Three Ways to Fight

My husband John has been in the leadership boxing ring with a maddening challenge for the past couple years.

I’m on the sidelines, literally jumping up and down, shadow-boxing in our kitchen and yelling “Go to the mattresses!” when he reports the latest crazy atrocities at the end of a day.Unknown

I’m a DO-er!!  I want to take out an Uzzi and FIX this now!  Ok, as a Jesus-follower that might not be the best plan, but for the love of justice!!!

Trying to ratchet back the passion and put on the mantel of patience John seems to wear so easily, I’ve been reflecting on the different responses to THE ROCK AND A HARD PLACE LEADERSHIP CHALLENGES I see in Scripture.  Here are three I’ve come up with:

1.  Stand still. Do not fret.  The Lord will fight for you. We see this in Moses’ life and leadership.  He says, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.” (Ex. 14:13).  Psalm 37:7 says, “Be still before the Lord and with patiently for Him”  Pray and wait.  (definitely not my strong suit!)

2.  Step cautiously.  Be patient and wise and measured in response.  Go slow. The Lord is at work in ways we can’t see.  I see this in the account of Nehemiah, who had a deliberate rhythm of prayer and then action as he led the Jews in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.

And in Esther, who, with Mordecai, created a wise strategic plan to advocate for her people who were in trouble.

3.  Set aside all the “rules”.  (my favorite :)) Seek a new way. Innovate.  Fight, in the strength of the Lord.  I see this in David‘s battle with Goliath.  The armor of conventional warfare didn’t fit (1 Samuel 17:32-50).  Something radical and innovative was called for.  Sometimes we even call this “the third way”.

Of course it isn’t always (or even usually) a clear cut #1, 2, or 3, but it’s been helpful to me to think about these.

Do you have a challenging situation you’ve been praying about?  Which of these approaches do you naturally gravitate towards?  Which is the most unnatural? Can you think of others?

If you sit with open hands, imagining your ROCK AND A HARD PLACE THING, still before God, how might He lead you?  Maybe it’s different today than how He will lead you tomorrow, but just for today what’s your “fight” strategy?

 

5 Questions About…Disappointment with God

Conrad family-40Emily and her husband Steve are dear friends of ours. I had the delight of working with Steve in ministry and traveling with him in Congo before he knew Emily.  Then, John and I had the privilege of performing their wedding ceremony together!  This remarkable young couple inspire me with their faith and authenticity.  It’s an honor to walk alongside them on their journey!  I asked Emily 5 Questionsbecause I knew she’d be honest and reflect from a heart seeking God.

1.  Over the past year and a half you’ve had an experience that has been deeply painful and disappointing.  Can you describe what happened?

In early 2013, my husband and I got the green light to travel to Congo to meet and pick up the little girl and little boy that we were in the process of adopting. We had spent 13 months previously preparing our home and our family for the addition of 2 more little ones, a little girl 18 months old and a boy 2 ½ years old. Although we knew it would be crazy to have 4 little kids in our home, we felt that adoption was always supposed to be a part of our family’s story and felt that it was a desire that God had placed in our hearts.

We had been prepared for the fact that the little boy we were adopting might be a little older than what we had originally been told, perhaps 6-9 months, however, when we met him in Congo he was clearly at least 6 ½ and was a very angry, emotionally fraught child, quite prone to physically aggressive outbursts.

Over the next month and a half, it became very apparent that we were not the right family for him, nor him for us and thus we began the disruption of his adoption. My other children were traumatized by him, including a lot of physical aggression towards the little girl we adopted from Congo.  My other 2 children became quite withdrawn from us. The boy was placed, via our adoption agency, with another family in another state.

Not only was this experience disappointing – our family did not turn out the way that we had pictured it - it completely turned my faith and view of God upside down, and inside out.

2.  What were your expectations going into adoption?

My expectations going into adoption were that they were almost foolproof – how could anything go awry when we clearly felt God lead us into adoption? If God was leading us to take on this big, only-by-faith adventure, then how could it fail? Why did it fail?

Another expectation is that my husband and I are really good parents – quite grounded, loving, supportive and felt like we could handle anything prior to this unraveling. I thought we could do anything; after all, “if God is for us who can be against us”, right?

3.  What adjectives would you have used to describe your experience of God’s character before this, and what adjectives would you use to describe Him now?

Before – secure, protective, for us, with me, got Him all figured out.

Now – unknown, mysterious, complicated, not one to be boxed in, evasive.

4.  What have you done to try to process this experience?  What has been most healing?

I don’t think I realized the gravity of the situation I was sitting in. This experience took me from a grounded, confident, happy person and turned me into someone who battles doubts, fears, depression, and at times I’m joyless and rather unsure-of-myself. I have tried to process this experience with close girlfriends, some who have been through similar hellish experiences. My mentor has been rock solid for me, especially when I didn’t think there would ever be light in my life again. About a year after it all happened, my husband convinced me to start seeing a therapist, which has been good and hard work all at the same time. I have also been on medications to help me move through this dark valley.

I think what has been most healing for me has been reckless honesty, with myself and with those I trust most in my life. I am trying to be more transparent and more authentic, even when the real me I bring to the table isn’t my favorite me these days. I think it has also been quite healing to move through the stages of grief – all of them – anger, sadness, depression, letting go and to realize that grief is circular, not linear.

5.  What do you feel like you’re learning?

I am learning my limits and my bandwidth for pain. I am learning that…

  • Everyone will hit a hard place in life and there’s no way to predict or prepare for it
  • You can’t go around the pain, but you have to go through it.
  • You can’t speed up the healing process, no matter how hard you might try. :)
  • I am also learning the beauty of community; my husband and I have said over and over that we could have never made it through this season if it weren’t for our incredible community of friends and family and church.

Resources that have been helpful to Emily: Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, Ruthless Trust by Brennan Manning

 If you liked this post, you may also like Mind the Gap.

Why Underwear is Important

Did you know that the average American woman owns approximately 21 pairs of underwear? About 10% of women own over 35 pairs.

Did you know underwear can mean the difference between a girl who’s educated with a chance for a bright future, and one who’s not?

Sometimes it just blows my mind how much I don’t know.  Recently I learned some not-fun facts about the challenges facing women in Uganda, including the challenge of underwear.  But I also learned something I can do about it.  And boy that feels good.

I’ve written before that our daughter Maggie is working in Northern Uganda this summer at Pader Girls’ Academy.  They teach and give vocational training to girls, many who have escaped the Lords’ Resistance Army, but can’t return to their communities.  They have become outcasts because of the stigma of being raped by soldiers or having babies out of wedlock.

But even after they have a tiny glimpse of hope for the future through education, there are still hurdles.  For example, I learned that girls often miss about 5 days of school a month when they have their period because they don’t have sanitary pads.  Or underwear.

Are you freaking kidding me?

So here’s what Maggie has been doing.  She is teaching the girls to write letters to different companies to empower them to advocate for themselves.  They’re writing letters to personal hygiene companies asking for donations.  How cool is that?

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“I am a total orphan girl who have lose both parents and up to now am alone and am struggling for my school fee and requirements and am always working in people’s garden to get some resources. But not only me but also other student are also working for the resources like pads, knickers, soap and towels.  And we are missing class because of menstruation period…if these things are provided, it will make learning to be easy for us girls.  And I would like to be a nurse in future.”

Maggie’s hope is to have a closet at the academy, stocked with supplies that could be accessed by any student in need.

But she thinks the most sustainable thing for the long-run is teaching the girls to make reusable pads.  10347568_10100451551774059_4621921397259177387_nHer hope is to raise money to buy materials for them to continue sewing (and selling) their own pads and soap.
Meanwhile, we’ve done a drive to collect underwear and pads to send over with Maggie’s husband, Austin, when he goes the beginning of August. This “operation underwear” is important because underwear and sanitary pads make consistent education possible, and education can change the trajectory of the life.
What can you do? Glad you asked!
1.  Learn more about how to help without hurting. One of the things we’ve learned when we encounter problems around the world, is to resist swooping in with our super hero cape on.
Sometimes in trying to help, we actually hurt the folks we care about.  We create dependence, or show lack of respect, or cultural insensitivity, and it becomes more about us feeling good about ourselves and our generosity than making a sustainable difference.  If you want a great book to read on this, check out Toxic Charity.photo-143
2.  Ask yourself, “What do I know that I can do something about?  Investigate, pray about a plan, then do it.  Like I wrote Monday, start small.  Like mobilizing people to donate underwear to change the trajectory of the future of girls in Uganda.
Want to learn more about Pader Girls Academy and the challenges women there face?

How do You Carry a Tree?

Fourteen years ago we took our daughters to Africa for the first time.  We spent a month there on a sabbatical.  One day we saw a woman walking down the road with a tree balanced on her head.

Yep, you read that right.  A whole tree.

You see people balancing a lot of unusual things on their heads (or on their bikes) in Africa, but this was the first and last time we saw a tree. (apparently it’s not THAT rare cuz I was able to Google this picture!)

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That night, our daughter, Maggie, walked into our room, carefully balancing a book on her head.

“I’m working up to a tree.” she said.

Since then, Maggie’s “tree” has been a dream of helping underprivileged girls and women around the world to be healthy and happy and to carry their own dreams.

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Working up to a tree included subsequent trips back to Africa in different capacities to listen and learn more about the challenges there.  Then a degree in International Affairs and now she’s working on a Masters degree in Public Health.

This summer she is working at Pader Girls Academy in Northern Uganda.  More on that Wednesday, but til then, I’ve been thinking about how we all can “work up to a tree”, whether that’s in development or something else that’s just, well…big.  And difficult.

Here are two questions:

1.  What’s your “tree”?  What’s the one holy burden (or discontent) that maybe God has put on your heart?  For my friend Lynne, it is a “tree” of peace in the Middle East.  For my friend Gary it is justice for the oppressed.  For Sarah it’s a desire to close the education gap for inner city kids.

2.  What’s the “book” you can start with?  The small thing?  For Lynne it was inviting Israelis and Palestinian visitors into her home for conversation.  For Gary it meant learning about the specific injustices in different parts of the world. For Sarah it was tutoring one kid at a time before running a whole tutoring program.  For all, it started with prayer.

In the comments, might you tell us about your “book” or the “tree” you’d like to work up to?

 

5 Questions About…Risk

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Sharon is a dear friend who both inspires and intimidates me with her amazingness.  She has guest-posted here before.  I’m so thankful that in the midst of a busy, stressful time, she was willing to share some more of what she’s learning.  Here’s the next in our 5 Questions About…series.

1. Recently you took what must have felt like a huge risk. Can you tell us about it?

Eight months ago, I resigned from a job I had loved and made the leap to running my own business. This happened after an extended season of prayer and discernment, so by the time I made the change, I felt certain it was the right thing to do.

Yes, there were practical risks involved: leaving a certain income, benefits, 401K; losing the familiarity of my office and team. And as a single person, I didn’t have a safety net of a second income, back-up insurance, or a support person to pick up slack in other areas of life. But I was also very clear about why I was making the change: 1) to be faithful to what I understood God was putting in my hands; 2) to learn and grow through a new challenge.

So when I framed it that way, I realized that even if my business failed (and I had to move into my parents’ basement), I would experience God in deeper ways and learn things I wouldn’t otherwise. Continue reading

When We Can’t See the Angel Armies

I know this is a long post, and it’s still just a tiny bit on a hard topic. I’m posting it because I know many people are facing really hard battles. If you want to listen to the whole message, it’s here.

This past weekend I got to preach at our church.  It is a privilege and a blast for me, but it is also very humbling when you’re preaching the weekend after the 4th of July to a handful of the faithful, and the old guy in the front row is asleep before you even start speaking. Too much celebrating with root beer floats?

Anyway, I got to preach on a passage I love – 2 Kings 6:8-23. The Israelites are being attacked by the enemy Arameans.  Map-Aram attacking

Elisha’s servant is afraid and here’s what happens:

16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

17 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyesLord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.elisha-army

It’s a story about Elisha, his servant, and trying to see God in hard circumstances.  I love this passage because it highlights the challenge of the with-God life: to pay attention and recognize His presence and power with us in the everyday situations and the dramatic moments. Continue reading

Birthdays, Feeling the Awesomeness, and a Spiritual Practice

A little re-post from a couple years ago…Have a happy Monday and remember you’re awesome! (even without a hat)

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Here’s an email one of our daughters sent to friends recently, asking them to save October 15th.  Why that day?   Here’s what she wrote:

“Because it’s magical.  Because it’s the day of my birth!  And I demand that you all celebrate with me.  I don’t have an exact plan yet, but you can assume that it will involve you all, celebratory beverages, and you all telling me how glad you are that I was born.

I love it!  Now of course she was writing that tongue in cheek.  She’s not at all arrogant, but unlike most of us, she does have a pretty healthy self-image. 

I, on the other hand, am more like the rest of the world, and deal with insecurity in varying degrees depending on how many cookies I’ve eaten, a song I heard on the radio, and the barometric pressure that day.

I love Mark Batterson’s thought: “Our focus determines our reality.”

Am I focusing on ME and how I stack up compared to everyone else?  Or am I focusing on GOD and the truth that I am a beloved child of His and He delights in me? Continue reading

5 Questions About…Infertility

IMG_0002Happy 4th of July!  As you read this, chances are I’ll be with my friend Cathy Wood, watching the parade, or fireworks or laughing about how we both could have been great spies.  There is so much I admire about Cathy.  Her ability to forgive hard things.  Her indomitable positive spirit. Her kindness, and listening ear.  We’ve been in a couples small group for about 25 years and she’s also one of the “7” girls, so I’ve been privileged to walk through a lot of life with her!  All of us either know someone or are someone who has wrestled with a dream to have kids, but an inability to make it happen.  I always benefit from her wisdom, so I’m thankful she agreed to share today!

1. What has been your experience with infertility?
We struggled with infertility and trying to create a family over about a decade.  Although this time is in the rearview mirror of my life, I can readily recall the cycle of doctor appointments, shots, temperature taking and miscarriages…periods of great hope and equally great despair. Thankfully, by the grace of God He brought us thru it all.  He has graciously put our family together thru primary/secondary infertility, adoption and natural birth.

2. What was the hardest thing for you while you struggled with infertility?
I think for me the hardest thing was believing that God was trustworthy and that I could trust him with the outcome. I could pray “ah yes this is a light and momentary trouble” but my heart was breaking. My borders defining God needed to be blown wide open. What did it mean to follow him? My current view wasn’t holding up. I kept thinking that God wanted me to do that “one thing” and then I’d get pregnant. Not sure what that one thing was but I kept trying to guess.

I spent lots of time staring at what I thought was a road block with blinking lights, razor wire and a sign that said ”keep out”. I could see others beyond the gate with children but I couldn’t get there. A turn away from this road to another path was dark and unknown. I had no idea what it would mean or require. I DIDN’T WANT TO GO! The decision really became do I go alone or with God? Slowly and gently (as I am stubborn), God turned my heart towards Him and then the road He had for us.

3. You have had children now, but what would you say to women who maybe are never able to conceive?                                                                                                  “I am so sorry” feels like the only one for me because no feeble attempt by me could make sense this side of heaven. God needs to handle that one. My sincere hope for them would be that they come to know and believe that God loves them and has not lost sight of them.

4. What advice would you give to those who are walking alongside women experiencing infertility?                                                                                                   It is a privilege and holy ground to be let into a person’s life at any time but especially when it is a painful season. Being a safe place to share deep emotions and process is a gift to another. I think it’s a way God redeems our own experiences. Pray, trust God and show up. He’ll do the rest.

5. What did you learn about God and yourself during your season of infertility?
Ha!  Well I would love to say I never doubted… that I have the gift of unshakeable faith but I don’t want to be struck by lightning! I tend to be a bit more of a rebel. What I learned was that God is gracious and merciful. When I began to seek Him, stumble after him and look for Him in the everyday, not just answering this big prayer, I discovered He was there and had been there all the time with small surprises of Himself, the love of friends, reminders of His grace and answered prayer in his time.

Additional Resources Cathy found helpful:

Disappointment With God by Phillip Yancey

If you liked this post, you might also like The Spiritual Discipline of Plan B.

Continue reading

Holding My Breath

It’s summertime, which for me conjures up memories of being at the “Lake House” with my cousins, perpetually in a wet swim suit, rarely out of the lake.  One of the many games we would play was “who-can-hold-their-breath-longest-without-dying”.

Ok, it wasn’t a real active game, but you know…simple pleasures.  And nobody actually died so our parents considered it a win.

Sometimes, as adults, without even thinking about it, we play life like the  “who-can-hold-their-breath-longest-without-dying” game.

When I started running, I became much more aware of the importance of rhythm and rest, and basics. Like breathing.  And not holding our breath til we, you know, pass out.

This is not about Sabbath, but Selah. Selah is a term used mostly in the Psalms and a few times in Habbakuk that is a bit of a mystery.  Scholars aren’t positive what it means, but they think it means “rest” or “pause”.

Mark Batterson says, like in music, if Sabbath is a full rest, maybe Selah is a sixteenth rest.  A chance to catch your breath.

Or maybe Selah is the life jacket that helps us pop up above the water of everyday stress.

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If, as Eugene Peterson says, Sabbath is a day of “shutting down and shutting up.” maybe Selah moments are those in your day where you stop to think about breathing.  Reorient, and remember that you’re not in control, but you know the One who is. Continue reading

One Thing I Want to Know When Life is Hard

It’s summertime, and if you’re anything like me you’re drinking deeply from the cup o’ awesome.  The smoky smell of barbecue and friends gathered on the patio, an icy drink after a sweaty bike ride, boating on the lake as the sun sets (EVERY lake in Minnesota is THE lake), the smell of fresh cut grass, and kids running through the sprinkler… This is my neighborhood.  This is my summer.IMG_2316IMG_4309

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But this Norman Rockwell and Mayberry picture exists in stark contrast to the conversations I’ve been part of the past few weeks.  Conversations permeated by the aroma of despair and disappointment, a thirst for redemption and healing in hard situations where spouses aren’t showing up, and parents grieve over the choices their kids are making and people can be just plain mean.  And we want to fix it all, using our plans, our timeline with a little bit of God sprinkled on top.

Isn’t that THE story of all of us, starting way back with Adam and Eve?  We want to be God.  Period.  We want control, but we’re not capable. And so God brings us to the end of ourselves time after time  And we once again bow down, draw close, seek Him…and submit to a plan better than ours – a plan that we may not see clearly this side of heaven.

In all of these conversations, hearing so much heaviness, I’ve been asking myself, if not to fix, what IS our role in community?

One small inkling from the Holy spirit came from an unlikely place.  We decided to host a backyard bbq for our neighborhood.  DSC00423Now, as someone who hosts a lot of gatherings in her home, let me tell you, these things are always messy and never turn out the way you plan (much like life).

It rains, or people don’t rsvp and then show up, or come at the wrong time, or you remember about their peanut-gluten-dairy-banana allergy as they walk in the door.  You can’t “fix” it, you just have to show up and welcome whatever comes. Continue reading