Faith in the Can

“Dear God. PLEASE let her sleep until I get the laundry folded and put away!”

It’s ok. I know you say prayers like this too- desperate prayers, maybe somewhat pathetic, first-world-problem prayers. That’s why I feel comfortable sharing, knowing that you won’t judge.

My little one had not slept great for her nap the day before, so I had a particularly severe case of naptime paralysis today. There were so many things I needed to catch up on that I ignored them all and showered instead.

Miraculously, she slept through me taking my shower. When I got out, I faced the loads and loads of laundry that needed to be put away (literally, right in front of me as I got out of the shower; there was no more ignoring it.). As I started to fold the shirts, the socks, the pants, I breathed my prayer of desperation. Little did I know the brief, but impactful journey my faith was about to go on while I folded, matched, folded.

My work was frenzied and anxious, because I desperately wanted to get this done before she woke up. And I heard God whisper,

“Why don’t you trust Me?”

Ouch!

“What do You mean, God? Of course I trust You. I know that you can help her to stay asleep until I get this done.”

“Yes, I know that you believe that I CAN, but do you believe that I WILL?”

I don’t know if you struggle with this or not, but I have no problem intellectually believing that God can do anything. Even with that faith, I found that I was struggling to trust that He will do things that I pray– not as a cosmic genie, but as a loving Father who loves (longs!) to hear me ask for help. I have faith in the “can”, but not in the “will.”

See, I have been struggling lately (truth: for a long, long time) with anxiety. Recently, I learned about the concept of breath-prayers. Short verses or truths that you repeat as a prayer to God to change your self-talk, to change your belief, to pray without ceasing (when breathing reminds you to pray- you pray a lot more often!). I have been breath-praying, “I cast all my anxiety on You, because You care for me.” And I think, during laundry He wanted to begin to teach me how to really believe that. He brought this verse to mind, Matthew 7:11.

Matthew 7:7,11 New International Version

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you…If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

God wanted my mommy heart to hear that in the same way that giving my little one just what she needs brings me great joy, He desires to help us in our struggles. He desires to hold us through our fears, to calm us in our anxiety. And I think He wanted you to hear this today too, because she is just waking up…

He lovingly pulls us not only

to have faith in His power that He can help us

but also

have faith in His love that He will.

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Why I left the church

Like many of the kids I knew from growing up in “church school,” by the time I was old enough to make my own choices, I took a hike. I had had enough of being told what to do, what to wear, who to date, and to not dance, drink, or party.
(Especially because no one could ever really explain to me why it was wrong about it, since Jesus drank, David danced, and what in the world was really wrong with having a party?!)

Before I jump in head first, I want you to know a few things:

  1. This post could also be called, “Why I left the church…and came back again.”
  2. The reason that I am writing this story is primarily to warn my own heart, as a youth leader, to remember what being a teen and young adult was like. I’m inviting you into that journey.
  3. God has blessed me with a tremendous amount of healing in many of the relationships that were wounded by my path of rebellion and restoration, and I hope that this story honors that.

People are trying to figure out why youth leave the church. I’ve read accounts blaming everything from youth ministry programs to hypocrisy.  I don’t claim to have all of the answers, but here is my story. Here is my why.

I left because I didn’t belong.

Somewhere around 1999 when grunge was dying, FRIENDS were making us all laugh, and everyone was scared about computers crashing, I started a descent into a dark, doubting, questioning hole that is familiar to so many teens who grew up in the church. It was the year I started to drive and got my first job. What I found in that retail store was about to rock my world.

I grew up in what I like to call “The Bubble.” Maybe you are familiar with it- I went to Christian school, church 3 times a week, Christian summer camp, joined Christian clubs, went to Christian concerts, played Christian video games (no. really.), read Christian books, and to be honest, was a little scared of all the “unsaved, God-shunning, cold-hearted heathens who needed Jesus and were going to hell.” I love my parents and appreciate their efforts to lead me in a good path and into a relationship with Jesus. But I was wholly unprepared to walk into the world of working with non-Christians and (gasp!) talking to them.

I was so confused when I found that my new co-workers, who obviously did not attend church and took smoke-breaks, were SO. NICE! Nicer than anyone I had ever met in any Christian group. For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel judged. I laughed as loudly as I wanted because no one thought women should have a “meek and quiet spirit.” This was the first step in my break from my church and from God- the unconditional acceptance of me, just the way I was.

Another contributing factor to my feelings of not belonging at church and other Christian groups looks silly to me know, but was painfully real during this time in my life. We were relatively poor. I didn’t have a lot of nice clothes. Even though this feels crazy even writing now, I started not wanting to go to church because I felt like I didn’t have anything to wear, anything that would make me feel like I belonged with the other kids who did wear nicer clothes. Again, I thank God for my hard-working parents who kept me clothed, fed, and in a private school! At the time, though, I couldn’t appreciate those things the way that I do now.

Lastly, I left the church and God for a period of time because of my own sin. I struggled with dating relationships. Some people struggled with alcohol or drugs or a love for money, but for me, it was my desire to control my own dating life. I couldn’t stand that any guy would be considered “off-limits” because he didn’t believe in God. I didn’t respect warnings to remain “pure” which in my opinion were very subjective and unclear anyway. So I left. Adios. I’ll do it my way. And I did.

I spent years of my twenties running from God and doing life my own way. I ended up depressed, confused, and angry. But in that entire time, God never left me. He gently, quietly, lovingly drew me back to Himself.  The first tool that God used to begin calling me back to Himself was, ironically, the first thing that had started my descent away from Him- a longing for real relationships.

What I found in all of the those “friendships” with the “nice” people outside of the church was an inability to enter in to real relationship. Real relationships are formed around Jesus (and food… but definitely Jesus!). Why is that true? Because real relationships exist when you step outside of yourself and think of the other person first. When I was looking for fulfillment in another person, I could never find it. Why? Because we are inherently selfish. Without God’s prompting to think of others’ better than yourself, people, without thinking, think only of “me first” (as I was- I was looking to get from these relationships, not give.). And ultimately, we only think of others first when we are experiencing the wholeness that a relationship with God brings into our own lives. We cannot give what we don’t have- love.

Eventually God brought my husband and I to a church in White Bear Lake, MN- Eaglebrook Church.  God used this place and a small group Bible study of women to solidify my return to living in His will for my life. I was still very angry when we landed at Eaglebrook. I hated churches and most of the people in them. I was there because a friend had invited and a group of her friends were cool and fun to hang out with. They made me feel like I belonged there.

Then one Sunday the Pastor challenged us to “quit complaining about the church and start being the church.” That began a new journey for me of knocking off the sarcasm and letting go of the bitterness I’d held for so long. My husband and I jumped in head first to serving at the church and that has made a world of difference in our lives. Our church is not perfect- no church is, but we have found a community of people that God has called us to serve and love. The amazing blessing is that they serve and love us back. God is so good. He has called me to help make others feel like they belong in our community, our church.

Since then God has also been moving in my heart to remove sin and build positive habits that grow my relationship with Him- and I have never been more at peace, more content, more filled with life. But those things may never have happened without me first experiencing the thoughtfulness of a group of broken people making me feel included.

How about it? Have you let imperfect Christians keep you from experiencing the amazing love of God like I did for so long? Do you include others when they come into your group of Christians, whereever that group might be? If you left the church (and came back or never came back), I would love to hear why!

Don't get distracted by all the beautiful people.

Don’t get distracted by all the beautiful people.

Things Ending in -ies

If my life were a jeopardy category right now, it would be “Things Ending in -ies.”

Does anyone even watch that show any more? Didn’t a robot win it or something? Or was that Ken Jennings?

Anyway back to my category… I’ll have Things Ending in -ies for $2000, Alex!

My life consists of blankies, milkies, foodies, walkies, splashies, and all other sorts of other “cute-ified” words. With two dogs and a baby, it’s hard to find time for “adult thoughts.”  I have been consistently reading, even if it takes months to get through a book. I was reminded recently through another woman’s blog (What My Mother Taught Me) that even within this adorable, mind-numbing season of life, it is SO important not to lose sight of myself.

Even more importantly, not to lose sight of the “self” that God created me to be and to work with my family, friends, and church to find ways to keep those pieces of me alive through these baby years. I have been ruminating on these thoughts quite a bit and landed on three questions that I pose as safeguards against losing myself completely in the land of -ies.

1. Have I been in the Word and prayer today?
2. Did I hear God asking me to do something today– something to encourage someone else, to lead a younger believer, to communicate truth, to change myself, to grow beyond my comfort zone- and did I do it?
3. What do I believe God is teaching me right now in this season to prepare me to serve Him in the next season?

It’s hard to keep up with all you folks who aren’t swimming in -ies, harder than I ever imagined it would be! (Of course, one of the beautiful lessons that I’m already learning is that there is no need to keep up. I am in this season now and it is perfectly where I am supposed to be (so freeing!).) Nevertheless, I desire to remain connected and grow spiritually, intellectually, physically, and emotionally at the pace that this season allows. I am thankful for the technology and time that we live in which allows for this to be an option.

Moms, how do you stay connected and growing through the little years? Not Moms, how do you think you can help moms from drowning in the -ies?

Seasons for Growth

Seasons for Growth

I lost my voice

If you’re anything like I was in the 90’s you practically (if not actually) memorized all of the lines in The Little Mermaid. Ariel makes a bargain with the sea-witch to trade her voice for a set of legs rather than her mermaid fins in order to get closer to her prince. Well, I’ve been feeling a bit like Ariel lately. Not because I made a bargain with a witch, but because I feel like my voice has been missing.

Traditionally, I have felt “most qualified” to write when I’ve recently been through something, when I’ve learned a life lesson or have been experiencing a trial or difficulty. The last month and a half have been pretty calm. We have been primarily ‘grinding’ out the time, as our family has been counting down the days to the end of my husband’s school semester. It has been a time of provision and blessing rather than need and testing.

It’s in those times, that I find it the most challenging to write because I feel like I don’t have anything to share.

God has been calling me out on this reality during this month, November, a month of thankfulness.

My theme verse for last year (2012) was Psalm 40:3 “He has put a new song in my mouth— Praise to our God; Many will see it and fear, And will trust in the Lord.”

God has been showing me that it’s in THESE times, times of rest and provision, that I have the best opportunity to praise Him for all of His benefits and that THIS can be a great opportunity to show others why I follow Him. The danger during those times of provision and blessing for me, at least, is that I find sufficiency in myself. I think that I did something to find myself here- that my power and my strength has provided for my family. God warned Israel about forgetting Him during times of plenty-

Deuteronomy 6:10-1210 “So it shall be, when the Lord your God brings you into the land of which He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you large and beautiful cities which you did not build, 11 houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant—when you have eaten and are full— 12 then beware, lest you forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.”

I think that is why I had nothing to tell, but by God’s grace and his patience, He has given me a new song-

Praise to our God!

Just Grown-up Kids: Truths from the Global Leadership Summit 2013

If I could rewind the last 48 hours and invite each of you to come to the 2013 Global Leadership Summit, I would. This is Adam and I’s third year attending the Summit, and every year we leave with renewed focus and with our leadership fires lit for the coming year.

The last two years, I took so many notes in our Summit notebook that I treasured the books as gold at the end of the two days- pages full of insights that I could refer back to throughout the coming year. BUT this year with a four-month old in tow, my notes are a little sparse (to say the least). In spite of that I’d like to share with you a few themes that I heard during the Summit that have especially tugged at my heart- things that I believe God put me there to hear.

Grown-ups are really just big kids.

This thought was a passing comment that Patrick Lencioni jokingly said while discussing his book, The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: A Fable for Managers, which digs into the reasons why people hate their jobs, underperform or leave. Lencioni was referring to our need as humans to belong. to be heard. to be seen. to be known. We “grow up” and pretend that we don’t need anyone else. That we can make it on our own. But reality is that everyone needs to be seen and known. If you are in or have been in a workplace (or church) where this was not the case, you know that it can make you miserable.  This became the theme of my Summit experience preparing me for the other lessons that I needed to hear.

What kills love kills organizations.

Dr. Brene Brown authentically delivered a challenge to leaders to break down their walls of pride. Dr. Brown reiterated the need for people on my team, for the (little and big!) people in my home to be seen and known- to be loved. Her research found that what kills love kills organizations:

  • Shame
  • Blame
  • Lack of Respect
  • Betrayal
  • Withholding

Two of my favorite quotes from Dr. Brown- “We are so desperate to belong that we will form groups of intimacy based solely around people (or things) that we hate.” And “You can have courage or you can have comfort, but you cannot have both. They are mutually exclusive.”

Time spent alone is wasted time that you could be investing in the next generation.

This shot to my heart like a bullet. Pastor Oscar Muriu challenged me to get off the couch, get out of my comfort zone and get in the leadership game. No excuses, even being the mommy of little kiddos. My kiddos are the most obvious future leaders that God has entrusted to my stewardship, but they are not the only ones. I am fortunate to be working with an awesome group of young women at my church through the youth group program, but I can do more with them! Look around you- where can you dive in to start now to encourage leadership in the next generation?

I wish I could connect all of the dots for you and deliver a neat and compact summary of the Summit, but trust me, it just isn’t possible. The best I can do is encourage you to attend next year (it is hosted at 230+ sites around the world- there’s probably one near you!) and check out their website and social media feeds for more in-depth followup.

Apologetically Christian: A Blue Like Jazz Book Review

Blue Like Jazz is a must read for anyone who hates Christians.

Blue Like Jazz is the book that I wish I had written.

Blue Like Jazz is one of those moments in my life when so many thoughts and feelings finally converge into clarity and truth, bringing liberation and life.

Donald Miller somehow combines raw, real feeling and spiritual questioning into a masterpiece where Christians apologize to the “heathen” and Jesus’ true teachings are fully illuminated. Shelves could be filled with the books, seminars, messages from the pulpit, and writings defending Christianity, intellectually debating the legitimacy of scripture, and unapologetically proclaiming God.

Blue Like Jazz brings a brisk slap-in-the-face reality check, that perhaps Christians do need to do a little apologizing. Perhaps, laying down our defenses and loving unconditionally (no, really, unconditionally; not pretend “churchy” unconditionally) is just what this world needs to see the real Jesus. The real Jesus who was named a friend of tax collectors (the hated) and sinners (the despised). Blue Like Jazz challenged me to forgive myself for the times that I have failed to love, and to start now to love- unconditionally and apologetically.

Blue Like Jazz tells the story of so many of the kids who grew up in the church and had to leave when they found out that the “world” wasn’t full of demon-worshippers and hateful people. The kids who were confused at why the people outside the church were kinder than those who were in it. The kids who always felt like they were the red-headed-step-child, but found a place of belonging with the hippies in the woods (you’ll have to read it to understand that part 😉 ). The kids who desperately wanted to believe in Jesus, but got blinded along the way by His followers.  The kids who loved God, but didn’t want to be Republicans. Have you been there? Read this book.

Blue Like Jazz is the story of a kid like me. I wish I had written Blue Like Jazz.

Finally, Don brings into focus so many questions and lays out beautifully the clarity that can be experienced in the midst of the questions. There’s no guilt that having faith means having doubts. There’s no lie, no wall built as if Christians have all of the answers.  There’s just faith and a belief that following Jesus means life, because Jesus frees us from ourselves.  His teachings illuminate the greatest lie and free us from it.  The greatest lie is that life is a story about me. That my needs, wants, and desires, when fulfilled, will bring me the greatest happiness.  The truth is found in the teaching of Jesus that whoever loses his life will find it. Serving others is the highest calling. Loving others is the most powerful tool.

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I wish I could do Blue Like Jazz justice in a short book review. I can’t. You just have to read it.  If you’ve read it once already- read it again. I know I will. The pages are underlined and dog-eared, but now I need to find my highlighter. It’s just that good.

 

Four Steps to Life after Fulfilled Dreams

The man. The ring. The dress. The degree. The career. The dogs. The kids. Still waiting for a white picket fence….but it struck me the other day that so many of my childhood dreams have been fulfilled and it made me wonder- what am I dreaming for these days? Am I dreaming big enough? Am I even dreaming? This post is a pep talk for myself and all of us moms to keep on dreaming and a few steps for helping others if you’ve also been so blessed!

While growing up, I wished for. Prayed for. Dreamed for the days that I now find myself living. It’s so easy to get comfortable and find myself living in a daze, so impatient that I miss today by living in my checklist. Here are four steps that I find necessary to ground myself and keep reaching for the stars even while living in fulfilled dreams.

1. Be Thankful.

Sometimes I forget how many blessings are already staring me in the face every day. I find it so much easier to dwell on the problems

(The man– relational pains and stinky laundry. The ring– actually, that’s perfect :). The dress– I bet it doesn’t fit anymore! The degree– maybe I should have gone for journalism instead?!? The career– my work is meaningless. The dogs– there is hair EVERYWHERE! The kid– feed. clean. sleep. repeat.)

that come with my fulfilled dreams rather than celebrate the joys

(The man– best friend and love. The ring– still perfect. The dress– thankful for my health. The degree– thankful for the ability to write and know how to eat healthful foods. The career– great consulting gig lets me stay home with my little one. The dogs– their ridiculous, unconditional love. The kid– my heart overflows at her smile.).

So many times, a perspective shift towards my now is all that it takes to free my heart to dream new possibilities for my future.

Also, I am challenging myself to actually BE thankful. I didn’t get to where I am today on my own. Others helped me get here. Tell people that you are thankful for their influence in your life. And most importantly, tell the Giver of all good gifts. James 1:17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

2. Help Someone Else Fulfill Their Dreams.

Let’s face it- we all screw up along the way. Some of us fall harder or further, but no one doesn’t fall.  Dreaming big means risking failure and one of the best ways to make all those bruises worth while is to help others avoid the pitfalls that swallowed us up. Posting warning signs on others’ path to fulfilled dreams makes the journey worth the cost.

Besides avoiding failure, you may have learned a trick or two along the way that may provide insight on how others can get to their dreams faster or better. Find opportunities to tell them! Seek out mentees and be open when they are looking for you. Seek out mentors and be open to what they have to teach you. Mentorship is not a new idea, but it’s a great one. The early church was commanded to practice mentorship! And it is just as applicable for the workplace and our homes. Titus 2:3-4 “Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children.”

3. Dream On.

Don’t stop dreaming- ever. for ANY reason. If anything, as an adult, there is even more to dream for. The world is bigger. The stakes are higher. And more resources are within my reach. I dream for myself. I dream for my husband. I dream for my friends, and now I dream for my daughter.

Dream in pictures. Dream in words. Tell others about your dreams. My husband knows that I dream of a house where I can see either the sunrise or the sunset, doesn’t matter which one, but it’s a dream for our future home. Dream in sync (No, not about *NSYNC- all you Children of the 90’s moms!). I mean in sync with God. Psalm 37:4 says that when we submit our desires to God, He will align our dreams to His. The best dreams (and really the only ones worth dreaming!) are those that place us in the center of God’s will for our lives. Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself also in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

4. Get It in Writing.

The man. The dogs. The kids. The career. The house- all those wonderfully fulfilled dreams are now vying for my every minute.  The only way that I find myself continuing to move my new dreams forward is if I write. it. down. Don’t be afraid to step out and do what scares you. The first date was awkward. Labor was intimidating and a lot of work. The interview was nervewracking. Every dream has an uncertain beginning. Writing down your goal will increase the likelihood that you will risk the rejection, failure, and fear in order to obtain it. Sketch a plan for getting to where you want to be- one step at a time. Be intentional about your actions.

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As kids, we didn’t have to be reminded to dream. We knew we had so much to look forward to. Join me this week as I remind myself to be intentional about putting my head in the clouds and keep dreaming toward my future and what God wants me to be.