Category Archives: Christianity

How Not To Hover And Why It’s So Dangerous

Photo Creds: Emma Gulitti

Just when I think the term helicopter parent has been exhausted, then I meet another one. Before we talk about the dangers of hovering and how not to be so over-controlling, I think it is important to address why we might be tempted to be so in the first place.

Possible reasons for being a hovering parent, and there could be overlap:

  • You want a different life for them than what you had growing up.
  • You have trauma in your own past. You were hurt by someone you thought you could trust.
  • We are not risk takers ourselves. So why encourage that in our kids?
  • You are a control freak.
  • Your anxiety level is so high you don’t possibly know how you can keep your kid safe.
  • You believe the world owes you, so therefore, they owe your kid as well.
  • Any of the above edges out common sense parenting, leaving hovering as your primary parenting tool.

Let’s be clear. There’s a difference between advocating and hovering. Recently I knew of a young boy who called his mom to pick him up so he didn’t have to go to his sporting practice.  He wasn’t sick. He just didn’t want to go. She did it. She picked him up. That’s hovering. I listened to a birthday prank on the radio this morning. The DJ told the father on the phone that the game system he had purchased for his son for Christmas was on back order. With no other provocation, the dad dropped two expletives 60 seconds into the phone call about how he needed that game system for his son by Christmas. That’s hovering. (And rude). A couple of weeks ago, a young and brand new teacher friend of mine sent a note home to a mama that her daughter had used permanent markers to draw all over the class room bean bag chairs. The chairs were ruined. Mom sent a note back and said “I thought they were supposed to get three warnings.” That’s hovering. How many parents have stormed into public school buildings angrily demanding to know why their kid didn’t get the part or the position or the award he should have. That’s hovering. At the park, I saw a toddler fall down, suffer no physical damage whatsoever, other than wounded pride, and his mom went busting over to rescue him. The rescue consumed at least 5 full minutes and led to the conclusion of play time at the park for the day. That’s hovering. Someone showed up at her son’s job interview. (Literally, this happened). How many times have we given into temptation to shower our college kids with cash at the drop of a hat or been tempted to usurp their abilities to take care of their own college business? That’s hovering. Maybe you over involve yourself in your adult child’s business. You just can’t afford to let them live their own life. They might mess it up. That’s hovering.

As I already mentioned, there is a difference between advocating and hovering. We can and should be advocates for our children. And even our young adults. But did you know that advocating for your child doesn’t just happen in a necessary conversation with another individual about something that concerns your kid? No not even. We advocate best for our kids in conversations we have with them. (Parenting tip # 23 in my book.) Instructional conversations, life giving conversations. Conversations about expectations and consequences. If your daughter attends college 15 hours away from you and goes to an ATM machine at night by herself with an unsavory character lurking nearby, you would be at your advocating best if you were there in the parking lot with her at the time of the event right? Yes for sure. But the conversation you had with her years prior that warned her of the dangers of going to ATM machines alone at night, that was you advocating for her in the anticipation of events yet to happen. Yes, conversations we have with our kids by the truck load-that’s us advocating for them. Newsflash. They are going to be out doing their life away from us, at some point or another, whether we advocated for them in this way or not. If we spent those years hovering rather than advocating, well, it could be a rough ride. If you want your kids to be productive, positive, empowered adults, then when they are young quit bailing them out. (Parenting Tip #10)

The difference between advocating and hovering is measurable and quantifiable. Over controlled kids are more anxious, misguided and have low conflict resolution skills. This equates to problems in the classroom and in personal relationships, perhaps sadly, for years to come. In an article in Psychology today dated August, 2016 by Nathan H. Lents, Ph.D., Dr. Lent states:

“Helicopter parents that seek to shield their children from all forms of adversity are not doing them any favors. Physical exertion, confrontations on the playground, competitions with real winners and real losers, getting minor bumps and bruises, and even periodically experiencing fear are all inducers of acute stress. Falling off of a swing, for example, teaches a kid a variety of lessons that just can’t be learned any other way. If kids are protected from all possible risks when the stakes are low, how will they navigate risk-taking when they are older and the stakes are much higher? While we should all strive to protect children from chronic stress, depriving them of healthy forms of safe stress may leave them unable to deal with stress as adults.”

Kids, whose parents are healthy advocates, are typically better adjusted emotionally. They can navigate disappointment in life, because they have been allowed to be disappointed and even at times, bored. They have not been routinely bailed out. They have had to use their imaginations when they didn’t get every single new thing they wanted for Christmas or their birthday. They are kids, whose parents are not perfect, but neither do they lead lives defined by past hurt, trauma or failure. Advocating means these parents choose not to teach or discipline or love their kids through the lenses of comparison, bank accounts, fear, entitlement or bitterness. Parents who advocate for their children verses hovering realize that their child’s love for them is not fragile. They know that just because they discipline them for falling out of line, doesn’t mean their kid will fall out of love with them. Advocating versus hovering. It’s critical that we can distinguish between the two. It can make a world of difference in the adult your child becomes down the road.

Our Unwillingness to Change Blocks Our View

Recently a mentor of mine was helping me work through a couple of current conundrums in my life. At the end of our discussion, she reminded me that I had no control over the actual people in my conundrum or their own personal outcomes. I find this frustrating since I am a problem solver by nature. I pleaded with her, tongue in cheek, to just give me a few steps for successfully changing them. She just laughed and reminded me to consider what is in my area of influence and what can I personally change.

In other words Judy, what can YOU change in YOURSELF to make YOU better? So that those around you benefit in the process? I think that is so true in parenting and marriage too.

When You Can’t See the Forest for the Trees…… Photo Creds: Judy McCarver

Sometimes we want instant solutions to make our children behave or to get our spouses to do ____________XYZ! I did recently write five-great-habits-for-getting-your-kids-to-listen. And it’s true we need tried and true methods of handling situations in our life and parenting. Yes yes yes! But the truth is a lot of relationship building and successful parenting is about how much WE are willing to change ourselves. We are often so intent on manipulating others, that we cannot as my grandmother used to say, “see the forest for the trees.” In other words, we can’t see solutions because our big giant egos are blocking the view. We can’t see what would bring us joy or happiness. We can’t see what would actually help! We are just blinded by our own unwillingness to change things in ourselves that perhaps need to be changed and that can be changed.… For example, I recently recommended to someone the financial peace program by David Ramsey for helping squash her debt. It’s actually a proven program that has helped literally hundreds of thousands of people reduce or eliminate millions of dollars of personal debt. Anyway, she was super offended because unbeknownst to me, she was atheist and said she would never do that program since Ramsey is a Christian. Oops, I felt bad. I had intended no harm whatsoever in offering this advice and I apologized for doing so unwittingly. I then shared with her the truth that I am a Christian, and yet one of my very favorite leadership books ever written was by a Mormon (The Severn Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey). Moreover, I added that I have a handful of solid parenting books in my personal library written by various experts in their fields, which make no reference to Christianity. Along with those, I also have parenting books authored by some of my favorite Christian authors. I have learned from all of them. But she couldn’t see the forest for the trees. She couldn’t acknowledge that this was a perfectly good tool to debt free living for her and her children. She was blocking her own view.

I was blocking my own view back in my early 20s. I made bad decision after bad decision, and conveniently always found someone to blame for my bad decisions. It is true that I had been dealt a difficult childhood of sorts. But only when I acknowledged that my life was about more and more of me and less and less of anyone else, did I finally have the wherewithal to ask God to please pick up the pieces of my brokenness and help me move forward. And not only that, but the wherewithal to ask other people to help me. I finally figured out I was blocking my own way out of misery. It is true that my life had been hard. But I still managed to be my own worst enemy.

That realization and awakening was the beginning of a new lease on life for me. I was able to be in healthy dating relationships for the first time in my life. I was able to build friend relationships without undue expectations of those I was befriending. This led to healthy parenting down the road. Knowing I cannot change people around me makes me a healthier individual and therefore, more adapted to parenting kids (now young adults) who are also healthy emotionally. Knowing I can ultimately only change myself led me to be better equipped for parenting my kids with purpose.

Being in relationship with our kids as we are raising them is a different thing all together than what it means to be in relationship with our spouses or parents or adult friends. And I want to make that clear. There are multiple scenarios we find ourselves in with littles where we do have to tell them what to do. And we can and should expect them to obey us. But God has created them, like you, fearfully and wonderfully. (Psalm 139) When we recognize that He has created all of us with purpose then we can look at all of our relationships through that filter and not through the filter of our pride or our past or our unmet expectations.

What can you change about yourself today? How will that set you on a path of better parenting and more joy in your relationships?

How NOT To Raise Blue Ribbon Haters

Photo Creds: Emma Gulitti

In my daughter’s business there are a lot of haters. She’s a journalist. A young college journalist, not yet graduated into the greater world of news reporting outside the walls of her university, but still a journalist.

I told her to put her armor on. This is going to be a tough road.

She has already encountered blue ribbon haters. On one occasion, she inadvertently addressed a source in an email as he, but it was in fact a she. She ripped into my young college student who had no malicious intent whatsoever. She just made an error, and a minor one at that, based on the source’s name. My daughter apologized of course. But that didn’t matter to the offended. No forgiveness was granted. And not only that but the opportunity for a grown professional adult, (more than ten years older) to teach my student something about her life and her work in a life giving way, was completely lost.

Dang it!

The offended one only had it in her heart to hate, not to teach, not to grow, not to share. This person, who I believe felt like she had to fight hard to gain respect in a man’s world, lashed out at an unsuspecting young reporter, when she felt that position was threatened. She presupposed that this young woman somehow must have known that she was a she, yet intentionally referred to her as he, with the sole purpose of personally offending her. The student in this case had no malice aforethought at all. Indeed, she is by all accounts a studious and sincere student and employee. Not perfect by any measure. Case in point, an error was made. But rather, full of integrity and the desire to report truthfully. It seems crazy to me that you would just assume a complete stranger has it in for you. Yet, people take up this position frequently. They do it all in the name of some grand cause. But the truth is, these days, hate meters are pegged by the slightest provocation.

Let’s be clear. There are extremely serious offenses that happen in our culture, our communities and our world every day that leave deep scars and make the necessary art of forgiveness a challenging one. And rightly so. But more and more, the bar for hating in our culture has dropped dangerously low. The slightest mistake, rendering nothing more than perhaps a typographical error or a poorly timed statement, is elevated to a level of scrutiny for which it is simply not worthy. The truth is that a much more troublesome quandary idles deep inside of the hater. Whatever trivial event they trumpet on the outside as reprehensible, is a reflection of something much more spurious and bitter on the inside.

If you are in the running for a first place trophy in the contest of hating someone, whose only “real” offense is that they are not perfect, you might need to adjust the lenses through which you view all of humanity. Maybe the real issue (the spurious and bitter one) is that this person looks different from you, acts differently or votes differently. It is for all of us to examine difficult situations we find ourselves in, personal and professional and pursue a way to make positive changes, correct mistakes, and in the process grow yourselves and others. However, when we knowingly exploit a person’s mistake or his life and work inexperience in order to tear him down and even destroy him, then in that moment, you are a blue ribbon hater.

Do you see yourself or your child anywhere in this scenario? Are you a blue ribbon hater? One day I was perusing my old neighborhood’s online help site. It’s a place where you can post things for sale or ask questions like where to get a good car mechanic. As you can imagine, it can be very helpful. However, on this particular day a discussion started about an incident at the local high school. The person who initiated the discussion was unhappy with how the school administration handled ensuing communication with parents. By the end of this thread, over 50 grown adults were slinging mud at one another, using words as missiles. There was not a single constructive element to this online conversation. The whole intent of the majority of contributors was to verbally annihilate their perceived foe. These parents were themselves bonafide, blue ribbon haters. Naturally, our kids learn by “monkey see, monkey do.” How sad that truth can be when we, the parents, are acting like a spoiled, selfish, angry 2 year old.

Blue ribbon haters are on the radio too. One of my favorite radio stations does a “birthday scam” every few days. At the bequest of a person’s loved one, the DJ calls that person, and pretends to be a representative from an actual organization or place, who is complaining about their yard being unkempt or the fact they owe money for a cable bill. You get the picture. Almost every single phone call ends with the birthday girl or guy blowing up in anger. Conflict resolution be damned. Threats, swearing, you name it, full scale nastiness ensues. Finally, the DJ says, “Hey this is so and so from such and such radio station, and your husband wanted us to call you and say happy birthday.” By the end of the birthday scam, the only way to describe the birthday girl or boy in that moment is a “blue ribbon hater.”

Blue ribbon haters are characterized by a number of fundamental traits: 1 They have very few conflict resolution skills. If something goes amok with their grades, or their bills, office policy, or their project they hired out, or with their neighbor, or with a co worker, or their aunt, uncle, spouse or child, they go 0 to 60 in a hot minute. Erratic are the emotions of the day. Their responses are shallow, reactive, and angry as opposed to steady, thoughtful, and discerning. They simply don’t have conflict resolution skills that involve the ability to listen before responding, gathering information before acting, and only then advocating for themselves or their organization with both veracity and professionalism. 2 Blue ribbon haters never seek reconciliation, only punishment and self satisfaction. This is self explanatory. The punishment may only be a verbal assault as in the example of the birthday boy on the phone being scammed by the radio DJ. But whatever the case, punishment and a sense of self satisfaction is the goal. 3 Blue ribbon haters are not interested in mentoring relationships. Mentoring threatens to dismantle their platform of discontent. In their minds if they either reconciled with or mentored the person who offended them, that would condone the offense. Mentoring would require mature and well thought out responses. Hating only requires a knee jerk reaction. It’s less work. 4 The goal of the hater is to tear down. It isn’t to build up. To deconstruct, not instruct. The hater asks, “How can I make you feel worse?” And then they do that thing. 5 Blue ribbon haters are primarily interested in advancing their own agendas. Compassion and generosity are always secondary to that. Therefore advancing the cause of personal or professional growth is often viewed as an obstacle. 6 Blue ribbon haters are typically disgruntled in one or more areas of their life. If that is the underpinning of your relationships and your daily demeanor, then the stage on which your life plays out and unfolds will always be marked by conflict and discontent, never resolution and growth.

The title of this article is how NOT to raise blue ribbon haters. Okay. Go back to the last paragraph. And be sure to teach your children the opposite of numbers 1-6. And if you are a Jesus follower, be certain that these tenets didn’t begin with us. Teach them: 1 Conflict resolution skills. (Matthew 18:15-17 & James 1:19-20 & Proverbs 18:13) 2 The necessity of both reconciliation and accountability in order to create positive change. (2 Corinthians 5:12-21) 3 Ongoing mentoring relationships. They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I think it is also true that an ounce of mentoring is worth a pound of healing. (Proverbs 15:22-23 & Proverbs 27:17 & 2 Timothy 2:2) 4 To build up others whenever and wherever we possibly can especially when we are in a position of influence and control. (1 Thessalonians 5:11 & Romans 14:19) 5 Compassion and generosity are not just for the weak-minded as you might have been told. They are in fact indicative of strength and self-confidence. Teach your children the truth about these two tenets. (Ephesians 4:29-32) 6 Discontent that stems from a disgruntled heart, can paralyze you in life and keep you from all good things. Truly, discontent with real issues can lead to real action and change. But, discontent that is rooted in bitterness is a breeding ground for hate. (Philippians 4:10-13)

Don’t. Be. A. Blue. Ribbon. Hater. And don’t teach your kids this either. Assess the situation that is tempting you to proceed with hatefulness. What are the facts involved? Was it personal and malicious? Sadly, personal and malicious, even if they are present, are also not excuses for being a hater. Hate just perpetuates hate. But it helps to make an assessment of the situation to determine with truthfulness how serious it really is or isn’t. Because clearly this is going to inform the level of response required (if it even requires a response). Does the situation you are in, whether you are the offended or the offender, require a response? Does it require change? If it does, then grab ahold of the opportunity to construct not deconstruct, to heal not destroy. To offer solutions, not additional chaos and conflict.

Empowering our girls God’s way

Girls Girls Girls

An article I wrote was graciously published today by christianparenting.org If you have girls (or boys as well) I am sure you are being pummeled with information about how to make them strong and empowered. Some of it is dicey. Because the worldview of empowering our girls often excludes the necessity to teach them compassion and kindness. Don’t fall for the idea that compassion and self-confidence cannot coexist.This is a lie. Please read and share! We need to fight back!

Empowering Our Girls God’s Way

Parenting With Gumption and Grit is now Available for Purchase

Finally, I have released my book, and I am happy to announce it can be purchased online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Target. This project has been a long time in the making. It is something I am very passionate about, and I have a deep desire to  help equip  parents with the tools necessary for raising positive kids in a culture that is not always so.  Take a chance on this easy but powerful read. You won’t regret it. 

 

Shout out to the producer and videographer of my first promotional video, my wonderful daughter, Kate Ann.

A guide for Reading (connecting) with your kids and Book Lists For All Ages!

Forever and a day I have been working on a book list. My friends and fellow parents know how passionate I am about the importance of reading. And so, they frequently ask for book recommends. I LOVE talking about books. I have also written one. Recently I released a book titled“Parenting With Gumption and Grit.” It is a book of 52 tips for virtually anyone who parents or mentors a child. One of those tips is “Read With Your Child.”  I would add to that: do so at every age and stage of their life. When my 3 girls became older teens, I had required reading, which I added to their own queue of books. Yes, it’s true. I had required reading. And with few exceptions, they always read the book before seeing the movie. And now as young adults, I heartily dish out suggested reading for them. Usually they humor me and comply. They do this because they love to read and because it is an activity we have done together literally for years. So, I have a little credibility with them when it comes to recommending a book. Books are a faithful friend. They don’t betray, abandon, hurt, or withhold forgiveness or mercy from us. They are always there for us. They are faithful. They teach our kids literally everything. How to be a kid. How to be a grown up. How to be generous, compassionate, and really-how to live well. They are capable of teaching life lessons to our kids virtually without us lifting a finger. Yeap I’m in.   

I have included a list of my own favorites below. This is not all inclusive. Not even close. But I went through my shelves, literally and figuratively, and did my best to compile a list of books I love and cherish. I asked my girls to do the same. Clearly, their input was vital. There are a handful I have in the last section which they have yet to read. For instance, Left to Tell, The Liberator, and a few others. Don’t worry. I have them on their “suggested reading” list. Likewise, there are some on that same list which my girls have read, but I have not (yet). When Shelby was just a toddler, and we said, “Shelby get your books,” she literally walked across the living room floor carrying a pile of books almost as tall as she was. What a sweet memory. And then there was Paul reading chapter books at bed time. I will never forget when he was reading Charlotte’s Web, and as Charlotte died, he turned and looked at little 6-year-old Shelby, who was absolutely silent with big droplets of tears rolling down her cheeks. And just like that she experienced the death of a friend. She experienced loss in a profound way, by reading it in a book. It helps prepare them for the real-life experiences that are sure to come their way. We can’t stop those real-life experiences. So we should let books lend us a hand. Halle and Katie Ann had their favorites too. Besides E. B. White, we must have read Princesses Are Not Quitters, Just Us Women, and The Relatives Came,a thousand times. Arthur, DW, Henry, Mudge, Eloise, Katie Kazoo, Nancy Drew, and so many others were all personal friends of ours. It seemed as if they lived in the same house with us. 

On “Judy’s Favorites List,” please use your own measuring stick for your child. In other words, if you feel like there is something on the “Elementary Age” list, that should wait for “Tweens/Teens,” then that is your prerogative. I categorized the lists based on my own experience with my three girls. You can and should custom build your reading lists for your children.

A final thought. I am a Jesus follower, so there has always been a generous number of faith filled books on our reading list. Francine Rivers for instance is one of our favorites. Shelby and I read “Her Mother’s Hope” and “Her Daughter’s Dream” simultaneously. Rivers’ book “Redeeming Love” is perhaps one of the greatest books ever written about a woman’s worth and not only that, but how a young girl’s opinion of her own worth impacts her sexual choices. We have tons of favorite Christian authors for sure. But secular books have had just as powerful an impact on my kids and on their faith journey. The Glass Castle is a poignant memoir about a young girl who was raised in a sea of dysfunction. It’s a book that made my girls’ childhood look like a tiptoe in the daises. They need to see that. They need to know and understand that other people live lives in stark contrast from theirs. The book Avenue of Spies by Alex Kershaw is a jaw dropping story of American surgeon Sumner Jackson and his family who lived and died after the Nazi occupation of Paris in WWII. It is a riveting and true story. And how could we ever forget To Kill A Mockingbird? Every person’s experiences and journeys hold life lessons for all of us. Our faith guided our choice of reading for sure. But it did not censor our choices. The two things are not the same. We have always tried to steer out kids away from the inane, pointless, shallow offerings of the world. The same is true in our choices of books and media. One day Shelby picked up what she thought would just be a short fun read based on the fact we had just seen the movie of the same title, Confessions of a Shopaholic which was rated PG. She figured the movie was cute, so why not read the book? Quite on her own, she intentionally left it behind in the hotel where we were staying. When I asked her why, she said “language.”  Wow, and just like that, all those years of age appropriate reading and guiding them into age appropraite books (and media choices) seemed to instill wisdom in her. Suddenly they had their own sense of books that were worthy of their time and those that weren’t. Books that point them to truth, fiction or non fiction, and those that don’t. Sure, all three of them have read a lot of books since then with colorful language and content. But the language and the content served a purpose. In those cases, it was neither shallow or pointless. 

We also found that reading age appropriate books with our kids in an environment where they were loved unconditionally helped us quite naturally graduate them to the next level. As they moved into different stages of growth, so did their books. For instance, if you let them read the Hunger Game Series in the 3rd grade, they may never want to read The Little House series or Chronicles of Narnia. And how sad would that be?

The best thing ever your child will say to you one day: “Mom you have to read this book. Then we can talk about it. You’ll love it.” That is exactly what Halle said to me after reading The Poisonwood Bible for her Senior AP English Literature class in high school. You can bet I grabbed it up and devoured it. Because guess what? It rendered an in-depth sit-down discussion with my sweet girl that happened all because we read the same book. 

Happy reading everyone.

My book list is below along with other resources. On the links provided, click twice, once here and once again on the next page.

Additional resources that I highly recommend:

  • The Bible
  • “Teaching Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons” by Siegfried Engelmann, Phyllis Haddox, and Elaine Bruner
  • “Honey For a Child’s Heart,” by  Gladys Hunt
  • “Honey For a Teen’s Heart,” by Gladys Hunt and Barbara Hampton
  • “For the Children’s Sake,” by Susan Schaeffer MacAulay

Judy’s Favorite Books list https://judymccarver.com/?attachment_id=2400

Additional Wondeful Book Resources : Book Lists and Guidance https://judymccarver.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Reading-Resources-For-Children-and-Parents.docx

Link to Judy’s book “Parenting With Gumption and Grit” https://www.amazon.com/Parenting-Gumption-Grit-Must-Read-Influence/dp/1595559442/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1C20JIY5H42DI&keywords=judy+mccarver&qid=1562697716&s=gateway&sprefix=judy+mcc%2Caps%2C153&sr=8-1

Faith part 1: Believing God Can even when he does not…

I have only to consider the beauty of nature when I wonder for even a single second if God “can.”

This may be an oldie (post) but a goodie.

Recently, an acquaintance made an innocent statement that said, “Faith is not believing that God can, but that God will.” I think this could be misleading. Okay, I think in some cases it could even be bad theology-depending on what the writer is referring to-our preferred outcomes OR God’s power. I flip this around a little bit. Because I believe faith IS indeed believing that God can– even when He does NOT. Faith is believing in the power of God even when the outcome is not to my liking. If your life doesn’t turn out the way you planned, does that render your God powerless? The short answer to that is “No.” But how often do you unconsciously act this out in your life, “My faith will be strong when_________” “I will believe in the power of God when I see this happen:_____________” Well, let’s see, When I meet the perfect man or woman and get married. When I have a baby. When I get that great job. When I see my children to adulthood. “ OR I will believe in the power of God as long as ____________ (fill in your own blank) Really? Is God’s power contingent upon our preferred outcomes? The bible says that God’s plans will not be thwarted. (Job 42:2, Isaiah 14:27) It doesn’t say the same thing about our plans. In fact, it says just the opposite. (Psalm 33:10; Isaiah 8:10 and Proverbs 19:21) Many Christians are missing great opportunities to serve God and cheating themselves of the abundant life promised us in John 10:10- because they are still waiting on that perfect marriage, that perfect church, perfect children, perfect job and ministry, and well-a perfect life by a standard that perhaps for years has been propagated by false theology, “Faith is not believing that God can but that God will…” (Fill in the blank) make my marriage perfect; Save my children from disastrous outcomes; give me the perfect job with the perfect boss with the perfect salary. 

Another way this might manifest itself: Well, maybe, rather than talk about problems in our marriage with a close and trusted Godly friend (of the same gender,) we keep it to ourselves. After all, if my marriage is in trouble, it must mean I don’t have enough faith, or the faith I have isn’t strong enough to ignite God’s power. It couldn’t be that sharing the daily issues of anxiety and strain and seeking out Godly counsel might put my marriage on a different path. Or, maybe rather than join a small group or enlist a mentor, I would avoid investing in deep intimate relationships, and not expect a small group or mentor experience to help me grow into spiritual maturity. If I need the help of someone else for that, then my faith must not be strong enough. Remember in this scenario, faith is not believing that God can, but that God will…” so that if he doesn’t then it must be me and my lack of belief. I think this theology possibly leads us to thinking that as a “Christian,” we must have it together at all times and always have the answer to our problems. If this were true, then Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, David, Esther, Ruth, Paul the Apostle, Peter, and a host of other Godly biblical men and women were the wrong people for the task at hand. Christianity would most certainly have died in the 1st century. It wasn’t perfect marriages, or perfect ministries, perfect leadership or perfect children that caused the glory of God to shine forth through these men and women. Rather it was their imperfect lives striving to be more and more like Jesus that made all the difference. 

I love love love the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Look at Daniel 3 with me. Okay, are you there yet? (Humming my favorite song.) Giving you time to go to Daniel 3 in your hard copy bibles, or your electronic bible; Okay got it? Now read verses 13-18. What do you see there? Some of the most powerful words in scripture you will ever read about 3 of the most faith filled God followers you will ever know. The Pagan king Nebuchadnezzar threatened to throw the three teenage boys into a hot fiery furnace if they did not bow down to him. This was there reply. And no matter how often I read it, it always gives me goose bumps. “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is ABLE to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But EVEN IF HE DOES NOT, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

They knew and believed that God was way more powerful than that fiery furnace. They trusted 100% in the power of God to rescue them from that furnace, but they also knew that God’s plans would not be thwarted even if their desired outcome was different. “But even if he does not choose to rescue us from death or give us what we want or what we think we need, we will still believe in Him.” (paraphrase) 

Okay, we know the end to that story. God did indeed save them from the fiery pit that day. But similar accounts did not always end this way. During Nero’s reign as Roman emperor from 54-68 AD, he arrested and tortured Christians in Rome, before executing them with lavish publicity. Some were crucified, some were thrown to wild animals and others were burned alive as living torches. This included men, women, and children. Indeed Paul the Apostle was martyred in Rome around 64AD and this would have been under Nero’s reign of terror. We also know from scripture and history that all the disciples of Jesus (not including Judas Iscariot) met with violent martyred deaths, with the exception of John who ostensibly died of natural causes on the Island of Patmos. One might ask, “Was their faith not strong enough for God to show God’s power?” 

God is always faithful. God is always good. God will always prevail. How do we know this? The lesson was played out on the cross. The empty tomb reminds us that the One to whom we raise our hands and voices is King over all. The Creator of this Universe is more powerful than anything we could hope or imagine 1st and foremost. This power PRECLUDES our existence! Grappling with this truth will render us hopeless and “fruitless,” as we expend our energy waiting and hoping for someone or something to fill in all the missing blanks of our lives so that our faith can “prove itself.” On the other hand, grasping this truth will free us from a stronghold of futility and hopelessness and position us to grow in the knowledge and joy of Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-8) Are you grappling or grasping this truth?

Community

What everyone needs!

Community happens in different places and spaces. It happens in a small group at church whether that’s your community group, your worship team, your children’s serve team or another group where you have shared experiences. It happens in your expat group when you live overseas. It happens with your neighbors here or abroad. It happens with the moms of your friends. Because after all, who knows better than they do how challenging parenting can be? It happens in all kinds of groups. The thing about community, whether it is with a group of Jesus followers at your church, or your neighbors next door, or your team at your office, clearly, just the group itself does not“community” make. Community happens when we invest in that group on a deeper level than that which is rendered by humdrum greetings and superficial engagements. Spiritual growth quite naturally is born out of real community. When you have authentic community resulting from personal investment which includes personal disclosure and quality time spent together, spiritual growth is inherent. It is inevitable. You can’t really stop it from happening. In fact, I would go so far as to say, that in the same way a lack of engagement in the Word, or an on and off prayer life, can stymie spiritual growth, so can a lack of true community. 

So how does community grow us spiritually? How does it make us better friends, spouses, parents, employees, or ministry leaders? How does community compel us to be more loving agents of the Gospel? Well, when you engage with people in your home, or over a meal, or at their child’s T-ball game, or in most any place that is away from the church pews, it transforms you from a spectator to a player-from a consumer to a producer. Community is one way we express our faith in action.  It means doing life with people outside of your immediate family. We are a military family, now retired. In that business, we moved a handful of times. That did not stop us from forming the kind of community in our lives that propped us up emotionally and spiritually. Indeed, that career demanded it. In those years of frequent transition and change, we formed communities literally home and abroad that helped sustain our marriage and our family life. Those communities were composed of diverse and fascinating people. Undoubtedly some of them were very similar to us in every way, but many of them were very different-different in ethnicity, politics, and religion. In fact, the four years we lived in Germany, we were never able to come home for Thanksgiving, so we exploited that opportunity to share our holiday celebrations with our neighbors who included German, Dutch, French, Canadian, and American. As we gazed around that table of God given bounty, and not just food, but the bounty of fellowship, with our own children serving our invited guests, I was reminded of the parable of the wedding banquet in Luke 14. The prep for that banquet began with an expectation of guests who looked a lot like Jesus but ended up being just the opposite.  As we shared food and fellowship around our own banquet table in our small village in Germany, it was overwhelming to think about how God blessed us with such camaraderie and hope as we had found in the most unlikely of friends. Language barriers be damned. And that is just the thing about true community. It strives to erase those barriers.  And not just language barriers, but cultural and social barriers. Community is often a real-life picture of Ephesians 2 which says “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”     

Community also helped us survive those tough years of being newly married. I often tell people that Paul and I “grew up together” as young single adults and forward, in church small groups. Community gave us hope and encouragement when raising babies from infancy to young adult. Recently we went to a wedding for a daughter of one of those “old” friends. As well as a wedding, it was also a small reunion of our old life group, the one that started us on our way with babies, the one that propped us up emotionally and gave us the confidence necessary to handle that ginormous task of parenting. And at every season of parenting, I have relied on my community of sweet and loving mom friends who have the courage to hold me accountable while at the same time loving me unconditionally. 

Truly, the world inflicts much deeper wounds than what our skill set alone is able to reconcile. We were simply never hardwired to power through life on an island, single handedly fighting our way through the trials and hardships that life abundantly supplies. Likewise, we were not hardwired to revel in our joys alone. What parent ever said, “I hope no one asks me about my daughter’s latest accomplishments?” Said no parent ever! What person ever said” “I am keeping the news about my big promotion all to myself?” Not one person ever! Community invites us into a place of utter refuge, a place of hope, a place of unspeakable joy, a place where DNA isn’t required and where-thank you Jesus-the every-day, unrelenting evil of this world cannot breech the threshold of those who surround us with such deep and abiding love and acceptance. In Zephaniah 3:9 the Lord said, “Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the Lordand serve him shoulder to shoulder.”Is that not one of the most beautiful pictures of community you have ever seen in the written Word? Just imagine a group of people who do life together shoulder to shoulderso much so that when the going gets tough, the tough can still get going.  

Paul the apostle understood the value and necessity of community as well as anyone. His tearful separation from the Ephesian elders at the close of Acts 20 is underscored by Luke’s words in Verse 1 of the following chapter, “After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea.”  This preempted their arrival and layover in Tyre where the bible says, “We sought out the disciples there and stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.  When it was time to leave, we left and continued on our way. All of them, including wives and children, accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray. After saying goodbye to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home.” Wow. That’s some serious community.

If you are someone who is “community-less,” ask yourself a couple of introspective questions:  1) Am I a person who walks in and out of the spaces and places of my life, including my church, without interacting with anyone or without investing any of myself, my gifts, or my time in that place?  OR  2) Am I so hungry for community that I am over-involved in so many “small groups” that I have not the time or energy necessary to invest in one or two of those groups on a personal, deep level?” Both of these situations can render you community-less.  Because remember what we said earlier: “Community happens when we invest in that group on a deeper level than what is rendered by humdrum greetings and superficial engagements;” and it requires“personal disclosure and quality time spent together.” Neither of these two aforementioned situations (under involvement or over involvement) allow for this.  

In his poem penned in the 16thcentury John Donne said, “No man is an island, entire of itself.”  I think Donne was so so right. You might say, I cannot afford either the time or the emotional investment of community.” I say, “you cannot afford the loss that is sure to happen without it.” I don’t think human life can sustain itself without community.

And as a final important thought, if you are a parent, the last thing you want to do is to send your kids out into this chaotic, cruel world community-less. Kids who have never had community modeled for them, or who have never lived their lives this way, often become church casualties. If they have spent their whole lives leading up to college surrounded only by their immediate family, even if that included “regular” church attendance, will they know how to form the kinds of relationships away from home that love them so much they are willing to hold them accountable, and to laugh with them when they laugh, and cry with them when they cry? Relationships that steer them toward God, not away? I fear not. We must have a sense of urgency when it comes to equipping our kids to embrace true community. 

Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, it does not matter.  I’m more introvert than extrovert. I tend to recharge alone-not together. I often seek out solitude when my life is in overdrive. But undoubtedly, I enthusiastically seek out God given, and God ordained community when I need hope, help and truth; conviction, love and joy! 

My Constant Reminders of the Oklahoma City Bombing

Oklahoma City Memorial

Today I found myself sitting in an airport with time on my hands. This  time it’s Little Rock, AR. When I have time on my hands, I tend to find things to do. Rest is way overrated when you are a Type A such as I am. Good or bad, I have long since quit apologizing for that, and instead just rest in the way that I believe God has wired me. And so it is, that on this one day before the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing of April 19, 1995 I remain irrepressibly thankful.  Irrepressibly hopeful, and irrepressibly overwhelmed by the goodness that relentlessly remains in our world in spite of all that we see and know is NOT good. Tomorrow is indeed the 23rd anniversary of this tragedy. The 23rd anniversary of the loss of 5 of my best friends and multiple of my close friends and colleagues whose offices were adjacent to mine, whose lives intersected with mine with indescribable magnitude.
I don’t ever forget.
But the way that I remember, now that is always different.
For you perhaps, you would see no connection between these two things.  The seemingly mundane things of daily life that bring to my mind those I loved and lost tragically in 1995. But for me, it is as plain as the words on a page. And the reminders are both joyful and sad.  This makes sense since recollections of my friends are both joyful and sad.  Joyful at the remembrance of us being so close and doing our jobs and our lives together. Family not tied do DNA. Sad at the remembrance of the huge hole left in my heart at their sudden departure.
As I sat in the airport I thought of the last couple days spent with my aged mother-in-law, who is struggling with her health. I am infinitely thankful for my husband’s siblings, who in spite of their differences, stand together as a family on what is important.  As I began rifling through my email and texts, I exchanged the following communications. Both my niece and my sister are celebrating the new life of a first child and grandchild respectively, two sweet and beautifully innocent, baby boys. Oh the joy! My niece, an educator in a very low income, suburbia area of Houston, asked if my husband, a commercial airline pilot, would be interested in speaking into the lives of her sweet (and very marginalized) students on their career day. My daughter texted me with the glum news that a health issue she has been struggling with has reappeared much to our chagrin. I had a potential publisher call me with lots of optimism about the two of us being able to work together on a long time passionate project of mine. Meanwhile, my mind also remained occupied with the recent news of raging destructive wild fires in NW Oklahoma and my friends there who are yet in harm’s way. Still in the national news, the sudden death of a young woman, a mom, while traveling by air in a plane that has perhaps successfully completed that route hundreds of times before.  My daughter texts me with great news about her decision to double major, and how that is going to best contribute to her desire to perhaps one day work closely with trafficking victims.  My women’s pastor at my church, and close friend, sends an email asking for us to brainstorm ways to reach women who are in need and who are hurting.  One of my very best friends, lets me know that another surgery is in the cards for her in battling breast cancer. My husband sends me a text about our future choices in retirement. It’s an inside joke. It seems that virtually every single article related to this topic has a signature photo on the front page of a woman who is voluptuous.  As if this were pertinent to the top 10 best places in American to retire. This leaves me laughing so hard I am crying.
And. that. is. just. it. Sometimes we are crying so hard we laugh. Still other times, we are laughing so hard we cry.  But always we remember.
We remember the good and the bad. Our lives are full of hearty doses of both. The question is what will we do about it? For me, I am answering my (teacher) niece and going to make every effort to be present for those sweet little kids on their career day.  I am texting my sister to tell her how blessed I feel to be a part of her celebration with her new grandson. I am sending Deuteronomy 31:6 to my best friend as she prepares for surgery. I am telling my daughter with regard to her health issue: “Don’t worry Katie, we got this. We can do it.”  I am letting my husband’s siblings know that whatever is in our future for their mom, we can do this thing together. I am letting my women’s pastor know that I am on board. I am encouraging my girls, all three of them to be the world changers that I know God has created them to be. I am overwhelmed with their desire to make a difference in the world of the lost and hurting. Finally, I’m praying to my Creator, the One who knows what we are going through, who knows our pain and our joy, and for whatever reason, chose to cover my own multitude of sins with ginormous amounts of love.
And that’s just it. I am overwhelmed. Still by the loss of my five sweet friends 23 years ago, Carrol, Kenny, Carrie Ann, Rona and Shelly. And still by the way that life just keeps marching on, both tragically and joyfully, both demanding a response from me. Judy what are you going to do now?

The Disaster of Comparison

Apples and Oranges

We live in a world that more often than not lends itself toward constant comparisons. We compare everything under the sun. Our marriages, kids, jobs,  churches, clothes, cars, names, yes! You name it. We compare it. Anything and everything can fall victim to the comparison game that is perpetually in motion in our minds.

Comparison trap is more like it.

The first problem with comparison is that it inevitably leads to a perpetual lack of contentment or satisfaction with your lot in life. This kind of satisfaction or contentment referenced here  isn’t about compromising or settling or not having goals. No indeed! All of those things are important. But our expectations (of ourselves and others) shouldn’t be tied to comparisons. They should rather be born out of truth, sincerity, and authenticity. I am talking about expectations and goals that are achievable because they aren’t contingent upon how many likes you get on your instagram post. They are achievable because they aren’t contingent upon replicating someone else’s (perceived) success. Rather they are expectations and goals based on what we want to accomplish in order to make our homes, our communities, and our world a better place, and our life, a better life. For instance, if all of your life you dreamed about becoming a baker, that is wholly different from wanting to become a baker simply because your next door neighbor is a baker and he seems to have it a lot better than you do….better cars,  spouse, kids, a greener yard. You get the picture.

The second problem of comparison is that we inevitably teach it to our children. In this year 2018 our kids are already inundated with a plethora of electronics and social networking options. Most of them spell trouble. They really don’t need disgruntled and malcontented adults aggravating that situation. Is social networking fun, productive, and a terrific tool for communication? Yes, to all of those things. But what we must know as parents, what we must understand is this: Most social networking sites spell trouble for our kids. We must teach our kids to be masters of their social networking habits, not the other way around. Comparisons are part and parcel of social networking. Today our young citizens, our children, are navigating dicey, emotional, distressful and confusing social scenarios that I didn’t even dream about when I was a kid. Because all of our communication was done in person with the occasional exception of a land line telephone call. The comparison trap was alive and well in those days too. But today’s penchant for comparison is ginormous. The onslaught of media choices and social networking sites has offered the comparison game a robust revival, a new catalyst for wreaking havoc in people’s lives and in their relationships.

So what happens as a result of the comparison trap?

This. It’s an irony really. Rather than achieving more, we achieve less.  Because comparison dictates our pursuits. Rarely do we pursue what is best for us, for our kids, for others around us, when we are so focused on “keeping up with the Jones” So, we achieve less and less, while we continue to want more and more.

And this.  Our relationships decline. In dire circumstance, they may collapse. Our work relationships, personal, marital, parenting, and peers. They are all vulnerable. Because as we constantly pine away for what we see as the optimum life or job or marriage partner or daughter or son-well, the one right in front of us is starving for our attention.

I think Paul the Apostle said it best in 2 Corinthians 10:12. “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”

It is time to take stock of what we have. What do we have in the warehouse of our lives that needs to be inventoried? What good things, rare and beautiful treasures, are right under our noses just begging for examination? Take them down from the shelf, dust them off, and remember. How can we shift our focus from what we are missing to what we have? How would this change the way we see ourselves, our spouse, our children, or our jobs? And how will it move us from discontent to joy? I think the answer is critical in propelling us forward on a positive course toward joy and success.