Monday, October 27, 2014

Bah Humbug

I keep my candy, and my kid, for our church harvest party. I just ignore the doorbell on Halloween.”
Yes, she was a ladybug one year.
But I think this is more of a
"layer everything in the dress up box" look.

That's a quote, from someone I don't know, on Facebook last week. Halloween comes and goes, and so do rants about it. As usual. (I had my own last year regarding the “too old” question.)

The woman mentioned above seems to share a common opinion among churchgoing acquaintances. Jus some samples from conversations I “overheard” online last week:

  • Halloween is so dark/creepy/ugly.
  • The kids are too greedy/too old/ too overweight/too impolite.
  • Costumes are too gruesome/slutty/non-existent.
  • Why even open the door?

All possibly true. Yet the tone feels like Ebeneezer Scrooge landed in the wrong month and took up residence in, of all the places he never belongs but too often is found, the church.

Let me say, first, I don't care for gruesome. Not a fan of the macabre. Have never, ever felt an inclination to dress up as a bloodied zombie apocalypse corpse with a chainsaw. My kids were never allowed to dress like that, and they never wanted to. I avoid Party City in the fall like the doctor's office during flu season. Just don't need to see that.

So I get the distaste for handing candy to someone whose costume makes it all very unappetizing.

Also—I want to be clear that if you choose not to celebrate the holiday with your own children, that is your right to decide. No one gets to guilt you for that decision. All parents and all kids are different. You make the best decisions for your kids.

What I don't get is the notion that we are better people if we turn off our porch lights and ignore our neighbors' kids. I don't get the concept that calling other peoples' kids rude or satanic makes us more polite or more holy. That God will be more pleased with us when we save our candy for church rather than making it an offering of grace to those who will never enter our church doors.

As if, somehow, handing out candy to costumed children at church is holier than handing it out to costumed children at your front door. I would suggest that maybe your front door is just as holy. Possibly, it's even more so.

I'd love to offer a few thoughts in answer to that final question—
Why even open the door?

"Adorable" and "cow" are not words often
put together
Many years ago, waaaay back in college, I went trick or treating to collect money for UNICEF with my sorority. That was big back then. I don't remember what I dressed as, but I do remember the door we came up to with the handwritten sign that read, “Halloween is Satan's holiday. You are going to Hell.” Someone flunked “pleasant greeting” class at the Carnegie Institute.

Months of quiet witness to my sisters evaporated on that doorstep. Again—anyone is entitled to that belief. But not the best way to express it on a night with the chance to talk to neighbors who come to you and could be engaged instead of repelled.

Maybe, instead of thinking of our front door as a barricade to keep the evil world out, we need to think of it as an altar to offer blessing and grace.

Maybe we need to remember that letting our light shine could happen better when we turn the porch light on for a kid who could be trying to pretend he's scary because this world scares the heck out of him. Light always shines brighter when it's in darkness. Church fall events are great. Go. Invite people. But remember that shining your light in an already lit up room doesn't do much for the total wattage in this world.

Really, it's a wonder we ever got them
to be still long enough to get the dressed.
They're kids at your door. Someone's kids. God's creation. They will grow up too fast, too soon. And that girl at your door dressed as Bimbo Belle or Sexy Snow White? She'll grow up even faster. Maybe what she really needs more than a modesty lecture or a gospel tract is a neighbor who knows her and takes the time to open the door. Maybe, on more than one night a year.

You don't have to like Halloween. You don't have to celebrate it. It can be ugly, and yes, it can be satanic. But—it can also just possibly be redemptive, when we choose to turn a light on and open a door.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Is Life happening to You?--Part 2

Ah, steps.
Lastweek, I offered two first steps to being people who intentionally choose their life, as opposed to the kind of human default of passively letting life happen to us.

For most, though not all, of us, we have the choice. But it takes work. It's easier to let life happen. It's much harder to examine it and make changes. Like Fiyero says in Wicked, “Why invite stress in? Stop studying strife, and learn to live the unexamined life." (At this point he's not very heroic. So . . . not words of wisdom really.)

Steps #1 and #2 last week:
Figure out what my priorities are.
Ask god if they are his priorities. (adjust accordingly.)

This week, 3 and 4.


Do my actions line up with those priorities?

Here is the tough part. We can have great priorities—on paper. But when daily decisions come calling, do the choices we make display our three words? Do we choose love over anger? Do we choose to forego a bonus at work to have more time with our family? Do we choose to take our kid out of travel soccer so you can say yes to serving others?

When it comes down to those decisions, do we consciously let life overrun us with its status quo, or do we take the wheel and steer it where we have chosen for it to go?

I think this is where most of us fail. We mean well. But the tyranny of the urgent takes over. The law of physics that says whatever our current state of movement is, that's where we're likely to stay. It takes conscious effort to rebel and override the system. What do our actions, not our intentions, say about our priorities?

Even more steps.

Create a next step to make it real.

What will you do now? A plan is awesome. A plan without actual, concrete steps toward the goal is just a lovely Facebook meme.

For instance, suppose your three words are “give more freely.” (Totally making this up on the fly here.) One of the things you do to make that happen is sign up for a 6k run/walk to benefit clean water initiatives. (OK, not making that up. I'm doing that.) Then you realize you're in such bad shape you breathe heavily walking to the mailbox.

And smiley faces. Because  . . .
you  made it.
Next step: Walk a half mile tomorrow. Walk five minutes more each day. Not fast. Not perfectly. But the next real step is to start walking and then up that distance gradually. It's simple. Achievable. Doable. And easy to gauge if it really gets done. See how much more likely that is to happen than a vague goal of “I want to do something to help other people”?

What do your actions says about your priorities? What's your next step? I'd love to hear! 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Is Life Happening to You?--Part 1

Pastors deal with people a lot. This should be self-evident, but it came as a bit of a shock to my introverted soul to learn I would be spending so much time interacting with people.

Fortunately, I've also learned that people are pretty interesting, so it's all good.

Life happens to insets. They hatch. They lay eggs.
They die. End of story. 
Out of all these interactions, I've found there are generally two different kinds of people. (No, that is not a punchline for anything. Totally serious here.)

--Those who let life happen to them, and
--Those who choose what happens.

It's not scientific or anything, but personal experience tells me there are a lot more of type One. I know it's my default. I think most of us find it a lot easier to be a victim of our own lives, or at least a bystander.

It's hard work to paddle the boat instead of just letting it drift. Sometimes, the current taking us one direction is strong, and fighting it is a long, exhausting struggle. Plus, let's be honest. We don't have to feel bad if we can say, “I couldn't help it. Things just happen.”

It's easier to let life happen to us. But it's not better.

Have you ever found yourself saying things like, “I don't ever have time for . . .” “I don't know how that happened.” “I'd love things to change, but I can't do anything about it.” “If only . . . had not happened/would happen. Then things would be better.”

That's letting life happen to you talk. It's chosen victimhood, assuming that something outside of yourself has to happen before you will have the life you want to have.

Obviously, there are things that happen. We don't control cancer. Or people who hurt us. People in other parts of the world are helpless when faced with persecution and kidnapping. Girls in Nigeria truly don't choose their life. But for most of us, we're really not victims. We've just never learned how to be type 2—those who chose what happens.

These guys, on the other hand. They make their choices.
(Except maybe being put in cages. But this is a rescue,
not a circus.)
I've been doing some thinking, and some rearranging, to make sure I don't fall into that default mode myself. Here are some of the things I've come up with to be the kind of person who chooses, not allows, life.

Figure out what my priorities are.

What are the important themes and needs in your life? The best piece of writing advice I ever received was to put the main idea of whatever I was writing, whether a 300-paeg book or a 300-word devotional, into three words. Yes, just three words. It focuses you. With just three words as a guide, it's suddenly clear what parts of a story or article fit the theme and what is extraneous and needs to be cut out. The writing is far, far better for the focus.

So is life. What are your three words for life? If you had to narrow your purpose down to three words, what would they be?

Ask god if they are his priorities.

OK, maybe you have three great words. You think they describe your life. But if you are a Christian, there's a filter to run those words through. Would God agree that is the mission He has for you?

Because someone's words might be, “Raise happy children.” Or “have job success.” Or even “great bikini body.” Whatever. But passed through the lens of “What did God put me on this earth to do?” they fall short. They may be good things to do. But they cannot be the end all three-word purpose for someone who wants to follow Jesus with all her heart, soul, strength, and mind.

In saying we should chose our life, I'm not preaching that God promises anyone the life they want. I'm not claiming that God particularly even wants you to be happy. (Sorry, recent pop-theological proclamations to the contrary. That just isn't biblical.)

So, telling folks to choose their own life instead of letting it happen to them comes with the caveat that we're choosing wisely. With godly intent. Otherwise, we may be living intentionally, but we're also living pointlessly.

Donald Miller makes the claim that a believer's purpose is to “save many lives.” That's a bit higher than happiness and success. It's the height God wills us to aim for.

So #2 in the quest to be a person who choose their life—make your three-word life theme something God would agree should be a priority.

Take some time. Now. This evening. Tomorrow. SOON. Examine the priorities of your life. If you had to put them into three words, what would you choose? What would God think of those words? Revise. Edit. Finalize the rough draft. You know—all those things you had to do in College Composition. Then please, would you share your words with me? I'd love to see what God is doing in your life.

I'll go first so it's not so scary. I think my three words are: Bring Jesus' grace.

That's enough for this week. Next Monday, the other two steps. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Pure Eyes, Clean Heart--On Addictions, Control, and Surrender

The last couple weeks, I have had the excitement of being part of launch teams for two books written by two friends which I believe can both be an important part of the conversation in creating families that honor God. 

This week, I have a guest post from Jen Ferguson with an excerpt from her book, Pure Eyes, Clean Heart: A Couple's Journey to Freedom from Pornography.

I love this particular excerpt from the book, because it's not just about pornography. It's about something I know all too well--control. Being the family police. 

I have never been in the situation Jen found herself in, but I can relate to so much she shares here. I have been in the place where I lived in fear of not being able to control bad things happening in my family--both my family of origin and my current one. Addictions come in all varieties, and the patterns are the same. 

When Jen talks about needing to "save" her family, I get it. I've walked that unending path. I know precisely what she means when she says that giving up that control, leaving it to God to save, is the most terrifying and the most freeing thing you can do for your situation. We were never meant to be saviors. But we are meant to be faithful.

So please, even if pornography is not a problem for you, I will bet you can find something in her words to relate to. I am positive you also know the fear of letting go of your control and your ability to save a situation--whether a marriage, a child, or a career.

Surrender--the most frightening freedom you'll ever embrace. But then it's no longer an unending path you're trudging down but an endless sky you're flying in.

Also--please pass this on to anyone you know who does deal with this issue. It may save her sanity, self-respect, marriage, or who knows what else? 

I am pleased to give away a copy of Jen's book today as well. Anyone who leaves a comment either here or on this blog post on Facebook will be entered to win the book--for you, for a friend, or for your church library. Thanks!

Jen shares:

For a long time, I took the secret of Craig’s porn addiction and I stuffed in my heart. I didn’t even really share it with God much because I couldn’t bear to believe this was part of my marriage.

In truth, I wanted to fix it and forget it. Rather, I wanted my husband to fix it and forget it. But could I trust him to deal and wrestle and seek Jesus for this affliction? Honestly, I didn’t. I didn’t trust my husband, so I made it my mission to fix the problem for him.

This is the only way I’d though we’d be able to move on in our marriage. I couldn’t let the darkness of porn keep invading. It took too much of a toll on me, on him, on our relationships with God. Sure, he was the one sinning against me, but guess what? The whole cycle stirred up cycles of sin in me, too.

I exhausted myself in trying to control his every movement.

Where are you going?
What are you doing?
Why is the door closed?
Why did you shut down that window on the computer when I walked in?
Why did you clear your history?
What did you do while I was gone?

I had become his parent, which, I’ll tell you, didn’t go over very well. Why? Because God did not design us to be our husband’s parent. He designed us to be his wife, his helper.

Craig writes:

“Now that I look back and reflect on it, I have some understanding of where she was coming from. Jen was scared. She felt her role was to protect our marriage and to protect me from myself.

But there is a fundamental flaw with this logic. The role of protector belongs, ultimately, to God. All that is required of you is your obedience to His word and promptings. There is nothing you can do to control the other person’s actions. No amount of talking, begging, pleading, nagging, yelling, or crying will help you be successful in this endeavor. You have to release that to God.”

Here’s the ugly truth: It wasn’t just that I didn’t trust Craig. I didn’t trust God.

I write:

“Something broke in me after this tirade against God. I realized that Craig’s captivity provided monstrous quantities of fuel that powered my desire to cure him, rehabilitate him, to help him become consumed with anything but porn. In that moment, I realized
that we had both become enslaved. We were trapped by different chains, but they were chains nonetheless. They held us back from Jesus. They held us back from each other. They threatened to keep us seated in our own personal prisons forever.

As much as I prayed that God would heal him from his addiction, and as much as I knew that he could be set free, I simply had not let God handle this one on His own. In my mind, there were too many things at stake—my marriage, my husband’s life, my children, my self-respect, his self-respect. Somehow, I had fooled myself into believing that becoming the porn police was going to ensure successful recovery. Somehow, I had fallen into the trap of believing that if I said and did the right things, healing would take place. I couldn’t help but try to orchestrate the whole process, because I felt if I didn’t get control over this situation, everything as I knew it would fall apart. Crumble. Cease to exist.

I focused all my energy on what he was doing and why he was doing it. In the process, I simply forgot to do two very important things:

Trust God.
Respect my husband.

In my attempt to control, I forgot to surrender. I forgot to let God work. I forgot to let God heal. I forgot that Craig belonged to Him and not just to me. In the end, I became blinded by the enormity of the problem instead of boasting of the immensity of God’s power. Chains have a way of making you forget the power of the one you serve.”

While Craig may always battle with temptation, so might I. The desire to control is strong within me and surrendering and trusting does not come naturally. But just as God used pornography to draw Craig close to Him, so God uses my own weakness to keep me within His fold. To rely on Someone much bigger than me and to be a witness to the immensity of His power and grace, reminds me to be thankful that I actually need to have very little control over anything.

Jen Ferguson is passionate about Jesus, her husband, and her two girls. She is the facilitator of The Soli Deo Gloria Sisterhood and loves to encourage women to bring their true selves out into the light. She is the co-author of Pure Eyes, Clean Heart: A Couple’s Journey to Freedom from Pornography. You can find out more about the book by visiting their new site,

If you’d like to purchase this book, here are some options: will release the book soon, but you can pre-order it here. It’s available for immediate download to your Kindle here. If you are a Barnes and Noble shopper, the paperback will ship October 10th, but you can have it on your Nook immediately by ordering here. Of course, if you’d like to order the paperback immediately, you can order it from Jen’s wonderful publishing house here (it’s on sale!). If you’d like any more info on the book, come drop by the website!

Monday, October 6, 2014

When No One Wants To Build a Snowman

So, I didn't exactly watch the Academy Awards this year. Didn't exactly watch

any of the nominated movies either, come to think of it. At least, the Best Picture ones. Still, I am well aware of what won Best Original Song.

Do you wanna build a snow . . . something?
This is not opinion but an assumption--anyone with a young woman/girl in the house under, say, the age of 25, knows the Frozen soundtrack by heart now. That is an assumption I might bet on, if it was not against some promise I probably agreed to when I became a pastor. You know the songs.

One of my daughters has even learned “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?” in Spanish. That's how hooked we are.

I watched a sarcastic take on the movie a while ago, and one of the things the writer had issue with was how the sisters' relationship remained healthy. Wouldn't Anna have harbored just a teensy bit of resentment, he wondered? A slight tinge of, “Um, Elsa? Go fall off an iceberg. I'm done.”

He had a point. I wondered the same thing at times. If your sister refuses to let you into her life for years, would you feel like rushing off to her rescue and ultimately sacrificing yourself for her? Dubious, I'm thinking.

Do you wanna build a snowman?

Probably not.

Do Relationships Heal?

The more I think about it, the more I realize how amazing this healed relationship really is. Because you know, I've seen it. Up close and personal. In my own house.

For a number of years, I witnessed big sister locked in her “room” of isolation. I saw her unable to relate to her family, unable to let others in to the world she could not escape.

I watched her little sister sitting outside, thinking, “We used to be best buddies. And now we're not. I wish you would tell me why.” The scene manged to depict something that maybe the writers never intended but that is too common in houses where things are hidden behind locked doors.

Having magical freezing powers was a social stigma in Arendelle. (It has a name. It's called cryokinesis. How cool is that? Literally. Living with a mental illness has the same effect in our world. It shuts people behind doors. It keeps them from normal relationships. It terrifies them that someone will know. It ends up opening the door to really bad choices that seem good compared to the reality of now.

It tears apart sisters who just want to build snowmen like they used to.

In an animated world, I guess you can go back to the way things were once the storm is over and love has conquered. But in this world, it's a little more complicated.

It's hard to call through locked doors and get no answer.

It's painful to trust and hope and have it squashed. Again. And again.

It's scary to never know what normal is or how long it lasts.

It's tough to have your life controlled by things you had no say in.

Sometimes, little sister just walks away. Maybe for good. You can't blame her. But you wish for the Anna ending. The one with happily ever after. You know how unlikely it is. But you wish.

This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week. October 10th in particular is National Depression Screening Day, National Bipolar Awareness Day, and World Mental Health Day. It's a week that helps spread awareness of mental illness so those affected by it can get treatment and move forward with their lives.

I believe with everything in me we are all created in the image of God, and we are all deeply loved and known by him. Whether we choose to acknowledge that or not. Because of that, and yes, because I've lived it, I believe in treating those with mental illnesses like the beautiful creations they are. No one can do that if we don't let the secrets out of the locked room and be real about loving people--no matter what.

People living with mental illness are our neighbors. So are their children, spouses, and siblings. Love your neighbor as yourself. Learn aboutmental illness. Learn about warning signs and what to do. It's not a lack of faith or effort. It's so much more complex than that. It's just a few clicks on the internet to discover (from reputable sources, please) what mental illness is and how it affects you, me, and faith.

But those clicks might open someone's door.