5 Ways to Practice Hospitality When Your Hobby Isn’t Cooking

5 Ways to Practice Hospitality When Your Hobby Isn’t CookingWhen Christopher and I spent the summer in Iraq, a few of us were invited to the home of three students in our English program.

I had gotten to know their mom a little bit on a previous visit and expressed my amazement as dish after dish was brought out, covering almost every inch of  the tablecloth on the floor.

She grinned and said that she’d been up since 3am cooking the noon meal. When I peeked in the kitchen later, I saw her daughter and other female relatives who had come over bustling around in the kitchen, cleaning up all the food we had left behind.

Months later, when we invited a couple over to our home in Delaware, I knew my spread would look nothing like the abundance we’d been shown in Iraq. I wasn’t even planning to make a jello salad, which seemed to be a staple when my mom had people over after church.

Instead, when the day came, I was just trying to make sure the chicken was cooked through, and the rice was fluffy enough.

Well, that and a number of other household tasks I hadn’t left myself enough time for– cleaning the bathroom, sweeping, taking out the trashes, and washing the dishes—all in the last half hour before our company came.

I started ordering Christopher around, frustrated that I couldn’t clone myself. I wondered what our friends would think if they showed up fifteen minutes early, to me running around and thinking that if I was stressed enough, things would get done faster.

Sometimes I felt like it wasn’t worth it—the potential for marital conflict, trying to get the house clean all at once, and the possibility of something burning and feeling ashamed.

Why would God ask me to do something that felt so hard?

I needed to discern what the Bible said, rather than trying to imitate the culture I had observed.

5 Ways to Practice Hospitality When Your Hobby Isn’t CookingIn the book of Romans, Paul spends the first chapters of the letter talking about our sin and guilty verdict before God and the penalty Jesus paid to make us right before Him.

In Romans 8, we are reminded that not only are we not guilty, but we have also been adopted as sons and daughters of the Father.

Romans 12 begins with the words, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”

God has given me all the mercy I need to have a guilt-free relationship with Him. So when He asks me to do something, my actions must come from that place of acceptance and peace.

Which is where the idea of hospitality comes in. In the second part of Romans 12, Paul talks about the qualities believers should desire.

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

I can’t force myself to have any of these qualities, just like I can’t practice hospitality without His joy giving me the strength I need.

Though I still feel I have a lot to learn in this area, here are a few things I’ve discovered five years into the journey.

  1. Entertaining is not the same thing as hospitality.

5 Ways to Practice Hospitality When Your Hobby Isn’t CookingWhen I’ve thought of hospitality, I’ve often pictured a white table cloth on a candle-lit table, more side dishes than can be counted, and a main dish that resembles a piece of art more than something to digest. I’ve thought of pinterest ideas and decorating magazines.

Just conjuring up the images made me tired.

I couldn’t get excited about hospitality until I realized the difference between entertaining to impress and inviting people into our home because we wanted to enjoy their presence.

I was also inspired by some podcasts about hospitality given by Nancy Wilson and her daughters who currently have an abundance of little ones. You can check them out here.

  1. Hospitality doesn’t have to involve a home-cooked meal.

When Christopher and I were both working new teaching jobs, I had little social energy left for other relationships. When it was our turn to host our small group at our house, we served a small snack or a pitcher of lemonade. One Saturday, we had our Sunday School kids over to bake cookies.

Since becoming an at-home mom, I’ve been able to have ladies over for tea and prayer. We’ve had a few of Christopher’s co-workers over. If Christopher has some guy friends over to play games, I try to have a couple snacks squirreled away for that, too.

  1. It doesn’t just happen. It takes intentionality and planning.

5 Ways to Practice Hospitality When Your Hobby Isn’t CookingWhen my sister-in-law and I were out shopping one day, she told me that they factor in extra money in their grocery budget for hospitality.

It encouraged me that even if we could eat more frugally ourselves, part of showing love to others might be budgeting those extra dollars to feed a few more mouths. If I plan ahead, I can even get the items I need on my regular grocery shopping day.

Once I spread my cleaning jobs throughout the week instead of cramming them all in on the company day, I could focus on food and dishes before people came over. I figured that if they saw a stray hair on the bathroom sink, they probably wouldn’t decide to walk out the door.

  1. It opens the way for relationships to be deepened.

When my mind was on making sure water glasses stayed filled and toys didn’t get strewn too far, I couldn’t focus on the conversation or ask thoughtful questions.

When I was able to lower my expectations of hospitality, I could relax a little more and respond to requests, rather than trying to preempt them.

When I quit worrying about how my hospitality was being perceived, I was free to enjoy and be encouraged by the people God had brought into our home.

  1. It gives us the chance to welcome others in the same way Christ has welcomed us.

When we reach out to others and invite them into one of the most intimate parts of our lives, it is a way we can imitate the God who delights to welcome us into His family.

Who knows? Maybe God will use us as part of His invitation to draw others to the greatest banquet ever.

Who might the Spirit be leading you to welcome into your home?

Do you have any tips for practicing hospitality with little ones?

When Shame Keeps You From Enjoying Jesus

When Shame Keeps You From Enjoying JesusDuring our first two years of marriage, we lived in a neighborhood for married students. In our trailer, the rooms had been painted crimson, navy, light blue and orange, but the most unique area was the kitchen.

It was yellow with red, orange and green chili peppers stamped on every inch of the walls and cupboards. Someone had even made curtains out of fabric printed with chili peppers.

On the side of our fridge, I would stick pictures of friends serving overseas or quotes I had read. I loved the one by Ruth Bell Graham that said, “If a husband and wife agree all the time, one of them is unnecessary.”

But I also got the idea of writing a note using the words from 1 Corinthians 13.

It said,

A wife is patient.

A wife is kind.

A wife does not envy.

A wife does not boast.

A wife is not proud.

A wife is not rude.

A wife is not self-seeking.

A wife is not easily angered.

A wife keeps no record of wrongs.

I thought that since I had vowed my life to my husband and loved him, I should be doing what that famous chapter mentioned.

But the more I tried, the more aware I was of how I was failing in every one of those areas.

My thoughts would go something like this:

“How could you have just. . .”

“I can’t believe you decided to. . .”

“Did you really just do that again?”

I thought I could shame my way into behaving more like a godly wife should.

It wasn’t until God reminded me that He never expected me to do it on my own, that I threw away the paper and tried to ask the Spirit to love through me each time I felt like I was failing.

When Shame Keeps You From Enjoying JesusUnfortunately, some of those self-effort patterns left a residue on my thoughts, like a shower that will never be free from years of grime.

It has taken daily practice to look away from the stains of failure and let the clean water of God’s grace flow over me.

When Shame is the Name of the Game
My mentor Natalie recently recommended a book called, Tired of Trying to Measure Up, by Jeff VanVonderen.

His premise is that shame often keeps us from living in joyful dependence on God. We are so preoccupied with trying to do good works in our own strength (and failing), that we ignore the freedom and forgiveness He offers because of His death on the cross.

We don’t live from our accepted position as children of God, which keep us blind to the things that the Spirit wants to do through us.

Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Jeff shares that “Many of us have heard a ‘death to self’ teaching, based on a misinterpretation of Galatians 2:20 and 1 Corinthians 15:31. It says that every time one of our “unspiritual” human elements (feelings, drives, needs and likes) raises its ugly head, we are supposed to look at it with disgust and shame it out of existence. If you like something, it is probably wrong or selfish.

When Shame Keeps You From Enjoying Jesus“The reason this teaching is totally unhelpful to those who feel a sense of shame in their lives is that in its effort to deny self, it actually results in focusing on self.

“People who are trying to bring about their own death to self are really preoccupied with self. And they are constantly looking at themselves to make sure they are “dead” enough. What a tiring way to live!” (p. 130)

When my husband and I had conflict over money or what a Saturday afternoon should look like, I would get so frustrated with my feelings of impatience that my focus became how I was performing/failing as a wife rather than resolving the conflict.

At other times, I’d evaluate my roles as a homemaker and mother. I’d often ask myself, “Am I doing enough?”

In my mind, I’d separate what I thought were “good deeds” from the rest of my cleaning, cooking, and childcare responsibilities. Then I’d measure what I accomplished aside from my normal tasks.

If the dryer broke or a glass shattered on the floor, it was one more interruption from the good things I was trying to do.

Jeff addressed these feelings in much of his book. He said, “I think the more good works we have going, the harder it is to know, or to remember, that our only hope is God. It’s not just that ‘things go better with Jesus.’ Jesus said, ‘Apart from Me you can do nothing.’ (John 15:5)

“[The apostle] Paul discovered that real life comes from continuing to depend upon, draw life from, receive our value and acceptance from the Spirit. It comes from learning that what is natural, whether good or bad, is dead and has no real life to offer.” (p. 145)

How often I’ve considered the world’s measure of success as proof of a job well done.

One moment it might be wishing I could write a bestseller novel.

The next, it might be hoping for people to tell me I did a good job on the worship team at church, or the meal I cooked was fantastic.

I’ve pictured God doing the same thing, saying, “You worked pretty hard today, so I’m pleased with you.”

Fleeting Pleasures
The problem was, those warm feelings I felt from people’s words were disintegrated by thoughts of insufficiency and needing to keep up with the standard of good I had set for myself.

I was trying to gain approval through works, instead of remembering what Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-10.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Our position before God is a gift. He created us in His image and has special works He wants us to join Him in. And if I can’t accept His grace, how can I extend it to others?

When Shame Keeps You From Enjoying JesusJeff reminded me that “Having healthy relationships does result in “fruitful” lives. But the difference is that the fruit is no longer the means by which we try to establish, earn, or protect our value and identity.

“When we learn to be consistent with who we are and with what is true about us because of Jesus, bearing fruit no longer means producing. It means capable of holding the weight of the fruit He produces.” (p. 159-160)

One of the first verses my parents had us memorize was Galatians 5:22-23. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

There was a time in my life when I felt discouraged because I couldn’t make myself feel joyful, and I certainly didn’t have peace. Every time I’d try to feel peaceful, I’d worry.

Jeff referred to these verses in Galatians when he said, “Notice that this is a list of the fruit of the Spirit. Paul isn’t saying, ‘Try hard to love, act joyful, keep the peace, be patient, be kind, etc.’

“It is what God’s Spirit produces in and through people who boast in, rejoice in, fix their hope on, build their house upon God, or ‘walk by the Spirit.’ It is His fruit, not the result of your efforts to do good.” (p. 167)

Isn’t it refreshing to know the burden isn’t ours to bear? The God who created the universe by mere words certainly has the power to keep doing beautiful deeds in His world.

Our job is to look to Him and ask for Him to work through us every step of the way.

Jeff quotes Philippians 1:6, which says, “‘And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion. . . .’ We are in a process. Now, let’s remind ourselves of whose process it is. God is the one in charge of bringing the work to completion, of perfecting you. He will do it.

“Another reminder is found in Philippians 2:13. ‘For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.’ God is right now doing the work in you to change you. It’s an inside job.” (p. 168)

Is there an area of self-effort you need to mentally take off your fridge and rip up?

In your marriage? Parenting? Other relationships?

Jesus, we want to bring You glory and enjoy You and the lives you’ve called us to. We can’t do anything of value without you. Use us today any way You wish. We are Yours.

How To Find Your Place in God’s Kingdom

How to Find Your Place in God's KingdomWhen we spent a summer in Iraq a few years ago, I noticed that the beautiful houses were surrounded by concrete walls. Our English student’s wife told me that she didn’t like her sons to play out on the street because of the kids who said bad words.

But they weren’t isolated, because in the neighboring houses behind the wall, relatives came in and out of each other’s homes, cooking together, watching each other’s children, and showing the latest finds from a shopping visit.

When our church gets together to worship and fellowship, it’s a precious experience to praise our Maker as one voice. It’s a taste of community life in American culture.

Most of the week, though, we live our lives by our own schedules, intersecting through the occasional get-together or a quick comment on social media.

In my prayer times during the week, I pray for family and friends, those sharing the message of the gospel overseas, and for God’s contentment in my own circumstances.

Sometimes, I start to feel insignificant, wondering if I really am doing what God wants me to do in His kingdom. I look at what others are doing and compare it to my own  diaper changes and nursery rhymes.

How To Find Your Place in God's KingdomI forget that I am only a turquoise thread.

And that my friend in Asia is a red one.

And that my husband is a green one.

And that the pastor in China being persecuted for his faith is a purple one.

And that God is weaving us all together in the beautiful tapestry of His rescue plan for the world.

Abraham was a thread.

Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel were threads.

John the Baptist was a thread.

If my son chooses to follow Jesus, he will be a thread.

And maybe his children.

And maybe theirs.

The tapestry was started at the beginning of the world and won’t be finished until Jesus comes back to tie it off and hang it up on a wall in the New Earth.

Old Threads

In the Old Testament, the Israelites were called God’s chosen people, the nation He made a covenant with and blessed so that all the nations of the world would be blessed through them.

In the prophetic books of the Bible, the prophets called Israel as a nation to turn back to God. The individuals He used were always part of His plan in fulfilling His covenant to Israel, which found its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

He was the perfect Prophet, Priest and King.

How To Find Your Place in God's KingdomThere were times when I tried to live the Christian life as if I were building a resume.

I tried to do good works for God and thought that if there were enough impressive deeds on there, I would be worthy to be used (which forced me to compare my works with others’ works).

But when I remember that God doesn’t need me but has still created me in His image and chosen me as His child, desiring for His power to flow through me (and using my unique personality as part of it), I am free.

No longer do I have to try to be loving, joyful and forgiving in my own power. I can invite Jesus to be loving, joyful, and forgiving through me.

God is also free to use me in the best way I fit among all the other people He is using to bring His salvation to the world.

Praying As Part of the Tapestry

When Jesus was on earth, He gave some guidelines for prayer. I’ve said the Lord’s Prayer in corporate settings, but it wasn’t until I meditated on the verses in my personal devotions that I realized I might not want to take out the plural wording in all my individual prayers.

Because sometimes, I need to worship Him as our Father.

I need to remember the church around the world when I ask for His kingdom to come and His will to be done.

I need to ask Him to give us daily bread, providing for not only my needs but the needs of the woman who lost her husband and the church that got burned to the ground by those who hate Christians.

I need to ask Him to forgive me for my sins and all the ways that we as the church around the world have failed, and to pray for God’s forgiveness to flow through us to others.

I need to pray that God would help us in the temptations that threaten to pull the church down, and that we would be delivered from the spiritual attacks of the evil one.

It’s a way to help remove the focus from me and put it back on God.

Then when I see God use someone to lead another in a commitment to faith, I can rejoice in how God is using us to bring more into His kingdom, instead of feeling guilty I haven’t shared enough.

I can thank God for the ministries He is using to bless those in bondage to poverty, corruption, and slavery, even if I can’t give financially to each one.

When I’ve hurt someone and feel like I shouldn’t be free to accept God’s grace and forgiveness again, I can remember all the times He gave it in the Bible and in the lives of those around me.

When I feel I can’t overcome a temptation any more, I can remember that all Christians must battle the powers of darkness and struggle with sin until it is annihilated in the end.

I used to think praying for people was like casting a fishing line in different directions.

Cast. Pray for this person. Reel in. Cast again.

How To Find Your Place in God's KingdomBut it’s really more like a net.

As we pray, encourage, and support one another, God chooses to work through the criss-crossing lines of everyone’s prayers to fulfill the beautiful work of bringing people closer to Jesus.

When we look at the tapestry of God’s plan, it won’t all look the same.

Some tapestry threads might get more recognition on earth than others.

Some threads might be barely noticed.

But God desires each one to be surrendered to how He wants to weave us into his masterpiece.

I don’t have to worry that I’m not being awesome enough. I can instead delight in the fact that I’m His precious thread, a thread He was willing to give His life for.

Will you join us in asking how God wants to use your thread?

What is one area outside your influence where you rejoice to see members of the Body of Christ at work?

When Ordinary is Not Wrong

When Ordinary is Not WrongWhen I was nine years old, I told anyone who asked that I was planning to be a missionary orphanage worker. I toted my American girl doll Addy to school for career day (pretending she was an African orphan).

I decided that I was going to adopt twin girls from Africa (since I’d heard that in some of the tribes twin babies were left to die because one supposedly had an evil spirit), and also adopt a little girl from China (since boys were preferred in the one-child policy).

I supposed it would be okay to give birth to a boy, since I hadn’t heard of any bad stories about them.

When I started college, my career aspirations shifted to becoming a public school teacher, shining the light of Jesus among the other teachers and students.

After Christopher and I got married, I ended up teaching for a year at a Christian school and prepared for yet another change in plans.

Since the time we’d started dating, Christopher and I had decided to move overseas and share the gospel with those who hadn’t heard. We spent six weeks in Iraq and made plans to join the team preparing to go long-term.

When we felt the Lord’s redirection to delight in Him and share Him in Delaware, it felt so small.

It was a lot more exciting to share plans of adventure with people than stories about Isaiah calling out for his daddy at the top of his lungs in Walmart (even though Daddy had already been at work for a few hours).

When Ordinary is Not WrongAt times a fearful thought would fill my head with the pressure of a fire hose. What if I’m not doing what’s right? What if God wants me to be doing something else?

What if the mornings lingering over devotions and other reading, the time spent reading books to my son or making his stuffed animals talk to him would be better spent doing something else?

What if I should be fulfilling this or that need in the community? Someone has to, after all.

How could my life be pleasing to the Lord when everything feels so—ordinary?

What if I’m doing something that is keeping God from using me like He wants to?

My mentor Natalie asked me a question once that made me almost drop the phone in surprise. “Is God there to catch you and accept you regardless?”

She reminded me that our problems are so much more than we realize.

If God were to point out all my faults, sinful tendencies, and weaknesses, I’d probably want to hide in a cave and never come out.

If He condemned me for them, I would go to hell. (Romans 6:23)

Natalie said that God knows the true problems in our hearts and wants to meet our deepest and greatest needs with Himself.

When Ordinary is Not WrongBecause of Jesus’ death on the cross, our past, present, and future sins are paid for. (John 3:16)

I believe Satan is satisfied with anything we let tear our focus away from God, even if it’s the fear of being too ordinary.

Here are three questions I try to consider when I can’t tell the difference between my own concocted good deeds and God works:

1. Am I spending time with God?
If I’m not setting aside time to read God’s Word, pray, and find times of Sabbath rest, it will be much harder to seek His direction, delight in my relationship with Him, and be open to His conviction.

If my mind isn’t being filled with truth, condemnation and lies can weasel their way in until they bully out all the good thoughts.

2. Am I valuing the roles He’s placed me in?
Our culture values individuals. We rejoice when we see one man move up the ladder of success by sheer grit and determination. It can be exhausting if we’re trying to do the same thing with a toddler hanging off our waist and a husband who wants a hug and a listening ear after work.

It can be easy to resent the people God’s given us the most access to love.

When Ordinary is Not Wrong3. Am I talking to God about my activities so that if He redirects, I’m available for the good works He’s prepared for me to do? (not the good opportunities that seem to come at me from all sides like balloons in a waterballoon fight.)

Most people in the Bible didn’t convince God to use them a certain way. In fact, they were doing pretty ordinary things.

  • Joseph was babbling his dreams to his brothers and checking up on them for his father. (Genesis 37)
  • Moses was taking care of sheep in the wilderness. (Exodus 3)
  • Gideon was hiding from Midianite enemies while threshing wheat in a winepress. (Judges 6)
  • Mary was probably helping her mom in her household, preparing for her marriage to Joseph. (Luke 1)
  • Peter, Andrew, James, and John were fishing. (Mark 1)

And when the people in the Bible did try to do awesome things, they usually forgot God in the process.

  • Samson got his eyes plucked out and was obsessed with revenge even at the end of his life when he pushed the pillars down to kill a bunch of Philistines. (Judges 16) (Click here for some excellent Bible study podcasts on the book of Judges by Jen Wilkin.)
  • Gideon refused to be king, but instead made a golden ephod, which the people worshiped. (Judges 8)
  • Saul got scared when the prophet Samuel didn’t come before a battle and offered an unauthorized sacrifice. (1 Samuel 13)

Some short prayers I try to remember to pray (especially in times of confusion or false guilt) are:

“Jesus, would you help me to enjoy you today?”

“Father, I invite you into this day. Would you go before me and show me where You would have me love and serve?”

“I surrender my plans to You, Holy Spirit, and trust You to lead me.”

“Thank you for loving me even when I do sin. I ask for your conviction and freedom from any condemnation.”

“Would you make me more like you today, Jesus?”

I don’t know what my life will look like tomorrow, much less ten years from now. (Maybe He will bring those twins from Africa.) But I don’t want to live in shame or resent the ordinary tasks God is entrusting me with.

Because is any work God does really ordinary?

Is there a “good work” that needs surrendering? Is there a less noticeable one God is leading you to do instead?

Why You Don’t Have To Be an Extrovert To Be Brave

Why You Don't Have To Be an Extrovert To Be BraveI was in 8th grade, and our family had just moved to a new state. In the past, my gym experience had consisted of making sure the teachers knew I was trying, and not looking too relieved when I got hit with the dodgeball and could sit on the sidelines.

In most team sports, I could run around and still become translucent enough for the other kids to forget to pass me the ball.

But this new school implemented a torture program called skills tests. The teacher would grab her clipboard and check our names off if we bumped the volleyball in the air 100 times in a row. (Okay, maybe it was only 10 times).

I had enough coordination to play a Mozart Minuet on my violin, but could not, for the life of me, get that volleyball to return to my clutched hands when I bumped it into the air.

The other kids stood around watching me (or maybe they’d already started to head to the locker room to change), and there I was, chasing after my renegade volleyball with the gym teacher telling me to try again.

I concluded that I’d be able to save myself a lot of pain and embarrassment if I avoided these situations as much as possible. Since my parents wouldn’t let me homeschool gym class, I had to continue risking my GPA and dignity.

But there were plenty of other chances I could put my theory to work.

The youth group was getting together to play soccer? Offer to take pictures instead.

The summer camp was doing a relay involving shaving cream and wet thrift store clothes?
Find some other girls who wanted to be cheerleaders on the sidelines with me. (And who were also equally disgusted with the idea of jumping in a mud pit for fun)

It seemed to work fairly well, pretending everyone else was on some reality show that I couldn’t join even if I’d tried. (I’d even whisper jokes into my friend’s ear sometimes, because I knew she’d be brave enough to say them out loud and make people laugh.)

But soon these ideas bled into almost all of my relationships and thoughts.

Introduce myself to the new kid at church? What if I don’t know what to say?

Speak up in Sunday School class? I’ll probably stumble over my words, and people will be wishing the whole time that I’d be quiet so someone more capable could vibrate their vocal cords.

Play my violin on the youth worship team? Worship teams don’t have violins, and I might ruin the song with wrong notes.

Pray out loud with someone? What if I get so nervous I say something heretical or there is a long five-second silence?

Over the years, Jesus has used mentors, friends, and His Word to open my fist enough for some of the fears to slip away.

Here are three things I learned (and am learning) in the process:

Why You Don't Have To Be an Extrovert To Be Brave1. It takes practice.
Once I started introducing myself to a few people, it became less finger-numbing and sweaty. I found myself asking similar questions to find out about their lives.

I’d steal my husband’s question and ask what they did for fun. I’d volunteer some information about myself and my interests. Each time it got a little easier, (with a few awkward moments still sprinkled in there to keep me on my toes).

When I’d make a comment in a class, sometimes no one would grab onto it as I silently reeled in my empty fishing line of thoughts. I’d go home and replay the scenes in my head, wishing I’d said something different. Sometimes, I’d ask for Jesus’ help to not think about it anymore.

He caused me to realize that before I started contributing my thoughts, I would always wish I’d been brave enough to say something.

One summer in high school, I shared with my camp counselor about being afraid to speak up. She challenged me to think about what I would be selfishly keeping from the Body of Christ by not sharing the insight I’d learned.

When I was finally brave enough to join the worship team, I got to use the classical musical knowledge I had gained in a new way, adding harmonies to the guitar chords like sprinkles on a cup cake. And I even made some friends in the process.

Praying out loud became easier when I “practiced” praying in my private devotions, asking myself what I really wanted God to do in people’s lives, how I wanted them to feel His grace and love in their pain, and look to Him when they were struggling. (An exciting added dimension in this stage of life has been praying with someone while keeping an eye on my toddler who likes to soak himself at the drinking fountain.)

Why You Don't Have To Be an Extrovert To Be Brave2. It takes focusing more on the other person than on myself.
Sometimes, if someone asks me a question in front of a group, I feel like I have a personal court stenographer who’s going to write down everything I say and read it back so everyone can laugh at how un-eloquent I am.

But when those fears threaten to tie a gag around my mouth, I have to remember where my identity comes from. It’s not about what I say and do. It’s about finding my confidence in Christ’s finished work on the cross.

Only when I know my identity is secure can I invite others to delight in Him as well. I can risk some awkward silences and miscommunications.

If it’s more about showing others God’s glory than looking good ourselves, it doesn’t really matter whether we could have been more witty or intellectual-sounding.

In fact, maybe our fancy words would have just gotten in the way, like trying to convince someone how delicious a souffle is before letting them taste it for themselves.

3. It takes grace. Lots of it.
It’s not easy to admit to being wrong or have someone disagree with me. It’s scary to feel misunderstood. But I’m reminded that I’m not alone when I read the gospels and see how many people disagreed with and misunderstood Jesus, who was perfect. It might not be me they are rejecting.

And when I do say something I wish I hadn’t, I can always ask for forgiveness and accept the grace Jesus offers every second of every day.

Sometimes I still like to just listen and observe. I don’t want to try to become an extrovert. But I also don’t want to miss the chances that God wants to love someone through me.

Jesus, show us how to bravely love like you this week. We are yours.

The Danger of Wanting to See Results

The Danger of Wanting to See ResultsOne summer in high school, I noticed a billboard on my way to work that said, “We took immediately and made it faster.”

We live in a culture of microwaved food, vitamin supplements, and exercise programs promising to burn our fat faster.

You want to grow your hair faster? There’s a shampoo for that.

Now that my son is a toddler, he loves to run as fast as he can (not usually paying attention to obstacles obstructing his path).

Why would we want to do anything slowly if we can get a similar result faster?

Growing up, I measured my nine-month schoolyears by twice a year report cards.

I went on short-term mission trips.

The Danger of Wanting to See ResultsGetting married was one of my first decisions where I couldn’t picture the end.

When I got pregnant with Isaiah, we waited the designated nine months to meet him, and then he was here.

For good.

There was no putting him back where he came from.

There would be no days off unless they were carefully arranged.

For the first months of his life, he would even receive all his sustenance from me.

No Test to Ace
I realized that in motherhood there were no periodic evaluations, final exams, or times specifically devoted to reflecting on my performance.

It was just . . . doing life.

No one was telling me if I did a bad job.

When we felt the Lord redirecting us from the goal of moving overseas (you can read more here), I spent time questioning my purpose.

What if I couldn’t see how God was choosing to use me?

What if He didn’t choose to use me at all?

My mentor Natalie reminded me that “Being used by God is a byproduct of my relationship with Him.”

The Danger of Wanting to See ResultsMy focus can’t be about achieving results, because . . .

God wants my heart.

If I use my performance or relationships with others to make me feel significant, I will always be disappointed in the end.

If my contentment in Jesus is based on how I can or cannot see Him using me, it will be easy to fall into the comparison trap (you can read more here).

Mothering Like Jesus
At the height of Jesus’ ministry, He often went to quiet places to be alone with His Father. He blessed children when He could have spent the time healing more people and seeing immediate results. (Mark 10:13-16)

Do I want my son to see a mom who is obsessed with evaluating performance?

What might he conclude about my love for him if that’s my highest concern?

Melissa Kruger, in her excellent biblestudy on Walking With God in the Season of Motherhood, wrote that our “hope is to have God impact our own lives in such a way that His imprint on our hearts makes a lasting impression on our children…. If we want peaceful, hopeful, kind, and compassionate children, it is essential that we grow in these graces ourselves. In the beauty of God’s design, He is in the process of parenting us as we parent our children.”

A Patient God
If we look at God’s plan of redemption, we are reminded again and again of His patience.

He is not in a hurry.

If He were, He wouldn’t have made Sarah barren for so many years.

He wouldn’t have put up with the Israelites flailing around in their sin and choosing to remember Him only when they were in trouble.

He wouldn’t have preserved a remnant when conquerors came, one after the other.

He wouldn’t have come to earth as a baby and then entrusted the message of the gospel to a small group of disciples.

If God were in a hurry, I’m pretty sure none of us would have had the chance to be born.

The Danger of Wanting to See ResultsGod wants us to abide in Him as grapes on His vine Jesus (John 15). He wants us to enjoy Him, ready to be squeezed into a precious bottle of wine when the time is right–so that if visible results do come, our first response won’t be to feel good about ourselves.

It will be to worship Him.

Here are seven snippets of truth my mentor Natalie shared with me for when I struggle to see results.

1. Submit your time table to God.

2. Remember that only Jesus brings true satisfaction.

3. Rejoice that His burden is light. (Matthew 11:30)

4. Realize that you don’t need to have all the answers at once. (He’s got it under control.)

5. Recognize that God’s kingdom almost always looks different from the world’s view of success.

6. Invite Him into every part of your life (even the boring diaper changes and laundry).

7. Ask God to help you rejoice in the beautiful works that are being done by others.

Will you ask Jesus to help you enjoy Him today?

When Your Weakness is Beautiful

When Your Weakness is BeautifulThe pain crept in slowly, but by the time I laid my head on the pillow, I was nearly in tears. It wasn’t only the stiff throbbing that had settled again in my neck and shoulders.

It was the fear that I would be forced to go back in time and relive the ten years of daily chronic pain and thought patterns that accompanied it.

Christopher prayed for me, and the next day I felt so much better. But when the pain started to sneak back the following day, I was ready to start paying more attention to my limitations and take the physical, mental, and spiritual rest that I needed to find relief from the pain.

Why would God want to use someone so. . . weak?

When Your Weakness is BeautifulIn our culture, women are supposed to be able to do it all–hold a job, raise children, work out at the gym, cook and eat healthy meals (from their own garden), and still find time for relationships.

As believers, we don’t only want to keep our children alive, but we want to shepherd their hearts. We want to respect and bless our husbands. We want to serve as members of the Body of Christ. We want to engage with people on a heart level and pray for their needs.

If we were stronger and had more stamina, wouldn’t we be able to do more for God?

Boasting About Weakness
In 2 Corinthians 11:16-12:10, Paul talks about all the hardships he endured for the sake of the gospel. (think prison, floggings, stonings, and shipwrecks)

He could have gone around telling people how he’d stood strong in his suffering and was still doing the Lord’s work.

He could have told people that they should be able to do it all, too.

But in His infinite wisdom and love, God gave Paul a thorn in his flesh. He begged for God to take it away, but he received an answer better than healing.

He received a new perspective.

” But [God] said to me, ‘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.” (2 Corinthians 12:8) 

When our strength, efficiency, and accomplishments are taken off like layers of a ball gown and we stand there shivering in our undergarments, there is still Someone who can never be removed because He lives inside of us.

When Your Weakness is BeautifulThe God who designed each galaxy and forms every one of the billions of cells in every person on the planet chose to send His Son to pay for our sins, so that He could dwell in us and do beautiful works through us.

After Job lost everything and was sitting in the dust, scraping at his sores, he said, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him .” (Job 13:15) By the end of the book, he knew the power of the God he served. “My ears had heard of you
    but now my eyes have seen you.” (Job 42:5)

Maybe you were up all night with the baby, your husband came home from work discouraged, and when you finally sat down to read a novel, a friend called who needed encouragement.

Maybe you feel you have nothing left to give.

Or maybe it’s just a constant stream of daily tasks and responsibilities that seem manageable when you look at each day separately, but as the weeks go by, the water pressure keeps carving out a canyon in your heart.

The Shortest Prayer
If you look at God’s redemption story, woven from Genesis to Revelation, you can see that one of God’s deepest desires is for us to look to Him.

So when you don’t know what to say to yourself or others, try praying this: “Jesus.”

You can even whisper it if you’re in the middle of Walmart or holding a sleeping baby.

And then the Spirit may give you a few more words. Maybe just two: “Jesus, help!”

Maybe more.

When we let our Father take charge, we allow His power to work through us whenever He chooses. We don’t try to work ourselves to death trying to make it happen.

God used a barren woman to birth a nation.

God used a shy murderer to lead a people out of slavery in Egypt.

God used a teenage girl to raise the Messiah.

He didn’t have to use them. But when he did, there could be no doubt Who was doing the work.

So why does God bother to use humans at all?

Because He’s crazy about us. He created us in His image and calls us His children. (Romans 8)

When Your Weakness is BeautifulRight now, Christopher and I are celebrating each new word Isaiah learns. We can’t stop laughing when he sees a toy and shouts, “Awesome!” or drops something in his bib and says, “Oh, shoot.”

Don’t you think the Father who knit our bones and muscles together might feel the same way about us?

As we spend time in His Word and in prayer (including the one word ones), He’ll show us what to spend our energy on. As we let Him into all our weak areas, He may not fill us with strength. But it may open the way for something better–a deeper intimacy with Him.

Are you in?

Why Women in the Church Can’t Be Cheerleaders on the Sidelines

Why Women in the Church Can't Be Cheerleaders on the SidelinesDid you know that during World War I, more American women died in childbirth than American men died on the battlefield?

Women’s healthcare improved dramatically the next year once women we able to vote, but the pain of Eve’s curse hasn’t gone away.

Every day I am reminded of my physical weakness as I go about my daily tasks. I tire easily. I can’t open jars. When extra things are jammed into my daily toddler-filled schedule, I can barely keep up.

Sometimes I wonder. . .

Why did God make us physically weaker than men?

Why would he want to use us in our hormone-charged limitations when there’s another gender out there that doesn’t ride out their emotions on a 28 day cycle?

Fight Like a Girl
I recently listened to a talk by Bible teacher Jen Wilkin, who explored biblically what it means to “fight like a girl,” (referring to the female empowerment campaign that ran during the Superbowl).

She asked, “Are women’s contributions to the church nice but not necessary?”

Why were women created in the first place?

In Genesis 2, God created Eve to be Adam’s helpmate and work together in the beauty of the Garden. It wasn’t good for him to be alone.

So what does it look like for women to be, as Jen puts it, “co-laborers in the fight, and not cheerleaders on the sidelines?”

In Exodus 1-2, the Hebrews living in Egypt had multiplied so much that Pharaoh started to get scared. He told the Hebrew midwives to kill all the baby boys that were born, but that they could keep the girls alive. Since the midwives feared God more than Pharaoh, they told him that the Hebrew women kept giving birth before they had a chance to get there.

How many baby boys were saved because of these women, eventually growing up and guiding their families across the Red Sea to freedom?

Moses’ mother hid him after he was born, and God used him to lead the people out of Egypt.

Pharaoh underestimated these women.

Why Women in the Church Can't Be Cheerleaders on the SidelinesI’m grateful for our culture’s desire to value women.

But the beauty of womanhood is not in our ability to be equal to men.

God has gifted members in the Body of Christ differently, so that He can use us to touch all kinds of people.

Here are five ways God may want to use us because we are women:

1. Women are compassionate.

2. Women can empathize.

3. Women are brave. (Like a shepherdess who guards her sheep against a lion)

4. Women understand powerlessness better than men.

5. Women see needs that men may not see.

Men might unintentionally overlook widows, orphans, single moms and hurting children. They may not perceive when someone is living in fear.

They probably won’t ask:

Who might need to be nurtured?

Who might need someone to listen to their confusing flurry of emotions?

Why Women in the Church Can't Be Cheerleaders on the SidelinesA Parable for the Gospel
Jen Wilkin shared that when a woman gets pregnant, she makes herself weak for a designated period of time, delivers another by the shedding of blood, is restored to her former strength, and lives to intercede for that new life.

Could there be a clearer physical parable for the gospel? (Check out Philippians 2:6-11)

“Women, you are not an afterthought. What you contribute to the mission of the church is not of secondary importance.” (Jen Wilkin)

Are you ready to give Him the chance?

Click here to listen to Jen Wilkin’s 35 minute talk (with more humor and insight than I can usually conjure up).

Jen also has an excellent article on her blog about women and the church entitled, “More Pressing Than Women Preachers.” Click here to check it out.

How to Thrive as a Transplanted Wife

How to Thrive as a Transplanted Wife Christopher and I were on our own during our first two years, figuring out how to be newlyweds. I was finishing my last year of college, and then we both got teaching jobs for a year.

We tried to keep up with our families up in Delaware and North Dakota (and siblings scattered from Michigan to Africa), but our social network was made up of college friends and members of the Chinese church we attended.

When the school year ended, we decided to spend some time near Christopher’s family and community as we prepared to move overseas. A year later, we felt the Lord’s redirection from overseas ministry and had to decide where we would live.

I had enjoyed the past year of putting down some roots and getting to know Christopher’s family and community more. I’d never lived in one place more than seven years, so we decided to stay put.

It’s been almost three years now since moving here–good, hard, fun, exciting, vision-searching years. God has continued to lovingly draw me out of my comfort zone as I’ve begun to find my place here.

Here are a few things I’ve learned since being transplanted into my husband’s community:

How to Thrive as a Transplanted Wife 1. Relationships take time.
When I was living in a college dorm, everyone had to actively make friends or have none. Friendships were measured by the semester, and I had to figure out who I was going to keep up with once graduation happened and everyone scattered across the world like confetti.

The ground felt much more solid when we moved to the same town where Christopher’s great-great grandparents had lived. I noticed that there wasn’t as much of a rush to deepen relationships as on the college campus. Interactions felt more like a slow cooker than a microwave.

I had to learn to relax in these new relationships and enjoy the seasoning process.

2. His family isn’t mine (and that’s okay).
I’m so grateful for my in-laws and the life perspective I get when I’m with them. It helps me understand my husband better and be more accepting of traditions and ways of doing things as we build up our own little family. (Things like adding seasoned salt to popcorn, singing before meals, and appreciating a well-told story.)

At Christmas, we spent some time with my family and Christopher said, “You’re like a totally different person with your family.” My counselor reminded me that I had a whole lot more shared experiences with my own family, and as I get to know my in-laws better, I’ll grow into my place there, too.

3. There’s nothing wrong with observing (or not knowing).
Sometimes when I was in a group setting, I worried about not contributing to the conversation. I feared they thought I was rude. I had to learn that it was okay to enjoy breathing the same air and just listen.

And when stories were told from “before my time,” I could appreciate the history of the place I’m living.

4. I have the unique opportunity to enjoy and bless other transplanted wives.
I’ve found that there can be a certain camaraderie between other transplanted wives if we are only brave enough to share our experiences with each other. And what a relief to know I’m not the only one who doesn’t know how everyone is related.

It’s also a good excuse to be the one to welcome someone who is even newer to the community than me. We can even relate to missionaries who are coming back to the States and finding their place in the culture and community again.

How to Thrive as a Transplanted Wife 5. My friends aren’t all my husband’s friends.
Shortly after we moved here, I started a women’s prayer group at my house. I made additional friendships through church and other mutual friends.

When I had a baby, I got to know women who had already been wiping up sticky floors for a few years. Christopher got connected with friends who play music and enjoy board games.

It’s been a blessing to feel the freedom to pursue friendships individually and as a couple.

6. I can enjoy new ministry pursuits.
When I lived in North Dakota in high school, I regularly played on a worship team at church. In South Carolina, I taught 3-5th grade Sunday School for three years. When I moved here, I was able to start fresh and ask God where I would best fit at this stage in my life.

7. Being bold brings blessing. (Do you like that alliteration?)
I’ve need this pep talk regularly. When I’ve quit worrying about how I’m being perceived and shared my own life and struggles with others, it’s opened up the way for others to do the same. It doesn’t matter that we didn’t sit next to each other in kindergarten or that we didn’t graduate from the same high school. Maybe we can’t laugh over shared memories yet, but we can enjoy life right now and listen to each others’ histories.

So if you’re a transplanted wife, know that there are others in the same canoe. We might just be too shy to say anything yet.

On the other hand, if you’ve been planted in the area your whole life, we can’t wait to get to know you, too, (and hear some embarrassing stories about our husbands.)

What have you learned as a transplanted wife?

5 Ways to Pray With Hope

Praying With HopeDo you ever feel like you’re praying on autopilot?

I try to pray with my son before his nap each afternoon. Often it sounds something like this: “Dear Jesus, please give Isaiah a good rest, so that he can wake up refreshed, (so he won’t be fussy and I can get lots of stuff done).”

One afternoon at the end of my prayer, as I left my son to continue playing with his toy smartphone in his crib, I felt God asking me what else I wanted Him to do in my son’s life.

Henri Nouwen, in his book, With Open Hands, says, “The prayer of little faith makes us cling to the concrete circumstances of the present situation in order to win a certain security. . . wishes which beg for immediate fulfillment.”

Sometimes, my days alternate between feeling sorry for myself (when there’s a huge pile of dishes to be washed, child throwing a tantrum, or my efficiency plans get tossed in the trash) and feeling sorry for others (when my brain stops long enough to realizes there are other people around me and around the world who are going through unimaginable hardships).

When I pray, I want to see God act. “Help the people affected by the earthquake in Nepal. Let things go smoothly with my friend’s delivery. Heal my mom’s foot pain.”

Praying With Hope
But what if God doesn’t seem to be answering? Part of living a life of faith involves praying with hope.

Praying With HopeNouwen says, “If you pray with hope, all those concrete requests are ways of expressing your unlimited trust in God, who fulfills all promises, who holds out for you nothing but good, and who wants to share goodness and love with you.”

He goes on to say that “Our numerous requests simply become the concrete way of saying that we trust in the fullness of God’s goodness. . . expressing an unlimited faith in the giver of all good things” (p. 46).

So how do we pray with that kind of hope? Dictionary.com uses words like believe, desire, trust and rely when defining the word hope.

Hope and faith go hand in hand. Hebrews 11:1 says that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

According to Nouwen, “Hope includes an openness where you wait for the promise to be delivered., even though you never know when, where or how this might happen” (p. 43)

Praying With HopeIt’s easy to hope in things we feel are under our control–our home, children, work, even the reliability of our car. These securities can cause us to forget the One who is in charge of it all. When the roadblocks do come and our feelings of control are shattered, our loving Father is always there with His arms out to welcome us back to His peace.

When we practice praying with hope in God, the roadblocks we encounter can draw us into even deeper intimacy with Him.

One way God has guided me in prayers of hope is through focusing on what He’s already started doing in the world. Here are five areas we can pray with Him.

1. For unbelievers to know Him.
Tragedies occur every second of every day. Natural disasters and evil people make others suffer and die. We live in a broken, sin-stained world. But since the beginning of time, God’s desire has been for people to know Him. As we pray for deliverance, comfort and relief for those in pain, we can also pray that through it people would know Jesus. We can even pray for terrorists, dictators, and murderers to be brought to their knees in surrender to Christ.

2. For people to remember Him.
We are forgetful people, and pain can shock us into remembering who is really important. I don’t need to pray for my son’s life to be hard. It will be. But I can ask that God would use his hardships to draw him closer to Jesus.

Praying With HopeSome of my friends have recently had babies. I’ve prayed that the babies would sleep well at night and cry less. I’ve prayed for healing in the mothers and protection from depression. But nothing can prevent it from being a hard season, so I can also pray that in all the difficult moments, these moms would feel God’s presence with them. I can pray that as their babies need them constantly, they would be reminded of their need for Jesus.

3. For daily communion with Him.
Many times we can’t relieve people’s struggles. It’s impossible for life to be easy for my friends living overseas. Language, cultural blunders, and going from shop to shop just trying to find floss is exhausting. I pray for deliverance from their current struggles. But I can also pray that through the challenges, they would have a deeper communion with Jesus.

4. For Him to use us to shine His light and glory to the world.
We are jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4), and God often uses our broken places to shine His light. When we are vulnerable enough to share our struggles with other people, it gives us the chance to point to Jesus.

We serve a Savior who was perfect so we don’t have to pretend we are. Instead, we can pray that God would use our experiences in the daily grind of life to show others His greatness. And why not even thank God for how He’s going to display His glory through people we’re trusting Him to bring to the faith?

Praying With Hope5. For us to live in the hope of heaven.
No other religion can offer this sure hope to those who only see suffering ahead of them on earth. When my son cries, it seems like the world has been drained of all happiness. When I read the news, I often wish I hadn’t. The suffering is too much to imagine.

Whether the pain is slight or suffocating, God is always there, holding out the hope of eternity. It’s always within reach.

Nouwen reminds us that, “Prayer is a way of life which allows you to find a stillness in the midst of the world where you are open to God’s promises, and find hope for yourself, your neighbor, and your world” (p. 79).

Let’s ask God to guide us in that hope, so that we can delight in Him as we share it with others.