For Tom & Linda

TLanniv

When you grow up in the midst of a happy home, you take a lot of things for granted.

For instance, I didn't know it wasn't normal for both parents to come to every sporting event--home and away--of your high school athletic career. I didn't know other families didn't gather around the table for dinner every night. I thought it was pretty normal to play family games of Jeopardy around the TV, keeping track of your score on a notecard and determining how much you wanted to wager during the Final Jeopardy round.

In hindsight, I wasn't nearly as thankful as I should have been. As a parent myself now, I marvel at the sacrifice of my parents. Hours during the week spent behind the wheel, driving me to-and-from various sports practices. Hours spent listening to the same songs (played poorly) on the piano. Hours of help with homeschooling and, in later years, homework.

I marvel at the sacrifice, but I've also come to realize that they really enjoyed being with their children. Even in my teenage angst, they genuinely seemed to want to hang out with me. I'm sure there were times when they were relieved when I was in bed, but I never saw that. I saw love.

Looking back, I realize they were, perhaps unwittingly, teaching me about God. They were teaching me what love really is--it makes sacrifices motivated not by duty, but by the joy set before it. Their genuine love for and enjoyment of me was a mere shadow of my heavenly Father's love for me as His child. He doesn't merely tolerate me, nor does He cast me away or roll His eyes when I'm making poor decisions, once again. He loves me as He loves His Son.

Even now, my parents are my cheerleaders. If you're my friend on Facebook, you've no doubt seen their names on pretty much every thing I've ever posted. I could post the same link to an article 3 times and they would probably "Like" it all 3 times. I know how I've treated them in the past. I know I don't deserve any support or encouragement on my own merit. But there they are, wielding Facebook "Likes" as pom-poms and faithfully cheering me on.

Today my parents celebrate 35 years of marriage. They're spending the week at a friend's condo. If you know them, you know this is an unusual blessing. Even their vacation time is usually spent with their kids and grandkids, working and serving.

For the past 15 years, my dad has been a bi-vocational pastor, working 40+ hours as a journalist and pastoring a small church. His life is service. He's normally the first one at his church, helping set up chairs before the service, and he's the last one to leave, collecting the fold-up church stand from the roadside on his way home. It's not just duty; it's joy.

My mom drives 10 hours every few months to my house to serve me for a week. She cooks, cleans and plays all day every day. She serves the women in her church. In fact, my parents are using some of their evenings to babysit for other families. It's not just duty; it's joy.

It's the joy of being loved and known that motivates their own love and service. It's the knowledge that Jesus Christ humbled Himself. But just knowing this isn't enough. Their service is fueled not just by knowledge, but by receiving incredible grace. And they are conduits for this grace, dispensing it to all who know them.

My parents aren't perfect, but they are a beautiful testament of the power of God's saving, redeeming, sanctifying grace in the hearts of two flawed people.

So today I just want to say thank you. I love you, Dad and Mom.

My Love/Hate Relationship with Santa Claus

'Santa Claus with reindeer at the beach: Panama City Beach, Florida' photo (c) 1956, Florida Memory - license: http://www.flickr.com/commons/usage/

So I have a bit of a love/hate thing going on with Santa right now. I'm wondering if anyone else has dealt with this tension in the past, so I'm just going to put it out there and see what others think.

We'll start with the hate, naturally.

Erik and I are both products of Santa-less homes. He was never part of our Christmas traditions, and we didn't know any different. So when we began our own traditions with our kids, we had no category for Santa. In fact, when our daughter was 2, she somehow morphed Santa and Noah into one jolly, animal-saving being. I remember pushing her in a shopping cart around Lowe's and, upon seeing a life-sized Santa figure, hearing her shout, "Noah says 'Ho, Ho, Ho!'" Naturally, I did nothing to correct this. (Incidentally, I may have also allowed my young son to believe the bear says "wuah ha ha" for far too long...parents just do this when their kids say cute stuff...I'm banking on no permanent damage being done).

So we've never really been Santa people, and it's never been much of an issue. But this year my daughter is in kindergarten, where Santa reigns supreme. By the end of September she had already told a classmate Santa wasn't real. So we had many talks about how it's not her job to tell other kids that, and we need to respect the traditions of their families, etc. And I believe that, really. I hoped we could all just get through Christmas peaceably.

But then she came home one day telling me how Santa is real after all. She's seen his workshop, and his good kid/bad kid list. She only hopes she can get her name on the good list. Of course, I then asked her how many bad things she's allowed to do and still be on the good kid list.(For example, would not believing her mom be enough to put her on the bad list? She did not appreciate this question).

This post isn't a rant about my daughter not believing me, nor is it about our society perpetuating a lie. I mean, I'm not exactly thrilled about the whole setup, but that's not really the issue.

It's not even really about Santa. We've taught our kids about the real Saint Nicholas and we'll continue to reiterate the truth within the legend. This is a good, valuable message.

But the naughty/nice thing is just the worst. It's the worst because it's just like us to crave a list like this. And it's super convenient for having a peaceful December. The fear of coal-filled stockings is a real thing, friends. I've seen small children reduced to tears at just the thought.

So this is where the love part of the love/hate thing comes in. Part of me really loves Santa because I've never had an easier way to share the gospel with my kids as well as other parents/friends/teachers.

A couple of days after we decorated our home for Christmas, I put the kids' wrapped presents under the tree. I'm not always (read: never) on top of things like this, but this year I'm so thankful for the miraculous gift of preparedness because it has come in incredibly handy with our kids. When the discussion of Santa and his lists came up, I was able to point my daughter to the presents under the tree. I'm so thankful for the wisdom of God allowing me to tell her this:

"Do you see those presents under the tree? They are from your dad and me. They will be there every day until Christmas morning. It doesn't matter how good you are, or how bad you are. You will not lose those presents. You cannot earn them--they are a gift from us because we love you. With Santa, you have to be good to earn gifts. But you and I both know we can never be good enough on our own. And that's why Jesus is so much greater than Santa. God knew we could never be good enough on our own, so He sent Jesus. Jesus was good in our place, and when we trust in His goodness and His love, instead of our own, then we get His sinless record before God. We get to know God! So Santa really isn't so great after all."

So I know this isn't the end, and we will probably have this discussion every Christmas for years to come. And while part of me hates the thought of forcing my kids to choose whom to believe, part of me loves that inherent in this discussion is a clear gospel presentation. I pray for opportunities to declare the freedom of gospel grace in place of the karma of Santa Claus.

Note: This is in no way meant to condemn anyone who does Santa with their kids. I know lots of people who do it for fun without the naughty/nice lists and have a great time with their kids, not taking away from the true message of Christmas. So please don't read it as judgment.

But I am wondering how other parents tackle this topic with their kids. If you have thoughts or ideas, I would really love to hear them!

Gospel Like Jazz

Sometimes I think the deeper I go into the gospel, the harder it is to come up with blog topics. Almost daily my Facebook feed includes a link to a viral blog post about what to wear/what not to wear, what to eat/what not to eat, who's in/who's out, how to/how not to, and it just goes on and on. Not to say all these things are bad. Practical blog posts can be really helpful--there are many I have benefited from over the years. But it occurred to me that blogging gives me an insight into sermon preparation. My husband and I are both pastor's kids, so we've seen our dads study and prep and deliver hundreds of sermons over the years. I think most pastors who seek to be faithful to Scripture end up hearing the inevitable criticism, "That's all well and good, but how does it apply to me? I need more practical application." I get it...I like practical application too. This isn't exactly a critique of that idea. But there's a line I reach frequently in thinking about blogging, and I ask myself what the priority is. Am I seeking to be faithful to the truth of Scripture and the gospel of grace, and then applying that truth to daily life? Or am I taking an idea or preference, writing a blog post about it, then throwing in some Scripture? I'm learning there's quite a difference.

I recently heard an interview on NPR's Here and Now program, in which the host and his guest, Julie Lavender, discussed jazz music. She mentioned one musician, Daniel Bennett, whose work she really respects, and her description of his music stood out to me. She said:

"He will repeat things over and over and over again to give them a lot of meaning. Rather than try to shoot for the moon in a bunch of different notes and progressions and improvisations across a wide harmony spectrum, he will repeat and give greater meaning to things that are repeated over and over."

I'm no huge jazz fan, but this idea has really stuck with me. The thought of giving something meaning through repetition seems to fly in the face of many of my presuppositions. Wouldn't repetition cause the melody to become trite or boring? But therein lies the skill of the musician. He isn't simply playing the same line in the same way every time. He's adding depth, variety of tempo, instruments, emotion. It's not just a stagnant melody line, but a layered musical jewel, at the same time simple and profound.

I love this idea for blogging. May my writing be one same melody line, repeated over and over and over again, but played at different tempos, with a variety of instruments, at all times simple truth.

And while I'm at it, shouldn't this be my life as well? It might make for impractical sermons, blog posts, or coffee dates, but it's all I've got. Christ is all. May it be so, here in this space, in my own home, and in my heart.

 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Phil 3:7-11

Waiting for Your Wedding: Reflections on Advent

'waiting at the door' photo (c) 2006, Joe Flood - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

This post is dedicated to my husband's cousin, James, and his precious fiancee, Malia. They are quickly approaching their wedding date of December 21st, and as I thought about their final preparations, I was inspired to spend some time meditating on the similarities of advent and engagement.

Dear Jimmy and Malia,

There are seventeen days left in your engagement. As my children count down the days until Christmas morning, you are counting down the days until you are "man and wife." As I thought about the excitement and anticipation of the final days of my engagement, I realized I was just a bit envious of you both. This is a special time, unlike any other we experience in human relationships. And yet, as with so many things, it's just a shadow of something so much greater.

It's hard to explain to young children what it might have been like for God's people to wait hundreds of years between prophecy and fulfillment. It's hard even for me to understand. We sing "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" and talk about the anticipation of Christmas day and how that's just a tiny bit like what the people awaiting Christ felt as they waited and waited. But we don't fully understand it. We're not a culture that waits well. We demand instant gratification, determining worth by an object's immediate availability, rather than its inherent value.

But you two--you're getting a glimpse now of what it means to wait. You've awaited this day for so long already. And yet you continue to wait--just a few weeks more. You are blessed to know the day and the time, but that only eases the waiting slightly. I remember wanting to just hurry and get married already! There is a yearning--a longing for oneness--that only the arrival of the wedding day can satisfy. For millions of people, December 21st is just another day. But for you, it's the day. The day it all changes. The day of joy and celebration, the culmination of years of prayers and tears and laughter.

On this day, friends and family will rejoice with you. They will witness something remarkable--the union of two people becoming one. But you two will experience something more.

Jimmy, you'll know a piece of the joy of our Bridegroom, Christ. You'll know what it is He sees as He looks on us. As your bride walks toward you, your heart will swell with happiness. You chose this bride and you love her dearly. And this is just the tiniest shadow of the love Christ has for the bride He redeemed with His own blood.

Malia, you'll know in a new way what it means to be the bride of Christ. You will be clothed in white, walking toward your groom. You will be united with him, finally his bride. As he watches you coming toward him, you'll know how dearly you're loved. You'll see it on his face and as you take his hand, you'll feel it there too. And this is just the tiniest shadow of what it means to be the bride of Christ.

During Advent we rehearse waiting--remembering the anticipation of the Messiah's first coming, readying our hearts for His second. We feel longing and yearning for oneness. We linger in the "already, but not yet," just as you two are promised to one another, but not yet one. Even so, we know the joy of being found in Him, but not yet with Him. So we wait, and we invite others to join in the waiting along with us.

I'm jealous of you two as you wait during these next seventeen days. You are living out a beautiful metaphor. I pray you wait well, that in His grace your Father will give you joy and peace in the waiting. I pray for joy and peace on the wedding day as well. And I pray that all present on that day will know your love not just for one another, but for your Savior--your true Bridegroom.

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,

“Hallelujah!

For the Lord our God

the Almighty reigns.

Let us rejoice and exult

and give him the glory,

for the marriage of the Lamb has come,

and his Bride has made herself ready;

it was granted her to clothe herself

with fine linen, bright and pure”

Revelation 19:6-8

On Interfaith Marriage and Weddings

til faith

Over the weekend I spent some time reading Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage is Transforming America by Naomi Schaefer Riley. This book is fascinating in its description of modern marriages, 45% of which are interfaith unions, and the religious beliefs of  various married couples. Riley discusses everything from the wedding to raising children to divorce rate comparisons, and she writes from a first-person perspective based on her own experience of meshing her Jewish background with that of her husband's Jehovah's Witness upbringing. Riley points out what she perceives as both weaknesses and strengths of interfaith marriage, although at times I found it difficult to view the "strengths" as such.

This post is not a review of the book, but as I read, one particular quote in the Conclusion chapter stood out to me:

[...] it is easy to see why interfaith marriage is growing by leaps and bounds. We like diversity; we believe members of other faiths are not only decent, but can get to heaven; we see marriage as a largely individual decision; we will meet our spouse and marry him or her with little forethought about his or her religious beliefs; when we find a potential partner, we believe the relationship between spouses will be an all-consuming one and that our families and communities do not have any kind of competing claims on our loyalties; we think religion is important but it is for kids and parents, not for young, single adults.(p.205)

As I set the book down, I wondered, "So what do we do with this?"

Parents may be raising their children with certain religious convictions or participation (or not), but we read and hear many reports stating that college students are widely prone to leave whatever faith system they were formerly part of. Whether this means a period of religious experimentation, or, as the author purports above, no importance at all placed on religion, we see it increasingly is not a make-or-break factor in many marriages.

The book described spouses from various backgrounds (LDS, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, mainstream, evangelical Christian) in marriages with those from other backgrounds. Many of those interviewed thought of their religion very little until time to make decisions for the wedding or when determining how to raise children. I found the author's description of how couples celebrate holidays (such as Christmas) fascinating. She writes, "I have heard many interfaith couples use the analogy of a birthday party to explain the celebration of holidays to children: You can help your friend celebrate his birthday by going to his party and singing and eating and giving him a present. It's not your birthday, but you can still participate. We can help dad celebrate Christmas even if it's not our holiday." (p.99)

I confess it's difficult for me to imagine all of this. I know there are many couples who experience changes after marriage in their religious identity--some deny the faith they formerly claimed, others convert--but the thought of starting out marriage from such different points of view seems to be an enormous challenge.

Of course, the assumption in all of this is mentioned in Riley's quote above: "We like diversity; we believe members of other faiths are not only decent, but can get to heaven;" This belief opens us up to marry whomever we wish--if he/she is a good person, why not? But then the questions come:

"Should we have mass at the wedding if one spouse is Catholic and the other Protestant?"

"Should we mention the name of Jesus if one spouse is Christian and the other Jewish?"

"Is it possible to raise our children in both faiths? If not, how do we choose which one?"

So how do we respond to this in our own churches and homes?

I can't speak to other faith traditions, but I can just a bit to evangelical Christianity. So here are a few reasons why I think we're increasingly seeing interfaith marriage as a possibility in the Church:

First, we don't know what Christianity is. We don't know what it means to truly follow Christ. We've reduced our "faith" to a common experience--to traditionalism. If this is the case and if all the "take up your cross" and "deny yourself" (Matt. 16:24-26) stuff is merely a suggestion for the truly devout, then Christianity might just be compatible with various religious systems. But if "to live is Christ, to die is gain" (Phil 1:21), then our lives mean far more than many of us realize.

Second, we don't know what marriage really is. What does it truly mean? If it's a social construct, then by all means we should marry whomever we wish. But if, as the Bible states, it was created by God to demonstrate a far greater reality, then our marriages mean far more than many of us realize.

But maybe you're reading this and feel I'm simply stating the obvious. And here's where the third observation comes in. IF the Christian life is about more than moralism and tradition, and IF marriage is meant to represent a far greater reality, how do these truths apply to our weddings?

The third truth is this: We don't know what a wedding is. We don't realize that not only did God create marriage, He orchestrated the first wedding. Running through the pages of Scripture is the beautiful metaphor of marriage, a picture of an intimate, loving husband and His bride, awaiting their ultimate union. Our weddings should reveal this expectancy and excitement, the tension of the already/not yet of the Kingdom. Marriage is common grace, God's good gift to the world, but Christians should "get it" in a different way. And if we did, our weddings might reveal this truth to all those in attendance. We might rejoice in the greater reality of what we're truly doing. And we might see how incompatible this reality is with faith systems that deny the deity of Christ--our true Bridegroom.

So I write all this not to motivate us to despair or try harder, but to encourage us to truly see Christ and point others to Him. We shouldn't respond in fear of the future of evangelicalism, but maybe with a mix of hope and sadness. Love compels us to see what our friends and children are missing--we're not fearful for the future of a "system" from which they're turning away, but rather heartbroken that they haven't truly seen the love of Christ.

From the outside, we may seem exclusive or intolerant. But the love of Christ compels us to share with others this great truth--Christ is all! A life, marriage, or wedding without Christ misses the point. This realization spurs us on to love and good deeds, powered by the gospel truth and the Holy Spirit to demonstrate through our imperfect lives and marriages that there is a far greater reality to come. So as we await that reality, we invite others to the ultimate wedding celebration to come.

The Gospel and Sex

'Mazzali: SWEET bed' photo (c) 2007, Mazzali - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/We've talked on the blog before about pre-marital counseling, and I'll be writing about it again soon. One of the facets of most counseling sessions is a conversation on sex. Maybe we talk about the purpose of it, what inhibits it, how we use it to negotiate or how we come to it selfishly. Frequently, though, sex is separate from our other gospel-centered marriage counseling. I know I've read plenty of articles or book chapters meant to motivate me to serve my husband through sex. These things might work for a time, but I've realized they only go so deep. We know we should do it, but the "why" is left at "because he needs it," and the "how" is "by being open and vulnerable and willing."

But these statements leave us still wanting something deeper. I can't muster up the courage to be vulnerable and open with my husband. I can tell myself I need to, but that only makes it harder, stacking feelings of guilt on top of each other and making it even more impossible to be vulnerable.

My dear friend, Marci, wrote a fantastic article about this topic that is a must-read--whether you're engaged to be married, newlyweds, or married for years. Even for teens it's a great description of the purpose and beauty of sex.

Here's one quote that captures the angst we often feel as we look at sex in marriage:

Christian couples want to be uninhibited with each other but it’s not safe. We have perverted what God intended to be pure and we’re not quite sure how to go back. Both husbands and wives long to return to the garden of Eden when the two could be naked together and unashamed, but our sin keeps getting in the way, marring our marriage beds with shame and mistrust.

I encourage you to take the time to read this post today--it is joyful and freeing good news!

Gospel-Centered Sex? by Marci Preheim

Book Review: Found in Him

I confess I'm not a great book reviewer. My reviews are far more subjective than objective, and I struggle to point out negative aspects. So normally I just review books I agree with and love.

And...today is no exception. While writing A Christ-Centered Wedding, I did a lot of research into and thinking about what our marriage union with Christ really means. When I heard that Elyse Fitzpatrick was writing a book on this very topic, I was anxious to read it, only to discover it wouldn't be out until well past the due date for our book. This was probably a gift from the Lord so that I wouldn't be tempted to plagiarize all of Fitzpatrick's book.

I had the honor of hearing the author speak last year at the True Woman conference in Indianapolis. When we go to conferences, there is a tendency for us to make mental to-do lists of what we need to do and change when we return home. We hear a convicting message, determine to change things, and go home with renewed resolve. Or maybe it's just me. But then Elyse Fitzpatrick spoke on our identity in Christ and talked about her desire to give women "No fluff, no bricks, just Good News." I walked away refreshed, encouraged, and knowing how dearly I was loved in Christ.

This is the same feeling I had after reading Found in Him: The Joy of the Incarnation and Our Union with ChristThe entire book is about Christ. We're so used to the "now that you know this, go do this" section of books that I kept waiting for it. But it wasn't there. The book is divided into two parts: Part 1 deals with the incarnation of the God-man, Jesus Christ; Part 2 with our union in and with Christ.

This is a book that needs to be slowly chewed and reflected on. I received a digital copy from the publisher in exchange for a review (which is not required to be positive), but I will be ordering a hard copy just so I can write all over it and come back to it, a bit at a time, to really think it through. Fitzpatrick's writing is accessible and understandable, but not watered down or overly sentimental. It's like someone walking you through Scripture and constantly reflecting--"Can you believe this? This is the Christ who has loved you. This is what He did and is still doing."

My eyes were opened and my heart rejoiced as I read about the deep significance of Jesus' faithfulness and the purpose of His perfect life. I better understood the resurrection through the lens of childbirth. In fact, here's just a small quote--I highlighted half of the book on my Kindle, so I'm really restraining myself not to share quote after quote:

When we read that God's ways are higher than our ways (Isa. 55:9), we really don't have much of a clue what that means, do we? Think of it: a virgin shall conceive. A desolate unmarried man sings because he gives birth and sees his children. A new humanity is born in a new garden, but this time it is not from the dust of the earth but from the flesh of God, once dead but now alive, that they come. God labors! The Son cries out in pain, and we are born again! He thought nothing of the shame of the cross because of the joy of our birth in him (Heb. 12:2).

There is some great stuff in the second part of the book, as well. The author discusses what it means for us to be the bride of Christ and spends some time reflecting on the fact that in Christ we are all (male and female) in a way feminine in comparison to the masculinity of God. This might be a somewhat controversial concept, but in context it points us to rejoice in the loving Bridegroom and our union with Him:

Whenever anyone got around Jesus they felt both welcomed and in need of protection and provision, and they all came to know that he had initiated the relationship and was completely in charge.

The final chapter is as close to a "to-do list" as it gets, but in fact it's much more like a "to-think-on" list. It's an application in a way, as if to say, "If all the preceding thoughts are true, what implication does this have for my daily life?" But, unlike many other books and teachings, it's not focused primarily on change. As Fitzpatrick writes:

For many people the entire point of Christianity is found here in the topic of change. No matter how one might define that word, many of us are primarily interested in how to get better, to be better, and to do more. Rather than spending most of our time reflecting on the incarnation and our union with Christ, the majority of messages and books in the Christian marketplace are about what we're supposed to be doing. The deep and life-transforming message of the incarnation and our union with Jesus is trampled under the stampede of believers trying to find the secret to being a better you.

So this final chapter shows how doing just that--reflecting on the incarnation and our union with Christ--powers and inspires us in daily faithfulness.

I love that this book came out in time to meditate on it before and during the Christmas season. I highly recommend it. It's not just a "woman's book," but Fitzpatrick's writing style is such that I think anyone would greatly benefit from a thorough reading. Maybe an early Christmas gift for a friend or family member (or yourself?).

Cold Water and Godly Women

'Water Pouring Over Glass of Ice' photo (c) 2012, StockPhotosforFree.com - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Imagine a young woman walks up to you after your church service this Sunday and says: "Hi, I was wondering if you might have time in the next few weeks to get together and talk? I'm looking for someone who can show me what it means to be a godly woman."

What would you say?

Maybe you could invite her over to watch how you live during the day. You could teach her how you get up early, have your quiet time, make your family's breakfast, organize your grocery list and schedule your life throughout the week. You could let her tag along while you go to work, or visit the nursing home, or go to the PTA meeting, or teach at the homeschool co-op. At the end of the day, she might have a little glimpse of what godly womanhood looks like.

Or maybe you've been burnt by well-meaning women who tried to show you how to be godly. Maybe when this young woman comes up to you, you respond by saying, "Just give it up. You can't do it. Just embrace your failures and give yourself grace."

Now, I realize there’s something to be said for women teaching one another skills like cooking, cleaning, organizing, serving, and so on. I’m not demeaning those things. But when someone asks for help with becoming a godly woman and that’s what we teach her, we might just be missing the point. Whether we mean to or not, we’re equating godliness with domesticity. After all, “cleanliness is next to godliness,” right?

The truth is, I could be a fantastic cook, have a perfectly organized home, iron not just my husband’s clothes, but also my kids’ jeans and sheets (I think people do this, right?), and miss the beauty of gospel grace because I’m so wrapped up in the vanity of my own performance.

So what’s wrong with the second response—the one that tells the young woman to just give it up?

I tell people all the time, "Just give each other grace." But I recently had to ask myself, "What does that mean?"

Lately I’ve noticed this propensity for us to expose our failures to one another, whether online or in conversation. Now, I realize this sounds like a good thing. It's true--we do need to show one another our failures and sin. So we call things “mom fails” or “epic fails” and display pictures of messy homes, children covered in sparkly make-up, perhaps to encourage other women that it’s okay—you don’t have to have it all together. I’m all for being real. But after a while, this trend started to bother me and I couldn’t quite put my finger on the cause.

I think the problem is that this is probably not what Paul had in mind when he wrote of boasting in weakness. Our “boasting” looks a lot more like actual “boasting” than what I think Paul was intending. It can almost become a competition—who is the most “real”? Who has the most chaotic life? Let’s follow that woman because she gets it…it doesn’t have to be perfect.

Indeed, freedom from the pressure to be a perfect Proverbs 31 woman is a good thing. Many of our efforts to be this kind of woman are human-driven, rather than flowing out of faith in Christ. But how does that freedom come about? Do we just collectively throw in the towel and say, “No one’s perfect, and you don’t have to be!”

Is this what we mean when we talk about giving one another “grace?”

Is “grace” really just making excuses for one another or overlooking each others’ sin?

I think somewhere along the lines, this is what it became for me. Maybe because it’s what I wanted people to do for me. Maybe because I didn’t want to take the time or put forth the messy effort of confronting sin. Maybe because I just didn’t understand the power of the gospel.

So here’s what I think we’re missing with both responses to our sweet friend:

Proverbs 25:25 says, “Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.”

What is the good news we can give this young woman—good news that will be cold water for her thirsty soul?

She wants to be a godly woman. Is it possible? Can she do it by employing our practical advice? Should she just throw in the towel now?

Well, we have good news—Proverbs 2 gives us hope that we can attain wisdom:

If you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding,

If you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures,

Then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.

And notice especially this part—Proverbs 2:6:

For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;

So where does wisdom come from? From the Lord. More specifically, from His mouth. So it’s in His Word.

We have His wisdom right in His Word. And as I've been learning more and more, His Word is all about His redeeming grace—His perfect plan to redeem sinners through the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus.

We know both of the aforementioned responses are inadequate—one tells our friend she can be a godly woman based on externals, the other tells her that her sin isn’t that big of a deal.

We know she needs the cold water of the gospel for her thirsty soul. But how do we give it to her, and to each other? How do we really give each other grace without excusing sin?

Here’s what we do. We make sin real and big and terrible. We don’t excuse it.

J. Gresham Machen said, "A low view of law always produces legalism; a high view of law makes a person a seeker after grace."

In other words, a low view of law tells us we can do it—we can be righteous on our own. This leads us right back to legalism. We think we’re giving each other grace, but we’re not. We’re denying each other the grace we need by saying we don't need it.

So there’s a better way. We can tell our young friend, and each other, this:

I know you want to be godly. That is Christ in you, loving you and causing you to want to bear fruit. And by trusting in His work, abiding in the Vine, and praying for the Spirit to work in and through you, you WILL bear fruit. But you will also fail. You will lose your temper. You will be lazy. You will manipulate. It’s hard to imagine it now, but it will happen. You will sometimes resent your husband. Your organizing system will fail. Or maybe you’ll struggle with pride because your organizing system is awesome.

There will be mom fails or wife fails or friend fails.

But that’s not even the half of it. It’s way, way worse than that. There’s the epic fail that has nothing to do with housework—it’s the epic fail of original, indwelling sin. Rather than telling you it’s not a big deal, I’m going to be honest. It’s a really, REALLY big deal. And no amount of trying harder will fix it.

So rejoice. He has done it all. It is finished. The problem is way bigger than you could ever imagine, and the victory is far greater than we could ever dream.

This is grace—our Savior came to earth as an infant just so He could live a complete, perfect life in our place. He empathizes with our suffering and our sorrow and our temptation. But He did it all—perfectly—with perfect wisdom. Not because it was easy, but because He loves us. He paid the debt, He bore our sin, He finished the work He set out to do, He rose in victory over sin and death, and now He is pleading on your behalf before the Father. This is grace.

This is cold water to our thirsty souls.

This is good news from a far country.

This is what it means to be a godly woman--a woman whose faith is in Christ alone.

For more on the idea of the "mom fail," check out this post by Kimm Crandall.

Real Life

This week I intend to do some real blogging for the first time in several weeks. I'll be reviewing a book or two (if I can finish them!) and sharing some things God's been teaching me lately. In the meantime, here's a little update on our "real life" here in Nashville:

My oldest started Kindergarten this year, and we've all adjusted to it now, although I worry every morning that something will happen to my car on the way to school and I'll have to get out of the car and expose everyone to the unseemly sight of my son and I in our pajamas. So far, so good. Last week I went on a field trip with my daughter and let me just say, I have so much respect for kindergarten teachers. I was exhausted after just 3 hours with 19 kids. Having our kiddo in school has opened the door for a lot of good conversations, and we're thankful she loves school so much.

I'm enjoying the opportunity to spend some one-on-one time with my youngest. He is really coming out of his shell now that he has the opportunity to express himself without his loving, helpful sister always speaking for him. We spend our days having coffee dates with friends, doing chores, going to Bible study, and visiting our local children's museum. And watching TV...that happens too.

Speaking of Bible study, the ladies in our church study are going through Nancy Guthrie's The Wisdom of God: Seeing Jesus in the Psalms and Wisdom Books (Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament) and it is excellent. She is a wonderful writer, and there are no softball questions in the discussion guide (you know, the awkward questions that everyone knows the answers to, but no one wants to say it). We use the study guide in combination with lectures from women in our own church, and I have been privileged and challenged to teach two of these--on repentance in the Psalms and on Proverbs. More on that later this week, as God used Proverbs to teach me quite a bit.

I'm generally an introvert, but the Lord is stretching me and helping me come out of my shell and spend my days in conversation with others. I love seeing the unity of hearts as we share what He's doing in our lives. And I love the reminders to lean on His wisdom and not my own, something I frequently get wrong. He has encouraged my soul through some sweet friendships--some new, some old--and I'm thankful for this season of being able to spend time during the day with other women.

I'm resisting the urge to participate in any kind of early Christmas activities. My son insisted on listening to Christmas music a couple of weeks ago, but thankfully that was short-lived. I have to confess that I get burnt out on Christmas as it is, so starting early only serves to make it worse. We're trying to take our time and enjoy Thanksgiving this year, but I know I'm just one peppermint mocha away from losing my resolve.

So what about you? Do you indulge in early holiday festivities? Read any good books lately? What's going on in your life?

 

Blog Silence & A Link Roundup

So it's been a little quiet around here lately. I've been prepping a couple of Bible study lectures to share with the women in my church, and I seem to only get inspiration for one thing at a time. Thus, the lack of posting here. Next week I plan to start posting again. In the meantime, here are some of my favorite things around the web from the past couple of weeks:

Naming Children - my friend Kyle writes about the names parents choose for their kids, inviting us to decide if it's gotten out of hand. Hilarious writing here, people.

I See You and I Judge - by Jan Quick, on women and judging and shame and the solution

That One Sin - by Lindsey Carlson, on how we easily become defeated in our struggle against sin, and that one sin that just keeps coming back.

The Secret Women's Porn Problem - by Trillia Newbell. It's not just a man's issue, and we need to be talking about it more. The first-person accounts in this piece open a window to see how this addiction starts, but the stunning part comes in Trillia's thoughts at the end--freedom in Christ.

Also, I've had a couple of posts up on other websites if you're interested in checking those out:

Tissues, Lassos and Labcoats: Lessons in Repentance - at True Woman I tell a childhood story and how it taught me I don't have to fear confession of sin

Birth Choices, Baby Care and the Wisdom of God - at CBMW Karis I share how something my friend Mandi said completely changed my perspective on raising my kids

Finally, here's a book I'm in the middle of. I'll be posting a full review soon, but in the meantime you can check it out:

found in him

Found in Him: The Joy of the Incarnation and Our Union with Christ by Elyse Fitzpatrick

Building a Neighborhood Community Using NextDoor

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9V1tlhGjSMc&w=560&h=315] Monday I reviewed the book Suburbianity by Byron Yawn. It's a call to see the gospel neediness of the suburbanite across the street, even the really "good people."

But how do we get to know these people in our neighborhoods and cul-de-sacs? We live in a garage age. People pull up, pull in, lower the door, and you never see their faces. We've built relationships over the past 4 years, but it takes a lot of time to even just have that first chance to say hello.

Recently my husband and I were praying for our neighborhood and seeking God's wisdom on how to get to know more people. The next day I saw a post on Tim Brister's blog about a website called NextDoor. I was intrigued by his post and by the website, so I told Erik about it and we decided to give it a shot.

Basically, NextDoor is a social networking site for your neighborhood. You set the boundaries on a map online, then the website sends postcards (free of charge) to your neighbors, inviting them to join. There are sections similar to Craigslist, only without the crazies. You can give stuff away, sell things, ask for business recommendations, alert people to crimes or lost pets, plan block parties, etc.

So we launched our site and so far have 14 of 100 homes represented on the site. Some are people we already knew, but there are several families we didn't previously know. So we're building relationships online and hoping to have opportunities to take it offline and share meals together.

After the initial launch with postcards being sent, we're starting to follow up by going door-to-door when we get a chance and hand out fliers. For one thing, it gives us another chance to meet people.

And we're trying to keep things going on the site itself--starting the discussion, helping people get to know each other, and trying to engage people to deepen relationships.

It's not a means to get to know all 100 households, but there is such beauty and joy in community. This is something so many people are missing. We look around and notice many of our neighbors never have people in their homes and just seem to keep to themselves. We want to share the joy of community, and in particular a missional community, with those around us. And NextDoor is just one means by which we're trying to do this.

So I invite you to look into NextDoor and see about setting up your own neighborhood site. It's extremely user-friendly, but if you have any questions I'd love to answer them!

*Full disclosure: If you want to set up a site, using the link on this page makes you eligible for a $50 Amazon gift card when your website is launched and you have 10 members. And it gives me one too! There are no fees associated with the site and you can control how much information you post. Again, don't hesitate to let me know if you have questions.

**The links aren't working for everyone--if you're in that boat, shoot me an email and I'll respond with an invitation: catherinestrodeparks(at)gmail(dot)com

Suburbianity - Should We Leave the 'Burbs?

suburbianity_1

I'm a product of the suburbs. Having grown up in areas surrounding Memphis, TN, Fredericksburg, VA, and now living just outside of Nashville, I am well-acquainted with suburban values and ideals. I had a friend in high school who literally lived in a cute cottage with a white picket fence.

When David Platt preached the sermon series that later become his best-selling book, Radical, my husband's sister and her husband were members of his church. They witnessed, and participated in, a movement of people awakening to a global mission. Living for the American Dream was not only not enough, but was the opposite of what they saw in Scripture. So eventually Jen & Pete left their cushy loft and moved to "the 'hood," where God has done amazing things in and through their family.

Jen is one of my very closest friends, and we've spent hours talking through the implications of Jesus' teachings. Like many others, I've wondered if we should also leave our suburban home and move to an inner city neighborhood. We've talked about how there's nothing particularly special about Jen & Pete--it's all about what God is doing. She's told me she firmly believes everyone could do what they are doing. But the question remained--does that mean everyone should?

Then my pastor, Byron Yawn, wrote a book called Suburbianity. He wrote it partly with a suburban soccer mom in mind. I'm not a soccer mom (at least I hope not...we're hoping for basketball and volleyball...nice indoor sports where more points are scored), but I can identify with his target audience. I'm the girl who grew up in the church, heard all the Bible stories about heroes of the faith, and tried to live a good life. But God used various passages, books and friends to awaken me to a much bigger picture of my purpose in life.

So now what? I still find myself in the suburbs, in the buckle of the Bible Belt. In many suburban neighborhoods here, everyone goes to church, everyone says he's a Christian, and people are just generally nice to one another. But the gospel is missing. Our "good news" is this: Go to church, live right, move up on the corporate ladder, raise kind children, retire and enjoy the good life you've earned. The problem is that our "good news" is damning most of the families on our street. And the true gospel is almost impossible to find in the midst of the pseudo-spiritual karma language of many churches.

Byron has seen this firsthand, over and over, in our church and even in his own life. The impetus for this book, and the focus of his ministry, was a confrontation he had with a visitor to our church who expressed his utter disappointment that he had brought his parents to church to hear the gospel, only to hear the pastor preach on a passage in Matthew for almost an hour with no mention of the true good news--the gospel of grace. It was a watershed moment for Byron, and led to many watershed moments for those in our congregation.

So the book is a call to see the true gospel, to see how the entirety of Scripture points not to our own ability to be or do good, but to Christ. And it's a call to see the neediness of our suburban neighbors. We've seen it time and again in the waters of baptism. The former stripper's testimony is followed by the minister's daughter, repenting of her trust in her own goodness. As he says, "When good suburban folks repent, it's a miracle."

In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis wrote along the same lines regarding the issue of self-sufficiency: "The dangers of apparent self-sufficiency explain why Our Lord regards the vices of the feckless and dissipated so much more leniently than the vices that lead to worldly success. Prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfactory that they cannot turn to God: the proud, the avaricious, the self-righteous, are in that danger."

We're still in the suburbs, and we're very much in danger of seeing ourselves as self-sufficient. We exchange our souls for ease of living. Byron states,

Living in light of eternal things is difficult when material things are so abundant. We should not underestimate the war raging for our devotion and souls in the suburbs. [...] But the final solution to the pervasive materialism in America is not asceticism or downsizing. Those are responses, not solutions. They are helpful, but they can't touch the heart issue behind materialism. The solution includes a redemptive vision that so transforms our perspective that we are able to live as if we owned nothing even while possessing everything we need. [...] The cross of Christ can compel you to live as if you were on the frontier of some unreached people group even as you live in the heart of capitalism.

So who's right? The Christians overseas? The Christians selling everything and moving to the 'hood? Or those in large homes in the upper middle class neighborhoods in the suburbs of the Bible Belt?

Obviously it's a false dichotomy. I can't tell you or anyone else where to go. That's the role of the Holy Spirit. But the mission is the same. We preach Christ to all men and women and children. We support and encourage those who are being led by the Spirit to go overseas, and they encourage us as we are led to our next-door neighbor's house. We assume the homeschooling, church-attending mom across the street is just as lost as the homeless drug addict.

Byron compares our reactions to two hypothetical visitors in our churches--one in rags, reeking of alcohol, and one in a suit with a nice Bible--and calls the church out (himself included) for our conditional love:

If your heart doesn't sink with the man drowning in his affluence the way it did for the man drowning in alcohol, you don't get it. You're assuming he knows the gospel. You should be thinking the exact same thing you did about the bum. "How desperately that guy in the suit needs Jesus. Look at him! He believes his morality and church attendance save him. Most likely, right now he's comparing himself to that homeless guy and assuming the best about his own condition. Oh, how blind he is! I've got to put the cross of Christ in his path. He needs to see himself as a leper and not a Republican." This nearly imperceptible presupposition about human beings coats our souls in the suburbs, and it has robbed the church of its purpose and power.

So yes, I'm biased. He's my pastor and if I didn't agree with him I wouldn't be sitting under his teaching. But I commend Suburbianity to anyone--those who have been awakened to the truth of the gospel and are passionate about sharing the truth, those who are still trusting in their own goodness, and those who have never heard any of this. It's a call to see Christ--to see that it's ALL about Him--and then to proclaim Him. Across the street and around the world.

In-Law Week: Wrapping it Up

We've reached the end of the series on in-law relationships. Thank you so much to all who contributed to this series. Today I'm just going to post links to the various posts and resources, and then leave us with a few quotes and thoughts from friends. First, what's the purpose of this relationship?

What's the Goal?

Here are three guest posts and one extra link on showing grace and the love of Christ to our in-laws (relevant for every relationship):

Guest Post by Kim Shay, whose mother-in-law was instrumental in her conversion

Guest Post by Rachel Lonas, who didn't fit her mother-in-law's expectations, but was shown love and grace anyway

Guest Post by Kyle Castro, whose in-laws gave him a second chance at family

The Generosity of Centered Love, by Beth Impson

Then, some thoughts on what causes these relationships to get off to a rough start:

How Do We Go Wrong?

But what about those relationships that just aren't working? Is there hope?

Guest Post by Marci Preheim - for when your marriage isn't big enough for the three of you

Finally, here are some thoughts from a few friends about their relationships with their in-laws:

On the Initial Meeting:

My first encounter with my MIL was me taking the first step in writing my future in laws a short thank you note telling them how grateful I was to them for raising my husband in a godly home and with character that I admired and had come to love. I told them that I had been praying for a man like him and was really looking forward to meeting them (Was invited up to MI for Thanksgiving) Not sure what prompted me to do that other than I really did feel grateful and wanted to express it to them. Anyway, when I got there she welcomed me with a huge hug and seemed genuinely happy to see me. When she showed me the room she had set up for me, there was a gift bag with a blanket, a light sweater and some University of Michigan slippers. (She thought since I was coming from FL, that I might be cold since I wasn't used to the weather.) - Theresa

On TV Viewing and In-Law Relationships:

Daughter-in-Law: You need to IGNORE hat the world says about MIL's, block "Everybody Loves Raymond" on TV, it will only poison you towards your MIL. You may be landing a great MIL, sometimes that relationship just takes time to blossom! 

Mother-in-Law:  Be patient. Watch "Everybody Loves Raymond" and vow to NEVER EVER be like Marie. Wait for your DIL to ask for your advice, or start up conversations and see if it leads to her asking you for help/advice. - Melissa

On Bringing Together Families:

I always keep the story of Ruth in my mind & on my heart----especially on the bad days. I included verses from Ruth in my wedding vows that I wrote: "your people shall be my people". I meant that when I said that to my husband almost 33 years ago. - Wanda

I hope this series has been an encouragement to others, as I know it has to me. I'm still irrational about giving up my son one day. But at the end of the day, he was never mine to begin with. I'm so thankful for the love of Christ that draws us into His family and brings strangers together. Our physical families may never be close and our in-law relationships may be fraught with pain. But His bride--the church--is our eternal family. And He is our brother, our friend, our bride-groom and our savior. What joy there is in knowing Him!

 

This Marriage Ain't Big Enough For the Three of Us: Guest Post by Marci Preheim

Up until now, the guests posts featured during In-Law Week have all been positive accounts, detailing how each writer's in-laws showed grace and the love of Christ to their new family members. This was undoubtedly not always easy, especially considering how each person did not exactly fit the mold of their new family's expectations.  But maybe you've been reading and you're thinking, "That is not my experience at all. I'm trying and trying to love, but it's a one-way street and I'm exhausted." Today's post is for you. My guest today (and precious friend), Marci Preheim, shares some loving, grace-filled wisdom for how to handle those intense in-law relationships (or ANY difficult relationship). 

Romans 12:18 says this: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” The first two clauses in this verse speak volumes. They reveal this truth: 1) it is not always possible to live at peace with everyone, and 2) you cannot control other people’s behavior. You can only control your own.

This little verse has brought comfort to many young newlyweds who have found themselves in a surprisingly difficult in-law relationship. My best-friend (I’ll call her Jane) and I used to joke that, until we got married, we had never met anyone that we could not MAKE like us. We used to flip our hair back, look in the mirror together and laugh: “What’s not to like about me?” Even though we were being facetious (and obnoxious), there was some truth to our jesting. You cannot MAKE someone love you.

I suspect there is very little written about the difficulties of in-law relationships in Christian circles because no one wants to dishonor their parents or their spouse’s parents. After all, most writers write about what they know—what they have learned from experience. Many articles I have read about in-law relationships sum it all up with an exhortation for mutual love, and boundary setting. They give examples of Christ-centered respectful relationships that we should all pattern our lives after. For those who have exhausted every effort to live at peace with their in-laws to no avail, these exhortations are like a dull knife to an already sensitive wound.

Jane’s mother-in-law is one of those ladies in the church who cooks and serves and has people over for dinner and spoils children with sweets and gifts. Everyone loves her. There was a little evidence during the wedding planning that mom-in-law had a controlling side. She gave her opinion much too readily and could snap your head off without warning. Jane wrote it off as wedding stress. Things settled down after the wedding. It was smooth sailing. . .until babies came along.

All of a sudden a tolerable relationship turned unbearable. Jane and her husband had moved six-hours away from his parents (which was a crime in itself), but when babies came along so did the expectations. Mom-in-law decided she was going to visit every six weeks and stay for a week each time so she and her grandbaby would be close. This was hard on Jane, but she wanted to honor her mother-in-law. Gradually with more visits, came more expectations. Jane began to feel like she and her husband were just two more children for his mom to parent.

Men don’t often see the complexities of female relationships. Jane’s husband thought his wife could use the help and he enjoyed having his mom’s cooking and affection. His mom behaved well when he was around, but when he wasn’t, she was cold and critical to Jane. She made Jane feel like she was an unworthy mom, wife, and person for that matter. She unapologetically slandered Jane to other family members. Jane felt guilty for not wanting her around. When she broached the subject with her husband, he suggested that she might be over-reacting. He urged her to be selfless, grateful for the help, and asked her to keep the peace. After all it was only one week out of every six.

I can almost hear the female voices of those reading this article. Trust me, every word of advice that is about to drop out of your mouth, Jane has tried. What do you do when you have done everything possible, as far as it depends on you, to live at peace with your in-laws? The more Jane sacrificed, humbled herself, kept quiet, the more intrusive mom-in-law became.

When we talk, in Christian circles, about loving one another and sacrificing for one another, what does that mean? Should Jane honor her mother-in-law by letting her take leadership over her home once every six weeks? Are we commanded, as Christians, to let other people take control of our lives for the sake of peace? There is not time to sacrifice to this extent for everyone in our family, in the church, in the world. How much sacrifice is enough?

In my own (much less severe) relationships with extended family, I have had to take refuge in the Lord. I have had to cling to Him as my rock and my salvation (Psalm 62:6). There are times when I have felt such immense pressure to do something, and yet when I ran to the Lord, His word said: Wait. . .wait. . .wait! “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him. . . Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.”

Dealing with in-laws (or any difficult relationship for that matter) cannot be remedied with a simple command to love and sacrifice for others. Most of the time, these relationships reveal our utter inability to do so. Our confusion should drive us to the cross—to the only One who ever truly loved sacrificially. James gives us this invitation in his epistle: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). The hard part is waiting for the answer and believing it will come.

I don’t have to give communication tips or a flow chart of who’s responsible to talk to who about what. In difficult circumstances people naturally pull out every tool in their arsenal of wisdom—human or spiritual. Sometimes Christians act in the power of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes they explode with their own impatience. We do anything to escape suffering. At the end of all this striving and effort a sweet surrender to the Lord can be found. It is the moment you cry uncle and hand it over. It may be a moment by moment surrender, but it is the kind of surrender that trusts that someone else sees the situation. Someone else has the power to fix it but has chosen, for some good reason, not to. Someone else will care for me until it is fixed. I don’t have to do anything.

I give the same counsel that the Psalmist gave to himself: “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. . .My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. . .Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge” (Psalm 43:5, Psalm 62:1, 8).

Marci 19Marci Preheim was born in Lincoln, Nebraska but moved to Hollywood, California as a teenager. It was there, at the age of 21, that she came to know the Savior through the ministry of a local church. Within a couple of years of her conversion she became involved in a women’s prison ministry and discovered her passion for sharing the gospel publicly. Marci has been married to Arnie Preheim since August of 1993. Shortly after their marriage, Arnie and Marci moved to Nashville, Tennessee. They have 2 children, Brock (born in 1995) and Paige (born in 1998). Marci regularly teaches the women’s Bible study at Community Bible Church. For ten years, she has also led a monthly chapel service for women at the Nashville Rescue Mission (Hope Center for female recovering addicts). You can find more of her writing at marcipreheim.com and in her book, Super(free)Woman: From Fundamentalist to Failure to Faith.

In-Law Week: Guest Post by Kyle Castro

Yes, we're in Week 2 of "In-Law Week," but there have just been so many great guest posts I wanted to share. Today I'm featuring a post by my friend Kyle Castro. I love his perspective and story of finding grace and love in his in-laws, and how this reflects the bigger picture of the community we can have in the body of Christ. Hollywood lore shapes and defines more facets of our daily lives than we are likely comfortable admitting. From sex appeal to our choice of gum-Hollywood is putting its lens over your eyes. When I’m engaged in conversation and the word “in-laws” is mumbled, instantaneous discomfort stretches over me. Funny enough, as you will later read, I have a lovely and rare relationship with my in-laws. So why is it that even I, a man with such extraordinary familial circumstances, shiver at the subject matter? I often think of the classic comedy Meet The Parents (I think you do too). I think of the unfathomable cruelty that Robert De Niro’s character puts his potential son-in-law through. The slapstick comedy Son In Law also comes to mind, capturing the awe stricken fear of your beloved daughter bringing home the strangest, most unlovable human being you can imagine as their supposed significant other.

Although these films are some of the most hyperbolic examples, they portray real life struggles. These struggles often stem from overcritical first impressions which can regrettably become the flawed foundation of a relationship with your in-laws.  Sadly, some families consider it a resolution to “come to terms” with the fact that there will always be differences and settle on saving face with one another. It’s certainly true that the term in-law doesn’t need Hollywood’s help when it comes to negative connotations.

I want to take us away from Hollywood now and to the body of Christ. My relationship with my in-laws has shown me that although there aren’t entire epistles in the Bible about how to interact with your in-laws, it’s a perfect opportunity to love and act as a redeemed body for the cause of Christ.

My relationship with my own family is non-existent. I was raised in an environment contaminated by alcoholism and abuse. The status of my family has only digressed since my getting married. We don’t travel to see one another on holidays. We don’t call. I’ve spent most of my married life creating a layer of defense between my wife and me and my family. Although this is difficult, God has also given me a second chance at family. I feared this concept before our wedding. I saw the bond of my wife and her family played out in so many ways and all I wanted to do was hide mine. Of course there were initial concerns about this “Kyle Guy.” In fact, my name was Caleb for the first month or so of our dating relationship. That was actually my best friend’s name and my mother-in-law confused the two consistently. Those times would eventually pass. As the wedding approached, I began to see the early fruits of a meaningful relationship with my in-laws.

It’s comedic when you compare the two families. My in-laws fear the Lord. My father in-law is an elder at the church. The more I got to know them, the farther from home I felt. There were small patches of time where I didn’t know if I could fit. I looked at my past compared to my wife's. How is my past going to interfere with this seemingly “perfect” family?

Those fears are long gone and there are no perfect families. Families are comprised of sinners. The difference is Christ. My in-laws aren’t perfect, not even close. But you know what? They know Christ is perfect and that his righteousness is the standard. That realization defines our relationship. The love my in-laws have for Christ has driven their love for me. After the initial shock period when I began dating their daughter, I saw them welcoming me into their family. I have never questioned their love for me. I look forward to spending time with them and seeing them at church on Sundays.

It’s important to establish this is not replacement. I’m not the kind of guy that will call my father-in-law “dad”. It’s not a fashion statement as much as it is taxonomy. It’s important to distinguish who’s who in your family. My father-in-law’s duty is not to replace my father. That being said, he’s shown Christ’s love nonstop. He and my mother-in-law are servants who love the church.

The point of this is that when you act as the body of Christ is called to, your relationships with your in-laws can defy the stereotypes. This doesn’t mean to let your guard down when your daughter brings home that guy with the tattoos who has a funny accent and wears too much cologne. As leaders, men should be protecting their daughters. My family is such a great example of how you can extend the servant attitude and the relentless love of a Christ-centered body of believers into your relationship with your in-laws. My family history has left long, ridged scars. Somehow, through God’s grace, I get a second chance to witness how a broken, regenerate family operates and loves one another. You may want to think about that the next time your daughter brings home that Aqua Di Gio ensconced, tattoo-covered guy with the backwards hat (after some healthy ridicule of course).

Kyle Castro is a Nashville musician and active member of the local business community. He and his beautiful wife Renee are members of Community Bible Church Nashville. Kyle enjoys writing in the realms of fiction and business.  @kylecastrooo

In-Law Week - Guest Post by Rachel Lonas

Today's guest post is by Rachel Lonas, a friend from my time at Bryan College. Much like Kim's post from Monday, Rachel describes a mother-in-law who loves her well with the love of Christ, even though she didn't fit the picture of the wife she initially might have chosen for her son. Once again, a testimony to the power of grace in the lives of two very different people. Rachel's mother-in-law and her oldest daughter

There are so many reasons I could list my mother-in-law as wonderful. There are the packages she sends every holiday for our family, filled with funny handmade cards, family inside jokes, and small personalized trinkets. There is the transparency and humility she exudes that make her so relatable. As I said, I could go on for days, but as my husband and I approach our 7th wedding anniversary this year, I’ve been thinking about something more than just kindness and personal touch. I’ve been thinking about how thankful I am for her servant’s heart and ability to trust her son who chose me.

Though both from Christian homes, my husband and I came from very different backgrounds. Different schooling background, different family conflict management styles, different temperaments. It seemed like a reasonable case for “opposites attract”. We had become close friends in college, so we both wanted to date with the intention of getting married after graduation. Everyone on our small Christian college campus (professors included) were excited for us, which may be why my husband didn’t remember to communicate with his parents about how serious we were getting; we lived in a “bubble” and it seemed normal to us and everyone who interacted with us every day.

When my husband did tell his parents his intentions, they were taken aback, but I think his mom took it particularly hard. She still had two daughters (12 and 16 at the time) at home and her only son and oldest child just officially declared his intentions for complete independence and full responsibility for his life after college. He was adding another woman in his life that would be a role model for her girls. That’s a lot for a mom to take on all at once! I also think they thought (before I came into the picture) he’d find a homeschool girl from back home to marry and settle down and have kids to homeschool some day. And yet his prospect was a public schooled, strong personality who dyed her hair red and refused to even consider homeschooling! As I said, my husband and I probably seemed like an unlikely match if you just put us down on paper.

I know it wasn’t always easy for her to trust her son’s judgment (i.e. to see what he and others saw in me and know it was a part of God’s plan), but if there was distrust in her mind, it never showed up in her actions. Every time I visited with his family, she served me as the most honored guest and really tried to get to know me and love me well. I never once felt like I didn’t meet her expectations or that I was unwelcome, even when I know I exhibited immaturity. She gave me the benefit of the doubt and tried to encourage me spiritually through devotional books and personalized gifts. My mother-in-law showed Christ’s love and acceptance from the very start.

I believe her thoughtful pursuit of a strong relationship with her daughter-in-law, without trying to fashion me into someone I was not, was the biggest help to our relationship. Instead of constantly criticizing me (which I tend not to receive well) or giving my husband an earful (an inappropriate thing for any mom to do) when I needed work, she just loved me for me and trusted and prayed for the Lord to work in my heart. She saw me honestly striving to love her son well and how together we desired to serve the Lord. The more time I spent with my husband’s family, the more his mom took the time to see how to love me best (in the big and little ways) and I learned how to do the same for her. God has used our imperfections to teach each other much in these 7 years. We are so close now; it’s hard to imagine how different we seemed back then!

I look back and see how much I have learned from my mother-in-law and how she chooses to serve with the love of Christ. I have seen her serve her parents by taking them into her home and giving the most intimate care (even when it’s difficult, both physically and emotionally). I have seen her serve friends and children of friends. Her generous spirit, her sense of humor, and her desire to trust in the Lord when things seem very unclear are always an encouragement to me. God has already blessed me tremendously with my own mother who serves friends and family with open arms, but I am thankful for another “mom” who my daughters can also look up to as an example of Christ's love.

rachel lonas

Rachel has been married for 7 years to her husband, Justin, and has two daughters. She is a homeschool mom and part-time insurance agent who lives in Chattanooga, TN. She blogs at One Room Schoolhouse.

In-Law Week: How Do We Go Wrong?

'Cat fight' photo (c) 2010, Tom Taker - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

 In the midst of hearing some really great stories about in-law relationships, there are also so many that just aren't good. Reasons run the spectrum, and I've seen many truly difficult in-law experiences play out with close friends. It's not helpful to dwell on those situations that are bad, but there is wisdom in learning from the mistakes of others. So today we'll just look at a few things that can cause this relationship to get off to a rocky start.

Expectations

Mother-in-law - Maybe you've always wanted a daughter. Maybe you see a lot of things you're excited to help your daughter-in-law with. Maybe you expect things to stay mostly the same with your son, just adding a new person to the mix. Maybe you're dreading the whole thing because of your friends' experiences.

Daughter-in-law - Maybe you're scared to death because you've heard horrible tales.  Maybe you're excited to have a mom who will be more involved in your life. Maybe you're afraid your mother-in-law will pop in uninvited and tell you how to do things. Maybe you feel like you'll never measure up.

As with most life experiences, our expectations can kill a great thing before it even starts. If you've ever felt the weight of someone's expectations for you and thought you could never live up to them, then you will know how important it is to give those expectations up to the Lord before you get any further into this relationship. Take time to pray and examine what is really going on in your heart--are you judging the other person harshly? Are you expecting something bad to happen, even though it hasn't?

Ultimately, we have to remember Who is sovereign over this relationship. God is bringing two families together, and even the most difficult situation is not out of His hands. Rather than expecting something amazing, or something terrible, from the other person, we can just expect grace and love from our Father. We will make mistakes, we will not measure up, we will hold one another to impossible standards. And His grace is sufficient, even then.

Interpretation

One friend wrote this about her initial relationship with her mother-in-law (which has since improved dramatically), and I think it really illustrates the idea that we easily misinterpret others' motives:

Once the vows were made, it was hard for me to get used to the idea of ANOTHER mother. I already had my own mother and a step-mom (who is really great). I am incredibly (and often sinfully) independent and self-assured, and I want to do things MY way, fail or not. It was not helpful when she would offer suggestions around our first little-bitty condo about where to put things, how to decorate, how I should do the laundry, etc. I already knew what I wanted to do, how I wanted to do it. The main problem, looking back, was that her advice, however good or even appropriate, was thrust upon me, instead of her waiting for me to ASK. It came across to this 21-year old bride as criticism, each piece of advice felt like a jab saying I was not taking care of her son as well as I should or could. Back then (14 years ago) I could not see that she was trying to love me, trying to help.  

What the mother-in-law thought was loving, the daughter-in-law saw as criticism. I know I was insecure as a new wife and wanted to do everything perfectly, so I can see how it would be so easy to feel that way (although I didn't, Carol Parks...don't worry!).

Our interpretations of others' actions are almost always going to err on the side of us perceiving we've been wronged. I can have a whole conversation with another person in my head and then feel very hurt or bitter toward them, even though they weren't even around for the argument. My friend once had a dream where I betrayed her and the next day she could hardly speak to me. We are really great at playing the victim--my imagination is amazing, I assure you.

But what if we were so secure in our identity in Christ that we didn't have to play the victim? What if we knew we were loved so perfectly by our Father that we didn't have to obsess over the actions and words of others? What if we reminded ourselves that Christ gets it--He suffered greater pain and sorrow than we ever could, for the sake of those at whose hands He experienced such pain.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, when I'm able to forget myself for just a minute and remember that I am in Christ--adopted, betrothed, and so greatly loved--then I experience amazing freedom to let my interpretations of the motives of others go. I can just give it up and run to Christ. I can choose to believe the best, because God has freed me from worrying about myself all the time. He's got it. I can rest.

Walk a Mile in Her Shoes

Mother-in-law - It's hard to let go. When my son was two days old, I sat in the hospital bed holding him, in a room by myself, sobbing (people, don't leave a hormonal mom alone for long periods of time...not much clear thinking comes out of this scenario). I just kept saying, "Don't leave me. Don't go off and marry some girl and leave me. Stay with me." Not my best moment. But I get it just a little bit now that I have a son. Of course he's just three and still thinks I hung the moon, so I don't really get it. Anyway, your relationship has already changed, but it's going to change even more. And that is super hard. I can't even think about it yet.

Daughter-in-law - It's hard to see your husband's mom holding on when he's supposed to be leaving and cleaving to you. She's telling you how to fold his underwear and you're thinking, "Oh my sweet goodness, please let me be his wife, Lady." You have waited so long to be in this role--a wife and helper for your husband--but his mom just won't give it up.

So just take a minute and consider what it's like in her shoes. Mom, what was it like to be a new wife? How was your mother-in-law? Daughter, how do you think you would feel if your son had just grown up and walked out the door with his new wife? She still remembers his first steps like they were yesterday!

And then PRAY. There is something so incredible about praying for someone. Not praying that God will change her, but praying FOR her. When I pray for people (normally people I'm mad at and don't want to pray for), something amazing happens. I start to really love them. I start to care about their needs. And my little Grinch heart grows and grows. Try it. It really works.

So what are other ways we get off track in this relationship? Have you seen any of the above in your own heart? (I know I have...)

In-Law Week: What's the Goal?

In preparing for this series on mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationships, I asked several women what they thought was the ultimate goal of their relationships with their in-laws. I loved the responses and wanted to share a couple here today: To bond together by means of our families, through the eyes of Christ. To see one another as equals, knowing that grace levels the playing field. To care for one another, showing support and interest in one another's lives. Building one another up, for the sake of the Gospel. Being her Ruth, and her being my Naomi. Together, worshiping Christ at the foot of the Cross. - Lauren

To enjoy and love each other. When you are both believers, to enjoy fellowship with each other in Christ. Visits with my in-laws were a tear-bringing, anxiety and anger-inducing event when we were first married. It was taxing and stressful on me and my husband, and even within my relationship with my husband. Now, as we've both grown in our relationship, it is fun, pleasant, a blessing, and enjoyable for everyone involved. - Melissa

I think, particularly in difficult situations, it's easy to have a "grin and bear it" mentality about in-laws. Yes, we've heard the idea that you're not just marrying the man, you're marrying his family. But you probably didn't know his family when you first decided you might want to marry him.
What I love about the two quotes above is their focus on the ultimate purpose-- redeemed relationship, bonding, blessing worshiping.

You may have a great relationship with your in-laws, or it may be just horrible. You may be misunderstood or falsely accused. But as my friend Lauren said, grace levels the playing field. When we see ourselves as sinners, undeserving of love and grace, it becomes easier to love others. We love God because He first loved us. And we love and forgive others through the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, empowering us to take the love we've been given and give it out as well.

As we continue in this series, we'll look at the hard stuff as well as the good stuff. We'll see more examples of what Christ has done in these relationships. Hopefully we'll all be encouraged to give out the grace with which we've been so richly blessed.

She Chose Grace - Guest Post by Kim Shay

Below is the first in a series of guest posts and thoughts on the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship. This post, written by Kim Shay, was such a blessing to me and I pray it is to you as well. So many good things to take from this. Be sure to skip over to the links at the bottom of the post to check out some of Kim's other writing. I began dating my husband in 1984. I liked him because there was something very different about him. When I found out he was a Christian, I was even more interested, because I wanted to know who Jesus was.

After a few months, I wanted to meet his family. He had met mine, and I could not understand why he was so hesitant to introduce me to his. I know now that it was because he knew his parents would not approve of him dating an unconverted girl. When it became an issue of  “you either introduce me or we're through,” he took me to meet them.

As a mother myself now, I can only imagine what it was like  for her to meet me. Her son, who should have known better, had brought home an unbelieving girl. This is the not the ideal situation.  What she thought, I don't know, but not once did she give a hint of the angst she must have felt.

When she discovered that I had an interest in spiritual things, she was happy to answer my questions. She purchased a bible for me; a burgundy, leather, King James Bible. As I opened it, I saw the notation she had made directing me to a verse. At that verse, there was a note to go to another verse; and so on. She had basically given me the gospel message. She gave me that bible at the end of March of 1985. I was converted in May 1985.

She had no idea that this unbelieving girl who had been brought into her life longed to understand who God was, who Jesus Christ was.  All she knew was that here was a young woman in need of a Savior.  Despite the fact that she was probably not entirely happy with her son, she treated me with love and grace. I was always treated with kindness every time I saw her from the very first occasion meeting her. She could have been cold toward me, mistrustful, wondering what kind of awful influence I was going to be, but she did not do that. She chose grace.

Later, I was a young woman redeemed, but still with many rough edges:  I didn't always say the right thing, I didn't always dress with the most modest of attire, and I talked too much. But she never lost patience with me. Her desire for me was to grow in the things of God.

She has continued to show grace with my children. Teenagers often make bad decisions, and my kids were no different. She never criticized or rejected them, but loved them as a grandmother, showing an interest in their lives. Even when I am quite certain she didn't like what they were doing, she loved them, and let them know it. It's not always easy loving a teenager, but she always managed to look past whatever immaturity was there.

My mother-in-law has loved me well because above all, she loves the Lord. There is not a doubt in my mind that her source of life and breath is in the relationship she has with Christ. The reason why she has been so patient with me is because she loves me as Christ loves her. A lot of mothers, when their kids bring home unbelieving friends, want to chase them away. I have known some who threaten to cut off contact unless the unsaved friend goes. I'm so thankful my mother-in-law did not hesitate to embrace me, even when I know it was hard to accept me initially.

My mother-in-law continues to overlook my faults, my outspoken nature, my lingering tendency to talk too much. She continues to be a loving woman to the girl who still has a lot of rough edges.  She has been my example in so many ways. I have one of the very best pieces of her: her son, who is so much like her. I guess I'm doubly blessed.

In my room, I have a cedar chest that belonged to my grandmother. Inside, I have a collection of precious items: things like the kids' favourite stuffed toys, a blanket that was mine as a baby, my wedding shoes. Also among this collection is a very battered King James bible that was used to guide me to Christ, her gift to me. It was a gift of grace that continues. I'm so thankful for my mother-in-law.

Moi

Kim has been married for 26 years to her husband, Neil, and has three young adult children. She is a bible teacher and blogger, and lives in southern Ontario, Canada. She blogs regularly at The Upward CallOut of the Ordinary, and is a contributor at  Karis.

In-Law Week

I'm deeming this "In-Law Week," but it may turn into "Weeks" because I have several great guest posts and comments lined up to share with you. There is so much negativity out there regarding this relationship, so I hope we can redeem it somewhat in this space. What we won't do, however, is give a check-list of "How to Be a Great Mother-in-Law" or "Daughter-in-Law." It's not that simple, or rather it's actually much simpler. When the love of Christ invades our hearts, all relationships are radically changed. No check-list will produce heart change, but being adopted by our Father and loved by Christ so dearly can change even the hardest heart.

So this week the posts you'll read here are not about women we should all try to emulate. Rather, they are examples of what the love of Christ can do. He's done it in other hearts and relationships, and hopefully reading these accounts will give hope that He can do it in your situation as well.

The guest posts will start tomorrow, but first I want to invite you to participate by writing a post about your own mother-in-law or daughter-in-law and sharing the link in the comments this week. Or, feel free to just leave a comment telling us about what God has done in your life through your in-laws. I think it would be so encouraging to read these things, even if they are in difficult circumstances. He works through those too. Thanks for joining us and I pray you'll be encouraged!