Family Meal

I grew up in a family that ate dinner together. Not every night, but most nights. Sometimes the meal was homemade, and sometimes it was pizza at 10pm as we ran in the door from after school activities, but we made it to the table.

As an adult, and especially as a parent, I’ve decided that time spent at the table is the special sauce. Our kids are at that age where going out to dinner is an exercise in exhaustion, frustration and, often, public humiliation (ours, not theirs – they are still oblivious to the fact that some people might frown on eating the food once it has hit the floor). But at home, table time means silliness and laughter, excerpts from our days spent primarily in four different places, and even tired silence, the kind that’s acceptable when you’re with your people and you don’t have to pretend to be or have more than you do.

Beyond table time with my family of four, one of my great joys is making the table bigger as often as possible. I love having people at our house and around our table. I love standing around the kitchen island on a Friday night with five of the most unhealthy dips ever concocted, an obscenely big bowl of tortilla chips, and the friends and family that make up the most incredible “framily” imaginable. Our children turn into a loud, untamed herd, but it doesn’t faze us because they’re having fun and we’re being so loud ourselves that we haven’t actually noticed.

A little over two years ago our church launched a ministry called “Expanding the Table.” At the heart of the ministry is a food truck, painted loudly in true food truck fashion, that goes out into different parts of our community three nights a week to serve free meals to whomever needs one.

To date, we’ve served well over 12,000 meals, but the joy has been watching our “table,” and consequently, our family, get bigger and bigger as we find ourselves at picnic tables, tailgate tables, and benches with neighbors in our community we may not have met otherwise. Our table includes kids, who much like our own, don’t sit still for long, but they devour grilled cheese sandwiches and look for the closest group of adults who will play soccer and kickball with them. Our table includes people still caught in the clutches of alcoholism and drug addiction, but sitting around the table we experience the gift of mutual encouragement to keep going, keep trying, and keep hoping for better days.

Family is complicated and often messy, but sharing our lives with each other is a gift. And because God says there’s room at His table for everyone – we get to keep inviting without feeling the need to protect what is our own. Jesus said there’s enough to go around. And so, we keep making the table bigger. We refuse to eat alone, and do everything we can to make sure others aren’t eating alone. And somehow, far beyond the food, our family meals give us strength for whatever is next.

What do your family meals look like? I’d love to hear some of your stories!

And if you’d like to know more about Expanding the Table, or if you’re local and you’d like to volunteer, check out expandingthetable.com.

To My Dad on His Retirement (not Retirement)

Tonight, my dad “officially” retires from his 40+ years of ordained ministry, serving as a pastor in the local church. I use the air quotes because he not only has a full-time ministry position he’s starting in July, but also because I firmly believe some of his very best year of ministry, professionally and otherwise, are still ahead. Nevertheless, there are too many moments we miss marking that should not be missed.

For more than 40 years, my dad has worked tirelessly and passionately to make Jesus known and to equip the people of God for real, everyday, life-giving ministry in the world. It is quite simply, remarkable.

The first time the taunt “pastor’s kid” was directed at me was during recess in elementary school. One of the boys (who, coincidentally, I had just beaten in a foot race) began to chant “pastor’s kid, pastor’s kid” while we circled on the merry-go-round. I remember being confused as to why that was an insult. I looked back at him and began chanting “accountant’s kid, accountant’s kid,” as I stuck out my tongue. Clearly, I did not yet understand the implications of having Jesus in my heart.

As I got older, I began to understand why “pastor’s kid” was its own category. I became less oblivious to the fish bowl we were living in, and I would be lying to say there weren’t moments I didn’t resent it. For example, my parents wouldn’t let us go to the movies on Sunday afternoons. It wasn’t because they thought movies were a sin, or that we were fervently observing the sabbath. It was mostly because other people might see us and judge the fact that we weren’t observing the sabbath in the ways they thought we should. We argued that the only people who would see us were people who were also at the movies (someone please say, “amen”), but the issue was never one of logic. It was expectation, judgment, and the standards people didn’t abide by yet expected their pastor and his family to fill.

And still, somehow (and lets give my mom A LOT of credit here), my sister and I survived, and today we both claim a firm faith in Christ as the Lord of our lives, and we both still love the Church and believe in the Church, effectively beating the pastor’s kid odds. I once heard Andy Stanley say that he would hire anyone who applied to be on his staff who was a pastor’s kid because it meant they knew how ugly the Church could be and still had the faith to see why Jesus established it as the hope of the world and the desire to fight for it.

My sister and I proudly carry the moniker of “pastor’s kids” and that is because of the pastor whose kids we are. My dad didn’t just show up Sunday after Sunday and talk about a God who was love, and a Savior who laid down his life for us. My dad showed up on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and all of the days at home and at work and at the ball fields and all of the places and lived his life as though those things are true. He gave his best, pushed for more from everyone around him, and sacrificed himself again and again and again so that people would know God is with us and for us.

I never imagined I would follow my dad’s footsteps into vocational ministry. It wasn’t because I thought what he did seemed miserable, it was because it seemed ordinary. As kids, our parents taught us to work hard. They told us we were blessed to be a blessing, and that “to whom much is given, much is expected.” My sister and I grew up making plans and expecting to RULE THE WORLD (with compassion, grace and service, of course).We wanted to live extraordinary lives – we just didn’t realize the life we were already part of was anything but ordinary.

We didn’t know yet that not everyone grows up in a home where prayer is constant, unconditional love is practiced, and joy is found in all things. More to the point, we didn’t know that everyone’s parents didn’t take calls at all hours of the day and night because in ministry there are no such things as “office hours.” We didn’t understand when we saw our dad graduate with his doctorate that he had been up studying and writing late at night in addition to pastoring and leading a growing church, and showing up at all of our games and activities. We missed the fact that our mom worked a full-time job as a special education teacher’s assistant in addition to the hours and hours she volunteered at the church, directing VBS, putting together prayer ministries, leading small groups, filling in for the nursery when no one else showed up, directing the church choir (and this list could go on for a loooong time). And, she did all that because, even though no one ever ordained her, she also said yes over 40 years ago to God’s call on her life to ministry in the church. Frankly, we didn’t realize that eating spaghetti a few times a week wasn’t normal. We had no idea it was also because it was cheap (and a family favorite). All we knew was that we had everything we ever needed and somehow my parents always had more to give to our church, and to whomever they saw in need. Foolishly, blindly, my sister and I grew up in a home where this was ordinary.

We’re older now. We’ve seen more of the world. We’re married. We have kids. I am in my 11th year of full-time commissioned/ordained ministry, and my 8th year as a lead pastor. My sister is basically ruling the business world and sharing Jesus with everyone around her. And now, we know. Our dad and our mom are extraordinary.

And so, even with years of ministry left and more to celebrate and the finish line nowhere actually in sight, this is me, giving you a “standing O” today, Dad. I could have written this privately in a card, but it deserves to be noted publicly (and, I never remember to get cards in the mail in time – sorry, mom 😉

Dad, you are, and have always been, my hero. Well done, good and faithful servant.

Stop Looking Around

Stop it.

I know, right? We’ve talked about this before. But here’s the thing, I’m a starter by nature. And lately, God is forcing me to see that stopping is often as necessary as starting. Bob Goff teaches it as a discipline of quitting something every Thursday. (You can pick your own day if Thursday isn’t your thing.)

Stop. It.

So, here’s the thing I need to stop right now. I need to stop looking around at everyone else ALL THE TIME. I spend (no, I waste) so much time looking around at what everyone else has and what everyone else is doing. I’m even adept at disguising this practice as necessary work and strategy. “I wouldn’t want to re-invent the wheel.” “Readers are leaders.” “I like to stay informed.” “I want to learn from others – you know, because we’re better together.” See how good I am at justification?

Those things are true, and even good at times, but when they are excuses for looking around more than looking at God, I’m in trouble.

Too often when I’m looking around, I’m looking to see who is doing “better” than me or “more” than me. I’m also looking to see who is doing “worse” or “less.” I’m in a full-scale comparison trap, trying to decide if I’m doing okay using everyone else as a baseline. It’s exhausting – and frustrating – frustrating because we almost never get to see someone else’s true picture. Most of the time none of us are doing as well or as poorly as we portray, even in our best attempts at honesty and transparency.

So, now what?

Stop it.

My attempts at kicking unhealthy habits have a 100% failure rate, when they aren’t accompanied by the insertion of a healthy habit in their place. To stop looking at everyone else, I have to look somewhere else. Insert Jenn Johnson and Bethel Music –

“God, I look to you. I won’t be overwhelmed.”

Ha, it’s so true. My looking at everyone else was leaving me overwhelmed – constantly. So much so that I’ve grown tired of using the word overwhelmed. Looking to God refuses the notion that we can be overwhelmed. He is always enough. Looking around will always fuel our need for more. But God, God is enough – He’s even more than enough (see what I did there?).

God, I look to you.

For me, this looks like some more earnest time spent reading God’s Word than reading my newsfeed. It means listening less to what other people say about me, and asking God to show me more of who He is. It means laying in the newly hung hammock in our backyard, seeing with my eyes closed. It’s amazing how much my vision improves without my eyesight.

What about you? What is God asking you to stop these days? And what are  you putting in its place?

The Magic of Character

Have y’all heard about Disney World?!?!

Okay, maybe I’m behind here, but I was looking back at pictures from a family trip a couple of years ago, and the place truly is magical. But perhaps the greatest magic Disney captures, is the magic, and the power, of character –

Character matters.

This isn’t new and it isn’t earth-shattering, but it is true. I realize the characters at Disney are actors, and I am mixing the definitions of character, but go with me here…

When Mary Poppins emerged from her house in England (Epcot world showcase), she immediately commented on the untidiness of our queue and settled us into place with a smile and a wave of her elegantly gloved wrist.

Gaston came out from his village tavern and told my boys how nice it was to meet…for them, of course. And after ascertaining the number of eggs they eat for breakfast, he invited them to flex alongside him.

Jake met Buzz Lightyear – “for real, Mom.” And later, when we battled the Emperor Zurge on the Buzz ride, he fought hard because he was fighting for his friend Buzz.

And, oh, we had special arrangements for my nieces to meet Anna and Elsa – wow! – the magic as they discussed Sven’s carrot breath with Anna and shared a warm hug like she learned from Olaf, and the wonder as they stood enraptured as Queen Elsa swept her cape around their feet. And for just a moment, even the 10-year old trying desperately to be “one of the adults” for the trip, believed again that dreams really can come true.

The “characters” at Disney never break character and it makes ALL the difference in the Disney experience.

There is precious little in this world that is within our control, but our character is one of them. When we hold onto it, it matters. Our character gives other people a reason to believe. When we let it go (see what I did there?), it matters. The magic is broken and the effects can be devastating, not just for ourselves, but for everyone standing by.

We live in a skeptical time when there are just as many, if not more, blogs and articles written about the hidden underground of Disney, the “behind-the-scenes” that explains away the magic, as there are about the magic itself. If we are going to maintain credibility, and more importantly, if we are going to be available for God to use so that others can know Him through our lives, we have to hold onto our character.

The easiest ways to break character – gossip, lie, cheat, pretend you never make mistakes.

The best ways to maintain character – be humble, be genuine, say you’re sorry when you do something wrong.

Character is one of the best ways to help an unbelieving world believe.

How is yours holding up?

Endurance

This year I picked a word. I’ve never picked a word before. I thought it was clever when other people picked a word, but I never felt like it would work for me. In the past I have made resolutions in my mind even while adamantly proclaiming that I don’t make resolutions – they are for people less resolved than me…

So, this year I picked a word. Endurance.

You see, I like new things. I thrive on change and I get bored easily. I start things. I’m a starter. I’m passionate and I make a good ignition switch. It’s why I planted a church. I think it may even be why my Dad nicknamed me Sparkey at birth and “Spark” is what has stuck even into my mid-thirties.

But sometimes, a spark isn’t what is needed. Sometimes you need to find the big log and keep it burning. (My husband and I built a fire pit in our backyard a few months ago so now I use fire lingo.)

Endurance.

The church I planted turns 7 years old this month. My husband and I will be married 12 years in May. I’m 8 years deep in the adventure called parenting. And a lot of days, I’m tired. Actually, I lied, I’m tired all of the days. I could have picked “Rest” as my word, and there certainly needs to be more of that, but as 2016 turned into 2017, I found myself standing in the kitchen with My husband and friends deep in conversation about life and faith and family, so much so that we missed midnight. And in the quiet first hours of the new year, I felt God push fresh air into my lungs and my spirit and the words I heard were “Keep going, there’s good stuff coming.”

So many times it’s right when we’re close to giving up that the breakthrough is right around the corner. Our enemy is whispering in our ear that we should quit, but if we choose instead to keep going…endurance.

I picked a word this year. And the word came with a verse. Paul told the early church right at the point they were starting to wonder, at a moment when I imagine they were tired and considering the merits of giving up, “The one who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:24)

Maybe you need to pick a word this year too. Maybe your word is endurance too – I’m happy to share. Either way, I’d love to hear what God is speaking to you in this new year. Let’s keep going together.

I Run (also some thoughts on faith)

I run. I’m a runner. Me and Forrest Gump, it’s what we do.

I run to relieve stress. I run to be healthy. I run because I like to eat. I run to have time alone. I run to have time with my friends. I run because I enjoy pushing myself. I run because I’m competitive. I run for the adrenaline rush when I’m done running. I run because I can. I run because I’m still that girl who will always want to lose “just five pounds.” Sometimes I run for the cute t-shirt.

If you’re a runner, most of that probably makes sense to you. If you’re not, well, you probably already stopped reading because that was a long paragraph on running.

Here’s the point – I didn’t realize I was a runner one day and then start to run. I started to run for a lot of different reasons, some good, some not, some I didn’t even understand. And somewhere along the way, I became a runner.

Faith works the same way. You just start – and by start, I mean ask questions, try it out, make friends with other people who have it, read your Bible, etc. The people who live by faith don’t do it because they woke up one morning with faith and decided to use it. They started in small ways and over time, realized their faith had grown. It’s even easier than a “couch to 5k” because you can start on the couch with a Bible app.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked the question, “How do you get faith?” or the number of times I’ve been told, “I’m just not there yet.” Just like running, if you want to be a runner, you have to run. And if you wait to run until you feel like you can be good at it, you’ll never start. If you wait until your life makes sense, it just never will.

Preacher and theologian John Wesley at one point thought he should give up preaching because he just didn’t feel like he was up to the task. He was discouraged and frustrated. (Ever been there? I have.) But a mentor/friend named Peter Boehler told him, “Preach faith until you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”

And so, my encouragement for you today is to just start from wherever you are and take one step forward toward where you want to be. You will likely be surprised where you end up a few months down the road. You could be a runner too!

(Oh, and just a little trick of the trade…as a runner, I’ve discovered I’m always faster and I always go farther with a partner – you know, Better Together!)

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” ~Hebrews 12:1-2

 

Be with my words

My husband and I, both being of the somewhat chatty variety, managed to give birth to two very verbal kids. Go figure. Most of the time, this makes for great entertainment. Clark and I muffle our laughter during prayer time as our kids pray for everything under the sun and we watch the surprised faces of friends and family when our kids says they’re “so exasperated” after losing a game of Go Fish. (This is preferable to the time our 4-year old was playing Uno with his grandmother and said “dammit” when she played a Draw 4 card. #winning)

You see, the other side of the loquacious coin is when our kids wield their words as a weapon. On more than one occasion, I have felt verbally eviscerated by my 7-year old only to have the reality check that he learned it somewhere…probably somewhere as close as home…well, let’s be real, from me.

And so, one of the most frequent conversations in our home is that we can use our words in two ways, to build people up or tear people down, and we are going to actively work to use our words to build people up. Most days it works out about like this:

Build up. Tear down. Apologize. Repeat.

Since we are so clearly a work in progress, I am going to share a piece of wisdom that is not my own, but is helping me overcome the cycle day by day. It’s a prayer that a dear friend shared with me years ago and now it’s often on auto-repeat in my head. It goes like this,

“Be with my thoughts. Be with my words.”

That’s it. Two sentences. One of the simplest prayers you might ever pray, but when you trust God to answer, it may also be the prayer that changes the atmosphere around you – in your marriage, your home, your job, your church, wherever you go.

Use your words well today. At least try. I will too. It’s likely, actually certain, that someone you know could benefit greatly from being built up.

 

Do the Math

Psalm 33:5 -The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.

A wise leader recently told me to always do the math. He was talking specifically about leading through change, but I think it’s a nugget that holds wide application.

When events like the horror that happened in Orlando on Sunday occur, we feel fear and insecurity and it seems as though we are surrounded by hate. But it helps to do the math. While the act of one person filled with hate caused the deaths of 50 people (and to be clear, that is 50 people too many), the number of people who daily choose love over hate is exponentially higher. The number of people seeking peace is vastly higher than those provoking bitterness and dissension.

Lots of people are writing and sharing their thoughts in the aftermath of Orlando, and many of them more eloquently and with greater depth than I am able to in the moment. But for what it’s worth, as I cry, as I get angry, as I process, as I sit with family, friends and people in our church and community, I’m doing the math. And while evil most definitely exists, and hatred is real, the earth is FULL of the unfailing love of God being lived out everyday in the lives of so, so many.

I condemn hate, oppression and injustice in all forms that it presents itself. And my prayer this morning is that I would praise 3x more than I criticize, that I would practice patience far more than I dwell in frustration, and that I would sing loudly about the goodness and love of God so that the voices of hate that are so much fewer, don’t get to be louder.

Proper Pronouns

Yesterday my 7-yr old son ran into a door handle as he rushed ahead in a race to beat his brother to the car. He grimaced on impact and then immediately turned to glare at me. His look said it all – the accident was clearly my fault. Somehow, with my magical mom powers, I had moved the door from 10 feet away at the same time that I forced him to run instead of walk and therefore caused him great (i.e. over in seconds) pain.

You got me, kid. It’s my bad, clearly.

If only this misplaced blame phenomena ended as we grew older…Unfortunately, we’re all quick to point fingers at something, anything, other than ourselves.

As with other things, we’ve become particularly adept at this in the church world. As the world around us grows more and more critical, we’ve decided to join the party, only we want to do so as outsiders looking in.

“The Church hasn’t done a good job caring for people.”

“The Church spends too much money on ______.”

“The Church doesn’t spend enough money on _______.”

“The Church isn’t relevant to young people.”

“The Church should stop trying to be relevant.”

“The Church is so hypocritical/judgmental/soft/political/etc.”

These are just a few examples. And, believe me, criticism is not a bad thing and often warranted, but unfortunately most of these statements, and many more like them, are being made by Christians and rarely are they followed by the pronouns “we” or “I.” We all like to play the role of Monday morning quarterback from time to time. I am so guilty of this so very often. The problem is, it is hurting our witness to the world and the Church isn’t getting better or stronger as a result.

Change starts from within. And while the Church is made up of many, many, many parts, together we make up the whole and together we have to take responsibility for the task Jesus entrusted to us. It’s like the song I learned in Sunday School as a child,

“I am the church. You are the church. We are the Church together. All who follow Jesus, all around the world, yes, we’re the Church together.”

Jesus hasn’t given up on the Church. He hasn’t given up on the idea of you and me working together to share love and grace and truth to a world that is deeply broken. We shouldn’t give up on it either. But we need to stop clawing and tearing at each other and abdicating our part. We can criticize each other while loving each other and remembering that we’re all part of the family.

Together isn’t always easier, but it is better – and it’s also how Jesus told us to function. I love the Church, with all of OUR humanness and flaws. That God would call me to lead in the Church is a privilege that comes with a higher level of accountability. So, I’ll go first:

We have work to do. We get it wrong, a lot. But we can do better – together.

 

A Culture of Extremes

We live in a culture that promotes and rewards extremism.

I mean think about it, you either have to love Peeps (the candy) or hate them. There’s no in between. (I for one am still busy mourning the discontinuation of the Peepsters – dark chocolate goodness surrounding a marshmallow creme center reminiscent of love and happiness and everything God intended in the garden…).

Of course, nowhere is this currently playing out in a more obvious way than the 2016 Presidential election cycle. As of this week, we are left with the far right, the far left, and Donald Trump, who let’s face it, is just extreme. Gov. Kasich is the notable exception but he is a non-factor at this point in the race.

We have managed to create a system where only the extreme views have opportunity to succeed on a national level. I’m too far removed from my political science degree to make a sound argument for how we got there in the democratic process – I will leave that analysis to the likes of David Brooks – but I will say that the result is a cycle of amassing more and more debt as we swing back and forth from one side of the pendulum to the other with nothing actually being accomplished. We elect a Democrat to the White House, and the next congressional election shifts back to the Republicans, and everyone points to the opposite side for why we can’t get things done. We elect a Republican to the White House and, well, you know where this is going.

What I find most frustrating in this current state of reality is that the vast majority of our population does not fall into an extreme category. I actually believe most of us agree on most things, but it’s more fun and more entertaining to talk about the disagreements, i.e. who can say the craziest thing on social media today and thereby “go viral”? We feed on our discontent rather than working out of our strengths and opportunities for agreement. And in doing so, we create labels and caricatures for the opposing viewpoints that hold very little resemblance to most actual people we meet.

For example, I believe the vast majority of people want to see fewer mass shootings (and by fewer, we mean none). That’s what most of us want. We want to feel like our kids are safe at school and we can walk into a movie theater and trust that all of the nuttiness is happening on screen and not around us. But instead of having a real conversation about how we work to get there, we give the proverbial microphone to the extremes who make us believe we have to either love guns or hate guns, and furthermore to love guns equates to loving violence, and to hate guns equates to enabling violence. What?! Maybe it has very little to do with the guns at all, but we’ll never find out if the conversation stops there.

What would happen if we all took a few steps back from the crazy juice?

Let’s be clear – I’m not making an argument for mediocrity or the absence of universal truth. I’m not even making an argument against the health and advantages of civil disagreement. But there’s the key word – civil disagreement – which ought to be followed by active engagement. Tension is at the core of every great advancement humanity has made.

This is a big conversation and I’m probably wading into a really big pool that I’m not prepared to swim in, but let me make it personal. I believe passionately that everyone needs Jesus and I will unapologetically spend my life sharing Him with everyone I can. Some would say that is extreme, and maybe it is. But I believe I can still sit down at a dinner table with my atheist neighbor and share about my faith, listen to theirs and openly own our hopes and desires for the others conversion without feeling like we have to hate each other, disrespect each other or not allow our kids to bike to the playground together. I want excellent public schools that meet the needs of ALL of our kids, but I don’t think our federal government is intended or well-equipped to take on the role of creating those schools. This puts me in tension with some of my friends who want to see more federal dollars being spent and more standards established and regulated on a national level, but it doesn’t take away the fact that all of us want our kids and other kids to learn and grow and have the best opportunities to succeed.

I can’t fix Washington, DC. Sorry, not my calling. I gave up my political aspirations long ago when I realized God was calling me to use my gifts and leverage my influence in the Church. But I know I can do my part in my little corner of the world to not play into the extremes. I can refuse to let generalizations and hyped-up categories define how I see and love my neighbors. I can trust people enough to share some of my thoughts and opinions and listen to theirs without taking license to decide who they are about everything based on one thing.

It’s not just rhetoric, I actually believe we’re better together. But in our current culture of extremes, I think we may all need some practice to get better at being better together.

Who’s up for trying?