Featured

Being Seen

Jill1Hi. I’m Jill, a writer, speaker, editor, pastor, and all-around person in need of grace. Particularly now, since currently, I’m working on moving my blog and website information over to this lovely and venerable site. But for now, if you’d like to read current or past blogs, please visit me here.

I talk about a lot of things on my blog and in my books and articles. But usually, they focus on a few main topics. Fear, faith, empowerment (particularly of women and the next generation), caring for those less powerful, and trying to live freely the abundant life God has given us.

To let you know I know what I’m talking about with this fear and empowerment thing, let me give you some background.

warriors-together4I’m the kids who refused to step too far into the back yard after dark. The woman who slept with a nightlight when I was twenty. The person who would still rather face a rabid bobcat than walk up to a stranger and begin a conversation. Fear has been a really close acquaintance of mine. For too long.

Yet there is God, telling me to live “adventurously expectant.” To look at each day and ask, “What’s next?” And that enthusiasm isn’t supposed to lessen when today’s “next” wasn’t as great as I’d hoped. Or when we’re terribly certain tomorrow’s will be worse. “Fear not” may be the most common command in the Bible, but fear is also perhaps the most common human emotion. What’s happening here?

I don’t want to live life as a grave-tender, so wrapped in fear of what might be that I lose the time in between. I want to live an adventure for God’s kingdom, and I want to do it with you. I want to know who I am, and I want you to know who you are, because of who He is.

I want us both to know the identity God put in us when he created the imago dei in the garden. He hasn’t rescinded that deal. I want to see you and hear you and know you–and I want you to know He already sees and hears and knows you.

To prove I’m serious, here’s your first story.

I’m terrified of spiders. If you don’t believe this, you’ve never seen me run out of the shower shrieking because there was an eight-legged creation of God on the tile wall. Which is a good thing. No one should see me run out of the shower. Ever.

I hyperventilated if I saw a picture of a spider. But before leading my fist mission trip, I decided, no more. Time to face it. It can’t be as bad in reality as in imagination. Sure it can’t. Totally believed that, except not.

Spider (1)I marched into the pet store (OK, I crept into the fourth pet store, after failing three times) to find a tarantula and–you got it–hold that baby. The very helpful pet shop guy talked me through the traumatic process. He assured me the spider would just sit there. And you know what? It did. You know what else? They’re actually soft. And even cute in a . . . creepy, way-too-many-legs-and-eyes, spidery sort of way.

Seriously, God gave me such a calm that the whole thing was kind of surreal and interesting. Plus, I made sure to get it on video. Because, you, know, this is not going to be repeated on an annual basis or anything.

I’m not saying I’m going to go out and get a bird-eating tarantula for a housemate anytime soon. But–fear only has the power we give it. And I was tired of giving it.

The Lord knows I’d lived through way worse than spiders by that time, anyway.

So, let’s join one another. I can’t wait to see what happens here.

11133693_10100200269051164_1141031843764671997_n

PS– I’d love it if you want to hit the button to subscribe or shoot me an email to be put on my mailing list!

A Voice Was Heard

IMG_6431

 

 “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” Matthew 2.18

Five years.

It’s been five years since the day all mamas in this country held their collective breath. Five years since we watched other mamas’ babies bleed, knew in our hearts they could be ours, and never recovered. Five years since Sandy Hook, when I wrote the blog post below. In todays’ climate, it feels right to run it again, rather than the one I had planned. I’ll finish the parable of the soils on New Year’s Day.
A few days ago, on another topic, I said to my daughter,
“I think the hardest and most courageous thing a person ever does is look in the mirror.”
I believe this. In light of it, and in light of Christmas, my post from five years ago on Sandy Hook.

How many of you dropped your child off at school today, said “I love you,” and thought for a moment, ‘that could be the last time I ever see her?’ I did. How many of you held someone, anyone, just a little tighter this weekend? I did. How many of you cleaned sloppy gross hair from your shower drain this weekend and, for the first time, were grateful you could because of the child who left it? I did. Yes, really.

 Like a lot of people, this is not the blog post I had planned for today. And I hesitated to write anything at all about Connecticut because so many have done so already and written better.

 The usual sides have been taken and lines have been drawn. Some good conversation is being had; some bad won’t go away. But what if, amid good and bad conversation, the most important conversation never happens?

 Taking sides is easy. Blaming ‘the system’ is easy. Coming up with plausible reasons and solutions is easy. And some of those things are partially correct and needful. But nothing should be easy about this conversation.

Nothing.

We all know what will happen here. People will feel terrible. For a while. People will cry for solutions. For a while. People will shake their heads and wonder what’s next, and we now know we will inevitably find out, because this is becoming not uncommon. So it anesthetizes us all too quickly, making our tears and resolutions to be more appreciative and “do something” dissolve into “real life” before the New Year rings in.

The most important conversation? It’s the one with the person in the mirror. The one where we stop distancing ourselves from evil and look it in the eye. Where we quit trying to blame everyone and anyone and look into our own souls. Where we admit the world is terribly broken, not just slightly sprained, and ask ourselves why we spend our lives running in fear and denial of that fact. And what effect that collective running is having on our culture.

How have you been running from the evil in your own soul?

Today. And tomorrow. And every day we need to remember and not go back to business as usual. Look in the mirror and ask yourself,

“How long have I known the world was broken, and what have I done to fix it?”

 Not fix as in lobby the government for more programs or proffer opinions on Facebook. Not fix as in bury into my own safe little world so at least my family can survive intact. But what have I personally done to push back the iron force of evil in at least one person’s life? If only starting with my own.

 Easy answers? If the answer was easy, the Son of God would not have had to be born on this earth with the intention of dying. “Easy” doesn’t end up in a virgin’s uterus and a trough with wood that stinks of manure. “Easy” doesn’t end up on a cross that reeks of blood. There’s nothing easy about innocence giving its life for evil. It’s complicated and messy. It happened two thousand years ago voluntarily. It happened three days ago horrifically.

 To borrow from last week’s sermon,

“Christmas is not a reminder that the world is really quite a nice place. It reminds us that the world is a shockingly bad old place. . . Christmas is God lighting a candle; and you don’t light a candle in a room that’s already full of sunlight.” – NT Wright
Christmas isn’t really for children. It’s not for the meek and mild at all. It’s for hardy souls who are willing to admit that the world needed a healer and mender. It’s for those courageous enough to take that redemption into our lives and the lives of people we contact. In ways that matter. And not just today.

Cleaning Up the Clutter

IMG_3922

The area around our fire pit is a bit of a mess. Like, you could lose a small child in there mess. The logs and kindling are semi-stacked/falling to one side. A picnic table sits at one end, its boards crumbling with age. The patio is, well–a little uneven would be a charitable way to put it. We put the stone down ourselves, and straight and flat are not our strong suits.

We’re creatives here, not engineers. Don’t judge.

Last year, I worked hard to pull all the weeds that grow up between the logs and around the table. They were big. Thistles, pokeberries, bindweed—all of it went into the compost.

Then we went on vacation. And after two weeks, we returned to weeds so high they were over my head.

I am not even joking. Jesus please help if we ever forget to weed for over a month. They may never find us.

IMG_3032

Jesus’ story of the soils. We’ve covered the hard soil that refuses to be vulnerable and so never allows others to affect their lives.

We need to soften our hearts with vulnerability to tell a good story.

We’ve covered the rocky soil that refuses to commit and so stays shallow, never allowing Jesus to get in and make changes.

We need to deepen our hearts with involvement to tell a good story.

Now, the weedy soil.

“Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants.”

I’m preaching an entire Advent series on distractions. Clutter. Those things in our lives that do exactly what these weeds do—crowd out the tender, beautiful things of God that are supposed to grow in our lives.

“The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced.” (Matthew 13)

Is your heart distracted or focused?

bw jack2

Sometimes, I fear I have a thorny heart. There are so many other options. So many things get the resources that the seeds God plants in my heart need. He offers me the abundant resources of time, money, gifts, talents, people, things, and feelings. (Yes, they are abundant. Whether we believe it or not.) Too often, I squander those wonderful gifts on the things that should be lower on the priorities list.

Time? Booked.

Money? Budgeted.

Talents? Overextended.

Feelings? Already overloaded.

We get so distracted by competing priorities we don’t even notice the tiny plants God has sown into our lives struggling for their share of sun and rain. We’re too busy.

These priorities aren’t always bad, of course. Kids sports are good for them. Grades matter. Work requires our best. Entertainment is needed after a tough day of work, and paying bills, well, things can get a little dicey if we don’t.

The problem isn’t that we are committed to bad things. The problem is that we aren’t committed to the best thing first. When priorities compete, the biggest, loudest, strongest get the most attention. The weeds win. If I didn’t weed my garden, the weeds would always win. The same is true in our lives.

We’re always attracted to the shiny, the attention-seekers. The thing is, God’s kingdom isn’t usually shiny and loud. It’s usually quiet. It’s everyday. it’s about showing up and keeping on, and that can’t compete with the things that promise us all we’ve ever wanted.

The promise is:

We’ll be good parents if our kids are busy and get to do all the things other kids do.

We’ll be secure if we work enough to have a cushion in the bank.

We’ll be liked if we know all the shows and all the music and all the Facebook news everyone else does.

We’ll be important if we look busy.

We need to do a prairie burn of our lives so that good things get first crack at the sunshine.

Seek first the kingdom of God.

IMG_4452

If we seek everything else first and then hope there will be room for the kingdom in our lives? We’re going to harvest thorns. We won’t even be able to find God in all the clutter. But if we seek the kingdom first? Jesus says he will add all the important things we truly need.

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. (Matthew 6.33)

Everything. That we need.

Do you know what the tragic result is from all of our busyness and distraction? Did you notice that last line of the story?

“No fruit is produced.”

Fruit is the good story we tell with our lives. It’s all about the fruit. That’s the reason God left us here instead of winging us up out of this craziness the moment we got saved. We’re here to produce fruit. And distracted people don’t. It’s so clear in Jesus’ words that it’s tragic.

I think this may be the most common soil of all of them, which means I may be guilty. The world is so distracting and the kingdom so quiet.

Maybe these questions sounds familiar to you:

Why aren’t I joyful?

Why don’t I feel content?

Why are my finances always a mess?

Why is my schedule always nuts?

Why is life so hard?

It could be the answer to all of them is the same—we’ve let the weeds choke out the goodness and simplicity of the kingdom. We’ve made God’s good seeds compete, and they are losing.

We need to declutter our hearts with focus to tell a good story.

Seek first the kingdom of God.

IMG_2931

What do you need to weed out of your life? What do you need to focus on? Christmas and a new year are good times to get quiet, look at or priorities, and ask ourselves—am I seeking first the kingdom of God? Does it look like I am when I look at my list of activities? What seeds Is God trying to plant in my heart, and what is it going to take to give them some air and sunshine?

Good stories change us for the better.

People who are changed tell good stories.

We can’t tell a good story with a cluttered life. Decluttering our hearts brings out our best story.

Going Deep

IMG_4449

Last week, we began talking about Jesus’ story of the soils. It’s part of a series on Jesus’ stories and how to be good storytellers with out lives. You can read the intro here.

The basic idea is this:

Good stories change us for the better.

People who are changed tell good stories.

More than anything, it seems, people want to tell good stories with their lives. So shouldn’t we want to hear the stories of the one who most people agree was the best at that? I do.

Jesus told his listeners about a farmer who tossed seed around—some on a hard path, some on rocky soil, some amid weeds, and some on good, fertile soil. This week, let’s talk a little about those rocks.

“Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock.”

You can guess what’s going to happen here, right?

IMG_3137

We have a bare spot in our garden, right along the driveway. Every so often, I decide to put a plant there. I shove the transplant spade into the dirt. And it stops, abruptly. Under that bare spot is a slab of rock, not an inch and a half down. I always forget it’s there. But the shovel reminds me with its jolt, and I know I cannot plant anything in that place. It’s roots will never grow deep enough to survive, especially in the dry, tree-root ridden soil along our driveway.

Rocks are not usually conducive for growth. The only things that grow among rocks are small plants that don’t have much for roots. (I know—things with giant taproots do as well—but that’s another theological truism.)

The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. (Matthew 13.20-21)

Shallow Soil Produces a Shallow Story

I have known so many of these people. They react immediately to hearing inspirational messages. They are all in. The emotional high grabs them, and they want to spring up and sign up as God’s right hand, right now.

Then life happens. The heat gets turned up. The high is gone, and life returns to so very . . . normal. I start to hear things like,“That’s not what I signed up for.” “I didn’t expect this.” “Well, God’s not working for me anymore.”

God ends up like a fire alarm in the hallway of their lives—pull in case of emergency, but otherwise, he stays behind the glass.

The ones whose faith lands on rocky soil never develop deep roots.

IMG_4103

Is your heart shallow or deep?

To tell a good story with our lives, we need deep hearts.

A story without depth is boring. If a plotline never gets beyond small demands and low risk, who really wants to read it? Who’s going to option the movie rights on the tale that never embroils its hero in anything interesting?

If Frodo just FedExed the ring to Mordor, no one would care.

The story happens in the difficult moments. Characters are created in the hot sun. When drought hits, we know which people we want to watch until the end.

The ones who have shown depth of heart.

The kingdom of God thrums a heartbeat of deep, messy, thoughtful life. The ones who see the demands, the depth, and then opt out have forfeited the opportunity to grow deep hearts.

I know that choice. It’s tempting to look at the heartbeat of the kingdom and think, “That’s too much. That passion would ask more than I can give. Feeling the things that break Jesus’ heart could break mine. Pull back. Pull back.”

IMG_4375

I made that choice long enough, settling for rocky soil and a heart that went to a certain level and no farther. Then, Jesus forced me to see with his eyes.

What do you see when you get eye to eye with a lonely elderly person? When you visit an addict in the hospital? When you listen to an immigrant or refugee tell her story? When you really get a look at hurricane devastation on an island unable to recover for itself? I know what you see.

You see Jesus looking back. You see yourself in a way you’ve never seen you. And you like it.

Because here’s the thing—we’re created to be more than skin deep. There’s a cost to skating the surface. It seems easier — we’re too busy. Too overwhelmed. Remaining shallow-hearted is survival, that’s all.

But the cost is our soul. Deep hearts are real hearts. Broken hearts are alive.

We need to deepen our hearts with involvement to tell a good story.

What will you risk this week to grow deep?

Plowing Up the Hard Road

IMG_4043

I LOVE sunflowers. But I have an issue with them. Every time I plant sunflower seeds in our yard, I get nothing. No sprouts. No flowers. Nada. I put those things all over the place, but it doesn’t matter. I plant many other seeds quite successfully, but sunflowers don’t care. Absolutely nothing has come out of the ground when I plant sunflowers seeds at any time in the history of sunflowers.

Here’s the issue—when my husband plants them, those things jump out of the ground. We have a bounty of sunflowers. I don’t do anything differently. But I can’t grow sunflowers to save my life. I need to stay married if only to have a source of sunflowers in my world.

Even a good seed sower can have problems with uncooperative soil.

IMG_4045

Last week, we talked about how good stories change us for the better so that changed people can tell good stories with their lives. When Jesus laid down that idea, he began with a story to illustrate that very thing. It’s what we call the Parable of the Soils.

TLDR version: A farmer planted some seeds. He wasn’t very discriminatory about the way he planted them or where they fell. This was actually not too far off from current farming practices for Jesus’ time. Or he just had really bad aim. Whatever.

Some of the seeds landed on the road, where birds ate those babies right up. (I imagine starlings or blackbirds, because those things scarf seeds at my feeder like there will be a worldwide seed shortage within the next hour.) Starlings and blackbirds are also rather nondiscriminatory when it comes to eating.

Some ended up in the middle of rocks, and some dropped in the weeds. Rocks aren’t very fertile soil when the drought hits, and weeds . . . well, as a gardener, I know how fast weeds grow. Crazy fast. Either way, the good seed doesn’t fare well.

And some fell in soil that was juuuust right and grew big and strong.

It’s like Goldilocks and the Three Bears for farmers.

IMG_4041

Of course, Jesus was talking about our hearts, not basic dirt. What kind of heart will produce big, strong, plentiful crops from the story seeds he offers?

Spoiler: It’s not the first three.

“Some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them.”

The footpath has had years to be packed down into toughness. The more it’s been walked over, the more unyielding it’s gotten. Every step has made it harder, every day has tamped it down just a little bit more. It’s hard.

Maybe you know someone like that.

The hard, hard road doesn’t feel the need to give way for seeds. It doesn’t bend. It knows what it wants to accept, and anything else bounces off into the ditch of indifference.

Hard roads don’t want to hear anything that challenges their assumptions or threatens to change their minds. That stuff gets bounced right out. They have their rules; they know what’s what. Getting soft only creates people who compromise.

It just gets you hurt.

IMG_4044

Yet Jesus has no use for the hard roads. He knows no true kingdom values will grow there. Not until they are tilled up, plowed and furrowed and deeply dug to allow new seed to grow. 

Hard soiled hearts have to break in so many places to allow them to be vulnerable to the seed and sun and rain God has for them.

We cannot tell good stories unless we’re willing to face our hardness.

As a kid, I responded to being an actual, real-life Ferdinand (the bull who preferred to sit alone and smell flowers) with deep cynicism and sarcasm. Oh yes, you’d better believe I could do sarcasm as an eight-year-old. I didn’t get this good without years of practice. Also, I learned years later the secrets of the INFJ door slam. (“It’s been said that when INFJs get hurt or angry, they don’t hate you, they nothing you.”) 

I pushed others away before they could declare me too weird for words and push me away. Rejection as as preemptive social strike. I wasn’t very big or very popular, but I was strategic enough to know good warfare tactics.

Except human community is not built on warfare models.

When I started to face the reasons I lacked friends, the reasons behind why I reacted defensively and rejected others first, I began to heal and dip my toes in the open water of vulnerability. I learned to go first in bridge-building. I discovered that other people were just as afraid as I was. I allowed others to see between the chain mail loops about my heart.

I got hurt. But it didn’t kill me, and I found it was better than being hard.

Jesus’ words can’t enter a heart that’s defending itself from invasion. His pleas that we put others above ourselves, show mercy as our default, forgive completely, ask forgiveness, and start over—they can’t find fertile ground in hard hearts that won’t yield to the soft foot of understanding. We have no worthwhile story to tell without vulnerable hearts.

Go ahead. Plow up the ground. Face those things that scare you about letting others in. They won’t kill you. I promise that you’re tougher than that. I also promise that the relationships you will gain, the changes he will make in you, are so very much worth the scary bit. Stop hardening up. Plow deep. Allow him to plant seeds for a story that’s unique to you.

You’re a great storyteller in the making.

Telling Great Stories

IMG_6587

What was your favorite story as a child? Mine was Ferdinand the Bull. I didn’t think most people knew about Ferdinand, but he was special to me. Something clicked  between me and a bull who didn’t want to fight—just wanted to smell the flowers. I just wanted to sit under a tree and read a book. Or on the couch. Or in bed, under the blankets late at night. Or anywhere, really.

Leave me alone, and let me live peacefully. Ferdinand found that difficult as a bull intended for the bullring. I found it difficult as the youngest of seven kids.

I knew what it felt like to be different. Can another INFJ raise a hand, here?

As an adult, the stories that have shaped me, not surprisingly, revolve around second chances and grace and the least among us doing great thing. Lord of the Rings. Les Miserables. Pride and Prejudice. (Also, stories about women who aren’t afraid to say what they mean. And then sometimes have to apologize.)

Stories Change Us

IMG_6588

I will never forget the gut-punch feeling while sitting in a dark theater in December, 2001. My family watched The Fellowship of the Ring roll out on the big screen in Bozeman, Montana. (There was only one big screen in Bozeman.) We were only a couple months out of 9/11. The horror was still raw, the fear still tangible. And then Gandalf said the words I have never been able to shake.

To Frodo’s exhausted, “I wish none of this had happened,” Gandalf replied, “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

It meant something. It still means something to me—enough to make me write a book and speak to young adults everywhere I can about the wondrous ability of Tolkien’s stories to change us.

Stories mean something. We read them, watch them, are changed by them. From the beginning of humanity, people told stories to connect and to reflect who they were and who they wanted to be.

I’ve been taking some time to preach through Jesus’ stories lately. Because if any stories are going to change us, those ought to.

IMG_6591

Jesus’ Stories Change Everything

Often when we read Jesus’ parables, we read them to extract a moral. What does he want us to do? How should we act? In the words of the rich young man, “What must I do for the kingdom of God?”

What if Jesus wants us to live the story—plot, character, climax, and conflict? What if he wants us to read it like he meant it—like a story, not a morality play? In fact, as a writer, I know the latter is a terrible way to write a story. We dare not tack on a moral at the end or we make it cliche, a trite tale that bashes the reader over the head with our Bible. (It’s kind of the way Christians tend to make movies . . . )

That’s not Jesus’ way.

Jesus drops a story in the listeners’ ears. The he lets them figure it out. He makes them figure it out. Jesus is not a bash-them-over-the-head sort of guy. (Although he has no trouble being a turn-the-tables-over sort of guy. That’s different.)

So what is the purpose of Jesus’ stories? They paint us a picture of life as it should be. His tales hold up a portrait, a landscape really, of the kingdom of God. This is what it looks like, guys. And he asks— Is this the story you want to tell as your own?

Jesus tells stories to help us imagine a world that aligns with how its supposed to be–to help us create our own story and tell it out. We study parables not for the moral of the story but for our story within them. What do they contribute to our tale? And how does out tale fit in God’s great kingdom, of which we are a tiny, tiny part yet still a meaningful one?

We tell stories to see the world as it should be and then go there.

In Jesus’ “introduction” to his parables, he gives another reason for telling them. To sort out who is truly listening.

That is why I use these parables, For they look, but they don’t really see. They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand. This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah that says, ‘When you hear what I say, you will not understand. When you see what I do, you will not comprehend.

For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes— so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and let me heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. (Matthew 13)

Jesus returns to the ancient shema—the call of God to truly hear and listen. From its beginning in Deuteronomy, the shema asks more of God’s people. They are to listen to his words with open ears and hearts, willing and wanting to respond to God’s words at all times. That’s the meaning behind “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Jesus means don’t simply hear—DO.

So the parables are stories to help us find our place in God’s great story. They are also sifters to see who is really listening. Jesus is preparing to leave his followers, and he needs to know who is in and who is a hanger-on. Not that the hangers-on aren’t welcome, but they aren’t where he’s going to get his team for building the church when he is gone. He’s looking for hearers and doers. And the stories separate the ones who want to work at it from those who want the fireworks and free fish.

Just think about all the people who were Cubs fans last year but not this. That’s the difference, my friends.

IMG_6590

When do we listen, really listen, to stories, as I did in that dark theater sixteen years ago?

We listen to stories when we appreciate our need for them.

I mean, if we’re prepping for a test, and we think we’ve got all the time in the world, or we know more than anyone else, we’re not likely to really listen when the teacher is reviewing. We’re going to be in the corner on Facebook, or doodling in the notebook, or catching a nap. We don’t feel our need for the information.

Jesus didn’t force morals or tell his point straight out because he wanted people to realize their need. We usually only realize that when we’re made to work for it. If it comes easily, we don’t know how much we really need it. When we do realize it, we are really to change. He wanted to force that work. Because—

Good stories change us for the better.

and then—

People who are changed tell good stories.

IMG_6589

That’s the point of the parables. To get us to tell good stories with our lives. We will never do that until we have ears to hear Jesus’ stories and know that they aren’t intended to give us a new law or some behavior to check off but a completely new story arc.

We tell stories to see the world as it should be and then go there.

We do that when we let the stories sink through our ears and change our very hearts.

Good stories change us for the better.

People who are changed tell good stories.

Next week, we will begin looking into some of those stories. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear some of yours.

Also–what was your favorite story as a child? What’s your favorite now?

How to Help Your Kids Overcome Jealousy and Insecurity

P1050504(Sibling rivalry does not have to come to this.)

“Mommy, is she going to be better at everything than me?”

I hugged my dripping wet tiny seven-year-old. At the end of our girls’ first swimming lessons, what I had dreaded the whole six week session happened.

The younger got promoted to the next level and her big sister didn’t.

Bigger and more athletic than her older sister, she simply had better motor skills, a higher attention span, and more courage at that young age. Big Sister struggled with a mix of hurt and jealousy.

“Am I always going to be not as good?”

I struggled, too.

I mean, given their genetics, none of our children were ever going to be athletically coordinated, let alone gifted. As the larger and stronger child, though, her little sister did have an edge. What to say to this little wet waif, certain that she would always be at the end of every performance test?

I’m checking in at A Fine Parent today with this article on children, jealousy, and how to find abundant praise for everyone, no child left behind!

Read the whole post here.

Health and Wellness in the Church World

IMG_3981

I’m stirring my jar of almond butter this morning, settling in to day three of Round 2 of Whole 30. It’s “natural,” so there is stirring involved, a need to force the oil and almonds to mix and meld. I read the label. There is only one ingredient in this jar—almonds. No aded sugar, which apparently is the magic ingredient to huge sales. This brand will not ever become a mass market seller that brings in buckets of dollars for its corporation. it’s small—in name, sales, and even size.

I am grateful someone is OK with that.

My good health is dependent partly on the fact that someone somewhere accepted lower market share for the tradeoff of giving people something good for them versus something they liked the sweet taste of.

Small Can Be Good

It occurs to me that this is a good metaphor for church. What happens when we remove the filler and the flash? What tradeoffs are we making when we choose health over sales, or vice versa? Is there a place in the church marketing machine for the off brand, the radical rebel that’s natural almond in a Jif world?

What happens when we become OK with remaining small?

IMG_8191

It wasn’t only the almond butter that got me thinking this way lately. I felt the same uncomfortable rebelliousness sitting in a lunch this month, talking about church buildings and seeing the stunning shots of auditoriums, stages, and sweeping lobbies. No, they aren’t narthexes. I know that word is passe, and I’m not particularly suggesting we bring it back. I’d rather speak words most people understand and feel comfortable with.

But lobbies are a different animal than narthexes—a giant blue whale compared to a sleeping, cozy cat. And these were lobbies, displayed there on the slides meant to showcase the best of church architecture. It hit me then that I never want that kind of building for my church. I am OK with being the almond butter of the kingdom. I’m more than OK with it; I’m choosing it as a value for my church leadership. I can no longer get behind the spending or even the ideas symbolized by the blue whales of the kingdom. I understand that will come with some limitations, and I’m prepared to figure out how to navigate them.

Please don’t take this as criticism of any church beyond a certain size or with a certain style. I don’t find criticizing my brothers and sisters that worthwhile an endeavor, although dialog over real issues of disagreement is necessary at times. Take it as the musings of someone looking down another path than what has been universally accepted for the past few decades. A path that looks pretty appealing, especially in light of the values I see in upcoming generations.

IMG_1436

Boutique Church?

Just as the boutique hotel and shopping experience are enjoying a renaissance largely thanks to the Millennial generation, we shouldn’t be surprised to find boutique church not far behind. Smaller, more focused on one purpose, more able to adapt to individual needs, warmer. Your small shops on the corner are the ones gathering around a fundraiser for one family. They’re the ones offering a job to the neighborhood kid who needs a second chance. The boutiques are where your kids get handed a handmade lollipop and maybe your dog does, too.

There is value in that in the Kingdom world as well. Perhaps more value than I find in sweeping lobbies. That little store may certainly franchise to another neighborhood, but its offshoot will also be small, personable, welcoming to a new place and new faces. 

It will seek the health of its neighborhood, and in doing so, will necessarily remain small but strong.

Small but Strong

What if we intentionally look for the people who want health and wellness, even if we know that this is going to make us too small to compete with the corporations? What if we “specialize” in strong, healthy bodies rather than well-appointed ones? Realistically, those are going to be smaller. (We already know what specializing in food with added sugar does to our bodies.)

I’m OK with opening the almond butter boutique. It will never be a national brand. But it will serve well those who come to it seeking to be well and strong. 

And by the way, almond butter does, in fact, taste good. Especially spread on apples in the morning.

This article originally appeared on Theology Mix.