Accepted

Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe.  God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” Acts 15:7-11

About a week ago I suddenly realized the diversity of my friends. I have crunchy granola anti-vax home birth hippy momma friends, and I have others who, like me, have the pediatrician on speed dial and would have had an epidural for the entire pregnancy if the doctor had let us. I have friends who are right of Ted Cruz and friends who are left of Bill Maher. People who passionately believe like I do and people who just aren’t interested. To illustrate the diversity – one of my friends literally breastfed until her children could ask for it, and I laughed every single time. Who knew I’d ever be friends with a woman like that – me who snuck bottles to my kids when the lactation consultant walked out of the room in the hospital? And yet we are friends and she lights up my days. My friends are all passionate women – I am drawn to strength and my people have it in spades. We can soap-box for hours about the things that make us tick, but those are often fundamentally different opposing viewpoints. And yet we live in peace. We love each other. We don’t see eye to eye on some big hot-button issues, but I could still text them when I’m having a rough day and I know they’ll drop whatever they are doing and talk to me and pray for me, if prayer is their thing.

Taking stock of my friendships struck me for many reasons. First of all – it struck me because I realized what a rarity that kind of unity is, despite our differences. It really is an extraordinary gift. But it struck me also because it sounds strange, but I’m proud of myself that my friendships are so diverse. You see, in my past, I was rejected by people who did not agree with me on some divisive issues, and I lost them because of it. People who should stick by you. Big relationships, lost seemingly forever. To them, the issue was more important than the relationship, and more painful than that, the issue was more important than me.

But not so with my friends – and when I realized it, I had to admit that I let these friendships sneak up on me. For many years I would have guarded my relationships and only gotten close with people like me, simply because I feared the rejection that I thought was inevitably coming because of my past. But I had let them in and we live in peace and joy, and something in me is healing and shifting because they still love me despite my differences from them. I bear the scars of rejection, and scarred skin is always more tough than healthy skin, yet I had somehow let them past my defenses, and they changed my life.

Acceptance.

Rejection.

For me, the theme of my life outside of Christ, the defining characteristic of my darkest memories, the knot in my stomach and the feeling of tears pressing behind my eyes can be summed up in one word: rejection.

You aren’t good enough.

You failed at that.

You behaved badly.

You are too much.

You are not enough.

You are not worth fighting for.

Have you ever thought about how much of the world we live in – our present reality – is marred by the sting of rejection? How many of our losses, the scars that mark our consciousness, the defensive walls we construct, are a direct result of the rejection of someone who was supposed to love us? Someone who should have been safe, but when we let them in, hurt us.

I think it could be the defining characteristic of this fallen world. Rejection. Because even if we are accepted in this world, it is usually only for a season. The other shoe almost always drops. Marriages break up. We stop performing at the right level at work and start being phased out. Our bodies decay. We just can’t seem to measure up to the expectations of that person who means the world to us. Someone decides they are done with us, and they (literally) turn their back.

This week it seemed like the rocks were crying out trying to get me to understand this lesson. Every experience somehow had meaning behind the immediate context.

Because, for me, Christ was revolutionary for this one reason. It sounds cheesy, I know, to my friends who don’t get the whole Jesus thing, but in Him I knew acceptance and unconditional love for the first time, in my life.** It changed me. It healed in me something that felt profoundly and irreversibly broken. I let him in, and now years later I am letting more and more people in. My friendships give testimony to the healing I have experienced,

My hilarious breastfeeding-wonder friend is a direct result of God’s work on my heart and in my life. She, and many others totally opposite of her, are walking talking evidences that I am being made new and that I am not walking in fear like I once walked.

Acceptance. I’ve experienced it and found it worth fighting for, worth risking.

**By the way – acceptance is at the core of the character of Christ. There was none righteous, so He became righteousness for us all. There is almost nothing in this world that makes me more angry than people who reject others and say it is in the name of Christ. Those who claim some people are beyond his love and redemption. That is not Jesus. Jesus accepts us. Jesus loves us. Jesus heals us. Anyone speaking “in his name” saying the opposite does not speak for the Jesus I know. The verse at the top of the post was written in response to people who were trying, 2000 years ago, to limit the scope of Jesus’ acceptance to a select few – and it still happens today. But Jesus accepted then and accepts now and confounds expectations every time, which is why I love him and follow him  (I told you me and my friends could jump on soapboxes).**

Last night I went to an event where the speaker talked about scars that are on our souls- and I saw clearly that my scars are almost all from rejection. But she also talked about when you offer up those scars, when you are vulnerable and honest and let light in to those places of hurt, those scars become your story. You go from being marred to being marked for a purpose beyond yourself. And that starts when you take those scars, those hurts, those rejections, to Jesus. When you relax in the light of acceptance. I still have work to do in this area – still have things I need to release – but I think a shift in me is taking place where I feel and understand the acceptance of Christ more than the rejection of this world, and it is freeing.

Acceptance. Such a hard concept to grasp in this performance-based, rejection-riddled world we live in. But so necessary for freedom.

Tonight one of my girls lost it in a big way in a public place. And honestly, this behavior is not rare or unexpected – it just happens with her occasionally. I kept thinking about this lesson even as she raged, even as I had to isolate her, even as I sat down with her in her room after it was over and she was calm. These are the deep parenting waters that I have waded and sometimes felt I was drowning in, since she was a tiny girl. She has taught me so much about the Lord. She has taught me so much about myself. I know this is hard for her. I have been her. Tonight I kept thinking, as I handled the situation, “How do I show her love and acceptance, how do I impact her heart and her character even as I deal with behavior that cannot be tolerated for her own good?” Because I can’t revel in acceptance and show rejection. If it is the defining characteristic of my new life, it has to be on His terms, not mine. It has to be absolute. So I pull her close, we pray together, we talk about how sweet and beautiful and kind she is, and how I want her choices to reflect that. We talk about how much I love her even in those crazy moments (such a work of Christ in my heart because, let me tell you, I have not always felt that way). We talk about how there is nothing she can do that will ever cause me to not accept her, and how at any time, in any situation, she can pray and Jesus will listen to her because He accepts her too.

Because here is the truth, she lives in this world. She will face rejection over and over and over and over. She will be scarred by it. It will leave a mark and mar her in many ways I’ll never be able to prevent or anticipate. I myself will probably inflict rejection on her in ways I don’t recognize. Rejection will probably be the defining characteristic of her life outside of Christ, just as it was mine.

But the earlier and sooner and stronger I can help her grasp His acceptance – that will make all the difference.

Acceptance. That will be the thing that draws her to Christ. That will be the thing that cements her when the sand of this world shifts. I have prayed since birth over my girls “let them love you with all their hearts” and it is true I want them to, not because I want them to share my religion, but because I want them to love the God who accepts them. Who loves them with a perfect, everlasting love.  I want that healing to begin in their hearts. I want them to know that acceptance. I want them to bask in the light of that love.

Acceptance is at the core of what I believe. It is at the core of what has changed me. And it is at the core of what I want to pass on in this rejection-happy world. May God help me live it and share it with those around me.

The Powerful Woman

“Your husband is a brooder. And brooders brood.” – Bates (Downton Abbey)

powerFor years I have been working through what I believe about women and power (I call it processing, but really, like Bates, it’s brooding). Because there are two extremes in our culture, and I disagree with both. There is the world’s definition of female power, distorted by our enemy until somehow women choose to do things that are absolutely terrible for us to demonstrate we have the right, and then the church’s definition of female power, which in many places is no power at all, or worse, no voice (although certainly not everywhere). Both extremes make me very uncomfortable.

I’ve not always thought about women and power in a righteous way – in fact most often probably the opposite. The rebellious contrarian nature in me (that aged my parents like my rebellious contrarian child ages me) rises up when someone addresses this issue, and I struggle to understand and work through what I believe about rights, submission, surrender, and the power that is mine as a child of the King. I’ll search the Bible for answers, and feel my spirit lift and fall as I read things that encourage or confuse me when it comes to women and power. Paul, for example, writes some pretty strict limitations on women’s leadership, but shortly after praises a female apostle and writes greetings to several women leaders in the early church, and after that says there is no male and female in the Kingdom. It is confusing, and anyone who tells you it isn’t apparently possesses some secret Bible decoder ring that I’d love to borrow for a month or two or forever. And again I’m a contrarian, so I want to know the truth, but I won’t believe something just because you say it is true.

I’ve always been this way. As a child, in my Christian school, I submitted a science fair project on my attempt to determine the point where life begins, studying it both in the Bible and from a scientific viewpoint, trying to work through what I believed. And let me tell you – the entire project didn’t go over well in the school I attended, despite my genuinely pro-life viewpoint (I think I got a 72). Sometimes questions, even asked innocently, make people uncomfortable.

And that discomfort certainly exists when you start discussing women and power in today’s church. We all have a point of view, often shaped by our experiences. For years I served in churches where women on staff were the absolute minority and relegated to non-ministerial “director” roles. On one staff, I was the only woman on the executive staff (terrifying, right?), and I felt like I had to represent all women at a table full of men, all of the time. It exhausted me. So I left ministry, aside from serving beside my minister husband, because I couldn’t figure out how to be me in those environments.

But in the meantime, I kept being drawn to these women who were both powerful and righteous – and I loved watching them be all God had made them to be. I longed to see more of that from the Church that I love.

So this position comes up at Community of Faith for me to serve full-time on a church staff again.  Honestly, I’ve never cried or agonized over a decision more in my life. I actually said no several times. And then I visited here and saw that this church is defined by so many things that move my heart: mission, Prayer, restoring the broken, redeeming the lost. This place is real and simple and powerful. There is freedom here. Beauty. Vulnerability. God’s presence so thick you can feel it. Prayer like I’ve never experienced. I wanted to be here but I was not sold on my role on the staff until I met a woman who demonstrated quiet graceful strength. She is our Pastor’s wife – but we also call her our Pastor. She doesn’t claim that title or call herself that as if it were her right – but she started COF with her husband and her wisdom saturates this place and she completely fills that role in the right way, so that is what we call her, because we honor her. On the drive back to Dallas, after seeing the church and meeting the Shooks, Justin and I talked and wrestled and prayed and processed like our life was on the line – because it was. During that talk, I cried when I told him that meeting her, I finally saw myself here. I knew if I came on staff I would never have to represent all women, because they are very beautifully represented in the women on staff here already. But more than that, I felt like I had seen the right kind of power displayed and honored, and it felt like coming home.

(There are some who will shut down as you read the last paragraph, and I get it. I  hope my heart is coming across correctly, but I also know we all have entirely too much baggage when it comes to the issue of women and the church. We have seen abuses and been taught rules and boundaries quite forcefully, so I get the complexity and discomfort).

So we decide to move here after the Lord confirms our decision about eleven different ways, and I return to full-time ministry. We are at this church, this church of our dreams, serving with people who are fully alive to the world of the Spirit and fully on-mission to reach the world. Last weekend I filmed sixteen people as they were baptized, and our Pastor stood at the top of the steps of the baptistry and said “I’m proud of you” to each one as they timidly stepped into the water and into the new life of obedience to Christ. This place is not perfect, I know, but it is special and the Lord’s hand is here and we are moved by it week after week after week. So many times since we moved here Justin and I have said to each other, “This is worth giving up our lives.”

But even still, it hasn’t been easy for me. I brood. I feel unsettled. Awkward. Striving. Inadequate. Insecure. Too tall. Too loud. Too much. Not enough. I am fighting to process all of this because it is all so new. This new culture. This new paradigm. Even the new roles Justin and I are filling at home and my role at work. In every area of our life there are massive changes, and I am stuck in my head working through them. Most of all, I’m working through how to walk through this door the Lord so clearly opened for our family. Because it’s amazing and refreshing to meet a woman walking in the right kind of power, but it’s hard to be a woman walking in the right kind of power. I feel a little bit like I’m learning to walk again, wobbling between extremes, trying to find my way. Too fearful one moment, too bold the next. Too confident in my own wisdom, then plagued with self-doubt, all the time not relying enough on the wisdom of my Father. My feelings are all over the map, and although rationally I know my feelings aren’t truth – still I feel so many feelings and it makes me uncomfortable.

Finally I come to tonight – and the reason I am writing. There has been some serious violence in our new area in the past months, and the women on our staff were invited to a prayer meeting to stand together against the forces of evil in our town. So I go with some female staff members and staff wives, and we walk into a room with about 16 people total, where we are led in prayer. And it was powerful. All-caps POWERFUL. We are praying in unison, quiet at first, but with more and more boldness as we go. We are humbling ourselves, begging the Lord to intercede and move and change hearts and rescue. We have been afraid, but we aren’t going to live in fear anymore. Instead we are laying down our requests before the God who controls armies of angels. We are also stepping into the power that is ours to fight against the enemy. The leader of the prayer time says,  “We don’t have to take this – we don’t have to be subject to this violence and the schemes of the enemy. We have power in Christ to push back this darkness” and my spirit felt free to walk in that power. It was glorious… and I’m not a person who uses the word “glorious.” We are women, praying in power, as if we have the right to claim this victory and take back this land for the glory of the Lord. Because we do. And I just kept thinking as I left – this is the right kind of power. This is the undefinable thing that moves me about this place.

(As a sidenote, in that room praying with us was one of the most powerful and influential women in the entire Christian world – a name every single one of you would know without question, crying out to the Lord alongside us, revealing the Source of her very formidable strength. When the Lord shows me something, He often has to repeat Himself until even I can’t miss the lesson).

Tonight these conflicted ideas stopped being conflicted for me. The power is not in me, and yet is in me. I am a simple girl. A mess more often than I admit. I know better than anyone how utterly unqualified I am on my own strength to lead anyone or represent the Lord in ministry to a hurting world. And yet I am a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, so His power is in me. He uses me despite my weakness. He empowers me with His strength. And when I walk in that power, there are no limits to what I can or should do for the Lord and His Kingdom. The difference between power out-of-control and beautiful righteous power is the Spirit in which I am walking. Am I walking in surrender to Christ, filled with the Spirit? Then I am powerful and I have no reason to fear or limit myself.

Pray for me, sweet friends, and I’ll pray for you, that we will walk in the power of Christ in the way we were intended, without fear and without a desire to glorify ourselves. And may we progress from infants struggling to walk in this power to daughters dancing and running, pushing back the darkness and bringing glory to the God who created us male and female, for His glory.

For consider your calling, brothers (and sisters): not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God,righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” I Cor 1:26 – 31.

I think this is appropriate given the subject matter. :)

All Things New

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?…

For the past several years, Justin has been the Worship Pastor at Southlake Baptist Church and we have lived in the DFW area. We have loved our ministry time there, and are grateful to the church, staff, and our friends. We grew as people, parents, and ministers, and made lifelong friends. We thank God for SBC.

But Justin and I have waited with bated breath for a chance to to “go public” with some pretty big news. We will be moving over Christmas to the Northwest Houston area to join the staff of Community of Faith church. We will both be joining the staff, he as a member of the Worship team and I on the Communications Staff. This opportunity came out of nowhere, and as it has unfolded it has become clear to us that the Lord is moving mountains to get us there. For example:

Justin playing with the Worship Team at COF

Justin playing with the Worship Team at COF on his interview trip.

  • Within weeks of talking to one of us about a job, a position for the other one opened up.
  • Our house, in the first 12 hours on the market, received 2 offers. (Shout out to Christy Horne for her help – having her as our real estate agent is one of the wisest decisions we have ever made).
  • COF was the answer to prayers we prayed quietly about the kind of church we wanted to serve at in ways we never imagined.
  • Some of our closest friends serve at this church, ready to provide a support system for us.

We are incredibly excited. Let me share a few things about this church that match our hearts and passion. First of all, the Pastor and his wife are former missionaries, and the church was actually planted to fund ministry and missions around the world. When you walk in the door there are huge prints of pictures of the people they are partnering with around the world, and almost every leader in the church has traveled with the church and has a global perspective on ministry. Second, the staff considers themselves missionaries serving NW Houston and the world, and it is a value of the church to involve staff children in ministry at every level. Our children will grow up with the idea that international missions are completely normal and necessary to the local church. Third, the church has a laser-focused vision and refuses to spend time or money on anything that does not support that vision. Fourth, the Pastor and his wife are some of the most authentic, visionary people we have ever met and we love the idea of following the Lord with them.

Jen shooting Mark and Laura for Christmas TV commercial.

Jen shooting Pastor Mark and Laura Shook for Christmas TV commercial.

This will be, by far, the biggest leap of faith our family has ever taken in our journey of following Christ, and we appreciate all the prayers you can think to lift on our behalf. We truly feel this is the Lord’s leading, and we feel peace and a sense of excitement about what He is doing in our lives. We look forward to continuing our relationship with all the people in our world, possibly from a larger distance, but from hearts near to the Lord and to each other. We wanted to tell our church in person, but because of the weather and the timing of our announcement, we won’t be able to share it as we had planned. So we wanted to write this letter to spread the word from our heart to yours so you will hear what the Lord is doing.

It is a new day for us, and we have many emotions. Some sadness about leaving the people and places we love, some anxiety about new roles and transition, and much excitement about what is next.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:3-11

Walking Through Hard.

I can always tell when a blog post is churning. These threads float around in my head and I know when I sit down that they will somehow come together as I write. It feels like straining at those pictures that eventually jump out at you, and often for me I finish the blog with comfort that I desperately needed as I began to write.

This week I keep thinking about what we do when things are hard, or confusing. The world has the perspective that hard = bad, especially in this comfort-seeking society we live in.

But we as Believers in Christ know that our reality is different. For us, hard can often mean right. (Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24)

For example, let’s take the topic of having children. When it comes to children, our society seems to have the perspective that children are expensive and time-consuming, and they limit your freedom. I read an article written by Ben Stein for CNN Money, that I couldn’t believe wasn’t satire, that talked about the diminishing return of investment in children, and how that is justification for the declining birth rate in our nation. Let that sink in for a second. If you don’t think that has major implications and explains where we are as a society, you are wrong.

But it plays out on a micro level as well as a macro level. I have had people treat us like the Duggars for our 3 children, and when I’ve mentioned that we want to adopt more a person rather close to me said, “Why would you adopt when you can’t even take care of your own three?” I guess in her mind since we don’t live extravagant lives and our children don’t get everything they want, we aren’t caring for them. Like living in our home is worse than whatever orphanage those kids currently occupy. It was a bizarre moment for me.

Because a Biblical world view doesn’t see children as too hard to take on. As a Christian, valuing children based on their benefit to our lives isn’t an option. They aren’t just an investment that we can measure on a graph. A Christian values children because God told us to. We take the Bible seriously when it says “Children are a blessing and a gift” (Psalm 127:3).

I look at each of my girls and tears press against my eyes as I see their value. There is no limit to how precious they are. Yes, parenting three children is HARD. One is climbing up me now as I type this (so blame her for any and all typos). When we adopt it will be HARD. Some days, marriage is HARD. Ministry is HARD. Faith is HARD. Eating well is HARD. Friendship is HARD. Taking time for Sabbath is HARD. But that doesn’t mean any of it is wrong.

Every year there is a lesson that the Lord seems to teach me over and over. I think this year’s message is this:

Just because it is hard doesn’t mean it is wrong, or I am bad at it.

If I’ve learned anything in 25+ years of faith and 15+ years in ministry, it’s how complicated and confusing and downright hard the Christian life can be. And all the clichés about faith that I’ve heard most of my life are patently false.

God won’t give you more than you can handle. False.

God wants to bless you because He wants you to be happy. Nope.

Those are sweet ideas. They make excellent crocheted pillows. But they aren’t the Christian life.

The Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus went to pray and sweated blood before his crucifixion.

The Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus went to pray  before his crucifixion.

Maybe you’re like me, and things are just hard in life now. And even the options to get out of where you are seem hard. It can feel pretty lonely in that place, and pretty forgotten.

But we serve a God who gets it. He took the path through Gethsemane, He gave up the comforts of heaven, He was spit on and mocked and beaten and whipped and eventually killed.

It was hard, but it was also good. Jesus saved humanity when He faithfully walked through the hard. And he asks us to follow him, keep walking, and trust him.

Keep walking. Try to trust. Turn to Him. Sometimes that is all we can do. And I have to believe God will redeem it.

Lord, you know well I am a self-reliant, pull-myself-up-by-my-bootstraps kind of person. I hate to fail. I hate when things are hard. And lately, there’s been all kinds of hard. I fail daily. And I confess anger toward you sometimes over how hard things are. Sometimes I feel abandoned. But I know those feelings are not the end of the story. I know you have not forgotten us or abandoned us. Please forgive me for all the times I’ve doubted you because it’s hard. Forgive me for all the times I’ve doubted me when it is hard. I trust you. I don’t know what’s next. I don’t know a way out. But I trust you. We need you – and I know that is good. I’m thankful that you never leave or forsake me. Thank you for doing the impossibly hard work of purchasing my redemption. Thank you for every single thing in our world that is hard. I know you have a purpose in every moment, and I wait for you. Please be near to us even in the hard circumstances of our lives. 

With Eyes Fixed

My youngest daughter, Lucy, is an active, exploring four month-old. We love this stage, where you can see on her little face her focus and concentration as she learns about the world around her. I also love this stage because she is showing signs of attachment to me as her mom.

photo-21She will be looking around, checking out her surroundings, and something loud will startle her or scare her. If I am in the room, she will turn to me and stare into my eyes before she reacts. If I look at her, smile at her, talk to her in a sing-song voice, and draw her close, she will smile and return to what she was doing because she knows she is safe. If I don’t give her my attention or draw her close, her bottom lip will stick out and she will begin to cry. It is the sweetest thing. This is a very healthy sign of her attachment to me and her understanding that I am a secure base from which she can explore her world (see Bowlby’s attachment theory).

I was thinking about this today and saw a definite correlation to what I, as an adult, look to when I am afraid. I will be going about my day, busy exploring my world… and something scary will happen. Government shutdown. A terror attack in a major city. An unexpected expense. Something in one of my kid’s behavior that seems abnormal. And it unsettles me – it makes me anxious. The fear starts to spiral.

Until I look into the eyes of my Father. Until I remember that He is in control, that my days are in His hands, and that I have a destiny beyond this world. Then I can calm down, secure in the fact that the God of the universe protects me.

Every time I find myself frantic and anxious it is an indicator that I have forgotten to look to my Father. That I have left my primary attachment relationship. When I am making lists and plans, trying to mitigate all the negative circumstances in our lives, feeling alone and abandoned, my fear defines me.  But when I check in with Him first and settle my heart with the knowledge that He is FOR ME, suddenly the very real, and very scary things in our world lose their power to define me.

I need to fix my eyes. I need to seek His comfort. I need to let His Spirit remind me that I am His, and I have no reason to fear. I need to learn from my little Lucy and look to my Protector.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ESV

On Being Winsome

I adore Jimmy Fallon.

Jimmy Fallon (Credit: AP/Lloyd Bishop)

Jimmy Fallon (Credit: AP/Lloyd Bishop)

Like in the “I want my family to be best friends with him and his wife and his beautiful baby girl and hang out on weekends” kind of way. I think he is brilliant, hilarious, creative, and most of all, winsome.

win·some

adjective \ˈwin(t)-səm\

generally pleasing and engaging often because of a childlike charm and innocence (source)

If you watch Late Night, one thing you will quickly notice is that Jimmy Fallon isn’t polished or cool - in fact he’s hilariously awkward at times. He is a genuine fan and encourager of the people who come on his show, and they are put immediately at ease because he shows a love for their art. His show isn’t about him and his ego and his sense of humor. It is about them, and having fun, and enjoying life, and it works.

It’s lovely.

So often, when I think of Jimmy Fallon, I think, “That’s the kind of Christian I want to be.” I want to be winsome. I  think as a culture we’ve lost that art. Look at the comment section of any article and you’ll see just how far we have fallen from speaking to one another with respect, joy, and encouragement. (I mean really, who are these people who comment such vile things?) Even as Christians, so often we aren’t concerned with being winsome as much as we are concerned with being right. And yes – truth is important. But truth delivered without love and humility isn’t received by the hearer.

I think by doing this one little thing, by communicating to the world around us with love and with almost childlike enthusiasm and charm, we can demonstrate a radical difference from the culture at large. And maybe then they’ll be interested in what makes us different.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Eph 4:29

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. Col. 4:6

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 1 Peter 4:8

I’m working on being winsome. I think it is an easy way to love the world well. I want to draw people in and make them feel at ease, like my future best friend Jimmy Fallon does.

Thanks, Jimmy!

My favorite Late Night Moments:

“SexyBack” the Barbershop Quartet Version

Brian Williams Raps

“Call Me Maybe” with Classroom Instruments

John Krasinski Lip Synch Off

History of Rap One, Two, and Three

There is a Time

Today one of my best friends has the fun sonogram where you find out the sex of your baby. It’s my favorite one. My heart is full of joy for her. I even dreamed about it I’m so excited. At almost the same time, my other best friend will be planning the memorial service for her beautiful mother who went home to be with Jesus yesterday. I can’t believe her mom is gone. My heart is broken for her.

And yet it is also so appropriate I would feel this amazing joy today. My friend’s mom was full of life. She loved to laugh and dance and sing. Her house was one of my favorite places in the world. She loved babies – she was a pediatric nurse her entire adult life. She’s one of the people who inspired me to return to school. She would be rejoicing alongside me today.

So I dwell with both emotions – grateful for the gifts we have on earth and grateful for the hope of heaven when we face these weighty sorrows.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

I love you Mama P. I will dance with you in heaven again. 

The Remedy

Courtesy longwood.edu

Courtesy longwood.edu

I read an article in a Worship Leader magazine today that really impacted me. It was a story about a woman in her late 60s who was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure after several months of shortness of breath, weakness, and feeling shaky. Her doctor explained to her the function of the heart: that the ventricles which are responsible for pumping blood throughout the body must also relax in order to be refilled after each pump. For her, disease had hardened her ventricles and her heart was no longer able to relax and receive the quantity of blood she needed to pump out. So fluid was getting backed up in her body and her life was in jeopardy even though her heart was technically pumping with strength. The magazine used her story to illustrate the need for rest and silence in our spiritual life, and it hit home with me.

I am a wife, mom of three, a student finishing my degree, and a very part-time producer. I have been proud of myself for my ability to juggle all of these balls and get it all done. I have started cooking more, and am breastfeeding my baby girl – both things I had longed to do. Tasks and projects keep getting added to my agenda and I am getting a good portion of them done (and doing a decent job at squashing the guilt from the things I just can’t get to).  It’s not pretty – but I’m working hard and accomplishing quite a bit more than I ever thought I could. So I should feel really accomplished. But I feel tired, out of breath, weak, and shaky. My eyes fill with tears at the strangest times.

I keep looking to my husband to help make me feel better. Maybe he can take me on more dates, or bring me flowers, or write me a sweet note. But he’s busy (his task-list each week rivals or surpasses mine), and I still need more. So I go to church, thinking that just one more worship service, a chance to raise my hands in praise, a sermon that will inspire and convict will get me back on track. But so often I leave church in tears. I still feel crummy. It was exhausting getting our kids up and getting them there, the baby was restless in service so I heard about a fourth of it, and it just didn’t do the trick.

Today when I read the article it hit me. I am a girl in congestive heart failure. I am pumping out as fast and furious as I can, but I’m not filling up. I can’t get a deep breath. I am shaky.

When you are diagnosed with CHF, the goal is to get the blood efficiently moving through the heart again. This means, if possible, reversing the damage to the ventricle so that it can relax and fill normally.  You need to get the blood pressure down, the heart rate stabilized, and the fluid balance of the body back to a healthy set point.

But for people like us, in spiritual congestive heart failure? What is the remedy?

Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself…  Psalm 37:7

The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent. Exodus 14:14

And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. Isaiah 32:17

There are good reasons why Justin and I do all of the things we do. We think each one is necessary for our family’s survival and right now I can’t think of one thing that I can drop without serious consequences. But I think we need to look to Jesus as our example. There was nobody in history with a more vital purpose on earth. He literally came to seek and save that which was lost. His mission was to redeem humanity yet the Bible is clear He took time away to pray and sit in silence. He slept. He rested. He is never portrayed in Scripture as panicked or frantic. In fact, He was almost always infuriatingly calm.

The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” Mark 6:30 (When Jesus said this people were literally chasing after them – this wasn’t a down time or a break in the schedule.)

How can I think that the things on my list are so important that I don’t have time to rest when I have a Savior with tasks infinitely more important who modeled rest for me? And how have I forgotten the truth that Jesus is all I need so much that I am relying on my husband and church to fill me up when I feel empty? I’ve clearly lost my way here.

Somehow, I have to start receiving from the Lord the rest I need to do the important stuff in my life with health and not just efficiency. I’m not sure exactly what that will look like. I’m not sure what things we need to extricate ourselves from. I’m not sure what balls I need to just let fall to the ground despite the consequences. But I’m planning to sit here for a bit in silence until the Lord reveals it. Because I feel like I can’t take a deep breath, and I know living in spiritual CHF is not God’s best for me, my husband, or my kids.

The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. Lamentations 3:24-25

“The Safety Talk”

DangerCautionIt is back to school time, and I am starting to prepare my girls for school – my 6-year-old for first grade and my 4-year-old for her last year of pre-K. Part of our routine is a basic safety talk that I try to casually incorporate into our daily life every few months. This morning I read this blog about guarding kids from pornography exposure, and it reminded me how important open lines of communication are with our children. It is our job to guard their little hearts, minds, and bodies. So I thought I’d post what I say in our safety talk to start the conversation and maybe some of you can share how your family communicates to protect your children.

The Safety Talk

I always start by making sure the conversation is casual, positive, and straightforward. I let the girls know many times during the talk that they can ask any question they want as we go. Here is what we cover:

1. We review the proper names for each part of their bodies, and talk about how our body is our own property. In our family we began using informal names for body parts when they were little, but we have been slowly transitioning to the correct anatomical terms for each part as they’ve gotten older. So sometimes there is giggling when we talk about the vagina, penis, and anus, but we want the girls to know and use the proper terms for each body part. Research has shown that pedophiles typically use pet names for genitalia, and as our children grow older we can teach them to be alert to manipulation and grooming by a potential predator, as well as we will notice if they suddenly change what they are calling their body parts.

2. We talk about the difference between boys’ bodies and girls’ bodies. Sometimes this can get derailed, as can any conversation with a 4 and 6-year-old, and I just keep it light. I am trying here to establish open lines of communication, even about potentially embarrassing topics, to get them to come to me with questions instead of going to Google or to friends.

3. We discuss what to do if someone tries to touch our bodies or make us touch theirs (say no loudly, try to get away, immediately tell a safe adult). We discuss that nobody has the right to touch our bodies unless it is mommy or a doctor, and then only if something is wrong and if they give permission. As they get older, obviously this will transition to include the Sex Talk.

4. We discuss what to do if an adult tries to show us their body or look at our body (say no loudly, try to get away, immediately tell a safe adult). We gear this specifically to deal with adults, just to prevent them from yelling “danger!” in the girls bathroom at school. (As a funny aside, I asked my 4-year-old what to do if an adult tries to show her his penis, and she said, very seriously, “We tell Jesus.” I laughed and said, “Yes, we do tell Jesus, on our way as we run to tell a safe adult!”)  We also discuss what to do if a friend or neighbor asks us to pull down our panties or to show our panties (one of my daughters has already been asked this by a neighbor, and I was surprised when talking to friends to find out how common this is, which prompted this addition to the safety talk). I am not wanting to develop shame about their bodies, but I want to teach them privacy, empower them to say no, and let them know that they have control over their own body.

5. We discuss how to recognize safe adults. I tell them that in a store or at church, a safe adult is usually someone like a mother with children, a police officer, or an adult woman they trust. Instead of teaching “stranger danger” we try to empower them to find and utilize safe adults when necessary. We practice confidently telling an adult what just happened and what we need. Our goal here is to give our kids a voice and teach them to speak up for themselves.

6. We also talk about unsafe adults. We define unsafe adults as people who tell them to keep a secret from mommy and daddy, people who make them feel uncomfortable or who treat them in a strange way, or people who try to isolate them from the group. We teach them to never go anywhere alone with an adult unless mommy and daddy have given permission and are fully aware of where they are at all times. Our goal is to develop in our children discernment, not fear. A Facebook commenter talked about how her family uses a passphrase to help her kids know when someone is picking them up that they weren’t expecting, which I thought was a great idea. Her comment reminded me of another thing I tell my children, that I will never send anyone to pick you up who you do not know, so if someone tries to tell you that – they are lying.

7. We discuss basic emergency procedures. They love this part. I let them practice calling 911 on my phone and they know how to use our alarm system at home to summon the police and fire department. I have them practice what they would say to the person who answers, including reciting their name, our address, and mommy and daddy’s name. We practice how to call their dad and their grandmother in an emergency if something is wrong and I am not able to help them.

This talk will get more complex as they grow older, and especially so once they begin to utilize social media and the internet. If your children are already there, here is one resource I have found and here is a blog I thought was very compelling about social media dangers for children. Jen Wilkin also wrote a great blog about talking to our kids about bad words they have heard, opening the door to them discussing these things with us and not other people. Again our goal with these talks is two-fold: give them information to keep them safe, and open up honest fearless communication so that they will always come to us first, not last.

Nothing can fully protect children from predators, but with open communication, knowledgable kids, and a ton of prayer, I feel more confident sending my babies into the world. What do you experienced parents have to add to this list?

Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in His commands. His children will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Psalm 112:1-2

Lucy

Forgive me for being a little late writing this – the new baby haze is no joke. But we would like to introduce you to our new little girl, Lucy Taylor.

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We named Lucy after one of my favorite characters in literature, Lucy Pevensie, the little girl who walked through the wardrobe into Narnia and eventually became Queen Lucy the Valiant in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series. Lucy was the first to recognize Aslan and faithfully follow his lead, and the person who most fervently believed in the good in people around her. It is our prayer that our Lucy will follow after Christ with that kind of sensitivity, passion, and devotion. Her name means light – and already this little girl has lit up our world.

“Aslan” said Lucy “you’re bigger”.
“That is because you are older, little one” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger”.” ― C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia

We are very blessed, and very happy, to introduce her. Thank you for your prayers and your love, especially the last few weeks of my pregnancy when I was sick. We have been showered in every way – with prayers, gifts, meals, encouraging messages and visits. We are so grateful for the family and friends the Lord has given us who show us community and love.

Lucy is the easiest baby – she has a calm sweet demeanor, rarely cries, and doesn’t seem phased by the three-ring circus that is life at the Wells house. She fits in so well! The girls (and even the dog) adore her and race each other to meet her every need – and Justin and I are absolutely captivated. We basically sit around all day holding her and telling each other how beautiful she is and how much we love her – and we don’t plan to stop anytime soon.

Lucy is, like Grace and Rebekah, tangible evidence of God’s grace to us and we are so thankful for her.

For this child I prayed, and the LORD has granted me my petition that I made to him. 1 Samuel 1:27