Friday, June 29, 2012

Use the right metrics.

Preacher husband feels the metrics when he counts how many people came to church. 

Teenager feels the metrics when she steps on the weight scale. 

I feel the metrics when I check on my blog stats page. 

Metrics are a set of measurements that quantify results. 

God uses metrics, too.   

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  (Isaiah 55:9  NIV) 

God’s way of measuring is higher than ours. 

We measure numbers.  He measures changed lives.
We measure popularity.  He measures humility.
We measure outside beauty and strength.  He measures the heart. 

Everyone measures. 

Because everyone wants to know success.   

The question is, are we measuring by God’s standards or by the standards of the world around us? 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Can you give if you've got nothin'?

Our team drove up to the evening street crusade in Kampala.  As we piled out of the van, one of our team members saw a remaining bag of candy we had brought with us from the states.  She handed it to our interpreter for him to share with the children at the event. 

He immediately handed out all of the candy to a swarm of children, but I was appalled to see there wasn’t nearly enough for every child to have a piece.  I could hardly stand the look on the kids’ faces when he ran out.  These weren’t kids who would have another opportunity at candy. 

We went to our plastic chairs in front of the platform, and I sat quietly waiting for the crusade to begin.  Waiting for music and dancing.  Waiting for our preacher to stand and preach.  Waiting for one of my teammates to share why Jesus means so much to her.  

As I waited, I turned in my chair and saw a music and a preaching and a testimony performed behind me. 

A young girl held her piece of peppermint in her hand.  She had broken it into tiny pieces and was very slowly handing out little fragments to every child behind her who had not received any candy. 

Generosity. 

Jesus sat and watched rich people bringing their gifts to put in the temple treasury, but he called attention to a street crusade held by one woman. 

A music and a preaching and a testimony in one act. 

“I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others.”  (Luke 21:3  NIV) 

Nothing to give but giving it anyway. 

“All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”  (Luke 21:4  NIV) 

What little bit of nothin’ do you have in your hand that you could share with someone today?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Simple skills can make the most difference.

I came home to Keens on the front porch. 

Every Friday my dear friend, Traci, marks up the newspaper and does some serious garage saling all over town. 

Three days ago I wore a pair of pants she bought at a sale last summer and thought “might just fit me”.  The day before that my daughter wore a shirt to work (that she stole out of my closet!) –another garage sale find and gift from Traci.  And now $109.99 Keens (I looked up what they were worth online) sitting on my front porch.  She never lets me pay her for any of these garage sale treasures. 



We live on a tight budget, and her gifts stretch it far.   

Generosity. 

Maybe you think you have to have some over-the-top talent or intelligence or beauty to be of any value in the world.  I disagree.  I think you only need one little thing God puts in your heart that pours out His grace on other people –and then be crazy generous with it. 

The only thing the world needs is a Traci. 

“You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion.”  (2 Corinthians 9:11 NIV) 

What is that one little thing you care about and are good at that could be a gift of grace to someone today?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

moms are artists

I’ve been reading Linchpin, by Seth Godin.  His book is about artists and how we have a deep need to create art for the internal joy of making someone else’s life better. 

He writes of generosity. 

How generosity and art go together. 

Only weeks left until I take my little girl to another town and leave her there to go to college. 

As I’m reading Linchpin and then looking at her, a weighty joy sets on me. 

Perhaps, almost for certain, the most generous gift of art I will ever bestow on the world is this girl.  This beautiful person. 

It hurts a lot to let her go, but art hurts-good when you share it.  



To all my mom friends –the ones with the ornery boys and the ones with the girls in twirly dresses –you wear a smock every day.   

Artist’s smocks look messy for a reason. 

What do you want the gallery of the world to receive when you present to it your child –your masterpiece? 

(Good will come to him who is generous.  Psalm 112:5  NIV)

Monday, June 25, 2012

one way to respond to a stressful situation

This weekend Matt barked instructions to the family when the oppressively muggy, hot weather turned into 70-mile-an-hour winds and hail in a matter of seconds. 

Get downstairs!   

Our experiences in Texas weather had us both fearing the possibility of a tornado. 

So I ran to the basement and jumped up beside my daughter to watch the storm out the window.   

But when I jumped up to stand by her I tripped a little.  Taking a step to right myself, I couldn’t seem to get my footing.  I did this strange little dance and ended up on my backside on the floor.  Then I realized Jayme had stepped off the track of the treadmill to watch the storm out the window, and the treadmill was still going. 

That’s just funny. 

Matt and I were lying in bed at the end of the day laughing about two things. 
1)  In the future, when he sends me to the basement to find a safe place from a dangerous storm, he would prefer I not go to a window.  2)  With roofs torn up, fences down, structures destroyed, and trees uprooted, the only personal bodily injured incurred by anyone in the neighborhood during the storm was me riding the treadmill to the floor. 

A cheerful heart is good medicine.”  (Proverbs 17:22  NIV)

How good are you at applying a sense of humor to a stressful situation? 

Friday, June 22, 2012

When you see no way out of your problem.

I bend over to tie my tennis shoes and head out for a walk.  Beautiful summer evening in Montana –not chilly enough for a sweatshirt and not hot enough to break a sweat. 

But I’m stressed.  Mind working a problem I’ve worked all day. 

I take my usual walking route in a figure eight around the neighborhood, and my mind takes the same routes it has taken all day long. 

If we do this, it could lead to this and this and this.  Dead end. 

If we do that, it could lead to this and this and this.  Dead end. 

No matter which way I think it through, nothing seems to be a good solution. 

What do we do, God?  Which way do we go?  Nothing works. 

Mind churning. 

The Spirit brings a familiar verse I’ve memorized to my mind.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  (Isaiah 55:9  NIV) 

My thoughts aren’t the same as His.  My mental dead end isn’t His.  The only ways I see to solve our dilemma is not the only way He can see. 

My preacher husband says, God has more information.  Red-sea-parting, lion-mouth-shutting, furnace-won’t-burn you, grave-can’t-hold-you kind of information. 

Where does that leave me? 

Dependent.  So I stop working the problem and start praying the verse instead.  Your ways are higher than the only ways I can invent right now.  Your thoughts on this problem are higher than what I can think up on this summer night.  Can’t do this without You –don’t know which way to go on my own. 

 Have you ever had an experience when God came up with a solution you had never thought of to solve a problem?  I would love to hear about it.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

I married a counselor

I always joke that I’m such a mess I had to marry someone with a psych degree so I could have mental help full time.  (Well, mostly joking.) 



I enjoy something not every married woman enjoys –being married to a guy who knows how to listen.  (Except during ESPN sports highlights.  No woman should expect a man to give her rapt attention during sports highlights.  He is human, after all.) 

But I need more than that. 

Like last night when the clock said 12:23 a.m., and I woke up filled with anxiety.  Matt’s quiet breathing next to me left me alone with my worried thoughts.  For all of his therapy skills, he is an imperfect counselor because of the holes in his availability. 

I need more than he can humanly give.  I need 24-7. 

This morning at 12:23 a.m. I needed someone to listen.  Someone to speak reason to me and calm my pounding heart. 

Jesus prayed, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever.”  (John 14:16  NIV) 

In coming to Jesus I joined my soul with a forever Counselor -a God who listens and comes to my aid at 12:23 a.m.   

Available.  

I prayed last night, and the Counselor spoke His words of truth that brought peace to my troubled mind.  My heart stilled.  Sleep came. 

Where do you turn when you’re upset but people aren’t available to listen?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

signing on the dotted line

There comes a time when the pen stands poised, and the man says, Sign here. 

You know when pen hits paper you’re all in.  The risk will be sealed. 

For just one moment there’s an intense look into God’s eyes and the question, Are you sure this is what you want me to do? 

It’s a breath-holding second when the assurance and yes are quiet.  When not even the tiniest promise is given about how things will turn out once you commit.  God makes eye contact but says nothing.  No tell flitters across His face to reveal His hand. 

Faith stands naked, all alone.  Exposed. 

And all the joy and love and depth of relationship with God stand waiting for the flourish of signature.   

Will you commit? 

We walk by faith, not by sight.”  (2 Corinthians 5:7  NASB)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Spiritual gifts -are you using yours to its full potential?

Never send a 14-year-old boy to load the dishwasher.  I know he needs to learn this chore, but when I open the door after he has filled it I just shake my head. 

Then I get to work, rearranging bowls and silverware and cups.  Packing it in.  With pregnancy hormones comes a special gift for moms –the ability to get 10 times more in a dishwasher than any other human on the planet is capable of doing. 

Well, I’m here to tell you that God can pack it in.  To each one who chooses to follow him he gives a spiritual gift.  Something that will help build up his church, show off who he is, encourage people, help people…  You know what I mean?   

But often followers of God think they got skipped in the gifts department or think their gift is puny and nothin’.  Listen, that’s the same perspective a teenage boy has when he opens the dishwasher. 

I do wonder if God looks at us, sighs, and says, Really?  You think that’s all you can do? 

Potential –that’s what moms see when standing in front of an open dishwasher.  That’s what God sees when standing in front of one of his children.  Jesus came right out and said it, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit.”  (John 15:8  NIV)   

God crams it in there.  Ridiculously more than you think you can do.  Ridiculously greater impact than you imagine you can have. 

What spiritual gift do you have?  Have you even begun to tap the potential God sees in you?   

Dare ya to do this –get out a notebook and write down what it would be like if your gift were used HUGE, and imagine God looking over your shoulder saying, Ah, now you’re gettin’ it.  That’s more like it.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Want to know if the idea in your brain is God's will? Use this simple checklist:

The comfortable thing about being married for a few decades is in knowing how your husband is going to act.  Like when summer hit and my man came home with this question:  Guess what’s back on the menu at McDonald’s? 

Yeah, he didn't have to tell me.  Frozen lemonade, I answered immediately. 

Once again we had a discussion about how $2 a day times 90 days of summer just isn’t in the budget.  He said, Well, surely it’s in the budget for a day…or…two…or three a week -followed by that boyish smile that works on me every time.     

The man has gone crazy for frozen, slushy drinks since our old 7-Eleven days and the Slurpees I used to buy for him back in college.  I know him. 

The comfortable thing about walking with God for three decades is that I know Him, too.  

So here’s how you know if the idea you have is God’s will:    

·        After much prayer and Bible study, an idea settles on your heart to do something that seems ridiculous.  Check.
·        The idea is seemingly impossible to carry out, and you have a long list of objections for how this isn’t going to work.  Check.
·        It’s gonna cost something –stress, money, time, courage, stress (did I mention stress?)  Check.
·        You feel afraid.  Check.
·        It requires resources you don’t have.  Check.
·        It requires prayer dependency –begging for help every second of awakeness.  Check.
·        There’s no way the credit would ever go to you for this crazy thing.  Check.

Oh yeah, I totally know how God works.

“The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”  (1 John 2:17  NIV)

Are you pretty sure God wants you to do something, and you can check off everything on the list above?  Get used to it.  That list is as predictable as my husband pulling into the McDonald’s drive-thru in July.

Friday, June 15, 2012

getting out of a stress jam

This is what the traffic in Uganda looked like. 




Cars passed so closely I could reach out my window and touch the man in the car next to me.  There were stop signs, but nobody stopped.  No lines mapped out a tidy plan for driving on the road.  A constant jam of cars and people and bicycles.


That’s what it has felt like in our house the last few weeks. 

It’s not so bad when one member of the family is stressed.  The rest can walk gingerly around and even go out of their way to show compassion.  But when three out of four have shoulders tight? 

 
Yesterday I was stressed.  I stopped by Jayme's room, and she was stressed, which made me more stressed about what she was stressed about.  Within seconds of that conversation Matt called stressed, which made me more stressed.  I responded stressed to him, which made him more stressed about what I was stressed about.

 
Lord, have mercy. 

 
That was when I remembered what my Navy friend said.  He was trained that when things got stressful on board ship he was to take control by keeping his voice completely even and calm. 

In the middle of stress –the discipline of the voice. 

1 Peter 3:4 says a woman’s beauty is her “gentle and quiet spirit”.  When you most want to lay your hand on the horn and scream, that’s the perfect time to speak calmly instead. 

So I threw up a prayer for help and put on a quiet, calm voice to go talk to my daughter. 

Aaaah.  Much better.  We calmly worked the problem, and we both relaxed a bit. 

When stress escalates from all directions in your house, what do you do with your voice?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

never too comfortable

A few years ago my husband was approached by a pastor from Anchorage, Alaska.  The man had visited our church here in Montana on a Sunday when my husband had preached the sermon. 

The man asked Matt this question:  Would you consider moving to Alaska, to take over my position of senior pastor when I retire? 

A question like that knocks your feet out from underneath you. 

Early in our marriage Matt and I verbalized to each other that we never want to get so comfortable where we are that we’re unwilling to obey God if he asks us to go somewhere or do something. 

We were comfortable at the time this question came to us.  Excellent church position.  New home.  Tons of amazing friends.  Living close to family.  Kids happy.  Why in the world would we even consider leaving all of that? 

But we laid our lives on the table.  Okay, Lord.  We’ll go if you want us to.  Just say the word. 

We prayed.  We Googled Anchorage.  We watched the Anchorage weather forecasts (65 degrees summer, spring, winter, and fall -ugh).  We prayed some more. 



After a few weeks of agonizing prayer and discussion, we did not feel God calling us to Alaska, so we declined the request.  But we were willing to go. 

We were ready to say yes to God and leave our Montana happiness behind. 

1 John 2:17 says, “…the one who does the will of God lives forever.” 

If God asks you to move or give or speak or do, are you willing to do it, even if it means leaving comfortable?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

what makes a person beautiful?

I’m thinking a lot about body image today.   

It could be due to the hour spent at the mall yesterday.  Or maybe because of eating fries, a lot of fries (DQ fry sauce is the bomb!) and then going to try on clothes in front of a full length mirror.  A bad plan.  To say nothing of the fact that I skipped my workout routine again yesterday morning.   

Walking though the “mom” section looking for shirts for camouflage (to cover the stomach that stretched twice to bring two kids into the world) –that’s a little depressing at times. 

Then I talked to the guy who thinks he’s too skinny and in the same afternoon talked to the girl who thinks she’s too fat. 

I know what beautiful is, though.  I saw it last week at a party.  Two of my girlfriends sat close on a couch, one leaned in with her whole body, eyes focused, listening to the deep stuff.  That was beautiful.  An hour later I looked over and saw that same friend still leaned in listening, this time with someone new.  Giving every ounce of her soul, in the middle of a party, to care about people.   

She doesn’t know it, but I sat and watched her for quite a while.  That’s what loveliness does –makes you stop and take a second look.  Makes you want to soak in the view to feed your soul. 

That’s the kind of beautiful I want to be.  I wouldn’t mind so much passing up the young, still-have-a-flat-waist clothes, if I could just be the kind of gorgeous that loves people like I saw my friend loving. 

A woman poured expensive perfume over Jesus' head, and everyone gave her a hard time about it.  He said, “Leave her alone…She has done a beautiful thing to me.”  (Mark 14:6  NIV) 

Beautiful is how you look when you're pouring out love.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

managing the to-do list

My friend and I were recently talking about how to manage housework, because that’s what girls talk about.  Mostly we bemoan the housework we don’t accomplish.  She suggested I subscribe to this printable list that only costs $8, and it gives a few detailed tasks to accomplish every day in order to get the job done. 

Sorry friend, but maybe you didn’t realize what a free spirit you were talking to.  My artistic temperament combined with a bit of my strong-willed child left me thinking let someone else make a list for me –are you kidding? 

Fold arms.  Plant feet.  I’ll make my own list! 

Then I was talking to my almost-adult daughter last night who wonders when the overwhelming list of things to do will slow down, and I sadly informed her that the overwhelming list is part of her life now.  (Wasn’t that encouraging?) 



I said, This is how you do it.  You wake up in the morning and make a list.  You get a few of the most important things done on the list, and then you go to bed.  Then you wake up and do the same thing again the next day. 

Oh, and some of the most important things you’ll get done won’t be on your list.   

James 4:13 gives us this guideline for list making.  “You should say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’” 

Often right in the middle of the day God grabs the ballpoint, bends over my list, scratches out a few things I thought were pretty important when I started out in the morning, and writes in something new. 

Usually the name of a person.  Almost always the name of a person.   

My gut reaction is to fold my arms, plant my feet, and say, Hey, what are you doing to my day!  But I’ve learned that God brings one thing to my list that I can’t ever seem to get on there by myself.  Joy. 

How will you respond if God brings a new task into this day that you weren’t planning on doing this morning?

Monday, June 11, 2012

when God does nothing

I’ve observed something recently.  The first time I saw it was when my daughter and her two friends sang the Star Spangled Banner at graduation.  In between some of the phrases they had a significant pause that was striking.  The quiet spaces created anticipation for the soul-stirring harmony to follow. 

I saw it again a few days later, as I watched an exceptional dancer perform on TV.  The judges commented that he wasn’t afraid to create pauses in his performance –still moments when his body stopped moving –moments when nothing happened. 

I used to teach piano lessons, and one of the most difficult lessons I had to teach my beginner students was to pay attention to the rests.  It’s easy to play the music, but it takes an artistic soul to know how valuable the quiet spots are –the lifting of the fingers and allowing quiet for a moment.  It requires self control.   

I always tell my students, the rests seem uncomfortably long, but they’re of equal importance to the notes you play. 

I wonder if the Creator of rhythm and song shows his masterful art most powerfully when he allows a pause before sweeping in with movement that makes us weep with the beauty of it. 

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits…”  (Psalm 130:5  NIV) 

Wait for it.   

Wait for it. 

I think it’s called faith –what we do when the music and dancing pauses for a time. 

What if, instead of despairing when it seems God is, as Philip Yancey describes, “sitting on his hands”, we hold our breath in anticipation instead?

Friday, June 8, 2012

we forget this is the answer to our problems

A few weeks ago Matt was helping me put away the winter coats for the summer (although there was still snow on the mountains, so I’m not sure what we were thinking) when he said, Hey, look what I found!  And he pulled a $5 bill out of one of the coat pockets. 

Prayer is like that.  This valuable thing that has been with us all along, but we forget we have it. 

I was lying in bed just this morning feeling anxious about something.  Worrying the issue over and over in my mind.  And then I remembered, Oh yeah, I should pray about this.  So I turned all my worries over to the Lord –dumped them on him.  Trusting he’ll take care of them.  Like reaching my hand into a pocket and feeling paper money. 

What have you been trying to handle all by yourself that you need to remember to pray about?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

try talking to God like this

I spent seven years in Texas, and one thing I noticed very quickly that contrasted with my experience growing up in Wyoming was the way young people addressed those in authority. 

Yes M’am.  No M’am. 

Yes sir.  No sir. 

(Can you use your imagination to hear a little drawl in there?) 

My new Texas friends told me how it was a whoopin’ offense when they were growing up, if they ever got caught answering anything but m’am or sir. 

I tried to get my kids to talk like that to adults up here in Montana, but it was ridiculously out of place, so I finally gave up. 

I have succeeded in training myself to talk to God like this, though.  When the Holy Spirit speaks to my heart and tells me to do something, I’ve been answering, Yes sir.  (And I do say it with a Texas drawl.  It’s just not the same without the drawl.)  

In Malachi 1:6 the Lord says to his people, “If I am a master, where is the respect due me? 

Do you talk to the Lord with a yeah or a yes sir?  It makes a difference.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

five practical ways to respond to criticism

Yesterday I posted a blog about criticism, and four hours later I received some.   

The criticism felt like a kick in the gut.  My first response was to cry and feel sorry for myself, but I stopped the emotional reaction and did these five things instead: 

1.     I considered the source.  I asked myself, Is this person criticizing me from a place of love and concern, or is this person just critical in general?  I think maybe both were a little bit true in this case. 

2.     I asked God if the person’s criticism was true.  I have a friend who he is a youth pastor, and he receives criticism often for how he does ministry.  He always stops and considers whether the person is correct or not.  If the person is correct, then my friend takes the criticism to heart and tries to make the necessary changes or apologies necessary.  If the criticism is false, he sets it aside.  

After a talk with God yesterday, I felt a chunk of this person’s criticism of me was unfounded, but I did see that some of what he said was true, and I’ll keep that in mind the next time I do this ministry task. 

3.     I refused to give up.  My gut reaction was to say, Well fine, I’ll just quit this ministry!!  Discouragement, humiliation, and insecurity just about knocked me over, but with rational thinking I realized I do have a positive influence in this area of ministry, so I refuse to let a criticism derail me. 

4.     I remembered criticism came because I took a risk to serve.  People who don’t lead or teach or minister never get criticized for leading or teaching or ministering.  I reminded myself that if I’m going to take a risk to put myself out there and walk in obedience to God, I’m going to have critics (Jesus did!)  Sometimes the critics will be right, because I’m a flawed, weak, sinful person doing ministry.  Sometimes they’ll be wrong, and I’ll have to let the criticism go like water off a duck’s back. 

5.     I thanked God for the criticism.  Paul says, “Give thanks in all circumstances.”  (1 Thessalonians 5:18)  So I did.  This criticism will build my perseverance and maturity, will sharpen my ministry skill, and will help me remember what it feels like to be criticized next time I feel like criticizing someone.  That’s a lot to be thankful for. 

I heard a pastor say that criticism is neutral.  It just sits there and does nothing except for what we choose to do with it.  It can crush us, or we can use it as a tool to become a better person.  (Listen to that intriguing sermon here:  http://www.northpoint.org/messages/climate-change/part-1)

I’m sorry if someone has criticized you.  It hurts, and I know exactly how you feel. 

How will you respond, though?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

criticism, gotta love it

Two towers of boxes, from floor to ceiling in the storage unit.  That was my daughter’s clothing from birth to age three.  She was the first granddaughter on both sides, so perhaps she was a little spoiled.  Perhaps. 

I was telling my friend about all of these clothes, and he said, “Why do you still have all of those?”   

“Well, I don’t know.  Just hangin’ onto them” I said. 

He looked me in the eye and said, “You’re hoarding.” 

His words were a slap.

He was right.  My husband and I were done having kids, and I just couldn’t bear to part with all those ruffles and memories. 

My friend’s words burrowed deep, and I couldn’t escape them.   

A few days later I pulled out a few favorite items and gave the rest of the clothing away to friends who needed the hand-me-downs.  Several years later I talked to one friend who had several daughters.  She said all of her girls had worn and were still wearing those clothes, and she was so thankful I had shared. 

Proverbs 23:9 (NIV) says, “Don’t speak to a fool, for he will despise the insight of your words.” 

I appreciate that my friend spoke words of criticism to me.  I’m glad I listened to his insight and gave instead of hoarding.  I don’t want to be a fool.  I hope I’m never too proud and stubborn to accept a hard word and allow it to change me, even if hearing the word stings for a bit. 

How do you respond to constructive criticism?