The Land of Not-Where-I-Want-to-Be

Open roadIt’s been nearly a year of taking a break. Of withdrawing from ministry, and blogging, and essentially life to heal the broken parts of me. It was not too long from this date one year ago that I realized my marriage was ending, and that I would soon be plunged into the land of Not-Where-I-Want-to-Be. I wanted the dream. The happy family. The loving husband. The growing old with someone I’d spent a life with. But instead, I was looking into the future in shock. Barely holding on as I faced my new reality.

It’s been a year of growth, and learning, and revelation. Of learning how much I can do that I never thought I would even attempt (can you say fix a washer/lawnmower/toilet? Woot!) Of realizing that there are people who really care deeply about me, and others I thought cared who have slipped out of sight. Of growing up abruptly as rumors flew through my small community and I had nothing to stand on but my integrity.

It’s been harder than I ever thought it would be. And yet, I’ve not done it alone. Beside me, behind me, and in front of me, God has been there holding my hand. And holding my children.

If you’re a single mom you know. You get it. And your heart probably breaks for me, just as mine does for you. There is no one that should have to go through this. And yet, here we are, nearly 16 million of us, struggling to raise more than 22 million children.

And it’s harder than we ever imagined.

But only nine months in as a single mom, I feel God leading me to help others walk this path as well. That seems ridiculous because I have no idea what I’m doing in this role. Except that I hear him whispering to me that I’m exactly the kind he uses for such a thing: someone who is willing, but doesn’t know how. Because that allows room. Room for him to work. For him to lead. For him to change me.

I don’t have to have all the answers on this path. Neither do you. In fact, we shouldn’t even try to. Instead, we need to follow his lead. To leave margin for Him. To pull up the roots that have been our lives even if it knocks us on our rear because it’s time to start with fresh soil.

A new beginning.

And so I step out, knowing that the things I dread most in life are always the things that God uses. The most painful moments in my life become the most beautiful in his story. I hope you’ll join me here and at my new Facebook page for single moms of faith: https://www.facebook.com/thechristiansinglemom

Sweet Blessings,

Laura

This Gift of Plate Twirling

bigstock-Plates-Spinning-on-Sticks-49069412Sometimes we surprise ourselves with our talents. You know, the ones that kind of creep up out of nowhere—and you’re really good at. Like, realizing you can rock a hula hoop, or that you have a natural gift for baking that no one taught you. Or, plate twirling. I’m totally awesome at that.

I’ll bet you are too. Only you don’t even see all those plates in the air you’ve been managing for the last (insert number of years you’ve had children) years. We moms wrote the manual on plate twirling, and have the fewest number of breakages worldwide. Seriously, I’ve done the research online.

So, this explains—doesn’t it—why we’re so exhausted? All these plates constantly spinning in mid-air can wear a girl down over time. Until we finally realize what is going on.

Last week, I walked away from my plates. These things I’ve been terrified of letting even wobble, I let them drop.

Just. Like. That.

And you know what? The earth did not tilt one degree off normal that day. In fact, my world appeared normal for once. I stepped off the stage, and decided that I’m only going back when God firmly places me on it himself. And I think I heard my family breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Because I realized that in all this plate twirling, and scheduling craziness, and worry about getting everything done, I’m actually missing time to do the one thing I know that God’s called me to do. And when we do that, we aren’t honoring him, or impressing him, or anyone else with our prowess of abilities.

We’re simply failing to do what he’s asked.

A wise friend guided me through this (aren’t they the best kind?) and her words have stuck in my mind ever since. “When we continue to do something that we dread doing for God, it’s because he’s lifted his grace from it.”

Whoa, sister.

Did you get that? Have you been there too? Begrudging the very thing you sign up to do for his kingdom? Wishing your turn to serve the nursery, or usher, or even lead bible study was over? Then, feeling guilty every single second for even thinking that way? All the while pretending to be a cheerful giver, as if God can’t see through to the truth.

But, consider this: maybe you feel that way because it should be over. Maybe it was just one step of obedience in what God has called you to do. And, continuing to do it out of obligation feels awful because his grace has been removed.

The grace that blesses our offerings of service. The grace that fills us with joy to serve. The grace that allows us room to do our very best.

You see, often we agree to things in ministry simply because we’re asked, without realizing it’s not where God wants us. And we agree to do good things—in the church and elsewhere—and assume that it is right, because it serves the body of Christ. But, that’s not always true. We have to be more careful of the plates we put out to spin. We have to make certain that the one asking us to do it is God. Otherwise, we’re not only not doing what he wants, but we’re possibly taking an opportunity that he’s meant for another.

In our agreement to serve, we need to ask ourselves: are we leaving room for God to place us where he wants us? Or, are we saying yes to so many plates that we can’t step away from them to do what he would have us do, for fear of the others falling?

How many plates are you twirling right now? Which one’s turn is it to drop?

Being a Parent is One Big Party

© Wilmy Van Ulft | Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Wilmy Van Ulft | Dreamstime Stock Photos

This past weekend, I celebrated my 31st birthday party. No, I didn’t turn 31. (Can you hear that? It’s my friends choking on their laughter). I’m talking about the 31st party I’ve thrown for my kids. We’ve had some great ones, some rowdy ones, and some way too loud ones. And as I watched my seven-year-old regaling in the joy of sugar-induced-bonding-with-friends, I couldn’t help but think back to my very first attempt at a kid’s birthday party.

My daughter was turning four. Of course, she picked a theme that no party store stocked—it’s like they know, isn’t it?—causing me to stretch my creative genes and get to work. It was the first cake I’d ever decorated that had a cartoon character on it. The first invitation I’d ever made and printed out on my computer. The first all-out-decorating of my home in pink balloons and green streamers, and anything that remotely resembled her favorite character.

As that Saturday rolled around, I was ready. I’d been prepped for days, had the goody bags lined up in a row, and the room we would hold the party in stocked with food, drinks, and decorations galore. I even had party games planned. Awesome ones, too, because I’m the kind of mom that hunts things like that down on the internet so that my daughter’s friends will enjoy themselves. I had a plan, and I was sticking to it.

Then the little monsters arrived.

For some reason, no one would stay in the room I’d taken special care to decorate for their enjoyment. No one waited until the specified snack time to eat the goodies I’d prepared. And, most shockingly, they didn’t want to play my games. My carefully researched games.

Instead . . .

They ran around the house and yard with wild abandon like sugar-addicted savages. They ignored me as they swept by the food table grabbing snacks on the go, leaving a trail of crumbs for mice to later discover. They laughed in my face—the kind of evil laugh that makes you shudder—when I told them that goody bags were not to be opened until they got home.

It was utter chaos.

Chaos, people.

The little beasts destroyed my dreams, my home, and my sanity in a mere 90 minutes.

But, my daughter?

She was in heaven. Beaming as they discovered her favorite places in our yard. Sweetly pointing out all of the things she loved about her room. Loving her moment in the sun. Her chance to be the center of attention. Her opportunity to be a host.

I realized something that day about motherhood, that I have to say is still true at party #31:

  1. Nothing is even close to what you might expect.
  2. They greatest lessons learned are learned by me.
  3. Chaos can bring joy like you’ve never experienced.
  4. The things I’ll do to stretch myself, make me a better person for the rest of the world.
  5. My plans are just starting points in the adventure.
  6. Sometimes you have to let things go so that things go best.
  7. If I’d have known what life would be like with my children, I’d have done it sooner.
  8. It’s the simple things that matter, bring joy, and will be remembered.
  9. I can never say “I love you” enough.
  10. Until my children, I never realized how much I could love.

The best part of this realization? God feels the same way about us. Celebrates us in the same way. Loves us in the same way. In fact, the same list can be used regarding him. Try it.

When Your Breakthrough Doesn’t Come

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photos-no-image11590733There were more than thirty of us in the room.

Each of us standing before God, declaring war against the one thing we felt was holding us back the most. The one thing that had become an obstacle on our path to serve him. Like warriors, we were preparing for battle, revving up to overcome it once and for all. To defeat the enemy, with God leading the way.

I’d been struggling with mine for years.

Maybe because I didn’t grow up in the church, or because I’d only been a Christian for the last 10 years, the enemy used it as a tool to nip and gnaw at me when I was most vulnerable. It kept me on the sidelines more often than I’d like to admit, and held me back from pushing forward with ministry opportunities I wanted to pursue.

I was ready, and willing, to give it the boot. To overcome it once and for all.

This feeling of ungodliness.

I psyched myself up, prayed continually, and stood toe-to-toe with the enemy, ready to take it down.

Nearly thirty went before me, accomplished their task, and celebrated.

When it was my turn, I was the only one who failed.

The. Only. One.

It felt cruel to me, this failure. And almost as if my obstacle was being thrown in my face. My struggle with feeling ungodly around groups of Christians had actually manifested in real life. In front of everyone. A roomful of sold-out-for-Christ Christians.

As everyone celebrated their victories, I was embarrassed. And hurt. And, just plain mad.

For whatever reason, God had shown up for more than thirty people, and left me standing alone. I could feel the enemy breathing down my neck, poking and laughing at me, telling me that I should have listened to him instead.

I left the room and didn’t want to come back. I visited the nearby bathroom and threw a little pity party. I listened out for an explanation from God, but found only silence.

Again.

My mind played tricks with me that day. Did God have my back? Was I even his? Why would he leave me there like that? Why did he help everyone but me?

I let the questions flow this time instead of holding them in their proper place. I accepted the fact that it just wasn’t my turn somehow. And put on a brave face.

As I drove home from the event, I had a long talk with God. Okay–so, it was completely one-sided, and gave no room for input. But I wanted to know:

What was I doing wrong?

Was I being selfish?

Was it a pride issue?

Why wouldn’t he show up for me like he did for all the others?

How could he leave me there like that?

Didn’t he know that was my one THING? The THING I struggled with the most?

Did he like me this way? Did he want me to feel less than?

Did he care about me at all?

 

Then . . . a whisper in the corner of my mind.

 

I’m still using it.

I sat stunned. My running mouth momentarily shut.

The very thing that haunted me the most. The single thing that seemed to hold me back again and again, was something God found useful. And I realized something new:

God won’t allow a breakthrough on something that he is

still using to mold us.

It made me think of other breakthroughs I’d prayed for in my life:

  • Breakthroughs . . . in relationships with family members
  • Breakthroughs . . . in finances
  • Breakthroughs . . .  in my marriage
  • Breakthroughs  . . . with friendships
  • Breakthroughs . . . in my ministry

All denied at times when I was sure a breakthrough was coming.

All used to mold, and shape, and sometimes painfully carve me into the person he wanted me to be.

While I pouted, and sulked, and felt tiny and unworthy to God, he was busy using these very things to create the woman he saw inside. Stronger and more fit for his service than I’d been before.

A new woman who:

  • Became more vulnerable with other women so that she could be used to help them
  • Reached to learn more about him so that she could in turn teach others
  • Felt small in this world so that she could help others to reach toward something bigger than anything she could ever offer

And so today, I thank him for the breakthroughs that don’t come.

For the desperate prayers that don’t get answered. For the cries in the night that ask him to fix it all. And the mornings when they’re not fixed.

Because he knows that what he has for me is much better than what I’m asking him for myself. And he won’t settle for giving me less than his very best. He won’t allow me to come out of the fire half-baked. He won’t grant me the things I long for most, if those are the very things that he is using to make me stronger.

What breakthrough are you praying for right now?

 

 

Say it Ain’t So

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-young-woman-screaming-image19241717As I helped my daughter prepare for her first day of high school this week, memories came flooding back to me. The nervous energy that first day. The friendships formed. The social experience.

And . . . the unrelenting, constant scrutiny of other girls.

Anyone?

Some of my most painful memories came from that time in my life. Where gossip (even if it wasn’t about me) could destroy a girl in a moment’s notice. When offhanded comments and truth-twisted sayings could make or take a girl’s self-esteem in one fell swoop.

As I watched my daughter taking those first steps, I prayed for better for her.

And as I drove away, I thought: I’m SO GLAD THOSE DAYS ARE BEHIND ME.

But then, it occurred to me: Are they really?

The truth is, as an adult, when I’ve gathered with girls in social circles much of the same rules still apply. Because the uncomfortable truth between women is that it’s nearly impossible to have girlfriends without gossip.

There. I said it.

Anyone?

Over the years, this dirty little secret has reared its ugly head more than once in my life:

  • I’ve felt uncomfortable in groups that have nothing to say unless it’s about someone else.
  • I’ve opted out of gatherings where the women talked only about the ones who couldn’t make it that night—knowing that I’d be fodder for conversation too.
  • I’ve literally hidden in bathrooms at family gatherings where I couldn’t take one more comment about another loved one, spoken from someone they believed loved them too.

And, I’ve been guilty of all three.

And completely torn apart at the realization that this is what women do.

This is how we relate.

And, it’s wrong.

In a society where women are no longer shuffled to the kitchen to keep them out of the conversation, I wonder if we even recognize how powerful our voices have become. While our mother’s may have only drawn the ears of other women, ours have the power (and long-reach thanks to the internet) to affect hundreds if not thousands with a simple phrase.

And, what are we doing with this power?

Building others up? Or tearing them down?

Do we willingly participate, or feel isolated when no one seems to relate to us otherwise?

In Genesis 1-3, we get our first glimpse at the power of words. God simply spoke, and the heavens and earth, people and creatures, time and seasons—everything—was created. With words alone.

Is it coincidence that God “said” these simple words and our very universe was created? Or, is it a lesson to be learned?

That our words have power beyond our own imagination.

Because the truth is that just as God created the universe with His words . . .

We create our lives, our relationships, our very world—WITH OUR WORDS.

How are you using yours?

Showing You the More

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photos-mannequin-image7603483Sometimes people are surprised to discover that I can’t sew. I mean, I’m a fabric designer. Don’t all fabric designers have a little room filled with fabrics, a sewing machine, and a dress dummy?

Um, no.

In fact, my sewing escapades have been quite the ordeal. When my daughter was much younger, she decided that she wanted to be a Power-puff girl for Halloween. Not just any Power-puff girl. The blonde one. Of course, the Halloween costume companies on which I relied decided that little girls would only want to be the brunette Power-puff girl. There were no blonde costumes.

And so I broke out my little sewing machine.

Oh, the many ways a mother can fool herself.

I was fully aware of my lacking skills, so I kept it simple. I made a straight jumper out of blue sequined fabric, and then attached a small cape to the back. My demise? A wig. Out of yellow yarn. Yes, really. Because the blonde Power-puff girl has piggy tails, Mommy. That’s why.

I can’t say that I was proud of my creation, but I thought it would suffice. After all, my daughter believed she was the Power-puff girl of her choice, and so my job was done. I even felt a tinge of pride at my work knowing that no other little girl would have the same costume.

Then we went trick-or-treating.

At the very first house we visited, and I mean the very first, a woman opened her door, looked at my daughter and said:

“Oh, look! It’s Dolly Parton!”

Ahem.

So, you can understand, can’t you, why I’ve shied away from anything remotely related to sewing since then?

Until . . .

A couple school years ago, my kids all needed new pants. All of them. And, for reasons unknown to all mothers, manufacturers can’t seem to understand that our eight-year-olds are not seven feet tall. Every pair of pants I purchased for every single child hung past their feet at least six inches.

With our finances tight, I calculated the cost of taking that many pairs of pants to the local alterations place. And rather than take out a small loan, my sewing machine came to mind again.

I broke it out, reluctant that I was about to ruin perfectly good, brand new clothes. I sent my kids out of the room so that no witnesses would testify to what I was about to do. And, I cut and sewed with baited breath.

And you know what? When I was done, they looked good. I mean, really, really good. Like, maybe I was meant to be a fashion designer instead of a fabric designer. Maybe I could do this mommy thing better than I thought. Maybe I was capable of more than I believed I was.

And then it hit me.

In the time during our struggles over the last years, maybe God was proving to me that I could do something I never believed I could before.

Could it be the same for you?

Maybe God has placed you in the situation that you are in to specifically show you that you are stronger than you think, that you can do the very thing you are afraid of, that you are more than you believe yourself to be.

And so today, I thank Him for the “more”.

For showing me that with Him, I can do more. That in the midst of my struggles, the very ones I’ve feared my entire life, that I can move through them and come out on the other side better for it.

What are you experiencing in your trial that you never thought you could handle before? Is God using it to show you that His idea of your abilities are more than you believe you’re capable of? Is He showing you that you are worth more than you believe?

Matthew 10:29-31 says:

“Jesus said, ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

 

Failing godliness

Women Bow And PrayI’m just your average Christian girl.

One who tries her best. Stays connected with God. And, strives to do what she can to bring others to Jesus.

But, sometimes, I feel like I’m failing this gig. And, I don’t think I’m alone in that feeling.

I don’t know what it is about being a Christian that makes us afraid to admit when we are struggling with our faith, our identity, or even depression about our situation. Maybe it’s the fact that we are fully aware that others are always watching. That we may literally be “the only Bible some will ever read.”

So we put up this valiant effort. To be a good example, a godly example. And we hold it up there for a while, believing we’ve found the groove that all Christian’s want to fit into. The one in which we reflect Jesus.

Until we make a big mess of it all. We do something that we feel has put us at the back of the line again. And we secretly start to feel like the rest of the world: that it’s unattainable.

Except that it isn’t. This groove with Jesus. It’s just that we’re looking at it all wrong in the first place.

We’re more concerned about the numbers. The things we volunteer for. The way our children reflect our faith. We want it all to look perfect so that everyone will understand how important He is in our lives. Because He truly is. And we begin to beat ourselves up when we can’t do it all—this unattainable example of godliness. Even though we truly want to.

It’s in those seasons of want to, that we may be missing the point entirely. And it’s when I’m failing at it, that I’m most reminded of that.

Jesus came here to show us an example knowing that it was the pinnacle. He loved us so much, He knew we needed a better understanding of how to live this life for Him. And yet, He understood that what we have to do here can feel overwhelming and impossible at times. He wanted us to seek godliness, knowing we would have to rely fully on him in that process.

Because godly people struggle with their faith. They question whether or not they believe enough. Are close enough. Trust enough.

Godly people struggle with their identity. They have pasts to deal with. Some which are truly ugly. Ones that make them question who they are in this world, and if they even deserve what Jesus offers.

Godly people struggle to hold it all together. The world can be an awful place at times, overwhelming us physically and mentally even as we tell ourselves it shouldn’t. It still does.

The only difference between us and the rest of the world is that we have this huge safety net to fall back into. As we fly high, and flip, and show everyone our tricks, at the end of the day we know we’ll be caught by His grace.

And what the rest of the world, or even other Christians, think doesn’t matter one bit.

Jesus surrounded himself with people just like us who struggled in their faith. People who needed a Savior to guide them. People who knew they wouldn’t measure up and received open arms instead of self-righteousness. People who made bad choices, and received mercy instead of judgment. People who exposed their messes, and received healing instead of a lecture.

Are we being that kind of Jesus to others? Or is striving for godliness getting in the way?

 

The Battle Between Dreams and Responsibility–Guest Post by author Connie Mann

Angel Falls by Connie MannAs moms, we often feel pulled in opposite directions. Once that first child enters the picture, priorities shift and things are never quite the same again. But that leaves us in a quandary: What do we do with the dreams God planted in our hearts long ago? We love our spouses and children and cherish these insane, wonderful, crazy years–but those dreams are still there, waiting, whispering to us in the dead of night, tugging on our heartstrings.

Where do dreams fit now that our lives are scheduled around other people and their needs? How do we balance our responsibilities with our dreams, without feeling we’re failing one or the other.

For many women I know, the answer is to shelve their dreams for “someday when…the children are grown, we have more money, I don’t work full-time, or (fill in the blank).” The problem is that none of us are guaranteed someday.

Other moms long to take next steps, but they are tethered by guilt. I don’t believe God gives us dreams to frustrate us. He is not a cruel taskmaster dangling what we want just out of reach.

Sometimes, we think we’re not worthy of achieving our dreams. In my new novel, AngelFalls, the heroine wants to be a mother more than anything in the world. But after a childhood on the streets in Brazil, she doesn’t feel worthy of motherhood, even though she mothers the many orphanage children in her care. She struggles with feelings of guilt and inadequacy.

If any of this strikes a chord, let me encourage you: you are NOT alone. Talk this over with your spouse, close friends, other moms. Carve out a bit of time to pursue your dream and ask those around you not only to help you protect that time, but to encourage you to claim it, without making excuses.

Then, ditch the guilt. God did not say that when you became a mother you ceased to be anything else. Actually, moms who have interests and dreams beyond motherhood are generally happier moms, which equal happier kids. Your family will initially balk at not having your undivided attention every second, but when they see you’re serious and excited about what you’re doing, they’re more likely to hop on board the dream train.

Start small. Figure out what ONE little thing you can do TODAY that will bring you a step closer to your dreams. Let’s say your dream is to write a book. Did you know that if you write just 200 measly words a day, you’ll have written a novel in a year?

Motherhood is an incredibly short season of life, overall, so we don’t want to miss any of it. But with a little balance and planning, we can be great moms and follow our God-given dreams at the same time.

 

Connie Mann_2

Connie Mann is an author, blogger and USCG-licensed boat captain. She is the author of Angel Falls, TRAPPED!, and Parenting in the Home Stretch: Twelve Ways to Prepare your Kids for Life on their Own. She was the editor of a parenting magazine and now encourages fellow dream chasers through her blog: www.BusyWomenBigDreams.com. When she’s not writing, she’s usually out on Central Florida’s waterways with local school children or her fabulous family. 

Connect with Connie: 

Facebook  Twitter  Blog    Book Trailer 

 

Four Alternatives to Family Devotions: Family Spiritual Practices–Guest Post by Keri Wyatt Kent

I’m so excited to have my friend, Keri Wyatt Kent, guest posting on my blog today and joining us over at Moms Together on facebook where we are talking about (and giving away!) her newest book: Deeply Loved: 40 Ways in 40 Days to Experience the Heart of Jesus. If you’re looking for a great devotional, this one is not only meaningful, but can be done in short spurts each day (great for all of us busy moms!).

And now, Keri . . .

 

Four Alternatives to Family Devotions: Family Spiritual Practices

Family Devotions have often felt like an epic fail for us.

When my children were small, my husband and I wanted to be what we thought were good Christian parents, so we read Bible stories to them. My husband would come up with what he hoped were discussion questions. Sometimes they loved hearing the stories, but other times the kids would just stare at him, or go off on tangents. Trying to lead an inductive Bible study for preschoolers is about as hard as it sounds.

So we were wildly inconsistent over the years at actually sitting down together to read and study the Word. Especially as they got older, reading together felt awkward. We took them to church and had them watch Veggie Tales, hoping that would help (which, actually, it did).

I think we’re not alone. Many parents I speak to feel guilt for not having “family devotions,”  or anger that their spouse is not being what they call a “spiritual leader” who leads said study sessions.

I tell them: get over it.

Family devotions are a great practice, if you can pull them off. But if you think that “family devotions” only means a Bible study with reading and questions, or that it is the only way to guide your kids in their faith practice, you’ve shoved God into a box that’s way too small. I think many families aren’t even sure what they mean by the term “devotions” and yet feel they are somehow falling short. There are other great ways to nurture your children’s faith, and I want to share just a few with you.

The Bible says, “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” (Deuteronomy  6:6-8)

God’s ancient followers would literally put tiny scrolls in boxes, and tie them onto their foreheads, like a very uncomfortable headband.

We don’t do that. And now that our kids are teenagers, we don’t try to sit down to read and study together. But we do talk about (and engage in) spiritual practices that we can do as a family—ways that we can live out our faith. Here are four ways to nurture your children’s faith and practice:

  1. Practice what you preach. You can’t give away what you don’t have. Make sure you’re spending time in prayer and reading Scripture yourself if you want your kids to develop the same habit. Remind them to read the Bible on their own, once they’re old enough to read. But be sure you’re doing the same.
  2. Be open to spiritual conversations. The text says to talk about God’s way “when you walk along the road.” Or, to contextualize for today: when you’re driving in the minivan. Don’t compartmentalize your spiritual experience. When they notice beauty in nature, point out that God is amazing and creative. Start conversations not with preaching, but with open-ended questions. Also, if you’ve engaged faithfully in reading your own Bible, you’ll have Biblical wisdom in your mind to share. Pray for opportunities to point out God’s influence in everyday situations.
  3. Get out of your comfort zone. A great spiritual practice for our family was to pack up the van with groceries and go and cook a meal at an inner city shelter. Talking about loving your neighbor is one thing—going to show some love to neighbors we wouldn’t ordinarily meet is another. Feeding people, especially those in need, is a very practical way to live out what Jesus said should be our highest priority: love.
  4. Practice hospitality. This is a practice that is often misunderstood and ignored in our culture. Hospitality is not entertaining, but welcoming people, creating a space that is safe and nurturing.  It can happen at the soup kitchen, or in your home. It’s sharing not only a meal but also sharing your stories. As Shauna Niequist writes in her recent book Bread & Wine, sometimes hospitality is about inviting people into the mess.

This last practice has become a core value for our family. It is so much more than me cooking. Everyone has to help clean up the house, set the table, prep the food. While I tend to be the project manager for our meals, everyone participates.

Yesterday, my daughter who is home from college invited friends over for lunch. They requested guacamole, which I agreed to make if they brought me avocados, the main ingredient.

I love having hungry teenagers standing in my kitchen, helping me chop and stir, tasting as we mix. I love the chatter of conversation as the girls caught up with each other after months away at college.

Then last night, we invited another family over to our home for a simple meal—friends we’ve known for a long time. They brought a salad and dessert, we grilled chicken and roasted potatoes.  It was not fancy or fussy. We gathered, poured juice and wine, passed platters around a humble table set with plain white dishes, tea lights and paper napkins.

the table

We asked questions and listened, laughed and took pictures (which our teens promptly posted online).

As we often do when we gather friends around our table, we pulled out our “Table Topics” box—a Plexiglas box filled with square cards, each with a question or statement. Some of them are spiritual, some prompt people to share pieces of their story. Others are funny or quirky. But they are somewhat remarkable in that they helped a group of people who have known each other for more than a decade get to know each other better.

table topics box

We have intentional discussions with our kids about the value of hospitality, of how this practice is an opportunity to live our faith. We’ve talked over the years about how Jesus showed love by gathering with others around a table, and about how welcoming others to our table is a way to show his love. We’ve talked about how this feels like God’s call on us as a family, and our kids have both told me, “I love that we do this. I love having people over.”

As our friends left, they remarked that the evening had felt like going to small group. Exactly. We did church around our dining room table. Sometimes, loving people is the best kind of family devotions you can do.

 

Keri Wyatt Kent writes and speaks to help people slow down, simplify, rest, so that they can listen to God. The most frequently heard comment when Keri speaks at an event is “You’re so real!” Audiences connect with her practical teaching and authentic sharing.

When she’s not traveling around the country to speak and lead retreats, she’s writing.  She’s a regular contributor to several magazines, websites and blogs. She’s written ten books and co-authored several others, which offer an authentic, practical approach to Christian living and spiritual formation. She’s a member of Willow Creek Community Church, where she has taught, led groups, and volunteered in a variety of ministries for more than two decades.

She and her husband Scot live with their teenage son and daughter in Illinois.

You can find out more about Keri and her ministry at her website, connect with her on facebook, or discover her books here.

Daddy Power

Father Daughter KissBefore I had children, I never understood the need for fathers.

Yes, I had one. But, then again, I didn’t really. Not one like the father’s I’d seen on TV. Or in my friend’s homes. Mine was the difficult kind. The kind you watched yourself carefully around. The kind you hid from your friends.

And so I grew up without one, even though he was right there in my own home. I avoided him. His anger. His apparent disapproval of me for as long as I can remember. But, I didn’t need him. In fact, I didn’t see the point in him. In having someone in your life who just made you feel . . . worthless. I wasn’t worthless. That much I knew.

And it seemed that I wasn’t the only one. Television began to change, and fathers on my favorite programs seemed more real than those I’d watched in black and white. They leaned on their wives for the answers, instead of leading with their own. They became the butt of their own children’s jokes, while occasionally saying something useful. In many ways, I saw—and understood—that my theories on fatherhood were right: it was a nice thing to have, but not really necessary.

Until I had kids.

I was completely unprepared for the way my husband would father my children. For the sight of a man cuddling an infant. For the camaraderie, and silliness that a dad could bring to their sometimes-too-serious mother. I was unprepared for how much my children would love him.

And, of course, I wanted them to. I wanted more for them than what I had. I just didn’t believe it existed in real life.

As the years have passed and my husband’s relationship with my kids has changed, I’ve come to understand that it’s not only one of the most important relationships of their lives, but pivotal to their relationship with their heavenly Father.

And while I can mother them with all my might, teaching them, loving them, and even mending their hearts, there is no one that can serve as a better example of the love and acceptance that Jesus offers, than their own father.

I missed out on that. And, I never knew that I should feel that way, until I began to see it in my children’s eyes. But, I don’t bemoan the loss. I’m grateful for the vision God has given me. The sight of my kids coming to my husband, knowing they are accepted and loved no matter what. The sound of their laughter as he plays with them. The pure joy on their faces when he holds them. That is what a father is for. And that is why they are life changing in a child’s life.

And so, this father’s day, I want to thank all the men out there who’ve chosen to be fathers. Not in the physical sense, because let’s face it, that’s the easy part. But, in the real sense. The ones who stick around, and stick through when it gets hard. The ones who fight societies negative image of fathers, and push to create their own instead. The ones who love unconditionally, because they are loved unconditionally. The ones like my husband. I get it now. And for that, I thank God.

 

We’re talking about fathers over at Moms Together on facebook today. And, there’s a giveaway! Stop by to get in the conversation and a chance to win!