Category: Relationships (page 1 of 10)

What Binds us Together

In 1995 I took my first trip to Africa. It was at the height of the AIDS crisis in Uganda. There was little information, lots of myths, many were dying, and the air was permeated with fear.

Although Uganda has green hills and banana trees, the prominent images I carry with me from that first trip are those of coffins being carried along rust colored roads and the smell of smoke from cook fires.

One day we traveled beyond the hot, dusty nowhere, over lumpy paths to meet a woman who lost her husband, all her family members, and was caring for five orphaned children on her own.

Her name is Josephine – tall, lean, dark, and strong. She and friends greet us with dancing, songs, and the rare treat of an scrawny chicken that they had cooked for us, their guests.

We sit together on stumps next to her crumbling mud hut by an open fire, burned down to coals – her “table” of sorts. Gathered around are her people who are doing life by her side, helping with kids, and gardening, and encouraging. We try not to offend her sacrificial hospitality, choking down what she offers, knowing she will go without. I listen to Josephine share her story of loss after loss after loss, and I marvel at her resilience.

Finally, she turns to me, looks me in the eye, and asks, “What is it like for you, in America?”

I gulp, nervously thinking, how can I tell her? What can I tell her?!” How can this woman possibly understand a broken garage door, or pre-school teachers, or my grandmother who recently died in a comfortable, antiseptically clean hospital?

And then the Holy Spirit gives me some words. I say, “You know…our lives are very different. I don’t experience the day-to-day struggle you do here, but what I’m struck by is what we have in common. We are both mothers. We both have hopes, and dreams, and fears for our children, and we both look to God for help. We both have people He gives us.”

When we compare, we are driven apart. We get sucked into thinking “my loss is worse”, or “your loss is worse” but none of that matters. You may have lost a dream or a husband, and I lost a job, someone lost their home, another lost their sight. Loss is loss. We need each other. To hold hands and hearts. To hug and listen, and just be with each other in our pain. God knits us together with the common threads of hope and loss and joy. Together we read, and together we make choices:

“This day I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live..” Deuteronomy 30:19

I asked some blog readers to send me selfies wherever they are. As I scroll through these I tear up thinking of you – of the challenges and hopes you have today. We may not know each other personally, but we know God, and together we choose the Life that He offers.

Katie in Jordan, building bridges to Muslims  (I love this picture take at Petra!)

Carrie, minister to students in Edina MN.

Kathy, in pink, who is a Community Bible Study Leader (here with some of the women in her small group)

Jane, a world citizen and journalist who splits time mostly between Singapore and Switzerland.

3 generations of love – so much awesome in this picture! Sue, Kit, Ally, and Karen in Florida.

Daughter Maggie, who lives in the San Francisco Bay area and works in HR for Tesla (with Riggins who I’m sure reads the blog too).

Jess, a young mama in Minneapolis (with Greta Sue)

Christine, working with a non-profit in Nazareth

Daughter Katy, working as liaison between USAID and Congress in D.C.

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing today, know that you are not alone!

Theology Sound Bytes & Boundary Marker Christianity

Awhile ago I tweeted a link to an article that I thought was insightful and discerning. I didn’t agree with everything the author said. I didn’t disagree with everything. But it really made me think.

The article raised some questions about the theology of another writer and speaker who is tremendously gifted and has brought some loving correction to the church, but she is also edgy and unorthodox.  I thought it was helpful, so I passed it along.

Immediately after I put up the link to this article I got a response from one person who was relieved that I was “for” orthodoxy, and another person who was mad that I was “against” this author!  In addition I was “followed” by a group called something like “stampouthomophobia” (which had nothing to do with the article)! I just thought the article had some interesting points to consider as we all try to lead examined lives!

As John Ortberg says, we are consumed with a boundary marker Christianity – who’s in and who’s out.

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about…We are all so sensitive about appearing to endorse sin, and afraid of affirming someone who’s theology isn’t EXACTLY spot on (in our eyes) that we miss the opportunity to build bridges where we can.

Theology does not lend itself well to 140 characters. The mystery and nuance of God can’t be summed up in a sound byte, or in a 500 word article. 

We were made for relationship, for theology fleshed out. What if instead of an overhead slam, our goal was to keep the tennis ball in play – to rally back and forth with respect and affirmation?

Our public discourse would be immediately improved if we didn’t assume everyone with a different political view to us was morally inferior. Sam Allbery

If we believe all truth is God’s truth (and I do), why am I afraid of affirming it in someone who is different than me?

What would happen if we majored on what we agree on rather than on what divides us?

What would happen if we affirm truth wherever we see it, even when it comes out of the mouth of a Muslim, or a transvestite or a communist?!

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This isn’t something to take lightly. In Matthew 10:16 Jesus warns us “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

We are also cautioned to “test the spirits to see if they are from God.” (1 John 4:1)

But when we look at Jesus we see that He isn’t blind to the sin in the life of others, but also affirms their courage. In Luke 7, a woman who has lived a sinful life comes to the home where Jesus is having dinner and pours perfume on Jesus’ feet. When others criticize her, Jesus says,

Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown.”

Those “inside the boundary markers”, with all the right words weren’t endorsed, but the otherwise “outside the boundary markers” woman was affirmed for the one thing she did that was true and right.

My wise, 86 year old aunt sent me a quote from her church the other day:

“He who realizes his sinfulness, who knows through personal experience the weakness of human nature, its inclination towards evil, that person will be quick to forgive his neighbor, pardon his neighbors offenses and will refrain from arrogant condemnation of the sins of others”  

What I feel like Jesus is impressing on me is the challenge to draw people in instead of finding ways to say they’re out. What do you think?

3 Things to Leave Behind When You’re Traveling Rough Roads with Someone

I am so grateful John and I get to travel a lot. But travel is not without its challenges.

We have one rule that we stick to no matter what. We never take more than a carry-on suitcase.

I don’t remember for sure, but this could have been implemented the year that John had to borrow underwear for a week when his luggage didn’t arrive in Zambia.

This afternoon I’m packing for another trip. This trip comes on the heels of losing one of our closest friends, suddenly, to a brain aneurism. It’s got me thinking…

Traveling with someone through loss, we need to travel lightly. Just like there are certain items I need to cull out in order to pack in a carry-on, there are unhelpful things we need to leave behind when we are walking through a hard time with someone.

So, here are three things I’ve learned to take out, and leave behind when going through a crisis with someone:

  1. Leave behind right to be offended. This is NOT about you. Forget your ego, your pride, your wants and prioritize what the grieving person wants. No matter what. The wife of our friend who died was wise and brave to say she didn’t want people around her right away. Close friends could have been offended, but they knew this wasn’t about them.
  2. Leave behind control/schedule. When life feels out of control, our inclination is to try to bring order. We want to do anything we can to fix things. We think we’re helping, but we need to let go of our need for control and convenience and just report for duty.
  3. Leave behind assumptions. We all know that every loss is different and everyone grieves differently, but even tiny assumptions need to be tossed. There was someone I was sure my friend would want me to call last week, to take that off her plate, but I was wrong. Other people she wanted me to call, I was surprised at.

I’ve written more about this before, but I’m interested in your thoughts. What has your experience been walking with others on rough journeys?

 

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?

Who’s Your Birthing Coach?

Last night the candles were lit, yummy bakey smells wafted room to room,  the twinkle lights were doing their twinkling, and my house was filled with girlfriends I love.

Read: it was lovely, loud, laughy, and there were lots of words!

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Studies say that women average 20,00 words a day – 13,000 more than men. Last night I think we skewed that average high.

Think about when you get together with your best friends – talking over each other, finishing each other’s sentences, laughing at shared experiences…

This is how I imagine the meeting between the newly pregnant Mary and the last trimester Elizabeth.

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Mary didn’t waste a minute. She got up and traveled to a town in Judah in the hill country, straight to Zachariah’s house, and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and sang out exuberantly,

Picture the hills. The first time I visited I was surprised at how steep and hilly this area is, and I was surprised at the pine trees. Did Mary run? Was she out of breath? Sweaty? Did they hug and start talking immediately?

If I had written this next part of the Bible I’d put in a lot more exclamation points! 🙂

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;39-45

What an unlikely pair – an unwed pregnant teenager, carrying Jesus, and an old, post-menopausal woman carrying John the baptist!

I love it that these two women visited during what was probably the hardest trimester for each of them. I can hear them peppering each other with questions…

Can you even? You? Me? Us??!

Have you had morning sickness? Want to sleep all the time?

Have you felt him kick?

How has your family reacted? What about Joseph? How are you holding up?

(And just imagine Zacharias in the corner, unable to speak at all!)*

Here are two faithful, amazing women through whom God is birthing something new. Something beautiful for the world.  And He gives them to each other, almost like birthing coaches.

This is you too. Whether you’re a mom or not God is birthing something beautiful through you. The labor and delivery can be hard, but He gives us to each other.

As I looked around at the women last night I thought how often they have encouraged me to breathe,

or to hang on,

or have said “Me too” at just the right time.

Who are the women in your life who are birth coaches, affirming the beauty that God is growing in you?

*Luke 1:20

5 Questions to Save Your Holidays from Family Drama

This is a repost from a couple years ago, but I need the reminders so I thought you might too 🙂

It’s three days before Thanksgiving and Christmas is just a ho-ho-ho away.  For most of us that means more family interaction during a season when we’re often physically, emotionally, and spiritually stretched thin.DSC00629For people who are trying not to gain weight, they say the most important thing is to go into food intense situations with a plan.

As I look back on our early days of marriage, there are things we could have done to set ourselves up better for success.   We could have used a plan!  So here are a few ideas… Continue reading

Who Are Your “Others”?

I posted this picture yesterday on Instagram. It was taken right before I was mugged.

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I was violently grabbed in broad daylight and things were ripped from me. I’m totally fine, just shaken up and feeling a little vulnerable. I only share this because I think we are all feeling vulnerable these days.

We may all feel like something has been ripped from us – a dream, a sense of understanding, a relationship…

Great divisions have been revealed where we were living with some illusions of unity. We thought things had gotten better.

Many feel fragile instead of safe.

Some fear being attacked for their beliefs or their politics, or the color of their skin.

Here’s the thing…our inclination may be to expect the worst, to retreat or hide, or just huddle with “our people”. Instead we need to link arms as my friends did with me and venture out again, looking for the Imago Dei in others.

In the afternoon we went out (with a chivalrous protector), found a street dance, and jumped in.

But jumping back in doesn’t just mean getting out there with “our people”.

It means choosing humility and vulnerability, laying aside a certainty that ours is the only right perception.

It means finding the “other” and listening and loving them well.

It seems we have a lot of “others” these days, but it’s different for each person. For you the “other” may be

a minority or immigrant you feel is taking jobs away…

or a gay person or a straight person you feel uncomfortable with…

or a Muslim you don’t understand…

or a conservative Christian who quotes the Bible in a judgey way and seems confidently self-righteous…

or someone who voted for Trump…

or someone who voted for Clinton.

Who are your “others”? 

Think of the person who, when you think of them upsets you or distresses you the most. Got it?

Me too.

Now call them up and invite them to have coffee with you. You can do this!

I’ve invited one of my “others”, and although I want to say “WHAT THE HOLY HECK WERE YOU THINKING???”, here’s what I’ll say, “You are my friend. I respect you. I know you have a kind compassionate heart. I want to know you better. Help me understand the way you think about ___________________________________.

Your situation or relationship may be different, but the last sentence is the important one, right?

And then I’ll listen.

Hard.

To her.

And to Jesus who says “No matter what, they’ll know Me by the way you love – not just with words, but by your actions.”

Paul joins him, writing…

 In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences. Ephesians 4:1-3

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.

Continue reading

Why We all Need an Aunt Joyce

My Aunt Joyce is 87 years old. She is my mom’s sister, 5 years her senior.

When they shared a bedroom as kids Aunt Joyce convinced my mom that at night she climbed out the window and became Wonder Woman, her tights and cape hidden in the gutter of the roof. (I don’t think she realized Wonder Woman doesn’t wear a cape).

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As much as I love Aunt Joyce, she lives thousands of miles away and until recently we weren’t in close contact.

Then two things happened. David got cancer, and she (who has never EVER owned a computer) got an iPad.

You might say Aunt Joyce is a late bloomer. She gives me hope for myself.

Aunt Joyce got her ears pierced at 84. But she won’t buy dangly earrings because she thinks it draws attention to her less-than-young-looking neck.

She was distressed after she had cataract surgery and she could see her imperfections more clearly. She asked me to pray for her pride because she said even Nancy, her Clinique girl would not be able to help her.

She stood in the background while David was in hospice, praying. Just praying. The whole time she reminded me of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Sure, steady, peace-filled. A quiet comforter.

She has a goal of having her whole church over to her apartment, a few at a time, for dinner. She asks me to pray for grace and patience when she is having the “elderly” over for coffee. They can be a bit cranky, you know.

Recently Aunt Joyce sent me this wonderful quote on prayer:

“Fall upon prayer as your only aid and help in this life. When you are weary, pray. When you are joyful, let your joy feed deeper prayer. When in hunger or thirst, open your heart to the Lord. When in exultation bind your life more firmly to God. When prayer itself if hard, pray all the more. For prayer is ascent to the heart of God who is its true and proper Master in every condition of this life.” Archimandrite Irenei

We all need an Aunt Joyce

  • to remind us, as Craig Groeschel says, “If you’re not dead, you’re not done.”
  • to remind us of the value of “small things” (Zechariah 4:10)

God is great not because nothing is too big for Him. God is great because nothing is too small for Him either. Mark Batterson

  • to remind us that “A changed world begins with us … and a changed us begins when we pray.” Eugene Peterson (James 5:15b)
  • to model a quiet, godly life of faithfulness that clings to God no matter what (1 Thes. 4:11)

And, like Wonder Woman and Super Girl (or Lucy and Ethel) I just stared open-mouth last year when my mom, the other half of this dynamic duo, said she thought she and Dad (82 and 85 years old) ought to take the 2-6 a.m. shift hosting the homeless at their church on Christmas Eve.

This is the same mom who texts and sends pictures on her iPhone, and dresses so hip that her granddaughters have been known to borrow her stuff.

Who are these women??? I want to be like them when I grow up.

One Key to Racial Reconciliation

This weekend a video went viral of a confrontation between a policeman in our town and a young African American. As hard as it is to watch, John and I have viewed it several times. We’ve prayed, and reflected, and read the many articles and responses.

(Warning – graphic language)

Everyone watches through a certain lens, with particular baggage, expectations, and bias.

People are quick to take sides. To want to say this person was RIGHT and this person was WRONG.

But what if issues like racial tension became less about one-upmanship and more about relationship? 

What if our posture was more one of humility, curiosity, and respect towards those different from us?

As I’ve reflected on this, I really think one of the keys to racial reconciliation is that we ask more questions, and listen longer than is comfortable.

I wonder how this cop and this young black man would answer these questions about the incident:

  • How did you feel during this experience and why?
  • What were you thinking? What motivated you to respond the way you did?
  • What, if anything might you do differently if you were to have a “do over”?

Whoever’s “side” we gravitate towards initially, what if we were to listen carefully to “the other’s” answers and ask more questions?

What if the cop were to invite the young man out for coffee and just listen?

What if the cop were to listen deeply to the young man’s answers with respect and without defensiveness?

What if the young man were to listen deeply to the cop’s perspective?

Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always “me first,” Doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end. 1 Cor. 13

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