Calm on the outside; freaking out on the inside

If you could peek into my house right this minute, you’d find us calmly going about our business in perfectly clean rooms.


I’m not even joking, friends. The house looks like we’re ready for potential buyers to walk in the door because we are, in fact, ready for those potential buyers.

The sinks are shiny, the showers look like no one has ever bathed in them, and the laundry is all done. The oven is clean and someone who shall remain nameless has been forbidden to bake pizzas until the house is sold.

It’s weird and I don’t really like it very much. It feels like we snuck into a show house and are pretending to live there.

It looks like this, but even CLEANER. No stuff stuck to the fridge, an almost empty counter. It’s spooky, folks.

The kids are old enough that they know how to not make messes, so they’re quietly going about their business in a tidy fashion while Eric and I read and write blog posts.

Outward everything is calm. But inside I’m totally freaking out. As evidence, I bring actual thoughts I’ve had since waking this morning:

WHAT HAVE WE DONE? OH, MY WORD, WE JUST BUILT THIS HOUSE FIVE YEARS AGO!! WHY IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT IS HOLY ARE WE THINKING ABOUT SELLING THIS PERFECTLY GOOD HOUSE AND MOVING TO A NEW ONE WHAT IF WE HATE IT OH MY WORD THIS IS A PERFECT SETUP FOR A SITCOM AND I THINK I NEED A VALIUM!

Notice how my thoughts become run-on sentences as the panic grows.

To counter these negative emotions, I also have perfectly sane and intelligent thoughts at exactly the same time:

This other house we’re interested in will really offer us some great opportunities. It solves a few problems (LIKE THE IDIOT CAT), it opens up financial possibilities, and the decorating decisions will be such a fun challenge. I can’t wait to rip that ghastly wallpaper right off the wall. What a delight this will be!

It’s like my brain is in a blender. All the outcomes will be fine, honestly. We love this house and will be happy to stay here for years, but the other house we have our eye on could really be a great adventure.


We spent a solid two weeks praying about this decision to possibly move, and Eric and I reached the same decision carefully and slowly. Neither of us pushed or shoved the other in either direction; no one whined or wheedled or begged. Those of you who know me in person will find this unlikely, but I promise I put the brakes on my usual personality out of terror I’d drag my family into a nightmare that would scar them for years.

But we finally did it. The sign is in the yard, the kids are actually getting their dirty laundry into the basket each night, and I’m actually getting it all washed the next morning.

Now we wait.

As much as I’d like to demand God hurries up and gets our future all lined up in either direction ASAP, I’ve learned that spending time with him in the midst of the uncertainty is a far better option. That’s where the closeness and trust grows.

We prayed ourselves into this situation, now we can pray right through it. And prayer doesn’t mean demanding evidence. It means we choose to trust that he’s working– even when we can’t see it from here.

It means choosing to be still even when our brains are feeling like blenders. It means scrubbing a tub and being thankful it’s clean whether someone buys the house or not.

I was feeling like a moron the day Caleb took this photo, but it actually illustrates my state of mind today– happy, but also insane a little.

It may, in fact, require a Valium in the near future. I’m no saint. I’m due for another round of panic here in about three minutes. Bear with me, and I’ll keep you updated on the situation!

 

 

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The seasons are changing, and I’m not just talking about pumpkin spice lattes.

I want to like pumpkin flavored things, I really do.

But I really actually don’t. It’s not the pumpkins’ fault– it’s just that they’re so terribly similar to acorn squash, a vegetable that is probably served daily in Hell’s cafeteria.

My parents, blessed saints that they are, have one small flaw, and that is the unending love of all squash and their byproducts. I will not bore you with stories from my youth where I begged and pleaded and whined at the dinner table because my parents were merrily gobbling squash up like it was some kind of delicacy and expected me to do the same.

You’ll forgive me if I gag a little at the memory and then can’t bring myself to drink a pumpkin spice latte. It’s basically a super sweet, liquid version of my worst nightmare, and I’m not excited that it’s the new autumn standard.

But I doubt you came here to read about my childhood food issues, so let me get to the point. Fall is coming soon, if it hasn’t already happened in your part of the world. Some of you are cheering, and some of you are weeping a little as you gather up your flip flops and put them away for another long, cold winter.

The weather changes, and so does our life. Nothing gets to stay the same forever, nor should it. We may dread the coming cold, but resisting it is futile.

I am re-reading Victim of Grace by Robin Jones Gunn for what has to be the fifth time. Her journey as a writer and a child of God gives me encouragement whenever I’ve lost my own way, and I have this section highlighted in my copy:

Why are we caught off guard when the seasons change? We wonder if we’ve done something to precipitate the loss of the previous abundance and all the vibrant evidences of God’s wonder-working power. All of nature willingly surrenders to the changes in the physical universe, yet nothing in our human nature allows us to simply let the season be what it is and trust that the hand of the Great Gardener is still at work in us, carrying out his bigger plan for the world as well as for our lives (Victim of Grace, pg. 126, emphasis mine).

Maybe you are like me, headed into a season of uncertainty and change. Our kids are in middle and high school and Lord knows nothing stays the same when your kid walks through the doors of that new experience. We’re also considering some big changes around here to our careers, our house, our cars, and even the cat.

When things become challenging I often look for where I am at fault. I almost never stop to wonder if this is simply a new season from God’s hand. My human perspective is limited and focused directly on my own experience.

I share this tendency with the Israelites, who crossed a barren land and ended up at the sea. Like Logan Wolfram says in this Hope*Writers podcast, these were people who’d grown up in the desert; they probably weren’t real great swimmers. What they saw was a roadblock and quite possibly a cold, wet death, but God was about to work something amazing on their behalf.

Or like Jesus’s followers, who buried him and then huddled in misery, wondering how they had been so wrong. Jesus was dead. Their dreams were dead. But they just had to hold on a few more hours until God restored their dreams beyond what they could have ever imagined.

Our dreams are too small. Our hope is too fragile. We’re banking it all on one small outcome, and that outcome often flows from what we know and value right here— we aren’t ready for the season to change. We aren’t anticipating the great things God will do in the next season because we’re too freaked out that the last season is over.

What if, instead of panicking and deciding we’re doomed, we decided to trust the slow work of God? What if we could let the season simply be what it is, without fretting and dreading what it might become?

I think that might lower our stress levels quite a lot, frankly. We might enjoy the changing of our seasons a little more as the leaves fall and the winter creeps closer.

Maybe for you a little pumpkin spice helps everything. I’ll take a cider and a gluten free donut, thank you very much.

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True story: I recently had a tantrum that involved throwing my phone.

This map was useless. Just trust me.

Recently our family found ourselves navigating around the city of Los Angeles.

As you might imagine, things got ugly.

We’d been in California for a few days by that point, long enough to get lost about twenty zillion times, long enough to realize the traffic was sort of ridiculous, and long enough to realize we were never sure if we were in a safe neighborhood or if we were about to be ax murdered.

We really, really didn’t want to get ax murdered on our family vacation.

I took this picture at Universal Studios, where there was an honest-to-goodness fake murderer in the background!

So Eric and I took to using both of our phones to navigate. He uses Google maps and I use Apple maps, and between the two of us we usually could figure out what to do. YOU WOULD THINK that two adults using two GPS sets of directions would arrive promptly at their desired destination, but no.

Finally we gave up on our original destination because the neighborhood was just too sketchy. Usually we’re a little braver than this, but it had been a long day and our nerves (okay, my nerves) were shot. I didn’t have the emotional energy to walk through a tent city of homeless people to get to the Mexican market, and I’m ashamed to admit that. But it’s the simple truth.

After giving up on the Mexican market, we headed to The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles. Formerly a bank, it’s now a grand and glorious place chock full of books. It should have been the funnest time ever, but I was pretty sure our rental car was going to get towed or stolen or something while we perused the books. As soon as we walked in the security guy demanded our bags, which was kind of unsettling.

The Last Bookstore has all kinds of bookish delights like this one.

A cashier recommended a local place to eat, which was really just a lot of lunch counters in one big space. Since no one in our family ever wants to eat the same thing for dinner, this seemed like a genius idea. We set out from The Last Bookstore and began walking the few blocks to Grand Central Market.

And I’ll spare you the details of the trauma, but I couldn’t eat my dinner after I paid $16 for it. It was cross contaminated with heaven knows how many kinds of wheat, and also it looked like some sort of horrible, monstrous stew cooked by the devil. Even Eric looked at it with suspicion, and he’ll eat almost anything.

As we left the market I tried to give the perfectly good meal to a homeless man–I mean, I was afraid of it but it really was good food– but he refused it. He told me he doesn’t eat shrimp because of the bacteria. (I am not making this up.)

I was a little taken back, but just walked away and set the food on the top of a garbage container. My mood had fallen to a dangerous level by that point.

Our car hadn’t been stolen, which was good because by then all of us were pretty much desperate to get back to our rented apartment.

The door to our wonderful apartment we found through Airbnb.

On the way back, our dual-direction system failed us, and Eric’s phone started giving us completely different directions. Since he could see the map on his phone, Eric chose to follow his directions instead of mine, which is when I yelled, “Fine, you just figure it out!” and then threw my phone to the floor.

Like a child.

Or, more accurately, like a forty-year old redhead with a temper that flares under stress.

My phone didn’t care. Siri continued to patiently direct us home from the floorboards of a rented Kia. It would have been funny if I hadn’t been twelve shades of furious.

The children sat silent in the backseat, not sure what to do with a phone-throwing, starving, nervous wreck of a mother.

Why do I tell you this story? I mean, other than the obvious reason that stories involving tantrums are pretty much always funny… later.

It’s because there’s a tendency to only present our best selves on social media, which I’ve blogged about before. But also, I read a great article today on how Christians today have a wide array of authors, pastors, and speakers to follow, and often those leaders are only seen from a distance. It’s not healthy. Real life and real problems can be hidden behind a facade.

Another display at the Last Bookstore.

As a writer, I walk a dangerous line. I love to talk about what God is teaching me and how the Bible connects to our daily life. But I don’t want to get too pretentious about it. My real life friends know I’m not perfect, what with my whining and swearing and griping. But it’s easy to gloss over those less-than desirable personal traits as I write, due in part to the fact that if I typed out all my actual thoughts you would be confused and very, very afraid.

Whether I’m comfortable with it or not, writing is a form of leadership. I have a responsibility to offer up the truth about myself, and sometimes that involves my fear of poverty-stricken areas, self-pity over dinner, and throwing my phone while I have a fit.

And all of us have the responsibility to seek to become more and more like Christ each day. Not more like the authors we read. Not more like our pastors. Not even more like Corrie TenBoom or George Elliot or the Apostle Paul. We fail ourselves and others when we put Christ aside to follow another human.

Because humans sometimes throw phones and pitch little fits in the Kia, mmmmkay?

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are (Romans 3:22, NLT).

 

 

Why Your 20s Might Be the Hardest Decade of Your Life

Dear young women,

Have you had any of these thoughts recently?

  • My children will surely turn out to be hoodlums because they are completely immune to my parenting efforts. And they might never actually be potty trained.
  • My career is in the toilet. I went to school for six years, accumulated a mortgage-worthy amount of debt, and now I work in a gray cubicle answering the phone all week long.
  • I will never have enough money in the bank to cover these bills, let alone the vacation/house/car/other-terrific-thing I want to have.
  • My romantic life is doomed.

While these things might in fact be true right now, I have a word of encouragement for you.

What you’re experiencing right now is most likely due to your current age, not your destiny.

It’s just that you’re in your twenties and life sucks right now. You’re probably out from your parents’ protective wing, you’re trying to do all the grown up things you’ve been trained to expect, and you’re finding them hard and awful and terrible and very, very expensive.

Also exhausting. We can’t forget the soul-sucking exhaustion that clouds your mind.

You women in your twenties are currently working your adorable behinds off, but it’s still way too early to see any encouraging fruit. You’re changing diapers and getting re-pregnant (I swear that’s a thing), and you’re cooking dinners that small people throw across the room.

The money is tight, if there’s any money at all.

Your marriage is new and fresh and often really uncomfortable, like a pair of jeans just pulled out of six hours in the dryer.

The work is hard. The ability to see the reward is mostly absent and the harvest is a long way off.

The work you’re doing right now will pay off, but it might take a while to see the results.

“A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions,” he said (Matthew 7:17-20).

In this passage from Matthew, notice that Jesus mentions fruit on a tree, not cucumbers on a vine. Trees and fruit take a long time until harvest, which is sort of comforting when your two-year old is throwing a tantrum and you are thinking that perhaps you’re raising a future lunatic and not a responsible human being. Maybe what we see right now isn’t the final product.

Hopefully.

Good trees eventually produce good fruit. You are a good tree, if you’re faithfully seeking to obey God by living a Christ-honoring life. Are you reading the Bible? Are you focusing on who Christ is, what he means to your life, and then asking the Holy Spirit to change your heart? Then you’re a good tree. Your eventual fruit will be AMAZING.

But when you’re in an early season of planting, it’s almost impossible to remember the future good harvest. Especially if your planting season involves pregnancy AND a toddler AND a junky car AND an empty bank account.

Girls, you’re totally doing it.

Don’t lose hope. Just look for your very own resident forty-year old. Notice that she’s quietly drinking a latte while her children intelligently discuss North Korean politics text their friends about YouTube. Notice that she feels okay about life most days, or at least okayer about life than she did when she was your age.

Children eventually grow into fabulous human beings because you’re raising them with love and patience (usually).

Your marriage can stretch and grow over time. The more you invest in loving one another well, the more you’ll enjoy the whole experience as the years pass.

Eventually your finances should level off, as long as you’re sticking to some basic wisdom about saving and spending and living within your means. I know it seems hopeless right now, but I promise all the money sacrifices will be worth it one day.

The fruit will come. You’re doing what it takes to get there, and we’re cheering for you.

 

 

Permission to rest when your brain feels like it’s been put through a blender

“Caleb!” I hollered. “I woke up from my nap but now I can’t get my butt off the couch!”

I could hear the bleeping and clicking of video games as my son registered my comment. It took a half beat before he shouted back up the stairs, “So stay there then! You can just sit there!”

I can?

I’m allowed to just sit on the couch when there are closets to be cleaned out and laundry to be folded? I felt guilty about the closet/laundry situation but my brain was still too tired to let my body off the couch.

I watched a few puffy clouds float by out the window.

It felt good. My brain started to put intelligent sentences together, which is why I finally got off the couch and picked up this laptop so I could write out those (semi) intelligent thoughts for you, my dear reader.

I know our family isn’t alone– we’ve had some big stuff on our plate the last two weeks. I thought perhaps my mind would explode, which it did not do, but now there’s some residual stress that still needs to leak out somehow even though all the big decisions have been made and life should be returning to normal.

Can you relate?

At one point, when my brain was the most stressed out, I emailed my friend Susie twice because I needed some clarification on stuff for the Breathe Christian Writers Conference. She responded and I read her emails a couple of days later. I was shocked. My original emails made NO SENSE.

Was I drinking when I wrote these? I wondered to myself. I honestly had to think back to make sure I hadn’t overdone the Riesling while emailing.

Nope– I recall being quite sober but quite, quite frantic at the time. It’s to Susie’s credit that she didn’t point out that maybe I should think coherently before typing things.

Stress does hard things to our brains and bodies. It’s okay to acknowledge this and then treat ourselves kindly as we find space to recover.

Sit on the couch for an extra hour and stare out the window. Water the flowers slowly. Sit in the backyard and hope a hummingbird shows up at the butterfly bush. Accidentally toss your phone into the garbage.

Whatever it takes. You have permission to do what you need when your brain has been through the blender.

And when your brain has recovered enough to put a few coherent sentences together, don’t forget to pray. The greatest healing comes when God is allowed into our addled minds to do what he does best– bring grace. Bring perspective. Recover joy.

We’re spending the end of today on the beach with friends. I can’t wait to watch the waves roll in while my brain continues to sort itself out. May you also find some peace, however you need it.

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The curious case of the full-grown woman who completely failed at her church’s meal ministry

I drop a bombshell of truth in the last chapter of my next book (coming February of 2018!).


This is my bombshell– a fact few people realize about me: I don’t actually participate in my church’s meal ministry. I can feel your horror and surprise from here. I must seem callous and uncaring.

It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I don’t cook.

Not well, anyway. To be precise, it’s not the actual cooking that’s the trouble; the problem is that what I consider dinner is kind of weird. For example:

  • An English muffin with peanut butter.
  • A banana and a cold hot dog.
  • Noodles cooked in butter, and also popcorn for a side dish.

YOU SEE HOW THOSE IN NEED MIGHT NOT BE COMFORTED BY MY CHOICES.

I swear I ate these for dinner moments after I staged the photo.

Obviously I don’t feed my family these freakish combinations for dinner (not usually, anyway). As a mature adult I can prepare a real meal with protein and vegetables and everything. But I can guarantee you that most nights three of the four of us in this house don’t actually like what I make. And with our gluten/dairy/sugar/fat issues, we frequently eat a rotation of raw vegetables, a lean protein, and brown rice.

Still not exactly something you deliver to a new mother. “Here, beloved woman who just bore life onto the earth. I have a dried up chicken breast and a pile of lettuce for you. Be blessed.” That woman would take the lettuce and weep into it a little, probably.

I was part of the church’s meal ministry, taking food to those who were ill or had just had a baby, for quite a few years.

Until the day I had to take food to another family and I had a meltdown when I didn’t have the right containers to deliver soup to the new mother, and that was it for me. I just couldn’t handle the stress of deciding what to make, actually making it, and then locating the proper vessels for delivery.

I opted out.

I said no, and God did not, in fact, smite me.

My stress load lifted considerably, life continued, and I still had loads of other ways to minister to our congregation. I’ve taught Sunday school class, worked with the financial team, scrubbed dishes, and hosted small group at my house.

None of these things have involved crying into lettuce.

Even better– when I’m doing the things I love to do, the cooks in the congregation can do what they do best. They might not enjoy balancing the Sunday deposit from the offering, but maybe they can create an entire meal and then deliver it with joy.

GOOD FOR THEM. Good for all of us.

So this is my encouragement for you today: you don’t have to do all the things. If there’s something really stressing you out about your ministry or home or family life, you get to choose. You can let it go and serve elsewhere.

I promise this is true.

I promise you have options, and serving others takes many, many forms. Serve with your gifts, not with your guilt. You won’t believe how much more delightful life becomes.

What about you?

Do you have a particular thing you hate to do? What would happen if you opted out? I’d love to know.

 

 

Your ministry matters. Do not kid yourself– what you do makes a difference.

In this age of mega stars and internet sensations, it’s easy to feel lost in the crowd.

It’s easy to believe your little old life doesn’t reach a million people on YouTube each day, so probably you don’t matter. When you’re typing away in a tiny office or teaching a small class or wiping wee noses, your impact on the world seems limited at best. Microscopic, possibly.

Photo by Mike Wilson on Unsplash

Let’s be honest– there are billions of people on the planet right now, so we’re all a little bit insignificant in that global, historical, long-range view of the world. This is totally true and should keep our perspectives a little humble.

Humility is good for our souls, but blindly disregarding our gifts and impact is another. I’m quite guilty of this. I’m slowly, slowly learning about how important the small things really are in the scope of my family, small group, and community.

It’s not the big, important people who really pour blessing into your life, is it? Does your favorite actor/blogger/YouTuber/politician show up at your breakfast table each morning and help you set your day right?

I’m willing to bet they don’t. The people who bless you the most are the ones who show up day after day after day and trudge through life right next to you.

Photo by Tanja Heffner on Unsplash

It’s the spouse who’s up in the middle of the night with you while you both scrub vomit out of the carpet.

It’s the friend who will take your children at a moment’s notice so you can get to an appointment.

It’s the coworker who hands you a mug of coffee so you don’t murder your 10am appointment with the sharp letter opener you keep on the desk as a weapon in case a crazy person breaks into the building.

(Wow, that got a little dark. I’m sorry. But I have this really scary letter opener on my desk and that’s where I got the idea…)

If their love and blessing in your life makes a huge difference to you, what makes you think your efforts don’t matter to anyone?

Your ministry matters. You matter. What you do each day makes all the difference to someone.

Maybe that someone is only a few months old and recognizes you only as comfort, warm milk, and a clean butt. Those days are so hard, but you’re building a foundation of trust and love that will never be undone. Your child will go out into the world ready to love and care for others, and that is no small feat. Doubt me? Ask anyone who was raised by a neglectful, abusive parent and see how much damage selfishness does.

You’re fighting a tidal wave of pain and loss, every time you drag yourself out of bed for a 3am feeding.

Maybe your loved one has been next to you for more than fifty years, but now has trouble recognizing your face. Your care matters. Your love resounds through the walls of your home, into your church, and is a living witness of Christ’s love to a younger generation who is watching you carefully. You’re showing us how to love, even when that love is forgotten five seconds later. You show us over and over again.

You’re fighting a tidal wave of cultural selfishness with every act of service. We are so thankful.

Photo by Nathália Bariani on Unsplash

Ministry comes in so many different forms.

All these deep thoughts have been stewing in my brain for the last few months as I ponder what it means to be a writer in this current environment. It’s easy for efforts to be evaluated by a number of views to my website or “likes” to my posts. But what I can’t see is the Holy Spirit’s work after I’ve finished typing. What do those words mean in your life?

I don’t know. It’s not really my place to know, honestly. It’s my responsibility to use my gifts to care for the Body of Christ. I’m called to encourage and minister, and whether that’s to 100 people or 10,000 is not for me to decide.

Besides, if only one person’s heart is nudged closer to God today, it doesn’t mean that one individual can’t go out and minister to thousands. The ripple effect is alive and well, and the stone never gets to see that last wave.

Two questions to ask yourself:

I was listening to a brilliant podcast recently (The Road Back to You, which is also a fantastic book on the enneagram personality profile system), and Suzanne Stebile asked a guest these two questions:

  • What does it mean to take yourself seriously?
  • What does it mean to take your contribution to the world seriously?


Do you have an answer for those questions? I didn’t. But I’m going to keep thinking about it until I work it out.

This is our challenge today– to take our gifts to the world seriously. Small doesn’t mean insignificant. Small might mean concentrated and powerful in our case. Or, small might just be the first ripple in the pond, extending far beyond what we’ll ever see.

All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. 1 Corinthians 12:11

 

 

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How to survive a really long meeting when you have absolutely no idea of what’s going on

Recently I found myself in a meeting. Because we had a lot of important details to tend to, the meeting went a little long. And for basically all of those 150 detail-filled minutes, I was pretty much the most clueless person in the room.

Many of you know I’m on the planning committee for the Breathe Christian Writer’s Conference, which is held in Grand Rapids every October (writers, you should totally come!) Let me be clear: I love these people and this conference. I even love the meetings. It’s exciting to be part of something I really believe in, and deeply satisfying to watch experts in action.

But I’m not one of the experts, it turns out. Here, I’ve created an infographic to succinctly explain the situation:

While I know I’m loved and wanted on this team (this sentence is to forestall anyone on the team from feeling like they have to assure me of my worth), I totally understand I’m there for something other than contacts, social media prowess, or my in-depth understanding of the publishing world.

God only knows why I’m there, and I think it’s mostly because he has a great sense of humor and knows every team needs someone who’s willing to engage in shenanigans at a moment’s notice. And I am that girl!

Here I am with part of the team, and we’re all looking very serious as we get ready for the video shoot. This almost never happens (the seriousness or the video shoots). ((Photo courtesy of the Breathe Conference Facebook page.))

I’ve assembled some thoughts on this situation because I can’t be the only person who goes to meetings where everyone else is vastly qualified. Let me outline the steps I’ve found helpful:

  1. Come to terms with the fact that you will not be the expert in the room. It’s okay. Let this truth sink into your soul. Poke at it a little with the acceptance stick. Jesus himself told us that a person speaks out of the overflow from the heart (Luke 6:45), so let’s make sure our hearts are humble and ready to learn. I think we’ve all been in a meeting when an arrogant, clueless fool begins to blather. It’s torture. But this never happens when a person understands she knows nothing and feels no need to prove otherwise to her teammates.
  2. Listen. Seriously, make an art of listening. I one day hope to actually know things when I go to a Breathe planning meeting, which is why I tune into the conversation and listen like a ninja. I’m absorbing through my earballs.
  3. Ask pertinent questions that show the team you’re listening, even if you’re providing no good help. For example: Me: “Darron, how many people can the bookstore hold?” Darron: “Oh, the event space can hold at least 300 people.” Me: “Excellent.” Carry on, my friends. I have learned a new piece of helpful information.
  4. Accept the fact that your butt will go numb and you will have to stand. Your friend Ann may look at you with concern. You may have to casually announce to everyone that your rear end is causing you problems. It’s possible to stand and listen so just go ahead and do it, especially if the meeting has reached minute 135 and you also have an hour-long drive home.
  5. Enjoy the snacks! I’m hopeful that your meeting will at least have great snacks. Partake with great gladness.

I truly do get a kick out of seeing everyone in action. You might not realize the working parts that go into a successful conference, but about three million details have to come together to make sure there’s a meeting space, attendees, food, and speakers. This is why the team ends the conference with glazed looks and the inability to complete intelligent sentences.

Look at this beautiful stage that Elizabeth designed! See, that’s what I mean about details. We need a whole person for this! (This photo also stolen from the Breathe Facebook page.)

But we love it. It’s worth it. And I pray your really long meetings are worth it all, too.

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Because you never know where the smallest invitation and warm welcome will lead

By the time the fourth African family settled themselves into the pews on Sunday morning, I was sort of crying. Happy crying, but crying nonetheless.

I tend to tear up a lot in the back row. Just ignore me and pretend I’m not weeping over the amazing things God does when I least expect it. Nothing to see here; move along.

My tears were completely and totally due to a tiny portion of Africa streaming into church. A new family with the three boys arrived early, smiling tentatively (because at that point the foyer was full of blindingly white people such as yours truly), shaking hands, and pronouncing their very non-English names carefully for us.

Then, as the service started, their fellow continent-men joined as they got around to it. The three boys headed to children’s church, the smaller twins in matching white shirts did too, and I’m not sure where the baby ended up after the last family walked in.

It was really the baby who got me crying. He was just so pudgy and fat and happy and I was so profoundly thankful to be in a congregation where Kenyans feel welcome.

It all started a few years ago with Harry. He wandered into our church one Sunday because our building was close enough for him to walk from his apartment. A doctoral student at the local university, he was studying in Kalamazoo while his wife and children were home in Kenya.

I’m not exactly sure how we got from “Hello, welcome!” to a congregation with beautiful African dresses. I’m not sure when we moved from warm smiles to needing the translate option on Facebook to decipher Swahili when our friends switch over to their native language.

But we did. Somehow a warm welcome turned into friendship, and then the congregation brought Harry’s family here, then one international student after another ended up in our pews.

We don’t even have a formal ministry to international students. We don’t teach them English, or help them prepare for the Michigan driving test, or intercede on their behalf with their professors.

But we do give their kids a few too many cookies during the fellowship hour. We invite them to parties in the backyard and heaven knows we make sure they’re warm enough through our terrible Michigan winters.

It occurs to me that formal programs aren’t really what most of us are looking for, are we? Do you wake up in the morning and hope your husband will give you a formal lecture on how to load the dishwasher? Do you have a six-hour retreat scheduled for your friends tomorrow?

Probably not. That would be super weird. What we’re longing for is relationships, real and deep ones, to share food and time and parenting duties as we trudge through life next to each other.

And it appears that the Kenyans want exactly that, too.

It’s the smallest things that sometimes lead to the biggest, longest lasting relationships. It doesn’t have to be rocket science. We don’t need formal programs or fancy meals or the next ten years mapped out.

I need to be honest– I’m still pretty bad about this. Part of the reason I leaked tears on Sunday was because I’m not great about the invitations and all the hanging out. It’s often our pastor and his wife and a few specific families in our church who turn those invitations into the kind of relationships that keep our congregation full of Kenyans.

But I can see the results in living technicolor from that back pew. I can see the relationships that have grown, three years after an invitation was offered. I learn from hindsight and others’ actions, it turns out.

And maybe, after this long and meandering blog post, you can too.

When social media misses the important half of the story

My friend Ashley and I sat outside Starbucks the other night, sipping our “low calorie” drinks. (Humor us and let’s not get into specifics like calorie counts or nutritional values, mmm-kay?) While we sipped we discussed something that’s bothering me lately, but we didn’t solve anything.

And then the following day my friend Paul and I had a repeat of the same conversation.

Which is a version of what Eric and I had already been discussing all week long. And now I bring the conversation to you, my beloved reader, to get your input.

The topic? Authenticity on the internet. 

Specifically, how can we represent our lives in an honest, but uplifting, way on social media? Because let’s be frank– things are going a little sideways here in Interweb Perfect World, and I think the consequences are far more dangerous than we anticipate.

The conversation started last Friday night, as Eric and I drove alone to Taco-Tuesday-on-a-Friday (don’t ask– it involves a pontoon boat and bacon and we call it what we want) with friends. Eric casually asked if I’d heard that one of my favorite women’s ministry leaders had decided to divorce her husband.

I gasped out loud and my mouth hung open and I probably looked like one of those fish who breathes her last on the sand.

Basically this face…

I dove for my phone to look up the blog post he referenced, and he was completely accurate. While I only have her side of the story, it appears from the outside that the grounds for divorce are biblical and she tried everything to reconcile.

For two years she’s lived this private nightmare. I mentally reviewed her posts– I remember beautiful photos from her daughters’ weddings, adorable grandbabies, and even a bad health scare.

I don’t remember anything about a broken heart or relationship. I didn’t see any puffy red eyes or angry rants, but I did see a carefully curated assortment of beautiful and inspirational photos.

I firmly believe that part of this is due to her maturity. It’s tacky and awful to air your husband’s failures to the entire world, especially if you have any desire to restore that marriage to health.

Of course we want to discern carefully when we post. We think of others, we think of privacy, and we think about how an embarrassing post might be irrevocable. Mature people think before they communicate. Thank goodness and hallelujah for that.

But this whole event made me wonder how many other public marriages are quietly failing. What about other favorite authors? The ministers at our churches? The leaders of national ministries? The need to uphold a public image plus the desire to encourage others’ faith is probably leading too many people to hide their personal pain, messes, and failure.

church split

Is it any different for the rest of us?

I doubt it. Even if we don’t have ministries or book sales at stake, I think we’re all curating our images on social media. Again, some of that is due to maturity. Nobody likes a whiney baby with constant bad news. I have been known to quietly unfollow acquaintances who publicly air their never-ending pity party.

Some of our posts, however, have little to do with maturity and a lot to do with ego. When we’re looking especially cute and our family is acting in a way that reflects well upon us, then we bust out the camera and make sure it makes it online. This is perfectly natural behavior, but I think we all know “perfectly natural behavior” is often little more than dressed up sin.

Pride is a sneaky stinker. It silently slides in between us and our loved ones, causing divisions and bad feelings. Even when we don’t mean for our post to make others feel bad, we’re certainly enjoying how good it makes us feel, so we often don’t think too deeply about whether those words are puffing up our ego instead of communicating honestly about our life.

Before we get depressed and delete all our social media accounts, I do have two suggestions for how we can dig ourselves out of this social media image game and begin to show an encouraging peek into our lives.

Stop fearing the mess of real life.

Our friends are each slogging through their own mess. Why can’t we join each other there, where we really live? My friend Brenda Yoder posted something perfect on Instagram last week. It was her kitchen sink, piled high with dishes. I loved it. And she offered encouragement and grace from her very real kitchen situation. It’s been several days and I can only hope she’s dug her way to the bottom of the sink.

My friend Christina often shows the hilarious messes her kids make– she sees no need to convince us that her children are shiny angels with golden halos. And she does it in a way that endears those children to us, without embarrassing anyone. Also, anytime Christina kills off another kitchen appliance she posts it. I think she’s up to her tenth crock pot, which only makes me love her more.

There’s a way to share real life without being a weirdo who depresses everyone. Maybe we should get Brenda and Christina to teach classes on the art.

Start to make face-to-face quality time a priority.

You know where my best relationships thrive? Face to face.

Our small group meets on Monday nights, and because of the dynamics of the group (eighteen adults and approximately one hundred toddlers/infants) we share real, gritty life together. There’s no pretending in a group that always includes poopy pants. We’ve been in deep discussion about the Bible and turned our heads to find a completely naked child in the room. Noodles have been thrown. I have locked horns with my child who thinks that two grapes and five brownies constitute a real meal– right in front of these friends.

All I’m saying is that you can’t pretend life is perfect when your kid has poop climbing up his back or your tween decides to engage in a battle of wills in the church kitchen. The truth betrays our efforts to convince people we have our acts together.

Two hours after small group I see my friends’ new posts of their adorable children. I’m not fooled– I know these perfect photos are part of the truth, but the poopy pants are also part of the deal. But I wouldn’t know that if I didn’t make en effort to get close enough to smell those kids.

What do you think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Could we make an effort to allow our friends into our real lives, instead of curating masks that keep them at a distance? What would that look like for you?

This week, let’s make that effort. Amen?

Amen.

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