Thursday, September 8, 2016

I'm assembling a group of warriors


Can I just be vulnerable for a minute?

As thankful as I am to even be saying this, writing a book is probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life.

In fact, as much as I love doing it, writing just about anything is really hard for me.

This week I decided to skip ahead and write the chapter of my book that makes me feel the most vulnerable because it’s kind of what’s on my heart right now. I tried to get around it, but I found that I just had to share a part of my story that I’m hesitant to share. It’s difficult and sad, and I would never want anyone to feel sorry for me or misconstrue why I’m telling this story now.

I think Satan just plain doesn’t want us to share our most vulnerable stories.

Earlier this week I sent a guest post to a writer-friend whom I admire so much, pinching myself that she even asked me to write something for her. I liked my post well enough, so I sent it off to her, but later that day I went back to read it again (“What did I send her??”) and found several sentences that I would have polished, changed, improved, if I hadn’t sent it quite yet.

I think Satan loves to have us second-guess ourselves.

This week I had a dream that has haunted me. This doesn’t happen often—I’m generally a sound sleeper—so when I remember a dream I have to take stock because it probably means something. In my dream I had gone back to teaching, and it was the first week of classes. I was excited to get to know my new students and to dive into the reading. The problem was, I hadn’t prepared and the first week was HORRIBLE.

I knew it, too. I hadn’t given my students any homework and, worse yet, I hadn’t had them write anything. Duh! It was a writing class!

In my dream (and even after I woke up), I felt like a failure. I felt like I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, prepared enough to teach a class I’d taught fifteen times before. I HATE not feeling good enough, smart enough, or prepared enough. It’s a pride thing I have, I know, but it eats at my very core.

And I’m pretty sure it doesn’t take a psychologist to tell me that I’m having some anxiety about writing this book. I’m worried that someone will read it and hate it or not think I’m smart or will tell me my theology is weak.

I think Satan loves to attack our weaknesses and make us think we’re not enough.

Yesterday I sat down to write and ended up staring at the screen for the better part of an hour, resulting in less than 100 words. (My goal was 1,000.) So I decided that the best thing I could do was simply put the writing aside for a while and work on changing sheets on all the beds in my house and sorting the mountain of the laundry that had collected in my bathroom. Those simple tasks sometimes clear my head, but I found myself angry and frustrated at my lack of discipline.

I think Satan likes to distract us.

You know what I think? I think I must be on to something if I’m feeling attacked in this way. I think I must keep listening to and following the Lord’s call, the job he’s given me to do, just to prove the enemy wrong.

And here’s what I know. I know that God never calls us to something without equipping us to do the job. Sometimes, though, he provides friends to come alongside to help encourage us in the work.

Joshua had Caleb.

David had Jonathan.

Mary had Elizabeth.

Paul had Timothy.

There’s a little story that I love in the book of Judges that perfectly illustrates this. Gideon was a leader and a warrior whom God had called to defeat the Midianites, but God did not want the army to defeat them in their own strength, so he whittled down Gideon’s army from 32,000 warriors to a mere 300. There was no way this measly bunch of fighters could defeat a cruel and powerful enemy.

But God.

So this rag-tag group set up camp and was ready to go in and defeat the Midianites, but the night before the attack, God visits Gideon and tells him this:

“Get up! God down into the Midianite camp, for I have given you victory over them! But if you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah. Listen to what the Midianites are saying, and you will be greatly encouraged. Then you will be eager to attack.” (Judges 7:9-10)

Do you see what’s happening? God is giving Gideon an impossible task, to fight the enemy, and then tells him to go spy on their army the night before the attack.

But in the kind and gracious way that only God could do, he recognizes Gideon’s fear and tells him to take his servant with him. “But if you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah.”

Throughout the Bible, God provides people to come alongside those he has called to serve him. He always equips, and sometimes he uses others to help.

I feel like I need to assemble a team of prayer warriors to come alongside me in this writing journey. If you are one who would commit to praying for me over the course of the next few weeks while I write this book, would you leave a comment with your email address today? I will then email you every Friday to let you know how my writing week went and what you can be praying for in the week ahead.

This is so humbling for me to even ask, and please do not respond if you’re not sure you can pray me through this. I won’t hold it against you! I just need a few people to sneak into the enemy camp with me and defeat him.

“The LORD is a warrior; Yahweh is his name!” (Ex. 15:3)

Monday, September 5, 2016

End of Summer Wrap-Up

Hi Friends!

I've written here exactly five times this summer. Five! That must be some kind of worst-ever record for me. But it isn't because I haven't been writing--I have. Just not here.

I thought I'd take a few minutes to catch up today since I haven't been around much lately. Our summer was great, and even though I haven't documented much of it, I've enjoyed every minute. We started out with a fun celebration of Julia's graduation from high school (lots of family came--the best!) and took a fabulous vacation to Kiawah Island, SC as a family. Both took place early in the summer, and for the rest of it, we were mostly home except for a quick trip to Dallas for the Declare Conference and a very special wedding of a very special couple whom B and I have mentored for the past six years.

The rest of the summer was spent getting ready. For what? For change. My heart doesn't do well with change, yet I knew that August would be a month full of it, so I needed some space this summer to process all that would be happening over past few weeks.

First, Julia officially left for college in early August. School didn't start until much later, but she took part in a wilderness program that her school offered prior to orientation. Poor girl (I say this entirely tongue in cheek) spent 10 days sea kayaking around the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior, which is supposed to be one of the best adventure trips in the United States. Who knew?! Anyway, she had an amazing time getting to know a small group of girls from her freshman class.


And now she's all settled in at college, loving life in her dorm, and trying new experiences like playing ultimate frisbee. Again, who knew?!


Two days after Parents' Orientation, I loaded up my car and helped Caroline move 800 miles from home for a graduate program in physical therapy. I spent about four days helping her get settled, exploring her new part of the country, and dreading the moment I would have to pull away from her apartment. But I did it. I actually managed to turn my car in the right direction, head down the highway, and drive home . . . without my middle daughter.


But you know what? I'm thrilled for her. She is in the absolutely right place for her--God has confirmed it over and over again--so how can I be sad? It's just that nagging old change thing.

In the midst of all of this, we helped Kate move into a new apartment in a new part of the city. She's so happy with her new digs, and soon I'm sure I'll be called upon for painting duty. All good.

We've had a fair amount of company this summer, too, which I love. Hopefully in this new season we'll have more opportunities to open our doors to those who need a place to rest. God has given us this home for a purpose, we believe, and its up to us to use it for His glory. Come visit us!

So now things have settled down a bit. In fact, this is the first weekend that B and I have spent alone in our home. To be honest, it's crazy-quiet -- much too quiet for our liking -- but we're trying to figure it out. Going for long walks, enjoying meals out, and taking bike rides seem to help pass the time. And our fall is looking so busy that we won't have time to be bored. It's just that the transition is . . . well . . . strange.


Yesterday at church we sat down and realized that everyone around us was an empty nester. A couple of people asked us how things were going so far, and I had to fight back tears for the fourth Sunday in a row. For years now I've had at least one child sitting next to me in church, and now, for the first time, I'm faced with the reality that this won't happen for a while. All of these changes are good and necessary, and I wouldn't have life played out any other way, but that doesn't make it any easier.

Everyone says it gets better, this empty nest thing. I'm going to take them at their word and start living life as if it already is better. I'm going to take a couple of trips this fall. I'm going to tell myself that this isn't forever--at least one child may be home next summer, and there are always breaks. I'm going to remember God's faithfulness to our family.

In the meantime, I'm already starting to plan my Thanksgiving menu. The girls will be home!


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Letter to My Daughters :: About the –isms



Dear Daughters,

Racism.

Feminism.

Terrorism.

The –isms. Words that have become part of our everyday language. Issues that scream for our attention, our compassion, our consideration. Issues different from one another, but important just the same.

And that’s not to mention so many others we talk about.

Atheism.

Capitalism.

Socialism.

Ageism. (I’m kinda sensitive to this one.)

A quick online search for a “list of isms” will produce over 200 words that have become their own distinct belief systems. But, more than that, they are ways of categorizing people or keeping them apart from one another. Worse yet, they become ways of discriminating against people who aren’t like us.

Today’s –isms have created an “us against them” world, and these ways of defining people confront us every day, pointing out differences, promoting hate.

In just the past two weeks we have seen racial violence of the highest order and a terrorist attack like none other. Not to mention that the country of Turkey (and how many others?) is in upheaval.

It leaves us wondering, “How much more can we take?”

I mean that quite literally. When we are bombarded every single day by news of one terrible occurrence after another, all of which we are told to care deeply about, I think we start to wonder how to do that.

How do we stay emotionally engaged with our world when there is so much violence and destruction calling for our attention? How do we love in a world so divided by -isms? We just want a little peace already!

Girls, I want you to know something in order to both guard against it and to deal with it when it happens to you. Compassion fatigue is a real thing.

Sometimes, in response to all of the tragedy around us, we lose our capacity to care. We act indifferent. We may even shut down.

It’s not that we don’t care, it’s that we simply cannot.

So let’s say you have a family—you will probably spend the bulk of your emotional energy caring for the people under your roof. That’s as it should be. And then, say, a family member gets sick or you have some big decisions to make about work. More emotional energy used up.

But that’s not all. You have close friends with needs that you should also rightly care about. And a church family full of hurting people who need your attention. The circle of care widens, stretching its boundaries until you think it may burst.

Maybe your community is affected by racial violence, like many in our country did last week. You hurt some more. And then you look around and see that the world is falling apart and protests occur loud and strong, and you realize that there is just so much to care about until your emotional energy is spent.

Our bodies and our minds weren’t made to handle this much sadness. We may even watch the news and feel despair or fear about the days ahead.

My darling daughters, here’s what I want say: Do not give in to despair. Do not fear. (How many times does Jesus tell us not to fear? A LOT!) And do not give in to compassion fatigue.

God, in his wisdom, has given us just what we need to combat the fears and stresses of the world we live in. That’s the great thing about the Bible—it’s timeless. It always speaks to where we are today.

Just last week I read this verse: “In this world you will have trouble; but take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Do you know how comforting that is to me? When I worry about your futures or the futures of the grandchildren I may someday have, when I think about the tragic occurrences of the past two weeks, I can remember that Jesus has it covered. He came to overcome the world and all its trials and tribulations.

He knew there would be terrorism. He knew about racism. He knew that hard days would come, but he’s got it covered already because of his death on the cross.

Here’s what I also want you to know: God does not want us to give up on compassion, but he understands compassion fatigue. Even Jesus had to pull away for a while, to get away from the crowds to pray.

So how should we handle the –isms calling for our attention these days? How do we handle compassion fatigue? I have a few ideas (you knew I would!).

Michah 6:8 says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

1. Pray. We cannot know God’s will for us if we’re not talking to him about it, so pray that God would show you the –isms that he has placed on your heart. We can’t do everything, but we can do something right where we are, so pray for compassion for the issues God has equipped you to care for. And don’t worry about the rest—that’s why there is a huge world with people who care for different things.

2. Continue to seek justice in your everyday life. Again, we cannot solve every problem or fix every person, but we can be people of integrity who watch out for others. This doesn’t mean that you have to stand in on a protest. It simply means that whatever you can do to seek justice, do it. Refuse to overlook injustice when you see it.

3. Be kind. Oh, how our world needs a little more kindness. And it can start with you. Forget cynicism (another –ism!). Forget backstabbing gossip. Forget lying. And just be nice.

4. Walk humbly. Learn from others as you learn from God. Listen well. Love well. Take your eyes off of yourself and make those around you feel like they are the most important people in the room. Pray for humility.

These are the things God requires of us. Nothing more; nothing less.

Girls, as you go out into the world each day, don’t be overwhelmed by the trials. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, seeking God’s will for your life, following his call, and the rest will take care of itself.

He is with you always. Even until the end of the age.

I love you so.


Mom

Thursday, July 14, 2016

But God . . . {A fun, exciting, crazy announcement!}



Sometimes you wait for something for such a long time that you think it may never happen.

Sometimes you hope and dream for so long that you almost decide to give up.

Sometimes you wonder if your dreams are just crazy or that you’re not up to the dream after all or that you’re getting too old to actually accomplish it.

Sometimes you doubt. A lot.

But then God does something so entirely unexpected that you just have to believe He was in it all along, just waiting to gift you with your dream when the timing was just right.

That’s my story these days.

After years of trying, discouragement, rejection, discouragement, hope, and more discouragement, I was ready to quit my dream. I regularly told myself, “I’m not really a writer” or “I’m too old for this” or “Nobody wants to hear what I have to say anyway.”

(Lies! All lies, by the way.)

But God.

He planted the dream many years ago, and he had a crazy plan all along. How he chose to unfold that plan is crazy in itself!

Last spring I went to a writer’s conference—one I had attended several times in the past—where I taught a class on writing prompts. But this year I decided to get a little bit brave and submit my book proposal to editors before I left. There’s a service for this kind of thing at this conference. If an editor sees your proposal and likes it, they can contact you to set up an appointment during the conference.

And that’s what happened. Two editors contacted me and wanted to talk about my idea.

Turns out that they both liked my proposal and wanted to take it further on down the publishing road. Now, what you have to know is that this road is very long and winding and sometimes comes with road blocks and detours, often with no communication at all. You just have to wait until the traffic clears and more people see your proposal and give you a green light.

Or reject you. Which is what happened to me on the Wednesday of our beach vacation back in June.

There I was, sitting on the beach, enjoying some precious time away with my family, when I stupidly checked email to find a rejection letter from one of the publishers I had spoken to back in April. (There’s a lesson here: don’t check email from the beach!)

Tears ran down my face from behind my sunglasses, and I broke the news to my family later that evening.

I was pretty sad. Not necessarily surprised (I have had plenty of rejections in the past), but sad. And questioning whether I should keep writing or just hang it up.

I’m not sure what I did the next day—I think I took a long bike ride or something—but I know I had a heavy heart hangover that morning. I couldn’t face social media, so I just stayed away from my computer until around lunchtime when I quickly checked email.

Remember how I said I had talked to two editors? I hadn’t heard much of anything from the second one, and I had kind of written them off too. I figured I’d get in touch with them after vacation, but again, I didn’t have much hope.

But on Thursday of vacation, the day after my rejection, there was an email from the editor of the second publisher telling me that they were going to be looking at my proposal THAT DAY and he’d be in touch the following day to let me know the outcome. I kind of laughed at the timing, then prayed hard and asked my family to pray as well.

And then we went to the beach.

Later that night I checked email again to find a note from the publisher telling me that they liked my proposal and, get this, THEY WANTED TO PUBLISH MY BOOK!

You guys, that was 24 hours after the rejection. Twenty-four hours!!!

To say my head was spinning would be an utter downplay of how I was feeling. How on earth could I go from such a low point the day before to finding out that I was going to receive a contract? It still feels surreal to me.

But God.

Here’s what I know. There is no way any of this was a coincidence. God knew all along that I was going to get rejected, but He arranged it so that I was on vacation with my family. No better people to get rejected with!

Not only that, but he also arranged for the second publisher to look at my proposal the very next day. How crazy is that?! VERY CRAZY!

And that is how I know that God has said, “OK, Shelly, the timing is just right for you to pursue this dream.”

You see, for so many years the dream of writing a book has been stirring in my heart, but the timing hasn’t been just right. I loved being a mom to my kids (I still do!) and wanted to be here for them while they were here at home. I also loved being a professor and a mentor to students.

But my youngest is off to college soon (!) and my nest will be empty in the fall. I stopped teaching a year ago, so I have time to write now (as long as I can discipline myself to actually do it!).  The timing, for me, is just right.

And the book? I’m excited to tell you that it’s a book about parenting with purpose and intentionality. It’s about asking why we do what we do to instill spiritual and family values into our kids instead of asking how.

Because I firmly believe that if we start by asking why, the how will follow. 

I hope you’ll join me on this journey by praying for me as you think of it. I’m sure I’ll be sharing more as time goes on, but today, I just want you to laugh along with me at the timing and the goodness of God.

*****

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Intentional Parenting :: Reprise :: Intentional Service



When I wrote about teaching our kids about service a fewyears back, I talked about the benefits of service and how we can model service for our kids. I still think those points are valid. I still think serving others is fulfilling, joyful work. I still think there is so much to gain by serving others.

But as I’ve been thinking about this post since my last parenting post, I’ve been convinced that there is and should be something more to our thoughts about serving others and to what we teach our kids about service.

Recently I read Philippians 2 where Paul encourages Christians to take on a new attitude—one that is completely different from the world around them.

You see, the world around the Christians in the early church was probably not too different from the world around us today. Christians were being persecuted. The secular world opposed the message of Christianity. Everyone was out for Number 1.

And Paul knew that it wouldn’t take much for the Philippian Christians to get discouraged by the world around them. (Sound familiar?)

So he sends them this amazing letter of encouragement. It’s a letter that screams “JOY!” from every page, which is totally ironic when you consider that Paul is writing from a prison cell.

In Philippians 2, Paul gives some practical tips for living together as the church and for living in the world around them.

“Agree wholeheartedly.”

“Love one another.”

“Work together with one mind and purpose.”

“Don’t be selfish.”

“Think of others as better than yourselves.”

Could it get any more practical?!

Well, actually, Paul thinks it can, because he adds one more example, that of Jesus himself, and he tells the Philippians (and us) how to REALLY live.

“You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”

Oh really, Paul? What was that?

He tells us: Be a servant.

A servant? Jesus was the Son of God, why did he have to serve others?

And that’s the point—He didn’t.

“Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges, he took the humble position of a slave (the ESV says “servant”) and was born as a human being.” (NLT)

In order to get his message across, a message about the kingdom of God and the Good News that people really needed to hear, Jesus didn’t shout it from the mountaintops (OK, maybe sometimes he did that). He lived it. Every day. Humbly.

Jesus showed the people around him that Christianity is very different from the rest of the world. When the world is trying to get ahead, Christians open the door. When the world looks out for selfish interests, Christians make others look better.

When the world spits at Christians, mocks them, hates them, Christians look to Jesus on the cross, the most humbling act of love a person could ever have done.

And there they see true servanthood.

So what does this have to do with intentionally teaching our kids the importance of service? I guess I’m learning that along with the benefits, we need to show our kids that true service comes at a cost. That is isn’t always fun or easy or cheap to serve others.

And we may never hear, “Thank you.”

Oh sure, we can all come together to clean up a run-down playground and feel great about our efforts. We can pat our kids on the back when they take part in a service day through their school. We can feed the homeless alongside our kids for an evening. All of that is great.

But what about the day-in-and-day-out of serving those who are hard to serve? Even those who live right under the same roof as us? 

Sometimes serving our family is harder than serving the homeless.

But we’re still called to do it.

I bumped into a friend the other day, and she told me a story that prompted this post. She and her husband recently moved his elderly parents across the country so that they could care for them here.

It hasn’t been easy (although I’m sure she would say it has had its moments of joy). It has cost my friend time, effort, and money. It requires daily visits to check in on them. And the whole family is needed to help out.

One of my friend’s kids asked her, “Mom, are you getting paid for this?”

Because, of course!

We laughed about that, but we also talked about how her children are getting to see the hardest lesson about service firsthand.

Yes, some types of service are voluntary. Yes, there are occasional rewards. And, yes, serving others can be fun.

But mostly, serving others costs us something. Mostly, serving others is hard. It may take a huge toll on us. And usually nobody else notices.

But then I go back to Philippians 2, which talks about Jesus’ example, and I see the outcome of his sacrifice: that God has exalted him. Not just that, but that one day “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is LORD.” (Phil. 2:10-11)

True service doesn’t do it for the rewards, and obviously we won’t be exalted as Jesus will, but we can trust that God sees our hearts. He knows us completely. And He will bless us for serving Him.

I’ll admit, teaching our kids to have a heart of service isn’t easy. At all. But we can model it ourselves, every day. We can talk to our kids about serving, even their family. We can encourage them to serve as often as possible, even if it hurts.

And we can remind our kids about the greatest example of servanthood ever found—the example of Jesus.

*****
Previous posts in my Intentional Parenting::Reprise series:

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