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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Same Same, Different

The dust gathered around us like a cloud and tears glistened in my daughter Madi's eyes. This was our last day in a poor fishing village, wrapping up our ten-day mission trip to Cambodia. We'd been warned about taking a ten year old on a trip like this - out of the country, out of our comfort zone. Questions about how she'd handle the long flight, the food, the new culture, the "squatty potty", but we felt a certain peace that we were doing the right thing. And on this last day in the village we'd all fallen in love with, I'd never been more sure of our decision to take her - honestly, even I was shocked by how exceptionally well she did.

The language was a definite obstacle for the adults to overcome, but within minutes Madi was laughing and playing with children she'd never met and could not say one word to. Within the first day she had a best friend for the week and her ability to play with and enjoy the children only grew with time. Little did she know that just a few days later, she would she pack up memories of her time with these precious children from half-way across the world, complete with nick-names and inside jokes. To say that she left the village with stronger one-on-one relationships than I did is an understatement. Although I, too, fell in love with the beautiful people and had my own tears as we pulled away, I found myself constantly frustrated by the hurdle of language. I wanted to say so much, but could communicate so little. No doubt the people of this village saw and felt our love and the Gospel was clearly spoken through our translators, but leave me alone with the locals and I felt naked. Smile and nod, smile and nod….that was my routine.

Kids are different, though. They refuse to stand around looking at each other, smiling and nodding. They jump right in and get to the point: forget what's different, what's the same? This is the essence of the Cambodian phrase, "Same Same, Different" - we may look different, but under it all we're really the same. What was harder for an adult to see was easy through a child's lens. This much was true when my daughter was asked how she thought these people were different than folks back home. She paused and said, "I don't know. They're kids and they love to play games with me." I must admit, at first my "mother alarm" was going crazy…Seriously? Are your eyes even open? These kids are living in the very center of poverty in a third world country. They've never tasted Chic Fil A, and you don't see anything different? (Thankfully, I held my tongue and didn't share these thoughts!) Through further conversation it became evident that, yes, she noticed the stark differences between her reality and theirs, but that wasn't what she was capitalizing on. Amid the dust, the hunger, the nakedness and the language difference, my girl saw kids who wanted to laugh and play. She wasn't side-tracked by schedules or hand-sanitizer, she was making friends and sharing Jesus with her smile and her hugs.

On our last day, she and I were invited into the home of her newfound BFF, and I took Madi's lead as I looked into the eyes of her friend's mother and I looked for similarities Photos on the wall, a baby on her lap, a sweet banana treat shared between us- the essence of being a mother, we were similar indeed. And as we stood watching our girls hug good-bye for the 18th time, tears pooled in both of our eyes… Same same, different.

This is the heartbeat of missions, whether it is across the world or around the corner. Instead of focusing on all that is different - and let's be honest, that reality is usually glaring - a look at what is the same will knit our hearts faster and more sincerely. When we approach missions with the mindset that we are here only because we have something great to offer, we set up an immediate "us and them" mentality. Many will still be able to do good work for the kingdom but will not be easily able to break the tension between missionary and friend. It will be difficult for those we are reaching to ever see us in the same light as themselves; we put up a barrier, difficult to remove. However, when we approach the same work, with the same things to offer but seek to humanize and familiarize ourselves those we are serving, we make it possible to cross that bridge in our own hearts and in theirs.

What about you? Who is in your life at this moment that you need to see through a new lens? Have you been so focused on all that is different that you find it hard to relate to her at all? Whether it's in the realm of women's ministry, missions or your next-door-neighbor, let's take a lesson from our Cambodian friends and look for the "same same, different".

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

To Lent or Not To Lent?

We are nearly one week into the Lent season, so I thought I'd give a brief lesson on the origin and importance of Lent, for those of you newbies. (Which was me, just a handful of years ago.)

This first portion is taken from a document created by our pastor, Rick Thompson, given to our congregation as a means of educating us on the season of Lent. It was extremely helpful for our family, as we embarked on this new, mysterious season.

WHAT DOES THE WORD "LENT" MEAN? The word Lent is apparently derived from the Old English lencten, which means "lengthen." It refers to the lengthening of the daylight hours that occurs in the northern hemisphere as spring approaches. It is in this period of transition from late winter to early spring that the season of Lent falls.

WHAT IS ASH WEDNESDAY? Ash Wednesday (from the Latin Dies Cinerum, meaning "Day of Ashes") is the first day of Lent. On this day, Christians focus intensely on their utter and complete sinfulness and the necessity of Christ's suffering and death to earn their salvation. Ashes are referred to many times in the Old Testament as a sign of sorrow, mourning, repentance, and mortality: Read 2 Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:1-3; Job 42:6; and Jeremiah 6:26.The use of ashes during Ash Wednesday worship as part of a tradition called the Imposition of Ashes. According to this custom, ashes (traditionally made by burning palm fronds used on Palm Sunday of the previous year) are mixed with a small amount of olive oil and applied to the forehead of each worshipper. The smudge mark made by the dirty ashes is a powerful reminder that we are going to die because death is the natural outcome of our disobedience. The fact that the ashes are placed on our foreheads in the sign of the cross symbolizes the sufficiency of Christ and His death, burial and resurrection as payment for our sin.

*This year our pastor had us place the ashes on the back of our hands, in a cross. As the cross was made, we would say, "Boast only in the cross." It was a great reminder that "I" am not the focus, but only the cross.

WHAT IS THE SEASON OF LENT REALLY ABOUT? For many Christians, the season of Lent typically includes some kind of fasting. These fasts usually take the form of abstaining from all food throughout a given 24-hour period or certain kinds of food for the duration of the forty-day season. In place of a food fast, some Christians commit to give up a pleasurable activity or dedicate themselves to charitable giving. Focus on prayer and devotions are also especially emphasized during Lent. But even though our Lord recommends and comments on the Lenten disciplines of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer in His Sermon on the Mount (Read Matthew 6:1-18), these practices can easily become legalistic rituals that are centered inwardly on the self rather than outwardly on Christ. If during Lent Christians choose to give up something or rededicate themselves to helping those in need as a way to proclaim the salvation Christ has won for all by His suffering and death, then such activities are sacrifices that glorify God. However, we must remember that nothing we do through self-denial or good works can ever earn God's favor, forgiveness or salvation. Lent is not about our giving up something to please God. Lent is about what Jesus Christ gave up to pay the penalty for the sins of the world.


The ancient church required new believers to go through a forty-day period of instruction on doctrine and fasting before being baptized. Baptism would occur on the evening before Easter.

The number forty occurs many times in Scripture, in both testaments of the Bible. It signifies the time that is required for discipline, testing, and separation prior to achieving a goal or new beginning. For example, we read in the Old Testament that it rained forty days and nights during the Great Flood (Read Genesis 7:12), Moses was with God on Mount Sinai for forty days before receiving the Ten Commandments (Read Exodus 24:18), the people of Israel were forced to wander in the wilderness for forty years (Read Numbers 14:33-34), Elijah journeyed for forty days before he reached the cave at Horeb and had a vision of God (Read 1 Kings 19:8-9), and the inhabitants of Nineveh fasted and repented for forty days in response to the preaching of Jonah (Read Jonah 3:4-5).

In the New Testament we see the account of Jesus' time in the desert fasting, praying, and His temptation by the Satan (Read Matthew 4:1-11) and also the time frame for His appearances to the apostles and others after He rose from the grave and before He ascended into Heaven, where He sits at the right hand of God. During this important time He strengthened their faith and prepared them for the coming of the Holy Spirit (Read Acts 1:3).

May this Lent season be a time of fasting, if you so choose and a time of strengthening of our faith. May we be more passionate about following Jesus, anxiously awaiting His return to earth. May we be filled with the Holy Spirit, daily surrendering to His control and leading in our lives.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Season of Celebration

Several years ago, our pastor encouraged our church family to begin observing and celebrating the Lent season. This was not a part of the Easter season in the churches my hubby and I had grown up in, and we were curious to learn more about it. We honestly had never given thought to Lent, and were eager to initiate new Easter traditions into our home. The more thought we gave it, the more it just made sense. As a family, we spend several weeks anticipating and celebrating the birth of Jesus at Christmas... why should we give His death- which bought our salvation!- less attention? In the past, we’d talked about the importance of truly focusing our hearts on the Easter season, but had no luck coming up with a way to make it a truly special season, not just a special weekend.

Enter, Lent 2005(ish). We began to look intently into the origination of this special season and it struck a chord with us. As a family, we began observing Ash Wednesday, which begins the season, then fasting during the Lent season, which concludes with Eater Sunday. Our pastor suggested we pray about something we could give up, or fast from, during this season. A daily, physical reminder of all that Jesus gave up for us, and the desire to truly identify with Him. Over the years our fasts have ranged from certain types of food or activities, to a re-ordering of our schedules- such as, waking up earlier than usual to spend more time in prayer. We also try to read a portion of Scripture during dinner to engage our children in the season, encouraging those old enough to consider giving up something, too.

Lent should be the most sacred part of our year, as believers, but often we blow right past the weeks leading up to the sacrifice Jesus made for our sins, without really taking the time to soak in what that truly meant for Him and what it truly means for us. By observing the Lent season, we find that our hearts are more sensitive to sin in our lives and our thoughts turn more often toward the precious blood that was shed for our sins. This is the secret to a thriving, life changing relationship with Jesus. Following Christ is not a one-time event, it is a daily choice.

Just as we are called to give ten percent of our earnings as a tithe to the Lord, the Lent season is equal to about ten percent of our year. Just as the Lord promises to bring spiritual blessing to those who are faithful with our money, He will bring spiritual blessing to those to take personally the sacred Lent season. No matter what we choose to fast from, or which disciplines we seek to focus on, we must remember that nothing we do through self-denial or good works can ever earn God's favor, forgiveness or salvation. As our pastor says, “Lent is not about our giving up something to please God. Lent is about what Jesus Christ gave up to pay the penalty for the sins of the world.”

Over the next 40 days our family will do our best to identify wit Christ's sacrifice. We will fail - some days forgetting to read our passage at dinner, other days blowing our fast or losing our tempers- but even in our failures, our hearts are reminded of why we so desperately need a Savior every day or every week.

I hope you'll consider taking the next 40 days to focus on Christ, by denying your flesh in some way. If Lent is new to you, give it a try. (And I'll be sharing some posts next week to shed even more light on the origin behind the Lent season.)

May Jesus be glorified in our hearts and homes as we celebrate His life, death & resurrection!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Giving Year

It all started on New Year’s Eve, 2010, when our oldest daughter said, “Why don’t we see how much we can give to others next year?” We thought it sounded like a wonderful idea, so we went with it and adopted the family motto for 2011 “How can we help?” We know that giving takes many different forms and were excited to see what the year would hold.

Over the next 12 months, unbeknownst to my family, I made notes of ways we had given each month. I didn’t note them as they happened, but at the end of the month I would brainstorm the ways we had given of our time, resources, encouragement, etc. The goal was not necessarily to make a list (and definitely not to show anyone else the list), but to make our kids aware of what one little family can do when they decide that it is far more fun to give than to receive.

Most of us give in many ways each week: a meal to a friend, praying for someone who needs encouragement, helping out financially, a smile to a stranger, food to a begger, serving in our communities, giving away things we aren’t using anymore, and so on. The individual acts may seem small, but the efforts are not - they make a lasting impact on those you give to, not to mention the little eyes watching you.

In the past, I felt hesitant letting our kids know about our giving to others, because of the verse in the Bible that instructs us not to “let our left hand know what our right hand is doing” (Matt. 6:3). But this verse is not telling us we shouldn’t lead our kids to generosity, this verse in context is warning against bragging and doing good deeds for others to see, instead of from the heart. In talking about this concept, Garrick and I feel a huge responsibility to show our kids what giving looks like on a day-to-day basis, not sharing specific dollar amounts, but including them in our efforts. If we don’t model this privilege, how will they learn?

Fast-forward to Christmas Eve, 2011. As we sat around the table at our annual family dinner, I read the list of all the ways we were able to give to others, month-by-month, for the past twelve months. Garrick and the kids were honestly amazed at what 5 people can do! This post is not about what our family did or how we gave, but instead it is an encouragement for you to ask, “How can we help?” and then act on it. In the seemingly small and in the obviously big, you may very well discover what we have come to believe: it is truly more blessed to give than to receive.

So in 2012...be blessed!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Seven: An Experiment Against Excessive Living

Seven by Jen Hatmaker, was in my stocking on Christmas morning and finished by the 27th. To say I couldn’t put it down, is an understatement. I was captivated by Jen’s transparency, passion and humor from the get-go. In an effort to avoid being a spoiler, I’ll give enough scoop to dangle a carrot…then let you go get your own copy!

Jen was tired of the way she and her family were living and consuming, so she decided to do something about it. They embarked on an experiment that took nearly a year, and involved 7 different fasts, pertaining to 7 different areas in which they felt out of control. Food, clothes, cash, giving, green living and stress were just a few of the areas under attack. Her husband and a loyal group of girlfriends jumped on-board, along with her kids for the majority of the fasts. And when all was said and done, the fasts left a lasting impact on their daily lives.

So what can a reader expect from Seven? You will most likely squirm over the awareness of your own excessive living, but Jen’s writing style is not condemning whatsoever. She shares honestly about her personal struggle and it’s something we can all identify with in some way. The challenge is for you to walk away compelled to live more wisely in your corner of the world. That may mean following Jen’s lead and embarking on her 7 fasts, or a variation your own, or it may mean making tweaks and changes in other ways. The goal of this book is not for the reader to imitate the Hatmakers’ journey, but for each to evaluate his or her own choices, and weigh them in light of God’s word and responsible stewardship.

This book is a crash course in responsible living! From supporting local businesses to composting and cutting back in spending, you can expect your eyes to be opened to a different, better way of living. Many of us spend very little time thinking about our environment or the affect of our living on those coming after us. This is not only foolish, it is arrogant. This world was not created just for me and my little family. I now realize my responsibility both to God and to the generations after us, to care for His earth and actually leave something to pass on.

We are a people with an unprecedented amount of possessions and we can make an unprecedented impact in the lives of those around us if we choose to share what we’ve been given and live responsibly. Whether you feel led to make any changes to your lifestyle, I highly recommend Seven. Jen writes in a way that is compelling, honest, sarcastic and hilarious. (As a side note, I have known Jen for nearly 20 years and she is the real deal! She lives what she believes.)

My family will make better choices and continue in a pattern of giving and seeking to live responsibly, seeking to honor God with our lives. Thanks, Jen, for faithfully bearing your heart and soul. The church is a better bride because of your voice.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Out of the Spin Cycle

I just finished a "must read" for all moms... "Out of the Spin Cycle" by Jen Hatmaker. This book is a fresh, new devotional to help "Lighten the Mother Load". (smile) And help, it did! The devo is both practical and hilarious. I found myself laughing and tearing up in the same reading. Topics covered in this 40-day devotional range from worry, priorities, marriage and the comparison trap. You will not be disappointed by this book!

Each day's read, ends with a thought provoking, often painstaking question to ponder (or answer in your journal if you're into that sort of thing). Jen also challenges you to take a step toward becoming a better mom, wife & woman by throwing out an idea as to how you can apply what you've just read. For instance, on the day where she taught on the importance of communicating in the language that each of our children speak (this will be different for each child in your home), she ended the reading with the challenge, "Create a moment to speak the special language to each of your children today."

I had the fun chance to catch Jen on the phone today and we chatted a bit about motherhood. Her are some of her responses to specific questions about the book:

When we put our relationship with our children over our relationship with God, what threatens to happen?

First of all, we end up raising spoiled brats. (I’m kidding. Sort of. Not really.) We don’t mean to, but when we position our kids as the center of the universe – unfortunately taking God’s rightful place there – then our perspective gets all out of whack and we fail to put God in the center of our kids’ universe. They get the idea that the world revolves around their needs, their feelings, their moods, and let me tell you something Mamas: That is messed up. I know kids like this. You do too. We can’t stand them. (I mean that nicely.) When God is an afterthought for Mom, then God becomes optional for her kids. Of course He does; He’s just not that big of a deal, clearly.

This is to say nothing of the disaster this creates with the Mom. Her entire identity is wrapped up in her children, and that does precious little for her stability when her cherubs discover the phrase “I hate you!” and learn to throw temper tantrums. When there is no Jesus saying, “This is who you are. This is your value. You are loved. You are blessed,” then all we’re left with are our kids who sometimes say, “Instead of living in a family who has to ‘learn to make good choices,’ I WISH I WAS HOMELESS!!” (my Caleb, age six). This doesn’t bode well for the soul.

Plus, you’re disconnected from God.

Plus, you lose touch with your gifts.

Plus, your well runs dry.

Plus, you turn into a cranky, cranky girl.

With God solidly at the center of your universe, you can do this, Mama. Your perspective won’t be decimated by a toddler who decides he hates vegetables and doesn’t want to nap anymore. Every little thing that goes wrong won’t derail you. You won’t forget what you’re good at and what makes you happy. You’ll be able to dig deep and find a little somethin’-somethin’ at the end of the day for your hubby, God love him.

What are some examples of little ways moms disciple their children?

Contrary to popular belief, ALL the ways we disciple our kids are little. Discipleship takes place in the smallest moments over days, months, and years. It is a process, and it involves one million tiny conversations, moments, and demonstrations. Don’t be discouraged, Mamas! Hang in there and keep planting that kingdom; my son just received the Sixth Grade Good Citizenship Award chosen by the teachers for helping without being asked and acting kindly toward his classmates. I know. I’m as shocked as you are. I always thought I’d be the mother of the kid “Most Likely to End Up on Jerry Springer.”

How can mothers raise their children to reach the unsaved world?

Can I just say this right up front? Mamas, if we want to raise kids who want to reach the unsaved world, then we better raise them to love those people, not judge and fear them. With the best of intentions, we often raise our little ones in isolation and seclusion then expect them to know how to engage the broken world they’ve been kept from their whole lives. We end up launching out shocked little weirdos who don’t know how to connect with real people.

So, as you can see by this tiny peek into Jen's mama heart, you are in for a treat in "Out of the Spin Cycle".

I plan to read it and re-read it multiple times for a dose of encouragement and reality!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Not a Red Letter Week

There are some weeks no parenting book can prepare you for. Last week was one of them. I'm sure you know the kind of week I'm talking about. More on your list of things to do than you could possibly get done, then add a natural disaster to the mix (baseball-sized hail, anyone?) with the phone calls and insurance adjusters to chat with, and there seems to be no sign of daylight.

On top of doin' the daily mommy business, our children decided to add their own flavor of drama. You know what I mean... the one's who seemed to have gotten it, when it came to getting along, somehow managed to have forgotten it, coinciding with the baby showing new signs of his sin nature, all making for more noise and "teachable moments" than this mama had energy for. Add to that a speeding ticket (haven't gotten one in YEARS!), 3 year old's birthday party to plan, speaking engagement to prepare for and a a toddler throwing up Saturday morning (as we were on the way to a birthday party) and hours before leaving for an out-of-town graduation party, and I was ready to hit I40 and just keep on going!

Finally....date night! It had been looked forward to all week, even mentioned in a facebook status. Sweet hubby took me out for sushi and the most wonderful cupcakes in OKC, but somewhere between edamame and Rock N Roll sushi rolls one set of lips was speaking words and the other set of ears received them completely differently than intended. Translation: a major marital misunderstanding. Talk about a real mood killer. We were forced to spend the remainder of our date trying to salvage our miscommunication (and might I mention we were teaching from the book of Proverbs on the power of our words the next morning). Never fails. No matter what we teach on, God always allows us to experience fresh personal examples. (Sigh.)

It seems that one tough realm of life snow-balled into the next until pretty much every part of my world was affected. (Did I mention my house needs a good deep-cleaning?) There's the red flag that I should have heeded earlier in the week. When life is spinning out of control, I should expect that, if not dealt with there will be negative consequences in every other area of my world. The problem is, sometimes we just keep going on- full speed ahead because our schedule is to full to stop and address the inevitable. I sure hope I learned my lesson!

Which brings me to the point of this post. Just need to throw a pity party and get this tough week off my chest? No. I need to stop, take inventory and start again. And the best way for me to do that is to write- you just get to be a part of this cleansing. (Smile.)
Here's why I write:
1) As I write, the Lord teaches me. Blogging is for my own spiritual benefit. If others take something positive away from it, that's icing on the cake.

2) I believe that as moms, we need to stick together. I know someone else has had a week that left you weary and I'd love to encourage you to stay the course. We are not perfect. Not one mom holds it together every second of every day. There are no perfect children out there. When one mom is transparent enough to air her dirty laundry, in an attempt to help other moms, we all win, because we can take a collective deep breath and get right back in there. We need each other to laugh with, learn from and lean on. This is the toughest job you'll ever have! We must encourage one another not to give up.

3) Because my husband and I are in ministry, for some strange reason, some folks have the notion that we don't have bad weeks. That our children always respond with a scripture and a song and that we haven't had a disagreement since 1999. Not true. Yes, we're learning, growing and getting better at admitting our faults, but we still have our moments. We are human and we have bad weeks. There. I said it.

So, what do I do when I have a week like the last week? I listen to my own sermon! I practice the principles that I will be teaching a group of moms next week.
  • Run to Jesus. Pour out my frustrations to Him and ask Him to fill me up with His life-giving power. Scripture promises that those of us who have accepted Christ as our Lord have been given His kind of incredible love, poured into our hearts. ("Hope does not disappoint us because God has poured His love into our hearts by His Holy Spirit He has given to us." Romans 5:5) I ask God for a fresh wave of His kind of love so I can pour it out to my kids and my husband.
  • Renew my mind. It's easy to begin grumbling and complaining about anything and everything when a week hasn't gone your way. This is dangerous ground. There are certain verses in Scripture that put my perspective back in check. I remind myself that "it's not about me". And I remind myself what I would tell one of my children if he/she was pouty about a bad day. ("Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe." Philippians 2:14-15) Our family motto is based on this verse, "Shine like stars".... sometimes I need to tell myself to take the lead.
  • Remember who I am. Oftentimes motherhood strangles the other parts of your person. You are not just a mother. You are a wife, daughter, friend, child of God- and so much more, depending on your own personality. Do you like to paint? Bake? Run? Decorate? Dare I say shop? Garden? Journal? Carve out a little bit of time to be you... maybe your hubby will watch the kids one evening or on Saturday. Maybe a girlfriend will trade favors with you. This is crucial. God did not intend for the precious person He crafted when He made you to go into hiding for 18 years. He still has plans and purposes that only you can fulfill. It energizes me when I'm able to slip away for a run, bake something sweet, visit a friend over coffee or read an excellent book. This is not selfish. When we enjoy the way God created us, we glorify Him by enjoying His creation. And we return refreshed and refueled.
  • Rest. This one's pure and simple: sometimes the most spiritual thing I can do is take a good nap. Did that this afternoon and I already feel better. Taking care of our bodies takes care of our spirits.
  • Right the wrong. If I have been harsh in my tone with my children or misunderstood my husband, I must right the wrong quickly. Time is our enemy here, because time builds up walls between us, putting us in relational bondage. There is freedom in forgiveness. We teach our children far more by admitting our faults and asking for forgiveness than we do trying to live "perfect" conflict-free lives. That's not reality. There will be hurt feelings and there will be cause to apologize in the real world, let's model this well for our families.
  • Re-enter the race. I love knowing that today is tomorrow's yesterday. Seriously, a bad day can only last 24 hours, then we get a new start. ("Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." Lamentations 3:22-23) I love the promise that each day has new mercy waiting for me. Embrace a new day... or a new month... or a new year, with hope in your heart. God has not left us to be consumed by our sinful failures, He is faithful! And I am so thankful!
May you be encouraged to pursue God in all that you do. Don't give up, even when it's hard. And love those in your world to the fullest measure. I will leave you with my favorite verse when I am just plain exhausted:

"Surely you know. Surely you have heard. The Lord is the God who lives forever, who created all the world. He does not become tired or need to rest. No one can understand how great his wisdom is. He gives strength to those who are tired and more power to those who are weak. Even children become tired and need to rest, and young people trip and fall. But the people who trust the Lord will become strong again." (Isaiah 40:27-31)