The Welcoming

A few years ago, I was at a college event at church.  As I was scanning the crowd, making sure everyone had someone to talk to, I noticed her.   I’d met her once before at an event.  She was very shy, a little withdrawn, and certainly quiet.  She wasn’t a “typical” outgoing, social, college student, and I remember being the only one who had talked to her at the previous event.  I watched her eyes dart around the crowd looking for someone who would greet her, anyone who would notice her or welcome her into their conversation.  She took a comfortable spot in the corner and tried to look interested in her food.  I looked around for a student who I knew would be friendly and engaging, I knew she wanted to be welcomed by peers, not the old lady in the group.  But before I could find someone to reach out to her, I watched her throw away her plate of full food and walk toward the door.  I walked after her, but couldn’t find her.  I’ve never seen her again.

A few weeks ago, I was at college small group.  I watched a new person walk in and look at all of the other members grouped in their comfortable peer groups.  He grabbed a chair and pretended to look interested in his phone.  I looked around, hoping that someone would notice that he was new, that he didn’t know anyone, and he was uncomfortable.  But everyone was caught up in conversations, laughter, sharing.  He sat there alone for far too long.

I felt the heat rush to my face, and the knot form in my stomach, and wanted to scream, “look around you, welcome others, stop being cliquey.”

Afterall, the Church should be the most welcoming group of people on the planet.

I went home from small group that night fuming.  I had a well-planned lecture with good scripture to back up my righteous fury.  And as I laid in bed, unable to fall asleep, I heard that still small voice that reminded me to pause, and examine my own welcoming.

And as I sat in quiet and thought, I realized that I’m more objective with college students because my deepest desire is to see every student welcomed in, accepted, and grow in Jesus with their peers.  My role is to be welcoming and to foster connection.  I noticed this because I was looking for this.  But when I’m with my own peers, I lose that objectivity.  In that moment, I was reminded that:

*  Under the guise of community, I have been exclusive and unwelcoming.

*  With the label of authentic relationships, I have sought out people that act, look, and think like me.

*  Through the pursuit of good friendships, I have formed cliques.

I was reminded that while I believe that everyone is welcome in the family of God, I don’t necessarily want to welcome everyone into my close circle in that family.  I’m content to hang with the “family members” that I like, and keep the “awkward uncle” and “weird cousin” at a distance.

I love looking around the pews on Sunday and seeing people from different racial, socioeconomic, educational, and cultural backgrounds gathered together to worship.

I want to be part of a church that welcomes sinners and saints, rich and poor, homeless and resourced, squeaky clean and felon, shy and outgoing, rough around the edges and easy to love…  Because I know that’s how it’s supposed to look.  I love that Jesus welcomes everyone.  But I don’t often want to be the one doing the welcoming.  Not the real welcoming of including people really different from me into my small group or my group of friends or my home for dinner.

I don’t have a nice summary for this post.  I’m sitting in the midst of this new and difficult revelation, and I’m asking God what it means for me to become more welcoming. I’d love to hear from you about your thoughts, insights, struggles, and stories with this.

How do you welcome?  Who do you welcome?  How do you balance having deep and meaningful friendships without becoming cliquey?

“That’s Not Me, We’re Not All Like That.”

Last night, at a work event, I met a new friend.  Our conversation started with work chatter, but quickly shifted into our backgrounds and passions.  She works primarily with Kurdish and Arabic families – helping them navigate systems in the US.  She speaks multiple languages, and has experience acculturating to America, herself.

As she was talking about the families that she works with, and her own transition to life in Tennessee, she stopped and thought for a moment and said, “You know all of that stuff going on around the world in Africa and elsewhere.  That’s not me.  We’re not all like that.”  And she stopped and looked cautiously at me, wondering how I would respond.

I had a million thoughts in that moment, and a zillion things I wanted to say to her.

I wanted to tell her that I’m sorry that acculturating to the US has been difficult.  I wanted to tell her that I can’t imagine how difficult it is to be Muslim in the Bible Belt of America.  I wanted to tell her that I believe her.

But I started with, “I believe you, and I can understand why you would say that.”

I can’t begin to count the number of times that I have cringed at fellow Christians’ choices to picket, rally, and preach in megaphones and wanted to scream, “That’s not me, we’re not all like that.”

I can’t begin to number the occasions when Christians have said hurtful things, ostracized others, and pushed their religious but non-Jesus agendas to the detriment of others, and wanted to yell, “That’s not me, we’re not all like that.”

I can’t begin to list the historical woes of wars, murder, and oppressive reign in the name of Jesus that made me shudder and want to cry, “That’s not me, we’re not all like that.”

Followers of Jesus are people, not deities.  We get it wrong.  We misinterpret the Bible.  We get stuck on the wrong priorities.  We are selfish.  We mess up.

And if I want someone to give me the benefit of the doubt and not lump me into a category of those terrible Christians, then I need to give others the benefit of the doubt.  Not all Christians are the same.  Not all Muslims are the same.

The news reports from Kenya and Pakistan have been absolutely heartbreaking this week.  And as I’ve followed the news and prayed to the Prince of Peace for answers and intervention, I’ve been grieved for those who have died, for the families and friends of those who have died, and for those who caused the death and grief.

In the midst of processing such large death tolls and such unimaginable violence, it’s easy to villainize an entire group, based on a few people’s actions.  But that’s not fair.  That’s not right.  Jesus called His people to be meek, to be merciful, to be forgiving, to be kind, to be non-judgmental, and to make peace in the world.

 Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth… Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy… Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.   Matt 5:5-9.

So as we interact with fellow creations of God today and this week and this month, what are we going to believe about them?  What assumptions will we make?  How will we interact?  Let’s be good neighbors. Let’s choose to believe the best.  Let’s be kind and open and learn from one another.  Let’s befriend people who don’t look, act, and believe just as we do.

Last Week Was Completely Awful (and a Teensy Bit Wonderful)

I got attacked by a dog last Sunday.

I agonized over the verb.  “Mauled” sounds really dramatic – probably a bit too dramatic.  “Beat up” underplays what happened.  “Attacked” sounds about right.

I could tell you all the details, but to be honest, I’ve told them enough times this week to EMTs and doctors and animal control and family, and I’m tired of sharing them.  The details don’t really matter. The biggest detail that does matter is that the dog wasn’t a stray and we know that the dog was up on his shots so, I don’t have rabies.

Here are a few more details that I’ll share:

I got to ride in an ambulance for the first time (Although I thought I was riding in a firetruck because that’s the only emergency vehicle I saw pull up to the house between the blood and closed eyes.  I was a little disappointed when I found out it was just an ambulance).

I got stitches for the first time.  Stiches aren’t so bad.  Shots in the face are really terrible.

I got my nose broken for the first time.  I have a new compassion for people being punched in the face in movies – and in real life.

I got Percocet for the first time.  I’m not addicted.  It makes me feel weird in all the wrong ways.

I was down for the count for the week.  I had a bum arm that was in a lot of pain, and a face that hurt to move.  Also my nose was twice it’s size – which is saying something – and I didn’t want to take the schnoz in public.  I took the week of work to heal and sleep and watch rom coms.

The week was terrible.  I’m not going to sugar coat it.  I felt incredibly helpless, weak, nauseous, and fearful.  I was angry at times, too.  It was a pretty terrible week to miss work.

BUT

(Thank God there’s a but)

God’s love was so very evident this week through people.  And these are the details I’m up for sharing:

1.  I have the most amazing husband.  If you ever plan a crisis, invite Adam.  He was there when the attack happened and he took charge.  He knew just what to do.  He said all the right things.  Even lying when necessary (telling me that my face was still beautiful when it was rather gross).  He waited on me hand and foot, getting up for middle of the night meds, dressing my wounds, and staying in the room while I dry-heaved.  He even slept on the floor so he could be close but not bump my arm.  He did every dish this week and even cooked a few nights without a single inconvenienced huff.  The man has been holding out on me in the cooking department (but don’t tell him I said that or he’ll start cooking and then I’ll start having to do dishes).  Thank you, Goose.  You are the best gift God ever gave me!

2.  I have the most caring family.  I was overwhelmed by texts, cards, emails, niece videos, and ice cream deliveries from my family who was freaking out from a distance.  I’m so blessed to have a family that loves me so much.  Love you guys!

3.  I have the greatest non-family family – We didn’t share about the incident very publicly – it was so unexpected and traumatic that we were pretty quiet.  We kept this news off social media, and we only really shared with the people we see weekly (either because we weren’t going to see them or they saw me and had a few questions).  Turns out we see a lot of people weekly.  Those that we told flooded us with love. We had meals brought to our home, gluten free dessert drop offs, care packages complete with celeb gossip magazines, flowers, cards, chick flick stash loaners, doctor appointment drivers…  just to name a few.  We were literally blown away by our people.  So thank you dear friends for caring for us so well!

This week’s takeaways: Trauma sucks.  Pain sucks.  Having people to care for you and love you in the midst of trauma and pain makes it slightly more bearable.

So We Put Our Hands Up Like the (Glass) Ceiling Can’t Hold Us

This summer, my husband and I are leading a small large group through our church for all the college/grad school-aged students that are around Nashville. Tuesday nights from 8-10, cars take up every open spot on the street and we gather on lawn chairs around citronella candles and tiki torches under a sea of twinkle lights to study the Bible. This summer, we’ve chosen to go through the Corinthians.

Summer Small Group

Tuesday nights are by far our favorite nights of the week. We get to see some of our favorite Nashvillians, and we get to learn from one another. The discussions are rich, the community is real, the depth would put any middle-ager to shame. These students are eager to learn, eager to share, and eager to change the world.

We love working with college students because it reminds us to hold onto things loosely, cling to relationships closely, and to keep an open and adventurous mind to whatever and wherever God will lead.

As we’ve been going through Corinthians, we’ve been talking about unity in the body of Christ, the purpose of the body of Christ, and the gifts in the body of Christ. A few weeks ago, we gave the students a Spiritual Gifts Inventory, and asked them to take the week to figure out their gifts. The next week, we came back and shared.

And it was incredible. It was an incredible night to hear how God has wired each of us differently, and incredible to see the students putting together how their gifts line up with their majors and career goals. Some of them are wrestling through changing majors, others are feeling confirmed. It’s incredible!

But there was something that happened that night that I simply cannot shake. As students arrived, we had them mark their top 5 spiritual gifts on a white board. One of our female participants marked 4 of her gifts, and then said, “Well, pastor was one of my top 5 but obviously I can’t use that gift” and she contemplated not marking her tally.

So we unpacked that a little in the group that night, because there were a number of ladies in the group who had pastor as one of their top five spiritual gifts. And then this week, we talked some more about it, because we were going through 1 Corinthians 14, when Paul states in verse 35 that “women should remain silent in the churches…” And then we talked about some other similar passages like 1 Timothy 2:11-14, that have been used by many churches and Christians over the decades to determine a woman’s reach in the body of Christ.

This is a subject that has long been debated in various cultures, churches, and faith groups. It’s not an easy subject. And it has shattered the Church’s unity; the very thing that Paul, the writer of these passages about women, is so passionate about.

We have to remember that Paul wrote these letters to specific churches who were struggling with specific things in a specific period of time, in a specific culture. As Rachel Held Evans put it, “The epistles were written for us not to us.”

But many have taken this and other passages out of context. Many have selected bits and pieces from Paul’s letters, deeming some time and culture transcendent and others outdated. And that cherry picking of passages has affected the health and effectiveness of the body of Christ for centuries. When Paul talks about the gifts of the spirit in Chapter 12, he doesn’t delineate that only some gifts are given to men, and others apply to both genders.

“All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He distributes them to each one, just as He determines (1 Corinthians 12:11).”

Brothers and sisters, we can’t keep putting up glass ceilings in our churches, because we’re selecting certain verses and soundbites to further our opinions about gender roles. The church shouldn’t lose ambitious, bright, competent, and most importantly gifted women to the corporate world, the not-for-profit world, or the Church world. God has gifted men and women alike to further His cause in the world. Why are we fighting so hard to put limits on half of God’s kingdom?

“When female executives, entrepreneurs, academics, and creatives are told that they have to check their gifts at the church door, many turn away for good. And while our sisters around the world continue to suffer from trafficking, exploitation, violence, neglect, maternal mortality, and discrimination, those of us who are perhaps most equipped to respond with prophetic words and actions – women of faith – are being systematically silenced in our own faith communities. ” Rachel Held Evans, Year of Biblical Womanhood

I wrote a letter a few years ago, and I want to share it again (for the full letter, read here). I want to share it for the ladies and gentlemen in our college small group because I believe in you, and I believe that the sky should be the limit for you. I want to share it for the ladies and gentlemen who are my age and who are past my age, because I believe in you, and I believe the sky should be the limit for you. I want to share it for all of us, because we need each other, and we need each others’ gifts, and the world needs our gifts and unified selves to bring healing and hope.

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Dear Female Christ-Follower,

Let me first say that you are a valuable member of the body of Christ. You are a co-laborer with Christ. You are not a second-class citizen in the Kingdom of God. You are not a “helpmate” in the work of Christ. You are not limited in your calling.

Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” My sisters, you are one with your brothers in Christ. You are not second in line, you are not the shadows, you are not meant to be quiet and wait for your cue. Your cue comes from Christ, not from your male (or female) counterparts. As a Christ-follower, your calling is to love God and love others. You do that by being “you” in the way that God uniquely created you. He gave you a unique personality and giftings, so use them to live out your calling. Your giftings are not limited because of your gender.

If you have an extra few minutes, read all of 1 Corinthians 12. For blog length purposes, I’ve hilighed a few verses:

“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink… There are many parts, but one body. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the Church, God has appointed first of all, apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts.”

My fellow female Christ-followers, each of you is a part of the body of Christ. And each of you is a different part. You aren’t limited to being certain parts because you are a female. Forgive me if this seems crass, but I’m going to say it: Women, we aren’t the breasts of the Body of Christ – You know, ‘nice on the eyes, but really only practical and useful for babies and small children.’

Women, some of you are apostles, some of you are teachers. Some of you are prophetesses, and some leaders. Some of you have the gifts of helping, or mercies, or giving. Some of you have the gift of tongues. Yes, I said it, some of you are leaders, and you should be leading – and not just in the nursery ministry, or children’s ministry, or women’s ministry. Some of you are teachers, and some of you should be teaching adults, not just children’s Sunday School.

Women, some of you hold leadership and management roles in the workplace, in which you supervise, manage, lead, and steer both men and women – and you’re good at it. Why then, are you asked to check your gifts at the door of your Church? If you have gifts (and you all do), use them! Some of you love children, and are gifted at ministering to children; do that! Some of you are servants; so serve. Some of you are amazing cooks and you help by cooking meals for new moms and families in need. (Some of you men are also good cooks, sorry we as a Church haven’t often invited you to help with this!) Some of you are leaders; so lead in the areas that you are gifted! Not all of you are leaders, teachers, and apostles, but whatever your gifts, use them!

And if any male Christ-followers are reading this letter, may I remind you that some of you are apostles, some of you are teachers. Some of you are prophets, and some leaders. Some of you have the gifts of helping, or mercies, or giving. Some of you have the gift of tongues. And if you are a Christ-following male, who does not have a gift of leadership or teaching, but rather, who has the gift of mercy or helps or giving, you are not a second-class citizen in the body of Christ. You are not weak; you do not need to be called to greatness. You do not need to be corrected. May I remind you of Paul’s writings to the church in Corinth above: “God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be.” (1 Corinthians 12:18)

My friends, if you are feeling skeptical about women leading, teaching, and steering the Church, let me remind you of some God followers who have come before you:

Junia – Apostle (Romans 16:7)

Anna – Prophet (Luke 2)

Priscilla – Teacher – (Acts 18) – Interestingly, she was listed before her husband in Paul’s writing – Priscilla and Aquilla

Deborah – Leader (Judges 4,5)

Phoebe – Service (Romans 16)

Read these women’s stories. They used the gifts that God had given them to serve their entire community; both men and women. Then, think about your gifts and whether or not you are using them. If you don’t know what your gifts are, talk to the people who love you in your life or take a spiritual gifts inventory. My spiritual gifts are: Leadership, Administration, Teaching, and Apostle, and Pastor. But I’m a woman, is that a sin? Absolutely not! It’s a sin for me to not use these gifts!

My fellow female co-laborers with Christ, we need you! We need all your gifts. You are first a follower of Christ. You are not first a wife or a mother or a career woman. You are a follower of Christ. There is a world full of hurting, lonely, lost people who need to hear the message of the love and redemption that Jesus brings. So bring the message through your gifts, your prayers, and your unlimited co-laboring.

Love,

Allison

Sleeping on Vulnerability

This morning, I was reading in Matthew.  I read chapter 26, the pretty familiar-to-me account of Jesus’ anointing, last supper, Gethsemane, and arrest.  As I was reading, something about chapters 36-45 struck me:

36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners.

I thought about how Jesus was totally vulnerable with his disciples; especially Peter, James and John.  “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”  Jesus was experiencing deep, dark, feelings, and he tells his friends.  And he asks them, “stay here and keep watch with me.”  Jesus tells his dearest friends that he wants their company, he needs them there with him.

And they fall asleep.

They are really tired, they don’t fully understand the gravity of the situation, they could be with Jesus in the morning, they thought.

But the morning wouldn’t come.

Their being present wouldn’t have altered the fact that Jesus would be arrested, or tried or crucified.  That all needed to happen.

But Jesus needed them there to be with him in the midst of his darkness.  In the midst of his fear, in the midst of the weight of his pain, in the midst of the unknown.

And what struck me, is that I have friends who have shared their darkest hours, and have asked me to stay and keep watch.

And sometimes I sleep on them.

Sometimes I get busy with my day to day routines, I prioritize checklists over checking in with them, and before I know it, it’s been days or weeks that I’ve been sleeping.  Sometimes my eyes get heavy because darkness doesn’t turn into light quickly – I start out strong, but in the wee hours of the morning, I wane,  and slowly I stop watching as closely.  Sometimes my own darkness blinds me to their darkness.  Sometimes the darkness wears me out.

And I sleep.

But that’s not what friends need in the midst of darkness.  They need presence.

This morning was a good reminder to me to stay with my dear friends and to keep watch.  Surely dawn will break.

Radical Exemptions? Week Sum Up

Radical Blog Series Graphic

Thanks so much for being part of our Radical Exemptions Series.

This week, I shared some thoughts I had about this article.  I couldn’t shut off this idea:

“The truth is, we don’t get temporary leave from following Jesus’ call when we have life changing events like going off to college, or starting a new job, or getting married, or even having children.  Our family status doesn’t interrupt or exempt our calling, although, it might impact the scope and reach of our calling.”

Knowing I can’t speak from experience about following Jesus with children, I asked some of my friends who have children to share how they are following Jesus.

On Tuesday, we heard from Ruth who lives in Asia, who was honest about the fact that even though she is living a life many of us would see as radical from this side of the ocean, that she battles monotony and intentionality in her life.  She shared some practical ways that she fights the battle of the routine.

If you ask God to show you openings in your life, he will.  Just be prepared: it probably won’t be comfortable and orderly and fit nicely into your schedule.”

On Wednesday, we heard from Molly, who lives in smallish town Alabama, who talked about creating a Kingdom-Minded Family.  She gave great Scriptural background to how she and her husband are raising their children and using their homes and regular lives to point others to Jesus.

“The Gospel is the only antidote to my selfish cravings to live to please myself.  And the more I am consumed by the Gospel, the less radical Christ’s commands actually seem.”

On Thursday, we heard from Jon and Jan, who live in an intentional community in San Diego.  They shared about how they are raising their daughters to be global citizens that are kingdom-minded – for the whole kingdom of God, not just the American Kingdom.  They gave some practical ideas of how they are doing that.

“We quickly realized that the very best gift we could give our children is to live the kind of life we would desire them to live as faithful followers of Jesus”

And on Friday, we heard from Shannon, who lives in suburban Northern California.  She talked about being a faithful Christ-follower with a growing family.  She shared about their adoption story, and the fear she confronted with saying “yes” to God.  She also shared about how her goal is to remember her main purpose in the midst of everyday life with four children.

“I am grateful I didn’t let fear stop God’s plan.”

As I read my friends’ stories this week, I was struck with a lot of thoughts:

1.  I have some amazing friends, who inspire and challenge me daily.  And you didn’t even get to hear from most of them.  I’m so thankful for the remarkable people God has placed in my life.  Thank you for being amazing!

2.  Being radical doesn’t always look all that radical.  Not all of us are missionaries, and even those of us that are have very normal aspects to our lives.  Being radical looks like visiting widows down the street, and opening our homes to college students who want a homecooked meal, and giving up “me time” to call a friend who is hurting.  Being radical looks like sacrificing our entertainment budget to help friends adopt a child, or going on a mission trip rather than a vacation, or inviting the homeless woman we pass on the street over for coffee.  Most people will never know about our stories of complete radical following of Jesus, and that’s ok.  Sometimes that’s what makes it radical.

3.  Raising children who know what it really costs to follow Jesus requires intention.  And I see so many friends doing this beautifully!  It happens during nighttime prayers when you pray for children in other parts of the world.  It happens when you play at a playground in a different part of town where the moms and dads and kids have a different skin color than you.  It happens when you get wild and decide to take your two children under the age of four on a mission trip to Africa with you.  It happens when you let your children stay in the room when you and your friends are struggling through scriptures and sharing how you’re grappling with the hard stuff.

4.  All of us, parents or not, need reminders sometimes to give God our everyday ordinary lives and do something different with them.  We need to be reminded to ask, “Am I where you want me to be?”  “Am I serving how you want me to serve?”  “Who have you placed in my life that I can love well?”  Sometimes that’s our kids, or our partner, or our neighbor, or a child in India, or our pastor, or our child’s teacher, or that annoying coworker, or the homeless man down the road…  There’s so much potential in our everyday lives, let’s be open to God.

I’ll leave you with the verse we started with (Romans 12:1)“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.”

Radical Exceptions? Following with a Growing Family

Radical Blog Series Graphic

Thanks for joining this week as we discussed the ideas of there being exceptions to following Jesus in the series Radical Exemptions?  We talked particularly about parents and the call to follow Jesus.  And since I am not a parent, I turned the blog over to parents all week who talked about how they are continuing to follow Jesus with a growing family.  Here’s Tuesday’s guest post, here’s Wednesday’s, and here’s yesterday’s in case you missed them.

And I don’t want to leave anyone out.  If you have ideas and thoughts to share, here’s how you can do that.

Today’s final guest post comes from Shannon Krueger.  Shannon and I met in California through our husbands, who were both serving as youth pastors at different churches.  They are a family that has embraced the idea of organic outreach and believes in sharing Jesus in natural rhythms and relationships.  Shannon and her husband, Keith, live in Northern California with their daughters Alexandra, Hannah, and Elliyah, and their son, whose adoption is nearing completion (but whose name must be kept confidential until that time).  I know you’ll enjoy hearing Shannon’s take on following Jesus as a family.

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Being a follower of Jesus has been by far the best adventure of my life! It’s definitely like being on a roller coaster with twists, turns, ups, and downs. I answered the call and became a follower of Jesus in 2000 and it has been a wild ride ever since. I was reflecting on this wild ride this week and how even during the very challenging times Jesus has been right there with me. He was celebrating with me with the highs and carrying me through the lows.

Jesus calls us to love and serve him wherever we are. This may be in an overseas mission field, across the country or it may be right in our own home. I love that Jesus is so creative because it provides limitless possibilities to shine for Him! One way we are following Jesus is by growing our family through adoption. My husband is adopted and has had a desire to adopt for as long as he can remember. For me it was a different story. God really did a work on my heart and placed a desire in me to adopt, but it didn’t happen overnight. The Lord has used my husband to help me see that the decision to adopt is not about me. It isn’t about me not being able to handle four children and it’s not about my inability to handle the challenges we are going to face. It is about making a difference in one child’s life. It is giving a child an opportunity to love and be loved, it is providing a loving home for him to grow and most importantly it is sharing the love of Jesus with him.

We started the adoption process with an introduction class and paperwork in 2008. We had finished our first round of paperwork and the next step was to meet our social worker. Well SURPRISE I found out I was pregnant the week we were going to meet our social worker! Talk about adventure…this was not even on our radar, let alone with our plan of adoption. We had to let our social worker know that we would be calling back in a few years. Fast forward to 2011 and after our youngest daughter’s 2nd birthday we decided to start the process of adoption again. We filled out paperwork, answered lots of questions, took adoption preparation classes, read a bunch of books, and prayed A LOT! After preparing our hearts and home, we received a call about a boy who needed a home in October 2012. We were on vacation and when we returned we had two days to get his bedroom all ready. The night before we were going to meet this boy we found out he wasn’t going to be coming after all.

There was no doubt God knew who our son was and He would bring him to us at the right time, but it still hurt. A few weeks later we found out about another boy who needed a home. As we have learned with the process of adoption there are always twists and turns. We didn’t end up meeting this boy until January. The day we met him my husband and I knew he was our son. We had him stay with us several times, we went to visit him several times and in March 2013 he came to live with us forever. We are still going through the adventure of court hearings and waiting periods for the adoption to become final, but God has made it very clear to us that this boy is the son we have prayed and waited for.

I have been thinking a lot about the adventure of parenthood. One of the biggest ways God has been growing me is overcoming fear. I was so afraid of having 4 children and the challenges of adoption. God meets me where I am at each time and every step of the way has reminded me to keep following Him, that this is part of His plan. Even though we are only a few months into having four children, I am grateful I didn’t let fear stop God’s plan.

I know some people think that being a stay at home mom is boring and mundane. And believe me I am not a fan of the laundry and other chores, but the challenge for me is to not lose sight of my main purpose. My role is to show Jesus to my children. I have only led two people to Jesus in my life and those two people were my oldest daughters. I do hope as God continues to use me that I will have the privilege of leading more people to Christ.

So how am I serving Jesus every day? When I die to self and serve my family by managing our home, I am showing them Jesus. When I home school our son so that he can get caught up and have an easier transition to his new life, I am showing him Jesus. This year I organized informal prayers walks with a few other moms. I printed up the staff list at my daughters’ school and we walked the neighborhood around the school praying for each person on staff. We usually had a few of our younger children in a baby carrier, stroller, or walking with us.

2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” I am definitely weak! I do not in any way have it all together. I am constantly asking for forgiveness and feel like I am falling short as a mom. But what I do know is that if I keep asking Jesus to use me, He will. The other day my son said he wants to be a police officer and one of my daughters said she wants to be a social worker to help children like her brother. All of this hard work is not in vain. My main prayer for my children is that they will love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. If my husband and I raise them to not only have a relationship with Jesus but to show Jesus to others around them, then impacting our four children will impact others who will impact others.

We are in a season of pouring a lot of our time and energy into our four children. We are in that stage of just trying to survive each day and a lot of people are showing Jesus to us through their prayers, meals, helping with the kids, encouragement, etc. But as we come up for air we will be able to bless our community more. That might be picking up trash as we walk home from school, praying for a friend who is struggling, baking some goodies for our neighbors, visiting a convalescent home, and whatever other creative ways God asks us to show people who He is. We are eternally grateful that He allows us to be a part of this incredible journey!

Radical Exemptions – Link Up and Thought Sharing

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Has this week’s series’ stirred up some thoughts for you?  Do you want to share them?

If you blog, I’d love for you to post your reactions, thoughts, ideas…  On Saturday, we’ll have a big idea sharing party.  But I wanted to give you a few days notice so you’d have time to put your thoughts together.  On Saturday, copy and paste the link to your Radical Exceptions? post into the comments on this blog.  Feel free to use the header we’ve used all week and feel free to link to this series in your blog.  I’ll share that link on Saturday and we can all read what others are thinking, dreaming, disagreeing with.  Good?

What if you don’t blog, but you have some ideas of how you are following Jesus as a parent? (or maybe not as a parent, if you aren’t one)?  Shoot me a facebook message or email me with your ideas.  If you could keep the ideas brief and more in bullet form than essay form, that would be great.

Then, on Saturday, I’ll post all your ideas.  I’ll share your blog link ups and your ideas and we’ll just share, share, share.

You in?

Radical Exemptions? Raising Children to be Global Citizens

Radical Blog Series Graphic

Thanks for joining in this series Radical Exemptions?.  This series is all about following the call of Jesus and how that call to follow Jesus is pretty radical.  We’re talking particularly about parents following the call of Jesus because of this article that started the whole discussion.  Since I’m not a parent, I acknowledged that I don’t know what I’m talking about, and have turned the blog over to friends this week who are sharing how they are continuing to follow Jesus now that they have children.  (Here is Tuesday’s guest blog in case you missed it, and here is Wednesday’s).  I hope you’ll continue to join us for the rest of the week as we continue this series.

Today’s guest blog comes to you from Jon and Jan Huckins (although they will always be Jonny and Janny to us).  We met the Huckins in Northern California through a small group of Youth Pastors & Wives.  We ate together, shared about ministry struggles and victories together, the men surfed together, and we cried together.  We always admired Jon and Jan’s adventurous spirits and deep desire to make an impact on the world.   Jon & Jan have two daughters; Ruby and Rosie and they all live in Southern California (when they aren’t traveling the world).  I can’t wait for you to read today’s guest post!

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Before we had kids, we loved to travel, had worldview stretching experiences and were all together creative in how we lived the lives we had been given.  For us, having the right kind of experiences meant far more than have the right kind of house, car or other possession that could be associated with “success.”  As we reflect on our development individually and as a couple in the context of marriage, it is clear that these experiences (and resulting relationships) have shaped us more significantly than any classroom or lecture series.  It has been the classroom of real life relationships that have formed us into global citizens who follow a Jesus with a global reign.

And then we had kids…

Having heard that we would finally have to “slow down” or change our unorthodox way of life with the wee ones around, we were feeling a bit anxious about this new stage of life.  Would the most life giving elements of our life quickly be swept away in exchange for dirty diapers and trips to the laundry mat?

Well, they could have been, but we quickly realized that the very best gift we could give our children is to live the kind of life we would desire them to live as faithful followers of Jesus.  In other words, if we are to be role models to our children, we need to live the kind of life we’d hope they’ll live someday.

So, we figured we’d just keep on living the unorthodox way of life and bring ’em along with us.  That’s why God made front packs and folding strollers for crying out loud!!

We are far from having things figured out, but here are a few key learnings we aspire to embody…

Faithful Living In Exchange For Fear Based Parenting

There are few things harder that releasing control (even if its just a little!) over the well being of your child, but in order to faithfully live into the call we know God has for us, it has become a nonnegotiable.  Rather than fear based parenting, we want to willingly step into those situations and experiences that will stretch us and expose our children to the kind of people and places they wouldn’t encounter if we don’t jump off the path of security.  Janny feels called to support and come alongside families who have come to San Diego as persecuted refugees.  Rather than going alone, she chooses to bring our daughter (Ruby) and invite her right into the middle of an experience that would stretch any mother’s protective instincts.  With dozens of snotty nosed kids running around, women from all over the world gobbling up our little 8-month old and kissing her face, Janny has to intentionally release control for the sake of faithfully being present in the places and relationships she has been called.  As a result, not only do these sweet women call Ruby “habibti” (my love), Ruby is learning to see others through the lens of a shared humanity rather than a set of cultural, religious or social constructs.

Kingdom Values VS American Ideals

We deeply desire our children to view themselves as global citizens.  In other words, rather than only seeking the good of our neighborhood, region or country, we want them to seek the good of the world.  We desire for them to see the direct lines between the way we shop, vote and live here in the US with the impact of our brothers and sisters half way across the globe.  In an effort to live simply (we really don’t have a choice on this one!) and to advance the common good globally, we try to shop at thrift stores (and host neighborhood clothing swaps!) as much as possible.  Our kids sure don’t know the difference and we hope that they view thrift stores as their department stores!  Another example is that we choose to buy multi-cultural baby dolls for our daughters so they see diversity as normative, rather than princesses and barbie dolls.  Although sometimes uncomfortable, make these types of decisions in the small things so we can promote well rounded world-views and experiences.  Who knows if it will work, but we at least giving it a shot when we are able!

Invitation Rather than Isolation

Lastly, we really try to do our best at inviting our children into the natural rhythms of our life, work and worship as much as possible.  Rather than removing the kids from our times of community worship, we are learning to celebrate their presence (even when it isn’t all the pleasant!) as part of the worship.  Also, we invite our kids into the lives of our adult friends.  Having committed to walk intentionally with a community of Jesus followers means we have also committed our children to walk with these people.  Although we may do some things differently, we are learning to release some of our control and allow our kids to be invited into the lives of those that love us most.  It is now to the point that Ruby has to pray for EVERY person in our faith community before we go to bed.  We never thought prayer could be so exhausting!

In the end, things are very different than before we had kids.  Things certainly move a bit slower.  Things often don’t go in the way we envision.  And things are viewed through a much different lens.  But we are realizing that is the beauty of family and a continual process of learning to live lives of selflessness, hospitality and generosity.  Parenting has become one of the most dynamic forms of discipleship.

Blessings on your families as you navigate these waters and please share your best practices!

Radical Exemptions? Following Jesus Defines the Culture of My Family

Radical Blog Series Graphic

Thanks for joining in this week’s series “Radical Exemptions“.  If you missed the first two days, feel free to refer back!  I kicked the week off with some musings, and then I passed the baton to my friends who can talk more soundly and from experience about the subject of parenting.  I hope you’ll continue to join us all week as we continue this discussion.

I met Molly during freshman orientation at Asbury College.  She and I lived on the same hall and fast became dear friends.  Molly’s resoluteness about her faith is one of the things that initially drew me to her, and has continued to inspire and challenge me.  She has met each season of life with resolve and conviction from teaching to graduate school to marriage to parenting.  Molly and her husband Nate make their home in Alabama with their three boys: Mark, Tim, and Peter.   

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I read Radical back in the fall of 2010 during a perplexing, exciting, and hopeful time when God seemed to be leading my husband and me to adopt our first child.  We had been trying to conceive for over a year, and after the Lord led me on an incredible journey out of anger and bitterness and into the sweet rest of surrender, He instilled in us the desire to adopt.  As He did this, He renewed in me a passion for His glory; I wanted to live so that others would see how great He is.  So the ideas in Radical completely resounded with the path on which God had put me.  And let’s face it: intending to stop the process of trying to have a biological child at the age of 28 and pursue adoption was somewhat radical. And so the book was very reassuring.

And then God stopped us in our tracks as we were about to begin the adoption paperwork by giving us not one, but two, babies.  Twin boys.  We also moved at this time to a different town in our state because of my husband’s job change.  And so suddenly our lives didn’t “look” so radical on the outside.  We moved from one subdivision to the next in smallish-town America, though our neighborhood demographics did shift quite dramatically from one filled with young families and couples to a street made up almost entirely of retired couples and elderly widows.   I stopped working and became a stay-at-home mother, and we also found and joined a local church plant.

But even with the major changes God brought to us, the need to apply the premise of Radical in our lives didn’t change because the premise of Radical is based on the Word of God and the commands of Jesus in it.  What are these commands?  One, to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:37-39).   And two, to make disciples of Christ as we go where God has placed us (Mt. 28:19-20).

Why are these commands “radical?” They are radical because they do not come naturally.  And they do not come naturally because they are costly to one’s self.  They are not convenient.   They require planning, intentionality, and sacrifice.  And so as a mother, for example, rather than follow Christ’s commands, it’s easy to slip into the “let’s just raise nice, moral, and respectful young men” parenting mindset.  And accompanied by this mode of mothering is an entire turn inward, to where I receive God’s blessings in my life with the end goal of merely wanting to be blessed more, rather than to be a blessing to others.

This two-fold worldview as a mother becomes my default mindset if my heart, mind, and soul are not utterly captivated by the Gospel.   The Gospel is the only antidote to my selfish cravings to live to please myself.  And the more I am consumed by the Gospel, the less radical Christ’s commands actually seem.   

So what is the connection between the Gospel and my heart to love God and others?  God saved me so that I would make his glory known among the nations, beginning in my home and them extending outwardly (Eph. 1:11-12, Ps. 67:1-2).   He has transformed me from an object of his wrath to an object of the riches of his mercy (Eph. 2:3-7).  He bought me with the precious blood of his Son and adopted me into his family (Eph. 1:5-7).  Once an orphan and now his child, how can I not love Him with all my heart, soul, and mind, and love others selflessly?  With the Holy Spirit in me, this is not radical.  Living for His glory should define the culture of my family.  With eyes of faith, following God’s commands, loving others, and discipling my children are merely the fruit of seeking first the Kingdom of God.

And so I’ll give you a glimpse into how living out the culture of the Kingdom of God looks for me in this season of young motherhood, in no particular order:

  • Reading the Word of God when I’d rather stay in bed, catch up on Facebook’s morning news, or watch the Today Show
  • Practicing hospitality, even when it’s uncomfortable, risky, and takes a lot of effort
  • Sharing with others, even when my budget is tight, when it means I might not have leftovers for the next night’s dinner, or when it might involve an extra trip to the store with three children
  • Searching the Word of God for passages that apply to the sinful attitudes of the heart that I see in my toddlers, and then applying it verbally as I correct them.
  • Searching my own heart after I correct my toddlers and repenting of the same sinful attitude I see in myself
  • Visiting the widows on our street when I’d rather have a playdate or get the laundry done
  • Praying that God would show me who the “least of these” is in our lives and sharing our lives when He brings them our way, even if it means a homeless man who visits our church and needs a home-cooked meal and a shower
  • Seeking to do all things in our home excellently and to the glory of God so that He would look beautiful to my children—things like unloading the dishwasher or cleaning the bathroom without pushing my boys out of the way and getting angry when they mess something up or try to help
  • Serving faithfully with a local body of believers as part of a church plant, which sometimes looks like taking the whole family on a Saturday morning to scrub bathrooms and vacuum
  • Living simply, choosing household projects wisely, and not accumulating any debt so that we can give to others and also hopefully be in a financial position to adopt a child one day.
  • Taking time to clean our home or call a friend, even if it means abandoning my selfish demand for “me-time”

I’m not going to lie.  Each one of the things I have listed is an ongoing battle.  They’re not easy.  I’m a homebody, an introvert, and I’m frugal.  I’m also a control freak and a perfectionist.  I’m a people-pleaser and don’t like to risk rejection by sharing the Gospel. Seeking to obey God, love others selflessly, and disciple my children faithfully are at war against those characteristics every single day.  But I’ve learned that when the commands of Jesus feel too radical, too inconvenient, and when they feel like items on a to-do list, it’s time for me to soak myself in God’s Word.  It’s time for me to pray that the Lord would overwhelm me with the Gospel once again.  And He is faithful and has, and will continue, to do it.  And then obedience—this living “radically”–becomes pure delight.

If you would like to read more on living out the Gospel in the midst of the mundane, I highly recommend the blog Domestic Kingdom. It has been a source of great challenge and encouragement to my soul.