May 26, 2015

Lay Aside the Weight of the Christian Mold

The Christian mold: it beckons us, whispers to us constantly about what a “good” Christian might choose or what a “good” Christian might say. Each in our own minds, we carry always before us a real-life person that we admire, or a contrived goal of what we think we ought to be, or an amalgam of all we see and hear from others about living the Christian life. Tellingly, the mold in our minds centers around behaviors and external practices, not typically around the righteousness of heart seen only by God. We want to be careful with our projected image, and it’s a heavy weight to carry.
However, instead of throwing off the pressurized weight of the mold, we often try instead to squeeze ourselves into it. We evaluate ourselves by the imagined mold, puffing up with pride when we fit just so and throwing ourselves into the pit of self-condemnation when we don’t. Not only does it simultaneously feed our pride and self-condemnation, but it accommodates our harsh critique of others who don’t fit the mold we carry around in our minds. We become judges, arbiters of the Christian life, and it is a heavy weight to carry.

Others among us reject any mold, any submission to a greater God-given whole, and scream out constantly about our individualism. We say in so many words to anyone who will listen, “I don’t fit the mold, and I don’t feel like that’s welcomed. Validate me.” Our difference and individualism become our highest virtue and get first priority over our corporateness in Christ. This response to the mold is an accepted invitation to self-pity, anger, bitterness, and eventually isolation, and it is a heavy weight to carry.

Although it is a heavy weight, it feels equally difficult and even unnatural to reject the beckoning of the mold, precisely because a rejection of the mold is a rejection of self. To give up the fight to fit into the mold or the fight to validate our individual mold is to give up pleasing man and pleasing our pride and submitting solely and completely to God. We must be willing to do anything that He calls us to, whether it means we fit the mold or stand out from it. We must be willing to put primary focus on the values of the kingdom of God--faith, hope, and love--rather than external practices that we use to make us look good to others.

Christian, lay aside the heavy weight of the mold, because there is no mold. There is Christ, who loves you and redeemed you from the curse of having to fulfill a man-made law! So tear out your foundation of self-glory and man-glory and bring all the gifts God has given you--your life circumstances, your spiritual gifts, your personality, your occupation, your marital status, and your possessions--to build for God-glory on the Chief Cornerstone, the only mold and foundation we are to build ourselves around and into and upon. When we lay aside the weight (and distraction) of the Christian mold and build upon the Jesus-foundation with what unique tools we’ve been given, we find that we’re “being fitted together” to form “a dwelling place of God” (Ephesians 2:21-22). God doesn’t dwell in molds formed for man-glory, He dwells among us as we each let Him place us as a building block upon Christ, and as we do this together, not for image-keeping but for image-bearing.

May 20, 2015

An Invitation For You: A Book Club with From Good to Grace

Summer and books: a perfect combination. Summer and books and friends--even better! That's why I'm pleased to extend an invitation to you and your reading friends to join my From Good to Grace summer book club. Below is a video introducing the book and the book club idea. Consider it your personal invitation, and feel free to share it with friends who you'd like to join you. In addition, click here for an editable flyer you can use to gather or invite women in your church or neighborhood.


From Good to Grace Book Club: Intro from Christine Hoover on Vimeo.
(Download the video for viewing here.)

Details
From Good to Grace is divided into three parts, so I will post three corresponding videos in the month of June, starting June 8th and finishing on June 22nd. In each video, I'll discuss questions raised in the book with three of my friends and give your book club a question for discussion to supplement those provided in the back of my book. I envision each group watching a 10-12 minute video at the beginning of their gathering and then discussing what they've read and watched together. If you and your group decide you'd like to go at your own pace or wait until the fall, the videos will be posted all at once on my book club page on June 8.

One Group Will Win!
As you read and discuss, send me your questions on Twitter, in the comment section below the video posts, on an Instagram post about the videos, or in the comment section when I post the videos on my blog page on Facebook. Basically, any way you can get a hold of me, send in a question using the hashtag #fromgoodtogracebookclub. I'll respond to a few questions in future posts, and one group who submits a question will be chosen at random on August 1st to win a Skype chat with me where I'll answer any and all of your questions in (sort-of) person! Fun, fun!

Solo Book Club
Although I think this is a book best absorbed in discussion with others, you are more than welcome to follow along with the book and the videos on your own if you wish. Just make sure you're subscribed to my blog so you know when the videos are released.

Grab Your Book
If you don't already have a copy, you can purchase From Good to Grace in paperback or ebook form on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Christianbook.com, or Lifeway.

I can't wait to get started! Let me know you're excited and joining in by tweeting me or Instagramming me with the #fromgoodtogracebookclub hashtag!

May 14, 2015

Battling the "But I Wants"

Last spring I had a terrible case of the “But I Wants.”

My flippant words hurt someone in the church my husband pastors, and although we talked about it openly and everything was made right, a weird remnant of insecurity hung over my interactions with others. God reminded me that healthy criticism can be good, as this had been for me, but no one likes disappointing people. Inwardly I wished he would have protected me from the discomfort of having done so.

I simply could not let it go. Even as he reminded me of his goodness and grace, I found myself saying, “Yes, but I want . . .”

What did I want?

Comfort.

Promises that I would never disappoint anyone again.

People to understand me.

I could go on.

Perhaps because of my growing insecurities, I began looking around for affirmation. I wanted to know my value to other people because my perceived value had been cut into just a little. This only served to exacerbate a sense of isolation and loneliness because, as God does when we place our hope in good things that aren’t him, he did not give me my heart’s desire.

Through Scripture, he spoke to me of his love for me, and of my value in Christ. Even as I read the words, I found myself saying, “Yes, but I want . . .”

So what did I want?

I wanted to not feel alone.

I wanted to be loved by others in specific and tangible ways.

I wanted pats on the back.

I could go on.

The terrible case of the “But I Wants” was metastasizing. I grasped for hope.

And then I was hurt. Legitimately hurt. Achingly hurt. One thing more God? I cannot stand under this weight.

I just wanted to run away — from myself, from relationships that seemed too difficult, from the discomfort and pain of walking through things I never wanted to walk through. I wanted to get mad at God, and I did in fact give him the silent treatment for a few days.

He wasn’t silent with me, however. He spoke to me through his word and through others about his perfect sovereignty. A glimmer of hope struck in my heart like a match flicked into tinder. Even as it tried to catch fire, I found myself saying, “Yes, but I want . . .” and feeling the fire go out. What did I want?

I wanted what I wanted, not Him.

This is soul cancer, not wanting him but what he can give me, and what he gives to others.

“Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For he himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).

He had kept my heart’s desire from me because it had been cloaked in covetousness. And because, as I was starting to see, he was jealous to give me something of greater value.

Through Scripture, He said, “I offer you my grace.” And I responded with the silent treatment.

He said, “I love you.” And I responded, “Yes, but I wish they would . . .”

He said, “I am perfectly sovereign over your life and will take care of you.” I responded, “Yes, I know, but . . .”

He said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” I responded still the same: “But I want something else.”

He said, “You have me.” I kept coming up with excuses of why that wasn’t enough for me.

He answered me with the enough-ness of His presence. I was looking to lesser things to satisfy.

Anything we desire more than God creates in us an insatiable thirst, as I was discovering. Insatiable. Never to be satisfied. How ungrateful and arrogant I’d been! I was pierced to the heart with my transgressions.

We will never be content if God is not enough for us, if the promise of his presence and his help in any situation we face is not enough for us.

And so I looked back over the events of the spring, pain and uncertainty still clinging to me. In light of it all, He continued to offer me grace and love and care and help.

Yes, Lord. You are enough.

May 12, 2015

For Church Planters: How to Help Your Wife in Church Planting

When my husband and I first considered that God might be calling us to plant a church, we attended a church planting conference, and I looked around at all the other women and felt that they must certainly not be feeling all that I was--fear, uncertainty, and doubt, among other things. Now that we’re on the other side of a church plant and I have the opportunity to interact with other church planting wives, I understand that those feelings are common, and that we all tend to have similar responses to the church planting experience. What are those responses and how can church planters help their wives navigate the church planting process well?
Common Response #1: Intimidation
A church planting wife may have a picture in her head of the ideal woman for this role, and, in her mind, she is not that woman. She may feel confident about husband’s abilities and calling but uncertain about her own. Looking at the task ahead in church planting is to her like preparing to climb Mt. Everest with insufficient equipment: it is daunting, intimidating, and overwhelming, and she doesn’t know if she can do it.

What can her husband do?
The church planter does well to recognize that church planting appears daunting to his wife because her role is so open-ended and unclear, and she’s trying to figure it all out. Her husband should not only draw her attention away from the larger goal (climbing Mt. Everest) and on to more manageable goals (What is our next step?), but he should help her find her sweet spot in the church plant. Study her, and help her study herself: What areas of ministry give her energy and life? What areas drain her and cause her to wilt? Challenge her to do those things that she’s good at, and help her see how God is using her as she does them.

Common Response #2: Fear
Church planting is characterized by chaos, lack of structure, unanswered questions, and instability, the very things that most women fear. Although she wants to obey the Lord, a church planting wife may struggle at times with fear over the future, finances, and her children’s well-being.

What can her husband do?
In response to fear, the best thing a husband can do is listen without defense. He must be patient and gentle with her, willing to talk through the struggle with her, but also always encouraging her to trust in God’s provision. He must not only use his words but his actions, knowing that his trust of the Lord will encourage his wife’s faith as well. 

Common Response #3: A Need for Distinction
Church planting can be all-encompassing for both the church planter and his family. The opportunities for ministry and relationships are endless, the church gets the bulk of the attention, and it seems that people want or need something from the church planter every minute of the day. A church planting wife may at times feel “church exhaustion”: a desire to talk about something other than the church and a craving for her husband’s attention. She rightly desires her husband to keep a healthy distinction between the church and their marriage.

What can her husband do?
A church planter does well to remember that the church is the bride of Christ and that his own vow is to his wife. A church planter who lays this foundation in his heart and mind will trust Christ to sustain His bride, will not be swayed by a false definition of success, and will keep his marriage and family as a high priority. He will cultivate a marriage not centered on the church, and he and his wife both will enjoy the benefits.

Common Response #4: Discouragement
A church planting wife cares as much about the church plant as her husband, and like her husband, she experiences discouragement when things aren’t going as planned. She also wants her husband to thrive and tends toward discouragement when he is downcast.

What can her husband do?
The church planter often knows the inside stories of how God is moving in the church and in the community. He can create an atmosphere of celebration and encouragement in the home by sharing victories with his wife, talking about God’s goodness using tangible stories, and even forwarding emails of encouragement that he has received. Invite her to share in the reward of faithful work.

In the end, church planting is a fast-track sanctification process for both the church planter and his wife. The church planter shouldn’t protect his wife from that sanctification by trying to rescue her from any and all difficulty. Instead, he should pray for her, and, while loving and caring for her, encourage her to look to the Lord for everything that she needs. That is ultimately the best thing he can do for her--and for himself.

May 7, 2015

Helping Kids Through Life Transitions

In our house this year, we walked through a life-altering transition in how we educate our children. Having made the decision last spring after months of prayer, our entire family anticipated and prepared for the change over many months. We talked about it often and answered questions from our children, but we discovered as we walked through it that there was nothing that could have truly prepared us or our kids for the emotions and the experience of transition. We simply had to push through it and help our children respond to the range of emotions that the transition brought.

Summer is historically a time when the reality of a transition sets in for many people due to new jobs, new locations, new schools, different schools, and new or changing friendships. Transitions are never easy and, when we watch how they affect our children, we feel the difficulty for them as well as ourselves. How can we, as mothers, help our kids make transitions? And what can we learn about ourselves in the process? Here’s what I learned in the midst of our transition:

Take the Long View
With change, I know there will be a time of transition, but I often don’t give myself grace when negative or uncertain emotions emerge. I’ve been hyper-aware of this because I so often respond similarly to my children; I expect them to move through a transition like our recent one with a positive attitude and immediate acceptance of all the changes it brings for them. I’ve discovered that I’m uncomfortable with negative emotions during a transition because they feed my fear that we’ve made a bad choice, because I want to protect my children from difficult moments, and because I’m typically dealing with my own uncertainties. I made a conscious effort to think of our transition as a long transition rather than a short one, which was my way of giving grace to myself and to my kids and of being open to the difficult days that came and will surely come again.

Taking the long view of a transition not only helps us give grace, but it helps us teach our kids how to give grace to themselves. I told my children, “In this transition, you’ll have times where you don’t know what to do and when you feel uncertain. That’s OK.” And then I gave them some ways they could respond, whether to themselves, to other kids, or to me.

Help Kids Name Emotions
Every kid is different and their responses will be different to the challenges of transition. One of my sons had more difficulty with our schooling transition than the other two. The way he indicated his nervousness, however, was difficult to recognize as nervousness. Instead of typical nervousness, I saw a bad attitude and disrespectful behavior. A wise mom in our church who I sought for help said, “He is nervous about the change and this is how he’s showing it.” I knew immediately she was right. I had been focusing on his behavior, but he really needed me to help him name and respond to his emotions. He needed a compassionate mom who asked for and listened to his true thoughts and feelings without frustration or fear.

Help Kids Answer Questions About the Transition
Grandparents, family friends, and friends from church will be eager to hear about the transition at a time when kids are experiencing a range of emotions and are not eager to focus on it. Especially if they are reluctant to talk about it, help them think of 2-3 things about the transition they’re enjoying and prepare how they’ll talk about those 2-3 things.

Practice What You Can Practice
Most of our difficulties with transitions come from unknowns; we can’t imagine ourselves in our new house, new city, a new school, or with new friends. The same goes for our children. How will I know how to get to my classes? Where can we play in our new city? What if I don’t have any friends? It is vitally important that we help our children practice and prepare for what we can. Does the new school require uniforms? Practice putting on belts and tucking in shirts. Has a valued friend moved away? Role play asking a new friend to play or to join them for lunch.

Celebrate Victories
With so many challenges and unknowns to overcome in a transition, it’s important to find reasons to celebrate victories, accomplishments, and perseverance with our children. Celebrate a milestone in a new city, a new friend made, a school achievement, or a willingness to try something new with a surprise dessert or pointed words of encouragement. Our family simply celebrated finishing the first week in our new school by having a fun, kid-centric night out and talking through the highlights.

Ease up on Lesser Priorities
A friend who went through a transition with her kids last year gave me this advice: “Don’t push too many activities outside of school and church. Your kids will need mental, physical, and emotional space as they process this change.” I took her advice and found it extremely helpful in maintaining the sanity of our family as we all made the transition. We needed space to rest and process our emotions that activity upon activity would have squeezed out.

Pray for Your Kids In Front of Your Kids
There were times through our transition when I put on a brave face for my kids but was inwardly wrestling with fear and doubt. As I prayed about my own concerns, I recognized that I needed to be more open with my kids about how I was handling the changes. They needed to hear me praying for them and asking God to help us through our transition, primarily because it would encourage them to trust God for help when they are uncertain. I began asking them individually what they were concerned about and praying for them out loud. This not only brought peace to our home but it strengthened my faith as well.


Transitions are difficult; there is just no way around it, and we experienced it as a family this year. However, we've experienced something else. God taught and grew my children through the bittersweet blessing of change. And, without a doubt, He taught and grew me, too. 

May 5, 2015

A Few of My Favorite Things (Currently)

I know I like something if I share about it with others. And it's my absolute favorite when I introduce a friend to something I've enjoyed and they enjoy it as much as I have! Lately I've found myself talking about the same music, books, and online treasures to anyone who will listen. I'm liking them so much that I want to share them with you, too!

Favorite Thing #1: Sandra McCracken's Psalms Album
A few weeks ago at The Gospel Coalition Conference, I heard a voice singing from really far off and my head snapped to. "Who is that?" I said to my husband. "Her voice is stunning." I found out later that it was Sandra McCracken singing We Will Feast in the House of Zion from her latest album, Psalms. I can't tell you how much I adore this album. It's the only music I've been playing in my home for weeks, and I have no plans to change that in the near future. Her lyrics, voice, and music have ministered to me at a time when I have been weary and burdened for the suffering around me.

Favorite Thing #2: Jen Wilkins' Bible Studies
I met Jen Wilkin recently and absolutely loved her. I've since read her book, Women of the Word, and found it to be an excellent resource, especially for teaching women in a discipleship relationship how to love and study the Bible. But what I'm really loving are her online (free!) Bible studies. She teaches a weekly women's Bible study in Flower Mound, Texas and has podcasted her talks, as well as made her workbooks available online. Since my church's women's Bible study takes a break for the summer, I've dug into Jen Wilkin's 1 Peter study and am already learning a ton. Find both her podcasts and her workbooks here. (And I'd get it while you can because I have a feeling a publisher is going to snap these up!)


Favorite Thing #3: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
I always have a book going, but lately none have really stuck out to me as one I'd recommend to others. Except this one. All the Light We Cannot See is historical fiction, set in France during World War II. It follows a young French girl displaced by the war and a young German soldier a world away. The book is beautiful, almost poetic, but also suspenseful. If you love historical fiction, you'll love this book.

Speaking of books, anytime I meet someone who loves to read I always ask them the same question: "Are you on Goodreads?" Goodreads serves primarily as a booklist for me, because if I don't write down books I want to read, I forget about them. But it's also a social booklist, because you can see what your friends are reading and both what they enjoyed and what they didn't. The invitation stands for you to follow what I'm reading and reviewing on the site. I suppose Goodreads, then, is my favorite thing #4! 


Favorite Thing #5: Josh Garrels' Home Album
Fun fact: I wrote my entire last book, From Good to Grace, with Josh Garrels playing in the background. So when his newest album dropped, I snagged it immediately. Josh Garrels doesn't disappoint. Ever. My favorite song on the album is by far, At The Table. Get that song or the whole album here. And who knows, perhaps Home will serve as the backdrop for writing my next book.
What are a few of your favorite things currently? Do tell!

May 1, 2015

Thinking Ahead to Summer With My Kids

On the first day of this school year, I wrote the post below and entitled it "What I Want to Remember Next Summer". I dusted it off this morning in preparation for our fast-approaching summer, mainly to remind myself of all the great things summer gifted us last year and to anticipate what this summer has in store. 

Our family had a truly great summer this year. We collectively hiked Humpback Rock on the Blue Ridge, spent a June day at the beach with a friend, caught a turtle and frogs and fireflies, saw friends and family in Texas, made stop-action movies with Legos, enjoyed a 70 degree July 4th, spent lazy days at the pool, and celebrated a milestone birthday with square dancing, pecan pie, and Bluebell. There were books, there were friends, there were late nights, and there were slow-start mornings. In other words, there were all the things that make summer so good.
But in May, just as I do every year, I looked ahead to the summer season with a mix of apprehension and relief. Relief because we don't have to rush from the moment the alarm beeps, and because summer in Virginia means great weather (even greater this year!) and lots of outdoor activities after cold winter days. But there is also always the apprehension: what we will do with all that unstructured time? Will I have the patience and energy that I need not just to entertain my kids but to enjoy them as well? And how I will get anything at all done?

As I write this, my kids are knee deep in their first day of school. I'm looking back at the summer with a little bit of nostalgia (especially when the alarm went off at 6 am), but I also feel a sense of accomplishment. We did it! We sucked the marrow out of summer, and it was wonderful.

I want to remember this feeling so that when May comes around next year and summer is fast approaching, I will have only eager anticipation at the joy we have ahead. Here's what I want to remember for next summer:

Linger
Summer means some daily routines are made to be broken. Sleep a little later. Let the kids stay up a little later to catch the fireflies that only power up at 9 pm. Leave the kids in their rooms a little longer in the morning to linger over Scripture with the Lord. Linger with friends. Summer was made for relationships.

Stop Producing
Because summer is made for relationships, the kids are the priority, not tasks. So what if the ring around the toilet has been there for weeks? So what if the kids are a constant swirl of mess? So what if the blog goes dormant? So what if you can't return emails quickly? You are not your production. In fact, you need intense time to be taught and renewed by the Lord. Summer gives that.

Remember Winter
There will be days six months from now when it will be dark at 4:30 pm, it'll be cold and dreary, and everyone will be hibernating inside. Now is not that time, so get outside. Plan outings and simple family adventures. Swim, walk, ride bikes, and sit outside for dinner. Those memories will warm you in the dead of winter.

Boys Will Be Boys
And boys like read-alouds and trips to the library too. Plan in time to pile on the couch with a book, and plan room time for individual reading. (Our favorite book this summer: Wonder by R.J. Palacio)

Legos Come Apart
Those Lego sets that sit proudly displayed on shelves gathering dust? They come apart and also come with instructions, which makes for a perfect rainy day activity. Pick a set to take apart, sort by color, and rebuild.

Teach New Things
Summer days stretch out long. Use the plethora of down time to teach new skills, such as how to ride a bike, unload the dishwasher, mow the yard, sort the laundry, how to bake, or how to write and make books on the iPad.

A Little Structure Goes a Long Way
It's good to ease up on the structure kept during the school year, but it's also good to keep a little structure in each day during the summer. Let the kids take turns planning "their" day using given building blocks. Let them sign up for short term activities that fit their interests.

A Little Separation Goes a Long Way
Everyone goes a little bit nutty when they're with the same people all day every day. Facilitate family time, but also give them time for different activities. Employ room time for separation, quiet, and rest. Facilitate time with their individual friends.

Find Reasons to Celebrate
Summer itself is enough reason to celebrate. It gives us many an excuse to gather with friends, make homemade ice cream, swim, and play outside. Cultivate the joy of simply being alive and being together. Most importantly, cultivate the joy of being with the kids. These are the days.

As I wrote this list and thought back over summer, I realized pretty quickly that these are lessons that take me into the fall. Certainly, the season is different than summer, being full with school and homework and activities. But I can continue to cultivate what the summer wrought, the joy of being alive and being with my kids. These are the days.
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