Dear Young Mom,

I read your posts on Facebook lamenting the fact you have to go back to work leaving your baby. Or you’re wondering how you can keep a clean house, take care of multiple littles and work a job. My heart goes out to you! I want to go to your house, give you a massage, a manicure and pedicure and pour my heart out to you as a former young mom.

My son Chris is 22-years-old but it seems just like yesterday I dropped him off at the babysitter when he was 12-weeks old. I closed the door to my office and cried. One of my co-workers was a mom of a toddler and I cried again in her office. I felt like someone had cut my arm off because I couldn’t hold him, feed him or watch him nap.

I cried again when I had to leave my baby son, Alex and my baby daughter, D’Andra with a babysitter. I told Alex today how I would pay millions of dollars if I had it to go back to that time when he was a baby. While they were babies, I had to deal with this driving discontent to have the career and perfect house.

With each addition, the house got messier and the driving discontent faded away. Today I could care less if I ever get to be a boss or anyone considered doing something significant. I treasure the rare moments that we gather around the dinner table when Alex is home from college or Chris is home from work.

I learned to just enjoy being with my children. One of my favorite things to do was to drop them off at school or pick them up. I loved hearing about their day. Fortunately, I eventually started my own business for a more flexible schedule.

A very wise woman told me when I was frustrated that I couldn’t keep up with everything to let the house go. She said I needed to prioritize my time with my husband and the kids over my house, my job and my church. They came first.

So young moms who feel the pressure from Pinterest or Instagram perfect glam moms to dress perfectly with the designer home and gourmet meals, resist the driving discontent. Let the dirty laundry pile up. Dirty dishes sitting in the sink are okay. You have just this moment with your two-year-old who will grow up into a 22-year-old before you can blink twice. Those years of raising your littles race by mercilessly.

If you can, downsize so your lifestyle isn’t as expensive. Or dream and plan your way to a more flexible job to be available for your littles. If you can’t find a way, God will give you the grace to be the wife and mom you’re called to be. Enjoy your children and your husband. Enjoy life right now.

 

Why Christians Need to Stop Silly Fights

“What are the benefits of public school,” a person asked on Twitter.

I answered, “You learn how to get along with people who are different from you.”

Instantly without any notice I was ambushed on Twitter by home schoolers who thought I said ‘home-schooling is Satanic.’ I said nothing about home-schooling. I answered a question about public school.

Unfortunately I innocently stepped into the middle of a conversation launched by a blogger pitching his pro-home school post. The Christian blogger had an agenda and he used me to launch his crusade against public school. I quickly bowed out of this accidental argument and called out the blogger’s agenda.

The home-school versus public school is one of those silly fights Christians tend to get into in the name of God. My friend Lee Grady posted an article about how Christians misuse the Bible. One way we pervert the Bible is when we attack each other with scriptures. We think we’re defending God’s honor and the truth when we’re justifying our position at our friend’s expense.

The home-school versus public school is one of the many silly wars we fight. I’ve seen these battles as well:

  • Moms with children who work outside of the home versus moms with children who stay at home
  • Purposefully single versus marrieds
  • Purposefully childless couples versus marrieds with children

And the list goes on and on. I was in a church where the pastor’s wife wanted to debate me about my decision to work outside of the home. My mom just died and I had a baby. I was not in the mood for an open debate about my decision to work.

I respectfully told the pastor’s wife that the decision to work was between me and God and my husband. We believed the job was a financial blessing and my children were being taken care of. “I think you’ve crossed some boundaries here,” I said.

A week later she called crying and repenting for her mistake. I was thankful she responded but my guard was up in that relationship. That was the beginning of the end for me for that church.

While I’m a firm believer in seeking wisdom and counsel from respected, trusted leaders, I believe these issues, among many, are between you and God:

  • Taking birth control
  • Have kids or not have kids
  • Get married or stay single
  • How you date
  • Where you live
  • What you do for a living
  • How you spend your money
  • How you decide to educate your child

Some people can’t afford to send their child to a private Christian school or lose income from a working adult. Instead of judging them for their decision to send their child to a public school, why not pay their way to a private Christian school? Paying for their tuition is a more constructive way of addressing your conviction about private Christian education instead of berating the parent for subjecting their child to the ‘liberal agenda.’

Christians who fight silly wars are at-risk for breaking this scriptural guideline for relationships:

Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters.[a] If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you.  God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor? James 4:11-12

Who are you to judge your neighbor because….

  • They send their child to a public school
  • They home-school
  • He/she doesn’t want to get married
  • He/she doesn’t want to have children
  • He/she wants to have a big family
  • She has children and doesn’t want to work
  • She has children and wants to work
  • He/she drives an expensive sports car or an older vehicle
  • He/she is a different race, gender or economic class

Who are you to judge?

Instead of judging, let’s love by praying and caring for one another. Let’s fight for another, stand with another and respect each other’s decision. Help an overwhelmed parent. Bring a meal. Take care of their kids. Celebrate life!

Tell me about a silly war you may have accidentally stepped into.

 

What I Learned From the Girl Who Wanted to Stab Me

an-angry-woman“Gloria put the knife down,” I said to my petite roommate shakingly holding a butcher knife in her hand. The knife was aimed at me. “You don’t tell me what to do you bitch,” she screamed at me. “I hate you! Who do you think you are?”

I stood back and realized if I stayed, I would have to beat her up to defend myself. I whispered a prayer under my breath, “God if I stay I’m going to kick her ass. What do I do?”

A voice whispered loudly to my heart. “Leave now.” I walked out and went to my neighbor’s house. I called my pastor’s wife and told her what happened. She laughed when I got to the part about beating Gloria up.

“Do you think you could have taken her out?” She laughed. “Yes, I would have thrown her off the lanai (patio). That’s how mad I am.”

She advised me to go hang out with some friends for a few hours until she could figure out what to do. Later that night, Gloria was gone.

Gloria had schizophrenia and the church I was involved in was very naive about mental illness. We had prayed for her to be delivered from tormentors, but we didn’t have a healthy view of treatment and medication. Getting medical treatment or taking medication was interpreted as an admission of not believing God for healing.

Gloria should have gotten help
I wonder what happened to Gloria who probably stopped taking her medication because of our faulty view of God’s process of healing. Since I’ve had my own mental illness issues where I received therapy and have a daughter who has challenges that require counseling, my view of God’s healing process has broadened. My daughter kicked my narrow walls down when she was born.

My daughter, D’Andra, has Down syndrome, a chromosonal disorder which means she has an extra chromosone. That extra chromosone opened a storm for me as I learned how to navigate believing for her healing while securing treatment despite my horrible theology of faith and healing. Here’s what I learned from Gloria to help my daughter.

Getting help isn’t a sign of lack of faith in God
A very wise woman broke my chain of faulty theology when I asked her, “My daughter has a lot of services available for her for free. Would I be showing that I have a lack of faith if I take advantage of those services?”

She shook her head and said, “You take advantage of every available treatment and service to help your daughter. That’s not lack of faith. That’s called being a good mother.”

God can use doctors, therapists, counselors etc. to heal you
She then shared with me how people who take medication the doctor prescribes for their illness or pain could help them serve the Lord better. God could use doctors, medication, treatment and counseling to bring healing as well as prayer. If you combine all these available options, you have more open doors for God to release healing.

I wish I would have know the power of God healing a sick mind through medication when Gloria was threatening to stab me. Maybe I would have asked Gloria if she took her medication. I know I would have been more compassionate although I needed to flee an unsafe situation.

If you need medical help, a counselor or psychologist or psychiatrist, go get treatment. It is not a sin to receive medical treatment or counseling. Receive prayer but go get help.

Don’t look down on people who need help
If you know someone who needs medical help or counseling, please don’t look down on them. Don’t put the ‘something must be wrong with you because you don’t have enough faith for healing’ judgment on them. Christians have told me this when I confided in them about a struggle. Telling me that I don’t enough faith did nothing to help me. Telling me that I don’t have enough faith made me feel condemned and hopeless.

If someone has told you that you don’t have enough faith for healing if you seek out medical treatment or counseling, they’re wrong. God gave doctors, naturopaths, chiropractors, nurses, surgeons as well as medical practitioners as a gift to bring healing.

God gave them the wisdom to help diagnose your problem so you can serve Him better. So be free to get help. Do everything you can to get the help you need.

Bridging the Racial Divide in the Church

racism-church

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said,

“It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.”

Progress is slow on racial reconciliation in this country, particularly given recent events. But why do lingering divisions exist in the Church, the very communities built on the promise of forgiveness and reconciliation? Finding racial unity in a congregation is a complex task that requires a deep recognition of racial differences in how Christians understand and practice their faith. In a recent study that builds upon our research on racial tension and the Black Lives Matter movement, Barna examined the divergent ways in which black and white Christians approach discipleship, individually and collectively, revealing insights that may contribute to the realization of King’s dream of an unsegregated hour of worship.

What Is Spiritual Progress?
The term “spiritual progress” is open to interpretation, and when asked to define it, differences in perspectives begin to emerge between black and white Christian leaders Black Christian leaders are more likely to describe the process of spiritual progress as “spiritual maturation” (31%), while white Christian leaders prefer the phrase “spiritual growth” (21%). The language of “maturation” implies more of an internal transformation and the development of wisdom through life experience, whereas the word “growth” tends to suggest an approach that entails reaching key milestones.

When both groups define “discipleship,” white believers are more likely to refer to it as a “process of learning to follow Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, seeking to observe all that Jesus commanded, by the power of the Holy Spirit and to his glory.” Black Christians instead commonly refer to it as “The process of transformation that changes us to be increasingly more like Christ through the Word, the Spirit, and circumstance.” For black Christians, spiritual progress tends to focus more on life experience rather than achieving goals, about maturing into a Christ-like character as they weather life’s storms. Read more.

Walking in the Tension of a Quiet End and Exhilarating Beginning

crossroadsA few days before Christmas, my friend, Lucy Haley-Hurn ended her fight with Cancer. Lucy was surrounded by loving friends and family when she met the One she served her whole life on December 21. I’ll never forget the prayers I cried out to God for Lucy and her fiancee Ashley to find suitable property. Or prayers for the details to come together when they found property. And prayers for Lucy when she was in the hospital. I thank God that He answered our prayers by bringing healing from the disease that her spirit refused to succumb to.

The day after Christmas, three young men sang ‘My Girl’ in front of the Melting Pot on the Plaza in Kansas City for a couple, Paul Winters and Briann McDowell. While the melody rose through the cold night air, Paul grabbed the Zales bag with the ring and got on his knees. “Will you marry me?” She nodded yes and I wept through this happy moment.

In one week,  a friend’s life ended and another friend’s life was beginning a new chapter. Celebrating a friend’s engagement and a funeral the same week starkly reminds me of what’s truly important while walking through the tension of a new beginning and an ending. New beginnings and endings strip us of our pretense to reveal priorities driving us and force us to answer questions we don’t want to ask.

Endings are always bittersweet and beginnings exhilarating especially when relationships are redefined. We answer questions that we don’t want to answer such as:

Why am I really doing this activity? Am I involved in this task or activity to please someone, to make myself look good or because I’m too afraid to say no?

Is this person a friend or are they using me to further their own agenda? If I fail or make a mistake, will this person stay in my life or kick me to the curb? I know Paul found a friend for life in his future wife,  Briann. They have an incredible passion for helping children and they are a perfect match. My friend Lucy was one of the few people who would not kick me to the curb.

What’s important in my life? My daughter, D’Andra and her growth in her faith became my number one priority in 2016. Her stormy adjustment to high school forced me to search high and low for a place where she could thrive spiritually. She turns 15 in April and Holy Spirit spoke to me that I would lose her if she didn’t find her ‘tribe’ or youth group now.

As the year comes to a close, the multiple funerals and memorial services I’ve attended in 2016 put a fire in my heart to get on with what God has called me to do. I pray that you will get on with what He has called you to do. Spend some time the first month of a new year answering these questions.

Soak in this Psalm as you answer questions you’ve haven’t been asked in a long time and may Holy Spirit’s wisdom speak to you for 2017.

Psalm 23

A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
    he leads me beside peaceful streams.
    He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
    bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
    through the darkest valley,[a]
I will not be afraid,
    for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
    protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
    My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
    all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
    forever.

 

Is Loving Yourself a Sin?

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For most of the thirty plus years that I’ve been a Christian, I missed a critical part of this scripture:

The man answered, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Luke 10:27

The part that I missed what...“Love your neighbor as yourself.

I fell in love with Jesus at 18 years old because I realized how much He loved me. My first encounter with God was when I was 10-years-old while I was considering suicide. His presence came into my dark bedroom like a cloud of life.

That presence made me feel valuable and like I mattered to the world. I grew up hating myself. I hated how I looked. I hated my ethnic mix. I hated where I lived. I hated being poor. I hated everything about myself. My relationship with Jesus stopped the self-hatred as I learned that He loved me.

However, when I became involved in church, I realized that my value was related to how much I could contribute with money, time and talent. I wasn’t intrinsically valued because I was made in His image. I was valued because of what I could do for the church.

What I could do for the church drove me into a performance-oriented relationship with people and God. That came crashing down when God brought into my life a child who taught me that she is valuable because God made her. Her value isn’t based on her stellar talent or that she can preach or sing. She is valuable because God says she is valuable.

My church recently hosted Danny Silk as part of Keeping Your Love On Tour. Danny mentored Kris Valloton who has reshaped my thinking the last 2 years as I’ve listened to his podcasts. Kris is the first person to emphasize the part of that scripture about loving your neighbor as yourself.

“You’re suppose to love yourself,” he said on the podcast. I listened to that over and over again because what was drilled into me was that I didn’t matter and my job was to die to who I am so that He would live in me. I didn’t learn how to love myself. Of course Kris clarified that loving yourself shouldn’t blow up into selfishness where you become a self-centered monster.

I always perversely thought that loving myself was a sin. That view affected how I treated people as commodities rather than valuable treasures of God. I allowed myself to be treated like a commodity when I was included or excluded based on what I could give or not give to the cause.

I’m learning how to love myself and love others as Christ loves. From Keep Your Love On, page 65:

“So what does love mean in the context of a relationship? The pillar of love is comprised of a commitment, an action and a result. The commitment part is this: ‘I care about you and value you – all of you. I care about your soul, spirit, body, relationships, dreams, and destiny.’ The action part is demonstrating care and value in many ways and in many situations as you get to know a person over time. And the result of these actions is that the person feels loved! They feel safe, valued, connected, nourished, protected and understood.'”

I thank God that He LOVES me and because He LOVES me, I can LOVE people without expecting anything in return. I’m not a commodity to God and He isn’t a giant machine in the sky dropping blessings or curses based on my performance. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who lifts us up, calls us out of darkness and transforms us with His love.

He wants me in His life and I want to be in His life. I am His daughter and He is my Father. We have a relationship and a connection. My desire is to protect that connection with Him and with people. Loving myself isn’t a sin but it can become a sin when I love myself more than other people.

Jesus was the perfect example of someone who loved beyond Himself. He reached out to the outcasts, the misfits and untouchables. He didn’t recruit them into a club to work for Him. He brought them into His family. Our faith is a family with love as the cornerstone.

When God Rips Your Mask Off

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Photo Credit: Steph Robbins

Genesis or the book of beginnings launches the story of a man and woman who had everything and lost it with a lie. That lie from the enemy sent Adam and Eve into hiding. When God came looking for them, they were afraid and ashamed at their nakedness.

“Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He replied, “I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.” “Who told you that you were naked?” the Lord God asked. (Genesis 3: 9-11)

Adam and Eve lived in the garden of their dreams with the glory of God as their covering with no shame. “Now the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame. (Genesis 2:25)

Yet even in this perfect environment, Adam and Eve still fell for the lie that God was hiding something from them. Their disobedience released shame into mankind and we have lived with the effects by growing accustomed to wearing a mask and having a hidden agenda. Steve Brown is a long-time pastor, seminary professor, radio show host and author of Hidden Agenda: Dropping the Masks That Keep Us Apart. Brown shares his own journey of how God removed the mask of religious success with humorous anecdotes of his own experiences such as failing at speaking at a conference of leaders who he wanted to impress.

“I will never remove my mask or set aside my agendas as long as I think Christianity is about fixing me and others, building empires, changing the world, making my life count, correcting doctrinal truth, promoting programs, raising money and being nice. It’s not. It’s about the forgiveness of sins.” (Hidden Agenda: Dropping the Masks That Keep Us Apart p. 70)

Brown’s confession of being a pastor that smokes or having to clean up after suicides are bittersweet reminders of how Christians make smoking cigarettes the unpardonable sin or hiding the fact that Christians commit suicide. I’ve laughed and cried through his stories and questions that challenge me to take off my mask. I realized as I read the book that God sent a child with special needs into my life to remove my mask of professional or so-called religious success. With the removal of my masks, I have a lot more love and mercy towards people who can’t give anything to me. Removing my masks set me free and yet I’ve been more cognizant of the religious masks that Christians wear to hide their shame.

Brown explains how the kindness of God removes masks by allowing us to suffer, be embarrassed and being wrong in a big public way. I’ve never heard of Christians praying for God to let them suffer, be embarrassed or wrong in a public way. Yet Brown points out the leaders in the Bible that we admire experienced suffering, being embarrassed and publicly wrong. A prime example is David who was hunted for years by King Saul, called out by a prophet for his illicit relationship with Bathsheba and humiliated by the death of a child. There was no public relations machine that existed then for David to spin his failures.

The removal of these masks is a freedom to love and follow God without any hidden agendas. Brown also gives advice on how to safely remove your mask in a church prone to gossip or being human. I don’t want to give away his juicy material because I want you to read his book. You’ll be shocked, moved to tears and if you don’t experience any of that, you’ll have a burden to pray for pastors. Brown rips the mask off religion by exposing the hurt and pain that pastors endure to take care of their congregations with love and mercy.

You can use the book in a bible study setting which I’m thinking about doing but I know it will be uncomfortable. Living with someone elses mask is easier than seeing who they really are. The first mask Adam and Eve attempted to create to hide from God has been worn by mankind since the Fall. Yet God cries out, “Where are you?” while knowing the failures we want to hide. He still longs for us to walk with Him naked and unashamed. If only we could give love, grace and mercy to other people so they could drop their mask with us and God.