Category: Experiences (page 1 of 27)

How to be a Perfect Parent

Sweaty but eager, we gather around our tennis coach after a drill.  In wrapping up, he reminds us of something he says often about “winning”. “Instead of worrying about whether you’re winning, you need to just stay in the present point. You need to detach from the outcome.”

Immediately one of the other moms on the team says, “That’s what I do with my kids!”

Does that mean she doesn’t care if her kids are convicts or racists or just neglect to say “thank you”? Not at all! It just means that she knows she can only be responsible for her part.

When they’re little that includes coaching and consequences, time-outs and training.

And prayer. Lots of prayer.

I have a mentor friend who used to tell her kids, “I have you basically for 18 years and I’m going to steward that time as wisely and prayerfully as I can.” Does that mean when they turned 18 she tore up her “mom card” and said “Phew, I’m done!”? Absolutely not. She continues to pray, trusting God to get her kids where they need to go. 

Another friend has a grown daughter with issues. She kept rescuing her daughter from the consequences of her bad choices as an adult until she had a “Detach from the outcome” moment. She realized her actions were driven by what others might think of her as a parent if they saw her daughter’s destructive behavior. She opened her hands and acknowledged that her daughter was differentiated from her – an adult, responsible for her own choices. Again, that didn’t mean she stopped loving and praying fervently for her daughter. It meant she clarified what was her job, and what was her daughter’s job.

But the other day I was talking to one of my closest friends about a family member we’ve prayed for for 15 years without seeing the fruit we have begged God for. WHY Lord?

I wonder…What might it have been like for the father in the parable of the prodigal son?

How long was the son gone? How long did the dad pray?

Did he go over in his mind all the mistakes he had made as a parent? The times when he lost his temper? The times they skipped family devotions? That time he was too busy to play catch? Did he struggle to trust God to forgive and redeem his parental shortcomings?

Did he pray, somedays feeling like it was hopeless – like his son would never come to his senses?

He let his son go. He let him experience the consequences of his actions. Did he fight the urge every day to run to the “far country” and rescue him?

Did he struggle to know what his part was and what God’s part was? What the parable says is that he kept waiting and watching.

When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him.” Luke 15:20

How can you be a perfect parent? You admit you’re not, and you embrace your job to pray and wait and watch, trusting the only One who is.

God, the one and only—
    I’ll wait as long as he says.
Everything I hope for comes from him,
    so why not?
He’s solid rock under my feet,
    breathing room for my soul… Psalm 62:5-6

 

 

One Defiant Act You Can Choose This Christmas

I stand outside in the early dawn of my hometown, and tears pool in my eyes.

I am moved by this – the bravest picture I’ve seen this season. A picture of defiance over darkness, hope holding on.

My brother, David died of cancer 2 1/2 years ago.

He was an “everyone is welcome” guy. A “we’ll leave the light on” guy. A “stop by anytime…come as you are” guy. But since his death, the house has looked shadowed, like it was grieving too.

Until now. Until this small act of defiance, by my sister-in-law, Susan. A courageous act of choosing Life.

Susan chose the small, but significant act of putting up Christmas lights.

To me it shouts, “I will NOT let the darkness win!”

“In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:4-5

God made us for Life – life in relationship with Him, now, and forever. There’s nothing the Evil One would like more than convincing us that the darkness of loss and pain are too much, too pervasive, to allow us to ever walk in the light again.

Courage doesn’t mean the darkness doesn’t exist. It means you don’t give it the power to control your life. 

Many of you are experiencing pain, and loss this Advent.

You need to be gentle with yourself. Allow yourself to say “no”. Choose what will nurture and sustain you. Draw near to Jesus.

But I also know that you can make choices to courageously light a candle in your darkness. Your tiny light may look like

  • just getting out of bed in the morning
  • finding one thing to thank God for
  • calling a friend
  • listening to worship music
  • serving someone else

Every year our church has a special worship service at the beginning of December, specifically for people struggling with darkness and loss during the Christmas season. Each person who shows up is courageous…choosing light over darkness.

This year we opened with this song. I pray it encourages you.

God will make a way through the darkness. I’m cheering you on as you choose the defiant act of lighting a candle.

What are some ways you are bringing light to the darkness?

 

3 Crucial Questions Elizabeth May Have Asked

The sun is setting outside the sanctuary windows. I work hard to be present – to continue listening as a friend in the pew speaks to me before evening worship starts. I pray silently that she doesn’t see the tears that threaten to expose my emotional response to what she is saying. It’s stupid.

“I’m over this,” I scold myself. “I’ve been over this for years!”. The little stab of pain surprises me in the way a driver cutting you off in traffic catches you off guard.

My friend is rhapsodizing about another woman. A wonderful, talented, godly, beautiful woman who I too, cheer for. Over and over, my friend says, “She’s just SO GOOD! She’s just SO GIFTED!”

99% of the time I would just happily agree, but this evening, in this setting, where others are validated with titles and pay-checks, the Evil One translates “good” and “gifted” to “chosen where you’re not good enough”, “important where you’re not“. The words aren’t true, but they bump into a wound that makes them feel true. The wound has healed over with much prayer and attention, but there’s a scar, and in the right circumstances it can surprise me with a leftover ache.

I’m still trying to brush away the feelings of inadequacy as we sing the opening praise song. “Let the King of my heart be the shadow where I hide.”

Yes, Lord, help me to hide in You, in Your place for me, in Your words about me, in Your story.

Can any of you relate to this? Are there times when emotion – pain, fear, envy, resentment – knock you upside the head without warning?

This morning I was reading Luke 1… about Elizabeth, who, with a wound of infertility, accepted her supporting role for other characters who in turn pointed to Jesus as the main character. She was a cheerleader for Mary – the one who got pregnant with the Messiah without even trying. And mother to John the Baptist, odd desert-dweller, announcing the main event.

Maybe Satan whispered in Elizabeth’s ear,  You’re not important like her! Child-bearing came easy for her because she’s SPECIAL and you’re not! You’re just an ‘also ran’. Her kid will be perfect. Yours just a bug-eater”

And yet Elizabeth was humble and affirming of Mary.

You’re so blessed among women,
    and the babe in your womb, also blessed!
And why am I so blessed that
    the mother of my Lord visits me?
The moment the sound of your
    greeting entered my ears,
The babe in my womb
    skipped like a lamb for sheer joy.
Blessed woman, who believed what God said,
    believed every word would come true! Luke 1:42-45

Maybe there were times when Elizabeth’s scar ached in Mary’s presence. But I think it was because she knew it wasn’t about her OR about Mary that she had this godly perspective. It’s about Jesus. Always about Jesus.

It’s not about you. Or me.

But I wonder, did Elizabeth ever need to step back, be still, and ask:

  • Where is this pain coming from?
  • What is true? What does GOD say?
  • Who’s the hero of my story?

God’s provision is often different from what we envision. Sometimes we forget the most important thing – He’s the author and main character in the Grand Story of redemption.

Today, can we be thankful we get to be supporting characters?

What to do With the Ding

You’re the only family not invited to a relative’s wedding. You wonder, whaaaat did we do wrong?

Ding.

You send an email with a question and get crickets, leading you to imagine all kinds of crazy scenarios why.

Ding.

A colleague always seems to outshine you, leaving you feeling inadequate.

Ding

Some close friends start avoiding you because they disagree with a leadership decision you made.

Ding.

A family member betrays your trust and disregards a promise, refusing address the issue.

Ding.

These are all real-life dings that friends have shared with me.

Your dings are different, but we all get them. It’s an inevitable part of…well…being us.

A ding can take our emotions hostage if we let it. 

It can bind and gag us, leaving us in a dark basement with feelings of “less than”, shame, and “not good enough”.

I think of Daniel, Shaddrach, Meshach, Abednego – all taken captive in Babylon.

In spite of the power being exerted over them, they chose not to let their spirits be taken hostage. They trusted in the Lord – His values, His opinion, His calling on their lives, not Nebuchadnezzar’s.

But think what intention this required! The temptation to cower, compromise, compare, or conclude they were second-class would have been constant. How many times did they repeat something like this to themselves?

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. Psalm 20:7

So…maybe we should ask a question of our ding:

God, what do YOU say to me? About me?

Confession: It’s easy for me to ASK these questions, but to be still and really listen for the Lord’s answers? Much harder!

Erwin McManus reminds us: “Don’t let an arrow of criticism pierce your heart unless it first passes through the filter of Scripture.” 

Instead of being held hostage by our feelings, can what we’re feeling be liberated by the sword of God’s Word? What perspective, peace, or promise frees us there?

Recently I shared a ding with a friend and she reminded me we are to “respond with the energies of prayer”. She wisely suggested praying: Lord, I welcome You into this ding. Let it bring out the best in me.”

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! … And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

How do YOU deal with the dings?

Authenticity and Telling a Better Story

Recently I did something I rarely do. I got 250 pages into a book and quit.

I had invested a lot of time, but I just couldn’t finish.

It was well written, compelling historical fiction about the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph, but I could tell where the story was heading and I just couldn’t take any more narrative about bad, sad choices, no matter how factual the research was.

Do you ever feel weary of authentically depressing news? Disappointed or dismayed over person after person modeling less than noble behavior?

Over the past ten years we have put an increasingly high value on “authenticity”. We want speakers, leaders, pastors, writers who tell us the whole messy truth. We want vulnerability and  transparency. No plastic saints thank you ma’am. This is a good thing.! A great thing even!

Scripture says,

“Confess your sins one to another…” (James 5:16)

“The truth will set you free…” (John 8:32)

But the stories we’re telling aren’t the only stories to be told.

There are true accounts of courage and sacrifice and service.

Stories can be authentic, but also good and inspiring. Not perfect or formulaic, but capable of lifting our eyes and motivating us to become our better selves.

This past weekend John and I were at an event hosted by Opportunity International – an organization that gives micro-loans to the poor to start small businesses, lifting them out of poverty.

The CEO of Opportunity shared this story:

Arles Mina is a client of Opportunity who now makes cheese curds and sells them from a hole-in-the-wall storefront in Bogota, Colombia.

However, there’s more to the story.

A young loan officer found Arles on the streets of Bogota. He was a drug runner for Pablo Escobar and was high on drugs when they met. The loan officer told Arles that he had a future and insisted he take a loan to start a formal business so he could earn a living and work his way off the streets.

Now, Arles says, “Opportunity has made me who I am.”

Arles received a loan from Opportunity. He repaid it and got another loan, and another, and another, expanding his business. Now he employs 3 women.

3 widows.

3 widows whose husbands were killed by the drug cartel he used to serve.

This is an authentic story. A story of redemption.

“…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Phil. 4:8

Yes, we should be informed, and the truth can be ugly, but what if we major on the kingdom stories of restoration, reconciliation and redemption so we may “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24)?

When God’s Answer to Prayer Looks Different Than we Expect

It seems like infertility comes up in at least half of the conversations I’m a part.

Or, someone mourns the death of a dream – what feels like unanswered prayer.

I’ve never dealt with infertility personally. I can’t begin to understand the depth of pain, confusion, and frustration that couples experience. But I do know what the death of a dream feels like. I can recognize the expressions of weariness, longing, and “what’s wrong with me that God doesn’t answer this prayer that I feel like is coming from a pure place?”

I have godly, faithful friends who have prayerfully entered into IVF or adoption. They have dreams, but open hands, desiring to be responsive to God’s leading. They do their part. They are responsible. They read and ask questions and look at finances and trust God. They pray for guidance and clear direction and step forward in faith.

And then, and then…. There’s no pregnancy, or no adoption match, or the adopted child endangers the rest of the family and has to be released to a different home.

And my friends are left asking, “Whaaat? God we trusted You!!! We thought we were following your leading!!!! Where did we go wrong?  A + B is supposed to = C! What is wrong with OUR MATH? Don’t you love us? Aren’t you a good God? We thought you were!”

It saddens me when I see people grieving and at the same time, beating themselves up for “Reading God wrong.”

As followers of Jesus we really want to be honest about the desires of our hearts. We also really want God’s direction and want to submit to His will that may look different than ours.

Many years ago, when John and I had been married for a few years and were serving a church in a suburb of Chicago, we began to feel that our time there was coming to a close. We prayed and began to be open to churches that would write John asking him to consider being their pastor.

When I reflect on this time, I think we were as sincere in seeking God’s will as we possibly could be. Our motives were both as pure and as selfish as human motives can be.

We sought counsel from other wise believers. We asked questions. We thought we were listening well, but who knows.

We had interviews with several churches over time and ended up sensing a called to Washington D.C. where John would be the executive associate pastor at a large church. We prayed a LOT about this.

The senior pastor and his wife were godly leaders who would mentor us and became close friends. But other than that, NOTHING was as we expected. NOTHING was easy.

We moved away from our home and family for the first time.

We had no money and moved to the city with the highest cost of living at the time.

I went 8 months pregnant with our second child (the first – Katy – only 19 months old).

We knew no one and moved to a fast-paced, power-obsessed, transient community.

The church, in an urban area drew people from a wide radius averaging 30 minutes away, so we didn’t see the people from our faith community in our neighborhood during the week.

Here’s the thing… We prayed like crazy, but the circumstances didn’t change during the years we lived in D.C. It was just HARD. And it left us questioning, “Did we MISS something, Lord? Is THIS hard thing really Your will?”

I’ll certainly have questions when I get to heaven, but in the meantime, here’s what I see:

  • Circumstances may be hard, but God is still faithful. Rest in His character more than you wrestle with your circumstances. During our time in D.C. He knit us together as a family and drew us to Himself in dependance.

  • Because the answer to our prayer doesn’t look like we expect doesn’t make it any less a good answer.

Mt. 7:11 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.

  • God’s will isn’t necessarily the easy thing. It isn’t necessarily the hard thing. He is God. His ways just aren’t our ways. (ugh!)
  • God is not a gleeful trickster with ONE right door for us to choose. There may be more than one choice that will be pleasing to Him, and IF we get it “wrong” He can still redeem it. He is the God of infinite chances.

“Once we can accept that God is in all situations, and that God can and will use even bad situations for good, then everything and everywhere becomes an occasion for good and an encounter with God.” Richard Rohr

 

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One of the Hardest Verses in the Bible, and Why it’s Important

Yesterday a friend of mine asked me what the Bible says to do when someone has “royally screwed you” (ok, his words were stronger, but you get the idea). He said he already has his lawyers in contact with the offender. It made me think of this post from several years ago…

John said, “I think you need to do a Matthew 18:15.”

No, no, NO!  Anything but that!  Not that Uncomfortable Thing.  Not that Truth-Telling thing.  Not admitting that someone has the power to actually ding me.

“If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again.” Mt. 18:15, 16 MSG

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Those are some of the sentences I’d like to cut out of my Bible.

Ugh.  And double-ugh.

I really like it that I grew up in a family that was super nice and basically devoid of conflict.  Ok, maybe we stuffed a little, but still… We were nice dang it!

John’s comment came after I had read an email that was the last in a line of correspondence that left me feeling hurt, ticked and frankly baffled.

My natural response was withdraw. And vent.

But I preferred to frame it as “shaking the dust off my shoes” and moving on.

Who likes confrontation?  Maybe Simon Cowell or Nancy Grace or Rush Limbaugh.   But not me or you.  We’re not pot-stirrers for Pete’s sake!

Why do most of us hate this sticky business of coming clean with one another?  Naming the offense?

  • It allows us to hold onto our self-righteousness without the hard work of understaning another point of view.
  • If promotes an illusion of safety.  Having a face to face conversation feels risky.  What if I get hurt more?  What if (gasp) I’m wrong?
  • It projects an image of submission and nicety.  We don’t want the label of being high maintenance or overly sensitive.

Not everything is a Matthew 18:15 issue.

Proverbs 19:11 says “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”  There are those dings we cover with grace like a bandaid.  They heal and we move on.

But then there are those wounds that require us to examine our own heart and, with humility, bring the situation to the attention of another.

love the idea of Romans 12:18.

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

But living at peace doesn’t mean denial, or stuffing or withdrawal, all of which would be preferable in my book to, you know…actually talking about it.

So why is this so important?

wrote the other day about a group of us trying memorizing Matthew 5-7 – Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.   Here’s the thing…Our goal isn’t just get through the Sermon on the Mount.  We want to get the Sermon on the Mount through us!

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus puts a high value on everything involved with this process of conflict resolution – bringing things to light instead of hiding them in the darkness, unity rather than division, understanding and compassion rather than pride.

Several of my partners in this project are friends who are traveling in the Middle East right now, pursuing peace and understanding on a global level.  But if we can’t get it right in our own lives we can’t get it right half-way around the world, right?

So, as uncomfortable as it is, I’m going to set up a time to sit down across from my friend, question for better understanding, and have the hard conversation.

What’s been your experience with this Matthew 18:15 stuff?

Missing Jesus

This is a picture of a stadium filled with women waiting for Jen Hatmaker to appear and speak.

This is a picture of me preaching recently at a church near us. (No, I didn’t move in. Those are props).

Looks pretty bleak, eh? There might have been 65 people in the congregation.

The guy doing the slides forgot to start and then kept clicking through trying to find the right one to fit with what I was saying. Just a tad distracting for those listening.

I’ve been a guest preacher here before, and there’s usually a young man with some challenges who burps loudly when I preach.

They had cobbled together my lapel mic which didn’t have a clip to attach, so it fell apart towards the end of my sermon. But hey, it was good practice for my ninja-like reflexes.

Yep, me and Jen…

Then, last Sunday I preached at different church, but it looked pretty much the same. Afterwards I was expecting out-of-town guests for brunch at home, about half an hour away, so I was anxious to bolt out the door at the end of the service.

So anxious that I blew off Jesus in my rush to exit.

After realizing who I missed, this is what I wrote in my journal:

Jesus, You were there yesterday! After worship You came up to me and awkwardly requested “a conference”. 

You looked like a crazy old man…kind of like a mad scientist with wispy white hair growing places where hair shouldn’t grow.

I had talked to You before and in my mind labeled you a little “off”.

Because I didn’t recognize You, and because I had to hurry home to prepare for guests coming for brunch, I said, “I’m so sorry, I have to go…” (READ: I have more important commitments with sane people.)

You handed me an offering envelope and asked if I could send you my sermon transcript. 

Later in the afternoon after my guests were gone, I thought, “What if it had been Bill Hybels who had stopped me?” Would I have rushed off, or would I have made time? What if it had been Jesus?

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. Matthew 25:40

Oh Lord, have mercy. Please forgive me. Help me to be present to You, to the Imago Dei in each person I encounter today.

 

Me and Mr. Trump

Kellyanne Conway (Trump advisor) : “Judge Donald Trump by “what’s in his heart [not] what’s come out of his mouth.”

Jesus: “…out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”*

Some people are so easy for me to judge. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. I compare myself with them and feel comfortably self-righteous.

“Bam! I’m better than THAT!”

“Pow! I’d never say THAT!”

Their speech, like gangrene, is so ugly and offensive it’s easy to recognize that they must have heart disease.

But then I read more of my Bible and I’m reminded:

The heart is deceitful above all things …” Jeremiah 17:9 as in “MY heart is deceitful above all things…” There is hidden heart decay that I don’t want to face. And then…

“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23

That means I have heart a disease, and so do you. Even though my words may mask the condition of my heart more than others, there is pride and lack of love, and selfishness pumping through the chambers.

This weekend, John preached on the power of our words, and included an oral check-up. Some of these questions**may help you assess the condition of your heart, but then what? How do we do cardiac care?

Proverbs 4:23-24 says,

Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Romans 12:2

We may hear this a lot, but do we really pay attention to it? It can be really uncomfortable, but what if we ask:

Will this…

movie…

relationship…

activity…

book…

Twitter/FB/Instagram feed…

contribute to my spiritual heart health or heart decay?

As a result will my heart be beating more in sync with the heart of Jesus and because of that will my words be more like His words? Or will I be more prone to crass language, gossip, criticism, cynicism…?

 

*Luke 6:45

**

  1. Would people say you talk too much or hold too much inside?
  2. Which is harder for you, receiving criticism, or offering it?
  3. Are you more about asking questions or giving answers?
  4. When is the last time you misrepresented/exaggerated/deceived/lied to someone?
  5. Sometimes we confuse swearing with bad language (gossip/anger/pettiness etc.) Which is more of a temptation for you?
  6. Words + faith…Is your faith a state secret? Do people see what they hear?
  7. When was the last time you resolved a conflict & strengthened a relationship?
  8. What would one who knows you say is truer: Grace over Truth or Truth over grace?
  9. In a typical conversation do you walk away feeling like the other person learned more about you, or you learned more about them?
  10. Who are the last 2 people you affirmed/blessed in a way they remember?

When You Need More Than Christmas Cookies

The other day I made Christmas cookies.

And by that I mean I made Jeans Bars, so named because they’re guaranteed to make your jeans tight.  Yeah.  I know, I know… Danger Will Robinson!

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But, it got me to thinking about the food I need far more than Christmas cookies.

And the God who has given to all of us who are hungry and thirsty for that “more”…

At church the other night we had communion.

I watched as a man guided his plump, smiley wife to the front.  Her eyes bright and expectant as a child’s.  Her blond curls tousled.

But, standing before the bread and “wine” offered to her, the confusion of Alzheimer’s transformed her face.  Take?  Eat?  What?  Her husband guided her hand to take the bread.  He gently helped her dunk it in the juice.

Yes.  Jesus.  For you.  It’s ok.

Sometimes the Gospel is just hard for me to understand.  Hard to believe.  Hard to accept.  

Like a child, I need that reassurance.

Yes, it’s really for you!  Yes, it’s really all forgiven. Yes, God delights in you.  It’s ok.

Another time, in another place, a friend of mine was in line for communion.  Hungry.  The woman in front of her stopped and started stacking piece upon piece of bread in her hand.  Apparently feeling the need for more of the lavish grace that Jesus offers.

My friend was startled and concerned at this rather bizarre behavior and lack of rule-following.  She thought, “What if there’s not enough for everyone?”

But there was.  There always is.

Sometimes I need to be reminded grace breaks all the rules.  And that I’m more needy than I know.  But Jesus is always enough.  His is not a snack, but a feast that saves me.

Another friend, a powerful, wealthy, young businessman, dying of a brain tumor came to understand that deep need, that deep hunger for the eternal.  He was broken to the point of utter dependence on Jesus.

Eventually he couldn’t speak clearly.  He was unable to use the right side of his body, arm, & hand…But still, he wanted to serve communion as he had many times when he was “healthy.”

And so, another came alongside, and they stood at the front of the church, one man holding the other up,  and both leaning on Jesus as together, they offered life to all who would come.

A physical picture of the the spiritual brokenness of all of us.

And as I came down the aisle to receive communion from my dying friend, I came as sister, also dying from my brokenness, to Jesus who offers more than Christmas cookies.

Christmas cookies.  A sacred reminder to me today of the “more” of eternity.

Do you have “pictures” like these of times when the truth of what Jesus offers has become more real to you?

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