Failure…

Failure is a funny word to me, because I truly believe that we rarely utterly fail at something.  Sometimes, it is simply a matter of perception.  Follow along with me for just a moment on that thought before we get into the meat of this topic.

Below is a series of photographs from a wedding, several years ago.  At the time, I owned my own confectionary.  This was not my first big event, but it was my first wedding.  The bride wanted a confection bar full of candies, sweets, and treats.  She didn’t want a traditional wedding cake at all.  We decided upon some cupcake towers and a small cake at the top, which was adorned with their wedding topper and serve for the “cake cutting” part of the reception.

What you see here is a very well executed plan, right?  Wrong.  I had a MAJOR failure.  I promised her Jolly Rancher Cotton Candy.  I woke up that morning to make the fresh cotton candy, only to find that there was just too much humidity in air.  The cotton candy, which I had made dozens of times before, was melting before I could even bag it.  So, I bought some cotton candy that was pre-made and portioned it out into the bags.

The bride was happy, there were no gaping holes in the table set up, and there was not a single bag of cotton candy left over.

I failed.  Yes, it was due to circumstances outside of my control… but I still failed to deliver what I promised.  Even if, ultimately, I was really the only one who knew about the failure.

 

The next large event I catered was for a fundraiser.  I met with the planning team and they presented an adorable center piece concept.  They brought out super cute little tiered dessert stands. The plan was to have the stand filled with cupcakes. There would be a giant cupcake “topper”.  The small cupcakes were part of the dessert for the evening.  They would have table drawings for the centerpiece (inclusive of the giant cupcake topper, plus an additional 1 dozen mini cupcakes).  In addition they wanted gift bags for the VIP sponsor tables.  I was super excited to get started.  I measured out the centerpiece they provided to determine the number of cupcakes that it would hold.  Sent them a quote.  The order was set.

When I arrived the morning of the event to set up, to my shock… the tiered center pieces had be replaced.  They made the decision to go with something nicer, which was the right decision.  However, they neglected to inform me of the change.  These new centerpieces were MUCH larger.  Almost twice the width on every tier.  I placed the topper, the dozen mini cupcakes, and it was SPARSE.  I flagged down the coordinator, explained the problem, and she made the decision we would forgo the dozen cupcakes as part of the table prize and instead use them to fill up the tiers.

The following Monday, I received an email from the main chairperson.  She wanted a partial refund because I failed to produce the dozen cupcakes per table for the prize.  She was never informed by the coordinator, and thought I had shorted their order.  I explained what happened, who authorized the decision to use them, and apologize profusely.   In her response, she was very kind and canceled the request for the refund.  However, I never received another order from her or their organization again.

In this case there was a perception that I failed.  I knew that I hadn’t, and that I met my obligations.  However, based on what she could see… the chairperson perceived that I failed to come through.

This weekend I was reading an blog piece in which the author was brutally raw about her feelings, as she declared that Jesus had failed her family that year.  I was really stumped by those words. Jesus… who is perfect, flawless, dependable, truth… failed you?  I couldn’t understand it.  It didn’t seem possible.

In all the years of unanswered prayers, I’ve never felt like Jesus let me down.  Not once.  I can’t think of a time where I looked up to the heavens and declared “Lord, you really let me down this time.  I needed you to come through.”  I was struggling with every single time her words “Jesus failed me” flew past my eyes.  Yet, I not offended … angry … or hollering out “heretic”.

Perhaps, that is because in all of those times where things didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to… I blamed myself.  I told myself that the reason my prayer wasn’t answered or the Lord didn’t show up was because I failed Him.  I feel like I fail God daily.  I never feel good enough.  I question why in the world He would want to use me in ministry.

What I realized was that how we see things was very different.  I was seeing failure in the way I described the first scenario.  In some way, I failed to deliver on my end of the bargain… even if I did my best.  Even if I made up for it in someway.  Even if no one in the world knew or cared about it.  I knew.  I failed.  My focus was there on that place where I failed, versus the ways that I succeeded.

The woman who wrote the blog piece was more akin to my second example.  She was the chairperson who had expectations on how things were going to turn out.  She brought in the right people, and through no fault of her own in that scenario, something wasn’t right.  She turned to the person she trusted to come through, and she said “you failed me”.

You see, she ascertained that failure based on the limited amount of information she had.  She didn’t know that the centerpieces were different sizes, or that it would make a difference in the end product presentation.  She didn’t know that I was never informed of the change.  She wasn’t brought into the decision making being done on the spot to accommodate the changes, nor filled in after the fact of what happened & why.

When the Lord is working out things for us, we are not always clued in to what is going on in the background.  We can’t always see the people or situations that the Lord is coordinating into just the right places, at just the right times.  In fact, sometimes we never will.  We may never see those fingerprints where God was moving mountains and mustard seeds.  So, when the end product (or process) isn’t what we expected… we may feel like God failed us.  He didn’t come through.

On the other hand, we can become so focused on all of the areas where we ARE messing up… that we think we have failed God to the point He is ignoring us.  We may think He is deliberately keeping blessing from us.  We may even think that he is disciplining us.

In the first case, we are so focused on our perception of the situational outcome that we can’t see those who kept their word and did their part.  We don’t appreciate the people who were pressed into hard decisions.  We lose the ability to give people the benefit of the doubt.  We make assumptions, assign unjust blame.  Our vision becomes clouded to the work God is doing, the blessings that are coming, the people who did care, and the hundreds of little ways God came through with something BETTER.  Jesus never fails us, we just perceive that He did because we didn’t get the outcome we desired.

Or, we become so focused on how wrong and sinful we are.  We become so inwardly focused that we beat ourselves up, disqualify ourselves, and stamp FAILURE on our foreheads.  We make vows to never try again, step away from commitments or ministry work, and wallow in how terrible we think we are.  We put up our hands to the Lord, shouting STOP… I can’t be used.  I’m a failure, not Jesus.

Christ died because we are failures at keeping God’s statutes and commands.  Throughout the Old Testament, on a repetitive cycle…   God would move, the people would celebrate, the people would forget, the people would fall & cry out, and God would rescue.  By the time of the New Testament, when Jesus enters the arena… God’s ultimate plan of redemption for his people who just can’t keep it together on their own.  In her piece, she repeated a few times that she waited for Jesus to rescue her… and He didn’t.  I would contend… HE ALREADY DID, ON CALVARY.

And, in that moment we were given victory over sin and death.  We are not failures, but perfected in Him.  By His stripes we are healed.  We need to keep our eyes on Him, not ourselves.  Trusting His word, even when we don’t understand what is happening around us… or God seems quiet or far.

Then, I read the article a 2nd time.  Something else jumped out at me, and we are going to talk about that next time.

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.

Avert Your Eyes

MBA

Women are a funny creation, I’d love to have a one on one conversation with the Creator of the World about how women work.  I want to know how much of our way of thinking, behavior, etc is just “how we are wired” and how much is a result of the fall.  How emotional did God really want for us to be?  How complicated were we intended to be?  When woman first bit that piece of fruit, why is it that her mind became a pile of yarn balls all unraveled and going in so many directions at once?  Why did men get the capacity to compartmentalize things and function so differently with thought and deed?  We both ate of the tree of knowledge, yet our brains work so entirely differently.  Why?

It is a mystery.

Interestingly enough, what also happened after woman bit that apple… she saw herself.  She felt shame and guilt.  And, she hid from God.  Until that moment, the Lord had blinders on her eyes.  She saw Him, she saw Adam, she knew her God given task and purpose.  When she bit of the apple, those blinders fell off.   “What if” entered the world.  “What if God didn’t say ….”.  “What if I take a bite…”.  “What if I didn’t hear God correctly…”.

What if.

Throughout the scriptures there are cries out to God to be seen.  See me, search me, do not cast your face from me, see your people, hear your people, help your people…

Eve hid from God.  Eve said… do not see me.  Do not find me.  Do not cast your gaze upon me.  Do not search me.   She didn’t want to be found in her shame and her guilt.

Avert your eyes.

But the Lord looked for them, he sought them out in their shame, held them accountable, and then as He always does… he made a way out.

I’ve known so many women who want to be seen.  They want their spouses to see them, instead of take them for granted.  They want their children to see them,  and consider them worthy of praise.  They want their parent to see them and apologize for past hurts.  They want their boss to see them and recognize their efforts.  They want their church to see them and welcome their gifts.  They want world to see them and say you add value and are worthy to know.

And yet, some of these same women will hide from those who see too much.   When a spouse gets too close, and they feel vulnerable… they push him away.  When the children begin to see through her perfect mom facade, she builds up taller walls and come up with new covers to her sin.  A parent who desires to fix the past will be kept at arms reach because of fear, we do not want to be hurt again.  Women don’t want their bosses to know how much they sacrificed for the job, because they fear it shows weakness vs. strength.  A woman  who wants the church to see her gift but hides the journey to faith that brought her there.  Women who want the world to see them, but only the parts they want to be seen.

Women are complicated creations.  By our design or as a result of our choices, we seem to have the ability to complicate our lives even more than they need to be.  We say we want authenticity in our friendships, but we do not want vulnerability.  We say that we want iron sharpens iron friendships, yet we do not understand that for iron to be strengthened it’s weaknesses must be exposed.  We would rather our friends look up at us as a model of inspiration versus walk with us through our valleys.  We put on a show, get a circle of friends, build relationships… always keeping our arms stretched out so that no one can get too close.

From a distance our cracks and fractures are not as noticeable.  From a distance we can put on a show and no one can see us reading from the cue cards.  From a distance our grand actions are easily seen but our slight of hand goes unnoticed.  From a distance we look holy and righteous, masking our sin and deprivation.  From a distance we appear to have it all together, all of the right answers, the perfect family… no one can see the brokenness behind our closed doors.

Social media has made the perfect playground for superficial relationships, because we can connect with hundreds and thousands of people… posting our perfectly thought out words, edited photographs, and stories spun to make our lives look like a highlight reel of perfection.  When those people began to infiltrate our real lives, and see how we really live… that facade can only last so long.  When they get too close and begin to the see the truth, we cut them out and replace them with someone new.  Cycling our “friends” in and out of our lives to protect the image we have created for ourselves.

We tackle authenticity from a place of mentor to mentee versus a mutual relationship of accountability.  We want others to be authentic with us, so that we can use our gifts, talents, knowledge, wisdom, et’al to help them.   Yet we dare not expose the thorns in our sides, the planks in our eyes, and our sin to those whom we consider our closest friends.   When they come across them and call our attention to it, we are quick to dismiss it.  Quick to blame, and quick to create distance.  We speak truth in love, but I question how much love is really there.  We speak personal conviction as biblical mandate, standing on a soap box of righteousness that is filled with worms.  We are quick to label others sins and quantify them as more terrible than our own, so that when the time comes we can stop the friendship and feel no remorse.

Righteous indignation is easier than self retrospection.

So, we hide.  We hide from God under the guise that our sin is not as bad as others.  We tell ourselves that God is angrier about greater sins in the world, than this little thing I have done.  We hide from those who love us, because we fear that if they see us for who we really are they will leave… judge… or hold us accountable to change.  We hide from ourselves by focusing so much on how others have wronged or hurt us, that we can put our own sin on the back burner.

We want others to avert their eyes to us, while we look at them under a microscope.

Lord help us to be vulnerable with one another, to walk our roads not alone but in the company of our family of believers, let us not fear accountability, and help us to stop hiding from you.

Gospel Eldership

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Well, I was pretty disappointed from the offset on this book.   I know, I know… what a way to begin a book review.  Bear with me.

I really, really was excited about this book.  As a person who has an interest in developing biblically sound leaders… this book jumped out at me as a great resource.  Then it happened… the top of page 4:  An elder is a man.

That is where my heart sunk.  I’ve been pretty honest in other posts about my struggle with the role of women as Pastors.  It was once something I was very against, morphed into something that became not quite so hardlined.  There were clearly times where God called a woman to lead (Deborah) and there are references of women in the New Testament as apostles and deaconesses.  It’s left me in a place currently where I feel as if the calling of women into headship is not outside of God’s character (even if it isn’t the norm).   It has even challenged me to the previous post, If Not Here, Than Where? … I can’t deny that women are called to lead and we need to have a place for them to do so.

Additionally, even with a historical belief that women were not called to be Pastors, I’ve never attended a church where women have been excluded from the role of deacon or elder.  In fact, it has been something I have seen Pastors embrace.  To have a female perspective will give staff the pulse of the women in the church, to have an elder that can counsel women directly without question of impropriety is a good safety measure, etc.

The scriptures clearly call women to teach other women, and that would also be to lead and guide other women. Why could there not be an elder, deacon, or even Pastor that does not oversee women?  Even if you were complementarian, I would think you could see that this would be an answer to the “if not here, then where?” question.

I wanted to keep reading though, and shortly found myself hung up again.

Thune states:  Complementarianism is the theological term for this viewpoint.  Men and women are complementary in their God-given design and roles, with men bearing the responsibility for spiritual leadership in the home and church.

He continues with the question:  If the men in your church looked like the men this resource envisions, would you have any reason not to trust, respect, and affirm their leadership?

And… to that question, I answer emphatically NO!  I would have zero reason to question their leadership. And… THIS IS THE VERY PROBLEM WE FACE IN THE CHURCH!

Right now statistically, women are comprising 60-65% of the warm bodies sitting in our pews every Sunday.   They make up 80-90% of the volunteer force in the church.  If you look at any church small group or bible study calendar, I would dare say that women’s ministry programs/events/studies will outnumber the male counterparts 4 to 1.

When I speak with women at events, do you know what the number one complain I get is?

I wish my husband was the spiritual leader in our home.  I’m tired of doing this on my own.  I don’t want the job.  It’s not supposed to be my job. 

When I speak with Pastors and other church staff, do you know what they give as a reason for not wanting women to go away on weekend long retreats?

If the women aren’t here on Sunday, the men don’t come and they don’t bring the children.

Now, I do not know if this is a regional thing.  Perhaps in the area of the country Mr. Thune is from, men are still the spiritual leaders.  But in THIS area, where I live, it is not the case.  The women are picking up that role, whether they want it or not, and therefore they are leaders in the home and in the church.  I’ve yet to sit in a church service, conference, or event locally that has challenged men to stand up to the occasion and change that direction.  The men have not be challenged to come when the women can’t, but instead they women have been told not to go.  A burden has been put upon their shoulders that was never meant to be, but the women are rising to the occasion.

It’s not that I disagree with Mr. Thune’s perspective on how God ordained the order of the family and headship.  Hardly, ideally it is exactly what God would want… but it’s not happening… and can we afford for those who are stepping up into leadership to not receive the proper training and development?

John Piper once spoke at a conference about his parents.  His father would travel for work, and while his father was away his mother stepped up to the occasion.  She handled the home until his father returned, then it was returned to his care.  Right now, our men are away… and we are handling the church… until they return.  Women are waiting for their men to “come home” and lead.  Until that time, we have a responsibility to our children and those who are in our charge.

If women are going to be spiritual leaders of their home, and in the church, picking up that slack… then they must be 1) equipped for the job with proper training and 2) held to the same standards a man would be in that position.

It is from that point forward, that I absolute LOVE and VALUE what this book has to offer in the way we are equipping our leaders.  I’ve seen many elders appointed in my day, but do you know that I’ve never heard of any one of them going through any sort of intentional or purposeful development… especially like this book offers.

I think this is a great resource for your existing elder team to work through together, in order to have a better understanding of their role in the church, further their relationship with each other, and have a better understanding of theology for their own personal edification and in leading others.  But, this is also a great tool for potential leaders in the church (not just for the role of elder).  It allows for honest introspection, challenges our leaders to a deeper commitment, raises the stakes on integrity and ethics of the leadership role, clear expectations from a biblical perspective for our leaders, and exercises and conversation that cause our leaders/potential leaders to really think about whether or not eldership is a calling on their life now (or ever).

The more I dug into the remaining content, the more I caught myself nodding my head in agreement.  THESE ARE THE MEN WE NEED IN OUR CHURCH.  Where are they?

Will they answer the call?

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My review of “Gospel Eldership” is entirely my own opinion.  I received the copy of “Gospel Eldership” from New Growth Press with the intention of a review.  Any thoughts expressed are my own and not influenced in anyway by the author or publisher. 

When Introverts Grieve

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Introverts already have a hard time dealing socially with other people.  They can find their energy drained by interactions with other people, social situations, etc.  They recharge their batteries by withdrawing to solitude.   It doesn’t mean that introverts don’t like to engage socially with others, or try to avoid it like the plague.  It simply means that when they do socialize, it takes a lot out of them.  Therefore, introverts will not overwhelm their schedules with lots of plans.  They are very choosy about what they say yes to, and how often they say yes.  They are the most forgiving, of your friends, when you have to cancel.  They are very intentional with their time, and recognize that they need time off.

It would surprise many of friends to hear me say that I am an introvert… but it is the truth.  I’m very selective about my friends, cautious with my time, and can enjoy the complete silence of an empty house.  Even though when I AM out, I can talk your ear off and have a great time.

One of the most difficult times for an introvert, in my experiences, is when we are grieving.   Loss is hard on anyone, but for introverts it is also exhausting.  We appreciate your phone calls, messages, emails, cards, etc.  We are thankful for your offers of help and concern for our well being.   In dealing with death, we are already overwhelmed.  We are overwhelmed by our own emotions.  We are trying to navigate conversations with immediate and extended family members, hosting out of town guests, planning funeral or memorial arrangements.  We are making plans, writing obituaries, or having to think about what we will say at the funeral.  It’s a lot to contend with.

Then we are compounded by phone calls from well meaning people WHOM WE LOVE.  Truth is… introverts do not want to talk about what has happened any more than they have to.  We are not ready yet to answer questions or hear the same words over and over again.  It is NOT because we don’t want to talk to you right now.  It is because it is incredibly hard.  We just can’t do it.  Our conversations will be short, we may not have all of the answers to your questions yet, and frankly we may not even be emotionally or mentally ready to do so… and we need you to be okay with that.

So, how do you show an introvert you care?

Please do not just show up at our door, no matter how upset we are.  We need our solitude right now, and depending on who it was that passed away … we may need to cleave to our immediate family.  If we need someone to come and sit with us, trust me… we know we can call you.  We know you will be there. 

Dropping off meals is a sweet gesture, but we may not be up for the visit.  And I know you think you will just drop off and go… but we all know that a visit will happen.  If you feel like helping in this way, send a gift card for a local pizza place (even Little Caesars for $5.55 ready to go pizzas).  It doesn’t have to be an expensive meal.

Phone calls are a personal touch, but personal can be hard right now.  A quick text, a card in the mail, or an email w/o expectation of an immediate response is better.  It gives us time to respond when we are up to it.  Do not think that we see this gesture as cold or unsympathetic…. we appreciate it more than you realize.

Introverts cope differently than you would expect, the time we may need to lean on you may be weeks or months later, after the dust settles.  Be there for us then, pray for us now.

Introverts appreciate practicality and solutions during a time of grieving.  If you work for a hotel and can help us with discounted accommodations for family flying in to town, that is better than flowers or a meal.  With the recent passing of my Father In Law, there was a specific task that needed to be handled & we had no idea how to handle it.  I reached out to a friend and asked her help in the matter.  This to me was a relief that we didn’t have to navigate it alone, and that there was someone level headed doing the thinking for us.  

Finally, I would suggest offering specific help.  I’m just as guilty of saying to someone “Let me know if I can help in anyway”…. because we love that person, we want to help, but we don’t know how.  It’s a genuine offer.   However, having been on the other side of the situation, our brains don’t always know how to answer that question.  So instead of offering a blanket answer, offer what you know you can.   These are merely suggestions, and not applicable to our current situation:

  • Does your mother in law need someone to mow the lawn over the next few weeks?  My husband said he would be happy to come by.
  • Until things get settled, if anything needs fixing around the house, let the church know.  We’ll send our handy man to help you.
  • Since our kids go to school together, once you go back to work, I’m happy to pick your kids up from school until you can figure out a plan.
  • I’m happy to watch the kids when you guys have to make arrangements.  (Or – I’m happy to keep the kids while you are at the memorial/funeral, if that would make it easier for you.)
  • If you ever just don’t want to be alone, call me… I’ll bring the popcorn and the movies.

My husband and I were just talking tonight about this subject, a family friend called today (my Father in Law passed on Monday).  My husband appreciated that our friends have not been ringing our phone off the hook. It gives him time to process, and I knew exactly what he meant.  It also shows just how well people know us, because this is not a post of complaint.  Our friends have been absolutely amazing in giving us space and time as a family.

This post is just to share a little insight into the mind of the introverts in your life, when they are grieving.  KNOW that we love you.  We KNOW that you are thinking about us.  We KNOW that you care, and are willing to help.  Just know that more now than ever, we need that peace that comes from solitude, to re-energize ourselves for the heavy tasks ahead of us in the coming days and weeks.

A Word for 2016: Refined

MBA

Recently, I was made aware of an idea that instead of making resolutions for the new year, we should instead select a word to define our year.  Some people are picking the words themselves, others are praying for a divine revelation of the word.

I decided to select a word that would represent completion of the events from the past few years.  I’d consider it partial divine revelation and partial selection on my part.  I  know that the Lord has been refining some areas in my life for the past few years, and it has been tough.  Really tough.  Pain. Tears. Loneliness.

However, as 2015 drew to a close many of those situations were heading toward resolution.  And, a I have just a few things that are going to end this year.    While I know that God is not entirely done with me yet, and that the future will definitely be a continuation of a refining process… I still chose for my word this year to be REFINED.  Past tense, because I believe this current season of refinement, the trials I have been going through are coming to an end.

When we are being refined by God, He will use circumstances to strip away everything that is not beneficial to us.  He will use circumstances to teach us and prepare us for future works.  He will also discipline us as a way to guide us toward His calling and direction in our life.  Refinement is not easy, but the result is always good.  There are also byproducts of our refinement, including being able to share our testimony to others.  This gives them peace in knowing that the trials they face are part of God’s refinement of their life.

Refinement is a gift, even if it is a tough one to receive.  I am eager to see how God will use this gift in my life in the coming year.

#Write31Days Challenge – Post 30 – These Three Things

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As a stay at home mom, I felt like my only job was to keep the house immaculate & tend to the kids.  It was the least I could do for the husband who worked all day to provide.  Yet, it was something I failed at all of the time.  I would spend hours organizing a closet, tidying up one space or another, all while trying to take care of my kids.  In the days when the babies would take several naps in the course of the day, it was easier.  When they became mobile it was trying to brush your teeth with oreo cookies.

And despite my best efforts, it seemed like my husband was never happy.  This created a spirit of resentment in my heart, because I felt like I couldn’t ever do enough to please him.  He would complain about simple things while totally disregarding all the work that I had accomplished.  It was absolutely infuriating to me.

One day, I was trying to figure out a more effective cleaning plan for the house.  I had written down a list of every task in the house, categorizing them into daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonal chores.  For whatever reason, that day, I decided to ask my husband for his input.  I wanted to know what was most important to him in regards to the general state of the house.

I was shocked to find out that I had been wasting time working on “projects” that meant absolutely nothing to him, and I was skipping over the things that mattered most.   It wasn’t even an issue of “cleaning” either.  I was angry with my husband all this time for disregarding my work.  The truth was, we simply didn’t have clear communication about the subject. I assumed what a clean house would look like, and he had his own assumptions.

For example, something that many of us mothers will do, I would use the foyer area as a staging zone.  I would keep my purse, the diaper bag, stroller, etc  by the front door.  It was where I needed it, and it wasn’t strewn about.  As I began to volunteer at church for various things, I would often stage by the front door the things I would need to bring with me.  Neat and tidy, but yet all in the foyer area so that I would have everything ready to go.

To my husband, this was cluttered.  When coming home from a long day at work, the last thing he wanted to do was to maneuver around my staging area.

That makes total sense.  Yet, he had never expressed that to me.  The words he chose were ones that made me feel as if I wasn’t doing a good job cleaning.  Simple word choice made a huge difference.  At the same time, we had been married for many years… two children born… before I would even ask him about it.

He didn’t care if I vacuumed daily.  He liked the counter clear, so he could put his stuff away.  I was spending time organizing closets, and he would have preferred something entirely different.

Communication in marriage is HUGE and it shouldn’t be just over the big things.  I believe most of our biggest squabbles come from poor communication.

The second thing I assumed was that once I knew this about his preferences, that they wouldn’t change.  Many years passed by of my doing the same things, we moved into our current home.  It never really dawned on me that a new home might result in a change in his preferences.  It never dawned on me that as his job would change, that it would influence his perspective on what made his home comfortable.

Over time, I noticed he was complaining again, but that I had been keeping up on the things that mattered to him.  That would start breeding a familiar resentment.  This time I caught it, and we were able to communicate sooner.  It was through our conversations that I realized that his needs or priorities had changed.  What he really would have appreciated for that relaxed at home feeling had changed.

The foyer was no longer an issue for him.  Perhaps, because it is now a habit for the whole family… it’s never a mess or crowded.  It could also be that where he retreats as soon as he comes home from work has changed.   Before, he would put his stuff in the closet by the front door.  In our new home, he took it all the way to the bedroom.  Simple things like keeping the bedroom chair clear, so that he could have a place to sit and take his boots off … that was a blessing to him.   After working all day in environments he wasn’t always thrilled about, something as simple as having fresh clean towels and a clean pair of socks to change into were

One of the things I have always encouraged new wives to do, is to ask their husband what their expectations are of her (and vice versa).  In fact, it is better to do this BEFORE you get married.   Seventeen years later, I know that this is not a one time deal but an ongoing process.  I recommended revisiting it every time there is a major shift in the family (new child, quitting job to stay home, moving to a new house, etc).  If those things are staying pretty much status quo, make a point then to revisit the topic every 3-5 years.  Don’t assume things won’t change for him, or for you.

These Three Things

Begin by writing down everything that is a chore or task that must get done, starting with your daily duties.  Sit down with each other, and put a star next to the three things that are the MOST IMPORTANT (chores/tasks) to each of you.   These are the three big deal items that you like to have done daily/regularly that make you feel relaxed and comfortable in your home.  You now have a daily task list of just six things that are your MUST do items for the day, or at least on a regular basis.

Go through this list and talk about each item, do you LOVE this chore… or do you HATE it.  What about your spouse?   For example, my husband finds sweeping cathartic.   I actually like cleaning off and wiping down tables.  I hate sweeping and mopping, because as a mom… I know that it is going to be dirty with in seconds of the kids coming home.

This simple task will help you identify what is important to each other.  These six things need to become the priority in your daily to-do list, at the same time you are also identifying WHO will complete the task.  If you hate it, but your husband loves it… then let him do it!  And if you love doing it (or even don’t mind)…  then take that one for yourself.

Both hate it?  Take turns.  Both love it?  Do it together.

After you have established your daily must do list, go through the rest of your list of chores/tasks.   Skip choosing priorities, and instead identify your love or hate for the chore.  Put a heart next to what you love, and an X next to the chores you just hate doing.  If you don’t care, leave it blank.

Then begin to evenly distribute those chores between the two of you.  If you are both working, this is equitable. If one of you is staying home with kids, the load should accommodate for their schedule.  We can’t expect our spouse to accomplish a task that can only be done during their working hours.  The list may not be evenly split in the end, but it will still be a fair list.

The great news about this process?  As you have kids, you can renegotiate the distribution as they reach milestone ages where chores become age appropriate.

It is a great process to start the communication between spouses about expectations, eliminating assumptions.   When I know what is important to my spouse, that becomes my priority.  The rest can wait.

Some other things to consider, outside of household chores include:

  • Repair/ Maintenance Appointments for the Car (If you hate dealing with the mechanics, sales people, etc. this could be a great one to hand off to your spouse.)
  • Attendance to Family Events (You could find that Easter is more important to his family, and Christmas is more important to yours.  This info eliminates trying to fit everyone in on a single day.)
  • Planning Vacations (Perhaps you are limited to one vacation per year, list your three bucket list destinations, and your spouse does the same. Alternate year to year on the destination from that list.)
  • Major Purchases/Decisions (When buying a home, selecting a school, etc. you can each list the three things that are most important to you.  Use that list as your buying guide or litmus for making the decision against.)

These are just a few other ways the “Three Things” process can help you communicate better with your spouse. Clear communication of clear expectations puts everyone on the same page, dissolves assumptions, and sets any couple up for success.

#Write31Days – Post 17 – Difficult People

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Dot was an ornery woman.  I had just transferred work locations,  and I was being given the tour.  Introductions to the staff, learning where everything was located, etc.  When I was introduced to Dot, that was the description whispered to me as we approached her.  She was an older woman, who had been with the company since it’s inception.  Her employee number was a single digit (mine was over 7 digits long).   I realized quickly that she was someone who should have retired a long time ago.  She smiled at me as we were introduced, but quickly that smile turned to a scowl as she barked orders at a fellow employee who had passed by.

Ornery indeed.

The thing about me is that I see people like this as a challenge.  In that moment where her smile turned to a scowl, the challenge was issued… and I accepted.

For the next year, I poked that bear every single day.  I was going to make her smile, I was going to make her laugh.  She was going to like me, and I was going to like her.

I learned a lot about Dot.  I learned that she was married and had a son.  I learned that her husband went in for routine surgery, and died.  About two years later, the same happened with her son.

Dot was alone.  Dot was still grieving.  Dot was angry with God.

This would culminate into a woman who was very, very difficult.  She wasn’t pleasant to be around.   To be brutally honest, she was MEAN.  She wasn’t respectful to others, no one wanted to be around her, and she made life difficult for every employee in that building.  Despite her attitude toward others, the more we unraveled about her … the more compassion and empathy people had toward her.  It took one person willing to invest some time in trying to break through her wall, to understand who she was and what she had gone through.  The softer their hearts grew toward her, the more she began to let her guard down.  She was starting to smile more, and then began to laugh… a lot.

It first revealed itself when she fainted during a morning meeting, and she was able to see the concern that everyone had for her.  It was several of the men on staff that insisted she leave with the paramedics, and one even followed her to the hospital.  Several years later, Dot was waiting for the building to open and she was brutally assaulted when a man robbed her.  The staff surrounded her during her recovery and sat with her during the trial.  Due to the injuries she sustained and her age, she was unable to return to work.  That didn’t keep the staff from rallying around her until the day she passed away.

Dot was a difficult person.  She was raised to be tough.  Circumstances made her hard.

What I have observed over, and over again, is that people who are difficult are rarely so for no good reason.  Something has happened in their life that has shaped who they have become.  It could be a result of childhood trauma, abuse & mistreatment, discrimination, suffering, or even just a culmination of smaller difficulties in their life.

When dealing with difficult people, my first response is always:

If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

Romans 12:18

In order to do so, I remind myself that there is a reason why they are such difficult people.  I would rather assume that, then accept that they are choosing to intentionally behave this way.

I will always be nice & respectful, regardless of how mean or disrespectful they are to me.

I will give the benefit of the doubt, instead of assuming the worst, about them as a person.

There will be times, however, where no matter how nice we are … the person is bent on being difficult, angry, mean, hateful, etc.

  • Limit Time :  You do not have to spend every waking hour with this person.  Limit your time around them to only the occasions where you must be present.  Get your task done quickly, and leave.  Also, avoid giving them presence in your head once you are not around them.  Do not spend a moment thinking about their negativity, or replaying that day’s encounter.
  • Pray Regularly:  If we are going to assume that there is a reason they have turned out the way they are, then we ought to be praying for them.  Choosing to pray for someone who is difficult is different than replaying that day’s encounter.  Praying for them is a positive action, that comes from a place of love and compassion for God’s creation.  We can pray for a person while creating boundaries that keep ourselves emotionally & mentally healthy. 
  • Involve Authority:  I am not suggesting that you call the cops on someone who is just being cranky all the time.  However if you must work or serve with this person, and their attitude is creating problems in your workplace or in the ministry… involve your manager at work, or your leader/Pastor if it is within the ministry service. 

Some practical advice for the every day:

  1. Keep your answers short, sweet, and too the point.   Answer their questions, assign their task, and move on.  You can be polite, respectful, and even nice without engaging in their negativity.
  2. Purposefully go out of your way to do something nice for them, even if they don’t deserve it.  This doesn’t have to be an every day thing, but a simple pat on the back for doing a good job, a card on their birthday, etc. are small gestures that can mean a lot.
  3. Do not feed their attitude by being exclusionary.  If your team is going out to dinner, you invite the person.  They are part of the team, it is the right thing to do.  Let the difficult person decided if they are going to come or not.

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;  For you will heap burning coals on his head, And the LORD will reward you

Proverbs 25:21-22

In the verse from Proverbs above, I am reminded that when I am good to a person who is my enemy… it affects them.  It may even convict them of their poor attitude toward/about me.  When we are nice to those who don’t deserve it, it softens their hearts.  That process can take a very, very long time and will require copious amounts of divinely given patience.

God has loved us far more than we deserve, shouldn’t we at least, in kind, love His children (our brothers and sisters in Christ) in the same way?

Christ, at the crucifixion, even prayed for God to “forgive them, they know not what they do”.   His love and compassion fell on the heads of those who drove in the nails.

What right then do we have to be angry with those who we view as enemies? Or, to mistreat those who are being difficult to get along with?  Are we being Christ-like in how we respond to them?  Are we following the scriptures?  Or, are we giving into our flesh?

Keep in mind, however, that the heart of our intentions will also be revealed.  If we are being nice as a show to others, we are not being sincere.  If we are being nice to make the person feel guilty or convicted, we are not being sincere.  At some point that insincerity will be revealed to those around us.  Others will know it was just a show, not authentic.  It won’t change that difficult person, it will damage our relationship with others, and it will ultimately have a negative affect within ourselves.

When we respond in kindness to difficult people with sincerity, we are being Christ-like, we are being obedient, and we are being genuine.  Over the long term, it will have a positive affect on those around us, including our own selves.

#Write31Days – Post 15 – Memorizing the Scriptures

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My small group for this fall is all about Bible Literacy, we are half way through our book.  I think we all have grasped the importance of not just reading the Bible, but studying it.  We are learning study tools so that we can read with purpose, perspective, patience, process, and prayer.  We have grasped that reading a piece of scripture just once isn’t sufficient, and reading it in context is responsible.

At the beginning of the small group sessions, I asked all of the women to write down WHY they were interested in learning how to study the Bible.  An older woman in the group shared that she was looking for a better way to retain what she was reading.  Age and illness have taken a toll.  Years of Bible Studies, personal reading, etc… and she just couldn’t hold onto to the information.  She was hoping that learning new study skills would help her retain the scriptures she loved.

Confession Time:

I think most of us struggle with memorizing scripture. 

It takes time, effort, and practice.  Most of us find that our time is pretty divided between work, family, volunteering, etc.  We have also lost the need for scripture memorization, particularly in the United States.  In my own home I have access to NINE translations of the Bible in PRINT.  If you include the access I have through the internet, I literally have access to every translation written to date.  It costs me nothing.

Historically, people would memorize scripture because they were relaying the scriptures from memory… there were not written Bibles.  Later, as the scriptures were recorded on scrolls, the scrolls would be passed around from city to city.  It was quite possible that no single city would have the complete collection of the scriptures all at one time.  In other countries, having a printed copy of the scriptures might get you executed.  For these people memorization is their only option.

However, for you and I… it’s a quick click of some keys, or a short walk to our bookshelf.

We don’t NEED to memorize it, because we have instantaneous access to it… any time we want.

For my friend who is aging, this is a relief.

Yet, for those of us who want to memorize scripture (in part, or in whole) it is a daunting task.   Here are a few tips for helping you memorize scripture.

  • Select scriptures that are meaningful to you, at least to start with.  They may be encouraging scriptures that get you through rough times.  Or, pieces of beautiful poetry that remind you of the glory of God.  They may be promises or scriptures of wisdom.  Having a connection to the scripture will give you the motivation needed to memorize.
  • Write out the scripture several times by hand, for some learning styles this is an active way to cement the scriptures to memory.  For others they may need to repeat the scripture out loud, many times like a drill, in order to recall it from memory.  Or, come up with a mnemonic device to assist with memory recall…. such as hand gestures, putting it to a tune or rhythm.
  • Write the scripture down on a card, and display it in an area you frequent often.    Such places may be your bathroom mirror, on your front door, the dashboard of your car, or in your planner.   Keep it there until you have memorized the scripture, then replace with a new one.
  • Try memorizing the scripture from a translation that is easier to recall.  A King James version can be difficult with the old english phrasing.  The NIV or ESV may be a lot easier because the language is more familiar.

Also make sure that you review scriptures you have already memorized often, to ensure you retained it accurately.  Otherwise you may find yourself leaving out words of blending scriptures together that are unrelated.

Letting Go – Is it that easy?

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I think we have all been in that place where we are struggling with something, and a good willed person says:

“You are just going to have to let it go.”

They make it sound so easy, as if we could just flip a switch in our minds. 

But, is it really that easy?  Of course not!  And if the table were turned, and we offered that advice to that same person… we might be met with a dagger eyed stare.   Letting go, isn’t that easy.   It never has been.

I can recall teaching my toddlers how to walk, their little fingers tightly gripped around my own.  They are totally walking on their own, they don’t need to hold on to me, but they are afraid to let go.  No matter how much we try to tell them to “just let go”, or even slip our fingers out of their grasp, they clench their grip tighter.

The reason why letting go is so hard, is because we’ve been holding on for so long.

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We hold onto friendships, even unhealthy ones, because we have been in each others lives for so long … we can’t imagine a day where we could just stop caring.  We can’t imagine a day without them in our life, imperfections and all.

We hold onto memories of past relationships, even bad ones, because we were intertwined in each others lives for so long.  We were a team, taking on the world together.  How do you just walk away and never look back?

We mourn over deaths, sometimes indefinitely, because these were people who were integral in our lives.  We don’t want to forget them, so we hold on even tighter to their memory.

We hold on, out of fear, to our children as they grow up.  We are afraid we haven’t taught them enough, we are afraid they will make bad decisions, or that the world will wort them.  We hold on because we care too much to let go.

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Yes, there are times where we absolutely need to let go, no matter what it may cost us.

There are other times, where what we need isn’t to let go… but distance and patience.

And sometimes, we need to hold on… with everything we have.

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Continuing to hold on can be even more painful than letting go.

We must rely on God to give us discernment to know when it is appropriate to hold on, and when we really need to let go.  Then, we need to rely on God to help us in the process.  How long do we hold on for, and what actions and boundaries are to be in place?  If we are called to let go, then we need strength to do so without looking back and doubting if we made the right decision.

We must also examine our own hearts in the matter.

Am I unable to let go, because I hope for reconciliation?

That is a good thing.

Am I unable to let go, because I want evidence that I was right?

That’s a bit prideful.

Am I unable to let go, because I want to see them fail?

That’s sinful.

Am I holding on, because I feel like I can save them?

That’s pride.

Am I holding on, because I can’t live without them?

That’s idolizing.

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Letting go isn’t easy.  It is also not always the right thing to do.  We can’t always make these decisions on our own, we need wisdom of godly counsel of others and we need to be praying to God to direct our hearts.