Never Say Never

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I stood outside on the patio at church on a Sunday a few months ago, and vehemently stated, “I will never volunteer in kid’s ministry again.”

My eyes filled with tears as frustration coursed through my body. Now “NEVER” is a bold statement for a ministry wife who is expected to serve with a smile, but at the time I meant it. I was done. My bucket—empty!

It’s not that I don’t like munchkins—I love kids—but a bad experience with a parent got under my skin and it messed with me. A new parent not familiar with our childcare system lost his claim tag to pick up his kid. If you’ve ever been to Chuck E Cheese or Ikea you know the concept—basically you drop off the kid, get a tag, and pick up the kid with the proper check in ticket. This alleviates child abduction by a non-custodial parent and no one but you takes home your precious little angel (or monster) depending on your parenting paradigm.

Anyway the guy lost his claim tag and I very nicely asked him to get another one. I had a large class of kids and I obviously couldn’t leave them, so I pointed him in the right direction to the kiosk. He refused and then got in my face, whipped out his ID and demanded I give his kid back. Again, I calmly refused to hand over the package. So he yelled a little louder, clinched his fist and puffed up like he was going to smack me. Fortunately my fearless teenage daughter walked up at just the right moment and hustled him out of my face to help him get a new tag. Faith—you are my hero!

Somehow I managed to get all the kids back to their parents without losing my spit. Then I staggered outside and broke down in a defeated heap. How did teaching first-graders about Jesus almost turn into a beat-down of Sam?

After a few days of venting, processing and praying with my husband I remembered a few important things about the plans I make for myself and the “NEVERS” I so casually throw out:

Oh Yeah…I’m not in Control

In a perfect world we would all play along with my Sunday school agenda and everyone would play nice. The kids would put their toys away at the end of class (instead of chucking blocks at each other) and recite their Bible verse to their parents on the way home to make me look good. Oh, and those very same parents’ would thank me profusely for watching their kids for free while they got to sit in an air-conditioned church and relax. And then the unicorns would dance and we could all eat the Crispy Crèmes and stay skinny because my perfect little world doesn’t exist on this planet.

On any given Sunday, the kids are messy and squirrely and demanding. If a few listen to the lesson and learn the verse I do a happy dance. Some of the parents are chill (thank you!) but there are those who wait impatiently in line and hate the claim check process because—darn it—they have brunch to get to.

But I am not in control and honestly I don’t want to be. I believe God knows every detail and is in every detail of these Sunday morning adventures. But when I lean on my own understanding instead of surrendering to the chaos I struggle. I operate out of fear instead of faith and nose dive into anxiety.

The truth is that it’s in the messiest moments that God does his best work.  I have no idea what good was in the crazy encounter with the scary guy—but I can rest in the hope that a plan beyond my own was at work.

Your Ministry is Where the Greatest Need Is

I love it when people say they will NEVER completely surrender control to God because then he might send them to Africa to work as a missionary—so they give God 90% over and hold back the rest. I get it—it’s scary to cede over the reins for some crazy “God calling,” but that’s where I think most people have a warped idea of what ministry is. True ministry is simply identifying a pressing need in front of you and getting your butt off the sofa to help out. Ministry can be raising babies with purpose, loving a broken spouse and investing in a marriage or relationship. It can be as small as caring for a neighbor or as big as boarding a plane and taking on the social injustice God impresses on your heart. It might be Africa but it’s probably more likely something right in front of your nose.

I’ve done lots of different things in ministry—some big and some small—but right now, the need in our growing church is for helpers in children’s ministry. Ladera Ranch is the Disneyland of suburban Orange County and we have a plethora of parents that reproduce more than the average American family. So, from a church perspective that means we have more kids than most churches our size do and we need extra leaders to help guide these tiny tots to Jesus.

And if you think, “Yeah, whatever Sam, I would still Never help out with kids.” You might be surprised at what God can do with your Never.

“Never” Might Be the Opportunity You Need

Once upon a time I said I would NEVER marry a pastor. You might not know it wasn’t an easy decision for me to make. I didn’t want to live in a ministry fish bowl with people judging me all the time. I wrestled with God over it. Sure I loved God but it was the 90% thing holding me back. I wanted to marry a rich guy with a yacht who would hand over the credit card and sail away often, letting me raise my babies in peace. But God had a different plan. My life looks very different than what I thought it would be. It may not be fancy but it’s exactly what I need.

I have a wonderful husband who is up in my grill at all times, who simultaneously drives me crazy and makes me laugh—bringing endless joy to my life. Our love is messy and complicated and more than I could ask for or imagine. My silly NEVER was God’s BEST.

And Sunday School? I went back the next week to drop off my kid and the teacher wasn’t there so I felt compelled to step in and help. It was initially nothing more than pure obligation and a desire to do something alongside my teenage daughter who is a faithful volunteer.

Then I signed up for more because somewhere along the way my heart got ripped open wide and raw by these stinking little kids and I was hooked. Yes, they are exhausting, but these kids are also glimpses into God’s Kingdom—into an innocence and wonder we lose as life beats us up.

One of the little boys in my class has autism. He’s named after an angel and I don’t know what fairy dust he sprinkles over me but I am mush around him. This child has taught me to slow down and go easy on the transitions. When we switch rooms for worship and lessons he clings to my hand and trembles. Then I give him a gentle hand squeeze and he takes a deep breath and leans in to the scary. Somehow we get each other—I don’t like transitions either. I also have laser focus and get overwhelmed sometimes. Maybe I see myself in his eyes?

Another sweet girl has cancer and her bald head and joyful spirit are a sacred offering to the class. She is fragile and yet powerful—a six year old and who lives in the present—not the “shoulds” or “have to’s”, not the “hurry ups,”just the now. She teaches me to BE. I want to hold her and weep all at the same time and yet I see the haunting gift that God wields through this child to those around her and I am wrecked and taken to a Holy place in this classroom I said Never to.

Now I don’t EVER want to leave…

What are the NEVERS You need to lean into?

How do I explain this Crazy to my Kids??

My friend is at the airport on her way to Hawaii.  Her family is pumped because they are heading to the Disney Island Resort of Mickey awesomeness.

But, six hours is a long time with three kids on a plane, so she herds her adorable brood of blond tots to the potty for one last go.

And this is what she encounters…

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Text from Friend: “How do I explain this to my kids?”

I won’t treat you to the text I wrote back because it’s politically incorrect.

But I will say this.  Be very careful near airports!

There are apparently uniboob half-skirted creatures walking around with surly expressions and no one can stop them from making weird faces and peeing in this airport bathroom because the government says you can pick your gender and expression.

I must confess some confusion over the peeing part.  If you are a dude and you get a sex change, do you lose or keep the unit?  Some do and some don’t right?

(In all honesty, my parent’s wouldn’t let me see the “Crying Game” which I’m sure would have explained some of this.

Do they have fake vajayjay’s?  And how do the doctors re-pipe?  Anatomy didn’t cover this and I’m afraid to Google it on my work computer.  It’s like Jr. High again.  I laughed with all the other kids about the “69” graffiti on the wall but I didn’t actually know what it meant until college.

So how do mommies and daddies explain trans-gender to the kids when we are clueless too?

I know there are a few TV shows on the Family Channel now to help us make sense of our changing culture–“I am Cait” and “Help..my dad is turning into a woman.”  But, strangely enough, I haven’t found compelled to watch.

So, here’s what I’m telling my kids.

Mommy doesn’t personally understand the motives to move towards trans-gender, but she does understand brokenness and its ramifications.  She know sadness and loneliness and the extreme measures people will go to find the elusive happiness that eludes them.

Your purpose and meaning go far beyond your sexuality.  Your identity is not in your maleness or femaleness or even in ambiguity.

Your identity is in Christ alone.  But  culture is sending a very different message to you.

The world says we can choose our identity by choosing our gender.  Mommy disagrees.  

Male and female God created them.  In God’s image.  We are all a reflection of our creator.

Our identity is in CHRIST ALONE.

I believe Trans-gender is throwing us all for a loop but it doesn’t have too.

It’s pretty simple.  Our job is to love God and love our neighbor.  And yes, that means the trans-gender neighbor-even if it’s awkward and confusing.

The truth is we are all in some type of bondage to the lies of culture.  Some of us just wear the chains on the outside and it’s more obvious.  I too have bought into the lies of sex, beauty and materialism equaling my worth.  Only a belief in something bigger can deliver us.

Trans-gender is complicated and messy and its’ really hard to explain to kids. But it’s a conversation we all need to initiate because it’s not going away. 

I hope you wrestle with this dialogue too.  Let me know what you think and how you are explaining it.

 

–Samantha

And please, I’m cool if you disagree but keep it clean. Only grown-up comments please.

 

 

 

 

Ooops…I lost my Tolerant Bumper Sticker

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I haven’t posted much this summer.  I’ve been writing up a storm, but not much has made it past putting down the words.  I keep asking myself why?

Why am I gun-shy?  What’s going on my heart?

After a summer of crazy headlines causing massive polarization in our country, I think I feel a little worn out, frazzled and defeated.

Is anyone with me?

Every day it’s a cacophony of doom and outrage–rainbow flags and Confederate flags, the Charleston Shooting, the warning of impending annihilation to Seattle from a catastrophic earthquake and tidal wave, the Greek banking failure, baby-parts for sale and Iran nuclear deals…and on and on it goes.  Benghazi and terrorism, ISIS and missing airplanes.

More BAD news.

But even worse is having an opinion about the BAD NEWS.

And as a writer it makes me SAD.  I’m grieving.

We are losing the fundamental freedom to express ourselves as extremest minority voices amp up their scare tactics to wipe out ANY voice of dissension.

How dare I disagree with anyone these days because I will be immediately labeled a bigot, a dumb-ass, a racist, anti-Mexican, intolerant, a religious fanatic, old-fashioned, pro-life and a million other slanderous titles.

Since when did everything become so black and white?

Is it possible to love people–all people–gay and straight and different colors AND the un-born?  I think so.

Is it possible to support the tax-paying people of America, the soldiers who fight for our freedom so we can whine like babies on safe soil and the police officers who risks their life on a daily basis without getting slammed?

Why do we need someone as brash as Donald Trump to speak up regarding border protection and scream in frustration because our economy is dangling on a precipice of debt and a falsely inflated dollar?

Why?  I believe it’s fear.

I don’t agree with everything the Donald says(and I sure hope he doesn’t go independent), but at least he has the balls (or enough money) to not care about the aftermath.  At least he’s speaking up about the things many of us are afraid to articulate.

I have never been a conspiracy theorist but it feels like something is about ready to blow…

…and I think it might be us–we, the American people.

I’m a student of history.  While many of you studied business and engineering in school, I buried myself in dusty books of the past.  And while I’m no Nostradamus, the signs are clear–our country has peaked.  We are on the downward slope.  It’s the classic rise and fall of an empire.

The more rights we give (without a moral compass) the more rights we lose. (see Andy Stanley video below)   And sadly, freedom of expression is only allowed if you are TOLERANT.

If you don’t have the TOLERANT bumper sticker, you can’t play the game anymore.

I don’t feel safe to disagree without getting blasted and my web site hacked to kingdom come.  I have spoken out against pornography in the past and how it negatively effects relationships.  Every single day I get hate mail.  My firewall has a firewall to protect it from attackers.

Here is where my so-called radical tendencies lie:  I don’t believe porn is art.  (OOOHHH crazy stuff, I know)  I’ve seen first-hand how the industry chews up women and spits them out.  I abhor the sex-trafficking trade and the violation of women.  I celebrate women who keep their babies and choose not to abort. I volunteer with single teenage moms and speak up for the downtrodden.   I believe the church should step in and care for the widows and the orphans, not the government.  I might even be a rather liberal Christian. No one’s ever accused me of being pharasitical or legalistic.

I’m not politically conservative.  Let’s all digest that for a moment.  When the moderate feels under attack it’s a big red flag that our so-called democratic system is about to implode!

Truthfully, I think I’m numb. 

My cousin-a police officer in California-has to pack a meal or come home to eat on duty because people at restaurants will put stuff in his food.  Huh?

What is this craziness?  We poison the people who are supposed to protect us?  And we aren’t supposed to stick up for cops for fear of being politically incorrect in our “anti-cop” trending culture?

The real persecution is going on right under our noses.  The more we revere celebrity and the socially “loud” the more we drown out the still small voices of our communal integrity.  It’s a subtle censorship based on our fears of being labeled Intolerant.

Today, I’m speaking out against the loss of something I love–my right to feel safe to write whatever I want.  Big Brother has arrived cloaked in social media frenzies, Twitter wars, and catch-phrases taken out of context to destroy people’s character and business.

And I am sad…

Any thoughts?  Join in on the conversation!

Letting God out of the Box

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Why do I limit God? 

My husband and I sit in a café and discuss buying a car.

Tim is the type of guy who becomes an expert on something before he pulls the trigger.  So by this point, he can now tell me the make, model and location of every top-rated used car under 10k in the OC area.

We’ve narrowed it down to two options—one is new and one is used.  The new car is a 2015 Hyundai Elantra and it’s AWESOME and has all the bells and whistles we “po’ ministry folk” are unaccustomed to.  It’s a deal beyond a deal but it’s also out of our budget.

The used car is well, ummm…used.  It has great gas mileage and it’s a 2006 Prius and more fiscally responsible—meaning we can afford it. it’s also good for the environment—right?

(did I mention the new car has a back-up camera, so cool!)

“What would our friend’s do?” My husband Tim asks.

“”Well we can’t compare ourselves to our neighbors because we make about a third of their incomes.”  I reply.

“Ok, who do we compare ourselves to then?” Tim responds.

“We compare ourselves to the Ramsay’s.  John is a pastor.  Deanna is a singer/speaker and works part time.  That’s an appropriate comparison.”

Tim looks at me wide eyed.  “Yeah, but Deanna won a car on the Ellen Show.”

I nod.  “Yeah, that kind of stuff doesn’t happen to us.”

We hold hands.  Our tummies churn and we contemplate our finances.

……

This whole car business started because of a few numbers.

  1. 366,000

A big number, certainly, It’s also the amount of miles shared between our two aging but faithful SUV’s.

  1. 16 ½

That’s how many years my son has been alive.  Not so big—but a big kid milestone.  In two short weeks, my almost senior boy/man gets his license and like any teenage boy, Kyle is ready to roll

So we start a search for an another automobile that get’s more than the whopping 12 mpg of our 2004 Expedition or the 15 mpg of my newer 2006 Xterra.

The budget is limited.  We have some money saved—enough for another really crappy car—but we also have mounting expenses from Tim’s hospital bills (spine injury and subsequent surgery), three kids this year in private school and college looming. Truthfully, it’s a tad overwhelming.

Tim finds some cars online and we debate each one’s merits like it’s a resolution in the UN.

Tim’s sweet father, upon hearing our car predicament, offers us a large chunk of change.  We are thrilled and so blessed to be cared for so lavishly!

Now we had enough to get a NEWER used car.  (And yes, for all those wondering, we could have financed a newer car but are committed to keeping our overhead low rather than raising it)

Through the car ministry at our church we are put in touch with the owner of the Hyundai dealership in Tustin.   After a great phone conversation, he invites us to his dealership and we test drive a used Elantra and with a little prompting from the salesman a new one.

(ok, it’s not like he had to push real hard)

With the tremendous discount the owner of the dealership offers us (did I mention he is a generous volunteer at our main campus?), the new car is only 3 thousand more than the used car, but still, 6 thousand more than our budget.  They are going above and beyond to bless us.  The discount is even more than employees get.

Now what do we do? Do we justify spending more because it’s a great deal?

We go and sit in the 2015 model and pray, lifting this car dealio up to God. The people in the dealership probably think we are Jesus dorks—whatever.  We close our eyes, hold hands and talk to God.  We surrender up the decision and go to lunch.

…………..

Back at the cafe we make the painful choice to let the shiny new car go.  It stings a little because it’s SO AWESOME, but we probably shouldn’t have been shopping in the lot we couldn’t afford to begin with.

I leave the restaurant and call my step-dad.  He asks what I was doing at the dealership.  I tell him about the two cars and how we have decided to stay within our budget, honor our financial goals to lower our overhead, and be responsible with the precious gift Tim’s father has given us.

“Why, don’t I give you the money?  Six thousand–I’ll just give it to you.” My step-dad offers happily.

Silent tears stream down my face.  “I wasn’t asking for money.”

“I know honey, he replies.  “I love you.  It’s a gift.”

And I think back to my own words.  “That kind of stuff doesn’t happen to us,” And like Peter I am blown away at my doubts and God’s provision.

The next day we return to the dealership and climb in the new car before we write the check to take it home.  As the ignition fires up a song blasts through the car.

God in my living, there in my breathing
God in my waking, God in my sleeping
God in my resting, there in my working
God in my thinking, God in my speaking

Be my everything, be my everything
Be my everything, be my everything

God in my hoping, there in my dreaming
God in my watching, God in my waiting
God in my laughing, there in my weeping
God in my hurting, God in my healing

Be my everything, be my everything
Be my everything, be my everything

Christ in me, Christ in me
Christ in me, the hope of glory
You are everything

Christ in me, Christ in me
Christ in me, the hope of glory
Be my everything

Be my everything, be my everything
Be my everything, be my everything
Be my everything, be my everything
Be my everything, be my everything

God in my hoping, there in my dreaming
God in my watching, God in my waiting
God in my laughing, there in my weeping
God in my hurting, God in my healing

Be my everything, be my everything
Be my everything, be my everything

Be my everything, be my everything
Be my everything, be my everything
Be my everything, be my everything
Be my everything, be my everything

Christ in me, Christ in me
Christ in me, the hope of glory
You are everything

You are everything, You are everything
You are everything, You are everything
Jesus, everything, Jesus, everything
Jesus, everything, Jesus everything

We look at each other in amazement.  “You think God is trying to tell us something,” I weakly laugh swiping away at the tears running down my cheeks.

Back inside the dealership, Tim asks the salesman, “Did you turn it to a Christian station because you know I’m a pastor?”

The salesman replies, “No, generally the boys in the back play the thump-thump music when they get the cars ready.”

We give each other the look—the “OMG, I’m freaking out inside look.”

I call my step-dad on the way home and tell him the story.

“I’m a part of an answered prayer?” he says.

“Yep, you are.” I whisper.

“Huh.”

I can picture his bemused grin over the phone.

Later I thank God in my prayers.

And I think about the love of a father—Tim’s father who blessed us, my step-dad who surprised us so generously, and our Father God who blew us away with this gift.

We didn’t ask.  We didn’t beg.  We aren’t worthier than any other person out there.  But God through our parents gifted us anyway.

Everything.  He is my Everything.

One day later we sit in church and the last song of the service sounds familiar.

God in my living, there in my breathing
God in my waking, God in my sleeping
God in my resting, there in my working
God in my thinking, God in my speaking

Coincidence?—I don’t think so…

–Samantha

The One Thing You Need to Give Up For Lent

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What the Rhema?

They call it Rhema—those really bizarre tingles down your spine you get when you go to church and it’s like the pastor is speaking directly to you.

You look around, casually wiping the sweat from your brow and mildly freak out.  Seriously, did the dude read your journal?  Does everyone know this is your message?

No…they don’t.

But it’s a real thing—a God thing.

It’s Rhema.  When the spoken word of God penetrates into your soul and moves stuff around in you uncomfortably.

You get convicted.  Inspired.  Repentent,

Rhema.

And Rhema happened this week to me.

The sermon was on judgment and forgiveness.

Oh, wait my favorite topic. Not.

Un-forgive-ness

It coincides with an occurrence in my life where I’ve been asked to forgive something big–a debt incurred against me of a large magnitude.  

Did I say it was big?  Yeah.  BIG.

And I’m sorry I can’t be clearer.  I really hate it when people are vague, but to protect those I love, I’m asking for grace on this part.

Anyway, I alone can forgive this penalty.

Hot tears of sadness fell from my eyes when I was asked for mercy—because the truth is I want a little vengeance or at the very least control of the situation.

“Are you freaking kidding me?”  I thought.

Flashes of hurt washed over me.  I considered the fear, the uncertainty and the overwhelming burden I carried for years regarding this matter.

And a part of me revels in the fact that the consequence for this sin is too big to ever repay.

Too bad sucka… you messed with the wrong girl.

I sit in church on Sunday.  I’m not even at my church; I’m at a different one.  It’s like God is following me.

Forgiveness.  Judgement.  Hello Sam?

Na, na, na, na na…I can’t hear you Jesus.  Not listening.

And then God whispers, will you forgive this person like I forgive you?

More tears.

No God…it’s too much.

And then I think of MY too much.

How much I’ve been granted mercy.  Not once, not twice but seventy-times seven.

God promises to forgive my past, present and future sin.  I’m covered for the crummy stuff I will say tomorrow (which I inevitably will) and the hurt I will cause to others because I’m human and fantastically flawed.

What about my debt to God and others that is big to ever repay?

Letting Go

My husband shared a true story with me not too long ago about a guy he knows.

Let’s call him Todd—truthfully I don’t even remember his real name and Todd if I’ve jacked up your story, please forgive me.  It’s an analogy based on truth.  Don’t judge me buddy.

Todd was difficult at best.  He struggled to maintain relationships.  He had a harsh and brittle spirit, was generally demanding and rather unpleasant to be around.

Ever heard of that saying—hurt people hurt people?

Well, at some point, Todd got hurt and everyone else was going to pay for it.

Todd, like many of us, internalized his pain and unforgiveness and became a bitter hard shell of the person God created him to be.

One day Todd was struck down by a widow-maker heart attack.  For a short period of time Todd was clinically dead.

During the time of his non-responsiveness Todd recalls he was lifted up to heaven and then straight out of the pit of hell a chain came flying up and wrapped around his ankle pulling him down.  He heard a voice say, “You do not offer the forgiveness I’ve shared with you.” God identified individuals that he had not forgiven throughout his life.

And Todd cried and begged for a second chance.

Todd woke up from his unconscious state after a quadruple bypass surgery and turned his life into a radical testimony of grace and forgiveness.  He went to each person and exacted forgiveness to each one, releasing his bitterness. My husband says his personality is now radiant, like pure sunshine.  Todd has transformed into a loving, warm and caring person.  Todd chose to allow forgiveness to transform his life and he gives all the glory to God.

I imagine the next time Todd dies—the flight up will be easier.

I thought deeply about Todd’s story this week.

I want to be like Todd.  And hopefully, I won’t have to have a near-death experience to understand this radical type of forgiveness, but I do believe I will have to spiritually die to self—once again.

(Oh Whoop-de doo! Does this Christian thing ever get easier?)

I use the mental imagery I read about in a book on controlling anxiety.

I imagine myself walking up to a waterfall with a heavy bag of burdens.  They are like boulders I carry around.  I pry open the sack and pull out self-righteousness, then hold it out onto the streaming water and let it wash away.  I hold out vengeance, then anger and bitterness.  And I drop them one by one into the raging waters.

I leave it all in the waters of the spirit in a symbolic language of release and redemption.

And the hurt washes away in the waters as I am stretched…open…wide.  Ravaged by my own indebtedness to my Savior and convicted of my own sin.

How can I not let go of this debt?  How can I truly follow Christ if I am not willing to extend the mercy given to me?

It’s the Lenton season.  Will you join me in ridding your heart of unforgiveness? I can’t think of anything more important than this one thing  holding us back from living  abundant and joy filled lives.

I know it’s hard.  And I am in this with you.  We get hurt and we hold onto the pain tightly like a prize to validate our identity—but God has a better way.

The truth is forgiveness sets me (and you) free—not the one who hurt us.

–Sam

Will you pray for me this week?  My darling husband Tim is having spine surgery on Wed the 25th of Feb.  Please lift him up!  

And please let me know how I can pray for you?

 

Matthew 6:14-15New International Version (NIV)

14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

 

How it’s SUPPOSED to Be

supposed to be

It’s never obvious but it’s there all the same—lingering expectations—the unstated kind.

And it starts from day one—at least it did in my marriage.

Because we all believe marriage is supposed to be…

(fill in the box)

We stand at the altar and unknowingly dump unspoken expectations all over one another.

And we  cloak our aspirations in pretty words and flowery promises.

The pictures don’t lie.

Tim(my husband) cried during the ceremony and my grin is the size of Texas.

Because we erroneously believed marriage was supposed to (fill all our sexual, emotional, and relational needs)

We solemnly read our vows –nervous giggles spilling from my lips and Tim furiously wiping his watery eyes.

We promised to put the other first (and lied).  The crowd coos and sighs.  Then, we make a commitment before God and our guests and say “I do”, sealing the deal with a swoon and a kiss.

Reality vs. Ideals

But what if instead of PROMISES to love and cherish one another, we showed up at the ceremony with our true expectations.

(Play along with me)

“Tim, I promise to freak out when you are late, all too often put the kids first, over-react if you don’t like my cooking, chide you about parenting teens, snap when you forget to say I look pretty after an hour getting ready for our date, and go into hysterics when you ignore me when I am sick or hurting because I have severe abandonment issues.”

Samantha, I promise to get irritable when I forget to eat, expect you to manage all the housework, put work and ministry first (all too often), and snap if you ignore me when you get too caught up in your work because I need your attention too.

It would certainly make for a more honest wedding day.

Real, honest, sometimes selfish and more often than not –patterned expectations of what a marital relation SHOULD be like (in our eyes)

From our family of origin and past relational wounds we each bring an overloaded bag of expectations based on past hurts.

And each of us subconsciously EXPECTs our marriage will look like this.

Yet when all hell breaks loose and feelings get hurt—when we end up in opposite corners instead of on the same team—why, oh why are we so surprised?

Getting Honest

The questions to ponder are this: Are we bound by generational brokenness to repeat the patterns of our past?  Is it possible to strive for a different type of relationship?

Expectations –good or bad are a powerful force in a relationship.  They can influence and sometimes even determine our future because our behavior propels us towards the very things we either hope for or fear.

Expectation Management

My husband Tim loves to explain EXPECTATIONS this way…

Many years ago a friend of his dragged him to see the movie “Weekend at Bernie’s.”  The movie was panned by critics and Tim expected it to be a total dud.

But instead of hating it, he thought it was hilarious—maybe not Oscar worthy, but laugh your butt expectation fun.

So, Tim decided this was a good plan—to manage his expectations by keeping them low.

In his mind it’s better to be pleasantly surprised than terribly disappointed.

And this is a great plan as long as he knows what they (the expectations) are.  But sometimes it takes intense reflection and work to know the deeper areas of our hearts—the expectations we carry without realizing it.

In marriage, like movies, it’s vital to be honest about your expectations (to the degree that we know them) for your relationship—because without transparency there is ONLY disappointment when the other person fails to meet your un-communicated needs.

Do you hate fighting and believe ALL conflict is bad?  Are you always waiting for the shoe to drop and disaster to strike because you lived through a divorce?  Do you believe marriage is a prison or a ball and chain holding you back from the good life?

Or do you believe marriage has its ups and downs and you are committed to seeing both through?

Don’t underestimate the power of these expectations.

But don’t overestimate their power either, because there’s a power that’s even greater than expectations: God can heal our brokenness and it’s usually through the comfort and arms of the spouse pissing you off the most.

Healing the Wounds

Yes, I did say YOUR spouse will be the one to help you heal.

But you have to choose the marriage.

Choosing to behave differently than your past is possible.

We don’t have to live lives as victims of the past.

John Townsend and Henri Cloud say this,

Those who blame external circumstances for their situation do not find what they want.  Those who work on themselves, take responsibility for dealing with their circumstances, and then take action, have success.”

Motivation moves towards personal responsibility.

Marriage experts agree that both before and after you marry; you must be intentional about growth in your relationship.

Tim and I are very open about seeking counseling in our marriage.  It is a non-negotiable with us.  It keeps us growing personally and relationally.  It also keeps the fires lit and the hope strong.

The best decision we have ever made is to invest in our marriage.

We have decided to learn everything we can about ourselves and each other, as well as practical tools to build our skills and strengths.

We study relationship books.

We go to relationship classes, support groups and seminars.

We take the time to do relationship inventories and assessments.

We found a good counselor.

And we are never above humbly asking for prayer and guidance when we hit the sticky spots.

We don’t have it all figured out—quite the opposite—but we are committed to the journey of figuring it out together.

If you expect to hit some rough patches but have intentionally equipped yourself and your relationship to handle them, you’ll be able to navigate anything that arises. You’ll also know what your resources are and be able to ask for appropriate help as needed. If you intend to learn more and more about yourself and your partner as years go by and follow up those intentions with action, your relationship will stay fresh and current. If you expect that the investment of time and energy in marriage pays off, and add intention to your expectations, you will do what is needed and required to develop a strong, healthy relationship.”

 

Resources: All-in-One Marriage Prep: 75 Experts Share Tips and Wisdom to Help You Get Ready Now, www.allinonemarriageprep.com

Top Ten Reasons to Celebrate Tim Keller on his 45th Birthday!

 

I wrote this 4 years ago!  (Geez we looked good back then Keller)

Tim, you have walked by my side through the loss of both my parents, too many miscarriages to count, the raising of our three amazing kids, babies and Tweens and teens, planting a church and building a home. I love you more now than ever because our journey has taken us through the fire and though we are a little crusty and singed, we are burnt toast together! Always together! 

Baby you rock my world!  Happy 45!

–Samantha

10.   Ex-tro-vert…for complete definition: refer to Tim Keller.  This man is the Red Bull of relational Kool-Aid.  His distinct insignia, a loud vibrant voice, can generally be heard in a large crowd or on a microphone.  Tim has more friends than anyone I know, and yet somehow manages to make each one feel special, placing a high value on personal relationships.  People energize Tim and he becomes more fully alive engaged in the social realm of humanity.  It just isn’t a party until Keller arrives!

9.  Sauce—Otherwise known as “Condiment Keller” or sometimes “Saucisaurous.” Keller is a sauce connoisseur, a guru of taste, a man who knows what he likes and will take an hour schooling a waitress to get it just right. There is no room in our fridge for food, thanks to the Costco sized vats of condiments.  Think Sally, in the movie, “When Harry met Sally.”  Get the picture?

8.   Style—though fatherhood, marriage and church planting may have added a tad more conservative tone to the Tim Keller ensemble, the dude still has panache.  From the ocean view bachelor pad, closets full of hip clothes, to the blue convertible caddy, wicked cool sunglasses, passport full of exotic stamps, retro decor, and the fact that he only dates hot models (past tense), Keller is suave incarnate.  When he walks down the street, you can hear the James Bond theme song playing in the background.  Who else could carry off a man bag with such“je ne sais quoi” bravado?

7.  Club Music—from the underground of the Seattle scene, Keller emerged as a pastor who likes techno, trance and house.  Imagine waking up every morning to thumping base and complex rhythms repeated over and over and over. Now this may sound like a non-sequitur…pastor and club music, but Keller manages to pull it off with unique flair, completely confidant in his individuality and discerning taste.

6.  Die-hard Mariners Fan—this man is loyal. Clearly, the worst team in Major League Baseball will not detract him.  He knows every player, stat, and RBI in the history of the Mariners program.  He even flew back to Seattle five days before our wedding for the opening game of the season.  Most grooms are fretting over the last-minute details…but Tim knows that without his presence the Mariners might not win, I mean lose again.

5.  Eagle Scout—Tim actually earned this esteemed Boy Scout honor.  And, as an adult, it plays out in his high-capacity to find solutions.  He a “get it done” type of guy and a great person to have around if you get lost in the woods and need to fight off a violent posse of raccoons.

4.  Poker Shark—Someday the World Series of Poker will bow before the kneel…that is, Keller will show the world who’s the real Ace!

3.  Fun—We like to say that Pastor Keller puts the fun in funeral and the first two letters in FUN!

2.  Tim is a is Hero— Only a man called by God would take on the burden and care of a single mom with two little kids, and then love them…truly love them like they are his own.  His hair might be a little grey from all the stress, but his heart, oh…his heart grows bigger daily, especially now that baby can say, “Hi Daddy” and claps when he walks in the room.

1. A Great Pastor to Many—Tim is humble, authentic, committed to His Lord, and has a true minister’s heart.  As a caring shepherd to his Mission Viejo flock, he creates an environment of celebration and acceptance.  He is a lover of God’s people and an inspiration to those around him. He carries the heart of our church in his pocket and we, the church, carry Tim in ours.

Happy Birthday Tim Keller!

Love, your adoring wife, studly son, beautiful daughter, and pretty baby.

We’ve Got (the) Spirit ,Yes We Do! We’ve Got Spirit, How About You?

Sometimes the title of “Christian” makes me cringe. 

I love God.  I walk beside Jesus and I believe his Word to be true, but when I see Christians browbeat others with rules I want to hide my fishy bumper sticker and run.

In a bizarre series of events a girl on my daughter’s cheer team went AWOL.  It’s not a big deal normally when a girl quits a team, but it’s a big deal when the girl quits the team the day after the group has won a spot to Nationals.  Without the sixteen members the team would be forced to forfeit.

The coaches suggested finding another girl to replace her.  The girl was not on our roster although she was of the same age and skill.  There are rules to protect teams from adding a “ringer” or a girl with superior skills, but this instance was not aimed at gaining an unfair advantage.  If anything, the replacement was more of a disadvantage in the added effort and time spent to bring her up to speed—although the switch might not have technically adhered to the letter of the law. It was a gray area scenario they wanted to investigate further.  They acknowledged that if someone wanted to make a big deal regarding the replacement the team could be disqualified.  They asked the parents if we were willing to take the risk.

All of the parents agreed to move forward understanding the consequences.

One mother walked up to the emergency meeting late.  She had not heard the full and detailed explanation but only picked up the last few words of the conversation.  She then interrupted, “I will not have my daughter be a part of anything questionable. I am a strong Christian and I don’t think this promotes the right values.  If we decide to move forward this way I am pulling her out.”

She walked off grumbling about how the Holy Spirit made her speak up in the midst of deceit.

If she had stopped for a moment and turned around she might have noticed the havoc her words left; in her wake of righteousness stood fifteen girls –including her daughter sobbing their hearts out. 

Now missing two girls, the coaches threw up their hands and canceled the rest of the season.  All their hard work went down the drain –in the name of being a “good Christian.”

OUCH!

Now if the Holy Spirit told her to speak up then by all means she needed to voice her concerns.  We are all held accountable to God for our actions. 

But I have to wonder if this wasn’t an example of the spirit of the law vs. the law?  Were these girls hurting anyone? No.  Were they trying to steal or cheat their way into an award? No.  They simply wanted a chance to compete –something they earned. The letter of the law is the rule that is put in place “not to add a un-rostered member.”  The spirit of the law is “don’t bring in a highly skilled cheerleader to get an advantage.”

I don’t know the mind of Christ.  His will is a mystery.  But I do know he was a bit of a rebel.  He healed on the Sabbath; he touched lepers and bleeding women and Samaritans.  He messed with the money changers and turned over tables in a fit of anger. 

And I imagine he might care more for the hearts of impressionable young girls than for a rulebook made up by a bunch of business savvy/aging cheerleaders who charge way too much money to let our girls climb on a stage and perform. 

Was this an issue of integrity or legalism?  While I don’t disagree with the focus on honesty I do take issue with self-righteousness in the name of Christianity.  It seems like what the parents and the girls heard that night was “because I am Christian, you don’t get to compete.” 

Only 16 percent of non-Christian young people under 30 say they have a “good impression” of Christianity, and a mere 3 percent feel that way about evangelical Christianity, according to the Barna Group, a Christian market research organization. As recently as the 1990s a majority of non-Christians viewed Christianity favorably.”

Research reveals that young people today consider their churches as fear-based, risk-averse, isolated, shallow, antagonistic to science, simplistic and judgmental about sexuality, and inhospitable to questions or doubts.

The biggest complaint on the under 30 crowd is that “Christianity in today’s society no longer looks like Jesus.”

Fortunately, our coaches found an airtight and “100% by the cheer rulebook” way to work in a new girl which I am confident they would have done to begin with, because their credibility was on the line too. 

God did provide another way, one I think we are all more comfortable with.  I believe the rules are in place to protect although in some instances I believe the heart trumps being right for right’s sake.

I’m thrilled my kid still gets a chance to compete, but I still have a sour taste for the damage done to young girls who will never forget the night the “Christian lady” crushed their fragile hearts.

 Source of Photo: http://pinterest.com/hannahschliep/

Not so Compassionate

The other night I spoke to a group of gals at Birthchoice –a nonprofit supporting the parents of unplanned pregnancy.  It was the usual crew of girls albeit a few new faces.

The topic was pregnancy and exercise and the level of interest was slim to none.  I know not every talk I give will raise the roof, but is a small rumble too much to ask for?

One of the new ladies was either mentally disabled or had fried her neurons from excessive drug use.  I was warned by the leader that she had been very disruptive the week before and interrupted the speaker constantly.   I prayed for Holy Spirit intervention or at the very least, enough humor to keep it light.

Every few sentences I uttered, the woman chimed in.  I found out it was her fourth pregnancy and she walked an hour a day and the names of her kids and a thousand other details all while I was supposed to be speaking.

I kept thinking of Henri Nouwen and the lessons Jesus was trying teach me about compassion and empathy but my frustration level subtly rose notch by notch with every interruption.

I asked the girls a few questions to figure out their lifestyle and discern their difficulties in finding balance between exercise and babies, work and education.  

  1. How many of you work?                              None
  2. How many of you are in school?                One

And then I realized how my stupid my questions were and I got pissy and a little defeated.  One of the girls had been showing off her hair extensions earlier and when I looked up, she flipped her glorious locks over her shoulder. 

I think it’s what set off my internal envy switch.

I am standing up speaking and what’s going through my mind is pure evil…This is so unfair!  I want hair extensions for my scrawny tresses but they are too expensive and my kids need new shoes.  Some days I want to stay at home and not work two jobs to pay the mortgage and all the sports fees and endless activities for my kids; so what gives you the right to be lazy and Welfared and sooooo relaxed while I have heart palpitations and still take more time out to volunteer and share with you how to exercise when you are going to laugh at me and eat Cheetos anyway and then just have another baby? (was that a run-on sentence or what?)

After an exhausting thirty minutes, I finished up and exited quickly.  Normally, I hang out and talk with the girls but I needed to sort out my heart and emotions.

Jesus clearly needed to take the wheel back from Satan.

Here is what I discovered once I calmed down and dug into my crusty soul.  Like everything in life, nothing is black and white.  I admire these women for choosing life and not aborting.  I love them as sisters in Christ and I can champion and promote their desire to overcome adversity and grow into responsible citizens and loving mothers. 

But I cannot take on their burden if or when they choose to operate with entitled and lazy behavior, nor will I condone it. 

I volunteer and give because God called me to encourage and love these women and it’s possible only a few will hear the message and respond.  But even if it’s only one or two or even none, they are precious to God and to me.  My agenda is love and to come alongside them -not  to fix.  And in all honesty, at my worst, I am no different.  I too want to be coddled and cared for and take the easy road some days. 

But at my best, when someone believed in me –even when I didn’t believe in myself, it allowed me to experience a sliver of hope and to dream of a different and courageous life. 

A life where God can take a selfish and self-righteous girl –despite her complete and utter unworthiness, and allow her the grace to grow and minister to other women. 

 

 

 

Dr. Gandhi, Yoga and a Stress Test

I took a stress test yesterday but strangely enough it wasn’t too stressful.  It might have actually been the most relaxing part of my week. 

A stress test involves getting hooked up like the Bionic man with wires and sticky patches that suck your hair right out of the follicle.  Then they place you on a treadmill and slowly turn up the pace from a leisurely stroll to a Mt. Everest run/climb.  I was holding on for dear life at the end and panting like a dog on a hot day. 

But it felt good to run hard and work off some steam.

Work has been extremely stressful, finances tight thanks to our new Lion(i.e. private school tuition for Kyle), Kolby had the hand, foot, and mouth virus all week and then there’s my pesky little heart issue –which makes me more stressed.  It’s like a slippery slope of heart palpitations, fever blisters and sweaty pits.

I know I’m supposed to give this all to Jesus but clearly I’ve been grabbing my burdens back and stuffing them in my backpack. 

My Dr. came into read the results.  He almost didn’t let me take the test because my blood pressure was all wacky when I arrived-probably because I came straight from work, but then he remembered he had the day off on Friday and he didn’t want to miss his golf game so he let me take the test.

Here’s the crazy part –after I worked out my heart rate looked all pretty and even –in nice little up and down rhythms.  Once I let go and relaxed into the run my body fixed itself. 

The Dr. looked at me strangely.  “Usually when we test, it goes the opposite way.  Which means you are stressing yourself right into a pace maker.  Do yoga, cut back on the stress and figure out how to relax young lady.”

But Dr. Gandhi doesn’t realize how much I hate yoga after a bad experience with a man in front of me who forgot his underpants and wore tiny shorts.

So, unless I want a pace maker I guess I better learn how to chill.  The funny thing is I’m a pretty mellow person and I don’t even realize I am stuffing stress.  I have a secret little pocket in my heart where I hide emotions and cram pain into a bunch of toxic ickiness.  Then it explodes into shingles or heart issues.

I keep singing “Jesus take the wheel,” in a raspy little voice hoping for a Holy Spirit band-aid when I should probably be on my knees begging for a fire-hose washing of the gunk weighing me down.

I really don’t want to go to Yoga…

But maybe I’ll try to run again and whisper to God and find my rhythm.

 

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