I just saw the movie, Wonder. I loved the book and was grateful the movie stayed so true to the original story line—even switching point of view, so the reader/viewer could see the backstory of each of the characters. Just when you thought you disliked a character, you saw the pain they were dealing with and found yourself sympathizing. Just when you thought another character had everything easy breezy, you saw how they felt alone.
What a powerful reminder that everyone has highs and lows, experiences that bring them joy and issues they are wrestling with. The thing is, most of us bury the big stuff and make small talk about the weather or our favorite team. We can interact, intersect and never share what’s on our hearts or discover what’s on the hearts of those around us. What if we used the art of conversation to allow others to share their triumphs and traumas, so we can better cheer for them and hold their hands more tenderly?
Tis the time of year to be invited to scads of gatherings—for work, school, family, and any other group you’ve ever affiliated with. At all of these mixers, open houses, cookie exchanges, receptions, and pot lucks (whether you love chit chat or struggle with it) there will be conversations, and they will run the gambit.
There will be delicious food and festive decorations, hopefully there will be Christmas music. I’ve been listening to it since early November—yep, I’m that girl. But it’s easy to let these celebrations come and go without utilizing these opportunities to learn new things, gain richer perspectives, encourage others, or better understand someone else’s point of view. Everyone has a story. Everyone has struggles they’re dealing with and ideas racing around their brains. We can learn so much by talking to one another. But it starts by asking better questions (oh, and yeah, putting our phones down).
What kinds of questions are you asking?
Some of you are born conversationalists. Topics flow from your mouth like tunes on Spotify. For me, I’m used to writing my thoughts out, so I’m more deliberate, but all of us can get better at communicating. The difference between a good question and a so-so question? I’m still learning, but I know when I ask my niece about her college search we both get more out of the chat if I ask, “What are your top three schools? What do you like about them?” than if I simply ask, “How’s the college search going?” Ask something that requires more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. It doesn’t have to be ground breaking. “How was your day?” often emits a ‘fine’ from one of my kids. But “What did you do at recess?” or “How did you do on your test?” or “Who in your class gave their presentations today?” act as conversation starters to discover way more than a test question. The questions don’t need to be original, just intentional. How do you like your new job? Apartment? Teacher? Coach? Roommate? Are great places to start.
Make sure you add in a tidbit or two of your own. I’m tempted to keep things to myself. But when we share, we engage others and make it easier and more comfortable for them to share too. This doesn’t mean you have to divulge personal stuff, no need to over share, just be open to revealing a little about yourself in the process. I was chatting with a friend about an internship she’d had in Nashville. I mentioned I’d been to Nashville the week before. A whole new conversation sprang from my one sentence.
There will be times when no words come. There are challenges. Someone’s not chatty or in a bad mood or distracted. Sometimes that person is you or me. We receive a one-word response or get asked a question we aren’t comfortable answering. How about when the talk turns to politics? Or when you ask someone how he likes his new boss and he begins to rant? Or someone asks you something too personal or that touches a super sensitive spot. This is when we’re called to steer conversations back to the good stuff. As the apostle Paul said, whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things and the God of peace will be with you. —Philippians 4:8. Not always easy, but great advice. If you feel the conversation veering away from these topics, try to steer it back.
Because people will gossip and complain. There will be chat about how terrible parking was at the mall or the horrible service at a certain store. There will be digs on the food served or ‘can you believe she wore that?’ I’m completely guilty of falling into these conversation patterns. It’s easy to gripe. But it’s also just as easy to speak about lovely and excellent things. The cinnamon rolls are burnt? Turn the conversation to how great the coffee tastes. The toddler out of control? Whisper a prayer of patience for the parent. Freezing outside for the family pic? Tell a joke to get people smiling. Offer to make hot cocoa as soon as everyone gives a good grin. But even better—start asking good questions. Ask for the cinnamon roll recipe, about the toddler’s preschool, about how your brother knows the photographer. It’s easy to complain. But we can find out so much more about one another, incredible things, important things, if we try.
There will be occasions where the conversation goes south. If it is not true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy and you can’t turn it around, get out. If the entire group is in on the bashing or one person’s voice is too loud (literally or figuratively) to mute, simply leave the conversation. Excuse yourself to go to the restroom, grab a snack, or see if the hostess needs help with anything. Take the moment away to reset (not to check your phone). You could repeat the verse above from Philippians, say a prayer, get a breath of fresh air, or whatever else centers you.
There will be times when you need to talk to about the hard stuff—things that are ugly and painful and scary. And that’s 100% okay in the right setting with the right people, in fact it can be noble and right to do so. Yes! Share this stuff with your trusted inner circle, so they can comfort, advise, hold, and guide you back to the truth that God is on your side, that He loves you, that He has redeemed you, and that He will never forsake you. When people you care about approach you with their hardships and heartache, point them back to these truths. Remember, these conversations are not for large social gatherings. These are important, but critical that they are spoken in safe space.
I’m not an expert at any of this. Like I said, I’m fairly awkward at conversation. But I know my mother-in-law bowls and I don’t. So I don’t have many bowling questions in my repertoire. But I can ask who she bowls with and when, and in doing so find out more about her friends, which ones make her laugh, and how some days it’s a struggle to get a ride. And all of a sudden these answers lead to new questions, and we end up understanding one another a little better. God created each person uniquely and amazingly. Use all the gatherings you’ll attend this holiday season to get to know some of God’s creations better, to shine some light, and to remind others of their worth—of their true reflections.
I am in introvert. It’s not a bad thing or a true confession. It’s just how God made me. For goodness sake, I am a writer by vocation, which translates into sitting by myself for hours on end making up stories. I love to go on runs and walks by myself. Vacation to me never includes Jet Skis and always includes sitting someplace with a view reading books, journaling, praying and basically being still. I love others immensely and treasure one-on-one time with them, I really do. Yet I require headspace and silence to create, think, cope and process.
But even us introverts crave connection. I cannot do life by myself. Cannot. None of us can. None of us were meant to. God created us for community.
Do you have a solid community? Admittedly, I hear “community” and envision four women my age who work out together, do Bible study together, swap clothes, meet for coffee every Thursday morning, with kids all on the same teams and whose husbands are also best friends—think Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants for grown ups. Maybe you have this, which is awesome. I do not, which used to make me think I didn’t have a community—that I’d failed in this arena. But that’s not true. What I have is different, but also awesome.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another. –Hebrews 10:24-25
This is quality advice. Because spurring each other on toward love and good deeds is solid. But the Bible does not say this has to look like a novel. This week has been a snapshot of my fantastic and completely different and scattered community. My super tight inner circle consists of my four adorable kids and hunky husband. I love them fiercely. However, our communities must span past the walls we live in for them to fully work their magic. Girls need girls. Guys need guys. We need people who do the same kind of work and deal with the same issues, as well as friends of varying ages, different lifestyles and locations so we can gain perspective. The last twenty-four hours for me were packed with more social interaction than I may have from now through Christmas, and although that is not my default, it was good for my soul.
What does your community look like? When was the last time you connected with them?
I visited my daughter who is a freshman in college, away from home for the first time in her, translation my, life. (I get a hall pass to count her as my community, because although she’s still one of my adorable kids, she now sleeps in a dorm room in Indiana instead of in our house.) Our visit was priceless. We laughed, shared stories that could never translate over texts, and ate brownies topped with some kind of fudgy whipped cream. When we said goodbye I honestly felt like a piece of my heart broke off and walked down the sidewalk with a backpack slung across her shoulders. But there is beauty in knowing that some of my heart can travel with her. And some of her heart with me.
Within an hour and a half of me returning home my mom came to town for an overnight visit. Can we talk about my mom? She tutors kids, volunteers at blood drives, makes meals for everyone she knows, and drives neighbors to the doctor. Plus she always wears a smile, constantly talks about how blessed she is, and means it. Being around her puts a positive spin on everything. She asks great questions, listens to all the details of my life no one else would ever want to hear (like how I saved 83 cents at Kroger and the journaling activity the middle school English teacher did with my daughter’s class). My mom makes it all feel important, like it matters, like I matter.
Literally two hours after my mom drove off (leaving behind Texas sheetcake and turkey tetrazzini for us to devour) an out of town friend got out of a meeting she was having in my town! I got to see her for exactly nine minutes and it totally refueled my tank. Energy leaks from her body into mine when we hug. She is funny, beautiful, insightful, smart as all get out and typically goes a million miles an hour. She is one of those special few I can get vulnerable with and fully trust. She loves Jesus and somehow totally gets me and accepts me and my quirks.
Next day, a handful of my sorority sisters came to town for an impromptu reunion. #perksoflivinginacollegetown. These girls? We met when they were eighteen and I was nineteen. We’ve all logged a lot of miles—careers, marriages, moves, babies, loss, struggles, overcoming since we pledged our sisterhood. To reconnect with some who I hadn’t seen in decades and others in a year meant both being flooded with memories and meeting a group of wonderful new women—the ones they’ve all grown into—all at the same instant.
A daughter, a mom, an out of town friend who I met at Bible study years ago by a fluke, and a handful of girls who wore the same shirts to Greek Week in the 90’s is not how most would define ‘community’. But it’s where I find some of mine. We all need other people to fully become who God created us to be. Their stories help form our stories. Their triumphs inspire us. Their struggles expand our viewpoints, teach us lessons. Their ideas, experiences, and thoughts prompt and broaden ours. Hearing their hearts reinforces what we hold dear and helps us dispose of ideas we should have never let enter our minds in the first place.
Please know there are broadly two kinds of community, both are incredibly valuable. There is the general, learn, gather, socialize, laugh, carpool, expand your knowledge and ideas kind. And then there is the special, safe one. No matter how fun or interesting a group may be, you can only reveal your heart to a trusted few. If you share a secret with the masses, it’s no longer a secret. If you confess your greatest fear to too many, someone will unintentionally mock it or use it against you. Both types of communities are important. The inner circle is just more sacred.
Whether you’re typically a loner or always travel with a posse, find some special people, a community or two you can plug into. This can look like just about anything. But make sure it contains some people who will listen to and hear you, who will love and encourage you, who will challenge you, build you up, energize you, feed your soul, point you back to Jesus over and over again, and remind you that you are His, that you matter, because you do. They help remind you of your true reflection.
P.S. Just for the record, my mom borrowed one of my sweatshirts for our morning walk. One of my sorority sisters was also my roommate in Atlanta when we had our first ‘real jobs’. We each owned two suits and swapped them back and forth to make it look like we had enough ‘work clothes’ to get us through to casual Friday. And, as I write this I am wearing a pair of my daughter’s jeans. So, maybe, my community looks a little more like the Traveling Pants than I gave it credit for.
No man can be the perfect father. Just like I can’t be the perfect mother, sister, daughter, wife or mom. I’d like to be, but I’m not. I can’t. It’s not possible, because we’re all human.
Yet, all of us can imagine what that perfect father might look like. Maybe he’s a combination of Daniel (Liam Neeson) in Love Actually, Nemo’s dad, Marlin, Atticus Finch and Jean Val Jean—only their best parts, their scenes and dialogue that moved us the most. When we picture that, we’re getting closer to understanding who God is.
When I fall down, mess up, make the same mistake I’ve made over and over and wish I would never make again, yet find myself scuffed and bruised, how would I hope the perfect father would handle it? I’d want him to ask me where it hurts. Get out a bottle of peroxide. Clean up my wounds and hold me until I stopped shaking. Later, when I’m a bit calmer, he’d talk me through what happened, help me strategize how to prevent from falling down again.
When something interesting or hilarious happened during my day, I imagine the ideal father putting down his phone or his newspaper, looking me in the eye and listening to every word of my story, like it mattered, like I matter.
If I were having relationship trouble, I’d like to think the perfect father would make us both steaming mugs of hot cocoa with extra marshmallows and sit down with me on the couch… and listen. Then he’d share with me how he wishes my friends would treat me, how He hopes I’ll interact with the people in my life, what he hopes others see in me. How he expects me to behave. If it were boy trouble, he’d proceed to tell me the kind of guy he always dreamed I’d marry, the attributes he’d like the man I end up with to have—things like integrity and faith and honesty.
As a busy mom of four, I know I don’t always listen fully or comfort before I criticize. Sometimes I try to fix a problem when my child wants me to listen or just offer perspective. I’m far from perfect. But I know how passionately I love my children. That even in my flaws, I want to be fully present for them always and to help them grow into the very best versions of themselves.
If I want that for my kids…I can’t even imagine how much God wants that for us. And since God is perfect, he always gets it right. He’s never distracted or too busy for us. He never shoos us away or gives us half answers. He never ignores us or treats us unfairly. He always guides us on glorious paths and loves us with perfect love.
That’s what the perfect Father looks like. That’s how He loves you and me.
So, the thing I’m most thankful for is God—the perfect Father. It is through Him that a table of Thanksgiving is before me. That the people I love so dearly are gathered around it. That a feast of plenty is spread across it. My thanks are for God who sent His only son, Jesus, to save me and to save you. It is to Him that I owe all of my thanks.
Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures. —James 1:17-18
I am a shedder.
I leave long, curly blonde hairs on the carpet of your car, the pillows of your couches, on the backs of the seats at church, and on your shirt when I give you a hug. My hairs clog the sink and get tangled in the rollers of the vacuum. If I’m ever a suspect for anything, the detectives won’t need to look for my fingerprints or footprints—all they’ll need to do is follow my trail of tresses.
I know I leave my hair everywhere I go (sorry about that) but what else am I leaving behind? When I leave yoga class, Bible study, your kitchen table, are there smiles lingering? Laughter? Sarcasm? Complaints? Prayers? What am I imprinting?
Are people glad I came, or do they sigh with relief, grateful for my departure?
I’ll never hear the conversations and comments after I exit a room, but I can choose how I act when I’m in that room. My husband and I went to see Mitch Albom, the author of Tuesdays With Morrie, speak last week. Mitch shared one of the most important things Morrie taught him, a lesson Albom weaves into all of his books, is that “one life touches another and another.” Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”—Matthew 22: 39
If I’m going to fully love my neighbor, if our lives are going to touch people one way or another, we can choose to try to love them and touch them in positive, meaningful ways. We all get that choice. Each time we enter a room. If we’re running late and juggling our keys and our purse and our coffee, we can grump and make excuses and make a big deal about our woes OR we can smile and laugh and greet someone. When we’re listening to someone speak—whether that’s a doctor, pastor, counselor, boss, co-worker, best friend, spouse, student or one of our own kids—we can choose to continue with our busyness, our business, on our phones OR we can choose to look them in the eye, give them our full attention, and truly listen.
Even when we’re the ones who need help, who are asking for advice, who need help carrying a load—physical, emotional or mental—(because some days we do need help) we can still choose to say, ‘thank you,’ to let the person know how much we appreciate them, how grateful we are for their help.
I’m going to be a lot of places over the next few weeks—soccer games, sports banquets, my children’s schools, church, visiting family for the holidays to name a few. How about you? Where are you headed? How will we act? What will we leave behind? In this season of thankfulness, let’s make a pact to remind others of all that they have to be thankful for, to have our presence be something they are thankful for, not because we are awesome or brilliant or have all of the right answers, but because we can choose to shine light in dark places, to choose hope over despair, and to choose compliments over criticism.
When someone finds one of my hairs—which they’re bound to do—after parting ways with me, I pray they pull it off their sleeve or pick it off their floor and smile, that I have left them with peace, strength or a little joy.
Have You Ever Experienced a Miracle?
Miracles happen quietly every day—in an operating room, on a stormy sea, in the sudden appearance of a roadside stranger. They are rarely tallied. No one keeps score.
~The First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom
Have you ever experienced a miracle?
A big one? A small one?
I bet you have. I think Albom is spot on in his quote above, miracles do happen quietly, every day.
On my morning run I spotted two baby deer and their mama in a neighbor’s yard, playing tag with one another, romping about. The babies were tiny—white speckles on their backs—and they made me stop everything. Stop my conversation with my husband. Stop the rhythm of my feet. Even for a moment I stopped breathing. Because they were beautiful. And deer don’t usually play where people are. But on this morning, early enough to beat the July heat; I got to glimpse the grace and beauty of these deer. They were a gift to me. A small miracle.
On a group message I noticed someone’s title was a professor of Special Education. My daughter wants to major in Special Ed. No way! I thought. I’ll have to chat with this woman. But there was no need to call or write an email. I turned around at church the next day to see this very woman standing behind me. And my daughter was next to me. We all chatted. They set up a meeting, and ever since my daughter has worn a huge smile on her face. She got to volunteer all week with a special needs camp. It lit her up from the inside out doing something that truly makes her shine. I couldn’t have orchestrated this meeting, or this experience for her, not like this. But God could. Another miracle on the books.
I’ve experienced big, unbelievable get down on my knees miracles, too. My youngest was born with a hole in his heart. We spent the first couple of weeks of his life getting ultrasounds of his tiny ticker with the pediatric cardiologists at Children’s Hospital. And praying. A lot. But when we went in for his two month follow up—anxiety tight in my stomach, tears pricking the corners of my eyes—the ultrasound showed his hole had closed up on it’s own. It had repaired itself! This was what we’d hoped for, begged God for, the best-case scenario. There was no follow up necessary. A true lightning bolt, praise Jesus miracle.
How about you? Have you experienced a miracle? A big one that knocked your socks off? Small ones that no one else might count, that wouldn’t get you canonized or even in the local news, but a miracle none the less? Have you experienced something you could not have planned, predicted or pulled together no matter how hard you tried; yet somehow, there it was, the perfect moment just waiting for you?
The rest of the quote from The First Phone Call in Heaven reads, “But now and then, a miracle is declared to the world. And when that happens, things change.”
What if we shared our miracles? Not for bragging rights, because there’s nothing to take credit for, because we are so clearly not behind the miracles. But to be grateful. To say thanks to God who dropped them in our laps—little nuggets, that made things easier, happier, less complicated. Big reliefs and life changes and burdens lifted that overwhelmed us with gratitude. What if we shared these big and small miracles? What if we also paid attention, and took note of the miracles occurring in the lives of our friends and family?
What if by declaring our miracles to the world we really could make a change? We could help each other be more appreciate, live more in wonder, acknowledge more often that God is actively working in all of our lives on a daily basis. We could give Him not only credit, but also praise for doing so. Would we live a little less nervous, a little less anxious, knowing our God is alive and well and on our side? Would we sleep better, fret less, hug more freely? I’m guessing yes. Share with someone a miracle you’ve experienced today, and let’s see what kind of change we can make.
What miracles big or small have you experienced? I’d love to hear.
Do you know that old Rod Stewart song, “Every Picture Tells A Story (Don’t It)”? I’m understanding more and more that every person has a story, and they’ll tell it to you, and it will blow you away. All you have to do is ask.
I recently experienced an amazing event in Nashville called STORY. The experience was filled with presenters sharing their stories and inspiring attendees to explore and share theirs. Abigail Washburn the Mandarin speaking, banjo playing woman from Illinois, who just returned from a tour along the Great Wall of China with Yo Yo Ma was a stand in for a sick presenter. What? This was the sub?
And Jeremy Cowart, celebrity photographer who has taken photos of everyone from the Pope to the Kardashians to Sting, yet uses his celebrity to launch amazing humanitarian projects such as Help-Portrait, which offers free portraits to people who have never had their picture taken, and campaigns in Haiti, Rwanda, and Uganda to raise awareness of the devastation these people have endured and funding to help them rebuild. This guy was the guy who struggled through high school. This was the guy whose mantra growing up was, “I can’t”. But his parents repeated to him, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13). A reminder of truth that WE CAN, despite what the world tells us, despite what our achievement tests score us. Look what he’s become! Think what you can become.
Jon Guerra appeared on stage plucking his acoustic guitar and breaking into a soulful melody “We are stained it’s true, but when Your light shines through, we all look like stained glass windows to You.” And there was the lady who played the bassoon and the woman I bumped into at an after party in a warehouse who made a cotton candy tree full of wishes. And James Rhodes, world renowned classical pianist and composer, who played Chopin so beautifully it made me weep, then proceeded to share openly his story of being sexually abused as a child and how music saved him.
Not to mention the fact my sweet friend who I attended Story with and I, stayed up late in an artsy Nashville hotel wearing our pj’s watching Taylor Swift videos. We all have stories.
I could go on and on. But you get the idea. Stories. We all have them. Each and every human being was knitted together in our mother’s wombs (Psalm 139:14) by God, our Creator, with skills and fears, hopes and hiccups, weaknesses and joys, leaps and bounds, whispers and screams. And God takes all of those marvelous little details and writes our stories. It’s like an Encyclopedia Brown mystery, in that God gives us the opportunity to choose if the hero (you or me) will pick A or B, will they give up or keep going, will they try harder or stop trying, will she dream bigger, smile broader, take a different path when the first one is blocked? Will he or she trust in the Author of their story for a happy ending even when the villain seems menacing and the tornado is twisting and they’re locked in a closet? Will they tap into the courage and peace their God has to offer? Will you?
What’s your story? What’s the story of the person next to you, the one you’ve never talked to, the kid who sits in the back of class, or the woman on the far side of church, or the person who always shows up late and leaves a minute early at boot camp? Are you willing to ask them? Are you willing to share yours? Because when we hear other people’s stories, we see their true reflections, often for the first time. And when we share ours, we let other people see ours. And they are all beautiful.
I dare you to say, “God.” And not in an OMG kind of way, but in a reference to God the Father, the Almighty kind of way.
Does that make you uncomfortable?
This is part two of my series about being bold in our faith. I’ve been on vacation in Vancouver for the last week going on walks along the sea wall, shopping at Granville Market, but mainly to see the U.S. play in the Women’s World Cup. It was a beautiful, clean, green city filled with public parks, beaches, fresh, organic food and ultra friendly accommodating people. You know I love to write about the places I travel to, so who knows, maybe a future story will have a character or two voyaging to Vancouver.
At home I chat about God a lot. His name comes up in my conversations, because He’s often on my mind. It’s one thing to tell someone from my small group that I’ll be praying for them, or ask someone from church if their kids are going to VBS this summer. It’s another thing to talk openly about my faith somewhere where I’ve needed to pull out my passport, to say “God” to a stranger.
But not really. Because I do believe in God. I do rely on Him for all things. I know my strength comes from Him. I know He loves me. I know He created me, has purpose for me, sent His son, Jesus to die for me. And He does all of those things for you too.
So, why should I feel uncomfortable saying God’s name? Why do you feel uncomfortable bringing God up in conversation? Are there some situations where you feel more comfortable talking about God? Some situations where you feel less comfortable talking about Him?
The truth is, with Jesus as my Savior, mentioning Him and being faithful to Him aren’t that hard at all.
I just need to be intentionally bold. In Vancouver, our family prayed out loud at restaurants, holding hands, heads bowed. We weren’t being brave. We don’t deserve a badge of courage. But we were so grateful for our time together, for our trip, for our safe travels, for the meals we were able to enjoy, it felt right to pray, just like it always does. I don’t know if any of our waiters or waitresses or any of the other diners heard us say, “God”, or “Jesus,” but it was pretty obvious what we were doing. I hope it encouraged someone to thank God for their food or the gorgeous blue sky or the person sitting next to them. If not, at least I know I was being true to my Savior.
Slightly bolder, I told my cabbie, “God bless you,” as I paid him his fare. I told our porter at the airport, “God bless you,” as he waved goodbye. Again, these things come easily when I stop in awe of the One who made me. But when I’m in the whir and stir of traveling I get distracted, and have to be intentional.
Have you said God’s name to anyone today? If not, I dare you to.
Where are you traveling this summer? How can you boldly take your faith wherever
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. 1 Corinthians 16:13 NIV
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about boldness. About being bold in my faith. About what that means. About how I’m doing with it.
This is a tricky, sticky topic, not in whether we should or should not be bold in our faith. But how bold? When? With who? Again, I know the easy answers, everyone, all the time, everywhere. But I also know that smacking someone in the face with Jesus, might not explain His love to them, might not make them curious. Not only could an all out in your face approach to sharing the Gospel make some people feel nervous about Jesus, it just may make them put up a wall. Yet other people, want the cold bucket of water to fall on them, so they can feel something, have the a-ha. So how can I be bold in all the right ways, sharing Christ’s love, His grace, in beautifully finessed, natural transitions, real life examples that will touch the right people at the right times in the right ways. It’s a challenge.
I was invited to a lovely brunch over the weekend with people of varying faiths. There was a delicious traditional Jewish spread complete with bagels, lox, knishes and Hamantash, cookies in the shape of Haman’s hat to celebrate the Jewish people being saved when Queen Esther was bold enough to confront King Xerxes -- picture Mr. Lunt from the Veggie Tales, Esther. At least I did.
The food was set up buffet style. We all piled our plates, complemented the host and hostess, sat, and then… everyone started eating. Was this where I should offer up a prayer? Or would that have been rude in a Jewish household, or rude in someone else’s household regardless of faith or tradition? Is it my place as a Christian? Or not my place as a guest? I didn’t know. So, I sat, and bowed my head and thanked God in my mind for the food and fellowship and prayed that I could be a light. Did anyone notice my head bowed? I don’t know. Nobody commented. What would I have said if they did?
Boldness. It’s challenging.
And so, I’m challenging myself over the next couple of weeks to be bold in new ways, to intentionally share my faith.
I’m starting today by wearing my “Slave to Nothing: Romans 6:6” graphic tee I got at a Holly Starr concert. So far, I saw two people I knew at the grocery store. Both of them have children who attend Christian school with my kids, but I have never discussed my faith with either of them. Did they notice? They didn’t say. But there it was boldly written across my chest. Did the cashier notice? Other shoppers? Did anyone read it and wonder what it would feel like to be a slave to nothing? No. Thing? Not a one? I hope so. I pray so. Did anyone take note of the verse and look it up later? Maybe even Google Holly Starr and listen to one of her songs filled with the message of Christ’s love. I hope so. I pray so.
This is day one. I like it. It makes me smile, wearing this shirt. Boldness. In this way fits as nicely as a comfortable tee.
How about you?
Any ideas on how you’ve recently been bold in your faith? Any challenges you face in being bold?
Is pulling your grade up in a class worth skipping Netflix until after the exam?
Is taking that trip to Europe worth giving up Starbucks in 2015?
Is rehearsing your instrument worth giving up your “chill” time on Trivia Crack?
How about that person next to you, the one you’re hanging out with? Are they worth your time?
Don’t get me wrong. Every human being is worthy of love and respect, but some people are nutritious for you, and some are not. Some friendships and relationships are worth your time energy and effort. Some aren’t.
As we dive into a new year, I’m trying to reflect on what is truly worth it in my life. This housekeeping applies to all areas. Is it worth eating that brownie? For sure! Is it worth paying that much for a pair of jeans? No. I don’t really need a new pair. Snap. This week I’m focusing on relationships.
I came out of a restaurant yesterday where I’d had lunch with a friend to find this on my windshield.
First thought that popped in my head? Totally worth it.
And it was. A $10 parking ticket for the time I had with this woman, so very worth it.
See, she’s not an average friend, or an acquaintance, but she is a true sister in Christ. Every single time we get together one or both of us has some sort of revelation, a bit of divine wisdom from our Creator delivered to us through our conversation. She’s a friend I know I can be completely candid with about my insecurities and inadequacies, and I know she’ll not only love me despite them, but also listen and help me grow. We are always praying for each other, sometimes in ways no one else even knows we need prayer about. And yesterday was no exception. There was literally a moment while chomping on the crisp lettuce, salty almonds and chewy Craisins in our salads when she shouted out, “That’s it!” We grabbed hands and saw something we’d both been struggling with separately, in a new light, together.
A $10 ticket? Well worth the price!
But not all relationships are like that.
Some are gossipy, draining, or deflating. There are some parties I go to where I linger along the walls feeling like I don’t belong, get stuck in conversations that make me feel uncomfortable, or where I find myself engaging in the dangerous act of comparing myself to others. There are other gatherings I attend where I find genuine conversation, nuggets of information, or perspective by spending time there. What’s the difference? The people.
So how can you tell the difference? Answer these questions about who you’ve been hanging out with:
1. Does the person celebrate your strengths?
2. Do you learn from this person?
3. Do you find yourself in healthy activities with this person? (This doesn’t have to mean eating carrots and running marathons together, although it could. It could be taking a class together, reading a book together, swapping recipes or DIY ideas, volunteering together, doing a Bible study together. You get the idea.)
4. Does this person point you back to Jesus?
If you answered yes to all of these questions, then this is someone worth your investment. Nobody can meet all of these criteria every time you get together. One time you have a blast laughing and playing cards. The next time you talk about what you’re reading. The next time you share what Scripture has touched your heart lately. Awesome! Sounds like you’ve found yourself a friend.
But if every time you’re with someone you feel like you had to pretend you knew about something, so you wouldn’t sound dumb, or you are tempted to start gossiping about some mutual friends, or are always doing things that are borderline toxic for you – watching an inappropriate movie, slipping into bad language, telling others white lies to cover your tracks – beware!
Just like we have a certain amount of calories that are ideal for our bodies to function each day, and a certain number of dollars in our bank accounts to spend, we have a limited number of free hours to devote to relationships. How are you going to spend them?
And if you’re in a relationship with someone who you answered mostly “no” to the questions above, then what?
1. Take the proactive role. Suggest healthy activities to do together—go see Night at the Museum 3, grab frozen yogurt and chat about your goals for 2015, go on a walk together somewhere with great scenery.
2. Pray before your time with that person, that you can be true to yourself, to the person God created you to be.
3. If after doing giving one and two the old college try, you find yourself still feeling manipulated, unappreciated, unworthy or uneasy put your foot down. Start filling your schedule less and less with this person, and seek out new friends or time with other friends who help you be more like the awesome child of God that you are!
Anything else? Anyone have other litmus tests for how to determine if your relationship is worth getting a parking ticket for, or how to resolve or bow out of friendships that aren’t?
“I get by with a little help from my friends.”
Lennon and McCartney
A family member of mine who has never, ever, ever (feel free to sing Taylor Swift in your head if you must) asked me for an opinion, or help ever before in my life called last week seeking advice.
After I picked myself up off the floor from a dead faint, I had a blast sharing what knowledge I had with this person I love. It. Felt. So. Good.
It felt so good to be asked, to be valued, to know that they cared about my opinion on something and believed in me enough to want to garner knowledge from me. It felt even better to know after all of these years of me asking this family member for ideas, answers and sometimes actually sending them S.O.S.’s that I was able to give just the tiniest thing back in return.
At the end of our call I said, “I do believe that’s the first time you’ve ever asked me for advice.”
Their answer dumbfounded me. “I’m not good at asking for help. It makes me feel needy.”
And all these years, I’d felt this dear, dear person, who I looked up to, didn’t value my opinion.
They didn’t sound needy. They sounded like a friend. It felt like relationship. It felt fulfilling and gratifying from my end. Just like it felt rewarding and reassuring every time this person helped me in the past. That’s what help looks and feels like. Like friendship. Like love.
It’s okay to ask for help. Better than okay. You’ll gain the knowledge you need, an opinion of someone who’s gone before and build someone else up in the process. And you know the best person to seek advice from? God! So whatever has you puzzled, perplexed or stressed out today, ask someone who you value their opinion. It will make them feel valued, and you'll get some helpful hints. And make sure you ask God too. He always has your best interest in mind, and whenever you ask, He says it will be given to you.
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