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Noelle Kirchner
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Noelle Kirchner is a Presbyterian pastor, wife, and mother of two young boys who enjoys writing when her wrangling skills aren't needed!  In addition to contributing here, she has been a featured guest author at (In)courage and maintains her blog, Vocational Mothering. She believes approaching motherhood as a vocation means that you recognize the gravity of your ministry as a mom.  Her passion is using her training to encourage Christian women like you!  You can also find Noelle on Twitter and Facebook.  

Music Class Changed My Faith

Thursday, September 11, 2014 #faith #boldness #callings

Experienced parents will tell you, if they are wise, that you learn as much as your children when you parent. My older son taught me something when he was three that has changed the way I practice my faith.

My story begins in a parent-child music class. As a three-year-old, he had taken a new and definitive interest in the cymbals. Baby versions of the cymbals make a muffled sound, but these were real ones with a diameter about the size of a kickball – complete with wooden handles for a firm, loud crash! He would wait patiently until the end of music class for free music play. The vat of instruments would come out, and he could sift through it to find his prize.

It was the start of a new semester and I was with a new group of moms. I noticed other children getting quiet instruments and lightly strumming or plucking them on their mothers’ laps. Meanwhile, my son was proudly marching around with his cymbals crashing. The sound was rather annoying and I felt like everyone was watching. I made a couple of comments to the moms around me, “They are his favorite. You can see why I don’t have them at home!” I tried to fight the fact that I was embarrassed.

That night at dinner, I asked him if he had enjoyed music class. He said, “Mommy, the cymbals are loud,” and he hung his head down. Although his social awareness wasn’t fully developed, I couldn’t help but wonder if he had come to that realization because of my actions that day. I decided right then that I did not want my embarrassment to cost him something he looked forward to.

After all, the cymbals were included in the vat to be played...

Please click here to find out the two important faith lessons I learned from this experience. Are YOU living your faith to fullest?  Many thanks to Kaitlyn Bouchillon and the (in)courage team for inviting me to guest post again!

Reader Update

Monday, September 08, 2014

Dear Moms,

Something new is happening on my blog's Facebook page, and I don't want you to miss it! Starting tonight, Mondays will mean something special there.

Mondays = Mindful Mondays

Start the week intentionally by reading a brief food for thought designed especially with moms in mind.

We all need wisdom as we parent and attempt to lead faithful lives for Christ.  This simple step has one purpose:  That we slow the rush, drink in insight, and live less frazzled and more focused faith-filled lives.

Be sure to "LIKE" my page if you haven't already, and look for that inspiration on Monday evenings!

Your friend and fellow mom in Christ,

Noelle

P.S.  Stay tuned on Thursday for my guest post at (in)courage!  

6 Reasons Aladdin on Broadway is Unmissable

Thursday, September 04, 2014 #family #fun

We tried two times and failed.  The third time, we actually got tickets!  My husband and I took our two young boys to see a matinee show of Disney's Aladdin.  It's a hot ticket, and now we understand why.  To say we enjoyed ourselves is an understatement.  (My littlest keeps taking about how much he liked "that blue guy," a.k.a. the Genie.)  So I decided to write about the 6 reasons I'd recommend seeing the show:

1.  The show is kid-friendly.  Despite the fact that it is on the longer side at two and a half hours (and I went with a three-year-old, so I know), it is engaging - even mesmerizing at times - and clean family fun.

2.  You will see the REAL Jafar (Jonathan Freeman).  You've already heard his voice if you've seen the movie, and now you get to see him in person playing the role.  Remember when he responds dryly about the princess' choice in suitors?  His line of being "ecstatic" is even better on stage.

3.  The Genie on Broadway (James Monroe Iglehart) will go down in history as one of the greats.  Sure it's tough to imagine besting Robin Williams, but it's a pleasure to see some of Williams' famous lines performed while allowing someone else to lend their own genius and unique spin to the role.  Trust me, that's done.  There was even a spoof on ABC's Dancing with the Stars, but that's all I'm gonna say...

4.  There's a magic carpet ride on stage.  Let me say that again:  There's a magic carpet ride on stage! The carpet floats, swerves, climbs, and falls to intervals of melody while two characters fall in love.  It's just plain incredible to see this special effect.  I'm not sure how it's done, but you HAVE TO see it.

5.   Aladdin (Adam Jacobs) delivers his role to perfection.  He's everything you'd expect from a leading man.  You root for him.  He makes you laugh.  He might even make you cry - like when he sings his heart-felt appeals about turning his life around and pleasing his mother in heaven.  His voice is not only memorable, but it's laced with charismatic transparency.

6.  The show is a visual feast for the eyes.  My favorite extravaganza is Aladdin's parade to the castle after the Genie makes him a prince.  There are costumes with long yellow feathers that are especially breathtaking.  But rest assured there are enough sequins, sparkles, colors and lighting effects to satisfy anyone's need to be wowed.  And Princess Jasmine (Courtney Reed) is the most beautiful leading lady I've seen on stage.

I've been blessed to live in the New York metro area for over ten years and have seen well over a dozen Broadway shows.  This one is near the top!  It's nice to find kid-friendly entertainment that packs such appeal.

*****

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment if you've seen it too!  And just in case you're wondering, please note that this review is unsolicited and is not tied with any monetary endorsement.  But you can tell the powers that be that I'd always accept free tickets for a blog giveaway LOL! 

I thought I'd start the school year with something fun!  Be sure to check my blog next week for a link to my guest post on (in)courage.

4 Life-Saving Lessons when Adversity Strikes

Thursday, August 21, 2014 #Bible #faith, encouragement, healing, fears

The story of Daniel in the lion's den is not just a childhood tale for Sunday school classrooms.  It's a story that applies to adults like you and me.  If we look past its intrigue and simple exhortation to trust in God, we begin to ask the right questions.  Namely, who are our lions and what do our own dens look like?  And more importantly, how does our God save?

There are times in our lives when we are simply brought to our knees.  The circumstances are too dangerous for us to live through alone - too emotionally taxing, too physically draining, too spiritually challenging.  Sometimes these circumstances are the result of unfair actions on the part of others, as was the case with Daniel, but they are always the result of living in a broken and fallen world.

We have no choice but to stand naked before God in scary vulnerability.  We want to believe that faith can move mountains, but the physical facts are undeniable and bleak.  After all, Daniel was in a den with hungry lions all night.  The only exit was protected by a huge boulder and the king's decree that it remain in place.  Hopelessness was certain.

In situations of hopelessness, we can discover the true nature of God.  The greatest gift God provided Daniel was a protective presence that never left him.  Daniel spoke of an angel who shut the lion's mouths.  There is a promise embedded in his story for us.  For what God has done once, he will do again.  God continues to shut lions' mouths today - your lions' mouths - so they will not consume you.

Deliverance looks different from person to person.  Sometimes the immediate circumstances change as a result of prayer, and sometimes they do not.  But here are four lessons I've learned:

1.  God gives us a perspective that allows us to rise above our circumstances.  Our time in the lion's den is not an isolated incident, but one incident on a journey with God.  When we look at adversity within the context of a faith relationship, we can experience the freedom of a new perspective and better recognize the footprint of our Creator's love.

2.    God will always bring deliverance when we remain faithful.  As I examine my journeys through adversity, I recognize "lifelines" that I often did not recognize as such at the time.  I marvel at God's gracious provision in retrospect.  So if you are currently in the lion's den, keep moving forward.  God is working.

3.  Sometimes deliverance is best evidenced by a change in our hearts.  The lions may prowl, our circumstances may or may not change on the outside, but make no mistake that there will be changes on the inside.  If we remain dependent on him, God will honor our humility by grafting more of himself into us.  And that new part is stronger.  Much stronger.

4.  Deliverance comes with reward.  An earthly king rewards Daniel after his survival in the lion's den. There is an earthly king in Daniel's story so that we do not forget a far more powerful king.  The King of Kings is with us and watching.  Who knows what blessings our faithfulness will unlock?

We can't forget these lessons.  Write them down.  Pass them on.  Remember God's unfailing presence, and trust.  Psalm 91:11 says, "For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways."  Angels still protect.  Romans 8:31 reminds us, "...If God is for us, who can be against us?"  God still fights on behalf of the faithful.  When you are shut up in the lion's den, feeling the cold and darkness of fear, remember:

"Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark."  ~Nobel prize winner Rabindranath Tagore

Sing, dear friends, sing.

****

If you want to read more encouragement, I love this article on the value of our suffering entitled A Field Guide for Suffering Well, which was posted on Her.meneutics.  Also, check out my other posts entitled Truth in Suffering and Warning: Peaks Ahead.

Imprinting Holy Moments onto Busy Schedules

Tuesday, July 29, 2014 #restore #motherhood #scheduling

I'm walking around the house and I see another one. There it is, resting on the sofa armrest. I can't imagine how it lays there so close to the edge without falling off. It's like one of those quick scooter turns when the angle is sharp and the wheel is skimming the outside edge, yet my toddler makes the turn, happy and oblivious.  Here, on this sofa armrest, he's left a treasure that despite all odds, is safe and sound.

I don't know where he found it.  I've discovered the smaller the treasure, the more unlikely the place he'll find it.  But he knows a treasure when he sees one, and there it lies. It's a Lego micro that looks like a dozen other pieces to me, but to him it's special.

Rachel Balducci has written about the unique collection of oddities little boys are keen on collecting. They turn up in funny places. I find them stealthfully hidden under or resting upon sofa cushions, or proudly displayed like trophies on bedroom tables.  Rachel finds them in play clothes' pockets that she combs through before doing the wash.

What strikes me about these objects of affection is how my sons find their inspiration in such unusual places. Again, to me it looks like just another other Lego micro, for instance, but to them it's distinguishable and special. I quickly find out just how special it is when I try to return it to the toy bin, or when a brother wants to "share" it by taking it away!

I am willing to bet you haven't coveted a Lego micro lately. Regardless, as adults, we have our own treasured objects too. Sometimes these objects have apparent value to others. But sometimes these objects are very ordinary and hold a special value only to us.

I want to collect more of the latter. Particularly, I'm looking for everyday objects that remind me of God's grace.  I'm learning I need to intentionally open myself to grace to avoid feeling empty and burdened.  And one of the ways I can open myself is to search for grace-filled reminders in physical form.

The monotony of daily rhythms can distract us from the holy punctuations in our lives.  When we experience holy punctuations, we need to take hold of them. Maybe we read a powerful scripture verse one morning - why not write it down and tape it to our mirror? It's a simple piece of paper, but it reminds us of a genuine moment of inspiration with God.

Maybe you know a place that's special - God spoke to you there and answered a prayer. Take a reminder of that place and carry it with you. A rock from the ground. A card from the business. Use it to remember God's awesome grace at work in your life for the day you'll need to remember. I'm wearing a necklace from such a place right now.

In the flurry of motherhood, it's easy to try to do everything in our own strength. This only contributes to our weariness.  In our busyness preparing for tomorrow, we can miss the grace-filled moments God designed for us today.  Don't let that be us, Lord. We're hungry for you, no matter how much our schedules distract us.  Help us to humbly remember your grace and become unabashed collectors - for you.

If you liked this post, check out this one about the importance of slowing down called A Peaceful Pause.  

Important Additions to Your Summer Reading List

Saturday, July 12, 2014 #christian parenting #Summer #Book Review

Summer is not only a time to unwind, but it's a time to read to and invest in our children.  I have some book titles to share with you.  I have read them all and can wholeheartedly recommend them!  In fact, I read several of them to over 150 children this week at my church's Vacation Bible School.  Make sure you check out the book One below - it was a favorite!

If you aren't familiar with Max Lucado's children's books yet, these are a great place to start:

The Crippled Lamb - In this tenderhearted classic, we meet a little lamb with a limp who is able to play a special part in the life of Jesus because of it.  This book gives children a platform for understanding the value of every person, including children who physically or mentally struggle.

Because I Love You - Through the tale of a kind carpenter and a wayward boy, we learn about the reality of sin in the world and our Savior's rescue.  It's a great resource to use to explain why we need Jesus and just how much he loves us.

The Oak Inside the Acorn - This is a story about how each of us is created unique and entrusted with a special purpose by our Creator.  It focuses on an acorn's journey to becoming an oak tree, and how that growth mimics the journey each of us takes while coming of age.  This book is for older children; it encourages them to pursue their life purpose.

Here's another Christian book by a different author.  It's a classic that has been in print for over 60 years:

If Jesus Came to My House by Joan G. Thomas - A boy imagines Jesus as a little boy who comes to play at his house.  Your child can watch how he treats Jesus.  The boy knows that this playdate cannot really happen, but that he can serve Jesus by treating others the same way.  It encourages children to serve others in ways that they know and understand!

This next book is not religious, but it demonstrates Christian principles:

One by Kathryn Otoshi - Read how one character inspires others to stand up to bullying. Characters move from colors to numbers, demonstrating that everyone "counts."  It is an abstract but poignant tale that teaches children the power of one voice.

As you talk about One with your children, remember that Jesus was just one man who walked on earth, and yet he forever changed history and eternity by doing so as God!  Our children can shine his light to others in his name and make a different too - no matter how big or small they are!  

Do you want more resource suggestions?  Read my recommendations for a children's Bible and children's devotional.

{Photo from iStock, Edited}

How to Steer Clear of Danger

Sunday, June 29, 2014 #Bible #change #trust, obey

Truth be told, they hadn't seen their friends in a while.  

As their friends came bounding down the hill toward our new backyard swing set, my children's excitement was palpable.  It was then a race to see who would get up the climbing wall first.  Or just how high a swing could go.  Or who could master some new feat that their mothers quickly said "No!" to for fear of life and limb.  They're boys, after all. 

They happily made circles around the swing set moving from one activity to another.  It was a joy to see their amusement.  But there was danger too.  Maybe it was the energy of the moment.  Maybe it was the fact that there was so much going on.  Or maybe it was because it was at the end of a long summer day.  Regardless, they weren't listening.

"Watch out for the swing!"  

My friend and I repetitively reminded the boys to steer clear of the swing path when someone was swinging to little avail.  One by one they would cross the path en route to a new activity.  They remained unscathed due to our efforts to halt the swing or swiftly usher them out of the way.  Parents of little children know that this is a common occurrence. The swings are often the most coveted spot on the playground, but we have to be vigilant watching their path.  

There's a lesson here for us too.

As adults, how often do we hear, sometimes repetitively, that something isn't good or safe for us, yet we persist anyway?  Enter the bad habit, unhealthy relationship pattern, or unwise choices.  When we were younger, maybe an adult took us by the hand and explained what wasn't safe.  When we were older, maybe we listened to our Father's instruction in scripture.  But for whatever reason, we have had trouble acting accordingly.

Make no mistake:  God is your Heavenly Parent watching you on the playground of life.  God wants you to enjoy all of the fun life has to offer - safely.  God whispers instruction in scripture to protect you.  God puts people in your life to take you by the hand and direct you. And God is always there to pick you up if you fall down and show you his love.

Just as I longed for my children to heed my wisdom, God wants the same for each of us. God wants to unlock the power of his instruction in our lives to pave the way for a better tomorrow.  The trick is that we have to listen, and we have to trust him.  God is giving us the opportunity to not have to learn the hard way through that trust.  Maybe you've had some near misses on life's swing.  God is calling you today to steer clear for good - and be blessed.

"For the Lord gives wisdom; From his mouth come knowledge and understanding; He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk uprightly" (Proverbs 2:6-7, NKJV).

If you liked this post, I also recommend Firm Legs to Stand On.

{Photo by Chris Yarzab at Flickr, Edited}

What to Know Before Making Waves

Saturday, June 28, 2014 #Summer #safety

"One, two, three, JUMP!"  And he did it.  Right into the deep end from a platform over two feet above the water.  He had no fear, just pride.  And it was the first time his little five-year-old body had done it.  He had talked about being ready for a couple of weeks, but he had waited until I was at the swimming lesson along with his Daddy before doing it.

I was swelling with pride too.

As I watched my son learn to tread water with his instructor, and as I watched his head bob up and down as he worked so hard to cross the pool with concentration and joy, I remembered he hadn't always been that comfortable.  In fact, there had been much hesitation, some tears, and even some screams early on our path to this point.

Now he says swimming is one of his favorite activities.

Our son does not have to become a really good swimmer unless he wants to be one.  My husband and I believe swimming is an important life skill:  We simply don't want him to be afraid of the water, and we want him to be proficient.  We want him to be prepared for the times he wants to use this skill - or needs to use it.

We all know the dangers of drowning as parents.  We know it can happen in surprisingly little water.  Many of us also know that drowning often doesn't look like we'd expect.  I had thought I needed to be on the lookout for flailing arms splashing in the water and a scream for "Help!"  But I've learned that drowning is often a quiet, more peaceful looking experience, and one that we need to be ever vigilant watching for.

A friend of mine forwarded a must-read from a fellow mommy blogger recently.  This mommy blogger shares her story about another danger we need to be watchful for: secondary drowning.  If you're like me and it hasn't even been on your radar, take a minute to read this.  Click here to read her story entitled "Secondary Drowning + My Recent Experience & Real Life Almost Nightmare."  Thank you, Delighted Momma, for sharing your heart with us.

We worship a God who calms the flood waters (Psalm 89:9), and sometimes he uses our hands and wisdom to do it.  I wish everyone a happy and safe pool season!  Maybe I will even work on my cannonball too...

Do you have a pool safety tip or resource that you'd like to share?  Please comment below!

If you appreciated this information, check out my other posts on safety:  Stranger Danger Tips Every Mom Should Know and Safety Tips Every Mom Should Know.

{Photo by AnneCN at Flickr, Edited}

The Only Antidote to Worry

Saturday, June 14, 2014 #worry #peace #trust

Have you been feeling overwhelmed with worry?  With the end of another school year, schedules can get hectic and it's easy to feel overloaded.  Whether you're concerned about getting everything done, or you're wrestling with something greater, we need to be reminded of the sanctuary we have in Christ.

Scripture reminds us, "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (I Peter 5:6-7).  What do your anxieties consist of?  Maybe you are pregnant and facing complications.  Maybe you or a family member has recently lost a job or is going through a job transition.  Maybe your child has had a health scare, and you've come face to face with the limitations of your control.  Whatever it may be, God knows the burden you've been carrying.

Jesus did not preach platitudes in a vacuum.  He knew firsthand the brokenness and struggle in our world, and he extended an invitation of comfort and peace in the midst of it.  It is not that we will never have a reason to worry.  No.  We will have reason to worry, but that's when we need to cling to the sovereign hand of God.

We worship a God who can order every aspect of our life for good - even the mistakes, even the mishaps, even the sin.  That means that even in the worse case scenario of whatever burden you've been carrying, God already has you covered.  Further, Christ's resurrection promises us that hope is always possible - no matter what the circumstances - with God.

As Christians, there is always a silver lining.  Christ told his disciples, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).  In other words, we shouldn't analyze our problems, but petition our God.  Christ is the gateway to perfect peace.  When we approach him in humility, we will experience the only true antidote to worry: trust in God.

I am quite fond of the daily devotional by Sarah Young entitled Jesus Calling:  Enjoying Peace in His Presence.  Recently, I read a devotion on worry that I wanted to share with you, for she echoes this truth.  She writes as if Jesus is speaking to you:

I am all around you, like a cocoon of Light.  My Presence with you is a promise, independent of your awareness of Me.  Many things can block this awareness, but the major culprit is worry.  My children tend to accept worry as an inescapable fact of life.  However, worry is a form of unbelief; it is an anathema to Me.

Who is in charge of your life?  If it is you, then you have good reason to worry.  But since I am in charge, worry is both unnecessary and counterproductive.  When you start to feel anxious about something, relinquish the situation to Me.  Back off a bit, redirecting your focus to Me.  I will either take care of the problem Myself or show you how to handle it.  In this world you will have problems, but you need not lose sight of Me.

Young's use of cocoon imagery is powerful.  There is no doubt that a cocoon is delicate and indicates a time of trial through life-altering change.  But it is also a place of comfort and safety for new life to begin.  As we bring our worry to God, may he hold you in the cocoon of his peace, so that you might see the situation through together and later marvel at his grace.  Trust him - it's worth it.

If you appreciated this post, you might also like From Worry to Confidence and What to Do in a Storm.

{Photo by Francesco at Flickr, Edited}

Sometimes We All Need to Blow Up

Sunday, June 01, 2014 #spiritual growth #fresh perspective

Have you ever noticed that it's often easier to assimilate information when there's an image attached to it?

In March I went on my church's women's retreat, and the speaker utilized several powerful images.  Danna Demetre was our gifted retreat leader.  I've been particularly eager to share two of her metaphors with you.  The first one describes our responsibilities in life as a series of balls.  The second one equates our spiritual life with a glass of chocolate milk.  Both certainly piqued my interest.

Life is like a series of balls

When we describe life as a series of balls, prioritizing becomes easier.  Imagine your daily responsibilities are akin to bouncing rubber balls.  You do laundry - you bounce a ball.  You cook meals - you bounce a ball.  You pay bills, work, and clean your house - all of this is bouncing balls.  Each of us could bounce balls all day everyday.

In addition to rubber balls, we also have glass balls.  Unlike rubber balls, these are not designed for bouncing.  They are fragile and require careful attention.  Glass balls signify our relationships.  They are far from ordinary, and we must safeguard them.  A friend of mine added that you can store these balls on the shelf for a little while.  But every once in a while you need to dust them off and tend to them.  And you can always reach for them when needed.

The third type of ball in life is a balloon.  This ball requires attention as well, but instead of bouncing or protecting it, we must blow air into it.  Our spiritual life is like an uninflated balloon.  Effort is required to advance it along its intended trajectory.  When we neglect it, it shows.  When we blow it up, we expand and reach our fullest potential.  We can blow air into our balloons by reading scripture, praying, and experiencing Christian community and worship, for instance.

Not only do these images depict different responsibilities in life, but they demonstrate how to tend to them.  It's especially important not to bounce rubber balls at the expense of our other balls.  We must pull back and reprioritize when that's the case.

Our spiritual life is like chocolate milk

Just as we must inflate our spiritual balloons, we must stir our glasses of milk.  Imagine you're a glass of milk and God is the Hershey's Syrup.  Have you ever thought about what happens when you add syrup to a glass of milk?  It simply sinks to the bottom. You must stir the syrup into the milk in order to make chocolate milk.  The same principle applies to our spiritual life.  God provides us with rich blessings through faith, but in order to be fully transformed by those blessings, we must stir our faith up.  Again, reading scripture, praying, and experiencing Christian community and worship are ways to do that.

So if you have been feeling overrun by bouncing rubber balls, don't be afraid to pull back.  If you have been feeling rather empty, try inflating your spiritual balloon.  If you have dedicated your life to Christ but haven't felt any differently lately, try stirring things up.  Sometimes we just need an image to lock on to that can make all the difference.

To read other posts about my recent women's retreat, check out The Redemptive Nature of Girl Power and Why It's Important to Run for the Hills.

{Photo by Luke Jones at Flickr, Edited}

The Redemptive Nature of Girl Power

Saturday, May 17, 2014 #women, discipleship #community, fears, healing, encouragement

This year I decided to go on our church’s women’s retreat after some not so subtle prompting from the Holy Spirit.  I had never been on a women’s retreat before.  In fact, I had only been away from my family for two nights one other time since the birth of our first child five years ago.  I was convicted when I signed up with a couple of girlfriends that it was the right decision.  But as the date approached, I started to doubt. 

All of us can keep busy schedules.  Those of you with little children may sometimes feel engulfed by yours.  It was one of those times for me.  I had just hosted family for several days for Easter the weekend before.  The visit was great, but in its wake our house was a mess and our kids were exhausted.  I felt the need to relax, but instead I was supposed to pack and travel the next weekend too.  I wondered, “Will my weekend away really be worth all of this hassle?” 

Despite my doubts about going, I kept my commitment and followed through.  I knew God would bless the weekend – but he did so in a way that surprised me.  These are some of the retreat blessings I anticipated:  The opportunity to hear a fabulous speaker, make new friends, divorce my cellphone for a weekend, and take a long nap.  (I was particularly excited about the latter.  Seriously, moms, when is the last time you took a long, uninterrupted nap completely guilt-free?)  Well, God did deliver on all of those things, but they weren't the best part.  The best part was experiencing the unique power of collective feminine witness, which manifested itself in three ways.

First, I experienced connection.  When I mention connection, I am not talking about making new friends.  I am talking about the power of female community.  I live in a house with four males – my husband, two sons, and a male cat.  As wonderfully sensitive and loving as they are, they are not females.  I was amazed by the vulnerability and desire to share stories on the retreat.  It was prevalent and effortless.  It was women communicating in the way God designed us to need. 

When I think about my weekly schedule with little children, maybe I sneak in a quick conversation with a friend during a playdate.  Maybe I meet a friend for coffee and have a quick heart-to-heart before dashing to pick my children up from preschool.  Maybe I arrange to have a dinner out with a friend once in a while.  I might feel fueled by each of these outlets, but they are not the same as a collection of women coming together to communicate for an entire weekend.  I saw lives not just touched, but transformed.

Second, I experienced communal wisdom.  If you think about it, each of us has a limited sphere of connection.  Despite the fact that I am a pastor and rather outgoing, my immediate circle of friends is small and fairly homogeneous.  The friends whom I regularly see live near me, are of similar age, and engage in some of the same activities.  I know their stories, and they know mine.  Imagine the power, however, of hearing new stories from women of varying ages and backgrounds.  Imagine the communal truth that can emerge.

Just like wars have been fought for similar reasons throughout history, I’m learning marriages end for similar reasons.  Friendships collapse for similar reasons.  Children go down the wrong path for similar reasons.  Sharing communal wisdom is essential for the protection and growth of what we value most.  We all know live, personal testimonies are far more effective than anything we can read in a book, but we need to take advantage of the opportunity to hear them.  If you are a young woman, perhaps you have been hesitant to go on a retreat because yours is largely attended by older women; consider the fact that their stories might be just what God wants you to hear. 

Finally, I experienced continued growth in perspective.  In one weekend, there were stories of divorce, imprisonment, assault and battery, and mental illness, among others, and that’s from a healthy, suburban church.  Creation is still groaning.  If you think you must suffer alone and in silence, if you believe no one can possibly understand your pain, if you think there is no place to express your anger toward God in Christian community, you are listening to the Deceiver.  Sometimes the greatest gift God can give us are hands to hold from women who understand, and together we can resurrect from the ashes through faith.

So in answer to my question, “Will my weekend away really be worth all of this hassle?”, my answer undoubtedly is YES.  God blessed my time on the retreat abundantly.  And in fact, I have come to see the hassle beforehand differently too.  The responsibilities that seemed onerous to arrange before I left are for a family that I now appreciate even more.  For amidst a recognition of life’s trials, we can better celebrate every good gift.

If you liked this post, you might also like Why It's Important to Run for the Hills.

Why It's Important to Run for the Hills

Saturday, May 03, 2014 #motherhood #restoration

Last weekend I ran, well really drove, to the hills.  I attended my church's women's retreat in the Pocono Mountains.

Moms, when is the last time you packed your bags and left your family for a couple of nights?  

Maybe you practice the discipline of it, and take an occasional weekend away to recharge or connect with girlfriends.  But if you're like me, you've done it next to never since you've had children.

In order to get away, I had to push through some doubts.  First, would a weekend away really be worth all of the hassle?  I was cleaning, packing, stocking the house, and arranging the necessary logistics.  I was exhausted - and hadn't even left yet.

Second, would my husband be okay watching our young children all weekend and then going back to work on Monday?  Would he be able to shoulder the extra work in addition to the various additional responsibilities that had cropped up?  We all have a family rhythm, and my time away was a break from ours.

After going on the retreat, I can confidently answer that everything worked out okay - actually, better than okay.  My husband had a blast with our children.  And I returned refreshed, renewed and transformed.

If you have been feeling reluctant - over even guilty - about needing some time away, I wonder if you've wrestled with any of these thoughts:

My husband just doesn't understand nor appreciate what I do all day!  Have you given him the chance to do it by himself?

My children won't stop whining - even an occasional thank you would be nice!  Have you given your children the opportunity to miss you?   

I am so exhausted.  One day bleeds into another - it's like I am reliving Groundhog's Day!  When is the last time you allowed yourself a break? 

Sometimes we just need encouragement to get away - encouragement that says it will be worth the extra work to arrange it.  Sometimes we just need to give ourselves permission to do it.  You don't have to be supermom.  You can step away.  In fact, you can actually be more "super" after you do.

We can't allow maternal pride to rob us of a break.  Yes, other people will do things differently than we do in our absence.  But I've learned over the years that just because they do it differently doesn't mean we always do it better.  God created each of us with strengths and weakness; the strongest model for family life is one that accepts an influx of guidance and support.

Christ established a model for us to emulate by heading for the hills.  Mark 6:45-46 states, "Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.  After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray."  Yes, Christ was praying to the Father, but he was also intentionally removing himself from those he was beholden to in order to refuel.  

If you've been sensing the need for a little time away, have you ever considered that it is Jesus himself who is bidding you to go?

{Photo by Dhruvaraj S at Flickr, Edited}

The Gospel According to Little Boys

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 #children #Easter

In honor of Easter, my two-year-old was decked out in paraphernalia when I picked him up from preschool.  He wore a special cross hat that he had proudly colored.  (His teachers had made it skillfully out of a paper plate - Seriously, how do preschool teachers repurpose all they do into such niffy concoctions?)  In addition, he was carrying an Easter basket full of candy, holiday poems, and that grass you never can stop picking up all over the house.  Finally, he had a new plastic cross necklace around his neck.  That was his favorite.

And when we went to the playground, I found out why.

There was my little two-year-old, running around the playground interacting with children twice his age.  He loves playing with his brother's friends.  That was not unusual.  But what happened next was:  He picked up his cross necklace, pointed it at one of the boys, and made a shooting sound.  Yes, he was using his cross as a gun.

I was m-o-r-t-i-f-i-e-d.

I went over to him for an explanation.  He said, "Mommy, do you know my cross has power?"

"Oh really, what kind of power?" I asked.

"Fire power!" he exclaimed as he happily ran off.  He left a trail of laughs from boys behind him as they joined in the fun.

If you're a mother of boys, you might be letting out a knowing sigh right now.  I've come to expect my boys' rough and tumble nature to come out in surprising moments.  And sometimes, I've learned to just roll with it.

But in this instance, we certainly talked about how the cross is not a weapon, and we don't play by pointing guns at people.  I realize this whole lesson falls apart the next time I put a water gun in his hands, however.  Sigh.

What's interesting about the incident, though, is that my son's statement was correct.  The cross really does have "fire" power.  Scripture describes the Holy Spirit as fire, and the Spirit witnesses to each of us about the power of Christ's sacrifice on the cross.

I sometimes wonder if we tame Easter too much.  It's become a holiday of egg hunts, a fluffy bunny who likes to pose for pictures, and ruffled dresses.  Maybe we say a sentimental prayer about the importance of family before we feast.  Maybe it's the one Sunday a year we go to church...Maybe we are missing something.

Jesus' crucifixion was gory and messy, and his resurrection on Easter Sunday was far from a casual event - it was a cataclysmic one.  It changed everything.  The evil forces of this world were defeated, and we are grafted into that victory through faith.  There is definite warfare imagery going on.  Therefore, in the spirit of my son's playtime: 

  • To discouragement - Take that!  We now have a renewing, insurmountable hope.  
  • To desperation - Stick it!  We are now never without additional reinforcements through our Savior.  
  • To panic and disappointment - Hi-Yah!  There is now a blessed, eternal future promised to us.  
  • To numbness and brokenheartedness - Pow! Pow!  There is now an unconditional love that claims us from the grave.  

I love how my son naturally related the cross' power to terms young boys could understand. That's exactly what Jesus did in the parables:  He took big truths and distilled them down into little nuggets through the use of images that were second nature to his audience.  The parables retain their power by still being applicable outside of their original audience, however, just like my son's example is to us.

So if you're looking for Easter to mean a little more this year, check out a two-year-old boy on the playground.  Maybe he'll be grinning ear to ear and darting to and fro while his cross necklace dances across his chest.  He's pretty adorable, and he's taught me something too.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to read A Theological Lesson From...M&M's!, my Easter post from last year.

Stranger Danger Tips Every Mom Should Know

Saturday, April 12, 2014 #children #safety #assault

To a parent with little kids, spring means "Hello, playgrounds!"  (Along with a sigh that means, "Thank God they can finally run around outside!")  As much as we eagerly anticipate letting them hit the ground running - literally - it is also important that we teach them how to do it safely.  And I am not talking about safe acrobatics.  Today, I want to communicate some very important information about keeping our children safe around strangers.

We pray for safety for our children.  We worship a God who promises, "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield..." (Psalm 91:4).  After attending a child safety lecture this fall, I am convinced that God uses parental instruction, intuition, and attention to help keep our children safe.  By learning the right information and acting upon it, we can be a shield of protection for our children - for there is often a pattern to child abuse.

The information I am sharing comes from a seasoned criminal prosecutor and mother of four children.  If you missed my first article this fall, be sure to read Safety Tips Every Mom Should Know for her invaluable, practical tips on how to protect your children from sexual abuse.  Today, I am passing along some essential stranger danger tips.  Less than 10% of child abuse is committed by strangers, but these assaults are the most dangerous.

You can protect your child by following these tips:

Grown-ups don’t ask kids for help.  The most common tactic pedophiles use when approaching children is to ask them for help with something.  Let your children know that grown-ups need to ask other grown-ups for help and that they should run to their parent or caregiver if an adult approaches them for help.   Teach your children that they are responsible for keeping themselves safe and they have permission to ignore an unknown adult requesting help.

No names, only initials.  Never put a child’s name on anything that will be worn or carried outside the home.  If an adult knows their name, a child assumes they know THEM.   This is just as true for older children as younger ones.

Teach young children to ask a mommy for help when lost.  Teach children that if they become separated from you, they should stay where they are and not go looking for you.  If they need help, they should look for a “mommy.”  Even very young children know what “mommies” look like and women (especially those who have children with them) are the safest option.

NEVER get near an unknown adult in a car.    Children who are abducted into an automobile are at the greatest risk.  Teach your children that they should NEVER approach a car driven by someone they don’t know well under ANY circumstances.   Let older children know that they should scream, fight, run and do everything and anything they can to avoid getting into an unknown car.  If someone does try to approach them in a car, they should run away in the opposite direction. 

Be careful when letting young boys use men’s restrooms!  Don't be afraid to open the door to the public restroom and check in with your child by asking, "Are you okay in there?  Mom is right out here!"  Not only will this potentially comfort your child, but most importantly it serves to let other adults know that you are tuned in and attentive.  Teach your children that it is never okay for another adult to touch them.

For further exploration, a good friend recently recommended these resources:

* The Safe Side - Stranger Safety: Hot Tips To Keep Cool Kids Safe With People They Don't Know and Kinda Know (2005).  This is a video for children ages 2-10.

* The Berenstain Bears Learn About Strangers.  This is a book from the popular series for children ages 3 and up.

The majority of the information above is a direct copy of material written by criminal prosecutor Beth Little and is used with her permission.  She is eager for you to pass it on!  Be safe everyone!

{Photo by Carl Wycoff at Flickr}

Why Vocational Mothering?

Thursday, April 03, 2014 #blessing #change #motherhood

Recently, I heard a discussion about change that put my vision for my blog community into sharp relief.  Maybe it will inspire you too.

Have you ever given thought to what really motivates us to change?  On the one hand, we can respond to a push.  When we feel pushed to change, it is not very effective.  Guilt or shame can be the driving forces that push us to change in a way that we are not really inclined to do.  We might have good resolve for a while, but any long-term resolve is lacking.  You know what I mean.  We've all been there before.  Think about the New Year's resolutions that last, say, one week.

Change is really possible through a pull, however.  A pull is something that's really motivating.  We are quite literally "pulled" toward a goal, and the closer we come to it, the more energized we become to stay the course.  A pull often taps into our dreams, mind and heart.

We all have pulls, but we still need to identify and nurture them.  I believe we can become better mothers when we identify ours.  I certainly don't want to become a better mother because of a push - because of how someone else assesses me, because of how I compare myself to others, or because of shame or guilt for something I've done wrong.  Instead, I want to become a better mother because I'm inspired by how God can use my work to touch my life, make a difference for my children, and use our family to bless others. 

I am a woman who never wants to stop growing.  I believe God is still able to do amazing things in our midst, and one of the most amazing things he could do is to strengthen our families.  I want to be a channel of blessing from God to my family.  I want my home to be a life raft for the stormy seas of life.  And I want God to bestow his strength, compassion, and wisdom to make this happen for each of us.

I am a pastor whose whole world changed the moment she held her babies in her arms.  For almost ten years, I have been ministering to mothers and families - from visiting high-risk mothers at the hospital to baptizing babies and doing youth ministry.  I adore motherhood and have a passion for using my training to reflect upon our monumental work.  That's why I respond to current events, relay poignant moments that encapsulate the blessing of motherhood, and reflect upon God's word and its theological implications for our parenting in this blog.

Ultimately, I am eager to grow a community of mothers who believe:

  • We are not perfect, but we believe God can magnify even the smallest act of faithfulness for the benefit of our families, and we seek to be faithful. 
  • Amidst the sometimes lonely moments of motherhood, we have the power to connect meaningfully with one another here so that we remember we are never alone on our journey.  What's more, we're stronger together.
  • Parenting is difficult and life is not without its challenges, but God is bigger than any of them, and there are divine resources that we can mine together so that we can live encouraged and inspired.
  • Motherhood is a sacred task, and by esteeming it as such, we will invest in our own emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being and that of our children.  We want to create homes of abundant blessing.
  • Love is our motivation, our pull.  We bask in the unconditional love of God, whom we want to know more each day.  Further, we give love to others out of its overflow so that we are continually renewed on our respective journeys.

We will become the best parents we can be not because we are perfect, but because we are striving, because we look to a higher power as our guide, and because we know the unconditional love of Jesus.  Grace begets grace as we allow God to mold us.  Parenting, therefore, is not the art of mastery, but the art of surrender to God.  For as we listen, he will inform.  As we question, he will gently nudge.  And as we look to show our family love, we will be able to do so with abandon because of his overflowing love for us.

I'm looking for fellow parents who love God and believe that our faith has something relevant to say about the choices we make everyday for our families.  I am done with the tired debates about the value of motherhood.  I am eager to elevate it to the holy calling - the vocation - that it is.  

Is that your pull too?

If this post inspired you, you might also like Inspiring Quote: This Blog's Beginning.

Shopping for Connection

Thursday, March 27, 2014 #love #community #motherhood #self-care

Usually when I grocery shop with my two-year-old, I talk to him.  But the other day, he happily played games on my iPhone while I went up and down the aisles, consumed with my mental grocery list.

While I was in the produce section, I saw another mother with a toddler who was my son's age.  She was lost in conversation with him.  I would say she was actually "verbal streaming," because he wasn't really responding, and she was describing everything she was doing:  what she wanted to buy, what she was putting into the cart, and what she missed and needed to turn around for.  We know adults typically don't like a play by play, but this little boy was loving every minute of it.  He sat gleefully looking at his mother with wide eyes, wondering what she would say next, and learning about food, vocabulary, and grocery shopping all the while.

It occurred to me that he was being really seen by his mother.  It didn't involve her spending money to take an expensive class with him.  It didn't involve having his favorite friends over for a killer play date (which at this age simply meant toys and parallel play - ha).  It simply involved treating him like an important member of the shopping team and giving him quality attention.

I marveled at the gift she was giving her child.  She was gratifying one of his basic needs - the one for connection - which is one that we all have really.

Our children often look to us mothers first and foremost for connection, for when they are little, we are their whole world.  It is a privilege to have this role, but we need to balance its responsibility with an acknowledgement of our own need for connection too.  This need manifests itself both as mothers and as Christian women.

Stay at home mothering can be isolating.  Although you assuredly may not be home all of the time, you are still occupied with an endless assortment of tasks to meet your children's needs.  Your focus on them can leave you missing quality adult interaction.  When my children were in the baby stage and I was particularly sleep-deprived, I missed easy access to adult understanding, stimulation, and activity.  This is normal, but we need to be aware of it.  Recognizing that our need has integrity opens the door for us to take steps for creative solutions.

Being a faithful Christian woman also necessitates meaningful connection.  The road of obedience itself can be isolating, and if we are going to intentionally craft a family life that differs from the world, we will need other Christian mothers standing beside us.  I have learned that there are people who will celebrate you and your faith - your faith isn't something they will just tolerate along the way.  Seek out the people who will be blessed by what you have to offer, not only to the world, but to Christ's church.  I promise, they exist.

If attending a weekly Christian fellowship group is too much for you to navigate scheduling wise, I encourage you to find a prayer partner.  This can be a woman whom you enjoy talking with but who also possesses a similar drive to follow Christ.  Sharing your story with vulnerability can sometimes be easier in one-on-one interactions, and remember, where two or more are gathered, Christ promises to be there (Matt. 18:20).  Try to plan meetings regularly based upon mutual availability.  Take time to pray for each other.  Delight in being heard and understood by a fellow journeyer.  I have used this form of communion may times in my faith walk, and it has always unlocked blessing.

Our desire for connection appears at every level in our families.  My prayer is that we not only take the time to give it to our children - through the grocery shopping conversations, or the random tickle fights, or the games played past bedtime - but also take the time to seek it ourselves.

If you liked this post, you might also like Haunting Ocean Tale.

{Photo by Coolmikeol at Flickr}

Is Education Wasted in Child Rearing?

Saturday, March 22, 2014 #christian parenting #parenting choices #career #motherhood #

A friend of mine passed along an article about the choice to be a stay at home mother.  It’s interesting to read last year's article, O, Alma Mater by Anne-Marie Magginis, and the string of comments that follow to familiarize ourselves with an age-old debate.  Magginis is a Princeton graduate who defends her choice to stay at home with her two young children, despite critics calling it a waste of her top notch degree.  She even felt disparaged by an alumni survey from her own university.  Being a stay at home mom did not appear to be a viable option, since it was seemingly without esteemed and measurable societal contributions.

Whether or not you stay at home with your children, this is an issue for all mothers because it touches on society’s value of our efforts.  Mothering is a challenge regardless of career decisions, but the thing that stay at home moms often lack is the feedback that is possible in the workforce.  There are so many tasks that all mothers do for the benefit of their families, tasks that are often unrecognized or unnoticed, and yet are essential to daily functioning.  Doing a job without vocalized gratitude that is then denigrated by society too puts stay at home moms especially in an unsupported position.  Out of respect for our communal goal to appreciate and advance the task of mothering, this should never be the case.

My intent here is to esteem the choice of being a stay at home mom by infusing the debate with a faith perspective.  To begin, it is helpful to recap the opponent position from the article.  Kelly Goff of the U.K. Guardian wrote a piece entitled “Female Ivy League Graduates Have a Duty to Stay in the Workforce.” In it she argues, “Any Harvard Law School degree obtained by a woman who then chooses not to use it in any sort of professional capacity throughout most of her life is a wasted opportunity. That degree could have gone to a woman who does want to spend her entire life using it to advance the cause of women—or others in need of advancement—not simply advancing the lives of her own family at home, which is a noble cause, but not one requiring an elite degree.”

As a graduate of Princeton Seminary, I found her particular focus on an elite degree interesting.  Goff clearly has stated expectations linked with that opportunity.  Yet her argument really applies to all educated women:  Is education a waste if simply applied to child rearing?  She would argue yes through the lens of unattained professional advancement, but her perspective is flawed from a faith perspective, and here’s why.

First, Goff is operating under the assumption that there are two life spheres, the personal and the civic.  She finds it problematic that a mom would use an elite degree for strictly personal purposes.  Magginis argues that there are in fact civic implications to stay at home mothering though.  Stay at home moms are not only giving all of themselves to their children, who form the next generation, but they are also often inclined to civic volunteerism.   That point resonated with me, as my ministerial work is largely volunteer at present.

Yet beyond debating the finer points of exactly where the personal and civic spheres actually rest, there is a sphere that has been neglected: the spiritual one.  As Christians, we believe that the spiritual sphere informs the other two.   Our ultimate goal is to glorify God in life.  We seek to live in obedience to God and in response to God’s calling.  If God has opened a door to a particular institution and given us the means and desire to walk through it, it is our responsibility to embark upon that journey despite what any third party might say.

Second, Goff’s argument rests upon a controlled outcome.  If one gets "x" degree, then "x" particular professional expectation is set.  Yet we as Christians know that there is some level of mystery and surrender to following God’s plan for our life.  So often we may not understand all facets of the path we follow until we have the benefit of retrospection.  Success therefore isn’t perfect planning and execution, as Goff may argue, but rather perfect and sometimes blind obedience.  Further, we worship a God who holds both the personal and civic in his hands and can orchestrate for the good of both far beyond our expectations. 

I can honestly say that I never intended to stay home with my children.  But in the end, I couldn’t leave them.  I’m lucky that I didn't have to and was called to a profession that is allowing me to benefit from both worlds currently.  I am neither full nor part-time, yet I have an outlet that I am passionate about as a stay at home mom.  Sometimes that is exactly how God works.  His plan for our training comes out even better than we could have imagined.  I can think of no better way to advance our world than to live in submission to the One who created it, and advancement is ultimately what is wanted by both sides of the debate.

In our effort to pursue God’s calling for our lives, may we never demean the path of another.  Being a stay at mom should elicit our respect regardless of our professional choices.  It is through unifying rather than dividing that we can best affect a positive world for our children together as moms.  Education is never wasted, and investing in our children is noble and needed – and I would even go a step further by calling it a vocation, a ministry.  Yet the redeeming aspect to Goff’s argument is the challenge:  Are we making the most of every talent, skill, and blessing that we’ve been given as we follow God's call right now?  Further, who is to say that "not now" means "not ever" as we discern God's work plan for our lives?

{Photo by Molly Darling at Flickr}

This Pastor's Response to Disney's Frozen

Thursday, March 13, 2014 #spiritual gifts #community #healing

**Spoiler Alert!  This article is intended to process the popular film with people who have already seen it!**

Disney's Frozen recently won an Oscar for the Best Animated Feature Film at the 86th annual Academy Awards.  The film generated over $810 million during its time in theaters, making it the second-highest grossing, non-sequel animated release in history.  The result is that Disney's stock has climbed, its theme song "Let It Go" has gone viral, and my children keep begging me to watch the movie since its recent home release.

Yes, I'm a pastor, but I'm also a mother.  So when I'm watching the movie with my two young boys, I'm secretly applauding its feisty female leads.  I join in on my children's attempts to sing and dance to its catchy choruses.  And I appreciate its plethora of quirky characters too - like the adorable reindeer Sven and snowman Olaf, who bring well-timed comic relief to balance some of the movie's darker moments.

For one, Disney does not shy away from death in this film, just like in many of its other classics.  It's somewhat of a surprise, as many parents with young children avoid addressing the topic, and yet here is a movie targeted at the age group that includes it as an important element in the plot development.  My two-year-old has not realized its occurrence in the movie, but my five-year-old has started to ask questions.  That in of itself is not necessarily bad, however.

The troubling part of the movie as a pastor and mother is how the king and queen handle their daughter Elsa's power before their demise.  Elsa has the gift of being able to create ice and snow.  With it, she has the ability to bring good - like creating fun and imaginative playdates for her little sister, Anna - or harm - like when she accidentally injures Anna while they are playing.  Because it is a gift that Elsa has had from birth, it resembles the mysterious way that all of us are entrusted with gifts by our Creator.

Each of us has been created to fulfill a unique purpose and entrusted with different spiritual gifts through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to do so.  We are to use these gifts for good - for the upbuilding of community and advancement of the kingdom of God.  Although we do not have control over the weather like Elsa, scripture tells us that with God, the possibilities are limitless.  Remember how Paul describes God in Ephesians 3:20, "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagineaccording to his power that is at work within us" (NIV, emphasis mine).

Instead of nurturing and shaping Elsa's gift, her parents fear it.  Because the gift harms her sister once accidentally, they decide to isolate Elsa to prevent any future occurrences.  They mention wanting to help her learn to control it, but their instructions to her work to conceal it instead.  She isn't to have contact with Anna or the outside world and she is to wear gloves to mask the power in her hands:  Ultimately, she is to "conceal, don't feel, don't let it show."

Upon their parents' death, the two young daughters are left without the benefit of sisterly companionship.  Elsa remains a "good girl" by following her parents instructions.  Her gift grows stronger in the dark and alone.  Anna effectively is left mourning three losses in her family.  She is confused, frustrated, and alone as well.  The decision to hide Elsa's powerful gift was the wrong one, as illustrated by the resultant division, cover ups, and pain.  

A scriptural understanding of giftedness recognizes the importance of gifts functioning within community - never isolation.  Paul explores this principle by demonstrating how believers can function as different body parts within the larger context of Christ's body (Romans 12:3-8).  Each person has a unique purpose appropriate to how their gift naturally functions within the whole.  Some gifts are stronger than others, but no gift is more important than another.  That's because community growth, contagious love, and furthering one vision (advancing the kingdom of God) are the common goal.

Actively learning how to control her gift and openly using its power for good would have been a better goal for young Elsa.  Instead of imprisonment and fear, connection with others and confidence could have shaped her childhood.  As Christians we know the power in confronting trial; Elsa's parents could have been a source of unconditional love and acceptance through it instead.  As Elsa learned to control her gift, she could have been empowered to do great things for the kingdom - her kingdom in this instance.  Not only would the larger community have been stronger, but the bond between the sisters would have remained intact.

That was not what her parents chose, however, and the movie plot advances with compiling complications because of it.  It is no surprise that the movie ends with a Christological moment that changes everything.  Elsa has accidentally injured Anna once again, but this time, she has frozen her heart.  Only an act of true love can reverse it.  With little time left before her own frozen demise, Anna opts to save Elsa from sudden death rather than to save herself.  Yet this act of self-sacrifice is able to melt the frozen rift between the two sisters as their love, rather than romantic love, is enough to save them both.  

Anna's self-sacrifice, like that of Christ, is the pivotal moment that initiates the healing of everything.  The characters discover the redeeming and redemptive power of love - it's the key to controlling Elsa's gift, building relationships, and effecting a stronger kingdom.  As the scenery and characters' hearts begin to thaw, new life begins to bud everywhere.  And the last scene shows Elsa openly using her gift to create community fun - she is finally both free and connected.    

It is well-known that Disney movies have several layers.  It's interesting to watch old classics and discover the adult material we missed as children.  Frozen has its adult layers, but it definitely a Christian one too.  With eyes tuned to the gospel, we won't miss its presence.  And I hope we won't miss its inspiration to use and nurture our gifts in freedom either.

Women, The Church and You

Wednesday, February 19, 2014 #women #Leadership #pastors #church

Now that I have been writing for iBelieve since the summer and you know me a little bit, I wanted to repost a special article from my blog that I haven't shared with you yet.  I initially published it back in March of 2013.  It has to do with my personal story in becoming a pastor and what I believe the implications are for each of you.  I know not everyone believes the same on this issue, but I pray that we can all grow together as we seek to faithfully respond to the gospel.  Blessings in your journeys, friends!

Introduction

I wanted to write this week about female ordination, meaning women who serve as pastors.  It was the topic of a discussion group I attended recently.  I was also asked to speak to a group of women who are contemplating their ministerial calls later this month.  Even though my denomination has been ordaining women for over fifty years, there are still church bodies that oppose it.  The debate over female ordination continues in these circles.  And it touches profoundly on an issue of motherhood because of it.

The debate calls to mind a memory from my seminary training at Princeton.  Taking a preaching class was a requirement in our second year.  There was a sharp girl in my class who was brought to tears when she first reached the pulpit.  She spoke of how she came from a Southern Baptist background that did not allow women to preach.  She was wrestling mentally, spiritually and emotionally with the issue.  But do you know what?  Once she did it, she was good.

I have been moved to tears in my own path to ordination.  When God first called me, I was a college student.  Among my commitments was a small group and regular worship at a conservative, non-denominational Christian church.  Both did not support my call to become a pastor because of my gender.  My campus support system shattered.  That hurt as I wrestled with the issue on my own.  Eventually, I left that church to return to the denomination of my upbringing.  By God's grace, I met a head pastor who mentored and supported me, and I was inspired on.

Biblical Support

Those who oppose female ordination claim biblical grounds.  In seminary, I was able to explore the issue with learned professors and found the process quite healing.  What I ended up finding was abundant scriptural support for female ordination.  Those who oppose it point to the passage that instructs women not to speak in church or have teaching authority (1 Timothy 2:11-12).  Contextualizing it is instructive.  First, women at that time were not educated like men, so their input could have been disruptive or distracting.  Maintaining order and right teaching was of primary importance as the church was looking to put down roots.  Women now have the opportunity to acquire equivalent education to men and often excel in their fields.  Second, remember that this verse comes to us in the form of an epistle.  An epistle is a letter - something that was written to a particular people at a particular time.

Because that passage comes to us in an epistle, it is important to enlarge our lens for a greater biblical perspective.  Paul is the author of 1 Timothy, and he acknowledges females who are serving with him in scripture (See Romans 16:1-16; he mentions approximately eleven women.).  He is affirming and giving thanks for their ministry, so it is helpful to look to his own example in support of female ministry.  Second, we can look to the life of Jesus.  His ministry is very affirming to women.  An example is that Jesus appears to women first after his resurrection.  His resurrection is foundational to the whole Christian message, and he shares this teaching moment with women.  What's more, he instructs the women to spread the good news.  His choice gives credibility to the female witness, and of course we look to Christ as the ultimate exemplar of our faith.

Those who support female ordination often point to the scripture passage, "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28, NRSV).  Both women and men have been made in God's image according to Genesis.  Just as our God is ultimately beyond gender, so too are we in the eyes of the Lord.  Thus what matters in our faith lives is our spiritual gifts and how we use them in God's service.  It is our responsibility to use them in response to God's call.  I could never believe that God would call me to do something and then not allow me to do it based on something that I could not control and that God orchestrated (my gender).  Galatians tells me that I don't have to.

Implications

So where does this leave us as Christians, as women, and as mothers?  First, I think it leaves us encouraged to become whomever God calls us to be.  Paul's greatest concern was the upbuilding of the church.  We are to use our spiritual gifts, intelligence, and callings to continue furthering that goal today.  The church needs our perspectives.  Also, it needs all equipped and inspired people in this challenging age.

I think this issue should lead us to evaluate our choice in worship places too.  This choice is of the essence for mothers of daughters in particular.  Are you worshiping in a place where your children will be encouraged to be whom God is calling them?  Will they feel empowered to use their gifts and inspired to do whatever they can for Christ's church?  God wants to not just upbuild the kingdom, but upbuild us.  It just makes sense not to pigeon hole our children, especially in God's own house. 

The church is where scripture should best be modeled, so that followers can find supportive community and vision to go back out and be lights in the world. Whether or not your daughters want to become pastors themselves, seeing women in leadership in such a formative place can inspire them in their future endeavors. Mentoring through example is the most effective way we learn.

When I encountered resistance to my call in college, I did not give up.  I had been raised to believe otherwise.  I remember my Mom tearfully leaving the first church that we worshiped at as a family because they did not support female ordination.  I was too young to have a sense of my call, but old enough to still remember.  We started going to a Presbyterian church then, and I am an ordained minister of that faith now.  And do you know what?  My heart is singing.  Thanks, Mom.

Note:  If you wanted to mine the gospels for more, Luke's gospel gives particular focus to issues of social justice and includes the most stories about women and Jesus' treatment of them. 

Want to check out my blog?  Click here to find it and read a special guest post this week.

The Power of a Praying Mom

Monday, February 10, 2014 #prayer, power, children #motherhood

Have you taken time to think about your wildest dreams for your child?  Have you spent time listening to the Holy Spirit about God's plan for their life with an open mind?  Have you picked up on their seeds of greatness and wanted to be the water and sun for those seeds through prayer?

Or is your heart hurting today?  Do you find that you have exhausted every avenue of potential action and are left standing frustrated and alone?  You know that your child is journeying down a different path, a dangerous path than the one you want for them, and the only tool you have left is the power of prayer.

Or maybe your child is struggling with a challenge.  It might be too big for them to handle by themselves, or maybe it is an opportunity to test their wings.  You waiver between holding on and letting go, and pray that the Holy Spirit will give you wisdom to counsel and support them in just the right way so that they can take flight.

Moms, whether you are dreaming, standing before God in scary vulnerability, or just trying to listen and get it right, we have a powerful tool at our disposal:  prayer.  Prayer is not a trite quick-fix answer, but a conversation with God that unlocks the power of possibility.  {Tweet that.}  Listen to how Paul describes God in scripture, "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever..." (Ephesians 3:20-21).  We pray to a God "who is able to do immeasurable more than all we ask or imagine," but it is still up to us to do the asking and imagining.

As a pastor who has prayed at hospital bedsides, with prayer partners, and in front of congregations, I have given a lot of thought to how I want to pray with and for my children.  Time and time again I have heard stories about mothers whose prayer life God has used to change the course of their child's trajectory or plant seeds of greatness in them.

I was moved and convicted by a recent quote written by a mom about the power of prayer.  In her devotional Out of the Spin Cycle: Devotions to Lighten Your Mother Load, Jen Hatmaker writes, "Perhaps no service rendered to our children is more important than our intercession. A mother's job is to pray for her children while they don't have the words, understanding, or insight to pray for themselves. We stand in the gap, praying for their salvation, gifts, and lives, much like the Spirit prays for us" (p. 25).  As moms, we do a lot to serve our children.  But the greatest service we can offer them is a powerful tool whose reach is far beyond our own.  {Tweet that.}

There is no correct formula to follow when praying for our children, for children are different.  They have different gifts, needs, and challenges.  Further, there is no best way to offer our petitions, for we are promised that the Holy Spirit will intercede for us when we struggle for words (Romans 8:26).  So there is no need for us to feel intimidated - no!  We have the Holy Spirit as our prayer partner.  We can confidently approach the throne with the desires of our heart and a willingness to be used in God's service.

Whatever you are looking to petition God for, I offer these five bench markers as you formulate your words:

1.  God, I ask you to show my child your love so that they would know it beyond a shadow of a doubt.  This is the beginning of a faith relationship (1 John 4:19).  

2.  God, I ask you to protect my child.  Some mothers envision a band of angels surrounding their children.  King David describes God's favor like a shield (Psalm 5:12).  

3.  God, I ask you to guide their steps according to your ways and will.  Scripture promises rich blessings to those who pursue righteousness (Psalm 19:7-11).

4.  God, I ask that your plan for their life would involve using them in a tremendous way.  This is our opportunity to dream big for their lives.  Our goal is not to impose our own plans upon our children, but to help fuel their God-given destinies (Proverbs 16:9).

5.  God, I ask you to equip me to be the absolute best parent that I can be.  This prayer will certainly involve growing pains of our own.  But when God is growing us, it means that there is more good work for us to do! We will not only emerge better moms, but better people (Job 23:10).

As you work to combine these bench markers with your own unique petitions, remember that you are doing important work.  I am convinced that the prayer of a mother has a special place in the heart of God.  Remember Christ's love for his earthly mother, Mary.  Remember their unique bond.  THIS is the Son who is approaching the Father for you.  THIS is the Son who said,  "And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father" (John 14:13).  Have confidence.  Take heart.  Your prayers matter.  And your Heavenly Father is waiting to listen to YOU.

If this post encouraged you, please pass it on!  You might also like A Mom's Ultimate Blessing: A Prayer for Armor

If you are interested in reading further, I found these posts to be rich in scriptural insight:  10 Prayers for Your Son and 10 Prayers for Your Daughter.

{Photo from iStock/GJohnstonPhoto}

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