Will Your Kid Leave the Church?

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It’s been a hot topic lately –“why kids are leaving the church.”  Over and over it seems church pundits want to blame old pastors wearing skinny jeans as the culprit.  Apparently, the sight of a forty year old with a goatee and paste on jeans makes our youth want to barf and disassociate from the gospel.

They say the church isn’t authentic enough… “Relevant” yes, but lacking meat and potatoes. They say it’s a McDonaldized version of the world with a happy meal Jesus.  The church entertains but fails to teach.  The atheists come at youth with science; the church comes at kids with rules.  The church is judgmental to their gay friends and we focus too much on sex and marriage and “looking good” vs. being good.

This anti-church message propagated on the radio by the rapper Macklemore, whom my kids love, claims the church paraphrases verses out of a 3500 year old book to shame and browbeat those outside the religious parameters.

And our kids are listening. They hear celebrities and artists who lift up and associate Jesus with everything BUT the church.

And it makes me sad, because this hasn’t been my experience with ministry.

(If you go to one of these terrible places that treat its youth with disdain, then leave.)

My experience with the church and youth ministry has simply been befuddlement.  Why are so many kids leaving the church and not coming back?  We try so hard and yet we are losing them?  What is the secret sauce to draw them back?

While I believe some of the millennial critiques hold credence in a sad and awkward way, I’m not buying the laundry list of nitpicky justifications young people use to reject the church as the real and underlying reason. 

All of the millennial criticism I hear boils down to one thing.  (And I don’t need a top ten list to tell you with neat little bulleted points)

So why kids are kids leaving the church?

I believe it’s a lack of love.

Remember Jesus?  He’s the guy who ate with sinners and gangsters, hookers, pimps and hoes.  Jesus is the man who loved the sexually immoral (pretty sure this includes gays too), turned over tables and healed the seriously messed up.

The church in its efforts to gain the youth and save the “lost generation” have forgotten the main thing.

Love

We focus on new buildings, more awesome bands, food trucks and large crowds.  We think we need just one more thing to get them to come back, but when we do this we get lost and caught up in the swirly whirly distraction of the world.

I know great parents who have sent their kids to the mega awesome Church to be DAZZLED and instead their kids come home with a drug addiction from dealers in the church parking lot.

Just because a church attracts a big crowd doesn’t mean Jesus is moving in the lives of our kids.  The draw at these BIG TEEN EVENTS might be good drugs, hot chicks and free food.  Last time I checked, I can send my teen to a rave for a $10 fee.  I certainly don’t need my tithe money to cover it.

What about love?  What about people who care about our kids?  What about parents engaging with their kids and serving side by side with them and using less words and more action? 

We can’t just tell our kids to be good; we need to be honest about our own brokenness and the healing power of Christ. 

We need to be let down our perfectly pinned up church hair and remember our struggles with temptation as teenagers.  We need to let them know we went down some dark roads too and that God’s love is relentless in its pursuit. 

I didn’t make it through high school with my innocence intact and quite honestly; my brokenness is what leads me to Christ. 

The kid that tries drugs or pre-marital sex or even walking away from Christ with unanswered questions may actually be closer to God than the devoted and quiet student who shows up every week to Sunday School and serves in Children’s Ministry.

Who are we to judge the state of a man’s heart?

I hold on to the verse, ”Raise up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

Why do we gloss over the “when he is old” part?  There is a gap in between the youth and old.  Maybe the gap includes living and loving, hurting, questioning, and finally returning to the arms of the father.

Why do we punish our kids for the gap years?  Why do we focus on the prodigal son and forget that God gave us two stories –one of a kid who followed the rules and one who ran away –and yet both were loved.

We need to allow our kids to question the mystery and bigness of God and we need to stop acting like we have all the answers. (Read the book of Job again if you think you know it all)

The appeal of Jesus to anyone – a millennial, a young family, a divorced woman, or an old codger is love.  We are to love God and love one another.  We aren’t instructed to put on a show and work our ministers to death so they are so exhausted and grumpy and so un-loving that our kids see just another man (or woman) in a monkey suit (insert skinny jeans) working for achievement.   

When a pastor or a CHRISTIAN doesn’t have time for a hurting kid, we missed an important step along the way.

My son met a kid at the Spectrum (about 15 years old) who passionately spoke his mind about Jesus and God and love. After that night, my kid has looked at his relationship with Christ a little differently.  He prays more.  I find his Bible (gasp) open in the morning next to his bed. 

This is a kid who also has a chip on his shoulder about the church.  My son is a pastor’s kid and survived a church plant.  And while some kids make it through puberty thinking the church is AMAZING, my son has seen some of the darker sides of ministry. 

And yet he is still drawn to Jesus.  When he saw another kid s passion and love for the Lord, it made an impact.

Love burst forth from this kid and mountains moved.

We need to teach our kids that we can’t judge Jesus by the church.  Jesus loves the church and died for the church, but we are a broken lot who mess and muddle up love on a regular basis.  We need Jesus to forgive us for misrepresenting him.  And we need to ask our kids to forgive us for giving them a half version of the gospel.

Jesus is to be our model of love.  The church is the place we try to work it out in community.  Do our kids understand this?

I don’ think kid’s care so much about “cool church” as we think…

My middle daughter is wooed to Jesus through the relationships in her life. I have been consistently overwhelmed at the women surrounding her (female youth pastor, worship leader, and BEAUTIFUL neighbors) who are pouring into her heart and showing her what love and God look like on a daily basis.  She is encouraged to serve alongside them, care for their children, worship God with all her heart and model their love in action.

She could care less if they are cool.  She cares that they love her and they love God.

I remember the same thing in college.  I heard a young pastor explain Jesus in a simple way.  He was bursting with fire and exuberance.  And I was drawn to the person of Jesus Christ.  I couldn’t help but connect with authentic love, relevant sacrifice and a purpose to seek and save the lost, the broken and the disenfranchised of the world.

It’s about love –not REASONS why the church is blowing it.  Those are just distractions.

When I hear someone go on and on about what moves them, I can’t help but get excited.  It’s why we sob at weddings and act like idiots at football games. 

We engage in a story that’s bigger than ourselves and we remember what it feels like to be alive.

And we fall in love all over again. 

I don’t think our kids are leaving because we (the church) haven’t tried.  We have tried until we are blue in the face.  I just think we have forgotten the main thing.

We think kids want skate parks and nifty bracelets, Chick Fillet and hip lounge chairs.

Really?  I think a crappy old sofa with a caring young adult eating PB& J’s would suffice.

When we allow Jesus to not only transform us but to move within us, love becomes the fabric of our being.

And it changes lives.

I believe the biggest obstacle to our kids not finding Jesus is not the failure of the church…I know the church has tried, it’s a failure to remember what drew us to God in the first place.

What do you think? 

For further reading: Why Millennials Need the Church

Photo Source: http://www.csulb.edu/divisions/students2/intouch/archives/2007-08/vol16_no1/01.htm

Pharisees in Skirts

She caught my eye just as I opened the door to my gym locker fresh out of the shower; there stood Mrs. Pharisee in all her fitness glory with pert blonde hair, a haughty sneer and an agenda written all over her face. I furtively glanced around for a place to hide, but my options were limited by the water dripping from my soaked head and a large towel that was the only thing covering my derriere.

I braced myself for the forthcoming interaction as the woman spotted me, smiled like the big bad wolf about to devour grandma, and catapulted over benches and tennis shoes to reach me.

I remembered our last conversation at the church picnic all too well. I dared to bring a male companion I had recently started dating to the event. Mrs. Pharisee pounced and sweetly commented, like icing on a butcher knife, “Wow, Samantha, you sure got over your divorce fast. How long has it been dear?”

Her glib comment glossed over the last two years of abandonment, betrayal, instant single motherhood and the onslaught of accompanying pain. Her snarky insinuation implied I should still be mourning and wearing widow’s garb for a few more years in reverent obedience to a rule she had clearly made up about appropriate post-divorce behavior. 

“Well, it’s been a long journey from my end,” I replied as I tried to get my horrified date away from the “tsk- tsking,” of her disapproval.

The truth is legalists (or Pharisees in skirts as I like to call the female variety) abound in every church.  Sadly, if you leave one church there will probably be seven more at the next.   My neighbor recently had a run-in with a few lovelies that did some serious damage to her heart.

My neighbor is a seeker and recently began attending a local church.  She tried to connect and make some Christian friends by joining a women’s Bunco group she saw advertised in the church bulletin. After a few weeks of throwing dice, my neighbor volunteered to host the game night at her house and was surprisingly met with veiled hostility by the women in the group.  When she inquired about the tension, the ladies let her know that she was welcome to come to their church, but she was not allowed to host an event at her home until she accepted Jesus as her savior.  In this uncomfortable discourse, it also came out that some of the women didn’t think she should be attending the monthly Bunco game either. 

Now, my neighbor grew up in a strict Jewish home and any decision to follow Christ would affect her entire extended family.  Many of her relationships might suffer and her parents would more than likely be embarrassed.  It wasn’t a decision she took lightly and it wouldn’t be forced into over a Bunko game.

My neighbor confided in me one late summer evening as we were sitting on my porch.  Shocked, I inquired how these ladies extra religious rules made her feel. “Well, I don’t want to go their church anymore,” she said dejectedly. “It’s a complete turn-off. But I’m still curious about Jesus.  Could you,” she stuttered, “explain salvation to me?”

Needless to say, I took a deep breath, opened a bottle of wine and we talked and searched the scriptures together for hours.

I run into this religious spirit all too often at women’s bible studies.   At our growing church, new women join our studies each week.  When an attractive woman shows up for the first time dressed less than modestly, it seems as if a self-protective fog of dissention falls upon the group of women in a shield of exclusion.  And when I sense this gang-mentality resistance drawing me in- to reject instead of lean in and connect with a new, albeit pretty face, I call it out for what it is-fear.

Our female fears and insecurity regarding body image, lack of security and control issues turn us into modern day Pharisees as we bind heavy burdens on women and distort God’s word with a long list of she-made rules.  And I believe when we do this, we open the door for the enemy to create strife and a critical spirit that is detrimental to the church and to the world at large.

We bow our heads each week and sing, “Come just as you are,” and then negate this very invitation with body language that says, “Not so fast sweetie”.  If we were honest, we would post a warning sign at the church entrance reading: “Ladies, you are welcome if: 1. you keep your boobs properly covered 2. no midriff is revealed 3. all tattoos remain covered (unless it’s a trendy cross in an approved location…i.e. ankles are good, tramp stamps are bad) 4. you abstain from inappropriate footwear (six-inchstilettos are highly discouraged). 

There are strict unwritten rules of hierarchy in our Christian Women’s Social Club; you must act like a Christian, even if you don’t know Christ.  It doesn’t matter what your spiritual condition is as long as you modify your worldly behavior. If you get vulnerable and share something you are struggling with, we’ll pray for you with feigned empathy and talk about you behind your back.  And if it’s really bad, we’ll send your plight out to the prayer chain so the whole church knows what you are struggling with.  This may result in your being blacklisted from future leadership. And, if you don’t except Jesus fast enough we reserve the right to cancel your Bunco privileges.

So when Mrs. Pharisee approached me at the gym, my knees went weak and I prayed for strength. It had been some time since the church picnic; almost a year to be exact and certain events-namely my engagement to a pastor in our church, had increased my Klout for Christian score-keepers.

“So, I hear you are going to marry that pastor you’ve been dating, “Mrs. Pharisee gushed like a little girl wooing a queen bee with honey. “What an honor! How are you going to be able to handle this prestigious spiritual mantle?”

Unsuccessfully struggling to reel in my sarcasm, I replied, “Well I’m trying not to swear so much.”

Mrs. Pharisee’s poppy red mouth made an “Ooohhh” sound and she nodded her head very seriously.

“And,” I decided to take a chance, “I’m working on not being so judgmental.  I’m trying to love people more,” I said. “You know what? Sometimes I struggle with that.”

“Me too,” she whispered, “Me too.”

I guess there is a little Pharisee in all of us.

The Awkward Baby Daddy

Once a month or so I head over to Mission Hills Church and teach a class to a group of unwed pregnant young women and the occasional baby daddy supporting them. I run into a cast of characters at Birthchoice but this week might have been the most memorable EVER.

In the front row sat a very pregnant and lovely young gal. Beside her was an older gentleman who resembled Santa Claus. The age gap between the two was close to forty years.

I almost asked if the man rubbing her shoulders and cooing support in her ear was her grandpa or father but I felt prompted to hold my tongue.

As I started the class I bantered with the girls and asked a few questions. When I got to these two, it didn’t take long before the story poured out.

Santa was the baby daddy.

And it wasn’t pretty.

The girl clearly had some mental disabilities attributed to an accident during her teen years where she had lingered in a coma for weeks. Although still able to comprehend, there was dullness behind her beautiful brown eyes. She struggled with social filters and boundaries.

And from a distance (without perspective) it looked like this man had taken advantage of a young mentally disabled girl.

My stomach dropped and I choked back the rising waves off revulsion behind my tongue.

But as I talked, I secretly watched the two and how he interacted with her. Surprisingly he was gentle and patient and kind. I saw true delight and care behind his eyes.

Huh?

And then all of a sudden Jacob came to mind –Jacob, the biblical patriarch who dealt a shady hand all his days. This is the man who stole a birthright from his brother Esau, finagled the best livestock from his father in law and took his wives and kids and hitched the first camel train out of town.

But then one night it all came crashing down and Jacob was forced to confront his brother and the past.

He spent a night near the river Jabbock (which means wrestle in Hebrew) and Jacob did exactly that –he wrestled with God. He came clean. He owned his past and persistently dealt with his junk until God allowed him to pass through. He came out on the other side wounded (with a lingering blow to the hip) but able to move into his future unencumbered.

And here was this man before me -a man with kids my age who had impregnated a young girl, who didn’t run for the hills.

He didn’t abandon her.

He didn’t encourage her to abort the baby.

I imagine he had to face some ANGRY parents and possibly law enforcement.

Instead he owned it.

He accompanied her to parenting classes, assembled a team of friends and family to assist her and stayed close by her side.

I saw a man wrestling with God.

His sin was painfully obvious. It was the eye-sore in the room. Even the young knocked up sixteen year old girls felt justified that their mistake certainly wasn’t as heinous as his.

And I was reminded that in God’s economy nothing is ever black or white. And grace and forgiveness and sacrificial love trump righteousness every time.

God gave me new eyes that night. I saw myself in this man and my own struggles with failure and brokenness. The Jabbock nights flashed before my eyes where I have confronted the past and wrested with my soul.

The nights where I have ripped open the shiny facades I hide behind to expose the real me within and acknowledge the deep crevices and prickly darkness to the one who knows my most secret sins.

I saw a man who courageously faced his grimy soul and sat before me humbled and refreshed.

Not many sixty-five year old men get to be new daddies. There was humor and pain as he shared his unfortunate tale.

And it made me smile.

I believe God brings families together in the most bizarre ways.

I believe he can restore relationship out of ashes.

And I believe he can build something new and wonderful out of a contrite grandpa/baby daddy holding the hand of his greatest source of brokenness and future blessing.

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Plan B

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I love meeting young people who have a plan.  They have known since they were five years old they wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer or a mommy or a teacher. 

They are the PLAN A types.

My dad drilled this idea into my head starting in pre-school. 

“Sammy, what does PPMF mean?”

(imagine me as a three year-old with blond pigtails and a seventies smock with knee socks)

“Daddy, it means Piss Poor Planning Means Failure.” 

“That’s right honey, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

Big wink and thumbs up dad!

But sometimes our plans and God’s plans collide.

I was the Type A kid on the mommyhood track.  I had a plan to marry, have kids and graduate from college in a certain timeframe.  In fact, I was 8 months pregnant when I graduated from UCLA.  I took my last final, came home and laid out my cap and gown and cute little maternity dress.  Then I worked on decorating my girly nursery.  I gently folded the delicate baby girl clothes I received at my first baby shower and placed them in my new baby chest of drawers. 

But instead of going to my graduation ceremony and party that weekend, I ended up in the hospital with a kidney infection and pre-term labor. 

During my fifth ultrasound of  my stay in the hospital, the tech looks over at me and says, you know what sex baby you are having right? 

I tell him yes, I am having a girl.  And he starts laughing. 

“Lady, I see a penis.” 

“The heck you do, I’m having a girl.” 

And he keeps laughing because the evidence is nonnegotiable

Plan B is my awesome amazing son Kyle Riley who was supposed to be Alexis Whitney.

We like to make plans and we want them to align with God’s plan. 

(It makes things so much easier when we are all on the same page, right?)

But how do we determine God’s will for our life?

How do we know what job we should take or what person we should marry or where we should live?  How do we know what kindergarten to put our kid in or what church to attend?

Questions like these get even harder when we think we are following God’s plan and then everything falls apart.  Maybe we misunderstood God or misinterpreted the signs. 

But it’s never really that simple. 

Knowing God’s will for your life is not a science.  There is no equation. 

No “I do this =and God does this for me.”  It’s often just a matter of trial and error. 

But I’ll let you in on the secret:  The answer to knowing God’s will is to KNOW GOD; because when you know God the questions change.

Chapter 16 of the Book of Acts tells an interesting story about Paul who is preparing to go to Asia to preach. 

He believes its God’s will and we all know Paul to be tight with God.  If anyone is going to get this right it’s going to be Paul.

But something is off.

Think about when you plan a mission trip.  You raise support, send out letters, plan, pray, plan, buy a ticket and get on an airplane.  And that’s modern times.

Paul had to raise support, wait until spring (because traveling in the Mediterranean in the winter is a recipe for death) and find a crew and a boat.  It was complicated and it involves a massive amount of prayer and planning.

Acts 16:6 tells us:

“Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there.  So instead they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas. 

So Paul heads for Asia and ends up in Troas?  That’s disheartening.  He thought he heard God but maybe not. 

Was he wrong?

You may remember a time you have hit a roadblock like that.

You got into a great college, but you can’t afford it.  You meet the perfect girl and then right before the wedding the relationship unravels.  You get the job you always wanted and then you hate it.

You were pretty sure you were going in the direction God wanted you to go in and then all of a sudden you are filled with doubt because it didn’t work out the way you expected.

So when the Bible says Paul was stopped by the Holy Spirit, it’s not exactly clear what that means.

We are never told how he was told not to go –was it a storm or a vision or a buddy who said, “Paul, I’m not feeling up to Asia.”

We just don’t know.  But then he ends up in Troas and he doesn’t know where to go next.

This comforts me.  I’ve been in that Troas place lots of times.  I thought I knew where God wanted me and then all of a sudden it’s Troas time.

Sometimes our God plan doesn’t work out.  Sometimes we end up with a blue nursery with circus animals instead of a pink one with daisy’s.

And then we hit Plan B and it’s hard and awkward and we are uncomfortable.

But if we sit around, complaining and second guessing Plan B, we miss something important along the way. 

Erwin McManus, one of my favorite authors and the pastor of Mosaic Church says when Plan B hits; part of the problem is that we ask the wrong question.

Paul doesn’t know the what, when and the where of his circumstances. He doesn’t know what he is supposed to be doing or if and when it will happen. 

But he does know the most important thing, he knows the why.

His purpose and his mission are to bring glory to God with his life.

Most of us though freak out about the other questions…

  • Where am I going to live?
  • Will this relationship work out?
  • Is this the right job for me?

We are so focused on the what, when, where and how that we forget about the “why”.

Pastor Pete Wilson suggests…”Often in life, the what, when and where are not going to turn out the way you want them to.  You don’t always get to choose, but you do get to choose the why.  You may not get to choose where you work, but you do get to choose why you work.    You may not get to choose what your future is going to be, but you do get to choose how you live.”

If you can keep your focus on the why, the other questions tend to sort themselves out.

Proverbs 16:9 reminds us:

In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the LORD establishes their steps.

In this life, many of your questions will remain unanswered.  But through it all, God will never change.  This is why our faith must remain on his identity and not his activity.

Our task then is to do what we would do if we were confident God was with us.

Once we know our purpose and our mission, “who, what, when and where” become less important.

We become people who care more about the why.

Is there a situation in your life right now where understanding the why might change your perspective?

 

Cross references:

  1. Proverbs 16:9 : S ver 1; S Job 33:29; S Ps 90:12

 

Two Different Worlds

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Tim and I attend an inordinate amount of weddings –mainly because my hubby is a wedding pastor and teaches a pre-marital class. (And I would suggest because he is brilliant, hot and won’t mess up their pictures)

At one of our recent festivities we were seated at the “reserved” family table and enjoying dinner when one of the groomsmen brought over the family housekeeper and invited her to sit in an empty seat next to him. While the sweet housekeeper appeared flustered and awkward because she wasn’t dressed up, she did agree to join us and jumped up to grab the waiter for a plate.

As soon as the housekeeper walked over to the bar, the groomsmen quietly explained to our table that the housekeeper was sitting inside all alone and he wanted to include her because she was a part of the family. We all nodded and agreed it was a fabulous idea, except for his mother.

“She’s not invited son. She’s the help. I didn’t pay for her to eat with us,” the mother exclaimed in a loud and shrill voice.

I shrunk down in my chair in mortification.

Her son boldly stared his mother down. “It’s too late. I’ve invited her. Deal with it.”

The mother scowled and turned away. But a few minutes later she was back to telling us how involved she was at her church and yada, yada, yada…

And then I vomited in my mouth a little.

Because the damage of her remark lingered and it made me wonder how she viewed me –was I the lowly help too.

As the pastor’s wife, I wasn’t really an invited guest.

I looked down at the ground and chewed on my thoughts.

Do I judge like that? Do I discount people because of occupation or status?

While I hope not, I will fess up to feeling uncomfortable at Knott’s berry Farm the other day. I felt very fair-skinned and un-inked in a land of gang-type attire and attitude. I even saw toddlers with tattoos. I had to work hard to smile big and not retreat in fear.

And while nothing in me made me feel better or set apart, I did feel different and I know in awkward situations it’s easier to push away then lean in and embrace.

But as Christians that’s exactly what we need to do. We must stop trying to LOOK spiritual and BE spirit lead. We need to not only love our servants, we need to be servants. We are commanded to love our neighbor –even when they have unsupervised kids who randomly show up and stay too late, even when they party every Friday and Saturday night until 3:00am right outside your bedroom window, and even when they cuss you out on Social Media for a misunderstanding.

We need to embrace the uncomfortable.

So, although I didn’t confront the woman at the party because we don’t have that type of relationship, I wish I could have grabbed a cup of coffee with her and held her hand and looked her in the eyes and said…

I know this isn’t easy. I won’t pretend you will feel comfortable but let’s risk together.

Why don’t we invite the down-trodden in our life to the party? Let’s make room at our table for the poor and the quirky and the Mexican woman who has loved your kids and vacuumed up the dust-bunnies and scrubbed the stains out of your shirt. Let’s bless and love and love some more, even when it’s hard and even when people will raise their eyebrows.

–Sam

Throwing Away the To-Do List

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We play a game every night at dinner –day in and day out, we make our kids share what’s on their heart.  It’s called “Peak and Pit” and many of you parents probably have a similar ritual.

But last night my kid’s answers to the game was by far the PEAK of my day. 

Maybe it’s because I’m reading a book called Thirty Days to Live.  Now, just to be clear, I’m not dying –or at least not dying any more than any other day.

So here’s what my munchkins said…

“Allright kids, what went well for you today?”

“Me first, me first,” cried little Kolby, “the best part of my day was park with mama.”

My middle daughter Faith chimed in, “My best part of the day was watching “Ellen” with mommy and rubbing her head because she had a migraine.”

Kyle, my oldest son followed suit. “I had a great time at the park with mom too.  I trained agility (that’s football speak for a workout) and mom sat on the blanket and it was fun to have her watch me.”

And I know this sounds dumb, but (for me) it was HUGE PROGRESS.

I am not by nature spontaneous and carefree.  I like to have an agenda and cross tasks off my list.  My daddy taught me “piss poor planning means failure” or PPMF.  My plan makes me feel SAFE and in control.

But my kids were saying the best part of their day was mom deviating from her agenda.

First, I planned on going to the gym at 4:00pm.  I had worked all day, put dinner in the crock pot and I desperately wanted to run and lift and release for an hour.  My gym-time was scheduled in ink and my butt needed to be on a treadmill for both sanity and heart maintenance. 

But a brutal headache interrupted.

So, I sat on the ground, munched on Advil and let my daughter watch TV with me.  Generally we have strict rules about homework and no TV during the week (possibly because this child’s favorite thing to do is watch bridal design shows for eight hours straight). 

Faith was ecstatic at the change of plans.  My sweet girl saw me struggling and asked if she could rub my head. 

UMMMMM…..YESSSS!!!! 

So, we bonded and loved and laughed over Ellen (who is probably the funniest human being ever).  And eventually my head hurt less.

Faith

Then my son came down stairs with his workout clothes on and I offered to take him and Kolby to the park. 

We picked up Kolby from pre-school, handed her a sippy cup with milk and surprised her with a trip to the park. 

To a three year-old the word “park” is like “walk” to a dog.  She yipped the whole way there.

We made pretend ice cream in the sand and Kolby bossed me around, mainly because she’s a mini-control freak just like her mama. 

My son put out his cones on the grass and I watched him dance around them and sweat buckets in awe.  This almost 200 lb man with the bulging biceps and ripped abs is my little boy –all grown up.  WOW. 

I wrote in my journal yesterday, if I only had one day to live I would be more present.  I would be spontaneous, seize the moment and love my family with all my heart.

Interruptions are messy, relationships take work, and loving my kids in their love language (bridal shows with cuddles, toddler play, and watching my son run around cones) isn’t easy for me.  Although I adore my kids, I get way too caught up in giving them what I think they need –a clean house, warm meals, money in the bank, and structure.

Sometimes what they really need is just me.

And at least for this one day, my kids noticed I was more available.

How would you act differently if you only had one day to live?

 

Hobbits and A Double Standard

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My three-year old quoted JR Tolkien yesterday-Bilbo Baggins to be exact. 

Kolby swiped at her runny nose and waved her arms around for emphasis.  “Stop, stop.  I’ve forgotten my handkerchief.  We must go back.”

The whole family burst into raucous laughter as we pulled out of the driveway.

If you know the Hobbit like we do you know this tiny kid has a serious sense of humor.

 We do cover her eyes for the Ork and Goblin scenes for all you parents out right now tsk-tsking us for introducing violence to our young impressionable child.

I had to laugh the other day as I recognized the hypocrisy in my parenting.  We were at the beach and our young friend-Luke, who is obsessed with Star Wars, was asking question after question about the characters.  Luke is not yet allowed to watch the movies.  Seeing that he is only four years old this seems very appropriate.

But the problem is that our three-year old, a much younger child (in his eyes), has not only seen the movie but can also quote Darth Vader, Han and R2D2.

“Kolby has seen Star Wars?” our young friend wailed with indignation.  “But she’s smaller than me.”

‘I know buddy,” I replied.  “But she’s our third child and the third child has different rules than the first child (like you are) and someday you will understand the conundrum.”

Luke looked at me blankly, adorably pouted and dragged his sweet little feet in the sand.

I felt like a schmuck.

What I should have said is, “Here’s the deal Luke, the third child watches everything the first child had to wait years for.  As the first child, you will have more rules and be the guinea pig for your parents.  I’m sorry bud, but that’s the plight of a first-born.”

Or, maybe I’ll let him figure it out on his own.

Our son Kyle, my first-born, wanted to watch Harry Potter in pre-school.  And I as a young Christian mom I freaked out.

So, I made him wait until he was six years old and then made him read the novel along with the Bible passages on witch craft before he could watch the movie.  He also was required to explain the difference between fantasy and reality and promise to never engage in spells or incantations.

By the time Kolby rolled around, we just hid her eyes when “He who shall not be named” was on the screen.

Oh the double standard is terrible!  But it’s so hard to kick the baby out of the room when the teens are watching PG13.

Have you noticed a double standard when parenting your first and last kids?

Bad at Goodbyes

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I’m not good at goodbyes.

Sometimes God has to light a fire under my butt to get me to move on.

The moment of truth hit me hard as I prayed and reflected at Catalyst ( a leadership conference) this week. 

I kept picturing a donkey with my face on it.  Over and over I heard references to Balaam’s Ass.

Could God be talking to me?  Was I the ass?

I knew, if I was brutally honest, I was operating like a stubborn mule about leaving our church to follow my husband to his new assignment.

For the last month, I have justified staying at the church we started in Mission Viejo instead of transitioning gracefully to my husband’s current position as singles and young couple’s pastor on the Irvine campus.

“It’s because of the kids.” I tell people (and lie to myself). 

But my last stand was starting to feel yucky.  Once the church in Mission Viejo announced Tim’s departure (four weeks ago) I should have packed my bags, followed my man and waved goodbye.

Instead, I stuck my heels in the sand.

And it’s confused people.  For the last few weeks, parishioners at MV have approached me quizzically, “I thought you left?” they ask.

And I answer sheepishly, “Well, uhhhh….(stutter more and stammer), you know, my husband did, but I’m staying with the kids who are sooooo connected.”

Blank stare.

I’m like the poster child for Sarah NOT following Abraham.

But this has nothing to do with Tim, who is my HERO, it’s about ME letting go of something I love.

Even though it couldn’t be clearer it’s time to move on.

This MV campus, the one we discovered after driving around every Saturday for six months in a car with two kids is doing just fine without us. 

It’s vibrant and sustainable and our part is over. 

But walking away from the church we have poured our lives and the deepest recesses of our hearts into isn’t easy. 

For two years my entire family lived and breathed this church.  From early morning until late at night our home became the church walls.  I labored 14 hours with Kolby at the church.  My kids did their homework and explored every nook and cranny of the cavernous building.  The church building was their playground, home base and their life. 

Five nights a week and six days, the five of us (along with the Alexander’s and the Ramsey’s) built a community of believers and volunteers.  We were the spiritual version of “SEAL Team 6”  fighting to build the walls of Jerusalem in Ladera Ranch. 

About one day a week, usually interrupted by a leaky church roof or some other crisis, we collapsed comatose on the sofa exhausted and ate pizza again–the diet of a church planter.

I worked three jobs during that time –thirty hours a week as an account manager for an IT company, twenty hours a week freelancing as a writer and another 20 hours at the church as the women’s pastor and assistant to my hubs. 

And as exhausting as that sounds, it was AWESOME.

We had a clearly defined mission and purpose that made every task worthwhile and a joy. 

I cleaned almost thirty toilets each week the first few months until we had budget for facilities. 

And I loved it –every stinky, challenging, conflict-ridden second.

Eventually the church stabilized, lead teachers were brought in and we were allowed to pull back and resume normal life.

But it’s never really normal after an experience like that. 

And maybe that’s what I miss the most and ultimately what I yearn for.

Adventure.  Purpose.  Meaning.

A journey so grand it’s IRRESTIBLE.

I didn’t go back to MV this weekend; I attended our new (old) church in Irvine and opened my heart and arms up for the next season.  I might have cried a little too and mourned the past as I simultaneously embraced the future.

And Like Isaiah I cried out, “Here I am God, use me (again).”

Because the crazy wild life of following God is worth every heartache and tear and even though I left a little part of my heart in MV, I can’t wait for the next mission impossible.

Have you ever struggled to let go of something you loved as God moves you into the next season? 

Courage is Not the Absence of Fear

courageI feel pretty confident as a writer –it comes naturally and it’s in my wheel house, but public speaking on the other hand, has been a long process over the last ten years of trial and error, practice and more practice and an unfailing trust that God has got my back even when I’m TERRIFIED.

I used to be one of “those” people they quote in statistics; you know the ones who would rather die than get on a stage and open their mouth?

Clearly God has a sense of humor about my current occupation as writer/speaker.

So, I’m finally to the point where I’m mostly comfortable up front and can laugh and joke and poke fun with the crowd, but I’m still learning how to handle the unexpected without getting my feathers flustered.

Like last Monday night at Frister’s when the powers of evil tried to take me out in the women’s restroom.

I pulled up to Yorba Linda Friend’s church a few minutes early and managed to get lost in the massive worship center before I located the area I was to speak for the young women’s group.  Then I searched for the bathroom. 

Not to be too graphic…but I had to tinkle –BAD.

Yep, I was doing the potty dance and when I finally located the long bay of restrooms I ran in with great relief. 

And since I had a really full bladder, I figured I had a minute or two to check the Twitter feed on my iPhone for the Boston Marathon bombings.

(No judgment please)

Within a few seconds, I was totally engrossed in the news and pictures and terrible sadness when all of a sudden the lights turned off.

And it was pitch black, darker than dark.  

I’m not kidding –it was the absence of all light.

No windows existed in the cavernous ladies restroom of the Friend’s Church and I couldn’t see an inch in front of me except for my trusty iPhone.

I managed to button up and stand, slightly panicked, when my tiny source of illumination and hope flickered out.

My iPhone died.

Seriously?

Now real panic set in.

I figured I was in one of those bathrooms where the lights are triggered by motion.  So I frantically waved my arms around like a crazy person.

BAD IDEA SAM.

This resulted in bone crushing pain to my right arm but still no light.

Clutching my arm and purse I finally got the lock open on the door, staggered out and crashed into the sink. 

As I howled in pain, jumped up and down and dropped more BAD words than the FRIENDS probably ever heard, the lights FINALLY turned back on.

I glanced in the mirror and groaned. 

There I stood, three minutes before go-time, with black mascara and tears streaming down my face, hair and clothes completely disheveled and an arm I couldn’t lift.

How was I supposed to pull this train-wreck together?  I was pretty sure my arm was fractured. 

And then I thought about the marathon runners in Boston who gave blood after running 26 miles and the rescue workers trudging on and the people fighting for their lives with blown off limbs.

And I knew the power of a God who raised Christ from the dead could get me through the next hour.

Seconds later I walked out of the bathroom from HELL and did the job God called me to do. 

Fast forward sixty minutes and now I’m praying with a young girl in tears convicted to end her life of promiscuity.  It was humbling and healing and so REDEMPTIVE.

And I thought about our responsibility as ministers and representatives of Christ.

My job is not to entertain or put on a show or dazzle with words. 

It’s really just to show up –real and wounded and raw. 

And somehow, in spite of all our fears and clutziness and epic bathroom debacles he uses the scared and the weakest of these to show HIS glory.

 

How does God show up in your weak moments? 

Inspiration

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He’s always surprising me…

I walked downstairs yesterday morn to discover a delicate floral arrangement and our wedding program on display.  There was a sweet anniversary card celebrating our 5th year together.  But by far, my favorite gift was a poem my husband reprinted for me.

Tim wrote this poem when we were dating.  For fifteen months we walked or better yet crawled to the altar in purity.  We didn’t compromise sexually and it wasn’t easy because the spark between us was INTENSE.

During that time we were forced to learn to communicate in other ways –nonphysical ways–and we had to use words to tell each other how we felt.

This is what came out of my husband.  He’s not a literary beatnik kind of guy, but love made a poet out of him. 

Inspiration

Written 3-26-2007 – Reprinted 4-5-2013  by: Tim Keller

Inspiration is a word

That means so many things,

its true 

It clearly describes the way I feel

When I’m spending time with you

You bring me emotion, joy and passion

I’ve never smiled like this before

I can’t imagine life without you

I desire you daily more and more

From God inspiration is holy influence

Exerted on the mind and soul

From you it is like morning coffee

Invigorating, consuming, feeling whole

I feel alive when were together

Your smiles, your kisses, your joys your fears

I long for the days and nights together

Sharing breath for all our years

Our hearts have been so knit together

I look forward to all that life will be

It’s overwhelming when I am with you

Like God himself made you for me

wedding kiss 

Is it any wonder why I am so in love with this man?

–Samantha

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