Category: Relationships (page 1 of 11)

One Thing We Have in Common With John

It’s weird to think of having anything in common with the people we meet in Scripture, and yet, what an encouragement, right?!

A couple weeks ago as I was preparing an Easter sermon, something struck me that I hadn’t really thought about before.

In John, the apostle, I notice something positive I aspire to, and a weakness we share. Read what John wrote…

John 20: 1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.

Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.

This is both cool and comical!

I love it that John is so grounded in the unshakeable knowledge that he is the one Jesus LOVES!

We are too – each of us as if we are the ONLY one! Like a proud parent, if Jesus carried a wallet, your picture would be in it and He’d want to show it to others with delight! This is the mindset we aspire to – that we would walk into each day with the assurance that we are beloved. No matter what we do or don’t do.

But then, the part that makes me laugh. Here’s he’s writing about the resurrection, but John makes a point of telling us TWICE that he beat Peter to the tomb. He ran faster!

I might be tempted to say “What a guy thing!”, but in our family the women are just as competitive as the men. There is this temptation in each of us to compare what we DO to what others do, even though Jesus tells us it’s not about what we DO, but about what He has DONE for us.

No matter how fast John or you, or I run, we can’t outrun God’s grace.

When we compare, there are two pitfalls. We either get sucked into pride because we’re better than, or despair because we’re worse than. Jesus wants us to know that we aren’t better or worse, but unique and beloved.

John isn’t the only one. Peter compares his life to John’s too.

John 21: 20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, Lord, what about him?”

22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 23 Because of this, the rumor spread among the believersthat this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?

When I’m tempted to compare myself to others, this is what I hear Jesus whispering in my ear: “What is that to you?”

Later, Paul writes, “For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” Phil.4:11 NIV

One writer notes, “The Greek word rendered ‘content‘ here denotes more than just a throwing up of arms in reluctant acceptance. At its root it literally means: ‘to be satisfied to the point where I am no longer disturbed or disquieted.'”

“Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.” Phil. 4:13 MSG

May we live this day secure, not superior.

Confident without comparing.

 

Do You Feel Like You’re Wearing an Invisibility Cloak?

Do you ever feel like you’ve accidentally put on Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak?

A few years ago a couple of people made an appointment with me.  I didn’t know what their agenda was.  When we met all they did was ask me questions about a painful experience.

And then they listened.

And asked more questions.  And listened some more.

They asked, “and then what happened?” and “how did you feel?” and “oh no!” and “what can we do?” like it really made a difference to them.

And here’s the thing.  Yes, what was asked and answered was important, but the most transformative thing for our relationship was that when I walked away I didn’t feel invisible anymore.  It felt like I mattered.   What I thought, what I felt, the pain I had experienced made a difference to them.  Have you had an experience like this?

A few years ago my husband and I had the opportunity to spend some time with former President Clinton in a couple different contexts (no he would not remember my name!).  Regardless of what you think about his politics or his morals, here’s a man who makes people feel like they matter.

We were wrapping up an interview with him when he saw an African American guy with a saxophone that was about 189 years old in a back hallway.  Clinton got so excited asking this guy about the brand of sax he played, and the type he used to play, and the music he liked.  He laughed and they swapped sax stories and he asked questions and really listened.

Clinton was so present it was hard for his handlers to tear him away.  One of the most powerful men in the world.  And he was saying to this man, “I may be the president of the United States, but you matter too.”

This is Joe.

He’s a guy with Down’s Syndrome who has a great smile and a can-do spirit.  He’s the guy who sweeps the stairs at exactly the same time every morning at my health club.  When I first asked his name he looked scared, like he had done something wrong.

When I thank him each day for his great work he always looks a little surprised.  Today I took another step and asked him, “Joe, how long have you worked here?  Do you like your job?”

I’ve noticed Joe.  I’ve tried to let him know he matters.  But how many others do I miss during the day who are longing to be noticed?  Feeling like they’re accidentally wearing and invisibility cloak?

What if Jesus hadn’t looked up to see Zaccheus?  What if He hadn’t taken time to talk to the woman who touched the hem of His robe?

When is a time when someone made you feel like you mattered?  Who are the people you tend to overlook?  Who would feel affirmed if you asked a question and listened?

Looking for Dad

Friday I’m sitting in the back of Starbucks with my Bible and study books laid out before me when a dad in a dark business suit walks in with his teenage son before work and school.

Dad just has coffee.

Son sits down with most everything edible on the menu – the meal of a growing guy who’s already taller than his father. Instead of coffee, he sips from a juice box – the one hint that there is still a little boy hiding inside this gangly boy/man.

Father and son are awkwardly silent. Eyes glance anywhere but at each other. It’s painful to watch.  I can almost hear their minds spinning, searching for common ground…anything to talk about in this season when a head of red hair seems to be the only thing they share.

What if I say something stupid?

What if he sees my weakness?

After a few seconds Dad gets up with his coffee and walks out into the hall, leaving son behind without saying anything. Is he looking for a bathroom? Making a call? Can he just not stand the deafening silence?

Teenage Opie sits alone, eating his breakfast. Curiously, I notice that he doesn’t pull out a smartphone to distract or entertain himself. He just eats, looking lonely. And I wonder what’s going through his mind. What is he thinking about his dad?

Does he know God? What might this relationship be teaching him about his heavenly Father?

“I will never leave or forsake you.”

“Nothing can separate us from the love of God…”

“Come to me…”

The dad never comes back, and when finished eating, the son wanders into the hall looking for him.

What if Dad had said, “This is a hard season for both of us. I want to be a good dad, but I’m unsure of myself. I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing, but I care. I want to listen to what’s important to you. I’m for you. Nothing can make me love you less than I do right now.”

Saturday I was at the same table when a young mom comes in with her 4-year-old daughter, large cheery pink bow in her hair and a smile to match.

Although in an easier season, like Dad and son, this mom and daughter have a chasm of years and experience between them.

But Mom never once pulls out a cell phone. She looks her daughter in the eye and  asks questions and chats about everything important to a toddler.

What is that little girl learning about her heavenly Parent?

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

 

When we are present, when we lean in, when create safe places, we reflect the image of our Heavenly Father.

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?

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

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