Christian, family, parenting teens, writing

Resignation Instead of Resolution

“We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us, we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” – C.S. Lewis


Jay and I are growing into homebodies who don’t like to go out and party, like ever, but especially on on New Year’s Eve. Long gone are the days of staying up and ringing in the new year with friends and noisy parties. New Year’s Eve has become a day of junk food, movies, and barely staying awake for the ball to drop. One more thing: for the past eight years, it is a day to reflect on the past year and capture it in a post. Unfortunately, these past years seem to have been competing to earn the title of “The Worst Year Ever” and each year clinching the title. Until now. I can’t even say how grateful I am that I finally had a year that wasn’t the ultimate champion. So what was this year? This year was one of resignation. Not Joy, not relaxation, not hope, but surrender. While I would have loved a year of celebration, I am content with a year free from tragedy and registering lower in heartache scale than the years that proceeded it.

2017 was a year of accepting that our family is much smaller, and we will forever be missing people at our table.
2017 brought the realization that our children are growing up, moving out, and moving on. Maybe they aren’t out-growing us, but our time “raising” children has a shelf life of only a few more years.
2017 brought the letting go of dreams we had for our kids that they didn’t have for themselves. This was the hardest one for me.
2017 brought the letting out of so many words that I had stored up both in my soul and in text messages as I wrote the first draft of a memoir chronicling the loss of my mother.
2017 brought surrender to God’s plan for our family’s life, a plan that in his mercy He did not reveal ahead of time.
2017 brought reflection into who I am in Christ, regardless of any earthly relationship, position, or belief. I’m not confident in who I am, but I’m learning to lean into Him.

family 17This year wasn’t my favorite of all years, but giving in to the life you have is easier than the turmoil that comes with fighting it. Resignation is different than giving up, although sometimes it feels the same. Resignation brings peace whereas giving up brings hopelessness. And while I wouldn’t say this was a peaceful year, I will say that I’ve experienced more peace this year than I have in a long time. Surrendering to the idea that God’s plan looks very different from my own plan, and grieving dreams of a life I do not have are not easy, but they do lead to something far better. Resignation is just a step in my journey. It isn’t sexy or glamorous, but it’s where I’m at, and I feel okay with that.

A lot of years I write about my hope for next year, but I’m not going to do that. I have no idea what next year will bring or what God has planned for me, and I have no desire to even dream about that. I am resigned to whatever it is, and that seems like a good way to enter a new year.

 

 

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Bible Study, Christian, ministry

Room at the Church Table (Part 1)

Sometimes, when you start writing, your piece takes on a life of itself. That’s what happened here. What started out completely different, stirred up some memories that I hadn’t really considered for a long time. Remembering actually helped me understand more about how my views on church leadership have formed. This piece is dedicated to Pastor Lin, for faithfully shepherding me through my adolescent years. Thank you!

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I grew up Methodist. Our denomination runs much like government in that each local church is run by different committees and is headed by an Administrative Council. In addition to the different committees, each year the church had an Annual Charge Conference in which all church members voted on church business. United Methodist Church pastors are appointed in their pastoral positions (a year at a time for typically less than a decade before being reassigned) by a Conference and are overseen by a District Superintendent who is also appointed and serves in that position for a limited time. On a larger scale their are bishops who oversee conferences and a General Conference that meets every four years to discuss the business of the entire United Methodist Church. It was part democratic rule and part corporate America and of course ideally always lead by prayer*.

My family was steeped in this tradition and on more than one occasion I recall a conversation comparing our church’s form of government to other church systems. My family tree has at least one UMC pastor for at least four generations, dating back into the 1800s. I have a stack of conference minutes from the turn of the century and a pair of Bishop’s chairs from the 1948 conference in Boston.

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It made sense that my family was well represented in our home church. I think it was a rare period of time in which my mom and/or dad was not on the Pastor Parish Committee or Administrative Council. My parents understood not only church government but also the unique challenges of pastoral life. Every time a new pastor was appointed to our church, my parents were sure to invited them over and let them know that our home was a safe and understanding place. (Being a pastor is hard!)

I grew up active in my church, and in my senior year, when I was elected president of the newly formed youth group, I petitioned my pastor and the Administrative Council to include me in this leading council which was after all comprised of the presidents of all of the other church committees. And because I was too young to know better, I didn’t fully understand the value that my church instilled in me at 17 by agreeing to my request. As a result, I sat as a voting member on that council for a year until I went off to college.

I recall one Administrative Council meeting in which a financial issue came up, and my passionate, change the world attitude had me in opposition to most of the more fiscally conservative members of the committee. I had so little life experience, very little understanding of the true cost of things at this scale, and an unrestrained passion for doing good. I might have actually read aloud the parable of the rich fool where a man who has stored up his wealth dies and cannot take his money with him. If memory serves me right, I did this while sitting with the fake “baby” I had to carry around for a month for my health classes life skills project. Seriously, God bless those people for the grace they showed my 17 year-old-self. (For the record, I still think my perspective was right. We should have spent the money. I was, however, outvoted. Truth be told, I’d probably still read the Bible verse if I had the chance again.)

That was also the year I found myself in the pulpit preaching a sermon on Youth Sunday. Of all the things I am grateful for in my life, the fact that there is no evidence left of this is at the top of my list. I think I tried to cram a dozen sermon illustrations into the thing and share my deep love for Jesus with others. It was very emotional, for me, not for the congregation who had to watch me choke back tears as I concluded my ill written sermon. This is proof that some aspects of our personalities really do not change.

When my friends and I wanted to lead an after school Bible study in our public high school, Pastor Lin came and joined us/helped teach that study and supplied the Bibles that lived in my locker that year.

When I wanted to run a contemporary church service, my church supported it by giving us the sanctuary on Sunday nights and you guessed it, Pastor Lin came.

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My point in sharing this with you is to express the impact the church’s and especially Pastor Lin’s openness to including me in church life had on my Christian walk and faith. By including me in church life as an equal member, I learned that my voice mattered. I learned that my opinions had value. I learned that I wasn’t too young to live for Jesus. I also learned life skills like public speaking, what business meetings looked like, and how to civilly disagree while expressing one’s own viewpoint. I developed leadership skills, a strong work ethic, and learned a lot about ministry through trial and error. Eventually, I would lead youth ministry for over a decade in the church I would later settle into as an adult. My youth ministry time was directly impacted by the experiences I had in my own youth group days in my first home church.

My views on church leadership and ministry have changed over the years as a result of my life experiences and deepening understanding of scripture, but I am so very grateful that what I learned when I was young was that I mattered to God, and I mattered in his kingdom.

“We are too young to realize that certain things are impossible…
So we will do them anyway.” 
― William Wilberforce


*This is a brief and incomplete overview of this particular form of church government. All churches have some form of governance which are all ideally lead by Biblical teaching and prayer. 

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family

Decorating for the Holidays

I thought it was time to include another excerpt from my book. This one is dedicated to my best friend who really goes above and beyond.

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Dec 8, 2014

Me: Just swung by Mom’s house. There are enough Christmas decorations to decorate a small nation. I am a less is more person. However, I did put out the hideous plastic snow/angel people.   It’s decorated simply, but acceptably. Linda came over and helped me because Mom did say she was family.

There are  regular friends, and then there are friends who will stand in the freezing cold at night helping you shove Christmas lights up the rear end of a hideous plastic snowman just so you can tell your mom that, yes, her house it decorated for Christmas. Linda is just such a friend. Having been friends since high school, Linda is more family. Mom actually declared Linda family, and she said was always welcome at all our family gatherings. I took that to mean that the childhood rules that no one was to EVER see how messy the basement was or to never let anyone in Mom’s bedroom, didn’t technically apply to Linda any more.

Linda helped me select a small assortment of Christmas decorations to make Mom’s home feel festive both inside and out. Mom was concerned about the less than festive appearance of her home to her neighbors, and because she was confident she’d be home by the holidays, she didn’t want to return home to a house that didn’t feel like Christmas. Linda and I set out the light-up ceramic Christmas tree my aunt made in the 1970s. It always reminded me of my childhood home. A few decorative boxes, a crèche, a wreath, and a few poinsettias topped off Mom’s den and front entryway. The inside was decorated in no time.

Unfortunately, the outside was really what Mom was concerned about. And as fate would have it, this particular night was absolutely frigid. Mom had a few plastic decorations that other than needing to be wired to her railing in order to keep them erect were simply plug in and go. Of course, the lighted Christmas garland that I was trying to weave through her ironwork porch column was not cooperating. With a handful of twist ties, a lot of grumbling, and some almost frozen fingers, we were eventually able to get her porch looking fairly festive. The last thing on the agenda was figuring out how to make the miniature plastic snowman light up when we lacked the proper size light bulb for its socket. The makeshift plan was to remove the original electrical unit, take an extra set of white lights, and shove them into the plastic hole at the bottom of the snowman. It took a little time and patience, but it worked. Now, I could finally tell Mom that, yes, her house was decorated for Christmas and there was nothing to worry about.

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Christian, family, marriage, Proverbs 31, women

Proverbs 31: A Love Hate Relationship

Like every woman, I have sat through my fair share of Bible studies and women’s events that focus on the Proverbs 31 woman. I have wanted to love this woman, but I just don’t know how I feel about her. First off,  the Proverbs 31 woman is not so much about womanhood; it’s about wives and mothers. And while many people might think that is six of one, half a dozen of another, it’s not. Women encompass so much more. There are many women who have yet to become wives or who may remain single. There are women who are divorced or widowed. Those who are married may or may not be mothers. Where do these women fit into this passage and all those Bible studies? Secondly, this woman is loaded. Quite frankly, many of our income levels don’t allow us to be the kind of women who have servants to be feeding in the morning. But having a few servants would give me a little more time in my day to do all the things this woman is apparently able to do from dawn to dusk.

Of course, the Proverbs 31 woman, let us remember, is a fictionalized composite person not an actual woman, and she cannot be replicated by everyone….or maybe even anyone.

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As a wife myself, I have a bit of a love hate relationship with the Proverbs 31 woman. I desire to live up to the expectations set for me as a Christian wife, and yet I find her Pintrest perfect and there is a reason I don’t go on Pintrest. In addition to her unrealistic expectations, being a wife is only a part of who I am. Yes, I am a wife and mother, but I am also a friend, sister, employee, writer, social justice advocate, and human being. I cannot focus 100% of my efforts on being the Proverbs 31 woman, lest I lose myself in the task. And while many aspects of who I am can certainly fall under the umbrella of the Proverbs 31 woman, such as employee and social justice advocate, it’s important for me that my identity is more firmly rooted in Christ than it is on my role as wife and mother. I am an expert in what Brene Brown calls “Foreboding Joy.” I know that my positions as wife and mother can be stripped away from me in one tragic moment. I have imagined it a million times as my kids drive away in the car or my husband’s flight is taking off for a business trip. However, my position as daughter to the Living God can never be taken away. That is who I am first and foremost.

In A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Rachel Held Evans tells us that Proverbs 31 is a poem that men memorize and sing to their wives and the other women in their lives (mothers, daughters, sisters). Did you catch that? MEN. It was never meant to burden women with a task list of things to become. Wife (check). Mother (check) Domestic Goddess (check). Business Owner (check) Pintrest Perfect life (check). I have made it into a burden that is too heavy to bear.

I love the idea she shares in her blog post on this topic that Jewish women cheer one another on with the phrase “eshet chayil” or “woman of valor.” Women, we need to cheer each other on. Women building one another up. Men building women up. That sounds like a world I want to live in. It wasn’t meant to weigh us down but to lift us up.

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So, I’m working on becoming a woman of valor. Sometimes that is by making homemade doughnuts. Sometimes it’s by swinging by McDonalds on the way home from work so I don’t need to cook. Sometimes it’s by sitting and studying the word of God and learning more about His amazing character that moves me to grow more like him. Sometimes it’s by skipping my quiet time and watching a movie with my husband after a long week.

I haven’t arrived. I don’t expect to arrive, but this is my journey, and I’m still moving forward.

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Christian, marriage, Proverbs 31

Marriage: Loving Tension

“For the record, in Bereshit (Genesis by you) where it talks about the “helpmmet,” the Hebrew is not just Ezer, but Ezer k’gnedo, which means “the help that opposes.” The Rabbis explain this term like two posts of equal weight leaned against one another. They stand because of equal force.” A letter by Ahava as it appears in A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

            I have a theory that solitude is a major contributing factor to people becoming a little crazy. I mean who hasn’t seen Castaway? My parents were very different from one another, but they balanced each other. Mom couldn’t give all her money away to the poor, and Dad couldn’t spend his entire life at caving conventions or Renaissance Faires. There was someone to talk to, cook for, clean for, to stretch you into doing things outside your comfort zone, and most importantly someone with whom to compromise. I don’t think people need to live with someone to have these kinds of accountability and stretching relationships, but I think the loss of my father meant the loss of that balancing factor for my mom. Mom seemed to slowly slide into a world of her own making, with total freedom to do what she wanted, or more often than not felt obligated to do, and she had no checks and balances. We like to think that there is nothing better than total freedom, but I’m not sure that’s true.

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Marriage is a partnership of two imperfect, sinful people joined in a permanent bond of mutual submission. They have different strengths and weaknesses. They come to the union with different upbringings, dreams, and expectations. Hopefully they are driven by common life goals and faith, but even with their commonality they are bound to have friction. They are going to pull and push against each other in a million tiny and not so tiny ways. And through the tension they will sharpen one another. They will refine each other, mold each other, balance and sometimes annoy each other. It is actually part of the miracle of the two becoming one.

I can’t say that Jay and I enjoy living out the “iron sharpens iron” part of marriage, but it’s part of the strength of our marriage. There is trust in our relationship because we know the other person isn’t just going to “yes” our ideas. We are going to give alternate viewpoints. We will argue our points until some more reasonable middle ground rises up. As a result, Jay isn’t going to buy every piece of new technology that lands on the market, and I am not going to take the family on road trips across Europe (even though it is clear my spending goals are way better than his.) We are not going to uproot the kids or quit jobs without diligently thinking through the implications and prayerfully coming to a mutual decision. Sometimes we practice giving up our desires for the other. We submit. We stand firm. And we are both better for it. Our family is better for it.

It is in the Ezer K’gnedo, the help that opposes, that we discover the strength of our union.

 

 

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Christian, food, mental health, prayer, Uncategorized

Dr. Jesus, the Church, and Mental Health

Here are some facts about our brains from “Complexity of Our Brain” by Dr. Mario D. Garrett as found in Psychology Today.

  • A human brain has 7.146 billion models.
  • It has 86 billion neurons that each have 1,000-10,000 synapses, which equals 125 trillion synapses (the equivalent of 1,000 times the number of stars in our galaxy.)
  • A single synapse can control 1,000 molecular control switches meaning that the entire brain contains 125,000 trillion switches.
  • In the cortex alone, there are over 100,000 miles of nerve fibers.
  • Messages can travel through the nerve fibers at speeds of 268 miles per hour.

The level of complexity involved in the function of the human brain is unparalleled. The brain not only controls the way we interpret outside information, it is actually changed as a result of the information it receives. Whether you are talking about Classical Conditioning and Pavlov’s dogs or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the brain is molded by both experiences and the data it receives.

The brain can be impacted by physical conditions such as sleep deprivation, dehydration, and tumors. Human behavior and the physical health of the body can be impacted by imbalances in the brain. Learning specialists tout cross body movement and “crossing the midline” to help with brain functioning. They talk about the connection between babies that skip the crawling stage and later reading disorders. Want your kid to read better? Experts encourage exercises that cross the midline such as playing patty-cake and/or use both hemispheres of the brain like riding a bike. And we’ve all heard of the placebo effect. If you can trick the brain into thinking you are healing the body, you might actually get better.

The reverse is also true. We know that gut health is directly related to mood. Ever heard that drinking warm milk or eating a tryptophan filled turkey on Thanksgiving will make you fall asleep? There is some truth to the claims (even if they might be exagerated). Many diets promote optimal brain functioning and improved memory among their many health benefits. (Whether or not these diets can scientifically prove their specific claims, we know there is a connection to diet and brain function.) Exercise reduces depression. Sleep improves both our memory and our ability to learn new information. Too much screen time can impact attention and interfere with sleep.

My list of brain body interactions could go on and on for a very long time.

Amazing isn’t it? Yet we read one Bible verse, and somehow we can dismiss all we know in exchange for short platitudes.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? …..31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:25, 31-34

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“But let the righteous be glad; let them exult before God; Yes, let them rejoice with gladness.” Psalm 68:3

Oh, well, I guess having anxiety must be sin. Depression is a sign of unrighteousness. Mental health issues can always be cured through prayer and the Great Physician.

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Um. No! Just, no.

My father drowned. My mother died of pulmonary fibrosis. My son died from diabetes. I prayed for all of them. I prayed for healing. Heck, I prayed for resurrection for my father. I know many people with chronic health problems. I know people who take cholesterol medication, insulin, and other daily medications.  And don’t even get me started on the church’s embracing of the healing properties of essential oils (unless you want to know what I’m diffusing in my house this season because it smells amazing).

“Well, that’s different,” you say. “That’s the body. Sometimes God chooses not to heal someone on this side of heaven. We don’t know why, but it’s not a lack of faith.…Well, unless it’s a mental health issue and then it’s totally a lack of faith.”

Maybe we don’t come out and say that, but we act that way every time we tell someone struggling with anxiety to “give all to Jesus” or someone with clinical depression to trust more in Jesus and rub a little lavender oil on their wrists. We might not tell the person diagnosed bi-polar that they are living a life of sin because of their mood disorder, but we make comments about mood stabilizing medication that we would never make about high blood pressure medication or chemotherapy.

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As a church body, we need to be more educated and understanding of mental health disorders, medications, and treatment. We need to understand that there is still a lot we don’t know. Faith absolutely plays a vital role in mental health, just like it plays a vital part in physical health, and every other aspect of life and community. Healing might come through the Great Physician or it might come through trained doctors, therapists, and pharmaceutical companies. We need to take away the stigma that if your pancreas isn’t producing insulin it’s fine to take an insulin injection, but if your amazingly complicated computer of a brain is misfiring one or more of it’s 125,000 trillion switches, you need to pray more.

Church, we can do better.


 

To read the full article: Complexity of Our Brain by Mario D. Garrett, PhD

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Christian, grief and loss

Solo drives, Showers, and Worship

Carolyn had seen the muffled sobs that shook me in the pew and had come to gather  me into her arms. Despite having only met twice before, Carolyn ushered me from the sanctuary to a place where I could unload the agony burning inside me. My father had recently passed away, and I was a wreck.  Carolyn offered comfort and counsel while thousands of people worshiped God in the next room over. Carolyn met my need in the privacy of a ladies room. It was there where the Holy Spirit did a great work and helped to heal my hurt.

Each week for months after the passing of my father, I would return to church twice a week. Each worship time, I would find liquid emotion streaming down my face. The emotions that I had kept in check throughout the week could not  be contained. Worship is suppose to be about God; it’s suppose to be about praising Him and honoring him. For me, worship had become a place of raw emotion where I met with God. As the healing of my heart gradually occurred, I cried less and less.

God is good. God loves me. God is worthy of my praise, worship, adoration, and devotion even in the darkest moments of my life. Humbling myself into submission to God’s plan for my life week in and week out has been the core of my strength in troubled times.

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The death of my father, while agonizing, would not be the deepest loss I would face in life nor the last. In the 20 years since that time, I have shed too many tears to count. Yet, most of the times I have found myself giving into pain or grief have been times of solitude: the quiet car rides, showers, or restless nights. It seems natural to cry during such private moments when thoughts easily wander towards grief, but in the midst of a public worship service?

Crying in public is not socially acceptable. One can get away with it at funerals and weddings, but not walking down the grocery aisle or sitting at a Starbucks. So what makes worship different? I think two things.  The first is that safety of the body of Christ. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is our spiritual family. These are people in dwelt with the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that dwells in me. There is not merely a camaraderie, but there is literal power when the person seated near you sees your tears and lifts you up in prayer. It physically brings comfort and healing. The second reason I believe this to be true is that as an individual member of the universal body of Christ we are one. In this oneness, it is easy for us to melt into worship as if there is no one else around. We alone are worshiping God, and in that divine communion nothing else matters. Once we are drawn into the presence of the Living God it is easy to be swept up in the moment.

So when you sit in church and see someone with tears streaming down their cheeks or wiping away that tear from the corner of their eye, lift them up in prayer. If God is calling you to personally minister to them, don’t ignore that call. However, for the most part, there is no need to interrupt the healing work the Holy Spirit is doing. And if you find yourself needing to cry, let it happen. Let the Great Physician do his work.

He is good. All the time.

 

 

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