading mayo on yet another sandwich while marshaling a group of strong minded young men coming of age and full of testosterone; yet she possesses who she is as a woman. She is quiet spoken until, in the clatter of our sporadic conversations, we hit her “righteous ire” button, and suddenly a temperament arises that scatters demons.

We can learn a lot from watching large Spirit-led families operate. When there’s a problem, call a meeting, find a consensus, pray, and then follow the leader who follows God--Dad. And you follow him, not out of obligation, but because you are a family and you’ve been given reasons to trust your leader—he’s been tested and tried and has proven himself reliable; God created that model for a purposeful eternal picture.

Yet the Kittles exhibit proof that there is no carbon copy model for raising a family; you create a God-inspired environment, and leaders emerge, each intrinsically possessing elements for which you can take no credit, but for which only their Creator can stake a claim. If ever there was a testing ground for watching fully formed individuals emerge, it’s within such a family.

The world says that we need small families so that each child receives optimal attention. But the large family provides attention in abundance as well as teaching the older ones how to care for the younger ones; and the younger children learn from watching the elder brothers. The object lessons arising from that are legion. I’ve realized that parents operating in humility and wisdom birth fully formed minds rather than the toxic practice of falling in line marching to the frenetic pace of ushering and taxiing that parents succumb to in modern life.

I never cease to be blessed when the Kittles come to town. I’m humbled and reminded of my place in the Body of Christ and that my individual purpose is fulfilled in interdependent community.

I’m thankful to the Father that He has placed me in such a large family, one He affectionately calls My Body.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Meaning of a Winning Life

At a fundraising dinner for a school that serves learning-disabled children, the father of one of the students delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended. After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he offered a question: "When not interfered with by outside influences, everything nature does is done with perfection. Yet my son, Shay, cannot learn things as other children do. He cannot understand things as other children do. Where is the natural order of things in my son?" The audience was stilled by the query.The father continued. "I believe that when a child like Shay , physi cally and mentally handicapped comes into the world, an opportunity to realize true human nature presents itself, and it comes in the way other people treat that child."

Then he told the following story: Shay and his father had walked past a park where some boys Shay knew were playing baseball. Shay asked, "Do you think they'll let me play?" Shay's father knew that most of the boys would not want someone like Shay on their team, but the father also understood that if his son were allowed to play, it would give him a much-needed sense of belonging and some confidence to be accepted by others in spite of his handicaps. Shay's father approached one of the boys on the field and asked (not expecting much) if Shay could play.

The boy looked around for guidance and said, "We're losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we'll try to put him in to bat in the ninth inning." Shay struggled over to the team's bench and, with a broad smile, put on a team shirt. His Father watched with a small tear in his eye and warmth in his heart. The boys saw the father's joy at his son being accepted. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shay's team scored a few runs but was still behind by three. In the top of the ninth inning, Shay put on a glove and played in the right field. Even though no hits came his way, he was obviously ecstatic just to be in the game and on the field, grinning from ear to ear as his father waved to him from the stands. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shay's team scored again.. Now, with two outs and the bases loaded, the potential winning run was on base and Shay was scheduled to be next at bat.

At this juncture, do they let Shay bat and give away their chance to win the game? Surprisingly, Shay was given the bat. Everyone knew that a hit was all but impossible because Shay didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, much less connect with the ball. However, as Shay stepped up to the plate, the pitcher, recognizing that the other team was putting winning aside for this moment in Shay's life, moved in a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shay could at least make contact. The first pitch came and Shay swung clumsily and missed. The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly towards Shay. As the pitch came in, Shay swung at the ball and hit a slow ground ball right back to the pitcher. The game would now be over. The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could have easily thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shay would have been out and that would have been the end of the game.Instead, the pitcher threw the ball right over the first baseman's head, out of reach of all team mates. Everyone from the stands and both teams started yelling, "Shay, run to first! Run to first!" Never in his life had Shay ever run that far, but he made it to first base. He scampered down the baseline, wide- eyed and startled.

Everyone yelled, "Run to second, run to second!" Catching his breath, Shay awkwardly ran towards second, gleaming and struggling to make it to the base. By the time Shay rounded towards second base, the right fielder had the ball ... the smallest guy on their team who now had his first chance to be the hero for his team. He could have thrown the ball to the second-baseman for the tag, but he understood the pitcher's intentions so he too intentionally threw the ball high and far over the third-baseman's head. Shay ran toward third base deliriously as the runners ahead of him circled the bases toward home. All were screaming, "Shay, Shay, Shay, all the Way Shay"Shay reached third base because the opposing shortstop ran to help him by turning him in the direction of third base, and shouted, "Run to third! Shay, run to third!" As Shay rounded third, the boys from both teams, and the spectators, were on their feet screaming, "Shay, run home! Run home!" Shay ran to home, stepped on the plate, and was cheered as the hero who hit the grand slam and won the game for his team. "That day", said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, "the boys from both teams helped bring a piece of true love and humanity into this world".Shay didn't make it to another summer. He died that winter, having never forgotten being the hero and making his father so happy, and coming home and seeing his Mother tearfully embrace her little hero of the day!

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Friend Who Got Away

My former thesis advisor, Elissa Schappell, along with some other writer friends wrote and compiled a short story collection entitled The Friend Who Got Away. Since this week’s topic discusses conflict, it’s a worthy way to end the week.

I remember the first summer my best friend moved away. I was about nine years of age. It still hurts to remember it. We were bosom friends, the kind that share a mutuality that is rare in our culture. Mutuality is when I share my deepest secrets and it is reciprocated. It’s a friendship that deepens over time through trust. The day she pulled out of our neighborhood with her single mom headed for greener pastures, she was excited about a new place to live since our neighborhood was not the best place to grow up. As she excitedly climbed into her mother’s car, I was broken hearted.

But an even more painful parting is when friends remain in the same area, but drift apart. Typically the parting will be blamed on a single incident, but truly it usually starts much further back. It could be that the friendship was birthed out of loneliness and then over time the friends begin to realize that they have little in common except their earlier need for one another. Or a friend might see in you something they need and use you to get that thing and, once they have it, lose interest in you. If a person is carrying around a lot of baggage, they may habitually seek out people to lighten their load; but no one person can “fix” them, so they become disappointed and abandon a friend in search of one who “meets their needs”. When a friendship is carried on only because of one person’s need for your comfort or support, and it isn’t reciprocated, it’s doomed for failure. If you’re the only person doing all of the work, something is wrong.

Fellowship is defined as companionship, of people journeying through life with mutual interests and causes. When that mission changes for one person, there is often a split. At first, the heart is in denial. Quick coffee dates may be arranged or a night out at the movies, but something has changed. You may tell yourself your friend is going through a season and she needs your support. But as you speak, she is not engaged, not in the moment with you. When you share a struggle, she is looking around to see who else she can engage—you’re no longer the flavor of the month.

Finding deeper meaningful friendships can be improved by seeking out friends with your similar pursuits. Start with the things you value and think about what you do in your spare time. To what pursuits are you devoted? What is your depth of understanding of God and how does it compare to your friend’s? Do you seek God’s presence and surround yourself with others who also do?

If a friendship is based on surface interests, be it the pursuit of the material, corporate ladder climbing, or the American god of team sports, that is not the definition of fellowship. Fellowship involves communing with one another, dreaming together, and encouraging one another through healthy mutuality. If your communion is not being reciprocated, it could be that you are settling for a surface friendship that in the long run may bring you no satisfaction. Healthy satisfaction in a friendship should lighten your load rather than weigh you down.

Have a great weekend full of friends who lighten your load and are thrilled to see you coming!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Wake Up Calls

My son and I have had some battles for much of his school age years over waking up in the morning. When he was a little guy, I bought him a rooster alarm clock that hollered, “Cock-a-doodle, Doo! You gotta get up, you gotta get up, you gotta get up this mo-o-ornin’!” but the only person that got up was me. I tried dousing his face with water. Until he outgrew me, I would even stand him up in the mornings. What came of that was a child who didn’t feel responsible for waking up. I had to let him be late at his very strict school a number of times until the demerits he racked up sent him off to Saturday school. Finally, after suffering the punishment of his ways, he changed.

But then he turned very surly and began barking out orders to me, something I considered very disrespectful. In short, although we had conquered one problem, we were still dealing with conflict.

I used to believe that true happiness was a life free of conflict. It was taught in some Christian circles in those days that when you “just say yes to Jesus” that your life will get easier. Mine got worse.

What is more accurate about life, whether walking in faith, or without it, is that conflict is more a daily part of life than days free of it. But the difference came when I put actions to the mouth service I learned to parrot as a teen, and finally surrendered. Then when I began to mature in my faith I was better equipped to swim through conflicts like a marathon contender. Maturity builds confidence but better than that, wisdom.

Recently I had to pray that God would help me learn to deal with my son so that he would see patience modeled, rather than shoved down his throat. Instead of lecturing to him on the way to school, I started asking him questions to get his opinion on some faith matters. I was amazed at his answers and at his depth of understanding. Then instead of trying to add to it or throw in my two cents, I thanked him. He softened immediately.

I’m usually grabbing keys, purse, and a bottled water to take to the gym on the way out the door. This morning, Jared was standing at the foot of the stairs, book satchel ready, lunch packed, and, for mom, he was holding out a bottled water.
Conflict is a good thing, really. It’s like an alarm clock that says to my soul, “You gotta wake up, you gotta wake up, you gotta wake up and love!”

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Things We Carry

Do you get frustrated with yourself, especially when you blurt out the wrong thing, or, believing you’re being forthright, take your words over the line hurting a relationship? I think that as a recovering choleric, that was the hardest problem for me to control. It took time for me to first of all recognize it as a problem, and then to get a Holy Spirit bit in my mouth.

I remember the years of struggling to grow while trying to build a career. Work ethic was never a problem, but dealing with the people I saw as obstacles frustrated me. I kept encountering people whose habits were counterproductive to my goals. It seemed for many years that people had been placed directly in my path to drive me over the edge. I saw them as the enemy, rather than recognizing the real enemy—often, myself.

What I failed to recognize was that the people in my way were the true part of God’s plan for me, while my aims and objectives contributed far less. It was the difficult co-worker who did not want to be a cog in my schemes that taught me to slow down and see her for her humanity. It was my ADD son who taught me that there are greater things to learn in life than facts and lessons learned by rote. It was a mentally ill relative who taught me that change is not always the goal, but living in the moment. It was my once-failing marriage that taught me that happy endings aren’t sensible while small daily triumphs gained in tandem bring long-term happiness.

John Lennon once said that life is what happens when you’re busy doing other things. God has taught me that those other things I spend my time doing will be enriched by how people are treated along the way. Each person I meet in some form or fashion has taught me something. I can’t take the fruit of striving with me when I die. It is people who are the only cargo allowed into and out of Spaceship Earth.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not us.”
2 Cor. 4:7

Monday, October 8, 2007

People Who Bug You

Last week’s theme: Abide
This week: Conquering Conflicts

Growing up in a family fraught with conflicts, there was no way around conflict except to battle through it. One-up-man-ship was considered a life skill.

How radically life changed when I learned the power of negotiation. Jesus brought the gift of negotiation to the Church. He didn’t blow his God whistle and say, “Okay, all Gentiles out of the pool!” He came making room for all to come to him.

But making room for the difficult person takes a measure of planning for that person in advance of the conflict. Whether encountering a slow check-out clerk or a whining office co-worker, knowing in advance that your expectations and other’s expectations are not always going to jive is the first step to preparation. Every person awakens with expectations. Problem solving comes in when we have to decide what ground we can and can’t give up. So first of all, we need the power and knowledge of God’s Word to temper us and the things we say. What we ingest on a Sunday morning is not going to float us through a week of navigating through the stream of humanity we all wade back into on Monday morning. We need to rise intent on allowing God’s Word to preach to our own soul, God’s tempering agent for making us “world ready” when we leave our drive-way. Being a “world-ready” believer is not arming yourself with Bible knowledge so you can waylay that unbelieving co-worker. It is allowing it to seep inside of you so that God’s transformative power in you is evident to them.

Next, we need the greatest gift of all--that of love. Loving the difficult person whether a person who is a slacker on the job or a believer that never seems to mature, modeling love is not only helpful, but God requires it of us. Remember that you are not responsible for people’s wrong choices. People will entangle themselves in a web of deceit but it isn’t our job to jump into the web and try and untangle them. Two tangled in a web is worse than one! Work alongside God by praying for them, trusting that as you take the high ground, God will work through them to finish them just as steadily as He’s worked to hone your faith. It is often when the person hits bottom that causes them to look up and see who they can find standing high on sure footing. People will be drawn over time to the life that remains on steady ground.

“Wisdom and knowledge will be the stability of your times, And the strength of salvation; The fear of the LORD is His treasure.” Is. 33:6

Friday, October 5, 2007

Abiding in Patience

I’m not the best candidate to be writing about patience. But I’m working on it, or better stated, God is working on me. So having confessed all of that, starting with the big picture of it is the best way for someone of my ilk to tackle the subject of patience.

Hebrews 3 has as its keyword, rest. Before the connotation summons up a picture of a Sealy mattress, we first have to get a grasp of the meaning of Christ’s rest. To do that, we have to realize what Christ has done for us in advance.

When my father was very ill, my mother having already passed on, Dad asked me to step in acting as his power of attorney. He suffered his whole life with pulmonary disease and then acquired Alzheimer’s Disease in his final years. In the meantime, he had a relative who had designs on the money he had saved over the years. This person was a very violent person who had gone to blows even with her own children. Because she had not planned for her retirement, she was desperate to finagle money her way. When I arrived in town, I found her selling off my mother’s belongings to neighbors to raise money. I had to work very wisely to get her out of my father’s house and to get him into assisted living care. Then Dad asked me to take him to his attorney where he finalized a will that would leave his estate to my sister and me. Until he signed on the dotted line, there was a great deal of tension and pressure on me. I knew this relative would return to try and gain access to my father’s assets once I left town if I did not put in place safeguards. Because my father’s mental condition would soon deteriorate, he would be vulnerable.

But once the will was in place and signed by Dad, I could relax. No amount of scheming or threatening would do this poor individual any good. Finally, I could rest. When he died, I could execute his last will and testament knowing that my sister and I were protected.

When Christ signed my redemption with his own blood, the only thing left for me to do was to execute the will. I did that when I accepted that new covenant and became God’s newly adopted daughter. My rest is now knowing that my covenant with God is irrevocable.

What does that have to do with patience? Everything. All of the work I do, because of Him, for Him, to point others to Him is a long road of work. I have to be patient with myself, knowing that God is finishing a work in me. I have to be patient with His Body because people tend to grow slowly. I have to trust that God is working to finish His work, not to my satisfaction, but to His perfection. Here’s a good verse:
“Let patience have her perfect work, that you may be
perfect and complete lacking nothing.” James 1:4

As God works me through the tapestry of His plan, I can rest knowing that I’m secure while abiding in it. That is a true source of patience.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Abiding (Continued) Choose to Shine Today

When I was trying to live a life of juggling my faith along with being a wife, mom, and an office manager, I was sent by my employers to many seminars that touted positive mental attitude—PMA, it was called back in those days. PMA was something I readily embraced because it was a philosophy full of words like “self-empowerment”, “mind-over-matter,” and other self-controlling platitudes. The problem was that juggled faith is as powerless as no faith at all.

Even though Christ had empowered me as a young teen trying to leave behind an abusive childhood, like the Israelites in the book of Hebrews, my faith was unraveling fast. Aside from my grocery store check list of things I believed, I added to that list anything that sounded like faith. But faith that comes from any source other than the Word of God is counterfeit. Building life upon that kind of faith is like building your life over a trap door—and all the while the enemy is slipping a noose of lies over your head.

To leave behind the past, something that the Hebrews needed to learn, takes letting go of it so that you can free up your hands to be full of things that Christ has placed in them. The first thing we need is the Person of Jesus Christ and then His Word. The Hebrews waned because, like their ancestors in the wilderness, they quickly forgot the promises that God had given them. They wanted to return to the Mosaic covenants that had been replaced by a whole new covenant, one signed in blood by the Son of God.

Hebrews 2 tells us exactly what to do with God’s Word:
• Pay close attention to it
• It is unalterable (God said it; no man or principality can change it)
• It came to us spoken through the Lord
• and Heb. 4:12—it discovers our condition!

If only I had known this early in my faith walk! When I think about my stumbling and running blindly into walls all because I did not have the light of God’s Word fully formed inside of me, I am filled with regret. But it is also God’s Word that reminds me that what the moth and locust has eaten, God will restore.

Some of us are set on the path, shining like stars from the beginning; then others of us, like me, are more like new moons found much later when the Son is finally able to fall on us because we have come out of hiding to let our lives be fully exposed and placed in orbit as God intended.

Abide in Confidence

During Nehemiah the prophet’s day, the Israelites had been exiled out of Jerusalem since the Babylonian invasion. The weary families returned home to their beloved Jerusalem to find the wall that had once surrounded their city had been torn down. The city had one place where the town fathers gathered to discuss politics and business and that was at the large gate, the main entry into and out of Jerusalem. With their gathering place a shambles, shame covered the city. Other people in other townships started a whisper campaign that made it to their ears—you are ruined and a laughingstock!

We have similar gathering places in our townships here in Lake Norman and most of them have to do with coffee. Starbucks, Legends, and Café Mia are all centers of conversation, gathering places for meet-ups. I’ve seen many contracts signed at our local coffee shops and heard numerous business transactions made over a latte. Imagine having all of our hubs shut down, cell phones disrupted, or Internet service stopped. That is what it was like for the Israelites the day they returned home and found their hub destroyed.

Cultures create hubs for a reason, but the most important one is to grow confidence in their community. Confidence is a cord that is built through human connectivity. It is built upon trust and affirmation. Without trust and affirmation, confidence is eroded.

There are people who live their lives riddled with anxiety because they have never felt affirmation and therefore have not been allowed to abide in confidence. They play a daily tape in their minds—“You are worthless . . . you haven’t accomplished anything . . . no one could possibly love you.” And on and on play the tapes until the person withdraws in isolation. Like the exiles returning to Jerusalem, these people go to sleep and wake up horrified to know that their emotional walls are a shambles. They believe that their lives are ruined, never to be rebuilt. Jesus who knew ridicule and public shame came to lift up the ruined life and give hope where lives lay in shambles. He is the Rebuilder of our lives.

Nehemiah prayed and fasted for his friends to be restored and look to God for their hope. In spite of public ridicule and naysayers, the wall was rebuilt. In chapter 6, verse 15, we find that the wall was finished in fifty-two days! “When all our enemies heard of it (the new wall) and all the nations surrounding us saw it, they lost their confidence, for they recognized this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.”

There is a Super Power at work in a dysfunctional world, a Re-Builder of Walls and a Restorer of Confidence. His name is Jesus.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Things We Hide For Love

Female evangelist Juanita Bynum was interviewed this morning on Good Morning America. She was responding, and sometimes not responding, to questions posed about spousal abuse. Following an attack in a hotel parking lot, Dr. Bynum came out in the open to confess that she had been suffering repeated physical attacks by her husband.

Although I don’t use this blog to focus on sensationalist’s news, it seems important to talk about ministry women and the things they hide for love. When we started our church, FCC, I was very lonely and knew that isolation wasn’t good for emotional health. We had moved away from Florida where I could go to lunch with a writer friend whenever I needed to step out of the role of pastor’s wife and just be myself. I found an online group of pastor’s wives that were posting stories that sent chills as I read. One woman told of how her pastor husband had moved into the basement of their home and moved in a woman from their church to serve him as his lover. He threatened his wife telling her that she had to keep up the front for him or else suffer the humiliation of exposure. Another woman was suffering verbal abuse from her husband’s congregation to which he responded by telling her that she just had to suck it up; don’t rock the boat, he told her. Account after account, I read until I couldn’t read any more. There were thousands of them.

I posted a thought about spiritual abuse and how Satan wants us all timid and cowering. And what kind of model is it for a Christian leader to roll over and play dead to a group of people who obviously are not seekers of sound godly counsel? I was overwhelmed by women who emailing me for advice and asking me what they could do.

Juanita Bynum is being criticized for living a lie. But coming out in the open is not living a lie. That is the kind of response that will send more ministry wives into hiding when what they need to do is to stand up and refuse to be abused any more. Trusting God for outcomes when we choose to do the right yet hard thing is an apostolic practice—meaning that the apostles made it a part of their daily practice. It takes a lot of character to face public ridicule while reaching for the high road.

Randy and I once helped a battered wife pack up and get out of town while the husband was swearing and threatening us as well as the police who stood vigil. It wasn’t something that seminary prepared us for, but there are times when you just have to stand when all else fails; to stand when a controlling power is breathing threats over your life. Just stand.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Last Things

We spend a lot of time thinking about how we should prepare for after college, after our children grow up, and how we should spend retirement. But seldom do we engage in conversations about how we would prefer to live out our last days.

I became hotly aware of a human being’s sacred last seconds only after Jessi died. I interviewed people who had been at her side. I listened to stories and wrote them in a journal. Everything is sacred during that season.

When I was a teenager, evangelists would sensationalize death so much that I think it caused people my age to withdraw from the conversation altogether. If you only had an hour to live, would you say “yes” to Jesus right now? What if you were hit by a train? Then would you be ready for eternity? Making people afraid of the deathbed instead of preparing for it as earnestly as we do other stages of life sells short the opportunity to begin engaging in conversations that openly embrace this stage of life and the hope that can follow it.

To reduce that very important moment to a platitude on a revivalist’s brochure is to extract from it all of its deeper layers. What is more important is how we choose to live day-by-day and then, for the person who is told she doesn’t have long to live, what should be decided about living out the last days. And barring that, are there decisions that we can make now that—pending sudden disaster—that will let our family members know how we would prefer to live out our last hours?

I was born between the Great Depression and the Information Age so I carry memories of a time when a dying family member drew people to the bedside to make wrongs right and to say good-bye. Then came the medical technology that often so disables the dying person leaving the patient unable to speak or be aware of the people gathered around the bedside.

When my own mother died, the physician had increased her morphine so much that by the time I arrived, she could only blink and force a faint smile. Her sister, my Aunt Connie, and I kept a vigil all night next to my mother. Right at dawn, right as the first light was breaking over the Ozark Mountains, my mother lifted right out of that morphine-induced coma, reached out to something she could see at the end of her bed, and then passed on. I would have loved to have known what she was seeing at that moment. The things a dying person can teach are sacred lessons.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Send in the Clowns

I used to believe that when a story was told about someone being raised back to life that the storyteller was either selling something or was some starry-eyed hill sitter lost in a vapor of delusion. God likes to mess with people like me, erode our self-made beliefs and trade them for God-birthed (and scripturally reinforced) realities. Many years ago, God led me to start a clown ministry, one that he promptly pulled me out of as soon as I started writing.

Clowning attracted people like bugs on butter. Every Thursday our troupe visited the children’s wings in Our Lady of the Lake Hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. We performed a routine in every single sick child’s room, songs, comedy, and a light blending of faith and hope. Out of that period, otherwise shy people joined our ranks. Many went on to start their own ministries in other states. We accumulated a long history of stories.

The only days we visited the infant rooms was at the invitation of parents that needed cheering up. As in the cancer and burn wards, we found that adults benefited as much from our little song and dance as children. We tumbled out of the elevator with our usual silliness, ready for Miss Connie to hand us our room list and a few preparatory directives. Instead, we found her crying. An infant had just passed away. One of the corridors was full of family members, mourning, holding one another up for support. Miss Connie asked if we would mind praying for the grieving family. Our troupe joined hands and the staff joined us.

I still can’t explain why I said what I said next. It isn’t like me to blurt out things, especially knowing my pastor husband is about to lead us in prayer. But it was a sense of urgency that came over me at that moment. I said loudly, “Father, in the name of Jesus, we ask you to raise this infant back to life!”

An awkward silence followed. My next prayer was that the floor would open up and swallow me. Some of the staff members went back to their posts. Miss Connie got us our list and we headed down the hall to visit patients. She headed back to the mourning family along with her assistant.

My husband kicked off a riff and we sang to the first patient on our list. Then we heard screaming outside. Miss Connie’s assistant ran into the room to grab us and drag us back out into the hallway. She shouted, “The baby that you prayed for just came back to life! He’s alive, he’s alive!” In plain sight of the nurses attending the body, the baby turned pink, took a breath, and opened his gorgeous eyes. The child had been dead about a half hour. We followed Connie’s assistant back to the infant’s room. The morgue attendant came wheeling the empty gurney down the hall, grinning, and said to us, “This is the kind of trip I love to make!” The infant’s family members hugged and cried for joy. My husband approached the father and said, “You’ve been given a gift from God, you realize.”
I'd like to say that I started a resurrection ministry from that point on, people gathering in large coliseums to see their loved ones raised back to life. I needed it very badly the afternoon three Huntersville policemen showed up on our doorstep to tell us that our daughter had been killed in an accident.

(Our story of loss will be shared from my current WIP, Our Horn of Plenty--A Thankful Life; WaterBrook/Random House)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Keeping it on the Down Low

I was recently engaged in an online conversation about celebrity and the Body of Christ. I thought about Paul and Barnabus in Lystra and how when they were worshipped by the Lycaonians for the healing of a crippled man, they stopped the people in their tracks. When Paul and Barnabus heard them praising them like gods, they tore their clothes, grieving.It reminded me of the Christian artist and song writer Keith Greene who, when fans applauded him wildly, he crawled under his piano, ashamed.
We can become ashamed of the wrong things in American culture while at the same time applauding men and institutions instead of God. A friend recently sang at a crisis pregnancy center banquet, sharing her story of restoration. She was given a standing ovation and also kudos from a well known Christian communicator. When I told her how proud we were of her and how that she had received such high validation, she said meekly, “Jesus is all the validation I need.”

I don’t know how we got so far away from sharing faith in love, telling our stories one to another, and helping others see Christ for what He is, the Light of the World with us as merely the witnesses of that light.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Making Room For the Things I Need

Timid (tim’id), adm., -er, -est. 1.lacking in self-assurance, courage, or bravery; easily alarmed; timorous; shy. 2.characterized by or indicating fear; a timid approach to a problem.—Syn. 1. fearful, fainthearted.

If God didn’t give me timidity, what is that switch that goes off inside that makes me cower, withdraw, hide? I see it in people’s eyes, how we avoid the topic in our conversations calling it other things, hiding it with busy work. We make it look pretty, calling it meekness. We use it as a false covering. I’ve prayed asking God to take problems out of my life, to fix my troubles when my motive was to hide in my Elijah-cave.

Timidity is a horrible monster that masks itself like a mouse. But once it takes up residence in me, it grows, demanding more and more space. The louder it gets, the more silent I grow. I tell myself that silence is golden to appease timidity. It tells me, like a little god, “Don’t hang out with people. They’ll only hurt you, or they won’t like you, or they’ll criticize you, or they’ll use you. Let me be your guide; I’m all you need.” If people are exactly what I do need, then what voice is telling me otherwise?

I need the difficult person in my life to tell me the truth about myself just like she needs me to reciprocate. When I listen, humility crowds out timidity. I need the unlovely and the prickly so that they can teach me patience. I need for others to need me so that I can get outside of myself because when I’m not full of myself but another, then my emotions mature. If I didn’t have conflict, I wouldn’t know the sweet oil of learning to apologize or forgive. If I don’t help someone who is having trouble seeing the forest for the trees, I’ll never learn how to gently, diplomatically confront. If I embrace troubles, turning them over, opening them up, and finding inside my own frail humanity, then I’ll learn how to solve.

People need us, our solutions, confrontation, embrace, gentle encouragement, laughter, wisdom, and touch. And we need to hear from God. Timidity needs to be crowded out until there is only room inside of us for God’s voice.

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.”
2 Timothy 1:7

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Friendship with God

“In all places and at all times, we can have that familiar friendship, we can have Him with us;
and there may be through the day a constant interchange of private words, of little offerings,
too small to have any name attached to them—by which the bonds of that familiar friendship
grow closer and more real, until it comes to that special personal intimacy, which we call sanctity.”
Janet Erskine Stuart, 1857-1914

When I was a girl, about age seven, I prayed to God from a berry patch under my mother’s clothesline. I felt so awkward talking to the air and hoping for something back. I told myself how silly I was to talk to nothing. But there was enough faith attached to it, I imagined, to ring a bell in eternity. When I think about that moment, my heart nearly bursts open knowing that even in my clumsy state of reaching out to God that He heard me and reached back. If I had understood the brevity of God’s timeline, I would have probably exercised more patience. I imagine now that just about the time I looked up at him from my mother’s strawberry patch that he looked down on me and then I was sixteen, and then twenty, and thirty and all along he was slowly taking me into his confidence, a relationship that eventually translated into an intimacy between us, and now friendship.

It’s not easy to explain the intimacy you feel with God to someone who hasn’t experienced Him. I know that intellectuals and others demand a clear and tangible explanation before embracing a belief. I understand pragmatism and truth and clarity and specificity because I need those things to create intelligent thought on paper. But even imagining how I might explain God’s presence to one of the teeming thousands who visit my blog, words fail me.

I don’t mean to sound mystical. I’m not even trying to rouse an argument. But the fact in my life is that if I don’t walk every second in this intimacy I now know as God’s presence, I flounder. Does that make me a weakling, or am I just being honest about my need for God? If I learn to lean on another human for support, don’t the two of us make a stronger cord, a better team? That’s how it is when I lean on God. He supports me in a way that is beyond words. God doesn’t stumble and he doesn’t miss anything. Not a falling bird feather or a girl sitting in a berry patch beneath a clothesline.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Forgiving the Hard Offense

Forgiveness is a purposeful act. Self-help gurus will tell you that you need to forgive someone because it will help you feel better. It does help you feel better to forgive, but a good feeling may not be the best motivation for the long-term practice of forgiveness.

Because memory is hardwired to our brain and emotions, so are the negative emotions that form unforgiveness. It may seem is easier to maintain, but over time, a burden to manage. So to practice forgiveness is paramount to good emotional health.

There are practices that we can put into play to help us along the road to forgiveness. First off, we can know that when we forgive someone, we’re not agreeing that they did not hurt us or that what they did was acceptable. To absolve a person of all responsibility will be left to a higher power or a Higher Power. But you can forgive without trying to take on the burden of proclaiming their innocence. We’re not responsible for wiping a person’s slate clean of their sins—that work was taken on by Christ on the cross. So laying that burden aside, we can begin the simple process of forgiveness as nothing more than a gift that we are passing along. It may or may not cause that person to change toward us, but that is not our worry either. If they are a danger to themselves and others, we don’t even have to make contact with them and tell them they are forgiven. There are other ways to express forgiveness.

One way is to journal out a letter to that person expressing how you’ve chosen to forgive them. Write out what you know about that person’s past—was he abused as a child? Does he have a mental illness? Is she eaten up with anxiety or compulsions? Is he blind to his own ambitions? Do insecurities hamstring her choices? Write out what you know of his or her past and then attach their bad behavior to their past so that you are connecting the dots of their failure, showing how when their path collided with yours, it was doomed to fail.

Next imagine what they did in relation to mistakes that are similar to mistakes you’ve made. Have you ever gotten angry and abused a relationship? Did you need to ask forgiveness for your actions? When you compare sin to sin, it helps you realize that just as God forgave you or a friend forgave you that this person who has harmed you needs the same forgiveness.

Forgiveness is more than a good feeling. It is like removing a millstone from around your own neck.

Thursday, September 6, 2007


I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately. I think about heaven often and its contents, the people we love who have beaten us to the place we long to see. I shouldn’t assume everyone thinks about heaven all the time. But if you’ve lost someone you love and miss them then perhaps you’ve caught yourself thinking about where they are and what their eyes are seeing right at that moment.I didn’t realize until now that when my sights are truly fixed on heaven, it causes everything in me to shift. I have grown so uncomfortable with accumulating things. It all seems so cumbersome. No,I’m not going to make my hubby and seventeen-year-old move into a refrigerator box. But I have grown weary of filling up rooms with furniture that often sit empty, closets with clothes that hang for weeks and months unworn. It is as though this mental window into heaven has given me a glimpse into the pain of humanity. So how can I sit comfortably when others have no place to sleep?
In his book The Treasure Principle, Randy Alcorn talks about the Macedonian believers who “gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.” (2 Cor. 8:3), a people who became so zealous in their generosity, they had to be compelled to stop.Compelled to stop. So I’m not just talking about the surrender of one's own pocketbook but the transformation that God does in us to bring us to this point. Generous giving can become an addictive compulsion. We become like Scrooge having awakened to find that we can celebrate Christmas every day of the year. “I’m as giddy as a schoolboy!”
Randy Alcorn says “Giving is the only antidote to materialism.”

It’s so completely true that I want to etch it into my desk. When I am blinded by materialism, my soul becomes sick and my eyes grow dim. I can no longer see out that spiritual window into my brother’s pain. Please, God, let my prayer be that I will give until I’m in a race to try and out give You! Let me run that race free of the weights that would tie me down. Make my life a clearing house for your wealth of righteousness, but let it not linger for even a day, not as long as a child is in need of bread or a world in need of compassion.
“I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all. But whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.” --Martin Luther

Rising Above the Big Divide

We’re told in church growth circles and books that we first need to realize that there’s not only a sin divide but a cultural divide. The cultural divide gets talked about as though it’s something new.

Paul, Peter, Timothy, all of those guys waded in dripping wet with culture; but then following their respective transformations, were nudged by God right back into the cultural pool. But what they came out of culture possessing, and what they returned newly containing, had to be subjected to Christ’s scrutiny and infused with the Spirit’s Power. Without that, when they begin to organize the Church into groups that did everything from waiting tables, to sewing clothes for the needy, to feeding the poor, and then training those who would teach others about Christ, the works could have become what I guess we mean by a social gospel. But they didn’t, and from that point forward the message of Jesus Christ literally infected the globe. The difference was the Big Invisible that infused the visible.

Without the Power of the Spirit steering and transforming me, I might naturally embrace helping the poor and lending grace because I sincerely leaned toward those things early on; but pursuing that work without God’s Spirit is shy of transformative power. I can’t transform a soul, especially my own. While helping the poor and the sick and the displaced with God’s Power on my life “ministers grace” through the delivery system of works, it’s the Spirit that causes a life to turn around and go a different direction. While the Spirit inscribes the good work, he also identifies me to others as genuinely His. People can sense/feel the Spirit’s presence (or whatever you want to call that identification with God that people detect in us) and that’s what draws them, that courting thing that God does that is personal and often unseen by us. But while the avenue of good works compels people, we still must consider motives and we can use those who were first drawn to Jesus as a model. Some came out of curiosity, some desperate but all gathered around Jesus waiting to see if he might perform a miracle. Humans may be drawn to our works out of a care for that work or a need for it; it could be that their interest is piqued by our good works and that’s not a bad thing. But we can easily take credit for good works. We can’t take the credit for God’s power and Spirit performing human transformation through the ridiculous conduit of bones and flesh.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Wilderness Knees

I believed for much of my Christian life that in order to be able to pray effectively, that I had to follow the guiding principles of Mark 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” Jesus was giving the believers an assurance knowing they would eventually gather fearfully at times after He had ascended to heaven. But it was an erroneous assumption on my part that my prayers alone were not potent enough. . . that I had to have a partner or a group of people to reach the ears of God.
That was until the year I discovered the power of wilderness knees. I use this term to describe the times of hard-fought spiritual battles, the ones that are fought invisibly in the heavens on our behalf because we have spent some knee time before God and often in isolation. I think of John the Baptist crying in the desert and his words falling on only the sand and the wind. But it was in the isolated wilderness that God lifted him up and used him like a town crier. . . Make way! Make Way! God is come to earth!
And so it happened that I had read an article one year in a local newspaper about a mother who was asking a librarian to remove a pornographic magazine from the eye level of her young child. She wasn’t trying to be prudish or fracture anyone else’s rights but was asking that the magazine be removed from plain sight of her young child as they entered the library door. Emotional intelligence ought to prevail. But instead the librarian refused to move the magazine out of sight claiming First Amendment rights. The story was buried on the back page of the local newspaper. I bowed my head at my desk at the office where I worked and prayed. I asked God what he thought ought to be done about it. I then quietly picked up the telephone and called the local mayor’s office. I asked him about the article and if he had gotten any complaints from parents. “No, none at all,” said the mayor. He seemed sympathetic but told me that without a consensus, he had no call to act. “Would you respond if it seemed that more parents cared?” I asked. “Of course. But no one cares. You’re the only one who’s called,” he told me.

I got off the phone and studied the matter thoughtfully. I took some time during my lunch hour to pray some more and called church offices around our town. I summarized the article to each secretary and told them what the mayor had said, that no one seemed to care.
After an hour, I went back to work. By the end of the day, I wondered if my quiet prayer and the hour spent in phone calls could have possibly done any good. After all, I was a nameless mom. Out of curiosity, I called the mayor’s office before the close of office hours. I was surprised to find his office in a frenzy. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “Little woman, I don’t know who you are but we have been getting phone calls not only from local parents but from all over the country. Even the ACLU is calling and a TV news magazine. What kind of strings did you pull? You must have a lot of clout,” he told me. “No,” I told him quietly. “I prayed and made a few phone calls. “Are you pulling the porn out the library?” I asked. “It’s gone,” he told me. He never gave out my name to any of the media. I was glad. I liked the solitude of wilderness knees.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Satisfied Writer

“The taking up of the cross of Christ is no great action done once for all; it consists in the
continual practice of small duties which are distasteful to us.”
John Henry Newman

Today I was salivating over a job that would take me away from home for several weeks, a writer’s residency in another state. The writer-in-residence would teach one class a week and then spend the rest of her time doing nothing but writing. It sounds heavenly except for the fact that during those weeks away from home my duties as a wife, mom, and ministry leader would fall into neglect. But the thought of it lured my thoughts into a tranquil reverie.

Seriously, do you ever daydream about a life where all you have to do is write? No taking care of children or spouses or church duties. No answering emails or telephone calls. No strain or stress of the responsibilities to hold body and soul together. Morning and night, writing and more writing.

In the middle of my daydream, reality broke through. I imagined that hour in the afternoon where my youngest son comes lugging his book bag up the stairs, grinning, telling me about his day, the prom and the girl he’s invited to escort there, or the good grade he made on a test. And then I imagined missing that or missing my oldest running in between college classes and his job to give me a kiss. I get a kiss in the morning and one at night. He never forgets me. Then there’s that spoon thing I’d miss every evening when my husband crawls into bed next to me and we talk about all that happened that day and what the Lord did and how hard it was or how amazed we were. Or excited. Or let down, but still, even that is living. Or what would I miss if I couldn’t attend my small group? Would I continue to grow and stay challenged to mature in my faith? And what of the myriad of people I meet in my life because the Lord has seen fit to place me right here in this tiny apex of the universe that is occupied only by me and God in me? How would my life be enriched without those generous souls?

Then I wondered what in the world I’d write about if all I ever did was write, write, write. Would there be another story to tell and would it be worth telling? In Jeremiah, God says, “I will satiate the soul of the priest with abundance, And My people shall be satisfied with My goodness, says the LORD.” There are times when carrying the load of wordsmith feels too heavy and I want to give it a new shape, dissatisfied with the old shape. I strain under it and fantasize about relief. I forget what goodness is poured into my life through, as John Newman once said, “the continual practice of small duties which are distasteful to us.” I have to remind myself that the load I carry is not one of words but of souls. My hope is that I’m able one day to say to God that the things I carried in life were, okay, heavy; but only with humans.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

. . . and don't forget to take off that capo

Addison Road church team members apparently are not shy about posting worship bloopers on the blog. As you open this, you’ll see the audio link at the top of the blog, double click and it should open. Thought you’d appreciate this.

The audio link is posted at the top of the blog.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


I hate it when I stand in a long line and then find out it’s the wrong line. Maybe that’s why I’m continually dissecting my words, the words on this blog, in my books, and in the things I teach.

Word and Faith Movement. Name-it-claim it. Bible Movement. Seeker Friendly. Calvinists. Arminians. Denominationalists. Non-Denominationalists. Pre-tribulationists. Mid or Post-Tribbers. Pentecostals or Cessationists. These labels, or better said, “camps,” are a result of a privileged group of faith people who have had time to debate and to gather into groups with those of like minds. Groups give us security and identity. We need to feel that we are right and justified. We’re only human. During a day of plenty, people of faith in the west have the luxury of time on our hands. We’re not out standing in bread lines or sneaking under fences to get a Bible into the hands of a neighbor who is starved for the Gospel. We have the luxury of debate, of discovering principles birthed of Spirit, and to contest those things that irk us. An evangelical virgin from the most remote corner of civilization having only watched faith debated from the sidelines might believe that Christians are saying that there are many lines that lead to Christ. But the person of Christ is Himself only One, a Fathomless and Supernatural Being who couldn’t possibly be divided. But still, as people, we divide. But there’s a positive effect too.

The natural act of his power working in and through us causes us to want to help the poor or console a stranger, to study his Word until it makes sense to us, to group up and find unity in our work together, to expect and look for him to return, to believe he can do things beyond our grasp, to fall short, to go deep, to weigh, and, because we need it ourselves, to give bucketfuls of grace when we are misunderstood. The Way is narrow, meaning that it should not be difficult to spot or figure out; we each have to line up single file to go down it, each person subjecting his or her life to Christ’s examination. We cannot by our words change how He examines us and we cannot slide him between two glasses and tell him of our findings. Not only because it isn’t our right to do that, but because it’s impossible to contain him. He said who he was plainly: the Way, the Truth, and the Life. If we start and end there, we’re in the right line.