Sunday, January 27, 2008

In Memory of Two Precious Young Lives

Saturday just as our youngest son was getting out of play practice at his school, he received a call that a fellow classmate and all around good friend was in an accident. He and his friends drove at once to the scene of the accident only to find that their dear friend Jon and his younger brother James Herbert were in a fatal accident and they did not survive.

Our community, close-knit like so many southern communities, is reeling in this tragic news. Although Randy and I are well acquainted with the stages of the grief journey these parents face, we cannot fathom the loss of two children at once. Dear friends we covet your prayers for this precious family, parents Doug and Sonnie Herbert and the boys’ sister Jessie.

Out of respect and as a memorial, this will be the only blog posting for this week. Thanks for understanding.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


The term witness is used by the apostles to talk about the disciples that witnessed Jesus’ acts, his teachings, his execution, and then his resurrection. Before Christ died, the term crops up in the Bible under false witness, when lies were told about him. In the Book of Acts, Peter led the apostles to select a replacement for Judas, a guy named Matthias who had been around with them all and knew Christ, witnessing his resurrection. It was important, Peter thought, that God’s first road crew testify about having seen the Lord and witnessed the fact that there was no doubt that he really was God’s Son. It was like a massive whisper campaign that, over time, suffered change under the imperfect messengers.

When I first said yes to living for Jesus, the term witness meant that you needed to go out and “witness” to your friends. The word was not a noun but a verb, a bit of Christianese spread over the salvation message; to a new believer, though, an intimidating obligation. Classes sprang up teaching Christians how to “witness” (rather than “be a witness”).
But it was such a filter for me. A leader says to me, “You need to ‘witness’ to the lost, to the unsaved, as if faith requires an initiation and an awkwardly harnessed new initiate.

The apostles were such a super-charged bunch. They were the original twelve, the eyewitness gang of the birth of redemption. They performed acts of faith, (thusly named the Book of Acts) sharing what they had with others, telling how they lived before Christ changed them, raising people from the dead, laying hands on the sick to see God heal them, and telling their stories to others.

But how do I succeed like the early church believers in sharing faith without hooks and device? It all boils down to the relationships they sought. They went out of their way to meet people that were different from them, the tattooed and pierced folks, the drinkers, the loose women and perverse men, the banker and the CEO. They started by crossing the threshold of the next door neighbor and then progressed to more distant boundaries. Then they engaged others in what was considered a new philosophy, listening even if they didn’t agree. They started using terms like “brother” and “sister” because that is how they felt about the people they were meeting, people who were once strangers, divided by differences, and now brought together by a shared love of Jesus. It was like finding new family members all resonating the same inward call. While the Book of Acts is story in a hurry, we have to remember that for the apostles to start calling people brother and sister meant that a relationship had formed. And that took time.

Being a witness is a noun. It is a state of being, the butterfly out of the cocoon. A natural birth. Love is the verb. We start with something like food and a get-together so that neighbors start trusting us and seeing us as something besides that woman that gets up at a ridiculous hour on Sundays hauling a twenty-pound Bible out to her car. It’s not me lording my will and words over another, but a shared mutuality. We arrange play dates with our kids, bowling nights, or that insane game called Bunco. We laugh together and when tragedy strikes, share tears and support. Then they begin to see us as a human that is touching them in meaningful ways. And we start to really, really, really love them. We invite them to come to our small group to meet new friends and they think about it because a relationship has formed. They’re a little suspicious perhaps, but they’ve seen so much else through a filter. It could be that it’s going to take time for them to trust a person of faith and to know that you’re not trying to sell them something. Without a canned speech or a heavy-handed close, we’ve been a witness of God’s relational power in our lives that has taught us our need for others.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Repair of Leaky Faith

Jeremiah was a young boy when the Lord told him he was going to speak as his mouthpiece to warn Judah about their sins. Judah’s people had, according to the Lord, committed two serious sins. A key passage in Jeremiah lays down the message of the book. First, they had forsaken God, “the fountain of living waters.” Second, they had hewn out for themselves “cisterns - broken cisterns - that cannot hold water.” A fountain of living water is a spring gushing with an ample supply of fresh, clean water. God is a fountain to a dry soul. His Word brings the fresh awakening to us that we don’t need to stay the way we are, but grow. But there are things we can allow in our life that cause our faith to leak out of us. We find ourselves dry and unsatisfied. Trouble overtakes our thought life. We start reaching for creature comforts instead of God’s counsel, like sitting up late into the night staring at mindless TV shows or self-medicating with alcohol or other things, even food; anything that distracts us from the real problem of our needy soul.

What Jeremiah continued to preach to Judah, even as Babylon was defeating them as God said would happen, is that they had a leaky faith and it wasn’t pleasing God.

God sounds really harsh in his warning. He tells Jeremiah to tell his backslidden flock that he will “pluck up, break down, destroy, and overthrow.” If we left it at that, we would overlook the grace that whispers through the correction down through the ages. It’s because, like our own kids, we tend to not differentiate between correction and punishment. Correction, when eaten and digested, becomes the meat talked about in the New Testament although it’s been erroneously taught out of that context.

Think of these four corrective measures like this: a diseased plant in a field will infect the other plants. You’ve probably seen God swiftly move a person out of a local body who is not only self indulgent, but leading others into their easy believism too---not just members, pastors too! Plucking up is God’s way of protecting his harvest. Next, breaking down is what God does inside of us to make us more pliable, as the New Testament says, so that we’ll have a heart of flesh instead of a hard heart. Then, thirdly, there’s the destroy word. Gulp! But it’s not us God desires to destroy, but the sin that causes us to keep taking the same hills. We might have many bases covered in our faith walk, but having one pet sin weakens us to the leaky cistern syndrome. God wants it all destroyed so that we aren’t continually running to him for crisis management. He wants us grown up, reserving our prayers for a needy world (Jer. 2:4, 7:6). Last of all’s the subject of overthrow and that’s the easiest application. Jesus is the only One worthy enough to occupy the throne of our heart and mind. When we allow His gentle kingship to overthrow our selfish ways and desires, we give him permission as an expert Repairman (since he made us) to move in and start rebuilding the leaky spots in our life.

2 Cor. 4: 8,9 says that we are afflicted but not crushed; perplexed but not despairing (giving up); persecuted but not forsaken; we are struck down but not destroyed when we carry inside of us the dying of Jesus. That means that we are emulating him, dying to the demands of our self, the desire for distractions and clutter and collecting and buying and gorging followed by purging that results in perpetual crisis after crisis. If the Body of Christ will simply grab hold of this one basic truth, we’ll have to shut down our counseling centers. Pastors will be overrun with high quality help because they’re not trying to install leaky disciples in places of responsibility. Correction means the correction of our ways and it precedes punishment—allowing it turns God’s heart from punishing us to blessing us and he LOVES doing that! Surrendering to Christ’s gentle correction will then be followed by a fresh fountain of living water that won’t leak out.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Hurricane Mom

Understanding my upbringing has been a lifelong pursuit. One of the most difficult people to understand was my mom. I still have a mental snapshot of her bent over her flower beds. She instilled in me a love of the earth and taking care of what God has given us. I still can’t stand littering and in the spring I obsess over getting those first annuals in the rich black soil I had delivered before the moving boxes were even unpacked.

But my mother had a secret anger that simmered out of the sight of polite company. It would waylay my sister and me, and I’m sure, the brother I never knew. Hurricaning is an unhealthy practice birthed of rage, pumping adrenaline into the body even giving the person a temporary high. It can cause you to feel powerful. In cartoons, it is the character who suddenly reveals their evil side, rising into the air like a giant Medusa with thunderclouds and lightning billowing behind.

Raging at a spouse or children can become addictive. It is often a trait of the Alpha personality or the choleric, the ones who are prone to heart attack and stroke early in life, but anyone can fall into a rage. In short, hurricaning is bad for the body physically and destructive to a happy home life. I remember moving out at the age of eighteen, looking around my little rent house and thinking, “Peace and quiet—finally.” My mom and I were only able to know each other on a surface level because as a young person I could not feel safe to confide in her. When my father followed suit, hurricaning when I applied to an out of state college, my response was to move out of our home, fearful that I would never know safety if I didn't. Confidence in a relationship is based upon a healthy mutuality and a sense of safety. We want our children and spouse to respect us, but how we go about earning that respect will determine the health of our relationship.

Truthfully, it takes time to build a relationship. It takes two parties walking in agreement. Getting our kids to sign on is reliant on our pursuit of mutuality and that means changing the language we use to motivate others to invest in our missions. I have one last caboose in my life, my teenage son. I was justifying the friction between us by saying that his testosterone was getting the best of him—and that is true. But God tapped me one day when I was sort of grumbling about him in prayer. He asked me to consider why I was so troubled. I knew why—I’m afraid he’ll make a poor choice at the precipice of adulthood that will take years to undo. The keyword, God showed me, was “afraid.” He gave me a new benevolent tool--communicating out of my beliefs instead of my fears. The next morning on the way to school instead of nagging him and then both of us losing our temper, I reworded what I wanted to say to him out of my beliefs instead of my fears. To do that, I had to know in advance what I believed. It changed the entire mood and my tone. We were laughing and chatting like two adults when he got out of the car and went into his school. By refocusing my platform, I killed the hurricane.

The hard part is doing that every day with my child, my husband, the people who work alongside me in ministry. That will require prayer and my surrendering what I feel is right for my relationships back to God—and that means reconciling myself to mutuality with God

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Know Thyself

A friend and I were recently discussing how God reshapes us. He takes the hats we once wore, like the disciples who once wore fishing hats, and replaces them with hats of his design. I was once a D.C. property manager, managing a staff of 18, rehabbing a high rise in Bethesda when God tapped my husband and me for ministry.

Once I had committed to the call, I could not wait to be known for something other than a landlord. Defining the new Patty Hickman was now being placed in God’s hands. But there were bumps in the road. There were family members who disagreed with our decision to follow Christ in full time ministry. At the outset, they seemed concerned. But over time, I came to realize how they depended on me for emotional support. In short, my focus was being taken off of them and placed on Christ. The response was anger and even hostility.

Why was it important for me to be able to define who I was? If I hadn’t of known, then the old ropes that started tugging on me to draw me back into codependency would have succeeded and my full life of ministry would have been interrupted. I had to learn to know when I could effectively help my emotionally troubled family and when it was time to refer them to experts.

When a troubled person calls me for support, there are numerous hats I could put on. But I ask myself first, “Is this my hat?” As a believer who has known suffering, there are hats that I can expertly wear. I can encourage a mother who has lost a child because I’ve walked that road. I can teach emerging writers how to navigate the maze of publishing because I’m a career novelist and writing teacher. But I have to guard my time, so I teach only at agreed upon workshops.

Every opportunity that presents itself may be a true need, but trying to respond to every needy call will leave you empty and exhausted. You’ll look up and realize that you no longer have the life you dream you’d have because you’re walking in lockstep only to the crisis of others. The only cure is in your hands—look at the hat and ask, “Is this really my hat?”

Remember that resources are readily at your disposal. Here are some scenarios that we face continually in the ministry:
• If your friend or family member is threatening suicide, then you don’t need to cover that up. That’s far too great a risk for one person to handle alone. Call for emergency assistance. Let the experts decide whether or not this person needs to be kept for observation. Respond immediately.

• If a friend is going through a divorce, that is a one time crisis. You can be a source of comfort and let them know that you and other friends are going to pray for them and help them find support. DivorceShare groups are all over the country now. Help her find a group.

• If you receive a call from someone who has repeatedly taken illegal drugs or medicates using alcohol and other drugs, support from experts is needed. Finding the right support is the most difficult part of the process. If the person does not want expert help, but they’re continuing to run to you to make them feel better about themselves, refuse comfort and tell them you can’t help them unless they submit to professional counsel.

If you continually see a gap in the ministry or local church, perhaps God is showing you that gap because he wants you to stand in it. Perhaps he’s calling you to pray. If he wants you to take it further than prayer, he will let you know and show you how to accomplish good works in his time and way and through his power.

Monday, January 7, 2008

A New Way of Giving

As a child taught to be a caretaker, giving came naturally to me. Giving comes naturally to most women. So if we serve a family member who seems to be more needy than others, requiring more time of us than others require, we give because we know how. But learning when to give and assessing how our giving is used is just as artful as not broadcasting ourselves all over every inch of our needy world.

There’s no doubt that most women know how to give. We give to our husbands, our children, our churches, and our jobs. We devote extra time to the promotion of civic and school organizations, helping sell Girl Scout cookies, volunteering at book drives, serving on committees, and helping with the formation of good works. Then we give to needs on the home front, especially when we have a family member who cannot seem to get over the next hill; even worse, he or she keeps taking the same hill over and over.

I’m not talking about family members who have special needs such as my precious nephew born with Downs. I’m talking about aiding a family member who has never grown up and accepted responsibility for his or her own life. For years I was bogged down in trying to help family members who would not help themselves but allowed me to serve them even though my efforts were not appreciated. Nor was I effective. They did not grow or change. Knowing when to hold back and allow a person to drop to the bottom is as important as knowing when to help a person going through a temporary setback.

In sucking relationships, the tendency is to believe that by trying harder we’ll improve the person. We coax, prod, advise, provide emergency funds, weekend getaways, more counsel, midnight vigils and yet, after months drag on, the situation has not improved. Our emotional firefighting has done nothing but leave us exhausted, like a person fighting the California fires alone.

You hear the same tapes being played over and over again. I can’t cope . . . My children are never going to obey me . . . no matter where I work, I always get a bad boss . . . women don’t understand my sensitive nature . . . I’m never going to get out of debt. You find yourself thinking about this person obsessively; their life has seeped in and taken over your’s. If this has happened, let the warning bell sound. You may be on the road to codependency.

But there are steps you can take to back away before your life is smothered by another person’s eternal crisis. This week’s blog theme is all about the fine art of giving relationally. Stay tuned, post your own thoughts, and take a moment to pray and ask God how He wants you to spend your time and your giving. If you have a prayer request, please let it be known and those who visit here can join me in praying for you. If you have a friend whose life is being drained by a relative, a grown child, a spouse, or even a passive-aggressive employer, have them drop by this week for a dialogue on the fine art of healthy caretaking.

Hugs, dear friend.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Kiva and Planning for Simplicity

Randy came across a website called Kiva where individuals may make loans to people in emerging countries who use the funds to start their own small businesses. This is a win-win situation. The loan program is highly successful and contributes to the sustainability of impoverished individuals who do not want a hand-out but want to make it on their own.

Randy and I are working toward being entirely debt free this year so that we can give to these kinds of causes and other ministries. I’ll talk more about that as our plans progress. I met a fellow a few years ago at a Thomas Nelson banquet who was pitching his program and book, The Total Money Make-Over. Dave Ramsey is very down-to-earth and his materials are so easy to understand. We’ll let you know how our money make-over works out.

We’re planning on buying a small cottage that we can make-over into some really great intimate work and relax areas. Our home is a really nice home but it has a lot of unused space especially since our caboose is headed for college in the fall. We’ve been studying a book called The Not So Big House. The concept is to buy small and then expand the spaces into really great living spaces that function specifically for you and your family. For instance, we seldom use a formal dining area and we never use a formal living room. But we’d love a cozy reading area with natural light that overlooks a garden. People who adopt this lifestyle are called cultural creatives. We don’t know if we fit the type, but we are looking forward to being completely debt free and living in a home that suits us and our scaled down lives.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Messing Up is Good

A new year causes us to think of new endeavors, or finishing the new ones we started last year. I have a list too. But I woke up wondering what causes us to stop our work. Often, when we stall out we can trace it back to a couple of practices that, when eliminated, could turn some of our failures into successes.

There are women who walk up to me at church and say, “God told me to pray about how to reach out to others. Then I thought about you, how you would be so good at it. So here—you take it and run with it.”

The number one reason for not finishing a good work is fear and its second cousin, comparisons. We first realize a need or a desire, but then mentally leaping to see it to completion, we get bogged down in the worry of trying to make it too successful too fast. Keeping our eyes on big ministry leaders may cause believers to feel inadequate because we’re comparing ourselves to someone whose path is not our path. Besides, a little bible study will prove to you that it’s in the smallness of your life that God works. Rom. 12 teaches us to be living sacrifices to God. V. 16 says, "Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble."

Then there’s the pit of the affirmation addict.

I found a quiet hybrid breed of dog I would like to own. It’s a small hypoallergenic dog that is content to sit quietly in my lap as I write. I found a breeder and then began talking to my dog loving friends about their pets. A pastor’s wife and friend named Jamie has a Maltese mix that adores her. When we all met one evening in a pedestrian village near our home, Jamie’s daughter was bringing her the family dog she had watched that night for Jamie. When the dog saw her, he began leaping straight up in the air with glee.
I said to Jamie, “That’s what I really want—affirmation.”
If our plans are rooted in affirmation instead of a desire to seek God, disappointment often follows. In the first place, most people we help in ministry never return to thank us. Remember when Jesus healed ten lepers? Only one returned to thank him. These men's lives were changed forever, but still they leaped away already selfishly planning what they would do with their newly endowed health, rather than asking God what he might ask of them. But Jesus didn't do it for the affirmation. He was one with the Father and acted according to what the boss told him to do.
There are writers who conference-hop seeking affirmation rather than the much needed critique. The same is true of women or men who daydream about leading a wildly successful ministry rather than developing a plan for a ministry that would bring benefits readily on a local scale. The problem is that when affirmation does not come pouring in, the idea is pitched as a pipedream. Fantasies are dangerous landscapes of the mind. They create mindsets that will derail a calling quickly.

Henry Ford once said, "Obstacles are those frightful things you can see when you take your eyes off your goal."
When Peter took his eyes off the Goal--Jesus--he sank!
So stay steady and maintain a ready arsenal of faith. You have another 365 days to get it wrong before you finally get it right. Getting it wrong is half the fun of experimenting with new endeavors.