We Need Roots to Grow, To Fruit.

Have you been there?  In the place where the Lord has given you a talent and calling, and yet you don’t ever seem to be able to actually USE it?  It can be a very confusing time, frustrating even.  Perhaps, however, our eyes have been to focused on the finish line that we neglected the process to get there.

I just finished reading Banning Liebscher’s book ROOTED, and I found myself taking my sweet time to get through his message.  Usually, I can finish a book of this size in a weekend.   This time, I would often set the book down for a few days to really think about the points Liebscher was making and looking at my own calling and periods of waiting on the Lord.

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If you have any gardening experience you know the importance of a good root system.   Take a beautifully potted plant and pop it in the ground, and you’ll see the plant go into shock and die.  Why?  You didn’t take the time to tend to the roots before you planted it.  A seed dropped in good, fertile soil will produce strong plants in comparison to seeds careless scattered among the rocks. 

Banning Liebscher takes the time to set the context of his book into the Parable of the Soils, and then walks through the value of having solid roots in order that we may grow, and bear fruit.  Not just some fruit, but a lot of fruit.  Not just any fruit, but GOOD fruit.  Not just a temporary harvest, but a long and lasting life of fruit bearing.  But, in order to do this … we must have GOOD ROOTS.

Often when we are waiting for the Lord to reveal our calling or make a move, we feel like nothing is happening.  Yet, it is during this time when the Lord is working on our roots.  He has fashioned life around us, opportunities, and put people in place to create a fertile soil in which we can grow.  Then, like a good farmer, He tends to those seeds.  Weeds are pulled, water and nutrients are provided, and He carefully watches over for disease and pests.

Then after all of the work of preparing the soil, tending to the seeds, building up the roots, caring for the shoots… suddenly life bursts out of those gardens.  And it produces fruit, a lot of fruit. Good fruit.  If we want to produce a lot of good, long lasting, fruit… we have to start with our roots.  That means we dig into the Word, build our relationship with Christ, allow the Holy Spirit access to our lives to move it and shape it, and trust that the Lord’s plans will always be good.  We just need to trust in Him who we have faith in. 

If you are ready to start working on those roots, Liebscher’s book ROOTED is a great way to prepare the soil of your heart to receive, foster, and bear the fruit of God’s Word and Love.

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Forgiveness & Reconciliation

MBA

A few weeks ago, I was sitting through our weekly small group meeting.  We took a bold step and decided to tackle Authentic Intimacy’s Passion Pursuit.  Dr. Juli Slattery began to discuss the importance of forgiveness in healing and improving our marriages.  She also delved into the need to forgive past hurts in order to move forward.   Something she said jumped out at me:

The acknowledgement that forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. 

As she waded through the waters of forgiveness, the words FREEDOM were key.  Forgiveness leads to freedom because what ever that wrong was, it no longer holds on to us.  However, reconciliation may not be possible.  Perhaps the other person hasn’t apologized, hasn’t repented because they do not believe they were wrong.  Or, perhaps they took ownership of their wrong doing but for your own safety you can not resume a reconciled relationship with the person.  In some instances the person may have died, moved away, etc and there isn’t a way to even reach out and start a reconciliation process.  However, we can still forgive them and more forward.  This forgiveness does not free them from the CONSEQUENCES of their actions, it does however free us from being held captive by that person or situation any longer.

I walked away that evening reflecting on several situations through the years that cause me distress.  I thought of the scriptures that call us to forgive and reconcile.  I felt like a failure in many ways because even despite my willingness to forgive, there were relationships that were not reconciled.  I had sold myself to believe that I couldn’t more forward until reconciliation had happened.   I resolved that those relationships wouldn’t necessarily reconcile to what they once were, but that to at least be on “civil terms” would be enough.  When that couldn’t happen, I felt like I failed.

Now, that burden was lifted.  I had permission to walk in that freedom of forgiveness, even I was walking alone and the other parties were not ready to join up yet.  Today, I watched a video from The Gospel Coalition on forgiveness without repentance.  One of the things I took away from the video is:

Reconciliation requires repentance and forgiveness from both sides.

It can’t be both sides saying they are sorry, and no one changes.

It can’t be a change of behavior by both sides, without anyone actually apologizing.

It can’t be an exchange of apologies, modified behaviors, when one or both don’t truly forgive.

Forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation may not come in that exact order & not all at one time.  It may be a process that can span days, months, or even years to complete.  Reconciliation may not even come this side of heaven. 

If we have chosen to forgive, and if we have identified our own mistakes and repented… we may have to be okay with reconciliation’s slow arrival.  If it even comes at all. 

For each of us lies the responsibility of our own actions.  Have we come to God and asked Him to reveal if we are part of the problem?  Is there more to this than being sinned against?  Are we too guilty of sinning against the other person?  If you have a trusted mentor, have you shared the situation with them and sought their counsel and guidance? 

Once you have taken an honest look at yourself, if there is a need for you to apologize then you are responsible for taking the step of repentance and seeking forgiveness.  Then you can also extend your forgiveness to the other person and work toward reconciliation, should both parties agree.  However, if you are truly the only one who was sinned against and the other person is unwilling to repent and ask for forgiveness… you can still choose to forgive as Christ has forgiven.

All of our sins are against a perfect God, who has done nothing wrong to us.  Yet He is able to forgive our sins and cast them to the oceans depths.  If the Lord can forgive me, how can I not forgive those who sin against me?  Reconciliation may not happen, but that doesn’t mean that forgiveness is impossible.

The scriptures state that as much as it is possible, and is up to me, to live at peace with everyone.  Reconciliation isn’t entirely up to me, it takes both parties to happen.  But forgiveness is a choice I can make to bring peace into my heart, life, and relationships.  Then we can lean into trusting the Lord to do the work in the other person, and if reconciliation is possible it will happen under the guidance of the Holy Spirit’s conviction.

When we forgive, we can live in the freedom of Peace.  I choose Peace.

More Than Words

praytogether

The email comes:

“Please pray for our family, my husband lost his job today.”

The text message arrives:

“Prayer request, my daughter has cheer try outs today.  This means a lot to her.”

She stops you in the sanctuary:

“I have a doctor appointment this week, they found a lump.  Would you pray for me?”

You pass the terrible accident…

A person keeps coming to mind, maybe someone you haven’t thought of in years…

At bible study you jot down all those names and requests during prayer and share time…

“I’ll pray for you!” –you promise.

“I should pray for that person…” – you consider.

Your intention are good.  The moment passes, the day passes, weeks pass.  You read the headline about the fatal accident you passed by.   You learn from mutual friends that an old friend of yours (that name that kept coming to mind) lost everything to a house fire.  The woman catches you in the sanctuary and thanks you for your prayers, her tests came back clear.

But, you didn’t pray.  You forgot.  You didn’t mean to forget, you were sincere in your promises.  Distractions got in the way.  Life interrupted.  Your own problems grabbed your attention.

We must be more than words, when we agree or offer to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Being distracted shouldn’t catch us off guard, we know how life goes.  Instead, we need to be intentional and take a step beyond words.

Stop in the moment and pray for the person, instead of putting on your to do list.  Grab her hand and lead her to another woman in the church, pray together for her corporately.   Even when you a driving, when you can’t bow your head and close your eyes… we can still call out to the Lord while we drive past the scene of an accident or hear sirens in the distance.  Email or text back a written prayer, so that your friend can see your words and return to them as she needs to.

Prayer is a beautiful conversation between us and the Lord.  Talk often.  Pray when you can pray, cry out when the words fail you.  But, when others come to you for intercession… be present with them in that moment of trial.  Stop what you are doing.  Pray.

So… I saw Bad Moms, and I laughed.

In case you don’t have any clue what movie I am talking about, here is a promo shot:

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First, I’d like to admit right out of the gate I didn’t walk into this movie with naive expectations.  The trailers gave a pretty good indication that there would be some inappropriate humor.  Second, I am not planning on giving away any spoilers.  There were definitely some parts I thought the movie could have lived without, not only for the story line but even in the presentation.  Sometimes it could go too far.  Third, there were some parts of this that were REALLY unrealistic when you are talking about any group of moms.  Lastly, there were also a LOT of truths.

Overall, I laughed and I laughed hard.  At one point I laughed so hard (as I was taking a sip from my straw) that I pushed air through the straw, which caused a small tidal wave in my cup, and that resulted in my drink landing in my eyes.  Which just caused a whole other fit of laughter for myself and those sitting around me.  I laughed until I cried and my stomach hurt.  Yet, there were some moments that I nodded in solidarity.  There were moments that were uncomfortable.  And, yes… as I said before totally unnecessary.

What I want to write about (and I’m up for conversation too) is WHY a movie like this not only resonated with moms but was drawing us in like moths to a flame.

My first thought is probably the most obvious, there is an enormous amount of pressure on moms to be it all, do it all, and do so perfectly.  Whether it is the perfect birthday party, bento box lunches, or simply making it to every school and sport activity… we feel the pressure.  We notice so much of what is around us, like the mom who has the perfect hair and make up in the parent pick up line… when we were struggling to get out of the house with a bra under our pajama shirt.  We see the kids with the perfectly styled hair, accessories, and sparkling white sneakers…. and we just spent the last 40 minutes looking for eyeglasses or a belt.  Other moms dropping their kids off early, and we are 10 minutes late because we had to go back home and pick up the flute that was left behind… or because our darling child took 15 minutes to brush her teeth.

How do these moms do it?  We cast shade in their direction, but really we are asking ourselves… why can’t I do it?

I think there are a number of moms who have run the scenario through their head of just saying no.  No to the requests by the husband, kids, school, coaches, etc.  An opportunity to just walk away from the pressure and enjoy life again.  To make the choice of not being the perfect mom anymore, and instead be the bad mom.

This brings me to my second thought, as you watch the trailers you see a group of women having fun. We are not talking bunko party fundraiser fun, but the kind of fun we had as teenagers  and young single adults.  The fun we had when we didn’t care what others thought, where it was ok to be silly, and there was an expected freedom in the general knowledge we were going to make mistakes and bad choices.  It takes us back to a time when we didn’t have to be an adult, and could just let loose and be free.

With motherhood came some sort of unwritten code of conduct, that we couldn’t be silly anymore.  We began to take everything too seriously, including ourselves.  Let’s face it, books and the advice of television “experts” reinforced this.  Reminding us over and over again that it was time to grow up, put away childish things, and get our heads out of the clouds.  As we did this, many of us sent fun sailing away for good.  We stopped smiling, we stopped laughing, and we stopped being silly.

The movie Bad Moms called out to that free spirit inside of us, that desperately wanted to laugh… and laugh hard.  So, it pulls out all the stops.  The women let loose in a way we couldn’t, and we live vicariously through them.  They say the things that roll through our minds & do the things we secretly wished we could.  (Ok, maybe not all of the things they say and do, but you get the point).

I also believe this appeals to Christian women so deeply because of the bar that is set for our expected behavior.  If other moms are feeling the pressure to be perfect in their every day life, Christian moms understand the additional expectations put on the Christian mom.  To have perfect children that love Jesus, quote the bible, volunteer with the elderly, and gladly donate all their birthday money to the missions fund.  To be women who are serious about the study of the Lord, leading small groups, inviting women over to mentor and pray together, to dress in simple clothes, and be ever diligent in our choices of entertainment.  There is a pressure that all of our time should be so seriously focused on Christ, that we can’t let loose and laugh until our sides hurt.

Confession… I saw the movie on opening night.  It’s taken me almost a month to admit I saw it, because frankly… I expected to be judged for it.  I was worried about what my church friends, my readers that look to me for wisdom, the women or leaders who are reading through my blog trying to decide if I would be the right speaker for their next women’s event… what would these people think of me?

I learned something from the movie though… my eyes were opened to how long it had been since I had laughed so much and so hard.  I realized how seriously I take myself and made the decision not to.  I embraced that silliness is okay and even healthy for my kids to see.  I made the decision that I wanted to laugh more, but with those whom I am the closest to… not a theater full of strangers.  I want that girl posse who has my back, in the most biblical way possible… and who will be silly with me.  Women who know how to laugh, smile, and stop trying to be something that is impossible to attain… perfect.

All of those parts of the movie that I thought were unnecessary, they don’t have to be part of my life.  But the good stuff… I welcome it.  We are all GOOD MOMS despite our imperfections and the times we muck things up… because we are LOVING MOMS.  In the end that is what matters.  The Lord didn’t call us to a life of misery, but of fulfillment and joy as mothers… and laughter.  So much laughter.

See You Soon!

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For many of my readers, back to school has already begun.  For me, it’s next week.  This means I have a week full of shopping, packing backpacks, open houses, and other errands.  So, I’ve taken this week and part of next week off as we get back into our school schedule.

For those who are dropping off their little ones for the very first time… I pray for your heart.  I pray for the safety of your children, that their minds will be filled with good information, and that they are spared from negative influences.  I pray they learn to stand up for themselves, their beliefs, and their dreams.

For those who are dropping off the last of their children for their first day of school, I encourage you as you enter this new phase of parenthood.  Whether you go back to work, volunteer at their school, start leading a weekday small group, or go back to school yourself…  this is going to be an exciting time for you.  I pray that you can embrace the changes coming your way, and lean on the Lord as you navigate this new path.

To my elementary school moms, I pray you enjoy this year of art and coloring pages… shoe box projects… repetitive math drills… field trips… and class parties.  There is a day this all comes to an end, so be present for as much as you can.  Go to the ceremonies, drop off the party supplies, bring the cupcakes, forgive them for their decisions to cut their own hair right before picture day or for putting the temporary tattoo right on their cheek Sunday night after bath time.  You’ll cherish these wacky photos and silly memories.

To my middle school parents… HOLD ON.  Just, seriously… hold on.  This is a rough few years.  It was middle school that brought me to meet with my Pastor’s wife because I didn’t know WHO this kid was that just suddenly showed up one morning.  It was at my first middle school orientation that I was handed a flyer that said… “No you’re not crazy, but your child is nuts.”   You will survive this time, as they are trying to figure out who they are.  They are going to want to do some crazy things, they are going to ask your permission… and sometimes not.  They are thinking in a different sphere… and I promise you… even they will look back on these years and wonder what they were thinking.  Pray a lot.  Learn to give permission on some things, so they don’t see you as the “No Machine”.  Pick your battles.  Pay attention.

To my high school families… wow.  High school is another world.  A new kid shows up, who one day looks like that middle schooler you picked up on the last day of school… and is now suddenly this person that looks almost like an adult.   You will have moments that take your breath away.  Then they get a job, find a relationship, start driving themselves, and you see them living the independence you have been preparing them for.  They are doing it, and some of them are doing it really well.  Which in and of itself is enough to take your breath away, to stop your heart, and choke you up with tears.  This is happening.  It’s part of HIS plan… and you have done a great job.  Keep praying, for your child… but also for the parents who find this is a year of struggle and pain.  There are those who despite a parent’s best effort have taken their own path and made some bad choices.  Keep those parents in your prayers.  Keep a home that is open and safe for children to land, even if they are not your own.  High school is the intersection of childhood and adulthood, and it’s as exciting and terrifying as it can be.  Keep your head, keep calm, and pray on.

To my senior year mommies… I feel your heart this year, as we enter those waters for the first time.  I am so proud of who she has become, where she is going, but my heart breaks daily as we learn to let go a little more.  I know what changes lie in the years ahead… and it brings tears to my eyes that would make Niagara Falls look like a slight drip.  So, I feel your hearts bursting… your arms reaching… your attempt to balance all of this.  Let’s just agree to pray for each other.  I’m praying for you and I covet your prayers.  This is going to be a fast year… faster than any of us want.  But, we’ll get through it together.

And finally, to my parents of college students… whether it is their first year or their last… THIS IS IT.  This is what you’ve prepared them for.  This is why they needed that independence… so we could let them go.  So… LET THEM GO.   And, let them know where they can always come back home to.  Pray for their studies, classes, friends, experiences, and decisions.  Allow them to make decisions about their future, don’t dictate it for them. It is time for these children to become the men and women God is calling them to be.  Celebrate their victories, be there for their failures.  Love them through it all.

Happy Back to School!

Beautification Proximation

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There is a phenomenon that is rarely discussed (but well known) when you live in the burbs, the zero lot line… small yard, everyone is super close to each other neighborhoods.  This is phenomenon is called the “Mowed Lawn Phenomenon”.   Many are impacted by it’s domino effect.

It starts simply, OCD neighbor mows his lawn as he does every Saturday at 8am.  His neighbor notices that OCD man is out there mowing as usual, and sees his nice and tidy yard.  Within a short amount of time, the neighbor also realizes that his lawn needs to be mowed as well.  By the end of the day, the lawn is mowed.  Mr. Works on Saturday comes home after a long day and sees the mowed lawns next to him.  He realizes it is also time to mow his own lawn, as it is looking pretty shabby.  On Sunday, after church, he mows his lawn.  This continues until the whole neighborhood has collectively mowed their lawn.

Until OCD neighbor mowed his lawn, no one realized how shabby their lawn looked.  In fact, even Mr. OCD may not have realized his lawn was shabby either.  He was mowing because that is part of his Saturday routine, whether the lawn needs it or not.  But certainly after mowing, Mr. OCD had a measure of satisfaction in how his yard now looked in comparison to his neighbors.

What I have begun to realize is that this is more than just a phenomenon related to mowed yards.  It’s really Beautification Proximation.  When a neighbor gets a new mailbox, suddenly we think “Hey, we probably need one too”.  Someone in the neighborhood starts a landscaping project?  By the next week the everyone in the neighborhood made a trip to Lowes.  Paint your house?  Let the painting parties begin.

My husband and I decided to paint our house this summer.  By my husband and I, I actually mean my husband… and I blame Dave Ramsey because my husband was holding out for a sale on the paint.  And of course, who paints during the SUMMER in Florida????  Which means paint was on sale trying to talk people into this nonsense.  But, I digress.

We decided to replace the lawn chairs that were in rough shape with some newer ones that fit the house theme better.  Our old ones went to the curb, we knew in less than 24 hours they would be picked up.  To my surprise a neighbor knocked on our door to ask about the chairs before just taking them.  He complimented us on how the house was coming together.  I thanked him.  He then pointed out that now his wife wants to paint their house.  I apologized.  We laughed a moment, and as I walked into the house I shouted to my husband…

“I told you it would happen….”

He replied, “What?   Someone already picked up the chairs?”

“Well, yes.  But that’s not what I’m talking about.  I told you that as soon as we were done painting the house… the neighbors would start.”

I saw it coming.  I knew that a fresh coat of paint was inspiring and motivating… just like new plants in the garden, cutting down old dying trees, and a freshly mowed lawn.  It is the nature of “Beautification Proximation”.

Which basically means when we are near something beautiful, we desire to be beautiful. When we are near something beautiful, new, repaired, or well conditioned… we are more apt to notice our own flaws, chipping paint, and overgrown gardens.  When we see others working hard to make something more beautiful, we are motivated to work hard too.  Which is why we are more committed to going to the gym when we have a friend to go with.  It’s why I painted a house in July… because my husband was out there working hard.

“Beautification Proximation” also shows up when we see something or someone change, and we too desire that change.   A sick person gets healthy, and we want to know how they did it… so that we can be healthy too.  A woman with a hard heart comes to Jesus, and those around her see that change in her… and they want that change for themselves.  When a neighborhood that has been neglected decides to hit the streets cleaning up trash, painting buildings, replacing broken signs, and fixing potholes in the street; we call it a “Neighborhood Beautification Project”.  This project on a main street is meant to inspire the surrounding streets and neighborhoods to do the same.

There is another “Beautification Proximation” that happens when we surround ourselves with people who are different than us.  People who have different life experiences, different backgrounds, different history, different trials and tribulations, different colors of skin, and their day to day lives are full of different interactions than our own.  The more we surround ourselves with the beauty in these differences, the more we change inside.  We see their beauty, created in the image of God.  We see the unfair treatment and injustice they face, despite being created in the image of God.  We can no longer cast our eyes aside and justify what happens in the world.  Instead, we are motivated to change.

When we recognize the beauty of others who are different than ourselves, when we see the trials they overcome, the smiles they wear in spite of fear/worry/anxiety… we want to be part of that beauty.   We begin to see the tatteredness of our own ways.  We become more aware of our careless words, privilege, and attitudes that are not honoring our brothers and sisters, WHO WERE MADE IN HIS IMAGE.  We begin a beautification project in our very soul, because of the proximation we are to beauty around us… because beauty comes from ashes too, when we rise up together and say NO MORE.

Beauty comes from having a heart that loves the Lord.. and to love the Lord, is to love His Word.. .and his Word tells us that we are to love one another.

Lord, create in me a clean heart Lord.  Give me the eyes to see your creation, in all of it’s glory, as you do.  So that in all things I see, I know that it is very good.  Give me a voice that speaks against anything that brings harm to your creation, and those whom you have created in your image.  Give me hands to help, feet to walk, eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart the loves. Amen.

The Uncomfortable Conversation

MBA

A few weeks ago, I was at The Gospel Coalition’s conference with a good friend.  Conferences are a great place for me to get away from the every day, and soak in the word and wisdom of those the Lord has gifted.  It usually becomes a place of introspection for me as well.  I was grateful to be there with a friend who was willing to talk freely about the topics rolling through my mind. I was also glad to be able to do the same for her.  We talked so openly and freely, and it was just a beautiful thing.  It also doesn’t mean that we agreed with each other on every point, or saw things from the same perspective.

We talked such authenticity, and with such vulnerability.  We were honest with each other, but even more so … we were honest with ourselves.  I know that we both walked away from that conference with a gain on perspective.  Something that has stuck with since the conference is a simple statement my friend made.  She said:  “We have to be willing to have the uncomfortable conversation.”

But what is the “uncomfortable conversation”?

It is any conversation that takes a measure of bravery to bring up.  It is the conversation where we establish healthy boundaries or put an end to toxic relationships.  It is the open an honest conversations we have about subjects that are not easy or controversial… whether it be about religion, personal relationships, or in light of more recent events  about race, gun control, and human rights.

Why is it so hard for us to have real meaningful conversations, even when they are difficult, uncomfortable, or awkward, with those who are close to us?    Is it not funny how easy we can take positions and debate controversial subjects online with complete strangers easier than with our own friends and family?  It is not strange that we can go off to another country to share the gospel, but we won’t share the gospel with those closest to us?

Why are so we guarded to those whom we love, and love us?  Do we fear the loss of that love and relationship?  And do we fear that loss more than telling truth about who we are and what we believe?

If we want to be people who are world changers, we must be willing to start a change in ourselves.  We must be willing to have uncomfortable conversations and that first conversation is going to be between God and ourselves.  We pray that God will reveal the planks we are carrying around in our own eyes, the sins that we are trying to hide, and the wrongs we have been responsible for.  We do this for confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation.    We pray that the Lord would take away our spirit of fear, and replace it with a confidence in Him and His word.   We pray for courage to have the uncomfortable conversations, the ones where we need to own wrongs and apologize… and the ones where we need to confront those who have wronged us.

We also pray that the Lord would give us a voice for injustice, a voice for the voiceless, a heart and compassion for those who are marginalized, discriminated, and hurting.

Then we step out in faith to have a lot more uncomfortable conversations with the purpose of being part of the change we want to see in the world.