Because They Promised

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3a34

This woman. She’s been my mom for over thirty years. I’ve called her mom since the day I married her son. Easier, I suppose, since I no longer had one. We’ve been very different people for those thirty-some years, except in our mutual fierce love of our children. I know she didn’t understand me in the beginning or, really, for quite a while.

But she loved me. It didn’t matter. Honestly, when your son marries a 23-year-old who knows a lot about Shakespeare but not about life, you can assume she won’t even understand herself for a good many years.

Kneeling by her bed and crying last week, I listened to her soft voice, almost inaudible from dehydration, tell me those things we seem to only tell when we know we have limited time to speak them. I heard, “You’re one of my girls. You’re my daughter.” And I will treasure those words for as long as I have my own breath.

She deserves her loved ones around her, fiercely protecting her this time, and she has them. Children and grandchildren, being the loving humans she taught them to be. I see her nearest granddaughter drop by regularly, her grandson sitting at her side whispering kind words. I watch my own daughters paint her toenails, hold her hands, and caress her hair.

I am undone by this.

It’s the hard work of 85 years to have family like that. There is a legacy that will remain a thing of beauty long after breaths are taken and heartbeats cease.

I’ve never walked with someone at the end of life. I’ve lost a lot of people. Both parents and two sisters. But they all were there one moment and gone the next. No preparation. No ability to say all the things that need to be said and hear all the things that need to be heard. No time to process all the feelings that come with this downhill walk, and no choice in whether you want to make it.

I do want to.

I had this discussion with my daughter recently about our two cats that passed. One quickly and with no warning, the other with a diagnosis a few months before. Which was worse, saying a sudden, unwanted goodbye, or dragging through the daily hurt of watching it happen and being helpless? We mourned out kitties—we loved them so, and two in quick succession was too much. We both knew we were talking about more than the cats. We both agreed warning was better.

Yet we don’t know how to take this slow walk down the hill, a quicker walk than we had hoped, really. We don’t know when to laugh, when to cry, and we’re figuring out that both are OK, and they happen when they happen. We hate the tug-of-war between our lives here, jobs that demand us, lives that need living, and our longing to be there, sharing every minute we can. We don’t how to dance that choreography, and we realize no one does.

And what of this man? He’s walked beside her for over sixty years. When I tell him he’s a good man and a great husband, he merely says, “Well, it was all in those vows.” Indeed it was, but I’ve seldom seen anyone live his promises so well. He knows that a man’s promise is where his character is determined. But I don’t think he’s thought that—he’s simply done it.

I know this is supposed to be a series on young peoples’ voices. But these words needed to be said. Maybe these words need to be said to young people, not by them. I know marriage isn’t so popular anymore. I know suspicion of institutions leave the next generation wondering if it’s worth the risk. Commitment is frightening, and there are no guarantees. If there’s anything we have taught the next generation, it’s that they should always demand guarantees. Never try anything that isn’t sure to succeed.

Silly us. Why? That was such a foolish lesson. These are the lessons we needed to teach. The lessons of time. Long-haul belief in the family you’ve created. Faith that others will cling to after you’re gone. Love regardless of comprehension. Commitment to people who change, hurt, and confuse you, because they’re your people, and we keep hold of our peoples’ hands. Even, especially, when they have no idea where they’re going.

I’m glad she knows well where’s she’s going.

Men who delicately wipe their spouse’s forehead and hold her hand and walk with her through the pain of loss. Because they promised to. 

If only we had taught you that, rather than “success.” Because that right there is what success looks like. Like my mom and dad.

Growing With–a Book You Must Know About

Growing With parenting_ A mutual journey of intentional growth for both ourselves and our children that trusts God to transform us all.

As a pastor, I am “in a relationship” with the Fuller Youth Institute. I’m not even shy about it. In a culture that makes it challenging for our kids’ faith to thrive, I have found abundant resources for both parents and church leaders in their publications. I’m even using a number of them for my thesis project.

That’s why, when my email magically notified me they were looking for a book launch team for their next resource–– Growing With––that was one of the few emails I didn’t scroll past or trash with abandon. I applied immediately.

I mean, my tagline you can read above is” Reframed: Picturing faith with the next generation.” It’s kind of important to me.

Growing With’s subtitle– –Every Parent’s Guide To Helping Teenagers and Young Adults Thrive in Their Faith, Family, and Future––captures the thing well. The authors, Kara Powell and Steven Argue,  use three verbs to help parents during the three stages of their children’s growth.

Growing alongside our kids requires holding our future snapshots loosely, because our dreams may not end up being theirs

Withing

  • Withing––how do we relearn to actually be with our children, not simply around them?

Faithing

  • Faithing—how do we help our kids navigate the changes in their faith with patience and optimism, realizing that our faith, too, is or should be ever-changing?

Adulting

  • Adulting– –what tools do our kids in need to thrive in their own new life, and what is our role in supplying and them?

As parents, we remember the lyrics to our kids' past dreams and sing them back to them when the timing is right.

I won’t lie ––Growing With can be a tough read if your kids are already in their 20s, as mine are. You can’t help but notice the many things you could have done better. Yet Powell and Argue lace Growing With with grace. They are parents, too. They have made their own mistakes and are not afraid to let the readers know it. The message comes through––

We’re all imperfect humans raising imperfect humans.

We all need some help. Both generations need grace to understand that the other is still growing, learning, and making mistakes. That understanding alone it is worth the price of admission for this book.

The authors talk about the cultural changes that have made growing up in this generation far different than the world their parents knew at their age. They lay down some of the stark facts that might depress us about our children’s faith, but they also debunk some of the myths about the Millennial generation and iGen that keep parents awake at night in fear.

The clear, well-informed, and fact checked understanding of the next generations’ hopes, worries, and beliefs is invaluable to parents, grandparents, and church leaders who wants to understand what is going on in the heads and hearts of these generations.

Teachers, Guides, Resourcers

I love how the authors explain the different roles parents need to take on as their children change. Parents need to evolve from teachers to guides to resources. We can’t hope to parent a 25 -year-old the same way we did a 14-year-old. At least, we can’t hope to do it and retain a good relationship. And genuine relationships are what it’s all about for the next generation.

A guide doesn't carry your pack or do the exploring for you. They walk with you, attending to the novice travelers untested instincts, wrong turns, missed opportunities, and awe-inspiring moments. Thus the parent of

We need to be, as one story puts it, ”A wall they can swim back to”—a firm and sturdy place that will always support them after their forays toward and into adulthood. The writers don’t just leave us with that pithy picture, however. They give readers wonderful ways to be that wall. 

The important words are verbs

I love that the writers, like our scripture writers, know that the important words are verbs. Parents don’t simply ”be with” their kids. They are withing, together. It’s a verb because it is active. We need to intentionally practice withing.

Likewise, faith isn’t a static thing we can hand off to our kids when we think they’re ready. It’s a verb we practice more than we preach. It can’t be given––it can only be lived together. This flows perfectly with the biblical view of faith. Faith is never a thing in scripture––it is always an active, living way of life.

If you’re intrigued, or if you know someone who could benefit from “every parent’s guide to helping teenagers and young adults thrive,” check out Growing With––and preorder yours now (before March 5th) to receive some very special extras as well. I know I’m going to.

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.

Course Correctors

IMG_7454.jpgWhen our daughter was in high school gymnastics, she had a great team. Without fail, the girls cheered one another on. Shouts of “You got this!” and “You go girl!” bounced off the gym walls at every meet. Other teams noted the camaraderie and envied it.

But I remember one other team. They were highly ranked. They had a reputation. They scored big numbers. The evening I sat close and watched their girls vault, I figured out why. One by one, those girls took off toward the vault and threw some tricks that, judging by the way they hit the floor and sometimes the wall, they should not have been trying. The difficulty, and subsequent scoring, were huge. The danger was, too. Their coaches, who should have discouraged trying skills that could land them in a hospital, stood at the end and cheered as the girls hit the mat.

Cheering for people is great. I love being encouraged to do hard things. Sometimes, though, the best thing we can do for someone is to say, “Um, no, you actually don’t got this. Don’t go, girl.”

We’ve been talking here on the blog about church. What it is. What is could be. What it should be. The primary thing it should be is family. Family encourages one another big time. Sometimes, though, family has to do something more difficult. Sometimes, family has to tell us the truth.

Family keeps us on course

Sometimes, your sister has to tell you not to leave home in that outfit. Or not to date that jerk. We all know that later, we are grateful. It’s a family’s job to keep the weird uncles in check so they don’t embarrass everyone too much. It’s a family’s duty to tell Aunt Ruth she needs a hearing aid because she’s talking so loudly the rock band next door can’t practice.

IMG_9313.JPGWe edit one another’s resumes, practice job interviews, and filter photos before we post them, because we want our family to be shown in their best light. Hey, if it were not for my daughters, I would still be going around in mom jeans and white tennis shoes. Family tells us the truth when we won’t look in a mirror and see for ourselves.

Note: We don’t always appreciate the truth.

If church is our family, we should be keeping one another from that terrible date.

Nudge or Judge?

When someone in our church family is going off the rails, a good family nudges her back over onto the track. Don’t miss that important word. We nudge. We don’t judge. That one letter makes all the difference in whether or not we correct one another’s courses well.

Church has gotten the reputation of being kind of judgy. Let’s be honest, it’s easier to judge someone than it is to correct them. Judging is quick. It’s easy, because we have our set of rules taped to the wall, so we know when someone has broken one. It’s painless, even a morale boost sometimes, because if we can conclude that someone is worse than we are, we feel better about our own missteps. Judging is simple. Walking with someone through resurrection is hard.

Admitting we need someone to walk with us is perhaps even harder.

Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. (Galatians 6.1-3)

To share someone’s burden implies that we treat it with reverence and care, like it is our own. Paul’s words create a picture of someone taking another person’s error and cupping it in her hands, like a nest for a baby bird, to support and sustain until the bird is able to fly. They do not leave room for judgment. Quite the opposite.

Gently and humbly.

When is the last time someone did that for you? When is the last time you did it for someone else?

The other side, of course, is that we have to be people who learn to accept correction. We have to begin to trust our families to tell us the truth. The beginning is the most difficult; after you begin, the going on seems natural. It is. It’s the way God meant for us to be.

IMG_6928Moving from relationships based on eggshell walking or grenade lobbing takes intentional effort. It is so much easier to either skirt conflict or to take shots at one another from the safety of our own righteous foxhole. Neither one requires risking rejection. Both keep us at a safe distance. Either allows us to keep “my private life” separate and unassailable from public examination.

It’s just that Jesus never let anyone get away with that.

Gently and humbly. I keep coming back to those words. What would our churches look like if we learned to steer people away from the dangers of life and learned to submit to that steering with those two qualities?

Just Take It

Accepting course correction means giving out rights we might prefer to keep.

When I tell my family that I want to strengthen my muscles, I give them the right to ask every so often—“So, have you been to the gym?”

When I tell them I want to eat better, I freely offer them the right to give side eyes to that frozen custard stop. I’ve invited them into my life as course correctors.

When my daughter tells me she has applied for the job she wants, it’s part of my job to ask her gently, “Have you sent a follow-up yet?” I’ve earned that right after changing hundreds of diapers, wiping grape juice vomit out of the car vents, and driving to approximately twelve hundred gymnastics practices. I’ve gone the difficult distance with her.

Just Earn It

Family gets in your face when it’s for your own good. They’ve earned that right. Church families need to earn the right—by going the difficult distance with us and bearing the burdens we can no longer bear. And when they do, we learn to listen when they tell us the curve is up ahead and we’re going a little too fast.

Family asks—Have you been reading you Bible like you wanted to? What’s your progress on that temper issue you told me about? Are you working on you marriage? These are hard questions. But ultimately, they are kinder than standing on the sidelines and cheering impending disaster because that’s more polite.

Gently and humbly. Good words to ponder. Possibly to paint on our walls.

Imagine if every church became a place where everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable. Imagine if every church became a place where we told one another the truth. We might just create sanctuary.—Rachel Held Evans

The People Who See

a61a1-img_1112After my mom’s funeral, I heard one thing from all the relatives and friends filling our house. “You’re all your dad’s got now. You’ll have to be strong for you dad.” Because, you know, 17-year-old kids are always the best choice for pillar of the family.

Except for one person. I remember standing at our kitchen counter, pouring ice and lemonade, fighting the tears and sadness and anger blurred all together. I remember one of those relatives coming up to me, putting her arm across my very-small shoulders, and whispering, “It’s OK to cry. And it’s OK to want someone to be strong for you.”

That person, of all the well-meaning people there, noticed what I needed and quietly gave it.

That’s family.

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 4.23.23 PM

We’re three weeks into a series on church. This week, let’s ask the question—if church is supposed to be a family, what does a good family look like? The first answer, based on my long-ago experience, is that a family notices its members. A family knows when one of its own is sad or joyful or scared or uncertain. A family sees, and a family takes note.

Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. (Roman 12.15)

This isn’t a command for God’s people to go around feeling all the feels all the time. Some of us simply aren’t “all the feels” material. It’s a command for us to notice. It’s Paul reminding us that nothing pulls a tribe together like being present with someone in her pain or her joy. Either one.

Hagar first labeled God as The God Who Sees. She recognized in Him one who would notice her, take her delicate feelings in His hands, and let her know nothing of hers was beyond his sight.

We are made in His image. We are to be The People Who See. There is nothing more powerful than the feeling of being seen.

  • We see the child-woman who needs someone to acknowledge that not having a mother is cataclysmic.
  • We see the mom who feels overwhelmed in an endless circuit of life with little ones who demand much and sap everything.
  • We see the young man uncertain about his future since jobs are scarce, grades are mediocre, and money is tight.
  • We see the older woman who worries about losing siblings and friends and independence.
  • We see the upper-middle class dad who’s followed all the rules but still feels lonely and out of control despite his outward success.

We are to be The People Who See.

Notice what I didn’t say. I did not say we are to be The People with All the Answers.

I did not say we are to be The People Who Can Fix Everything.

I did not say we are to be The People Who Always Say the Right Thing.

Those people don’t exist. (And they can be pretty annoying when they think they do.)

We are to be The People Who See.

d03f1-img_2462In God’s family. love=time + attention. Those of you familiar with the five love languages can see this in all of them. Whether we feel love through acts of service, gifts, time, words of affirmation, or physical touch, personal attention is required for each one.

Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. (Galatians 6.10)

What would our churches look like if we all took the time to see? What if we reversed the commonly held belief that we go to church for what we can get and instead went thinking, “What can I see today? Who needs me to notice her this morning? What good can I do for one person before I leave?” What would happen if someone had done that for you when you last needed it?

I know what, because I remember how I felt standing there at my kitchen counter all those years ago.

I felt seen.

And that was enough to make it through.

The Church as Sophomore Biology

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 3.48.35 PM

As a senior in high school, I could (and did) go from singing “I’m So Glad I’m a Part of the Family of God” in church on Sunday morning to dancing to “We Are Family” at the disco that afternoon.  Most people in my uber-conservative new-to-me church would have called an intervention had they known. I, however, had no Christian baggage myself as a new believer, so I blissfully sang and danced with no internal conflict.

My dreadful musical heritage notwithstanding (some things you simply cannot unhear), I got the message. Family matters. Whether you’re singing about the family of God or anyone you’ve chosen to claim as family, the people you declare to be your people matter.

In fact, people are doing a lot of choosing their own families these days, for various reasons. Whether it’s because of distance or dysfunction, more people are jettisoning their family of birth and creating a family of convenience and/or choice.

The time is perfect for the church to be what God called it—a family.

So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. (Ephesians 2.19)

Yet for so many reasons, we fail so often. The roads out of our church buildings are strewn with the corpses of people who came there for The Brady Bunch and got Game of Thrones. Maybe you’re one of those people.

Maybe you still attend a church, but you honestly don’t believe you will ever find meaningful family there.

IMG_5848God created this thing called the church. It seems a foolish thing to us, sometimes. We wonder why he chose such an imperfect vehicle as his Kingdom parade marshall. But He did.

Jesus told Peter He would build His church. (Not ours. Important distinction.) He did it by creating communities around disciples wherever they scattered after his death. As each disciple told the story, people gathered, and a church was born. It’s important to remember this—church was not a nebulous concept. It was a flesh-and-blood group of people. They did not have the luxury we indulge in of saying, “Well the church isn’t a place, it’s an idea.” That would have been nuts to the first Christians. Of course it was a real thing. It had to be, to keep the lions at bay.

Paul called these churches households—families. And he made it clear that this was God’s plan for taking His kingdom into the world. The church was to lead the parade.

The gates of hell would not stand against the church, according to Jesus. But sometimes it seems they don’t have to, because like the fall of Rome, the destruction of the church these days is an inside job.

That means it’s resurrection can also be.

36113_440316785125_2969781_nWhen Jesus says people will know his disciples by their love for one another, He was telling us that we cannot truly represent God outside of community. Try as we might to be good followers of Jesus, if we’re doing it solo, we’re failing. We may be displaying a great person to the world, but they don’t need a great person. The world is full of great people. They need a place where not great people can learn to be what they were meant to be. They need a safe place where we work out together why we’re all here in the first place.

Because we know, instinctively, that we can’t figure that out in a vacuum.

We know we need family.

There is no Plan B for letting people who don’t know God see what a family was meant to be.

Why does being a part of the church—not just the Church—matter? Because when God call us family, he means for the world to see wha a family is supposed to look like.

Church—the local church—is the hothouse for nurturing robust seedlings that become plants that feed and beautify the world.

Church—the local church—is the incubator where the baby gets the strength to go out and be who he was created to be.

Church—the local church—is the petri dish where we grow good bacteria that will go out and infect the wold around it with Jesus germs.

OK that last one wasn’t the best analogy, but you get the point. Without penicillin, after all, there would be a lot more dead people around. Good things do grow in petri dishes, even if they always looked gross in sophomore biology class.

I know. You’ve been hurt. You’re bleeding. You found what you thought was a safe place, and it turned out to be a shooting range. So stepping away for a while may be what you need for healing. There is no guilt in that.

But don’t step away for good. Don’t discount that healing among other broken people may be just what you need. Don’t forget that God didn’t promise to build individual towers. He promised to build a community–the church.

And even still, the kingdom remains a mystery just beyond our grasp. It is here, and not yet, present and still to come. Consummation, whatever that means, awaits us. Until then, all we have are metaphors. All we have are almosts and not quites and wayside shrines. All we have are imperfect people in an imperfect world doing their best to produce outward signs of inward grace and stumbling all along the way.

All we have is this church—this lousy, screwed-up, glorious church—which, by God’s grace, is enough. (Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday)

If You Could Choose Five Dinner Guests….

IMG_4309
The age I was when my mom passed away. That would be a great dinner to see her again.

Five dinner guests. That’s the prompt this week for the Friday Five linkup here at Mrs. Disciple. Tough one.

If you could chose five people to have at your dinner table, people who cannot physically be there in reality, whom would you choose?

I am a perfectionist. I could take days deciding the precisely right five. But that would be counterproductive. I have a talk I give on letting good enough be good enough. So I have to take my own advice. Don’t we just hate that?

So without overthinking it . . .

1 and 2. My mom and dad. I was going to add my two sets of grandparents whom I never really met and be done, but then I thought, that would get pretty tense. I have the idea that relations between my parents and their parents weren’t all that rosy. And I don’t need that drama at my dinner table.

But I would love to know why things were not rosy. I would treasure sitting there and listening to their stories. Stories they never told. Was I too young, or were they? Were they so young when the stories happened that they never wanted to talk about the times they wished had never been? Like the war, or the first marriages, or yes, the parents.

I’d want to see the love in their eyes for one another, a thing I never really paid attention to when I was a kid.

I would introduce them to their three granddaughters. I think they would be proud. I think my dad and oldest would find themselves a lot alike. I think my mom would find all of us a tad too freewheeling for her comfort zone. Not to mention the fact that we’d all most likely be religious fanatics in her eyes. I wonder what she’d say if she knew her daughter grew up to be a preacher lady? I truly don’t know.

And I’d like to.

She’d probably clean my house, though. There’s a plus.

#3. Casey. The young man we took into our home and hearts who passed away 1590a-393376_273421972702629_943581585_nfrom a heroin overdose. I’d want to go back to a dinner we shared. I’d warn him about the last day when he would want to try heroin one more time. I’d impress on him that one day when he would want to walk out of that treatment program in anger, he should not. I would want to beg him, “Please don’t make me perform your funeral. I’ll never be able to forget it.” And if it didn’t work? I’d just like to tell him one more time we love him.

We’d all like to tell a lot of people that, wouldn’t we?

Spending Ourselves
I would so be using this mug.

#4. J.R.R. Tolkien. This should be a no-brainer to anyone who knows me. I want to pick his brain. I want to hear him speak elvish as the originator of the language. I want to drink in the imagination and the wisdom that seemed so effortless but which I know was not, considering the time it took. I can hope some of the patience (and talent) sink in by osmosis. I want to just listen. And maybe I’d show him the pictures of our gingerbread Minas Tirith.

Plus, I think he would have a fascinating conversation with our final guest.

#5. The Tenth Doctor. Hey, no one said we couldn’t invite people who don’t actually exist. #10 is my favorite. So, he’s the one who gets to come.

Really, though, the theological intricacies of Dr. Who fascinate me. This particular incarnation of the Doctor interests me the most, because he learns and lives so much of turning the other cheek, loving your enemy, and always giving another chance. Always. I’d want to talk about that, and how those values came about in a person who has seen and done much and lived too long for it to be anything but lonely and heavy. Somehow it wasn’t. We could all learn more about that.

And I’d get a selfie in the tardis.

An interesting dinner table. I’d love to see who would talk to whom. Whom would you choose, if you could?