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Thursday, July 29, 2010

God's Child: AKA "The Crazy Donut Lady"

Every pastor's wife has one. If they do not have one, they soon will. What is it? I will give you some hints. It is something that, at first, every pastor’s wife wishes she did not have, and ends up actually glad she does have. It is the equivalent of a fisherman’s tale with one great exception. The pastor’s wife does not have to exaggerate. Everyone is different and yet we all feel like we can relate. Have you guessed what it is yet? It is a story from their ministry. Oh, but it isn’t just any story. This is a special type of story. It is a story so zany, so bizarre that, if you were not in the ministry, you would almost find it too hard to believe. Yes, it is the type of story that when you tell it, you can hardly wait to get to the end because there lies the “Zinger”! You my friend are about to hear such a tale. Be prepared to laugh your guts out!

A few years ago my husband and I were on vacation. My brilliant husband keeps his phone turned off when we are on a trip. Perhaps that day I too should have had my phone in the “Off Mode”, but I did not. The phone rang. It was Sunday and church had just ended. My friend was on the other end. She said, “Debbie, I’m sorry I called you on your vacation, but something crazy just happened and I had to tell you!”
Quick side note: call + Sunday + had to tell you + crazy = something not good. Anyhoo, :) she went on to tell me about this one lady. When she mentioned her name I took a big breath because this lady and the phrase “anything could happen” were synonymous.

My friend said that she was checking children into our kid’s ministry. The donut table was in plain sight. She said church had started, and it was about 15 minutes into the service. All of the sudden, this lady comes out of the service and my friend observes the following. She sees the lady put a donut on each finger (BOTH HANDS), grab a full box of donuts, and walk toward the exit! My friend says, “What are you doing?” The lady says,” Well, the pastor is gone this weekend and there aren’t many people here today, and so I am leaving.” My friend says, “You need to put the box of donuts back because people might want them after the service.” The lady responds and my friend spends the next few minutes trying to get the lady to put the full box of donuts down. Finally, the lady gives a big sigh and says, “Okay, if you want to know the truth I have been visiting ANOTHER CHURCH, and it is MY WEEK TO BRING THE DONUTS!”

Yes Folks! You cannot make this stuff up! An even funnier side note is that my husband called her (Because oh yes she walked out with the donuts that day… I guess they were waiting for her). He told her that was really stealing and she needed to bring 7 dollars back the next time she came to church. He hoped to help her hold herself accountable, but she never came back.

Crazy stories can make you cringe while at the same time make you smile from ear to ear! I heard another funny story .This one pastor’s wife once told me that she and her husband moved into a parsonage. They had barely moved into the home. On their first Sunday there, they were getting dressed, when all of the sudden several church members walked in their back kitchen door! It seems that the last pastor had a pot of coffee ready every Sunday for folks to stop by in the morning before church! She said they quickly learned to dress early and lock the doors till everyone knew the coffee pot was now in the fellowship hall!

I’m sure you have some funny stories you could tell! Funny thing is, they aren’t so funny in the moment. I remember hearing my story and cringing at the thought of my friend having to deal with that, and wondering what effect this woman would have upon the fellowship of the church. I wonder how the pastor’s wife felt as people walked into her messy kitchen unannounced while they were still dressing?!!! Uncomfortable situations can be like a curve ball you weren't expecting. Those "gotcha moments" used to really throw me for a loop. Now days, I really try to season life stuff with a lot more grace.

Grace is so powerful. It allows us to look beyond the moment and see into the heart of the situation. Sometimes I do this brilliantly! I can step back from what I see and reflect on the heart of the person I am talking with to really discover what is going on with them. Sometimes I am as graceful with my grace as a chicken on roller skates in an ice storm! Grace is still waiting for me. After I fumble through my hurts, or mistakes God’s sweet grace is there for the asking! Finally, sometimes God’s grace is waiting after an experience that is so out of the ordinary, that you just come to the conclusion that “you can’t explain crazy.” In fact, don’t even try. Just embrace it and offer grace.

When you are a pastor’s wife you can count on two things. The first is that God is ALWAYS on His thrown. The second is that “stuff” will happen to and in your ministry. Learn to laugh. It makes the grace come faster, and it takes the worry out of the equation. Persevere by embracing the sweet grace God offers to any who seek it.

What crazy story do you have to tell? What part did grace play in helping you see the humor in that situation?

Hebrews 4:16 "Let us therefore come boldly unto the thrown of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."

Monday, July 19, 2010

Relaxing, on my knees

Today this mother of four sent her two oldest youth children off to church camp.
Boo- hoo- hoo-hee-hoo-ha-ha-hee-yea-oh yah- alright man -wooooooo-hoooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!
Oh, are you still here? I was too busy dancing around my living room to notice! I'm not saying I was excited to see them go, but... let's just say there has been a big circle on my calender with the word CAMP posted for quite some time.

Please, mothers of preschoolers don't think ill of me. One day your precious babies will grow into similar versions of you. Your teens will want you to treat them like they are 23 and you will try hard to keep the same rules you did when they were 11. It will all end up in this dance that somehow never leaves them or you 100% at peace. They will always want more and you will always wish your kid was a nerd with a zero social life. :)

To me, being a parent means that my prayer life is open 24-7. There is a special prayer that I find many parents use when it comes to their children. Sometimes people call them heart cries. They are those moments when our hearts are so overwhelmed that we either spiritually, physically, or both cry out to the Lord! Our heart cries out at those times of greatest need. I think many of my most passionate heart cries have been for my children. It started the moment I held those little miracles in my arms and I cried out with thanksgiving, praises, and petitions all at once. There have been try outs, and tests they were dreading and I cried out, "Lord! Help them do their best!" I find those heart cries are my greatest joy and my greatest brokeness all rolled into one. My joy is acknowledging the mighty power of God that I am beckoning over my children. My brokeness is acknowledging that God has given me those children that come not with batteries included, but with free will. I quickly realized other people's free will is getting all up in my kids business (i.e. coaches, friends, media)!

So my camp celebration dance was a heart cry that could not be contained. I am deeply, humbly, and earnestly asking the Lord to move and to do His mighty and good will over the lives of my children this week at camp. I am also at the same time praying protection for them. Protection for their safety, and for those who God brings to speak into their lives. In my brokeness I acknowledge that we are sinners. My kids are AMAZING! But just like others, we have sin that, if allowed, holds them back. We have broken imperfect children raised by (all be a pastor's family), broken imperfect parents. We are sinners saved by grace and no one walks on water at my house but Jesus.

This reminds me of a recording my friends asked me to hear. It was about a man who took his beautiful wife into a highly populated Muslim community in Africa. They were missionaries. The area they went to had missionaries, for almost 80 years, ministering in that area. In all that time few people had asked Christ to be their Savior. This man's story was unforgettable! It had everything from a dare he accepted of jumping off a high bridge into water so people would listen about Christ, to a confrontation with men on a boat who eventually asked Christ in their lives and became his body guards. He even had an Imam ask Christ to be his Lord and Savior. The Imam would not read the Bible, but wanted to know more about the teacher Jesus. So the pastor took the Bible outside, ripped off the cover and wrote "The teachings of Christ". The Imam smiled and took it. Later he told the pastor he asked Christ into his life. He said God has told me to go back to the middle east to share the gospel. He did not know how he would get there, but he was memorizing the Bible for his journey. A few days later the pastor went to visit the man. His family was angry at the pastor and said, "We have put him somewhere you will never touch him! We have sent him back to the middle east!"

The pastor's journey was not without its heartbreak. He and his wife were fired upon while driving and she died. He was heart broken and I am sure you can imagine that he needed time to heal emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I almost hesitate writing how he praises God for their time there and for the gift of marriage his missionary wife was to him. I pause because those words are heavy. Those are heart cry words. Any journey God calls us to do, or gift He gives (such as children) is filled with God's blessings and the world's humanity.

Perhaps you should know how that man's story started? He said he was given the assignment to go. When he got there he gathered the few Christians that were there, and they prayed for God to do great things (which He did). The pastor said that after God had really started impacting the community, he had to ashamedly admit to the local believers that he had asked God if that rag tag group (that consisted of a beggar, a cripple, an old man, and few others) was all God had to work with? The people told him that they said, "God, is this skinny white man the best you could bring?" :)It shows you the power of two or more gathered in HIS NAME despite what is seen, but is seeking what is yet to be seen. :)

So, is this the best God could give my children? Two parents who get it right most days when they are not having a string of bad days? My heart cries out, Lord let my children be all they can be, and let me be a light to them! Sometimes I feel like the villagers about myself, "God is this the best you could bring my kids?" But the truth is that God makes no mistakes. All things (situations, family, heart breaks and heart cries) work to the glory of God for those that love Him and are called according to His purpose. Today I felt I should share not just about the power and ability God has to effect our lives. Rather, I wanted to point out how graciously He does it through us and for us; the imperfect humans.

When I dropped my children off I gained two great pieces if wisdom. First, a mom was there saying good-bye to her son who is a senior. She said she used to celebrate his going off to camp, but this year it serves as a reminder that he will soon be going off to the biggest camp of all; college and life. It made me pause and give a quiet heart cry for having just a little more time with my wonderful children. The second was from my friend who is going to be a counselor at camp this year. We were talking about our prayers and hopes for our children at camp. She reminded me that we heard a sermon in which the pastor talked about praying the A B C's as he goes. After I said good-bye, I got in my car and prayed a prayer that simply has you use the alphabet. You just pick a word that starts with the next letter and pray it over what you are talking to God about. The first was easy because my son's name is Austin. So I prayed A- Austin would have a great time at camp, and that he would be B- blessed by his time there... and so it goes. R was also easy because my daughter is Rebekah. It is just a unique way to take time to really petition the Lord.

I have no great words of wisdom. I will leave that up to the professionals. I do know that prayer is the single greatest gift you can bestow upon your child. Cover them in prayer. Being a pastor's kid, they might just need it more than most. Never forget the bonus of praying! Prayer not only effects what you are praying about, but it also effects the one who prays.

What are your prayers about this week? What does praying do for you? What is your favorite way to go to the Lord in prayer?

"... The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." James 5:16 (NIV)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

No Excuses

The story you are about to hear is REAL! No names were changed to protect the innocent (Cause I am totally guilty!). Prepare yourself folks for a story of intrigue and duh- duh- duh... DRAMA!

It all happened last night at approximately 6-ish pm. I was having a pretty light day. I had finished organizing my two youngest boy's bedroom, and was thinking about gathering my kids for ice cream and sock sorting later, because that is the sexy high roller that I am. When all of the sudden, the phone rang. It was my handsome husband on the other line. He was on his way to a long meeting (lucky). He told me he had just gotten off the phone with the appraiser and that the guy would be coming at 8:00 in the morning to appraise our home! We are refinancing for a cheaper interest rate and I wanted the house to be at its best for the appraisal.

As I quickly looked down at my watch, I realized it had been TWO and a HALF YEARS since I had pealed 98% of the ugliest wall paper you have ever seen off my master bathroom walls. For years I have had big plans and zero budget, so it has sat in all its sheet rock / mostly (badly) pealed wall paper state for a loooooong time. However, the appraiser was coming and I have logged enough HGTV hours to know that bathrooms are a big resale point.

So, mustering all my ADHD (no really) enthusiasm I vowed today... I mean... in the next 14 hours-ish I would get the house clean and redo the bathroom! Now, you might not know me, but oh yes girlfriend it was on! Two trips to Lowes later, I had the cutest rug for my boy's bedroom (because everyone knows that helps you paint faster), and all the supplies I needed to redo the bathroom! I had bought some paint on sale a few months ago for my garage (beige), and I decided to use it in the bathroom because I would save money.

I bought four big bottles of this spray on texture and covered the walls. SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Friends don't let friends drive after spraying on that stuff... WOW...
use a fan! The bottle said I could paint after 30 minutes, so I used my wait time to wipe off the excess texture that covered hmm let me think.... EVERYTHING! I was then ready to paint.

Do you remember that I was using paint I had bought for my garage walls? Well, let me just say it does look better than sheet rock, but if I were to name this color I would call it bunny poo number 7. It isn't bad or good. It is just brown... in a milkshake kind of way. All in all, the painting, cleaning, and accessorizing only took about four and a half hours! The house was mainly clean. So, cleaning was minimal and I was happily in my bed around midnight.I felt very vindicated the next day when the appraiser said he needed to take pictures of our living areas, a bedroom, the kitchen, and BOTH BATHROOMS! It was like clouds parted and the Hallelujah Chorus played as he took that bathroom picture and my work had not been in vain!

Now, the funniest thing is I don't know if it was the texture fumes or just the thought of rushing; but I had to laugh out loud while I was painting because I started thinking about the story of the ten virgins. It is an amazing parable found in Matthew 25.

When Christ told the story He said, "At that day the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps out to meet the bridegroom." (vs 1) Christ then goes onto tell this amazing tale of how five virgins were ready and five were foolish. The groom had taken longer than they had expected, and the five that didn't have enough oil for their lamps, tried to bum some off the other girls. The girls with oil said,"NU UH... get your own oil." So, while they were off getting the oil the groom arrived and the five who were prepared went into the wedding banquet (and partied) and the doors were shut! When the girls came back they asked to be let in , but they weren't allowed to enter (the groom said, "I don't know you). Jesus ends the parable by saying, "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour." (vs 13... speaking about Christ's return)

I was laughing because, in the middle of the bathroom redo, I wasn't sure that if Christ were to tell my painting story (as a parable); if I would be considered one who was prepared for the next day, or the one locked out. All in all I was pleased and I think I was ready.

Do you ever do life or church like that? As some turbo last minute project? It could be teaching a lesson, or planning an event, or buying goldfish crackers (don't forget the goldfish... it can get ugly). You rush through, or you grab yarn at your house because you don't have time to get the fishing line that the project calls for. Sometimes we are just busy and brown poo number 7 is the best we can do. Sometimes we just put things off and brown poo number 7 is what ends up on our bathroom walls, and we now see it daily! Sometimes, sometimes, sometimes can start to add up. It is important to remember that awesome parable. That parable is about being ready for Christ's return.

How do we stay or even get ready for Christ's return? Well, I think one way is to make sure we don't compromise. Compromising is when there are one too many "sometimes" or "just this last time" in our vocabulary. Honestly, I am glad Paul called himself "The Chief of all Sinners." It gives me a happy sigh inside to know God is working on us all (even the guy He used to write most of the New Testament). So know I am not talking about perfection. Rather I am talking about not compromising. It is simply this. How much of us does God want? He wants all. When we compromise, even in just one little area, it can spread like an infection across our lives. Compromise makes us grumpy or resentful about fulfilling what God has called us to do. It might not even be the area we are compromising in, because sin is never satisfied with just that one area. It is looking for a foothold to bring you down. As a leader you need to know that because you are the messenger of Matthew 25. You need to be sending the message out,"Be ready for Christ's return!" Compromise makes you compromise that message.

Are you compromising in an area of your life? Chances are you might just be, because you my friend are a sinner saved by grace. What to do then? It is soooo easy. Ask God to show you, and then repent. Seek God's Word and know that getting rid of poor habits and thoughts is usually a process. I think God likes it that way, because when we really seek him and have to work at it, we find so much peace when we finally turn that area over to God.

Ask someone you know and trust (preferably someone you have known a very long time) to be your accountability partner. Let iron sharpen iron. Finally, make no excuses. Just be honest. You might find yourself saying to God, "I didn't make time, or I don't like that part of my life or ministry so I avoid it." Being honest takes you on a great journey of seeking God. Being honest begins to say "I will" instead of "I would, but".

What do you do to guard against compromise? What do you have to say about this subject?

1 Peter 1: 14-15 "So you must live as God's obedient children. Don't slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn't know any better then. But now you must be Holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy." (Side note: 1 Peter 1: 13-25 is a call to Holy Living... great read!)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Feelings... Nothing More than Feelings

This past week end a good friend called me. She used to live in San Marcos (my home town). Her son and my son were big buddies! They used to go to each others homes at least 4 times a week. They were very young (preschool years). My friends moved, and have lived in another town for years. Yet, whenever they visit the boys still pick up right where they left off. Of course, I want each visit to be great. So, this time I thought I was evoking fond emotions as I reminded Sean of the fun they used to have. Little did I know it was having quite the opposite effect. I was going on about a fun event and Sean stopped me in mid sentence and said, "Mom, you are ruining it with feelings!" Wow! I laughed and thought once again how very different boys are from girls.

I think most women appreciate feelings in general. It is why we know that a Slurpee is needed after a bad try out, or a memory reminds us to call our mom, or why every woman takes a big happy sigh when I mention the movie Sleepless in Seattle. :) I believe feelings have a place in our lives. They can motivate us to make the extra effort for ourselves and for others. Surprisingly, there are times when our feelings can be harmful to our calling as a pastor's wife.

I was watching the Today Show last Tuesday. Elizabeth Edwards was being interviewed about her book. Matt Lauder asked her about some negative comments those close to her former husband's campaign had made about her. They had called her a shrew and made some other harsh remarks. I really liked her response, and I really felt like it resonated. She said that she never would want anyone to think of her like that. She said when she worked on the campaign she thought she was working as an equal... just like any other person. She was trying to share her ideas with the same passion everyone else was. What she didn't realize is that they saw her as the bosses' wife.

Has that ever happened to you? Everyone is sharing ideas and somehow you forget you are not an equal... you are the bosses' wife. Maybe it is easy to forget because somehow being the bosses' wife doesn't seem so glamorous when you are scrubbing the church toilet, or picking up trash 30 minutes after everyone is gone, or filling in - in whatever/ wherever someone needs for you and from you that day. How do you say to someone... my extended family lives hundreds of miles away... I have followed God with my family to this town... and I eat and breath for this church to grow and reach others for Christ... and you are mad at me because I asked you to get the donuts this one week... or you are mad because I think we should put a vanilla scent in the girls bathroom and you wanted cherry?!!! Wow! my feelings (just like any one else) are heightened in passionate moments, and in confrontation. So, why are those same feelings that are great in reminding me that I need to take cupcakes to the new mom, become strained and hurt feelings, during a confrontation? I am still a work in progress, but I may have a few suggestions on how to navigate hurt feelings.

Leadership and Servanthood: I am sure you have probably heard the joke about the guy who didn't want to go to church. He said it was boring and nobody liked him. His wife responds, "... but honey you have to go, YOU ARE THE PASTOR!" Ha-ha-ha.. that never gets old! Why? Well probably because it shows the humanity we all struggle with as leaders. But you know, Christian leadership is a different thing. It really is true servanthood. Philippians 2:5-7 says, "Your attitude should be that of Christ Jesus: Who being in very nature, God did not consider himself equal with God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness." Our Lord is telling us He humbled Himself to the point of humanity... to the point of being a servant. I know a pastor that started a church. As they grew, their staff became quite large and they moved into new offices. The staff was halfway joking about how the names should be placed on the sign. They were joking, but ever so slightly feelings were beginning to get hurt. What did the head pastor do? He put the names in some random order, and made sure he put his name at the bottom of the sign! Leadership in ministry is a dance of holding to what God has called you to do while always having a servant's heart. Time and again Jesus set the example of leading by serving. Not like a doormat, but someone who has enough confidence in himself to allow others to be a part of a giving community. Christian leadership is acknowledging the worth in others.

Pride vs Humility: Wouldn't it be great if I said pride has no place in ministry, then you agreed, and we moved on? Sometimes pride isn't that easy to shew away. Sometimes in the deepest part of your heart you are just sure your way is the best. It could be someone at church has made a cruel remark about you, or you don't feel heard, or something you cared so-so about is the new hill you are willing to die for because they attacked your character or something you care for. Time for a cheer! "U-G-L-Y you ain't got no alibi, it's ugly, it's ugly!" Pride says, "Up your nose with a rubber hose! I'll die on the issue of beige carpet verses brown carpet!!" Doesn't that just make you sick? Nothing about that situation screams Kumbiya(Lord come by me). Satan's radar pops up and has you all over the map; from justifying your position, to feeling like an unwanted martyr. Pride has you making plans to visit your mom the next three Sundays to get away from "those people"! How do you combat pride? You simply STOP!!! Pride is one sided. Pride puts one's needs and feelings above everyone else. It makes it hard to imagine that anyone could be hurting as much as you are. Why we can not control others' hurts and pride, we can change our own. We have to humble ourselves.

Humility is not weak, but is placing power in the right place. Humility, allows us to say we are a body of Christ. We need each other.Because we need each other, we need to humble ourselves and work things out. Philippians 2:3-4 put it this way, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also the interests of others." Now, maybe this is easy for you. You have a wide eyed view that makes it easy to do. If you feel this way it means you've been in the ministry for two whole weeks! :) (just kidding) Sometimes being in the ministry a long time can cause one to put a guard up due to past hurts. You want to know a secret? Stay in the ministry even longer, work at being a body of Christ, and you will see that guard drop. Because you will realize who the real head of that body is.

A couple of last thoughts... PRAY. When Christ was asked how many times should we forgive that person? He answered 70 times 7. Are your feelings hurt now? Then pray, and forgive the one who has hurt you. We are not meant to nurse hurt feelings. We are meant to give them over to God who will heal those hurts. Finally, remember the verse, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, and not for men." (Colossians 3:23 NIV) That way we can hold ourselves accountable and ask the most important question of all. Is God happy with the work He has given me to do? A yes to that question brings the best FEELING of all.

What about you? How do you keep hurt feelings from chipping away at your ministry?

"A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back." Proverbs 29:11