Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Why The Church Needs Struggling Members

I have a confession to make: fellowship is hard for me lately. My life these past 16 months could be described as unsteady and complicated. My instincts tell me to withdraw from people until I feel more steady and secure. Social pleasantries feel trite, and honest, nuanced answers are exhausting.

I know I am not the only one who feels this tension. So many dear friends have difficulties in their lives that don’t make for good small talk. They feel about as useful to the church as a clock without batteries. And the fact that they make it out at all is God’s grace.

It’s tempting to retreat from people in these times, but we must keep coming back because God warns us against quitting fellowship (Heb. 10:25). The opposite of our instinct is what we really need most, and when it comes down to it, our trials are not always about us. Sometimes we go through them for the sake of others.

Keep reading here.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Is Politeness Killing Your Prayer Life?

Christians in North America are generally polite pray-ers. We tend to pray correct, respectful words that we think God wants to hear. But let's be honest, many of our prayers are tentative, repetitive, and somewhat boring.

I'm all for politeness with acquaintances. But real relationships require more. If my husband only spoke distant and polite words to me, our relationship would wither and die. I want to hear his struggles, his fears, his anger, and his joys. I want to process with him, not just hear his conclusions. I want him to trust me.

Intimate relationships require authentic feelings. Our innermost thoughts—however wrong or immature—are shared in trust. So why do we keep God at arm's length? Are we trying to be something we are not? Are we afraid to trouble Him? God is our Father, yet we often treat Him like a distant relative.

Read the rest over at True Woman.

Friday, October 31, 2014

From Awkward to Awesome: One Hockey Mom's Journey

Every parent of small children can testify that going anywhere alone feels like a holiday. Life becomes slow motion. You don’t have to be alert at every second. You notice your surroundings more. You feel like you are expending 20 times less energy. Of course, if you are like me, you may be missing your little mischief-makers while simultaneously enjoying the benefits.

But lately it’s getting easier. My boys are 7, 5, and 3, and each year, parenting feels less intense. Whether at the grocery store or the play park, I notice the change.

This year I marvel at my transformation in the hockey dressing room.

Rewind two years. My oldest son is doing his first ever hockey camp. There is a new maturity about him. He feels it too. Mostly he doesn't need my help. Although, getting ready for ice time is one exception.

The dressing room is a nightmarish rite of passage for me. It is incredibly hot. I could almost close my eyes and imagine I just stepped off the plane in Cuba, except the air smells like musty, sweaty hockey equipment.

I help Hunter locate his bag in the ever busier room. We open the zipper, and I take a moment to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number and variety of equipment pieces. What do I put on first? What if I miss something essential and then have to take if all off and begin over again?

I decide to copy the others. I look around. The other boys are already half dressed...half dressed! How did they do that? I hear some mothers mutter something about getting done before the older boys come charging in. I am totally starting to sweat. "Ok. Let's start with the protective shorts."

Somehow I manage to get him mostly dressed despite my one year old's continual attempts to get at the urinal, my three year old's demands that I peel his banana, and the onslaught of the "older boys" coming off their ice session. In the back of my mind it's starting to register that my littlest is crawling around on the floor amidst a bunch of boys in skates.

Fast Forward to last Friday. I head to the rink with all three boys. I carry nothing but my purse. My 7 year old mostly gets himself dressed. I quickly throw some equipment on my 5 year old while my 3 year old entertains himself quietly.

We watch the game, I visit with some parents, it is kind of...enjoyable.

I have moments of sadness because my babies are growing up, but this new stage has its perks. Now--due to no credit of my own--I can leave the dressing room feeling calm and smug at my adeptness with a shin pad.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Learning to Wait

It has been 15 months since our town flooded and I was diagnosed with Lupus.

I am learning that God is not constrained by my time schedule. He does not feel the clock ticking as I do. He is free to do as He pleases. As strange as it sounds, this gives me hope. Not only because he is good, but also because he knows better than I do.  

Sometimes I’m tempted to believe the last 15 months have been wasted time. If only I had better health. If only I had the comforts of a house. And I forget that even now I am where God wants me to be.

Jeremiah Burroughs in his book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment,  says:
Be sure of your call to every business you go about. ...then, whatever you meet with, you may quiet your heart with this: I know I am where God would have me. Nothing in the world will quiet the heart so much as this: when I meet with any cross, I know I am where God would have me, in my place and calling; I am about the work that God has set me.
I believe that God is sovereign over sickness, natural disaster and even the setbacks in our home repair. Sometimes when he calls us to bear a cross, we don’t need an exit plan so much as a content heart. This is one of those times for me.

I find comfort in the fact that sitting here in this “camping house” (as my three year old calls it) with my inflamed toes and a sluggish body is exactly where I am supposed to be. He has crowded me here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Pitfalls of Parenting Out of Fear and Peer Pressure

I have discovered, much to my shock and dismay, that I am officially a Helicopter Mother. My natural tendency is to hover over my kids, micromanage their days, and if I was physically able to, I would probably be teaching them something at every moment of every day.

I know I'm not alone in this. A trip to the local play park confirms it. There are parents following their kids around narrating their every move or teaching them songs and rhymes while they play (usually loudly so that everyone knows what a good parent they are.) It seems like I am constantly surrounded by supermoms.

Keep reading here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Becoming Who You Already Are

I recently celebrated eleven years of marriage to a wonderful man. As I look back over my life and marriage, it's amazing how much God has taught me since those days of honeymoon love.

Fifteen years ago I sat on a noisy, crowded bleacher, watching my first rodeo in the afternoon sun. I felt like a foreigner. Truth be told, I wouldn't have been there if not for a handsome cowboy entered in one of the categories. I vividly remember one thing: the way this particular cowboy's hair—dark and thick and a little bit long—glimmered in the sun with each buck of his horse.

Keep reading here.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Surprising Beauty of Christian Friendship

She is lying in the hospital bed. Jaundiced. Attached to tubes and an IV bag. Waiting to discover why she is there. She is more concerned about her husband at home struggling with his own health issues. Who is going to look after him while she is in the hospital? They have been married for almost 58 years and it’s obvious they still  love each other.

“What’s the secret to a happy marriage?” I ask while we wait.

“Friendship goes a long way in marriage.” She throws this little gem out with a tired smile. “It enables you to forgive. Helps you let the little things go...and really, you just get tired of being mad at your best friend. So you let it go and get back to being friends.”

There are few earthly things that can compare to the beauty of Christian friendship.
A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.(Proverbs 18:24)

1. A Friend Sees the Person You Are Becoming (and Helps You Get There)

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! (Eccles. 4:9-10)
Friendship can take many forms -- a mentor, a mentoree, a peer, a family member. But anyone who's ever struggled and fell can testify to the power of friendship to pick you up.

For Christians this is especially true. Friendship is enduring because we do not pick friends based on what they can do for us.

We see people for who they are, but also who they are becoming.

God loves his children despite their sin and weakness, and we view our friends in light of this fact. But more than that, we envision who our friends will be in the future -- holy and glorious -- like a bride made beautiful for her Husband. (cf. Ephes. 5:25-27)

Sometimes we need to read the end of the book before we read the beginning and middle. It just might change our opinion of someone.

As C.S. Lewis said, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” We are eternal creatures. Seeing our friend’s potential is one way to bless and honour them. It also encourages us to hope the best for our friends.

We each have our own turn in the Slough of Despond.  Thank God for friends who stick with us in hard times and help us get back on the narrow path.

2. A Friend Does Not Give Up on You Easily

A friend loves at all times…(Prov. 17:17)
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.(Cor. 13:4-7)
Transparency is one aspect of friendship that I am growing in appreciation for. A true friend doesn’t judge you harshly, but lets you breathe and unmask without fear.

I’ve found that when a person is first hurting from a new trial, they haven’t come to any godly conclusions yet. They might sound immature and over-dramatic. Sometimes they implicate other people with what they say because they are not filtering their words yet. They are simply trying to understand themselves.

It goes without saying that you need friends that you can really trust. Friends who are not going to repeat what you say in these “processing times”. Friends who will hear you and pray for you and point you to the Lord.

Sometimes it’s hard to find a safe place to share your heart. I’m thankful that I do have trustworthy, godly women in my life, and I’m learning to let them into my mess and help me. If feels so much better to be on the giving side of friendship, but sometimes we need to be willing to receive, to be open and to trust.

Perhaps just as important is the question of our own heart.

Am I a good friend to others?

Am I a safe place for the secrets of others? Am I quick to judge or worse, quick to gossip? Do I bear all things, believe the best, hope for their good and endure all things?
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)

3. A Friend is Kind

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)
I think “kind” is often confused with “nice.” And nice people are thought of as boring, repressed or flatterers. Right? But kindness must be differentiated from niceness.

A kind friend is compassionate and benevolent. They take an interest in the concerns of others. They are inclined to do good and to think the best of people. They are tenderhearted. Forgiving. Reflecting the loving kindness of God.

An interesting article in the The Atlantic titled “Masters of Love” showed that marriages that lasted had something in common -- you guessed it -- kindness. But as I read through this study, I was stuck by how lasting marriages were not largely defined by passion, but by kindness and generosity toward each other. Basically, being a good friend.

Kindness is not a new idea. But it’s a virtue that seems to have gone out of style. So much so that “speaking your mind” trumps it every time.

Are we afraid of losing our ‘self’ if we put our needs aside for the sake of another? Are we angry and selfish in our responses more out of habit than preference? Do we even value kindness?

To initiate with kindness and respond in kind may transform our relationships more than we imagine. And what better motivation than to reflect the character of our God.
But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,... (Nehemiah 9:17)
We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

I feel her frustration lying in that hospital bed. Her husband has trouble getting around, yet he longs to be beside his wife. Of course they have family that love them and will take care of them, but as she rightly says, “I’m the only one that knows all the little things he needs.” She is the one that knows him best and can best encourage him in his weakest moments. 58 years of practicing kindness is no small thing to let go of.

I’m not against passionate, honeymoon-like romance. But when the movie ends there, it only tells a fraction of the story. Kindness, enduring love and appreciation of eternal value shapes  the rest.

Christian friendship is intrinsically valuable when it reflects Christ-likeness. The beauty of enduring friendship is surprising sometimes. My life is profoundly enriched because of Christ-centered friendships. I couldn’t have gotten through the last year without them. They just might be one of God’s greatest gifts.