Calling it like it is (or could be)

Maybe you’re not like this, but when God’s trying to get my attention about something, He usually has to give me three or four different experiences or messages before I’ll think, “Okay, God, I’m listening.”

This time, I think it started on a trip to the indoor playground with the kids. Isabelle, our almost-4-year-old, took off for the slides while her brother made his way to the train set. A few minutes later, she came over to me, almost in tears, talking about some boys who were saying things to her. I think. The message was somewhat garbled by her hysteria. So, I followed her and watched as two boys about her age, made guns with their fingers and pointed them at her while chasing her and saying things I couldn’t really understand.

My first reaction, understandably, was Mama Lion. I gave them the you-better-not-mess-with-my-baby look and sort of stared them down. I’m sure they knew I meant business. (That’s a little sarcasm. I’m not really as fierce as a lion.) I told Isabelle to try to avoid them because quite frankly, that’s what I would do. I searched the place for a parental figure but couldn’t find anyone who seemed to be claiming these boys. My eyes locked on a dad parked in front of the TVs in the “lounge” area, and I assumed that disconnected dad was to blame for their behavior.

I wanted to discipline these boys or at least chew out their father for his lack of disciplining them. After all, their actions were causing harm to someone I love beyond measure. I think I might have even told Isabelle to ask the boys if they knew Jesus, but I’m not sure I meant it. Later, though, I realized that maybe I could have handled this situation better. Maybe the boys just needed a hug or someone to tell them they’re special and valuable and useful. Naive, right?

Later that same week, I noticed my choice of words toward my son, who at age 2 is showing signs of stereotypical terribleness. He takes things from his sister just because. He tells her things that aren’t true, which upsets her. And he hits and tries to bite. Sometimes I tell him he’s a stinker. Or that he’s being a bully. The word “jerk” passes through my mind. I’m ashamed to admit these things because this is a child and I love him. What I don’t love is his behavior.

Tell me this kid isn’t bound to give me trouble? (And by the way, maybe I should get some advertising dollars from the Quaker company for this …)

Then God reintroduced me to this verse in Romans. Paul says this about God: “who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” (Romans 4:17)

And I began to wonder what would happen if instead of calling it like it is with my son, I called it like it could be. What if instead of saying, “You’re a bully” I said, “You’re a child of God”? What if instead of “you’re being a stinker” I called him “my beloved son”?

Now, I’m no child psychologist or behavior specialist nor do I have any research to back this up. I only know that labels tend to stick and kids can become what people believe about them, for good or bad.

If this wasn’t enough, I read this post this week. (The guy uses some profanity, but it’s a powerful read.)

I’m terribly fearful of causing my kids emotional damage yet also fearful of protecting them too much. I want them to know how to take criticism, to evaluate its worth and to know who they are apart from what people say about them. Yes, they’re only 4 and 2, but doesn’t it start here?

Honestly, I don’t have these things worked out perfectly in my life. I can still make an effort to set them on a good path, though, right?

I know that God is the kind of parent who says of me what I don’t always believe is true, but maybe that’s a discussion for another day.

So, parents, child educators, behavior specialists, theologians, anyone … help me out here.

How do I build my kids up without lying to them? How do you handle kids with obvious behavior issues using love and not judgment? How do you acknowledge the truth of a behavior (taking your sister’s purse was not nice) without labeling (you’re not nice)?

These are my thoughts over a cup of tea today. Please, join the discussion.


Saturday smiles: friends in deed edition

Life got overwhelming this week. Kids sick off and on. Unexpected uncertainty. Fear. Gloom. Rainy days. Our last week of “freedom” before my husband starts his last semester of classes.

Once again, though, God came through, showing His faithfulness, giving me reasons to smile.

Sunday afternoon, my friend Dawn, whose husband is also in seminary, texted to ask if I could get out of the house that night. Her request made me chuckle because at times we feel like prisoners in our homes, slaves to our families, so getting out of the house for something as simple as ice cream and a trip to the grocery store without kids or husbands is like a mini-vacation. So refreshing. And I’m thankful that my husband didn’t hesitate when I told him about the text. He’s 100 percent supportive of me leaving the house when I need a break.

The next night, I got to talk with my best friend, Katrina, for what’s become a monthly phone date. She is so encouraging and uplifting, and I love that our friendship has spanned decades and life experiences and geographical distance.

Wednesday morning, I had breakfast with a fellow writer and pastor’s wife who has become a great friend. I was pretty low in spirit that day, but sitting with a bottomless mug of coffee and a breakfast sandwich at Panera with someone who’s “been there” was the cure for what ailed me.

Friendships don’t always come easily to me, so I’m grateful to have found a few kindred spirits in my life.

Other reasons to smile this week:

Seeing our nephew on Skype. He was sleeping, but still, it was more than a picture can show.

We had a financial scare this week but I spent a day worrying for nothing. God continues to take care of us.

During Bible study this week, we took time to encourage one another by telling of the positive qualities and spiritual gifts we see in each other. It was a fun and uplifting time, both in the giving and receiving.

Discovering that my husband was a recipient of $200 JCPenney gift card for being a veteran of Iraq. It’s an annual program for which he registered once before. Today we spent a family day helping him pick out some new clothes we wouldn’t have otherwise been able to afford.

Realizing I need to shop with my husband more often and/or pay more attention to the fashion trends of the day. Consider these comments while shopping:

Me: They make skinny jeans for guys?

Husband: Oh, yeah, you didn’t know that?

Me: “I need to get out more.”

And, me again, while noticing a pair of white jeans amongst the offerings: “You definitely should get a pair of those. What is this, 1985?”

Yet again, me: “Who would buy jeans with holes in them?” (Yes, it’s official. I’ve become old.)

Losing another pound and a half this week. That’s more than 9 pounds in almost a month!

Finishing our taxes.

Making snowmen out of the food offerings at Old Country Buffet. Check out the template here. And kids eating free? That’s ALWAYS a reason to smile.

Wishing you a week’s worth of smiles.

All I ever learned about Presbyterians I read in a book

A small-town southern church seeking a pastor assembles a search committee of seven parishioners who spend months secretly attending services at other churches auditioning candidates for the job.

A promising premise. Unfortunately, The Search Committee gets lost along the way. That’s not to say there aren’t some highlights of Tim Owens’ debut novel. Owens borrows three real-life sermons throughout the book, and I appreciated the messages in those sermons, as well as the messed-up lives of the committee members. Their struggles are the real struggles of churchgoers and nonchurchgoers alike. I could identify with aspects of several of the characters’ lives.

However, I think Owens spread himself too thin with the characters. I never got a sense that anyone was a main character, and trying to make seven people the main characters in a book left me feeling like I didn’t really get to know any of them. And because I didn’t know them, I didn’t care that much about them. I wanted things to work out well, I guess, but I wasn’t invested in their lives. I was hoping for more depth from one or two of the characters. It just didn’t work for me.

The whole concept of a search committee was new to me. Our church denomination doesn’t do things that way, and I was kind of surprised by it. The committee often admitted that it felt like it was trying to steal a pastor from another church. Maybe that’s more prevalent than I know. I also didn’t know much about the Presbyterian Church. Owens opens many chapters with excerpts from the Presbyterian Church’s Book of Order and Book of Confessions, which I found interesting but not exactly entertaining. I couldn’t decide if Owens was trying to educate readers about Presbyterians or if he was just drawing on his experience. (His bio says he was once a Southern Baptist and is now an elder in the Presbyterian Church.)

I wanted to like this book, but it fell flat. I stuck with it till the end, hoping it would redeem itself, but I was more relieved than rewarded to have finished it.

FAVORITES: One of the committee members keeps a running list of church signs the group sees on their travels. I get a kick (and sometimes a groan and a shake of the head) out of church signs.

FAULTS: Because of all the characters, the individual storylines felt rushed and underdeveloped. Even the resolutions seemed hasty. I wasn’t crazy about the dialogue either. Some of it felt unnatural.

IN A WORD: Disappointing. I was thinking the committee was going on a road trip in search of a pastor, not that they would set out on several Sundays over several months on day trips. Maybe my expectations were too high.


In exchange for this review, I received a free copy of The Search Committee from Tyndale House Publishers.
I Review For The Tyndale Blog Network

Asking the right question

I’m not often able to watch daytime television, but in recent weeks, my husband has occasionally tuned in to ABC’s “The Chew” to cultivate his “bromance” with Michael Symon. One afternoon, I caught a preview for a new show called “The Revolution.” The show brings together a team of experts in areas of design, fashion, health, fitness and therapy to help people transform their lives “from the inside out,” according to the Web site.

It was the “t” word that first caught my attention. Transformation.

So, I tuned in to the debut episode and was surprised to hear host Ty Pennington use this word repeatedly. He even referred to the team of experts as a “community.”

Transformation. Inside out change. Community.

Those words sounded familiar. I’ve heard them in church from time to time. But here, on TV, was a model for what the church could be doing to live out its mission in the world.

“The Revolution” is not the only show of its kind. Pennington’s previous show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” contained these elements. TLC’s “What Not to Wear” offers people a change in how they see themselves by showing them how to dress to accentuate their beauty. “The Biggest Loser” gives severely overweight people the tools and opportunity to literally lose half of themselves.

Changing people’s lives seems a popular idea these days, especially on television. I’m not saying the church has to be popular, but I have to wonder what causes people to allow their lives to be changed. It involves three steps.

  1. We have to know there’s a problem. I think, whether we admit it or not, we all know an area of lives we’d like to change. And there are lots of reasons we don’t. Maybe we’re embarrassed to admit it. Or we don’t know how to make the change happen. Or we’re afraid of the work it will take. Or we think we don’t have time.
  2. We have to be willing to ask for help. Most of these programs solicit nominations or applications to be on the show, so the person or a friend has to make the need known.
  3. We have to be willing to receive help. People trust the advice these “experts” have to give because they’ve seen the results on other shows or they’ve read their credentials. Those who want to give help have to prove, in some way, that they have the expertise to do so.

I’m reminded of a story in the Bible, recorded by the apostle John, when Jesus encounters a man who had been an invalid for 38 years (John 5). The man was lying near a pool that was said to have healing properties when the waters were stirred. By lying there, he had admitted his need.

Jesus’ question to the man has always puzzled me, though. He asks him, “Do you want to get well?” I’ve thought that’s a dumb question because the guy has been this way for 38 years. Isn’t the answer obvious?

But the man’s answer is equally puzzling. He doesn’t come right out and say, “Of course I want to get well!” Instead, he offers reasons why he isn’t already better. “I have no one to help me.” And, “someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Jesus, because he has the authority to do so, heals the man, and his life is changed.

I’m wondering why people don’t seem to be interested in the inside-out transformation the church has to offer. Because Jesus is still in the business of changing lives.

Maybe the changes in our lives aren’t obvious. I know it’s not always easy for me to admit, “yeah, I’ve got problems but this is how Jesus helps,” or to say, “you know, my life used to be like that but then I let God in.” It’s so much easier to pretend that we’re OK and we’ve always been that way. As if God somehow created a group of people who are immune to everyone else’s problems.

Maybe we ask the wrong questions. We ask what people need, if they’d like to come to church, if they know about Jesus, but how often do we ask, “Do you want to get well?”

Can you imagine a community of transformed people getting together regularly to celebrate the changes in their lives and the One who made it possible, offering themselves, their expertise and their experiences to people looking for a change in their lives?

It would be a revolution of its own kind.

Jesus isn’t going to give you $5,000 to spend on clothes in New York but He will clothe you with character qualities like kindness, compassion, gentleness and humility.

Jesus isn’t going to make you super fit, but He will exercise your faith.

Jesus isn’t going to give you a new house but He will prepare a place for you to live eternally.

He will give you a new heart. A new life. A new purpose. He will do all things for your good, even when it doesn’t make you “happy.”

Transformation is big entertainment business, it would seem. The church has the chance to make it her business again, too.

That’s my cup of tea for today. What’s got you wondering?

Saturday smiles: finding the good edition

I’m a little late with the smiles today. It’s been that kind of week. Honestly, I was avoiding writing this until I felt like I had something to smile about. (And I’m on my second “draft” of this post right now because of a computer glitch. Ugh. Technology does NOT make me smile.) Sickness, discouragement, grief, disappointment — we’ve had some of each this week, and I wanted to wallow in pity about the lack of smile-worthy moments in my life this week.

Then this happened.

And God, in His new-every-morning mercy, reminded me with falling snow, that He is faithful and He loves me. And He gives me lots of reasons to smile.

Had it not snowed, our day would have looked drastically different. I would have been off to writer’s group this morning while the kids stayed home with my husband, then I would have hauled them off to a birthday party while my husband stayed home. Hectic is how it was shaping up. Instead, we spent the day together, and it looked more like this.

That’s my husband, getting ready to playfully toss a snowball at our son. He aimed too high, though, and sent the little boy back to the house in tears. The boy was not to be denied his snow time, though. After towelling off, he was right back at it.

Today, I smile because my husband shovels snow. And takes the kids out to “help.”

And helps a neighbor lady shovel her walk even though it was not what he necessarily wanted to do.

Because our plans were canceled, we collaborated on dinner, too, which always makes me smile, even if the pile of dishes afterward makes me groan. My husband can make something amazing out of the need-to-be-used-today ingredients in our house. His creativity in the kitchen is a strength in our family.

Indulge me in a little more bragging. We got his second-to-last semester’s grades today: straight B-pluses. Encouraging and relieving and maybe a little bit unexpected.

Speaking of unexpected, I lost more weight this week. That makes almost eight pounds in three weeks. I don’t feel like I’ve made drastic changes, so maybe the little things really do make a big difference.

I took a turn outside with the “little things” who live in our house, seizing what I think will be a short opportunity to play in the snow. (We’ll be in the 40s again early in the week. So long, snow. It was nice knowing you.)

In less than a minute, our daughter had flopped onto the snow and made a snow angel. She invited me to join her, but I discovered that I’m a winter wuss. Thirty minutes outside and I was ready to go back in and have a cup of hot coffee. Our goal was to make a snowman, but we had the wrong kind of snow. This was as close as we got.

While outside, our kids exercised their imaginations. We worked a construction site a la Bob the Builder. Our son was Bob. Our daughter and I were both Wendy, Bob’s assistant. Big Bob, she said, was inside.

She’ll be 4 soon, and daily she shows us what fun awaits us as she grows. Earlier in the week, she sang a song about pumpkins and rainbows. When she sang it for me, I had to buy a ticket and then follow her in a dance around the living room.

And this guy.

His challenging personality keeps us on our toes. Tonight we made the decision to convert his crib to a toddler bed.

You can almost see the glee on his face. This is both smile-worthy and sad. My babies are growing up. It’s bittersweet.

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I look at life positively all the time. I don’t. It’s a chore, sometimes, to choose to see the good rather than focus on what seems to be the bad.

Life is full of disappointments and discouragement. I know that. But I’m finding there’s more to life than that, too. The good doesn’t always outweigh the bad, but counting my blessings gives me a lift out of an otherwise unbearably dark pit.

Choose to see the good.

Even if it’s just one thing at a time.

Even if you have to smile through tears.

No lie, this guy can handle the truth

My first thought when I read the synopsis for Phil Callaway’s book To Be Perfectly Honest was, “Wasn’t Jim Carrey in that movie?”

In the book, Callaway chronicles a year in his life when he attempts to tell the truth. Every. Single. Day.

I wasn’t excited about this book initially, and I passed it over several times before deciding to read and review it. Although the idea caught my attention, I thought it might be the kind of book that makes me feel bad about not always telling the whole truth or would attempt to answer the “is it ever okay to lie?” kinds of questions with lots of Scripture.

I was so wrong.

Callaway is real. And honest. An average Joe who tells jokes, writes books and follows Jesus. In the midst of his humorous stories, there is capital “T” truth. Challenging. Thought-provoking. Inspiring.

Nuggets of wisdom like “Do you suppose we’d be forgiven more if we asked more often?” and humbling observations like “I’ve walked with Jesus all these years, but I’m so clumsy.”

FAVORITES: I can’t tell you the number of times I laughed out loud while reading this book. That’s rare. Humor doesn’t always translate well on paper, but Callaway does it brilliantly. I hadn’t heard of him before reading this book, but I’m likely to read and/or listen to more of his stuff. Like a spoonful of sugar with medicine, Callaway proves that humor helps us swallow the truth.

FAULTS: My only disappointment was that in the first pages of the book, Callaway reveals that this book was not his idea but his editor’s. That soured the experience slightly for me because it seemed more like a marketing ploy or a trick to make money. And maybe it was. But this is still a well-written book with a lot to offer.

IN A WORD: Surprising. I often got so caught up in the humor and the stories that I didn’t see the Truth coming. Welcome surprises.

Click here to read chapter one.

Or watch this video, which is like hearing parts of the book read to you.


In exchange for my review, I received a free digital copy of To Be Perfectly Honest from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group’s Blogging for Books program.

Click the link below to enter for a chance to win a copy of the book by rating this review.

The writing on the rock

Sometimes, truth is so obvious, you wonder why you didn’t notice it before.

Our ladies’ Bible study is working through a series of lessons on spiritual gifts, and several weeks ago, we focused on ways we’ve stepped out in faith, felt God leading us, and when we’ve been most fulfilled in our walks with Him.

Powerful stuff. I wasn’t sure at first how this exercise would turn out, but I was amazed by what I discovered. We made a list of experiences and events in our lives, then looked for patterns and how that related to where God might be taking us next.

I’d never seen a pattern in my most meaningful experiences before, but what I noticed was that God often called me to do something that seemed impossible, impractical or insane to other people. And when I did those things, my faith deepened and I learned to trust God a little more.

But time can be a great eraser of memories, and I forget easily how much I’ve learned. Maybe it’s because I don’t exercise my faith enough.

So God reminded me.

In a big way.

When we had detected a pattern, we were to then write a word or phrase in marker on a rock that represented where God was taking us next.

I chose the word “impossible.”

And got this.

Sure, it’s a long word and I had a short rock and big handwriting. But I didn’t do this on purpose. When I’d finished, I felt like I’d been smacked in the head.

The future might seem impossible, but God says “I’m possible.”

The Bible even says that.

“What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (Luke 18:27)

Days later, I heard one of my favorite songs on the radio: “I Will Lift My Eyes” by Bebo Norman.

The chorus goes like this.

I will lift my eyes to the Maker
Of the mountains I can’t climb

© Sebastian Grecu |

I will lift my eyes to the Calmer
Of the oceans raging wild

© Iperl |

I will lift my eyes to the Healer
Of the hurt I hold inside

© Chris Galbraith |

I will lift my eyes, lift my eyes to You

© Jakub Cejpek |

What unclimbable mountains, raging oceans, or hidden hurts are you facing? What’s “impossible” about your life right now?

With man, it’s impossible. With God, nothing is impossible.
I’m believing with you.