Category: Experiences (page 1 of 27)

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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SaveSave

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?

What Do You Give the Power to Wreck You?

Question: What’s one thing that if, taken away from you, leaves you feeling hurt or even devastated, insecure, “less than”, not yourself, invalidated?

What is it that wrecks you?

  • A note from your kid’s teacher about an “issue”?
  • A breakup?
  • The loss of a title, or job?
  • The lack of invitation in a certain area?
  • Crickets rather than “likes” and affirmation in an environment where you thought you were gifted or competent?

How dependent are you on that “thing” for your sense of well-being?

I like to think of myself as “teflon” (don’t we all?), but then something big or little will surprise me the way it brings up all the yucky feels.

We want to be seen as the super-mom, the competent colleague, the successful host, the dynamic team leader.

“One of the tragedies of our life is that we keep forgetting who we are, and waste a lot of time to prove what doesn’t need to be proved.” Henri Nouwen

Confession: One of the reasons I took a sabbatical from writing this blog and one of the reasons I’m throwing out the “rules” of when and where and how to post now is that I recognized that it was sucking me into measuring my worth by the response I was getting. I needed to pursue a “holy indifference” to anything other than joyfully stewarding my gifts for the Lord alone.

 

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In 2015 the Barna Group did  a study that showed that women 18 and older in the United States, go to social media, trying to connect and feel better about themselves, but only 14% come away encouraged.

We’ve turned the Gospel into a matter of addition instead of subtraction. When we are so full of ourselves, we have no room—and no need—for God or others, or otherness in general. Richard Rohr

And this…

If we have not experienced (the) connection, (of) knowing that we are indeed a fragment of the Great Flame, we will most certainly need to accumulate more and more outer things as substitutes for self-worth. This, of course, is the great spiritual illusion. We needn’t acquire what we already have. Our value comes from our inherent participation in God. Richard Rohr

So…a few things that have been helpful to me. Maybe you too…

  • Separate from what separates you from your true identity in Jesus. If a relationship or a TV show, or seeing the posts of someone raises your anxiety or makes you feel less-than, ask yourself why. If necessary, block them from your feed, but better yet, have a conversation with them about it.
  • Major on the unchanging truth of God’s Word instead of the whims of culture and criticism. What’s one go-to verse that is helpful for you? For me it’s:

Find rest my soul in God alone. My hope comes from Him. He is my rock and my salvation. He is my fortress. I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge. Psalm 62:5-7

  • Evaluate what and who brings out the best in you. Lean into them, and let them lean into you.

That’s all I’ve got. What about you? What would you add?

Love Leaves a Light On

Sometimes the most powerful thing you can do is to leave a light on.

My little brother David, and my sister-in-law live in the small town where I grew up.  Their home is a turn-of-the-century house with a wonderful front porch – swing and all.

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My brother loved investing in others, especially teens. During her high school years, David built a relationship with Sada.

Sada was not going through a typical teen rebellion. A brilliant, reflective soul, she was struggling with deep issues of justice, truth, and grace. Sada was an extraordinary girl with an equally exceptional brain and giant heart. She needed a safe place to examine issues of her heart and soul, darkness and light.

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The Waiting Room

I’m not a good wait-er.  At all.

As a wait-er you’re not in control (When are you ever, really?  But it feels worse when you’re waiting).

It feels like you can’t DO anything constructive.

It feels like everyone else is going on with their life and you’re on hold.

Most of us are waiting for something.

I have friends who are waiting for a husband.  Or a wife.

Friends who are waiting for a prodigal to return.

For an acceptance letter.  Or a baby.

Waiting for a diagnosis.  Or a cure.

Waiting for a job.  Or someone to need them.  Or a place where they feel like they’d be missed if they were gone.

Something I heard Holly Furtick say a few years ago really stuck with me.

She said, “What seems like a pointless or painful waiting room can be God’s most productive workroom.”

I thought “Aha!!  I love being productive!  Now she’s going to talk about what we can DO to CHANGE things and get out of the waiting room!”  Not so much.

The work that we do while waiting is most often soul work.  Inside stuff that requires patience (Does anyone like that word?), obedience, discernment and cooperation with God.

A few years ago my mom had surgery. In the waiting room where my Dad and I sat, they had this nifty flat screen and on it were listed all the patients in surgery for the day.  It tracked their progress, from pre-op, to surgery, to recovery room, to permanent room.  In addition, if the surgery was long, they’d send word out with a nurse as to how it was going.

When I’m waiting I could really use a spiritual progress monitor showing exactly how I’m doing and when it’s all gonna be over.

But instead of even enduring in the comfortable, clean lounge of a hospital, waiting often seems a lot more like we’re survivors of the Titanic, clinging to God among the wreckage in cold, dark water.  Disoriented and desperate to do something.

Every once in awhile we’ll flail our arms and try to swim to shore deluded into thinking we can swim the hundreds of miles on our own.  But we realize we can’t and we go back to clinging.

Clinging is the work of the waiting room.

We cling and we say “Lord, help me to see you. Somehow.  Today. Even for a second.

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And slowly, ever so slowly, the wait results in just a little bit more of the weight of His glory being formed in us.

Maybe the moment when we get the job or the baby or the whatever, isn’t the big deal, but rather the thousands of moments you choose courage and hope as you cling to the One who loves you.

One more thing…With my dad in the waiting room, it was easier because we had the company of each other.  So, today, if you’re waiting and you’re reading this, know that you’re not alone.

What’s your experience of waiting?

The Fields Preached Me a Sermon

In the predawn dark I see twinkle lights have dressed the trees on the square outside my Starbucks, but the fountain will be on for a few more days.

We’ve had a frost, but half the leaves are still holding on for dear life, like a climber dangling from a rocky cliff precipice, desperately clinging. They share one final gasp of color – a last hurrah.

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It’s that in-between time when change is coming and it may seem dark and ominous like that spooky abandoned house, or maybe to you it’s an invitation to comfy hibernation – a soft place by the fire while the wind howls in the dark outside.

Creation is my spiritual pathway. I love seeing more of God and myself through His hand in nature. When I walk I love to ask, “Lord, what do you have to show me about yourself and myself today?”

The other day this line struck me from my morning reading

The fields preached me a sermon. Proverbs 24:33 MSG

Isn’t that great?

One of the things I love about waking early in the morning is that when I walk to Starbucks, the stars are still bright and are such a powerful reminder that I did NOTHING to put them there, or keep them there, or guard them through the nighttime hours. They were there yesterday, and will be there tomorrow. Because God.

I breathe deeply and relax in His sovereignty. I am not the boss of the stars, or the leaves, the fields or the streams. They will keep growing, waking, sleeping, flowing. Because God.

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William Bebe was a friend of Teddy Roosevelt’s. He said the two of them would go out on the lawn at night and search the skies for a certain spot of star-like light near the lower left-hand corner of the Great Square of Pegasus.

Roosevelt would say: “That is the Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda. It is as large as our Milky Way. It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It consists of one hundred billion suns, each larger than our sun.” Then Roosevelt would grin and say, “Now I think we are small enough! Let’s go to bed.”

Lift up your eyes on high And see who has created these stars, The One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, Not one of them is missing. Isaiah 40:26

When our eyes look up, our anxiety goes down.

What sermon do the fields, or the stars, have to preach us today?

When You Need Encouragement For Your Race

Yesterday was the Twin Cities Marathon. This time I was on the sideline cheering for friends and relatives running, scuffling, wheel-chairing, limping, charging to their finish line.

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I’ve run (read: scuffled) races myself, and other times like yesterday, I’ve cheered and prayed like crazy, feeling like part of a team with all humankind who are doing the best they can to run a good race.

When daughter Katy ran the Marine Corps Marathon a couple years ago I had the opportunity to be a cheerer.

I anxiously kept scanning the crowds of runners and praying for Katy, like the father of the prodigal son, willing him to come into view from afar off.

And when she came into sight I went crazy: IMG_8597

Is this a tiny bit of what our Heavenly Father feels as He watches us running our race of faith?  Is He picking us out of the crowd, fully aware of the miles when it’s going to be harder to keep putting one foot in front of another?  

Sometimes proudly pointing, like “That’s my boy!  That’s my girl!”, and other times yelling, “You’ve got this because you’ve got Me!!  You’re not alone!”

We are all runners.  We are all cheerers.

We all have hard races to run and we need each other.

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As cheerers we get to be the megaphone of God for a world full of weary marathoners.

I knew that miles 19-22 would be the hardest for Katy and so I got to jump on the course and run with her for that stretch.  Just like the year when she ran alongside me, and John cheered, and friends prayed and supported.

Two years ago in D.C. when Katy came up that last tough hill into sight, approaching the Iwo Jima Memorial at the finish line I had no shame.  I went crazy jumping, screaming, crying, waving.

And somehow above the voices of thousands of others, she heard, she turned, and found me.  She smiled and waved and as she passed me and ran to the finish line there was this picture – the bright turquoise runner in the middle of the frame – tiny in the grand scheme of things, but unmistakeable to her earthly parents and her Heavenly Father.

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And this is you too. Know that you have a heavenly Father who is crazy about you, cheering you on today.

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