Failure to launch

So, what if you started a moms group and no one showed up?

This summer, it was on my heart to try to start some sort of weekly moms gathering at our church, even though there aren’t a lot of stay-at-home moms in our church. I’ve just been really burdened for mom company and offering a place where moms can get together for a little while during the day and get to know other moms. Over the summer, I repeatedly heard the message, “Reach out.” If I wanted friends, I needed to take the first step and not wait for someone else to reach out to me. I didn’t have a curriculum or concrete plan in mind; I just thought we could get to know each other to start and go from there, eventually reaching beyond the church walls to our neighbors and moms in need in our community.
The first week, two older moms (whose kids are grown and are grandmas) showed up to support me so I wouldn’t be alone. It was a touching and thoughtful gesture that almost made me cry. (Of course, it doesn’t take much to make me cry these days!) This week, Isabelle and I played in the nursery by ourselves.
I wasn’t too discouraged after the first week; it’s sort of what I expected. And as we walked home after meeting Phil for lunch, I felt God impress on me the words “faithful with a few things.” It comes from the Parable of the Talents, found in Matthew 25. Jesus tells a story of a man who leaves his possessions to servants to care for while he’s gone. The three servants are all given different amounts and do different things with them. The first two servants grow their master’s possessions while he’s gone, and the master says to them, “You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:21, NASB)
I believe starting small is a good thing, but that also takes time and patience and faithfulness. I know of other moms groups that started with 2 or 3 and have grown multiple times that over years. I know God can do that here, but He also could keep us small or impress on me that maybe this isn’t the right time or place. I know it’s in His hands, so I cling to His encouragement, “faithful with a few things.”
I have a little more marketing to do to get the word out more about the group, but my first priority right now is prayer and looking for opportunities to build relationships with other moms as I meet them. And I’d ask if you have a similar burden where you’re at, or something you’re considering starting, to pray with me, and I’ll pray with you. And maybe a little at a time, we can change the world for Christ.

It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that ring …

For a variety of reasons, I haven’t been wearing my wedding ring much lately. Especially over the summer, it has rarely found its way to my hand, mostly because of the heat. My hands swell and I have trouble getting it off, so most days, I just haven’t bothered. And if I know I’m not going to leave the house, then I usually leave it off.

When I do leave the house, even if it’s just for a walk around the block with Isabelle, though, I like to have it on. Maybe that’s just for appearances’ sake, but I feel like anyone I meet might notice I don’t have it on and assume I’m a single mom, pregnant out of wedlock or something like that. I wonder if that’s because I might mistakenly assume the same thing about someone I see with children who isn’t wearing a wedding band.
I find myself often looking at people’s ring fingers — so I can pass judgment on them or just gather information? I remember after we moved to Pennsylvania last year, we couldn’t determine right away if our pastor was married because he wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. We speculated for a few weeks, until we met his wife, and later learned he’d lost his ring on a mission trip to Brazil. I think he got a new one for their anniversary a few months later. (If I’ve got the story wrong, correct me!)
Wearing my ring or not wearing it doesn’t make me any less married, and I know there are some cultures where rings aren’t part of a wedding ceremony at all. And even though I know a ring or no ring won’t change my actions or the fact that I’m married, I still feel the need to wear it out in public.
This makes me think about Christianity and how we know people are Christians or not. Does it depend upon some outward indication, like that they’re wearing a cross necklace or a Christian-themed T-shirt, they go to church or carry a Bible? Is it more like a state of mind, like when I’m not wearing my wedding ring, I still know and act like I’m married, so similarly, whether anything in my appearance says it or not, I still know and act on the truth of my relationship with Christ?
The Bible gives some ways we can tell. One that comes to mind is found in John 13:35: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Our youth group will be discussing this issue in the next couple of weeks, so I’ll be studying it more during that time. I’m just beginning to believe that telling someone you’re a Christian isn’t enough anymore because it has sort of lost its meaning, or it has a different meaning to different people. But maybe like the wedding ring thing, I’m just making dangerous assumptions without knowing the truth.
How do you tell people about what you believe, and what does “Christian” mean to you?

Bravery’s price

Someone told me today I was brave. My feat? Standing in front of a room full (maybe 50 or so) of writers, mostly Christian, I assume, and sharing for a few minutes what God had put on my heart about the need to write His stories. It’s only the second time I can clearly remember someone calling me brave. (The other was on a New Year’s Eve date disaster. My date, my friend, her boyfriend and I went to a dance club/bar in Iowa that allowed minors. My friend and her boyfriend got in a fight on the way there, and my date would have been more comfortable in a line-dancing type of club. Tired of sitting at the table doing nothing, I got up and joined a group of strangers on the dance floor. When I returned to my table, my date said, “Boy, you sure are brave.”)

Most of the time, “brave” is not a word I would use to describe myself. Shoot, tonight I was even slightly afraid to take laundry to the basement by myself. And I usually think that if I was ever in a situation that required bravery, I would be the one cowering in the corner, praying for it to be over without incident.

The “brave” comment brought to mind a Sara Groves song that almost always makes me cry when I hear it. In “When the Saints,” she sings of how the courage of other saints, past and present, drives her to keep up the good fight. Here’s an excerpt:

‘”I think of Paul and Silas in the prison yard
I hear their song of freedom rising to the stars

I see the shepherd Moses in the Pharaoh’s court
I hear his call for freedom for the people of the Lord

And when the Saints go marching in
I want to be one of them
And when the Saints go marching in

I want to be one of them

I see the long quiet walk along the Underground Railroad
I see the slave awakening to the value of her soul

I see the young missionary and the angry spear
I see his family returning with no trace of fear

I see the long hard shadows of Calcutta nights
I see the sister standing by the dying man’s side

I see the young girl huddled on the brothel floor
I see the man with a passion come and kicking down the door

I see the man of sorrows and his long troubled road
I see the world on his shoulders and my easy load

And when the Saints go marching in
I want to be one of them
and when the Saints go marching in
I want to be one of them”

It’s that last part that always gets me … “the world on his shoulders and my easy load.” I’m humbled and challenged by all of these scenarios, and I know my faith is weak in comparison. I have no fear that I won’t go to heaven, but I long to join this band of saints who weren’t and aren’t afraid to do the hard things in the name of the Lord.

Brave? Hardly. But I’m learning to cling to the promise: “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7, NASB)

And what follows that promise is a challenge. Because God has given us power, love and discipline, “Therefore, do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me (Paul) His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.” (vv. 8-9, NASB)

To be brave comes with a price, and I know I haven’t come close to paying it yet.

Family resemblance

“This little one must belong to you. I can see it in everything about her.”

Words spoken by a complete stranger at a picnic yesterday while Isabelle sat next to me eating corn off the cob and potato chips. I told her she’d say the opposite if my husband was present because most people see him in her before they see me. Either way, though, there’s no denying she’s ours.
Have you had people tell you that about your kids or your parents? I used to get it all the time growing up. Either they’d say, you look just like your mother or you must be Rich’s daughter, depending on who they knew. As a kid, when you just want to be an individual, it’s not always a compliment to be told you look like someone else (unless it’s a movie star, of course!) and as a girl, being told you resemble your father can be devastating. Fortunately, we get over such childhood devastations and realize that people were being kind, not cruel. As a parent, it’s a huge compliment to hear that people can see you in your child. To me, it was just neat that someone who didn’t know us could tell that Isabelle was my daughter. It adds to the amazement of God’s miraculous work of using two people to make another person.
As Christians, we can have no higher compliment than for someone to tell us we look like our Father, or that they can see Jesus in us. Romans 8:29 tells us that’s God’s purpose in our lives: “For those whom he foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.” (NASB)
Ideally, then, the longer I walk with Christ, the more I will look like Him. Most days, I feel like I have a long way to go. Do you know people who exude the likeness of Christ? I can think of a few, and they challenge me by the way they live their lives.
The tricky thing about this is that I want to look like Christ in the way I live my life, but if I know how much I look like Him, it may become a source of pride and then I’m back to looking less like Him.
At this stage of her life, I’m not sure my daughter has any idea she looks like me or my husband, and sometimes, even when we’re older, that’s hard for us to see. So, we rely on those around us to tell us what may be plainly obvious to others but not to us. I think it can work the same for our Christian brothers and sisters. It’s easy to get discouraged and think that we in no way resemble our Father. After all, the world certainly doesn’t make it easy or fashionable to look like Christ. So, maybe what needs to happen is that if we see someone doing something Christlike, we encourage them and say something like “You look like your Father,” “You must be a child of God” or “I see Jesus in you.”
Maybe that sounds kind of cheesy, but I think it could go a long way in lifting each other up and helping each other get through one more day. I’ll look for more opportunities to tell people that, and in the meantime, I’ll ask God to show me how I can be more like Him.

Living sacrifices

This was kind of a rough week emotionally. I know I can use pregnancy as an excuse for my wild emotions and moods, but I don’t like to do that all the time. It just seemed like every other day I was crying about something.

Most recently, I was dwelling on all the “missing out” we’re doing as a family. It breaks my heart that we can’t be physically present for our family and friends when there are births, weddings and other joyous celebrations. I think this hits me especially hard on holidays, even “small” ones like Labor Day, when all our neighbors seem to either have family over to their houses for a cookout or be at a family member’s house for a cookout. Meanwhile, we have our own little cookout, but it’s almost like just another day. I know we could invite people over, which we always think of too late, but there’s still something missing when your family is hundreds of miles away.
Even as I drove by the hospital on the way home from my weekly shot, I was sad thinking about how few visitors we might have when the baby is born because our families might not be able to be here for the birth.
All of this thinking added up to a breakdown the other night as I sat on the couch trying to explain to my husband what I was feeling. I finally said, “I just need to know that all of this is worth it in the end. And right now I can’t see that.” He later said he wanted to remind me that I had been overjoyed earlier this summer that he was one-fourth of the way through seminary. One year down, three to go. Still, that seems like a long time.
And it’s not like I didn’t know what I was getting into when I married him. His calling to be a pastor is my calling, too. I knew the steps that would be necessary. I just didn’t know it would be this hard sometimes.
God reminded me this week while I had some alone time that I’ve given my life to Him. That is, my WHOLE life, and when I try to take it back, there’s struggle, heartache, pain and frustration. In Romans 12:1, we’re told to offer our bodies as living sacrifices. I once heard a teacher/pastor say that the problem with living sacrifices is that they can crawl off the altar. That describes what I’d been doing. And not only that, but being a living sacrifice hurts. Not to be morbid, but if you’re already dead when you’re sacrificed, you don’t feel anything. A living sacrifice can feel pain.
I’m reminded of the lyrics to a song by one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Jason Gray. In “The Cut,” he sings:
Mingling here
Your blood and my tears
As You whittle my kingdom away
But I see that you suffer, too
In making me new
For the blade of Love, it cuts both ways

As You peel back the bark
And tear me apart
To get to the heart
Of what matters most
I’m cold and I’m scared
As your love lays me bare
But in the shaping of my soul
The cut makes me whole

So, I’m believing that this pain is purposeful, that it WILL be worth it, even if I never see the reward this side of Heaven, and that in choosing to follow Christ wherever He leads, we are surrendering our “rights” to be included, to be present and to do what others may expect of us.
It doesn’t bring me 100 percent peace to say that, but I choose to trust the God I chose to follow, the God who chose me before I even knew Him.

Hey, Jealousy

A newspaper I used to work for recently learned that it would be receiving nearly 30 state-level awards for its division in annual newspaper contests. When I worked there, we were usually proud of ourselves if we made it to double-digits total.

I admit, a twinge of jealousy sprung up in me and for a moment I wanted to be part of that staff, relishing in the recognition by your state-wide peers of a job well done.
And it got me wondering, is jealousy a sin? Can it be a good thing? And is there a difference between jealousy and envy?
I think we have a tendency to use the two words interchangeably, and I’m wondering if this isn’t a mistake.
Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary,, defines the two words this way:
envy – n. – painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage
jealous – adj. – intolerant of rivalry or unfaithfulness; disposed to suspect rivalry or unfaithfulness; hostile toward a rival or one believed to enjoy an advantage; vigilant in guarding a possession
The Bible describes God as a jealous god (Exodus 20:5 and 34:14, to name two places), and since God can’t sin, then jealousy, as first defined, must be a good thing. After all, if my husband were to show favor to another woman — the sort of favor that is supposed to be reserved for me as his wife, then I would have a right to be jealous.
Envy, on the other hand, seems to appear most often in “do not” commands or in a list of other sins. For example, Jesus says in Mark 7:21-23: “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean’.” (Emphasis added.)

In the oft-quoted “love” passage of 1 Corinthians 13, we’re told that envy is something love does not do. If I love another person, I won’t secretly, or openly, pine for what they have, like well-behaved children, a comfortable home or a new car.
I don’t think I resent my former newspaper for winning all these awards. In fact, I’m thrilled for them. I’m just sad that I’m not a part of it. So does that make me envious? Or can I still say I’m jealous because I still feel some ownership and investment in a place I spent seven years of my working life?
How about you? Is there anything you’re jealous for or envious of? Let’s pray for wisdom in discerning the difference between these two closely related-yet-not-interchangeable words to describe this emotion.
And if you have any insight on this subject, I’d love to hear it, because I sort of feel like I may be more confused now than I was when I started!