Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Pretty Problem

Growing up, I knew that pretty was important, not because my parents emphasized it but simply because it was the reality around me. It was important to be pretty and wear pretty and to never “act ugly.” I never thought of myself as a pretty girl, unfortunately. There was always some aspect of my appearance that failed to meet the pretty quota I had set in my head. But I took hope in believing that pretty had a time limit. I believed that once I grew up and functioned in the adult world, pretty’s time would run out and substance would take over as the primary target. I believed that mature adults would consider substance, content, and depth more important than pretty.

You can imagine how disappointed I am.

Because, oddly enough, pretty is still of the utmost importance, and I’m not just talking about “in the world”. Pretty is just as important in the church as it is in worldly contexts, maybe even more so.
Churches now have pretty backgrounds for their PowerPoint slides and flawless transitions between pieces of the order of service. The lighting is designed to create the prettiest ambiance possible. We study ways to make our services smoother, more attractive, prettier. Christian blogs are expected to have professional graphic designers in order to properly convey the message of Jesus, who was prophetically described as “like someone people turned away from; he was despised, and we didn’t value him,”(Isaiah 53:3). But we’re still trying to dress Him up and make Him pretty, Lord help us.

Speaking of graphic design, it seems to be increasing in importance when it comes to Bible study material these days. Now, please don’t think that I’m knocking the value of good design. God Himself is a designer, both of the world and His children, and it’s good for us to emulate that, to an extent.

But one day I found myself in a random women’s Bible study. (If you think you know the one to which I’m referring, you’re almost definitely incorrect. It was a truly random experience.) Before the study began, the women discussed the material that we were using. They talked about how pretty it was and how much they loved the graphic designs and layout. Although the quality of material was very high, that wasn’t what impressed them, and it was clearly not what impacted them. In the discussion that followed, the women described the things that stood out to them from the Bible reading, all of which were pretty. They never once mentioned a sin that needed to be repented of or a problem that needed to be solved. None of their gleaned wisdom demanded bravery or strength. They spoke of the Word of God as if it were an art collection to be admired, and then forgotten.

The problem wasn’t the material or the fact that it was designed well and presented beautifully. The problem is that many women, even most of us, haven’t matured enough to look for more than pretty out of our own lives or the God that we serve. We’re still ignoring the refuse of sin and the horrors of a broken world in hopes of finding a new cute top or a home with a better view. We’re looking for pretty when God has designed us for so much more. He has designed us for a heavy kind of glory that takes strength, bravery, and very little concern for pretty. Oh, we will most definitely be more beautiful when we gaze upon Him as He is, but when we do, the last concern on our minds will be “pretty”.

I recently saw Wonder Woman, and I kept finding myself thinking, “That’s what the Kingdom needs! We need Amazons!” Diana was beautiful and nurturing and the very definition of loving, but she was also strong and brave enough to face the ugliness that threatened those she loved. I think Christian women have a decent picture of love and nurturing, the pretty parts of biblical womanhood, but we have a tendency to stumble when it comes to the aspects that demand bravery and strength. Unfortunately, love and nurturing beg that we look into the dark corners of our world and our own hearts. In order to love fully and nurture skillfully, we must bravely face the ugliness of sin and corruption in our world, in our friends, and in ourselves.

The Kingdom we’ve been called to isn’t pretty. It’s intense. It’s scary. It’s wonderful. It’s beautiful. But it ain’t pretty. The author of Hebrews describes it this way:

For you have not come to what could be touched, to a blazing fire, to darkness, gloom, and storm, to the blast of a trumpet, and the sound of words. Those who heard it begged that not another word be spoken to them, for they could not bear what was commanded: If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned. Hebrews 12:18-20

The author was comparing the way that God appeared on Mount Sinai after the Exodus to the Kingdom of God that Christ brought to earth. He’s the same God He was, and no Israelite would ever describe the Lord of Hosts as pretty. Beautiful, sure, but not pretty.

I’m not suggesting that we abandon pretty altogether. I still look in the mirror and do my hair and makeup when I need to. I try to pick out clothes that make me look my best. But I have made the decision that my goal is going to be higher than pretty. My standards are going to require more than good design and attractive presentation.

I was right when I believed that mature adults are more concerned with substance than with pretty. I just didn’t realize how few mature adults there are, and I didn’t realize how hard it would be for me to let go of pretty. After all those years, I really started to believe that pretty was important, but it isn’t. It really isn’t.

I’d rather bravely look into the truths of God’s Word that correct my sin and reveal my guilt than to rest in pretty encouragement that doesn’t require change. I’d rather pick up the strength of the Lord and go to battle than daintily fan myself on the Kingdom’s front porch. I’d rather face the dark ugliness of a fallen world than to live in a world of make-believe where outfits and earrings are more important than starving children.

This is my challenge to you: If the Kingdom of God described in Hebrews 12 sounds unfamiliar, you may have been seduced by pretty, my friend. Go deeper into God’s Word. Get more involved in His Kingdom than you have ever been. Roll up your sleeves. Gird your loins. Train your spiritual muscles for battle. Learn how to wield the sword of the Spirit. Know Him better and more deeply than ever before, and that blazing fire will become more beautiful than anything else.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

What Kids Are/ What Moms Are Not

Mothering is hard. Kids are demanding little creatures who can drive you nuts and wrap you around their fingers simultaneously. They're delightful, often disgusting, and always precious. So why is raising them so hard? Why is this whole mothering gig such a roller coaster of joy and guilt, importance and inadequacy? 

I think that a part of the problem is that we forget what kids are and what we're not. This post gives a few examples of what I mean, but I'm sure that you can think of more.

  • Kids are Moral Responders/ Moms Are Not Sovereign

    Kids are not, in fact, "tabula rasa" (blank slates) when they are born, leaving us free and able to write them however we please. They're human beings (sinners) with weaknesses and personalities and desires that will be expressed. Some newborns give you warning cries when they're getting hungry and others go straight into full-on starvation cries the second that they sense hunger setting in. The parenting methods that worked with one kid may not work with the next. The guidance that directs one child into maturity may be completely rejected by the next kiddo.

    It is possible to handle a situation as perfectly as humanly possible and your kids still react badly. You may have done everything possible to prevent a temper tantrum in the grocery store, but your child has the responsibility and ability to choose to accept it or to reject your guidance and throw a royal fit anyway. In such a case, we are responsible for providing godly discipline that redirects them to obedience, but that doesn't mean that we failed. Our children's sin is not necessarily a failure on our part. It may just be their sin. Your child's failure is an opportunity for discipline and grace; it isn't necessarily your failure.
  • Kids are Body and Spirit/ Moms Are Not Omniscient

    Children aren't just spiritual creatures. They have bodies with fluctuating blood sugar, hormones, and pain. Sometimes this gets swept under the rug in Christian circles. If everything is sin, then every bad action can be disciplined and we can make everything "right" instantly. But what if your child is trying to communicate something other than rebellion through his or her actions? What if a child is trying to tell you that something in their little body just doesn't feel right? You can't discipline blood sugar back into regulation. You can't discipline sensory processing disorders away by forcing your child to eat the dinner you planned.

    How do you know what the problem is?


    Ask your children, certainly, but also ask your doctor. Behavior and biology are related (p.m.s. for instance). You were never expected to have all the answers. Don't assume that the pediatrician is going to instantly suggest a pill to which you are opposed, and don't assume that the pill isn't a good option for your child, either. Let a doctor help you weed through which issues are physical and which are spiritual. You may disagree with him/her, but I bet you'll be one step closer to the answers you need. Sure, you can ask other moms for guidance, but be careful. Kids are custom-made, and no two are alike.
  • Kids Are Living in a Dangerous World/ Moms Are Not Omnipotent

    A few years ago, there was a terrible Super Bowl commercial produced by an insurance company that discussed household accidents. It talked about how many children die from electric shock each year, drown in bathtubs each year, die from falling down stairs each year, etc. Then it made the point that since all of these things could be prevented, there was no reason for any of those children to die, essentially blaming parents for household tragedies, which was a great comfort to bereaved parents, I'm sure.

    I can't even tell you how ticked off I was by that commercial. Edwin didn't quite understand my level of outrage, but I couldn't help but think of the mother whose child drowned because she had to check on another child who was crying downstairs or the mother whose child simply fell down the stairs while she was doing laundry.

    Just because something is "preventable", that doesn't mean that you can actually prevent it and function in this world. Sure, if you dedicated all of your energy to preventing children from falling down stairs, you could, but would they learn how to walk up and down stairs? If you dedicated all of your energy to making sure that your child's teeth are perfectly clean, they may not get cavities, but would they learn to take responsibility for their own bodies?

    We're not just protecting our children from danger. We certainly need to protect our children from dangers they are ill-prepared to handle, but we are also helping our children develop into mature adults. That means that we have to let them face dangers and suffer consequences. We have to prepare them to meet those dangers at age appropriate times, and then we need to be prepared to help them evaluate and move forward when they fail, because they're going to fail.

    At the end of the day, the greatest threat to our children is not the world out there, but the sin in their own hearts. If they don't learn to lean on Christ when faced with the dangers of the world, how will they learn to lean on Him when they face the darkness in themselves?
  • Kids Are Disciples/ Moms Are Not Perfect

    Sometimes I think about things I did in my first year of parenting, and I cringe. I wish that I could go back and tell myself to pay attention to the opportunities around me. I wish that I could warn myself of decisions that I would regret later.

    Parents teach their kids many, many things, but I can't think of one thing more important than teaching our children how to repent and receive grace. One day, my kids are going to have cringe-worthy moments of their own, and I don't want them to get stuck playing those moments over and over as they lie awake at night. I want them to go to Christ and find freedom in His forgiveness. I want them to learn from their bad choices and make better ones. I cannot set a standard for myself that I would never set for my children.

    If perfection is your goal, you've already blown it, am I right? Not only is perfection unattainable, it's a dangerous goal. Perfectionism leads to competition and criticism because when we see our own failures, the only remedy is to condemn someone else's. It turns our children into achievements to be shown off instead of people to be discipled. It distracts us from the law of grace and places our focus on our own works, pulling us away from the cross and the salvation it brings. Perfectionism, at its worst, is idolatry, and it's contagious.
The great news is that everything we are not, God is. Everything we cannot do, God can. Everything that points to our weakness points also to His strength. Our highest calling as mothers (and dads, too) is to depend on Him and not on ourselves.

And with that thought, I wish you a very happy Mother's Day.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Can't We All Just Get Along?

It seems that there is an increasing amount of contention in the world today, fueled by an instant public forum provided by the internet and social media. We can now "discuss" our grievances with the entire world by pressing the "Publish" button, and we're able to do so without the pesky interference of seeing the people with whom we disagree.

The instantaneous ability to impersonally express any and every opinion only increases our need to really consider who's on the other side of the screen, and how we can love them well.

Because, shockingly, a disagreement is not a loophole in the commandment to "love your neighbor". One the flip side, an agreeable facade is also not a biblical expectation of love. In order to love someone you don't have to pretend to agree with them or avoid issues of disagreement like a snotty-nosed toddler.

It is possible, and even necessary, to learn to disagree in a loving way. If we're going to live authentically and honestly, disagreements are going to happen.

Disagreements aren't a problem.

Disagreements are a symptom of sharing life and getting to know another human being, which is an important part of what it means to be made in the image of God.

Disagreements handled without love are a problem.

If we are trying to prove someone else wrong, seeking to make much of ourselves, or if we are fueled by anger or self-righteousness, our mishandling is indicative of a major sin: refusal to love God more than anything or anyone else (like ourselves or our reputation) or refusal to love our neighbors the way we want to be loved.

Allow me to volunteer the fact that I don't have this down yet. I've come a long way in the last four years or so, but I'm not where I'd like to be. Many of the lessons I present below are lessons that I'm still working on, or realize the need for due to my own personal failures, maybe even in the last month or so.

That being said, here are a few ways to season your language with grace, even in the midst of conflict.

  1. Stay away from excessively strong language or absolute language. There's really no reason to say "all" or "everyone" or "every time". For one thing, there's literally no way that you could possibly prove such a grandiose statement. All anyone has to do is find a single exception to prove your statement false, short-changing the value of the discussion. Not only are such statements grossly inaccurate (there's almost always an exception), but they also amp up the intensity of the conversation needlessly.

    The words "heresy", "evil", or "crazy" have a similar impact. Even when I believe that someone's way of thinking is, in all actuality, heretical, it prevents open dialog to call it such. Only people who agree with you are likely to join the conversation once such a term comes flying out. It also lowers the bar from "truth" to "not heresy". We're no longer discussing what is true, but we're now reduced to a conversation about what is even slightly acceptable. We can do better than that.
  2. Don't view a conversation as a competition. There's no such thing as a loser in a conversation. In an argument, on the other hand, both parties typically end up losing something. Seriously, why do you care so much if someone believes something with which you disagree? Why on earth should I be ticked off that you and I disagree on a certain issue?

    If your motive is love and you genuinely believe that a person's false belief is putting them in physical, emotional, or spiritual danger, anger toward that person isn't an appropriate response. Who has ever been berated into safety?

    The goal of a discussion is to get to know the other person better and understand where they're coming from, as well as to express your own view and help the other person understand your take.

    Honestly, this one is my biggest struggle. I love a good debate, LOVE IT! My husband refuses to debate me, even when he's right, because I'm more skilled at the actual debate. But a debate is rarely a wise choice in a personal relationship, unless you're both freaks like I am and relish the debate. They are very rarely a good idea on social media. Actually, I can't think of a single situation when it would be wise to engage in a full debate on social media.
  3. Be very careful about assigning malicious intent. This is the biggest failure that I see in many Christian blogs dealing with social issues. There is a very big difference between being incorrect and being malicious. Once you cross this line, there's no going back. Once you say that a parent is abusive or a pastor is intentionally misleading his sheep away from the Gospel or a politician is corrupt, you've set yourself up as an accuser and enemy to the person you have attacked.

    You can no longer engage in any sort of meaningful discussion with them or with anyone who might agree with them. You can no longer discuss issues or facts. You've made it personal, and it's going to be very easy to come out looking like a bad guy, even if you're right about the issue itself.
  4. Stick to the issues without making it personal. In some ways, this is a way to re-word the previous point, but it has other implications as well. If I really love an author or speaker, and you point out something wrong with one of their teachings, even in a very loving way, my initial reaction is to be defensive. I saw this in a Babylon Bee (a Christian satirical website similar to The Onion) post about a certain women's speaker's use of soaring language. It was comical and somewhat accurate, but her followers took it very seriously and personally. They went on the attack to defend their favorite poet.

    Slow down! Just because you disagree with something someone says, that doesn't mean that they're attacking anyone. Just because you're offended, that doesn't necessarily mean that what was said was offensive. Take a deep breath and consider the actual statement being made.
  5. Be honest in the right forum. If you're offended, say so. Hash it out one-on-one. Don't handle it in the comment session. There's no need to pretend that someone's statement didn't have an impact when it did. You may discover, as I have, that you jumped to an unintended conclusion. If you need to say something of a personal nature, say it in a personal way. Don't just carry around anger and bitterness. Bring it into the light so it can be dealt with. If the other person refuses to discuss things civilly, that's on them, not you. But if you walk around with hurt, believing that they know what they did without speaking up, that's on you.
  6. Remember that people are real, live, breathing human beings with hearts and families. Even if a person is in the public eye, that doesn't give you the right to rip into them as if they're merely a symbol. That person may represent certain theology or ideas held by a group of people, but they're still incredibly valuable to our Father. Treat them as such. Treat them the way that you would want to be treated if you were in their situation. "I would never be in that situation!" Well, pretend that you woke up tomorrow morning in his or her shoes. How would you want someone to speak to you and about you? Now, do that.

    They may be horribly wrong about an issue, but that doesn't give you the right to act unlovingly. People are more than a compilation of beliefs and ideas. We must consider the heart when we choose what to say and how to say it.
  7. Consider your own motivation. I touched on this in the introduction, but it is so very, very important. For a long time, I stayed out of conversations that I thought could be divisive out of fear that I would offend someone. I have come to understand that engaging in meaningful conversation about important issues is an important part of living in community and being a part of society. I've also learned to handle my fear with love by simply handling offenses as they come up.

    You may be silent for the wrong reasons, or you may speak up for the wrong reasons. Consider your own heart carefully when choosing whether or not to join in a conversation. You may have the exact words that someone else needs to hear, or you may just add to the insanity.

    On social media, it is very difficult to know the impact of what we post. Many people are silently watching and following along. Although we won't know the effect of our words, we can know our reason for adding them to the discussion.

    Even if the only thing that our words accomplish is to prove that it is possible to love someone with whom we disagree, that's a pretty monumental accomplishment, and we should strive toward it. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

In the Hallway: Mourning Dead Dreams

The last two years have been difficult and wonderful at the same time. One of my life's longest-held dreams was fulfilled when we brought our precious son home from China. At the same time, I've seen some of my most defining dreams pass by. Unless something strange and miraculous happens, at least one of my dreams is out of reach and quite possibly dead.

I grew up believing that there would come a point when I would find my "niche", and that once I did, the idiosyncrasies in the way God designed me would make sense. I thought that I had found that niche when I had the opportunity to speak to groups of women and teach the Word. I felt more like myself when I was teaching than I felt any other time. I felt more comfortable in my skin and in my personality than I felt at any other time. I came to believe that God would open doors and allow me to teach more often, so I could be more of myself more of the time.

But now I sit in the hallway, surrounded by closed doors on every side. Not only are there no speaking opportunities, there's no potential for speaking opportunities. The part of me that came alive when teaching has atrophied and weakened. It's a part of me that may very well be on its death bed, and I thought that it was the best of me.

It may be a matter of timing or phase of life, or it may be my permanent reality. There simply aren't many speaking opportunities for complementarian women (women who believe in gender roles within the family and church, specifically that a woman is not called by God to pastor His church). It requires a lot of help from others who are more experienced and well-connected, and they really have to see a spark and then choose to fan that flame.

Once I reached out to a more mature woman in our association with a piece that I had written and poured my soul into, and her only response was "I noticed a few grammatical errors. I can help you with that if you'd like." The fact of the matter is that I like starting sentences with conjunctions because it makes writing feel more like a natural conversation, but that's simply a difference in style, I suppose. Others have been much more encouraging, but none have seen a flicker and felt the call to fan it into flame, which is God's territory, not mine.

My style is quite different from typical women speakers (especially those of the complementarian variety). My theology is very similar to the theology of many other women speakers, but it's my personal style that isn't normal. It's just one of those idiosyncrasies that I believed would make sense once I found my place in God's Kingdom.

But that sweet dream has turned into a bitter emptiness.

So I'm sitting in this closed-off hallway, trying to figure out where to go from here. I'm exploring a completely different path through classes in web development, graphic design, and digital marketing. I believe that these skills are an excellent fit for my personality, and a great way to benefit the Kingdom while providing for my family.

But being a web designer and marketing expert doesn't justify God's design, which is what I really want. I want to know why God didn't make me happy to be a nurse. I mean, it's a hugely important job with good insurance and a variety of scheduling options, but that's just not how He made me, I want to know why I would rather study an obscure passage from a minor prophet within a historical context than an old stand-by like Proverbs 31. I want to know why God made me to like football far more than cooking or decorating. I want to know why I speak the way I do, think the way I do, and do the way I do. I want to know what God is up to while I'm sitting in this dark, old hallway.

But here in this hallway, God bends near and whispers, "I don't have you in this hallway for you to know. I have you here so you can trust."

He gently reminds me that His own Son had a dream that wouldn't come true in His lifetime.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” Matthew 23:37-39

Jesus longed to take His people into His arms. He longed to make them great among the nations. He longed to bring them blessing and abundance, but His dream wasn't going to happen in His lifetime, but in His death. His death would make a way to build a new Jerusalem from the destruction of its predecessor. His death would pay for the sins committed by those who steadfastly kept their trust in Him, and His death would establish a new nation and a new family that would bring Him the glory that was refused Him by those in Jerusalem who would sentence Him to death by crucifixion.

So here, in this hallway, I mourn for the Hannah that I thought and hoped and prayed that I would be. I mourn for the missed opportunities and closed doors. I mourn for the lost hope and painful emptiness. I mourn, trusting that this mourning is but temporary. This ignorance is short-lived. There will come a day very soon when I will see Him, and I will know why He made me precisely the way that He did, and when I do, I'm pretty sure that I won't care about that at all.

Because in that moment, I'll see Him face to face, my priorities will be set right, and I will know exactly what it means to be justified. I will finally be able to love the way that I was intended to love without fear or self-concern. I will finally be able to serve with all of my abilities without trying to prove a thing to myself or anyone else.

When I finally know what I want to know, I'm confident that will be the moment when I know that trusting has always been better than knowing.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Christians Act More Like Gaston than Belle Because We Forget We're the Beast

Today I spent a special day with my oldest daughter to celebrate her birthday. It included going to see Beauty and the Beast.

It. Was. Magical.

The new, semi-live-action film added songs from the Broadway version of the story, as well as a few helpful plot points, like the fact that the Enchantress placed a spell on the village, causing them to forget the castle and its prince. The combination of CGI and live-action was gorgeous. The story was a bit more complex than the original, and the characters were much deeper and more complicated.

When we got to the end, DeLaynie diverted her eyes for fear that the Beast would die and all of the palace staff would fade into inanimate objects. I leaned over and whispered, "You want to see this. It's the best part."

There it was, the same scene that I remembered from my childhood, from a time when I was even younger than DeLaynie. It was the scene in which the love of a beautiful woman transformed the gruesome beast into his true form- a prince. (If you've never seen the original film, I apologize for spoiling the ending, but seriously. Where have you been, and what have you been doing?)

I once heard Tim Keller describe this scene in a sermon. He explained that for a Christian all art now points us directly to Christ. Our story is woven into every great story. Our Savior's portrait is painted onto every beautiful canvas. The story of the beast is our story.

We were once like him, literally as ugly as sin. Our humanity had been torn from us by choosing our selfish ways over trusting our Creator. We looked to temporal things instead of the eternal things for which we were made. We traded our humanity for an animal-like craving for satisfaction. We no longer looked like the One who created us. We no longer reflected His image the way we were created to.

But then our Beautiful Savior stepped in and He loved us, and He made us love Him. That love transformed us from the inside-out. It's true that our transformation comes much slower than that of the Beast. It takes a lifetime and seeps into eternity to that first moment when we come face to face with our Beloved. But we know that it is coming, and our pending transformation changes us in the here and now.

Yet, we all too often forget what we once were. We take the love of our Savior as a testament to our beauty instead of His grace, so instead of seeking out those who remain in darkness in order to love them with the love that only Christ can give, we live in fear of the darkness. We attack when the darkness around us comes closer than we would like. We seek to destroy those who have not yet been transformed because instead of seeing the ugliness of sin as a cry for transforming love, we see it as a threat.

We've forgotten who we are. We've forgotten what we once were.

Every Christian is simply a transformed beast. 

We needn't fear the darkness. We know that the One who restored us to who we were meant to be will return, and He will restore His whole world to an even greater beauty than the first. Until then, as transformed beasts, our greatest privilege is to reach out to those who do not yet know the radical love of our God that changes us from the inside-out.

We cannot deny the ugliness of sin, or we risk loving without transformation as an end result, cursing those we love to an eternity in their cursed state. We do need to see sin's ugliness for what it is- a curse that can be set right by the love of God, the One who created us to rule beside Him forever. In every beast, there is a potential prince or princess, but denial, fear, or hatred cannot transform them.
Only perfect love can do that.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Why I'm Not a Part of "Moms' Groups"

Before we left to bring our son home, I joined a moms' group that was associated with our adoption agency. One day I was debating whether to take our jogging stroller with us to China, so I posted the question.

The response was insane. In. Sane.

"Your child will probably be overly sensitive to stimuli, so he won't be able to handle jogging."

"You're going to need to be flexible to your child's needs. Don't plan on going for any runs."

My personal favorite:

"You're going to have to do what's best for your child and not yourself. Hopefully you can be okay with that."

Somehow, my packing question morphed into a parenting question, and somehow, without meeting my child or me, I was deemed to be a selfish failure.

Because I asked for advice about taking a jogging stroller.

(For the record, I wished I had my jogger every single morning after Gotcha Day. Due to jet lag and an early morning waker, we were up long before the crowds filled the street. Li did just fine in the jogger once I got him home. No sensory issues there. Getting off my running routine needlessly made my life harder and made the jet-lag ten times more difficult when we returned. And I never got back to running.)

Where did it go so wrong?

No one asked any questions. They assumed that my son was just like their child.

But he wasn't. And I knew that because I had Skyped with him, read his file, and talked to him.

They didn't know that because they didn't ask, and they didn't seem to care.

I still don't understand why the sharks circled so maliciously. I eventually unsubscribed to updates on my own question because people continued to pound me with unkind and uneducated answers based on their own experiences that had nothing to do with my situation.

And it quickly became clear that they didn't care about my situation, or me. They cared about sounding smart. They cared about justifying themselves. They cared about feeling superior.

It's a good thing church isn't like that, huh?

Wait, it is like that!

People give you Scriptures about your issue without finding out what your issue actually is.

People pray for solutions to your problem without asking any questions to figure out what you actually need from God.

People knock you down for simply asking a question.

And I'm just as guilty.

I've given easy to remember Scriptures without considering the implications for the person seeking help.

I've prayed for solutions to problems quickly, without asking a single question to make sure that I'm praying for what's actually needed.

I've even embarrassed people for simply asking a question.

I didn't do it on purpose. In fact, I didn't even realize that I was doing it. I was so used to it, I had a hard time seeing that it was a problem. Until one day, when I was leading a Sunday School class, and one of the women had the courage to admit to her prayer group that she was struggling with real, severe depression. The person assigned to pray for her prayed something to the effect, "God I pray that you'll give her to the strength to get through her depression and do what she needs to do."

In that moment, it hit me like a ton of bricks. The glorious privilege of prayer had just been used as a weapon against a tender soul who had finally found the strength to admit her frailty to a group of women she didn't know very well. Instead of praying for a loving Father to bring His comfort to His precious daughter, this unwitting pray-er threw the blame on sufferer and compounded her pain with more guilt. I was very young at that point, and I didn't know how to remedy the situation, but it did begin the very long process of learning to ask questions and seek helpfulness over easy answers.

What you've experienced isn't the same as what I have experienced. You and I have different weaknesses, different struggles, and different strengths. If I love you the way that I want to be loved, that could be very unloving because you're not me. I have to learn to love you the way that I would want to be loved if I were in your shoes. I have to learn to listen. I have to learn to care about you, right where you are, And I have to learn to learn.

I really don't want to be the shark that takes your head off and drives you away from church forever because unlike mom groups, church is mandatory (and overall, a wonderful privilege) for the believer. I really don't want to use a prayer as an excuse for a guilt trip. I really don't want to cut you down to make myself feel big. I really want to learn how to bend down to the broken and the hurting.

I really want to be more like Jesus and less like a moms' group.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

How One Woman's Attitude Toward Her Husband Built an Empire and Changed a City

A new show came on HGTV about two years ago. From the get-go, I could tell that there was something different about the stars of this reality show. So I did the only reasonable thing. I Googled them.

The first search result that popped up was a YouTube video of the wife's testimony. Sure enough, the video confirmed my suspicions. They were believers, and it was obvious in everything they did. It was most obvious in the way that they related to each other, especially the way that the wife treated her husband.

Joanna Gaines rarely raised her voice at all toward her husband. Even when her husband brought home two new puppies without asking or even saying a word (at least not that we see), she didn't speak negatively about her husband to her kids. Instead, she highlighted her husband's kindness as a father. When her husband fell into the lake after repeated warnings from his wife, resulting in a ruined phone and precipitating the need to strip down to his undies on their television show, she just stared at him silently. He knew she was angry, but she never yelled. I've never seen her treat her husband like a child, not once. Even when he behaves with kid-like enthusiasm, she just enjoys his quirkiness and gives him a kiss.

Now, I'm not saying that their marriage is without difficulties or that she has never blown-up at him, but I am saying this: their relationship is just different.

Where most shows find their drama in screaming matches and eye-rolls, Fixer Upper doesn't even go there. Both Chip and Joanna make a point of speaking to and about each other with love and respect, and apparently people really like that. 

When the show was accused of trying to mis-lead its viewers by adding home-shopping scenes to the beginning, HGTV replied with this statement (emphasis added): "'Fixer Upper' fans enjoy the series because it focuses on the playful banter between Chip and Jo, their home renovation expertise, innovative design tips and families who get the help they need to transform a fixer upper into the home of their dreams."

In other words, people like the show because this couple actually likes each other, and they're good at what they do.

Edwin bought me The Magnolia Story, Chip and Joanna's book, for Christmas. The word "submission" was never used, but the concept was on every page. The book begins with a story about how a film crew went to Waco to get some footage of the Gaines family in hopes of creating a show. Initially, Chip and Joanna wilted under the camera's eye, but before the crew left, a broken-down, mold-infested house boat arrived. Chip had purchased the boat without nary a word to his wife. Joanna was upset, but she didn't throw a fit over Chip making a major decision without her input (and with her money). Because of the way she handled her frustration and looked for a way to change a shipwreck into a dream boat (pun totally intended), the camera crew was able to get the footage they needed of a quirky, industrious, and wildly talented couple, which led to Fixer Upper.

They never did get the boat sea-worthy, but since the show began, it has become an absolute sensation. Before the show, Chip and Joanna struggled to keep all of their investments afloat. Now they manage an empire. Their companies have all taken off and expanded. The city of Waco has grown and developed because Fixer Upper features local artisans and businesses on every episode, Their show attracts visitors from all over the country to their store and bed and breakfast. (Which is booked solid for six months and doesn't accept reservations further out than that, in case you're wondering.) A city that was once known for a mass suicide is now known as the home of Magnolia everything.

Oh, yeah, and Baylor.

But mostly Magnolia.

Now, to be fair, they were in the middle of building an entire neighborhood before the show. That's the biggest investment that they struggled to keep above water. Most of us will never handle enough capital to build a neighborhood, so that's probably not a struggle with which we can empathize. But their lives now are completely different, and their city is completely different.


Because of the way they treat each other.

People are tired of arguing and antagonistic marriages. We're tired of wimpy men and nagging women. We're tired of comedy that depends on cutting other people apart.

There's nothing stranger or more glorious than a marriage in which two people are fighting on behalf of each other instead of against each other.

But here's what I know: most women who love their husbands and show them respect will never see the kind of fruit that Joanna and Chip have received. 

Even as I stand in awe of the blessing that Joanna's basic Christian love has brought on her home, I recognize that many women are struggling to love men who may never reciprocate their kindness. Most women who love and respect their husbands will never get to pursue every dream with their husbands' blessings. Most women who submit to their husbands will never receive the full reward for their faithfulness in this life.

But the blessings that the Gaines family have received is a glimpse into the blessing that God is storing up for his daughters who will trust Him enough to love and respect their husbands. 

Do you really think that the blessings that Chip and Joanna are receiving right now can even begin to compare to the blessings that God is preparing for the wife who loves and submits to a hard, uncaring husband? Do you really think that a multi-million dollar empire is even worth comparing to the blessings that God is designing for His daughters who are faithful, yet never receive the rewards that they earn during this lifetime?

Look at the joy of fulfilled dreams, financial security, a city redeemed, and a family the way that it's supposed to be as portrayed through the Gaines family. Now multiply it times a million. That's what God is working on for us, dear friends.

We need only be faithful to His calling.

I didn't receive anything for this post, not even a free book, but Joanna should feel free to send me a gift card to her shop, if she so desires.