A Terrible Show With Terrible Examples (But I Love It So)

My poor, sweet husband married a wimp when it comes to movies and television shows. You know how some husbands get to take their wives to movies with violence and suspense? Swords clash and blood spurts and the victor does a little dance with a bloody head dangling by the hair? So manly.

Eric doesn’t get to do this with his wife. He gets to go alone, or with a buddy.

Eric gets to watch Father of the Bride and the Cosby Show and Columbo when I’m in the room. I can’t help it. I have bad dreams, okay? And I’ve never had a filter for sorting out reality from fiction when it comes to suspense or fear– it just feels like it’s happening right now, to me or persons I love.

But a man can only take so much, and a few months ago he carefully suggested I might like to watch House of Cards with him. He had been watching it when I walked into the room, and I sat down for a few minutes. Immediately intrigued, he had to fend off my questions. “Who’s that?” “What’s he doing?” “Why is she so terrible?!”

So he started the series over at the beginning for me and now I’m up to my eyeballs in politicians and the terrible, manipulative games they play. I have no idea how close the show is to the reality of Washington DC, but I am fearful that it might be quite accurate.

These people are terrible, awful, horrible examples. The only characters with any redeeming values usually stand up for good and get squashed like bugs halfway through the show. Frank Underwood, the main character, has manipulated grieving parents, stood in front of a church like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, slept with a young reporter, and systematically rearranged the careers of other politicians for his own benefit.

Don’t even get me started on his wife. She might actually be the devil. I haven’t quite decided.

So the obvious question is this– why would a follower of Christ watch a show like this? It certainly isn’t edifying or encouraging. I don’t get good ideas from it. It doesn’t teach me to love my husband or children any better, and I’m certain it makes me an even worse employee.

But that’s the beauty of the thing. Sometimes the bad examples speak the most clearly. I get pretty saturated in my churchy world– I work in one, I attend one, I blog and write for other Christians. I forget there’s a whole world out there that desperately needs Jesus, and then a show like House of Cards comes along and reminds me of how depraved we all are without Christ.

When we don’t have God, we’re selfish and mean and manipulative and seductive and awful. This is no way to live. Watching the bad characters destroy the lives of others gets my sense of justice and compassion all stirred back up again. I remember why following Christ with humble service to others matters. Kindness matters. Selflessness is beautiful.

And while the terrible people on screen cavort and manipulate and destroy one another, I shake my head and remind myself to never be like them.

What about you? Do you have a terrible show that actually teaches you something? Tell me all about it.

1 Corinthians 6:11

How to Tell Your Mother

Mothers.

I have a mother; I am a mother. I know my mother wants what’s best for me, and I want the same for my own kids. But “best” is a subjective term, isn’t it? What I think is best for my kids is not often anything they’re remotely interested in doing.

I bring forth the Clemence Potty Training Episodes of 2005-6 and 2007-9 as evidence of this. We won’t go into details, but I now refuse to speak to a few people who have potty trained their children in one easy day. Taken them right off my Christmas card list. Because potty training my children emotionally scarred me for the rest of my earthly days.

Normal mother-child relationships are sticky enough, but when you throw God’s will (such a high and mighty term) into the mix, things can get really, really complicated. In every Christ follower’s life there are going to be times we need to do something weird/complicated/difficult/messy for the sake of what we hear God asking us to do.

Following Jesus is so rarely easy. It wouldn’t be referred to as “taking up our cross” if it was easy.

Home schooling? Not easy. Not simple. (But neither is public school, for the record.)

Adopting children? Expensive and complicated.

Giving up a good job to dedicate more time to the children? Wasting a perfectly good college education? Makes no sense to the normal, modern parent’s way of thinking. 

Selling the house to move the family to India to be missionaries at a school for orphans? Wow. I don’t even know what I’d do if one of my kids pulled that one out of a hat. Freak out for a while, probably. Research living conditions in India and then lobby hard for months until they gave up, probably.

It turns out that a mother’s opinion doesn’t count much when God’s plan invades our life. You’re going to have to tell your mother God has plans she might not like. I have a long tradition of pointing out problems and then offering you completely useless advice on how to deal with the situation. Here, let me continue my efforts:

how to tell your mother

How to tell your mother:

  • Skywriting. I know, airplanes are expensive to rent and it’s hard to make the letters turn out right. That’s the beauty of this plan! You tried– you’re not responsible for the wind or weather. So if “Mom, I’m going back to school to be a cop because God told me to” turns to “Mo I lsdkfjaow;efj awoeifj w,” what can you do?
  • Opera. Have you ever wanted to learn Italian and then put that lovely language to music? Do you have a song bursting forth from your breast? Now’s the time to use it. “Mamma, sto lasciando il college per diventare un custode in un rifugio per senzatetto nel cattivo vicinato” put to an aria sounds so much prettier than the screaming fight you might have over pot roast when you tell your mom you’re leaving college to become the custodian at a homeless shelter in the inner city.
  • Code. If your mom loves puzzles and games, set your mind to creating the most complicated and imaginative code you can contrive. By the time she figures it out your fifth baby will have already been born and she will hardly notice.
  • Write it into a secondary plot in your novel. Write “hint, hint” on the cover of the book and mail it to her.
  • Start a rumor about yourself (otherwise known as the “making a request on the prayer chain” in evangelical circles). ((Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about.)) Your congregation probably has some sort of email prayer chain. Make a vague, anonymous request and see where it goes from there. Probably by the time it gets to Mom the truth will be a welcome relief. “Oh, you’re going back to school to be a minister? Thank God! I heard you were starting a clown ministry on the beaches of Nicaragua!”

What else? What did I miss? If you’ve ever had to tell your mother difficult news, I’d love to hear how you did it!

An Open Letter Regarding Open Letters

A few weeks ago I was on the Twitter and a tweet from Beth Moore caught my eye. It was titled “An Open Letter to LifeWay” and I was immediately intrigued. Everyone knows anything titled “An Open Letter” is going to get all sorts of trouble stirred up.

(Sort of like Martin Luther hanging his 95 Theses on the door to the church– Luther posted the first open letter and BOOM got excommunicated from the Catholic Church and was then treated like an outlaw. See what I mean? All sorts of trouble.)

But Beth Moore is no Martin Luther, what with her being a Southern Lady and all, and she’s not the kind of person to poke a bee hive in public just to watch the swarm. I was doubly intrigued. And because the Christian publishing world is sort of my arena of business, I was thrice interested to see what kind of things this Southern Lady was about pronounce about this publishing house.

If you clicked on the link above you know the letter has zero conflict or negativity in it, and in fact Beth used the post to thank LifeWay for their commitment to Christ and their desire to spread the Gospel to the world. She was headed to a dinner to recognize their partnership of twenty years and she was afraid she’d start crying when speaking, so she typed it all out in advance so we could all know how highly she thinks of them. No nastiness, no ugliness.

I don’t know why I get so intrigued by possible public displays of conflict. Maybe it’s the passive-agressive in me who likes to see the little guy take a swing at the big dogs, I don’t know. But heaven knows I wouldn’t want an open letter written by anyone with grievances against me. I’m pretty much an anxious, whiney, sarcastic, judgmental old goat held loosely together by God’s love, Christ’s blood, the Holy Spirit’s hourly intervention, and my husband’s stubborn, loyal kindness.

There is no open letter against me I’d want to read, in other words.

And besides, all these open letters go directly against how the Bible teaches us to deal with conflict. As humans, we’re pretty much all a mess. Dealing with other messed-up humans is aggravating at best, horribly painful at worst. There are going to be times when we have to deal with one another in less than pleasant situations.

Typing out open letters of grievance and then posting them on the world wide web is tempting and fun for a minute, but there’s a better way. In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus said this:

If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector. (NLT)

Notice that Jesus didn’t tell us to start with open letters or even gossip. Conflict resolution starts quietly, between the two involved parties. If needed, it can escalate to the point where you avoid them in public and remove them from your Christmas card list, but there are quite a few steps in between the problem and the public shaming.

I haven’t always handled these situations well, honestly. Because I’m terrible in any kind of conflict, I tend to avoid the actual person and then my emotions build until I can’t take it anymore and then words burst out in the form of gossip. It’s not pretty. It might not be an open letter posted on the web, but it’s still wrong.

Ephesians 4:29

What do you think? How do you handle conflict in your daily life, and is there a way you could do it better? Have you ever seen it handled well? I’d love to hear your story.

When Your Credit Card Comes Between You and God

I paid the credit card bill yesterday, which was a delightful experience.

I just love paying for things I’ve already forgotten I’ve purchased, don’t you?

Apparently I bought a book from Amazon that took us ten minutes of hard thinking to remember (a gift for my sister) and we went up north for our anniversary (ooh-la-la) and someone in this house (who shall remain nameless) has developed a little relationship with the vending machine at work.

Excuse me, but how do vending machines even take credit cards? How is this possible? Who decided it would be worth the effort to put in a swiper thing and a computer thing and then make it communicate with the credit card companies? I don’t understand how this black magic is occurring all over the western world.

(Side note: the nameless person would like it known that the purchases are not just for candy, and that he/she also shares the candy/not-candy with coworkers. Just so we’re all clear.)

Anyway, we bought some things and it was all very fun, and then we paid for the things and it was less fun. Dave Ramsey would still be grumpy at us because we’re using the credit card at all, but at least we learned from his rantings lectures and we pay off the balance every month. We use the credit card like fire– very carefully, and for very specific purposes. It’s a tool and we don’t take the danger lightly.

But even careful campers can lose track of a spark and set the whole dad-gum forest on fire. We’re still sitting on a powder keg of $13,000 of credit, and the bank is just hoping we’ll lose our minds and actually go buy diamond earrings while on vacation in the south of France. I can hear the forest burning from here.

Lucky for us, the thought of getting the credit card bill after we return from France sobers me right up. Suddenly a pair of $5 earrings purchased right here in Kalamazoo with money I’ve scrounged from the couch looks very appealing. I have no desire to destroy our lives with dumb debt.

credit card

However, if I look a little deeper, I’ve got another problem with that credit card. It buys me security. It provides for my needs, you know, just in case God forgets about me. What can really go wrong when I have that magic card in my wallet?

If the car breaks down, I magically have the money the mechanic needs. At the grocery store I can suddenly buy the fancy ice cream and the brand name cereal and the toilet paper made by fuzzy bears. My kids can grow like weeds into new clothing and I don’t even notice over the sound of my card swooshing through the register.

But what if I’m missing out on a chance to trust God with our needs? What if I’m insulating myself against all discomfort and want by using that card and short-changing God’s ability to provide for us? Even if I don’t use it, it still sits in my wallet and promises to take care of me when the unexpected happens, and I don’t think I should be as comfortable with this provision as I am.

Do I trust my credit card, or do I trust my Heavenly Father?

What about you? Do you have a credit card, and how do you use it?

 

 

How to Host a Small Group at Your Very Own House

Every Monday night, our neighbors must wonder about us. About 6pm cars start pulling up to our house and people spill out of the vehicles carrying books and dishes and babies.

babies small group

Exhibit A. Actual babies on my actual living room floor.

It’s Small Group night, which– in our case– translates to Small Circus Night. When everyone comes we have about seven families. I’m trying to count everyone on my fingers and I’m pretty sure I’ve missed someone. We have four (four!) babies who are about ready to crawl and an almost-two year old and a one year old. We have a slightly-mature couple I begged to join us because I didn’t have enough hands to hold all the babies, and they usually bring their adult son’s girlfriend. And then there’s our own family, with two medium-sized kids.

 

Pandemonium ensues. The two-year old likes to get into the cupboards and the babies are just starting to scoot and the adults are trying to catch up and I’m frequently setting fire to dinner in the kitchen.

Literally, I mean there are flames involved when I cook for these people.

And yet they keep showing up each week, probably praying all the way to the house that dinner isn’t ruined. Say what you want about church and worship and singing and programs, this is what church has become to mean to me. Church is not a one-hour show about Jesus we attend each Sunday.

Church is made up of people who love Jesus and also take time out of their schedule to care for one another. The craziness is worth it. The time is worth it. I beg of you– get involved in the lives of the people in your congregation! Go through their medicine cabinets and learn where they keep the forks and drag your toddler out of their cat dish. (True stories.)

And also, please note that Jesus did not show up for a one hour sermon each week while he walked the earth. He lived with those disciples of his, sharing time and resources and meals with them. Jesus probably dragged his share of toddlers out of cat dishes, I’m sure.

how to host small groupThe pandemonium in our small group is (barely) contained by a few tricks I’ve learned along the way. Here’s how it works for us– feel free to adapt these ideas to your own situation:

  • Aim for decent housekeeping, but do not over clean. You are not trying to impress the queen, here. You are enjoying life with your friends. If at any time you think, “Boy, they are going to be impressed with my housekeeping” you have gone too far. Impressing others is not the point. For example, a few weeks ago the almost-two year old was kissing my mirror as I held her up. She got the glass all goopy and I forgot to clean it for almost three weeks. I’m busy, people. And it was small group that got it messy, so small group can politely ignore the goopy mirror for a while.
  • Eating together is lots of fun, but keep it simple. I make the main dish each week because I host, but also because my son and I have pretty intense gluten issues. It’s not fair to make young, exhausted mothers dance around our weird dietary needs, so I just handle the entrée. I let everyone know what the meal plan is (many times I forget and Megan has to remind me) and then everyone brings a side dish to go with it. We use a Facebook conversation to discuss what we’re bringing. Our usual meals are chili, sandwiches, breakfast-for-dinner, and Mexican night. We rotate willy-nilly.
  • Serving a lot of people is easy if you get it down to a science. Set up a buffet line in the kitchen, put silverware out so people can grab what they need, and then let the good times roll. Oh, and buy enough paper plates. Unless your small group is into environmental activism, and then you can use real plates and bond over doing the dishes together. Whatever floats your boat.
  • Do try to have “enough” for guests, whatever that means for your group. Have enough toilet paper on hand, for example. Have enough places to sit, even if that means four babies spread out on blankets while parents surround them on the carpet. Try to make sure guests are comfortable, to the best of your ability.
  • Pace Bible study for the group’s needs. After we eat together, we have a time of Bible study or discussion. This is hard for our group, because there’s always a baby doing something crazy and it can make it hard to have a long, deep conversation about what Paul meant in his letter to the Galatians. Your group will have its own dynamics, educational levels, and spiritual maturity. Be thoughtful of the needs you have, and be flexible.

    Nic took this picture a few weeks ago and I stole it right off his Facebook page. Thanks, Nic!

    Nic took this picture a few weeks ago and I stole it right off his Facebook page. Thanks, Nic!

What have I forgotten? What does your small group do, and what works for you? I’m interested to hear your stories!

When You Don’t Feel Like Hearing What God Is Saying

I usually assume one thing here on the blog, and one thing only. I assume, for the sake of my ability to plan, that you’re at least interested in hearing what God has to say and what He’s doing in your life and in the world around you. That’s how a life of faith works.

Except, if we’re going to be honest, there are times we open up the Bible and we read “Do not do this thing…” and we think– but I really like to do that thing. I don’t want to give it up.

And sometimes the exact opposite happens, and we read, “Do this thing,” and we cover our heads with a pillow and pretend God was speaking to a specific Hebrew or Roman citizen many thousands of years ago, and certainly not us. Not us, oh Lord.

Sometimes we’re not reading. Instead we’re praying, or thinking, or minding our own puny little business and KABOOM God intervenes. There are times when He comes to us in a quiet, gentle voice and then there are times He stops us in our tracks and there’s just no ignoring the new life plan.

Sometimes we have a choice in the new life plan. Sometimes we do not. We might get to give an opinion and work out the timeline, or we might be caught with no way out.

And we might be tempted to get really cranky about it because we don’t like what God is saying. “This is not the plan, Lord. I have a plan, and this is not it.”

This reminds me of a funny string of stories of when my kids were toddlers, and I (the mother) had a plan and they (the bossy-pants children) thought their plan was better than my plan. This happened at the following times: breakfast, lunch, dinner, bath time, bedtime, getting dressed time, sleeping, wakefulness, and also deep comas. (Me. I was in a coma from all the wrangling of small, obstinate children.)

They were children. They knew nothing. They had no experience, and they were certain to run the wheels off the bus if I left them in charge. So I communicated the plan, the real plan, to them. They howled in disagreement but that didn’t stop me from making sure things kept running smoothly.

I tell you this story because I’m struggling right now with God’s plan, and it’s not even His plan for my life! We have some friends who have just had life rearranged for them (it’s a good story, I hope they’ll let me interview them on the blog here in the next few weeks when this is all becomes sort of funny) and I’m just not exactly sure God has the best plan in mind.

It’s certainly not the option I would have chosen for them.

But my crankiness and worry and defiance certainly aren’t going to help them work out the next step with God. I know from experience that one thing needs to happen: humble submission to a plan that is much bigger than I can imagine.

But it hurts to give up control. And it’s scary. And I don’t much enjoy the process.

Luckily God seems to be okay with children who are willing to work on their attitude one day at a time. One deep, trusting breath at a time. Lord, give me one more breath to try again.

Luke 22:42

Snow Here, Snow There, Snow Snow Everywhere

I was dragged out of bed at 6:30 this morning by my nine year old son, who stood at my bedroom door and reported that his father and the neighbor were pushing our car back up the driveway.

I pulled jeans and a sweatshirt over my pajamas and stuffed my feet into my daughter’s boots so I could go and help, but by the time I was presentable (I use that term very loosely) the car was already back in the garage and Patrick was headed back across the street to his own snowy mess.

My husband and son then proceeded to stand near me and many words came from their mouth-holes. All the words. Before I had even one sip of coffee, they were trying to engage me in sustained conversation.

My husband switched vehicles and backed into the street with my van. As I stood on the front porch and watched him leave, I think his last words to me were, “Audrey’s story for LTC needs to be printed out and mailed today!” but I heard him through a veil of crankiness fueled by a piercing, sudden hatred of snow, and snow days, and shoveling snow.

The Holy Spirit and I have trouble working together before I’ve had coffee. This isn’t an excuse, merely an explanation of the situation.

Now, nearly two hours later, I’ve had two cups of coffee and some Bible reading time and I almost feel like I might not shoot someone before 9:30. I thought maybe I could reframe some of my crankiness into a more mature, Christ-like view. So, here we go. Let’s see if I’ve had enough coffee and Jesus to make it through the day:

  1. I will not hate shoveling, because shoveling is free exercise. There are people paying trainers at terribly expensive gyms for the workout I’m about to get. Again. I’ll have abs of steel by lunch!shoveling
  2. I will not be cranky that I’m stuck here with a vehicle that’s the equivalent of a high heel shoe in the snow (a 1996 Mustang with a V8 and rear wheel drive– for the curious, car-minded reader). I will be thankful that it’s a reliable car for 359 days each year.
  3. I will not be angry at the snow plow guys who take their sweet-bippy time getting to our neighborhood, because I realize it takes a lot of time to plow 14 inches of snow (plus drifting!) out of all their contracted properties. They’ve probably barely slept for two nights. Also– and this part has endeared C D Lawn Maintenance to me for the rest of my years– yesterday the snow they moved from the street created a new drift almost two feet high across our driveway. The snow plow driver saw us trying to shovel it out and opened his window to say, “Here, let me see what I can do. Back up a minute.” We obediently backed up and in two swipes and 45 seconds he cleared out what would have taken us at least a half hour in the howling wind to shovel. I could have kissed the man.
  4. I will not fret about the work I cannot get to in my office at the church, because I also have a pile of writing to do here in my own house. This snow day gives me the time I need to get some major writing and editing accomplished.
  5. I’m trying to find something to be thankful for about this most recent snow day the kids get from school, but I’m not finding anything. We’ve had about all the quality time together we can handle this weekend and our screen time is pushing the upper limits of negligence and bad parenting.

Oh, well. Four out of five isn’t too bad. I hear the county snow plows are already out and clearing streets that were drifted shut last night, so life should be back to normal by this afternoon.

How’s your day going so far? Did you get any snow?

Since you have heard about Jesus and the have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God– truly righteous and holy. (Ephesians 4:21-23, NLT)