August 29, 2014

How to Have Joy

I read a quote this morning that surprised me in how neatly it summed up my previous year:

Most often our depression is unexpressed anger, and it manifests itself as the sloth of disobedience, a refusal to keep up the daily practices that would keep us in good relationship to God and to each other. For when people allow anger to build up inside, they begin to perform daily tasks resentfully, focusing on others as the source of their troubles...It is usually a fear of losing an illusory control--they direct it outward, barreling through the world, impatient and even brutal with those they encounter, especially those who are closest to them. (from The Quotidian Mysteries by Kathleen Norris, pg. 43)

I related most closely to "performing daily tasks resentfully, focusing on others as the source of my troubles." Last year, one thing after another hit me where it hurt and my response was resentment and blame. I felt like a spider's trapped insect; I'd untangle myself from one sliver of sin only to get stuck in another. It's no wonder that I felt the firm pressure of God's discipline all year long, and it's no wonder I thirsted for joy.

Though I craved it desperately, I don't believe I've ever in my life been able to completely wrap my mind around joy.

I've tried to manage my way to joy, telling myself to buck up and get on with it. Introspection comes so easily for me, but it can turn morose and unhelpful when I'm tangled in the web. A dark heart is ugly, and I wonder, looking at my own, how joy can breathe under the suffocation of it all. If only I were different, I would have joy!

Like most people, I've often looked for joy in my circumstances, but as we all know, they will never fully get in line with our desires. (I imagine the Von Trapp kids lining up so quietly and obediently upon command.) Squeezing joy from circumstances is a losing game. But if only things were different, I would have joy!

And of course, as Kathleen Norris points out, I look at others and blame them for my lack of joy. (If only others would respond to my authoritative and brisk whistle commands!) Or if only they were different, I would have joy!

It's seemed to me that joy is unattainable in this world. And it's honestly kind of annoyed me that Paul, in his command to rejoice always, wants something from me that appears impossible. I can barely muster up energy to get out of bed in the morning and like it.

But I want joy! Oh how I want it.

God is so good to help when we ask. When I finally admitted my ignorance about joy, He inundated me with help. I already told you about the word study, which helped tremendously. But then--I love when this happens--my husband Kyle preached on joy from Habakkuk and everything I'd been thinking about came together.

We think of sorrow and joy as incompatible, he said, but they can coexist in one's life. Habakkuk faced extreme external pressures. I thought of how I'd considered difficult circumstances as an enemy to joy.

Habakkuk faced internal struggles so profound that today we would characterize him as clinically depressed, he said. I thought of how I'd blamed my personality for my lack of joy.

And then there is the word YET, he said. "Yet I will rejoice in the Lord." Habakkuk is able to access joy even in the midst of suffering.

Kyle then defined joy, which I found most helpful. Joy, he said, is not a feeling. It is not equated with happiness or with burying sorrowful emotions. Joy is a discipline, an intentional savoring of something of high value.

My heart leapt. I wanted to jump from my seat and scream out, because I could see where this was going.

We do not look to our circumstances.
We do not look to other people.
We do not look to our own hearts and our own ability to muster joy.

We intentionally look on God and savor Him, and we intently look on what He's done for us, treasuring our salvation. These are the things of highest value, and these are the things that birth joy.

So when our circumstances are dire, we discipline ourselves to remember. We literally re-member-- reconnect members that have torn apart--reconnecting what we know of God's character to what we're facing in a specific moment.

When our hearts or actions condemn us, we discipline ourselves to remember what God has done for us in our salvation. He has freed us from condemnation and washed us clean with forgiveness.

Reframing joy as a discipline rather than an emotion has been so helpful. When I crave joy, I need only take time to savor God and my salvation. This elevates the priority of actually knowing God's character and what my salvation means, but it also says to me that joy is in reach. It's not as unattainable as I originally thought.

It doesn't matter that my personality is what it is, I can take joy!
It doesn't matter if the circumstances change or not, I can take joy!
It doesn't matter if others change or not, I can take joy!

This is the beauty of turning our attention away from fleshly things that never seem to line up right and on to our unchanging, joyful God!

August 27, 2014

What I Want to Remember for Next Summer

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:

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, mowing 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.

August 22, 2014

Just Listen

I've been following what is happening in Ferguson, Missouri with great interest, trying, without being there in person, to understand it all. There is a feeling in me and it seems in many of us to figure out what we can "do" about it all, hoping that some words or some actions we can take might erase death, bitterness, and unrest. The fallout of division and hatred among people grieves me greatly, but what can I do to change things?

I opened the Washington Post this morning and read about Keith Griffin, a black man and a Ferguson native who is leader in a nearby community. The article says, "[Some of his white friends] probably don't understand the little things that define his day-to-day life. The hurdles he faces renting downtown business property, something he attributes to race. The way he was pulled over last week in another part of town, questioned about whether his car belongs to him. The way he's had to talk with his 8-year-old son about how to deal with cops ("Yes, sir. No, sir.")."

But it was Keith Griffin's words that I connected and resonated with most: "There's a difference in psyche between black and white culture. I guess there has always been a divide. But there's never been a good platform where you could say it. Blacks are too often considered to be at fault."

I immediately thought back to a post I wrote in February that has honestly haunted me. The topic? What it's like to a pastor's wife. I wrote it with a little fear of what might happen if it went viral and was read by people who don't normally read my blog and who don't know where I'm coming from. And what I feared actually happened: lots of people read it and the response I saw from some corners confirmed why I'd thought twice about putting it out there in the first place. I've thought many times about taking it down, but the whole point of the post was to give voice to a group of people who often can't share much of anything about their role without being misunderstood. Do I share that perspective or not? I have since decided to take the post down, primarily because I don't believe it conveyed the truths of what I was saying with as much grace as it needed.

There were others who read my words and responded in a way that said something else: I'm listening and trying to put myself in your shoes. What can you tell me about what it's like in your day-to-day life? 

So as I read about Keith Griffin this morning, I realized that he was attempting what I'd attempted. He was trying to say that he and others who are asking for facts in Ferguson want someone to listen to what it's like to be black in America. He's trying to give voice to a group of people who often can't share about their lives--"There's never been a good platform where you could say it"--without being misunderstood or even vilified. Both the inability to speak freely and the refusal to listen have historically created an unrest that eventually explodes.

I've discovered that when people share with me what it's like to be them, I sometimes feel as if they're somehow making judgments about me personally. I think we all tend to do that. But Keith Griffin is not making judgments, he's just asking for us to listen and try to understand without jumping to old conclusions, just like when I shared about being a pastor's wife. I wanted to bring nuance and reality to a role that most people have made far-gone conclusions about.

That post I wrote taught me things, once I got over my defensiveness and actually listened to the truth in the critical responses. Mostly, it reminded me of the value of every single life. Don't we all have something that makes us different that can make us feel misunderstood? Don't we all desire to be heard? Of course we do. Singleness. Divorce. Illness. Children with special needs. Past choices. Current choices. Race. Nationality. Vocation. A difficult marriage. Grief. We can all name something that we'd like others to understand, so we can all relate to where Keith Griffin is coming from. If, instead of getting defensive and jumping to conclusions about something we think we know but don't, we will only choose to listen!

I am not in Ferguson, so I can learn from afar. But there is actually something I can "do" here. I can take the posture of listening and trying to understand with the people in my life and community, and not just on matters of race. I can, as Trillia Newbell said to me, invite people into my home. I can ask good questions. I can refuse to put up dividers between myself and others because I feel they couldn't possibly relate to my life and I couldn't possibly relate to theirs.

This takes courage and, yes, pushing through the risk of being misunderstood. And we'll likely stumble and bumble our way through, as I feel I did in my blog post. But in the end, it helps us to love one another as Christ loves each person He's created in His image.

August 21, 2014

When Your Soul Needs An Awakening

At summer camp during middle school, I learned the ins and outs of the "quiet time" from my youth minister. Being a responsible and dutiful child, I immediately began the practice of dragging a lawn chair onto the back porch of my house each summer morning, at times working through a little devotional book and at other times randomly opening my Bible for a verse to read. Though amateurish and haphazard, the Lord genuinely awakened in me a desire for Him.
It didn't last-- at least the sense of wonder didn't. What did last was the practice of reading a devotional or a verse each morning, but the awakening of a child-like faith was destroyed by an undercurrent of duty and obligation. I kept it up but the motivation to do so was to meet my own expectations and to manage my own heart.

I didn't see the subtle change, but a bucket of water had been poured out on my heart-on-fire. Embers were left, but I couldn't find a way to light the fire again. I had gone from the Lord awakening my soul to trying exhaustively to awaken it myself. When I felt far from the Lord, as my emotions so often told me I was, I strategized how I might get close to Him again. When I recognized something spiritual I lacked, I worked hard to get it. And when I sinned, I made up for it with good things, or at least I tried. I became an expert at managing myself, but I had a dull heart.

Many years later, I came to understand the subtle change that had occurred: "You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace" (Galatians 5:4). I couldn't have related to this verse any more: I felt estranged from Christ, no matter how I attempted to set things right. And the verse diagnosed why: I had removed Christ from the equation, I had rejected grace, and I had set myself as the manager of my heart. I was an attempter, not a grace receiver.

So I started receiving what Christ had offered me all along, and I grew in leaps and bounds. Grace, when it's received, affects every aspect of life, from relationships to spiritual disciplines to our prayers. And it did mine.

But there has been residue and it's closely tied to my sense of duty and responsibility. Even after grace, I've found that when I've become aware of sin or something lacking, my first response has been to manage it. Do something. Develop a strategy. Make promises to myself and to God. My first response hasn't been, "Lord, do this in me." And so I've tried to be conscious of that instinctual response and immediately go to the second, where I ask God to take the responsibility for my sanctification and submit myself to the process. I've discovered this is more of a falling back into secure and capable arms rather than straining forward to reach a rope to climb. The falling back is grace; the straining forward is managing.

Last week, sitting in church, I recognized that my heart was dull. I was having trouble focusing, and what I was focusing on had scant value. My first thought: Ugh. My second thought: Awake my soul. I said this to my heart as if I was trying to shake my soul awake, but it wasn't responding. My third thought: Lord, awaken my soul. I will wait for you.

It was such a moment of grace, to see where He's brought me, to see that it didn't take me weeks of wading through to-do's before realizing the fruitlessness of managing myself.

What hope, what grace, that we can fall back into secure and capable arms, that we don't have to manage ourselves, that the Lord indwells us and takes responsibility for leading our sanctification.

He is responsible.
Awaken my soul. 
We simply respond.
Yes, Lord, we wait for you and will follow Your lead.
In faith, we fall back into His arms.

August 19, 2014

How is the Joy of the Lord Our Strength?

The conversations we have with close friends are often life-giving and filled with laughter and encouragement, but they are always telling. These conversations tell us, like a mirror reflection, what we're thinking and concerned about most. And because we ease down our guards and reveal more of ourselves to those we feel safest with, they tell on our hearts.
In the spring, my conversations with women who know me best were starting to tell on me. I noticed a pattern developing: when I let down my guard, cynicism, pessimism, and complaints poured out of me like a waterfall. I'm just being real, I'd tell myself, but almost every time I left those women, I felt yucky and convicted and would immediately text or call them to apologize. Unfortunately, I had to do a lot of texting and calling and they were all so gracious with me, but at some point I told myself that enough was enough. My conversations were telling on me, and I needed to listen.

It was pretty obvious what my conversations (and thoughts) were telling on me--that I had no joy. I had weariness, frustrations, and discontentedness in abundance, but I felt so far from having joy that I wondered if I'd ever had it at all. And I wanted joy. I didn't want my words and my life to be overflowing with complaints and resentments. I wanted joy in the Lord each and every day, joy in reading His Word, joy in relating with my children, joy in the work and ministry He's given me, joy in relationships, and joy even in the smallest details of life.

But how does one get joy? Is it a choice or is it given? Is it a feeling and, if not, how do you know you have it? Are there things you can do to increase or decrease joy? These were my questions.

If I know one thing about joy, it's that it is associated with the Lord, so I asked Him to teach me through His Word and to renew my heart in the process. I did a word study on joy, focusing on three words: joy, delight, and rejoice.

As I plowed through the Old Testament, everything was well and good until I got to Nehemiah 8:10: "The joy of the Lord is your strength." That verse is one of those that I've heard a million times and probably quoted a million times but have not had a clue what it means. I suppose, though, I hadn't really stopped to think about it or understand its context.

In Nehemiah, the Israelites are returning from a physical and spiritual exile; they're rebuilding. Ezra, their spiritual leader, gathers them together in one place and reads the Law aloud. They hear, many for the first time in their lives, what God expects of them, and in their hearing, they realize how they've fallen short. The entire nation begins weeping and grieving their sin.

That's when Ezra says, "Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow,  for the joy of the Lord is your strength."

In other words Ezra is saying, "Yes, we've sinned, I've sinned, you've sinned. But the Lord has made a way for us. He has rejoiced to make a way for us. The fact that He is a God full of joy over you is the strength you need for each day and the motivation for obeying His commandments."

Because this was true for the Israelites under the Law, how much more for those of us who are sons and daughters of God under Christ. We've sinned, I've sinned, you've sinned. But Jesus has made a way for us. He has rejoiced to make a way for us. The fact that He is a God full of joy over us is the strength we need for each day and the motivation for following Him in obedience.

His joy--the fact that our God is a joyful God--is the foundation of all our joy. Our joy rises up as we recognize that our God delights in us. Like a father showing off pictures of his kids and telling stories of the funny things they do, He delights in us. Like a mother staring at her child lovingly as she rocks him to sleep, He delights in us. Like a bridegroom amazed at the startlingly beautiful woman coming down the aisle toward him, He delights in us.

"As for the saints who are on the earth, 'They are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.'" (Psalm 16:3)

"For as a young man marries a virgin, so shall your sons marry you; And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you." (Isaiah 62:5)

Thinking about God as a joyful God who delights in and sings over me changed things for me. All that pessimism and cynicism couldn't stand in light of God's joy. All the resentments at not being loved as I thought I deserved to be loved by people fell away when I saw how God delights in me. My complaining was checked by the Holy Spirit because my God doesn't complain; He rejoices.

As I stopped trying so hard to create joy for myself and simply turned to meditate on God's joy, I found joy. The joy of the Lord really is my strength.

And it's yours as well.

I'd love to share with you more of what I learned in my word study on joy. If you'd like to see and print out my outline, click here.

July 3, 2014

Links for Your Summer

Summer is already in full swing, and I'm enjoying it so, primarily because of the three rambunctious boys that live in my house (four if you count my husband). We've already hiked in the mountains, spotted black bears, lounged at the beach, read books galore, spent time with friends at the pool, caught a turtle, and watched The Lego Movie for what feels like the thousandth time.
Because I want to soak up every moment with my children, and because I want to give my heart and mind space to think and learn and listen to the Lord before the whirlwind of the Yellow Period and the wind up for a book launch, I will be taking some time off from the blog for a bit.

Hopefully you've already had a chance to grab my ebook, Partners in Ministry. When I come back from my blogging break, I'll have my newest ebook ready to offer you, which is called, Partners in Planting: Help and Encouragement for Church Planting Wives. Yay!

In the meantime, below are links to articles I've written on other sites this spring or blog posts that I've continued to think about long past their publication. I hope they are an encouragement to you throughout the summer:

How to Pastor Without Losing Your Wife's Heart (on Send Network)
Although my husband says over and over that I'm his most valuable partner in ministry, his leadership in our home and marriage is equally valuable to me.

A Weak Mother is a Good Mother (on Desiring God)
This is so what I want: to know deep in my soul that a good mother is not one who bakes intricate treats, who schools a certain way, who manages her household within an inch of its life, or who has her children in a million wonderful activities. A good mother is one who acknowledges her need for the power of God to train and teach and change the hearts of her children.

Lessons in Love: Raising a Child with Autism (on iBelieve)
When my little boy turned two, he had no words and we began to worry. By the time he turned three, we knew something was atypical, beyond a hearing issue or a developmental delay. At 3 1/2, he was diagnosed with autism. That night I saw my husband cry for the first time.

Unrealistic Expectations 
When accusation has had its full effect, the enemy no longer has to accuse but watch and goad, because we've taken over for him. We self-accuse.

Clint Clifton of Send D.C. interviewed me about being a church planting wife
I love when a church planter cares about how church planting affects his wife. This interview may help them understand these very things.

Friendship: It's Worth the Risk (on iBelieve)
We need a new definition of friendship, one that allows for awkwardness and risk and fumbling through.

Set Apart How?
What should set believers apart from the unbelieving world? I've still been thinking about what God showed me in thinking and writing on this one...

God is Quietly at Work Always
A little encouragement for those praying for God to answer.

Life After Salvation: Why the Second Half of the Story Matters
The second half of the story is that God has known all along that we'd fail Him, and that we'd continue to fail Him after His sacrifice for us. It's not that our sin doesn't grieve Him, it's just that He made a way to deal with it on our behalf.

Kristen Lunceford: Help for Working Church Planting Wives
I read a statistic the other day about how many church planting wives work full-time to support their families and it was surprisingly high. Kristen Lunceford speaks to the issues these women face.

In Her Shoes: Ministering to Single Women in the Church
This post is well over a year old, but it continues to help me as I develop friendships with single women in our church.

Happy reading and happy Summer!

July 1, 2014

Push Through the Awkward

There is one piece of advice I give myself and other women more than any other and it is this: push through the awkward.

We are women who long for community and to live lives of purpose, but as anything that is good and beautiful and worth having, these things don't come just because we want them. They are invited by those who push through the awkward.
When I say to push through the awkward, I'm simply encouraging you to do things that make you uncomfortable: visiting a church's small group by yourself as a single woman when you know you're not going to know anyone, asking an older woman that you admire and want to learn from out for coffee, pursuing a passion that you worry others might find silly or a waste of time, starting something in your neighborhood to reach people even though it's possible no one will show up, agreeing to do something you've never done before that seems beyond your experience and abilities.

Being unwilling to push through the awkward keeps us in tightly controlled, safe places, but it also keeps us feeding on insecurities and frustrations. Of course, it's true that we may push through the awkward and then things will be, well, awkward. The person doesn't respond how we hoped. People don't get why we're doing what we're doing. Expectations and hopes take a little tumble.

But it's also true that we may push through the awkward and experience all sorts of incredible things, like a freeing dependence on the Lord, a deepening friendship, or the joy of doing what we instinctively know we were created by God to do.

We simply can't know unless we push through the awkward.

After living a lot of my life passively, I've discovered that pushing through the awkward is better than retreating almost all of the time. Because it's in pushing through the awkward that life gets a little bit crazy and a lot more complicated but also where God gets to come through.

I'll push through the awkward any day to experience that.

Where do you need to push through the awkward?

June 24, 2014

Have You Received the Blessing?

Last Saturday, my husband told the kids to put on their shoes and then sit down on the couch. As our three stair-step boys already tan with summer ran to the shoe bucket, they belted out questions: "Why do we need our shoes, Dad?' "What are we doing, Dad?" "Are we going somewhere, Dad?" They hoped the frozen yogurt shop or, better yet, Toys R Us for an unexpected shopping spree.
Amid the shoe-tying and couch-squirming, he announced to them, "We're going to the school where our church meets and we're going to help with some projects. God loves us, and we want to serve other people so they'll know God loves them too." Visions of toys and fun foods stopped dancing in their heads, and they began a different line of questioning about what they'd be doing and why exactly. They seemed a little concerned about their lazy Saturday being interrupted by glorified yard work.

I piped in from the armrest where I'd been listening: "I can't wait to see if you receive the blessing!" They all three turned and stared and asked in unison, "What blessing?"

With excitement in my voice, I responded, "Jesus said it is better to give than to receive. When we give to others, we get something better than when someone does something for us. We receive the blessing of giving! I can't wait to see you get the blessing!"

And then I hustled them out the door. No blessing for me, just some quiet and quick work so I could meet a deadline.

They came home a few hours later literally bouncing off the walls. Although tired, sweaty, and sporting a few new bug bites, they each took turns excitedly telling me of the work they'd done and the snakes they had hoped to see but, unfortunately, had not. They told me about the people they'd worked with and the teachers they'd seen. Their joy could not be contained.

I said to them, "I can see that you've received the blessing! Doesn't it feel so good to give to others because of all God has done for us?" Before the moment ended and tired boys became grumpy boys, they said the words a mama delights to hear: "We received the blessing!"

Ironically, later that night, I got crabby. I had one of those Saturday nights where I just felt overwhelmed at the whole pastor's wife thing and the silly expectations that people sometimes have of me. It was one of those nights when you're plotting an exit strategy, even though you know you don't really want an exit strategy. I spouted off to my husband: "I just don't always want to have to think of other people," and right when I said I thought about what I'd told my kids that very morning. It's more blessed to give than to receive. I can't wait for you to receive the blessing! I'd celebrated with them at the joy they'd received by giving, and now I was pouting at having to give myself.

There are times in this life, Saturday being one of them, when I don't really believe what Jesus said is true. I think it would be so much better to receive what I want than to sacrificially give to others. I want the Toys R Us trip over the glorified yard work. But in reality I know how that goes. I know that when I'm looking to serve myself, I'm desperately unhappy. Been there, done that, don't want to keep playing that losing game. But when I seek to serve others out of the overflow of what I've received from Christ Himself? Uncontainable joy and profound peace. Every. Single. Time.

The truth is that I do get to receive. Everyday, I can receive from a God who delights in me, who wants to pour out in me everything I need for life and godliness. Having received to overflowing, I can give easily. It's a double blessing, actually. A blessing of receiving from the God of the Universe and a blessing to give to others.

Yep, I want me some of that. I receive that blessing!

Will you?

June 19, 2014

Parenting Pastor's Kids: An Interview with Barnabas Piper

Barnabas Piper, son of pastor and author John Piper, has written a new book called The Pastor's Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identitya valuable resource for PKs, pastors, and pastor's wives alike. In my last post, Barnabas discussed with me the pressures and rewards of being a pastor's kid. But I wanted to know more from him--I wanted to know how best I can mother my own three PKs. 
Q: In your book, you say that the one thing a PK needs above all else is to live in true freedom and wholeness. What do you mean, and how can mom and dad best help this process?

BP: Obviously the biggest aspect of freedom is what I mentioned earlier – knowing Jesus. The best thing parents can do is present Jesus to kids personally. This means exemplifying grace and speaking of your own relationship with Jesus. PKs don’t need lessons. They need living proof that Jesus is great and close.

Another big piece of freedom and wholeness is the freedom to be themselves. This means that parents can work hard to ease the burden of expectations. You can help your kids learn what it is they love and are good at and help them see those things as gifts God gave them (as opposed to pushing them toward ministry).

Give them room to ask questions, and even encourage it. Indoctrination will do more harm than good in the end whereas honest conviction will do great good in helping your kids come into their own faith.

The biggest piece of this is overwhelming grace. PKs need it because too often they don’t receive it from those in the church. They need it because they will screw up. They need it because it points them to Jesus.

Q: What are common statements or actions that moms and dads say or do that are detrimental to their PKs?

BP: A big one is the heaping on of expectations the PKs already feel. They know they are being watched and expected to behave better than other kids so to say things like “Now we’re going into church; make sure you’re on your best behavior, people are watching us” is just piling on. Make sure they know that the standard for behavior is honoring Jesus and loving others – period. Being a PK neither adds or subtracts from that.

Another significant one is giving your kids the impression ministry is the highest calling. Don’t put pressure on them, either tacitly or explicitly, to go into ministry.

Don’t preach at them. Don’t Bible lesson them. They need counselors, confidants, and conversations. PKs need to connect with their parents, not just hear from them. Build relationships with your kids that surpass the sharing of morals and information.

Q: How can moms of PKs help their children develop a personal faith and a genuine love for the Lord and for the church?

BP: The biggest thing is having a personal faith and living it so your kids see it. They need to see your patience, grace, and peace. And of course you will fail because you are human and being a mom is hard. So then they need to see you repent and ask forgiveness. This might be even bigger than getting it right the first time. It sets a precedent of forgiveness both from God and within the family. That helps make God accessible and personal.

Q: Pastor's wives are often acutely aware of church members' expectations but perhaps aren't as aware of the pressures their children face as PKs. Help us understand those outside pressures and how we can ease them for our children.

BP: I suspect the pressures on Pastor’s wives are similar to those of PKs, so if you take what you feel and think about that placed on a 12-year-old you have a decent sense of things. They feel the need to be better behaved, more attentive, and have all the answers. They know that everyone is watching. They feel the tensions when things aren’t going well at the church (even if you don’t talk to them about it; kids are really perceptive).  They often feel the confusion of not being sure what they believe or of having doubts.

A big thing moms can do to ease these burdens for their kids is to talk through them. Help them see that you know their frustrations and are with them. Give them a safe place to vent and sort through stuff. And give them the stability of love so they know you are always in their corner. Sometimes this means pep talks, sometimes and encouraging or challenging conversation, and sometimes it means just listening. Moms are usually really good at knowing which is needed.

Q: What are the very best things your mom did to help you navigate your world as a PK?

BP: My mom was not the “feely” type, so we didn’t talk through the frustrations much. But what she did remarkably well was to be rock steady. Her demeanor, no matter how things went at church (and there were some hard stretches) stayed the same. She created an environment in our home of calm, well, as much calm as a family of seven could have.

The other significant thing she did was to never, ever badmouth my dad, the church, or the ministry. While, it might have been nice to hear from her heart about frustrations it was significant to see her stand with my dad in his calling no matter what. Negativity and second-guessing in the home make things brutal for PKs, and we had none of that.

Barnabas Piper writes for World Magazine and blogs at He writes regularly for the popular blog, The Blazing Center. He and his wife live in the Nashville area with their two daughters. Grab a copy of The Pastor's Kid on Amazon or Barnes & Noble

June 17, 2014

Barnabas Piper on Being a Pastor's Kid

Fun fact: Barnabas Piper, son of pastor and author John Piper, was the editor who acquired my book, The Church Planting Wife, for Moody Publishers in 2012. The book was turned down by multiple other publishers, but Barnabas believed there was an audience for it--church planting wives like you and me--and that the audience was eager for resources. I'm obviously indebted to him and to the work he did on my book, and I got to tell him so when I recently met him in person. 

Fun fact #2: Barnabas Piper is now the author and, happily, I am now the one who gets to help his book get into the hands of an eager audience. Barnabas has written a much-needed book called The Pastor's Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity, which will release on July 1. In it, he examines the unique challenges that PKs face, addresses pastors and their wives about how they can help their children navigate these challenges, and calls the church to care for PKs and ease the pressures they face. 
I simply cannot wait to read it! As a pastor's wife, I'm concerned that my children grow up with a deep love for Christ and His church, one not tainted by anything they've seen or heard from us or from others. I cringe when I hear jokes about rebellious PKs or when, as happened recently, my oldest asked me if I did something "just because" I'm a pastor's wife. So I put some questions to Barnabas, both about his book and about raising a PK. 

Q: Why did you decide to write this book?

BP: I guess things just sort of built up to writing it. I wrote an article here and there about being a PK and each time I felt there was much more to say. The response to those articles was always remarkably strong, so I saw a desire from both PKs and those raising them for something more. The more I reflected the more I realized a handful of articles just wasn’t enough. I saw there was nothing else out there speaking on behalf of pastors kids and to our parents, so I wrote The Pastor’s Kid.

Q: What two things do you most hope readers take away from The Pastor's Kid?

I hope PKs come away with a sense of hope – hope in God’s big grace, hope because they aren’t alone, and hope because the book helped them make sense of hard things in their lives.

I also hope pastors see the struggles of their kids in a new light and take steps to help. I want this to be a book that, although pointed, brings pastors and their kids closer to each other and to God.

Q: People are often curious about what it's like to be a pastor's wife. I've developed a short response to give when asked, but it's pretty near impossible to explain. Are people curious about what it's like to be a pastor's kid and what is your response when they ask?

BP: I completely resonate with the “nearly impossible to explain” sentiment. My response is usually to turn the question around and ask them what it was like to be a salesman’s, teacher’s, or accountant’s kid. It’s kind a smart aleck thing to do, but I mainly want them to see that nobody can explain briefly what it’s like to live their own life. It’s just life.

Q: What kinds of pressures do pastor's kids face?

BP: There are several, and they mostly stem from unrealistic expectations. I give a much better explanation of this in the book, but people expect the pastor’s kid to be any number of things: a super smart bible scholar, a perfect angel, a theologian, a leader. And on the other hand they also expect him to be a little deviant troublemaker. It’s all very confusing and frustrating. It’s tough being a normal person facing the expectation to be so many things to so many people when you just want to be yourself. It is a constant feeling of being pulled in one direction or another.

Q: In your book, you say that pastor's kids struggle with identity issues. Explain why that is and how you've worked through those.

BP: For me this was the biggest struggle of all. When your faith is handed to you on a silver platter, all systematized, organized, with questions answered and doubts allayed it’s hard to know if it’s real. When people have so many expectations of what you should be it’s tough to figure out what God made you to be. It’s not that none of those things is real, necessarily. It’s that it’s so hard to tell which parts are.

For me this all led to a significant collapse a few years ago. For years I had not allowed my faith to seep into the deep places in my life and sin grew until it crumbled the supports of my life. I didn’t know what I believed even though I know all the answers about what I should believe. I lost a job. It strained my marriage to near breaking. It put me in a position where enough was stripped away that I finally saw Jesus for real. That was when I found a deep faith and, in it, a real identity. I began to understand what God made me for and some of the abilities he’s given me to use (like writing; I never wrote before that).

I think this is the only way for PKs (or anyone, really) to sort through identity issues. Without connecting with Jesus in a personal way, a way where He becomes more than daddy’s boss or dinner time conversation, there is no finding identity.

Q: What are the best parts of being a pastor's kid?

BP: The donuts. And knowing where the janitor’s keys are in the church.

Just kidding. Sort of. The best part of being a pastor’s kid, for those of us who grew up in relatively healthy churches, is just that – the church. Growing up all my closest friends were through church. I learned to see church as a center of community and relationship. At various points I have been fed up to my eyeballs with how stupid the church can be, but leaving it has never seemed like even a moderately reasonable choice. It’s home. It’s family. And like family it has good and bad. PKs know that as well as anyone. Like family it provides some of the greatest joys and greatest hurts, and PKs know that as well as anyone. Knowing all this makes some PKs run from the church, but helps many of us love the church realistically and well.

Barnabas Piper writes for World Magazine and blogs at He writes regularly for the popular blog, The Blazing Center. He and his wife live in the Nashville area with their two daughters. Grab a copy of The Pastor's Kid on Amazon or Barnes & Noble
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