A gift of a different kind.

Last week I had lunch with a woman who I’ve only recently met.  We are serving together in a ministry capacity and I invited her to lunch so that we could get to know one another a bit better.  I enjoyed our time together very much and when we were about to leave, she said to me something like, “Sharing your real life is a true gift.”

I had been open with her about my doubts and fears in taking on a new ministry role.  Let me tell you, to open up and give others a glimpse of what’s really in my heart feels risky.  Vulnerable.  Scary.

But so many times I’ve seen when getting to know other women that they will only be as open with me as I am with them… and so I am willing to take the risk, and I often do.  I’ve seen firsthand how being authentic is the first step to deeper and more meaningful relationships.

I had never thought of it, though, as a gift that I can give to other people.  And so especially at this time of year, I wanted to share this idea you.

Others don’t need to see my pretty, perfectly packaged “exterior” life and my version of what I think they want me to be.  That doesn’t draw people in.  It doesn’t encourage real relationship.  It doesn’t allow people to breathe a deep sigh of relief and say, “me, too”.

Being real is a gift that allows other people to be who they are, too.

Let’s be women who are gift-givers of a different kind this Christmas!

how to have that hard conversation you’ve been putting off

This topic has come up  so much recently that I thought I’d write down some thoughts I have about it.  Conversations with friends and with MOPS leaders I work with – How do I approach a hard topic with a friend?  How do I tell someone on my team that they aren’t pulling their weight?  How do I talk to someone who is overstepping my boundaries?  I think most people at some point find themselves in a situation where they feel like they need to have a hard conversation with someone – and it just seems to come naturally to some people and not so naturally to others.

By nature, I do not like conflict.  In fact, my natural reaction to most conflict is just to quietly back away.  But I’ve learned most times that’s not the best way to deal!  I am not an expert by any means, but I feel like God has taught me a lot about this over the years.  Eighteen years of marriage, three kids, and many years in women’s ministry leadership has given me lots of in-the-trenches experience that I’ve been able to learn from – and I’m still learning!  When I first thought about this, I was thinking from a leadership perspective – interacting with people you lead or work with.  But as I re-read, I think these really can also be applied to friendships, marriages, and even parenting to a degree.

So here goes… some things to consider when you’re feeling like you’ve got to have a tough conversation with someone.

  1. First of all, does this issue even need to be addressed?  What is my motive in this?  Proverbs 19:11 says “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”  Simply take it to God in prayer and let him work in your heart and lead you.  Oftentimes  things (offenses!) that are slight, momentary, or inadvertent are best overlooked.
  2. Am I the person to address this issue?  Sometimes in leadership you may see an issue/conflict arise with another person, but you may not be in the best position to address it.  There may be someone either with the authority or who is simply closer to the person or the issue who is in a better position to discuss it with them.  We must take care that in trying to figure this out we do not resort to gossiping.  Prayer is really the best way to find out if God is calling YOU to have the conversation.  Pray, pray, and pray some more, asking God to give you a clear calling and pure motives.
  3. Once you feel that God is calling you to this conversation, do it as soon as possible.  Sometimes we think (or hope!) problems will just fade away on their own, but more often than not, they will just get worse if we give them time!  Plan ahead and think about the setting you want for the conversation and then make that happen.  Privacy (initially it’s always best to have these conversations one-on-one ) and a location where you won’t be interrupted or distracted is always best.  Make sure there will be enough time to do the conversation justice.
  4. Again, ahead of time, think about the best way to phrase what you want to say.  Use “I” statements as much as you can.  Don’t generalize (in other words don’t use the words “always”, “never”, etc.).  Speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).  If you cannot figure out how to say what you have to say in love, then God is likely not calling you to this conversation – or at least not yet!
  5. When you do have the conversation, start out with some positives, and be sincere!  Then move on to seeking deeper understanding about the issue at hand.  Using the phrase, “Help me understand where you’re coming from.” is so useful.  Maybe you don’t know the full story!  Listen and look for common ground – because that’s where you start coming up with a solution to the conflict.

So what do you think?

What are your best tips for having a hard conversation?

“Finished” Faith

I have been praying about what feels like a big decision for about a month now.  I’ve asked friends to pray about it as well (thank you!).  I have really been trying to seek out what God’s will is in this decision.  And I read this about a week ago…

(from Marie Chapian in “Discovering Joy”)

I am the beginning;

     I am the end.

You are very concerned with beginnings.

     You hesitate to reach

     the end.

The Alpha / beginning,

     the Omega / end,

     means that I am your all-in-all.

Do you want to stay

     an Alpha person –

     always at the starting line of faith?

     That is a safe place –

     where you say you believe Me,

     where you champion truth,

     but you don’t move.

Move, I say!

     Feel the wind of trials and

     victories in Me.

I am the Finisher, the Omega.

Lift your eyes from the starting line

     and focus on all that lies before you –

on the intelligent golden faith

     awaiting you at the finish.

Learn of me;  digest My Word,

     always in communion with Me.

I am your health, your energy;

     I bring you to a “finish”

     that is not the end of all things;

     not a place where you collapse,

     emptied out, done.

It is the place where you

     allow Me freely

     to live through you.

My finish means new development,

     new discoveries,

     new victories,

     new holy charges.

My dearest and most effective servants

     are those who move

     in “finished” faith.

Sometimes I wonder if God hears my prayers and whether or not He speaks to me.  But my friend Jessica reminded my that when I read things like this it’s not just coincidence.  God does speak. 
And for that I am thankful. 

So I’ve said yes. 

Where is God asking you to move ahead in “finished” faith?

Top Five Reasons Why I Stink as a Friend (and why and how I’m trying to get better)

My whole life, I think I’ve been “relationship-challenged”.  I’ve always blamed it on my mom.  I have very similar tendencies to her (many of the items on the list you see below, she shares with me).  It’s not that I haven’t had friends, it’s just that I’ve only had a very few close friends – people that I’d trust enough to pour my heart out – people that I feel I can rely on in a pinch.   

Most of the time, I’m fine with this.  But every once in a while I wonder if I’m normal, ya know?  Every once in a while, I see another set of “friends” who spend a large amount of time together and wonder why I don’t have a relationship like that.

But it could be because…

5.  I hate to talk on the phone.  I do take a looooong time to return phone calls.  (sorry, friends!)

4.  I like to be alone.  Most times I’d rather do things alone than with others.  I find that this tendency has increased since having children. 

3.  Talking with other people tires me out emotionally.  Seriously.  I can only take so much, then I need to get alone.  Seeing as I have one husband and three kids, they kinda take up most of my available time and energy.  So when I have “extra” time, I often just want to be alone (see #4).

2.  I am not spontaneous.  At all.  In other words, I like to make plans well in advance.

1.  I am a homebody.  Simply put, I like to be at home. 

So there it is – those are my natural tendencies.  But here’s why I’m trying to step out of my comfort zone more…

I heard a quote recently that said, “You can impress people from afar, but you can impact people from up close.”  I have no idea who said that ( I should probably google it!) but it makes a lot of sense.  

And when I think of relationships with other people in the context of how Jesus thought of them, it makes a lot of sense.   I really have no desire to impress people.  But I do have a desire to impact them – to help them grow closer to God – to love them the way God does.

Some verses that are coming to mind about friendship…

Proverbs 17:17 ~ “A friend loves at all times…”

Ecclesiastes 4:10 ~ “If one falls down, his friend can help him up.  But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!”

Proverbs 27:17 ~ “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

Obviously friendship is important in our Christian lives.   I have definitely found it difficult to grow friendships, and even more so in this stage of early parenting.  Some things that are helping me…

  • Remembering that God thinks it’s important.
  • Remembering that to impact someone else – to have a close friendship – requires the walls to come down.  We definitely need to be discerning about who we share with, but when we establish trust, then we should share openly with one another.  One thing I’ve found that really builds closeness is praying together.
  • Remembering that God made me who I am and honoring him by accepting myself the way I am.  Acknowledging that and then working with it, praying and asking God to direct me is helpful. 
  • A friendship takes time.  Even if you’re like me and feel challenged by that – it’s important to spend the time.  Sometimes (given my tendencies above) I feel like I don’t want to do this – but when I force myself – I am always blessed by being with friends.  For me, it has been important to schedule.  If I don’t put it on the calendar, it doesn’t happen.

I really am thankful to God for giving me my friends (you know who you are!).  They bless me in so many ways.  Please know that – and know that if I don’t call you back right away, it’s not you – it’s me!!!  Ha!

on the offensive against defensive

Twice this week I’ve been in contact with women who have made some very different mothering choices than mine.  My initial reaction was to feel like – if her choices are “right”, then she must think mine are “wrong”.

What is it about other women’s mothering choices that makes us defensive? 

Don’t get me wrong, in neither of these cases did the women say my choices were bad.  But in my own mind, it seemed implied.  Like I was “less” of a mom because I made a different choice.  Ever been there?

I’m pretty sure you have at some point.  It could be over any number of topics – how you discipline, working outside the home, what you feed your kids, whether or not you homeschool – whatever. 

So my natural reaction was to defend my choices (in my mind, of course).  To start listing all the reasons why my choice is the right one.  And I think this is what starts the “mommy wars” – you know, the historical “taking sides” on issues like working outside the home.

But after I thought and thought about this, I decided maybe I needed to step back and see what lessons I could learn instead.  Not only what lessons I could learn from these moms in order to become a better mom, but also what lessons I could learn in communicating / responding to moms who have made different choices. 

Each of us want to be the best mom we possibly can.  No one wants to feel judged, and I certainly don’t ever want to make another mom feel “less” because of her choices.

So here are my tips to go on the offensive against automatically being defensive when discussing mothering issues with a mom who may not have made the same choice as you:

  1. First recognize God’s sovereignty.  Isn’t it possible that both mothering choices, in whatever context, can be “right”?  After all, our families are different.  We are different.  And if God can make everyone completely unique, can’t he make our choices completely unique, and yet right for us?  Acknowledge that although you may feel strongly about something, God does not lead us all down the same paths.  What is right for me may not be right for her and vice versa. 
  2. Analyze why I’m defensive.  I need to ask myself whether or not my choice was in fact God’s will for me and my family at that time.  If I made the choice without consulting Him, it’s very possible I could have made the wrong choice – and maybe that’s why I’m feeling defensive.  On the other hand, if I’m certain it was God’s will for me, then the defensiveness is just a knee-jerk reaction and I need to move on.  (Don’t know if it was God’s will for you?  Just ask Him – and be persistent in asking!)  Then I need to ask God if the choice I made is STILL His will for me and my family NOW.  I think God can lead us in different directions at different times in our lives.  What may be right for our families now may not be right next year.  Things change and God will reveal that to us if we remember to acknowledge Him.
  3. Keep an open mind.  Instead of feeling defensive about something and totally dismissing it, consider whether or not I might learn something from this other mom.  Can I improve my own mothering by taking some tips from her?  I strongly believe that God puts women in our lives that we can learn from.  For example, maybe she doesn’t believe in spanking, but you do.  She probably isn’t going to change your mind, but is there a different discipline technique that she uses successfully that you could add to your repertoire?
  4. Be careful about what I say and how I say it.  If we say “my way is the right way” and don’t acknowledge God’s sovereignty in her life, we are removing any chance of learning from one another.  My rule for myself – particularly when I talk about my choice to stay home with my kids – is to offer my story ONLY when asked specifically for it or when the woman I’m talking to has expressed that she is feeling confused in that area and I think my story might help. 

So that’s what I’ve come up with.  I think I can boil it down to this:  remember God is in control, be sure I’m following Him, be gracious, and be open to learning! 

If anyone else has tips, I’d love to hear them!