Hearing and Responding to God

The day was swamped with meetings, appointments and preparing for upcoming events. I had a little bit of time carved out to go home after picking up a prescription at the pharmacy before the next place I needed to be.

And that’s when I saw a sweet elderly lady I know. She was getting something out of the trunk of her car in the parking lot of the place I had just been to. I prayed a quick prayer for her knowing she was staying alone for a few days. And then I felt it. That nudge in my spirit.

“Go back and check on her, Melody.”

I started second guessing the prompting. I was all like, “Umm, is that you God? Or is this just me making up something in my head?”

Again I felt the same compelling directive to go and check on her.

I’m embarrassed to say that I actually said this to God, “I don’t have time to do that. You know all that’s on my plate right now.” As soon as it came out of my mouth I immediately felt the inner yuck feeling and said, “Okay, yeah, I know. I will do it right now.” I knew he was telling me to go. I didn’t know why but I knew I was to go.

I quickly parked and felt the urgency to go check on my elderly friend. I walked in to the place of business and waited while she conducted her business. I went over and hugged her neck and we talked.

No question that our God – both hers and mine – coordinated this little get together.

We talked. We prayed and then we made an appointment and went to the Doctor together. Our Father knew what each of us needed.

She needed peace of mind with a physical issue and I needed to be reminded that the Holy Spirit talks to us individually and specifically. I believe he does that most often through his Word but he also does that in our heart through the Holy Spirit.

It’s incredibly tender of the Almighty God and Ruler of the Universe to take care of us. To know our needs. To speak to us. And to strategically put us in the right place at the right time so that we can encourage and be encouraged. So that we can be provided for by others and provide for others. This is our God.

Be assured today that God is alive and active. He knows our needs. He is talking to you and to me. When we respond we will be amazed at what He shows us about himself.

 

3 Bible Study Tips

We’ve just started a new Spring Women’s Bible Study at our church and nothing makes me more excited than to see the courage of women in various stages of faith walking into Bible Study. So with women’s Bible Study on my mind let me share some things that help me in Bible Study. Maybe they will help you as well as you consider joining a Bible Study.

*Show up. That’s right, just come as you are. And don’t worry about the woman sitting next to you. You know what I mean, like how much Bible knowledge she has or doesn’t have. What she’s wearing and if she’ll notice how long it takes you to find a book of the Bible. Just put all that stuff out of your head. It doesn’t matter how much either of you know or don’t know. Just start where you are and trust God to move you deeper in your faith as you study his word. He’ll do it.

*Start with praying the I.O.U’s: Below you’ll see a graphic of the I.O.U’s I use before starting my daily Bible reading. I need God to help Instruct me, Open my eyes and give me Understanding. Praying these verses are powerful because we’re using God’s very own words to call on Him to help us understand his word.

*Don’t give up. Expect some opposition when you begin studying God’s word. Satan doesn’t want you there because he knows the power of God’s word. He knows it’s alive and active and has the power to change us. Don’t let him win this battle. Keep fighting for your faith. Your faith will never grow outside the word and spirit of God so having a group of women studying together is such a gift and helps with accountability.

What is your favorite Bible Study or a recent study you’ve done that you loved? I’d love to know.

We are doing Stronger by Angela Thomas and our other ladies group is going through Priscilla Shirer’s Discerning the Voice of God.

Mental Health and The Church – Part 3 of 3

The local church is one of my loves on this earth because I think it reflects God’s brilliant creativity and love for his people all mixed together in a moving and active place called the church. It’s such a gift to be a part of a healthy church.

This week I did quite a bit of writing about how the church has struggled to understand people within her walls that struggle with mental illness. I’m included in those of us who have misunderstood and have probably inadvertently hurt people along the way.

We talked about ways the church can help in previous posts. I’ve referred you to some good reads and now I want to delicately talk about something I see from a unique angle as being a pastor’s wife when it comes to mental health issues and the church.

I’m reading where often times church members with mental health issues feel betrayed by the church or have left the church because they feel they or their child was treated unfairly. They express feelings of loneliness and disconnectedness. They feel nobody understands how they feel or what they are going through. So they leave because “the church hurt me” or “the church just wasn’t there for me”.

Because of the stigma associated with mental health and the embarrassment that seems to be attached to it people don’t want to talk about their mental health issues. If they do share with one of their pastors almost always they ask you to keep it confidential. This places the gift of encouraging, praying with and visiting someone on one single person and that’s unattainable and not healthy. And there are many other people in the church who, if they also knew, would love to offer encouragement and support.

I have a suspicion that if one person shared his/her story of depression, of suicidal thoughts, of fear and anxiety that others would soon follow that have had similar issues. Another wonderful aspect of one person sharing their struggle with others is that you now have a collective group of people sharing the gift of bearing their burden. Instead of one person in the church praying you now have a group of people praying, encouraging, reaching out, etc. To feel loved on by a group of people is a beautiful thing.

But if the church doesn’t know the church can’t offer support and encouragement in the full capacity that it could if more people knew. And people in the church need to know how to respond and encourage with grace. Sometime we get scared and run the other way. Jesus never did this so if he’s our leader we need to see how he embraced people where they were with great love while speaking truth.

If you are sitting in a church service, ladies event, mens breakfast, small group, etc. and someone shares with you or your group that they are struggling with depression or that they are bipolar and in a funk right now please please please recognize that this is a huge risk they just took in sharing this information.

It’s a gift that they shared this with you. Treasure it carefully and respond with grace. Thank them for sharing that information. By all means don’t distance yourself from him/her. Send a note later in the week. Pray for them. If you notice they drop out of church for an extended period of time call them up. No, you didn’t ask to be invited into their problems but God just divinely allowed you to be welcomed in. He will help you take that next step. This is what church looks like.

Maybe a referral to a counseling agency is a needed next step. Don’t know of one? Ask your church if they have a resource information sheet of counselors and helps in the area. If they don’t then call around. Sometimes people don’t even have the strength and mental capacity to do the research. Do it for them. Give them options. You can’t make the call for them but you can do some leg work on their behalf.

Someone who has shared something deeply personal to their church doesn’t need a sermon preached at them. They need love. They need a listening ear. They need follow up. They need scripture read to them because they can’t even muster the strength to focus on one verse but they can listen to it. I did this with a godly lady struggling with deep depression. She loves God’s word and is an avid student of God’s word. In her deep pit of depression and overwhelming anxiety she wanted scripture read to her. To my knowledge she hasn’t shared about that time of deep depression with people in her church and we never talk about “that time” either. I can understand this I guess. Who wants to go back and remember their darkest days and talk about it. But so often we’re told in scripture to “remember the right hand of God” and “remember the ways of the Lord”. I don’t know about you but the times I see the right hand of God the most are the times I’m at my weakest. So as I remember the how God intervened, comforted and helped I’m also brought back to a dark place of great need and weakness. As hard as it might be maybe we’d do good to talk more about those days. It’s likely we’ll see God right there in the middle of it even if at the time it didn’t feel like it.

The thing I’m struggling with is when people blame the church for hurting them when what actually hurt was the truth being shared with them. A healthy church is constantly sharing truth with each other. Sometimes it’s through the preaching of Gods word on Sunday mornings and other times it’s in small groups in the week. Sometimes it comes in the form of corrective discipline, as Proverbs puts it, which is the way to life (Proverbs 6:23). This could involve someone with mental illness but it doesn’t have to be.

It’s wise to evaluate a church’s part in helping or hurting families with mental illness. We need a correct starting point in looking at these issues. But I also feel the need to say that there are many times that the church is doing it right but the blame is still placed on the church for failing these families.

For instance, Mama bear comes out when little Johnny is temporarily suspended or asked to leave the youth group for not abiding by basic ground rules. If Johnny was raging and beat someone up I’m sorry but there’s natural consequences that still need to take place even if you have a mental illness. Hopefully these times are dealt with grace and love and walking with the family through it. But I don’t think there should be blame placed on the church for enforcing ground rules even when someone with a mental illness can’t or won’t abide by those ground rules. Situations like this can actually go well resulting in restoration and the person re-entering. But it doesn’t always go that way.

I see gaps and misunderstandings on both sides of the mental health issue but mostly I’m encouraged that we are talking about these things. I believe Rick and Kay Warren have had a huge impact on the church in relation to mental health issues. They lost their son to suicide in 2013 and she now shares their story and it has opened up others to share their story.

May we keep striving in our learning and growing in these things.

Mental Health and The Church – Part 1

Mental Health and The Church – Part 2

** Leave a comment if you’d like to enter to win the book Mental Health and The Church. Come back by Thursday, March 8th to see if your name was drawn  and be sure to leave me your mailing address please. **

 

Mental Health and The Church – Part 2 of 3

Stephen Grcevich, MD is a Christian child and adolescent psychiatrist who describes what he calls a huge disconnect in the two worlds he lives in each week: work and church. What’s the disconnect? He puts it this way, “The families I meet through my work are far less likely than other families in our community to be actively involved in a local church. This reality is a tragic departure from Jesus’ plan for his church. The families I see in my practice need to hear the gospel message proclaimed just as much as my family does. They need good teaching, service opportunities, and small group community just as much as my family does.”

For those of us not touched by mental illness you may be thinking, “So what’s the big deal? Nobody is keeping these families out of church. They can attend like anyone else.”

I’m learning that a statement like that reveals a lack of understanding of mental health issues. I will be the first to say that I don’t understand a lot but I’m trying to. Most of my very limited understanding has come from hearing people’s stories and reading books like Stephen Grcevich’s, Mental Health and The Church.

There is a stigma attached to Mental Illness and thankfully there are people like Dr. Grcevich who are trying to help dismantle that stigma especially within the church because the church is often the first place people with mental health issues turn to.

This book has helped me see where I personally am buying into the stigma attached to mental illness in different ways. For example, the fact that the tagline of Dr. Grcevich’s book says, “A ministry Handbook for Including Children and Adults with ADHD, Anxiety, Mood Disorders, and Other Common Mental Health Conditions.” bothered me to a degree because our son has ADD. I had no idea that was considered a “mental illness”. I don’t like the sound of that. And it’s because when I think of “mental illness” it conjures up this crass visual in my head: a person in a white straight jacket, rocking back and forth and banging their head against a wall. Or the kids that shoot other kids in schools. That’s an incredibly ridiculous and inacurate over-generalization of what all mental illness looks like. That kind of ignorant thinking distances and isolates people. And I don’t want to do that because everyone deserves to know and feel the love of Jesus through his people.

We tend to look at people with physical disabilities with much more compassion and understanding than those with mental illness disabilities. For instance, when a child in a wheelchair with a physical disability is disruptive in a church service by making loud noises it’s considered okay whereas if a child with ADHD has a sudden outburst or is tapping the pew in front of them it’s not okay. Because often times people think that the child with the physical disablity doesn’t have a choice but the kid with ADHD does. He/she can control himself or his parents should discipline him/her more often. I personally think the disconnect here comes because we can’t “see” mental illnesses and therefore are quick to make faulty assumptions.

Mental Health and The Church has opened my eyes to having a greater compassion and understanding of those who come to church with a mental illness or who don’t come to church because of their mental illness. The depth of anxiety some people experience at the thought of having to shake someone’s hand or meet a new person is very real. I had no idea people struggled with this. Some people are completely stressed about getting lost especially if it’s a mega church because they can’t remember directions well. Others are afraid you will hug them or make them speak in a small group environment and this causes intense anxiety. Some kids have serious sensory issues and are truly sensitive to certain sounds, lights, textures, etc. Others simply can pull themselves out of bed to get ready for church because of the weight of depression.

If our reaction to these things is “Seriously? They just need to get over it” then we could be a contributing factor to the reason people with mental illness leaving the church or stay but feel isolated and misunderstood.

When mental illness doesn’t touch us personally it can be very hard to understand. And that’s why education and awareness is important in helping us to understand.

I will never forget being in a church with a family whose young child had a serious aversion to balloons and the song “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” So much so the child would have a full blown melt down with his hands desperately clutching his ears to stop hearing the song. In my lack of grace and understanding I always felt it was a “picky child issue” and perhaps a parenting issue and that it could be controlled. The child was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and looking back it all makes sense. At the time I’m afraid I was quite judgmental and insensitive in my thoughts. I regret that so much. This child still struggles to find his place in the church and I’m afraid it’s partly because of people like me.

So how do we as a church help people with mental illness?

I believe it starts with an attitude of the heart and recognizing that mental illness is a very real thing. Mental illness is not a choice and it’s not always a result of sin (outside the fact that our entire world is touched by sin and everything is tainted because of original sin). The church historically has addressed mental illness by saying it’s all a result of sin. And the way you cure mental illness is by either getting saved or having more faith and praying harder. Case closed.

The inability to snap out of mental health illness is not because of a lack of faith. When we tell people to pray harder and read more Bible verses to rid themselves of depression and other mental illness related issues we are actually hurting people. Of course we want to encourage people to stay in God’s word, to pray and to seek God’s help. God can heal mental illness and we should encourage all people with these truths. But God doesn’t always heal. Look at Paul’s thorn in the flesh. He asked three times that it be removed and God didn’t do it. Why?

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” II Cor. 12:9-10

There are often cases of mental illness where medication is necessary. A psychiatrist’s intervention is needed. And we need to let people know that this is okay. It’s not a spiritual cop out to get mental health help.

If you are not touched by mental illness be thankful by the grace of God you are not. But don’t just wash your hands of it since it doesn’t impact you. As a believer in Christ it actually does impact you. Here’s why: statistics show that 8-12 percent of teens experience anxiety disorders and 18.1 percent of adults experienced an anxiety disorder during 2015. Did you know that suicide is the second leading cause of death in the US among people ages fifteen to thirty-four?

This means that if you’re in a church of 300 people there could be up to 54 people scattered among your congregation that are silently or openly struggling with a mental illness. So this impacts all Christ followers because we are to bear one another’s burdens.

I’m learning how much of mental illness is a snowball effect. It effects family members and they are a separate group of people needing ministering to as well.

How can we practically minister to the person struggling to walk through our church doors that is plagued by mental illness?

In the book Mental Health and The Church there are some great suggestions to consider incorporating in your church. Some are simple ideas like offering a walk through to a family who has a child with separation anxiety. To see exactly where their classroom is in advance can be helpful. Many other practical ideas are offered to help ease problematic areas for children/teens dealing with mental illness.

Other suggestions are to openly discuss mental health concerns from the pulpit and for church members to share their own mental health stories. Post articles on your church’s social media outlet that talk about mental health help issues. When one person shares it often frees others up to share. Building partnerships with the professional mental health community and having a list of available resources for counseling, doctors, etc. was encouraged.

In this post I’ve talked about areas where the church can grow in understanding mental health issues. But there’s another side to things and that’s where it relates to the individual dealing with mental illness or the family of the one dealing with mental illness. What is their responsibility in all this when it relates to finding their place in the church and not leaving the church mad or hurt because they weren’t treated with sensitivity. I want to talk about that in our next post as well as list some helpful resources for families that are touched by mental illness.

Don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered in the drawing for the book “Mental Health and The Church” next Thursday. Come back to see if you won and be sure to contact me with your mailing address.

 Mental Health and The Church – Part 1

 

 

 

 

Mental Health and The Church – Part 1 of 3

The church across North America has struggled to minister effectively with children, teens, and adults with common mental health conditions and their families. One reason for the lack of ministry is the absence of a widely accepted model for mental health outreach and inclusion.

In Mental Health and the Church: A Ministry Handbook for Including Children and Adults with ADHD, Anxiety, Mood Disorders, and Other Common Mental Health Conditions, Dr. Stephen Grcevich presents a simple and flexible model for mental health inclusion ministry for implementation by churches of all sizes, denominations, and organizational styles. The model is based upon recognition of seven barriers to church attendance and assimilation resulting from mental illness: stigma, anxiety, self-control, differences in social communication and sensory processing, social isolation and past experiences of church. Seven broad inclusion strategies are presented for helping persons of all ages with common mental health conditions and their families to fully participate in all of the ministries offered by the local church. The book is also designed to be a useful resource for parents, grandparents and spouses interested in promoting the spiritual growth of loved ones with mental illness.

About Dr. Stephen Grcevich

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Dr. Stephen Grcevich (MD, Northeast Ohio Medical University) serves as the founder and President of Key Ministry. He  is a child and adolescent psychiatrist who combines over 25 years of knowledge gained through clinical practice and teaching with extensive research experience evaluating medications prescribed to children and teens for ADHD, anxiety, and depression. Dr. Grcevich has been a presenter at over 35 national and international medical conferences and is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). He regularly blogs at Church4EveryChild and frequently speaks at national and international ministry conferences on mental health and spiritual development.

In this series, Mental Health and The Church I will be giving away a copy of Dr. Grcevich’s book. Just leave a comment on this post (or part 2) and a name will be drawn on March 8th. Be sure to check back and message me your address if you’re the winner of the book so I can mail it out to you.

**Branda Wargo was the winner that will receive a free copy of Tears to Joy by Natalie Flake Ford.

 

Mental Illness and Christians

The term “Mental health” is a buzz word right now that’s getting thrown around and used in direct relation to school shootings and other horrific violent crimes. A blog post of one’s opinion can’t say what needs to be said regarding mental health but I have thoughts on mental health that I want to share. Just like my eyes are being opened to racism in new ways my eyes are also being opened to mental health issues in new ways. I desire to learn even more.

Hang with me as I share a story that I’ll never forget as long as I live.

One particular morning after praying I loaded up our toddler son and headed to the grocery store. As I pulled into a parking spot a friend flagged me down from in the parking lot and motioned for me to roll down the window. She had a desperate look in her eyes and said, “I need you to pray.” I told her to hop in and she said, “I can’t go into details but it’s Michael (her husband), I need you to pray for him. He deals with depression and it’s real bad this time.”

I grabbed her hand and we prayed for Michael together. She cried. And I was confused because Michael was a prominent figure in our community in terms of evangelism and outreach. He was a missionary with the NAMB and did resort ministry in Helen, GA. But nonetheless we prayed for his soul to be lifted and for God to bring a fresh hope inside of him.

My friend Natalie and her husband Michael attended a different church but lived in the same town as we did. After this incident I still didn’t know the extent of what was going on. Natalie shares in her book Tears to Joy that Michael was bipolar and for years together they hid his illness from others. When he was manic she would go to his personal office and do his work for him because he couldn’t function.

They hid Michael’s mental illness because somewhere along the line in reaching out for help initially they were told to pray harder and that it was a spiritual problem. So they kept hiding, praying and trying harder. Patterns of coming off medicine because he’d start feeling great and thought that God had healed him and then falling into a deep depression and becoming suicidal became normal cycles for them. Natalie didn’t always know when he stopped taking his medicine.

Finally in wisdom Natalie told Michael they had to tell one other person of his struggles. He resisted initially but she insisted. This proved to be a tremendous help and support. Michael had a phenomenal Doctor who they worked with but still Natalie eventually had to have Michael admitted to a mental health facility for additional help. She describes that as one of the hardest days of her life. In her book she writes about that day and I still have a mental image of her sitting in the parking lot alone weeping and crying out to God as she just helped admit her husband who was angry at her for doing so. But Natalie’s story is one of hope in the midst of such great pain. She shares that God was with both of them and He never left their side although those were some of the darkest days of their life.

Michael eventually got out of the hospital and was doing great. So great that he assumed once again he’d been healed and came off his medicine and fell into one of the deepest depression pits he’d ever experienced. And on a cold January day in 2006 he took his life in the mountains and entered his eternal home leaving Natalie and their 5 year old daughter. I’ll never forget Michael’s funeral. He was an amazing man who had an incredible impact on people even through all his struggles. It was one of the hardest yet sweetest celebrations of life I’ve attended.

A year after Michael’s death Natalie and I met at a donut shop and she told me, “I think God is calling me to write a book and get my Ph.D.” She was a single Mom with a first grader and I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, that’s quite ambitious.” But we prayed about this together and didn’t stop praying for years. She’d come to my house and we’d talk and pray and wonder what the future would look like. She enrolled in classes and started writing although it was extremely difficult to relive and recall those dark days. But she knew God was putting it inside of her to share with others.

It’s been 12 years and Natalie has written her book and earned a Ph.D. in Professional Counseling from Liberty University. She is Assistant Professor of Behavioral Sciences and Degree Coordinator for the Masters in Counseling at the Leonhard Schiemer School of Psychology and Biblical Counseling at Truett McConnell University. She facilitates a Survivors of Suicide (SOS) support group and is an advocate for eradicating the stigma associated with mental illness and reducing the prevalence of suicide. She has since remarried a godly man and their family is living out God’s call on their life.

I love how God has shaped Natalie’s heart to help the church understand mental illness and how it’s not always a spiritual problem. Sometimes depression is a result of spiritual darkness but not always. In her speaking she encourages people who are struggling with depression or any kind of mental illness or are living with someone who has a mental illness to just tell one person. She claims this is a huge step in moving forward because the more you hide the harder it is to seek help. And seeking help starts by telling one person.

Natalie’s story has helped me tremendously. Her book opened my eyes and although it’s a hard book to read I think it’s necessary we read books like hers to help us understand how mental illness impacts families.

Natalie is an excellent speaker and if your church or group is looking for someone I can promise you God will use Natalie’s story and teaching to help dispel common myths about mental illness as well as realize there is always hope with God. It’s a message our churches need to hear.

Later this week I’ll be posting about another book that was written specifically to help churches relate to and foster an environment to help those with mental illness that currently find church intimidating. I learned a lot in this book and could personally relate to some of the chapters as ADHD touches our family in a very real way.

Have you or someone you’re close to been impacted by mental illness? If so, what has been helpful in walking this journey? Leave a comment below and I’ll be drawing next week to give away a free copy of Natalie’s book Tears to Joy. 

 

 

Should I make my teenager go to church?

 Should I make my teenager go to church? 

This is a question I’ve been asked before and while I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer it I’ll try my best knowing I could be wrong and could change my views on this as I grow in wisdom and in parenting.

Let me paint the scenario based on conversations I’ve had with people.

You’re trying your best to raise your children in a way that points them to Jesus. Your kids may or may not have realized their need for Jesus and called on him to save them through a relationship with Christ.

Hang with me…..

For years you have attended church with said children in tow. Or perhaps you haven’t been going to church for various reasons but now you’re ready to attend.

But there’s just one problem…..

The kids.

They’re teenagers now and they give you major attitude about going to church. They won’t get out of bed on Sunday mornings. They argue and plead to stay home. It’s an all out struggle and you wonder if it’s worth battling.

So do you force them to go to church or do you pray like crazy they will just one day desire to go?

If I force them to go to church won’t they end up hating church and God? I certainly don’t want to be responsible for that.

These are common questions and very real scenarios.

Let me start by saying a word about the big picture of the situation – only God can put inside of us a desire to respond to him. We can’t force that heart response on anyone. It will always be a work of the Holy Spirit that draws our children (and us) to Him. We don’t have the power to turn anyone’s heart towards Jesus. And we can’t “mess up” God’s plan for us or our kids. This can either be totally terrifying or completely comforting. The more we understand who our God is the more comforting his sovereign control over all things, including our children’s spiritual growth, becomes to us. Of course we all have a free will and a sin nature that brings on natural and spiritual consequences that play into the mix of things. There’s a tension there and something we won’t completely understand until we get to heaven.

Knowing that God is ultimately the drawer of every soul to himself is also the fact that he has sovereignly placed us as our kids’ parents to guide and lead them towards Jesus Christ.

How will we steward that God-given role?

We’ve all heard it said before and it’s true – it’s got to start at home. Modeling faith at home is where it starts. Modeling what walking in the Spirit looks like. When we mess up we confess in humility and apologize. We model what it looks like to go to church not because we have to but because we get to. Allowing our kids to see us engage in Bible reading and prayer will help them see what it looks like to have a daily devotional time. Talking about how we see God at work while having dinner and in the carpool line and over ice cream reveals to our children that a desire for God doesn’t just show up on Sunday mornings. It’s a way of life that weaves itself through everything.

This is where it starts but even in starting here doesn’t guarantee our children/teens will desire to be in relationship with Jesus or want to go to church and participate in spiritual disciplines.

So what then? 

Disclaimer: I’m making an assumption you are attending a healthy church with healthy leadership and there’s no apparent reason for your child being resistant to church other than they “just don’t want to go”.  I would try to find out what they’re most resistant to – maybe you can understand where they’re coming from and offer guidance. Is that even possible with hormonal teenagers? I’m not sure. But try. If you need to root out a deeper issue going on that could be related to your church then make the time to check into that. Maybe your child deals with mental health issues or disabilities that make attending church (or other large group social settings) really hard. I’m not talking about that kind of a situation in this post. I’m talking about the grumpy teenager simply not wanting to go to church because they want to sleep in on a regular basis and declare it’s too boring to go to church anymore.

For me personally, I believe that attending church for Christ-following parents, falls under your household “way of life’s”. Every family has their “way of life’s” or their non-negotiables. In our house we don’t____________________ and in our house we will _______________________. They don’t have to be  written out on a cute chalkboard to realize you already have family values and “way of life’s” in place and at work in your family.

Make going to church one of them.

Even if my kid hates going to church and complains the whole way and looks mad the entire time while being there?

I think we let our kids know that part of living under our roof includes the privilege of attending church – even if they don’t see it that way.

Right now our tween and teenage kids like going to church. Do they have a choice in going? No, they don’t and it’s not because they’re “pastor’s kids.” It’s because as their parents we know how life-giving the local church can be and we don’t want to rob them of this.

Helping them form a habit of being involved in church now will hopefully direct their heart in such a way that they continue this privilege when they leave our home. I can only pray and ask God to do these things inside of them.

Our daughter is in that awkward stage of almost being old enough to go into the youth group but not quite. She’s still in the children’s ministry and she is so ready to be in the youth group she can hardly stand it. We’ve had some good conversations about her being a part of the group that she feels she’s ready to leave right now. We’ve had to work through some attitudes as she doesn’t always want to attend her age group activities. It’s not a reflection on the teachers or the program. It’s just where she is in her heart right now and I’ve seen so many other kids go through this at the 5th-6th grade level.

We let her stay in the adult service this past Sunday instead of going to her age group activity just as a one and done kind of thing. And of course she’s now begging to stay from here on out. But we’re not letting her. We acknowledge and validate that it’s hard being the oldest in a group and understand her wanting to move on but because church isn’t all about her or anyone one person but a community of people, we are telling her to respectfully stay where she’s at. She can still learn with a sweet attitude if she is willing while waiting for what’s around the corner and when given opportunities to step up and lead she can do that. And in the meantime I am praying that the Holy Spirit will help her be content where she is and that she’ll learn some neat things while being there.

But for now we will enforce what we feel is the right and best for her not necessarily having everything wrapped up in a cute box with a neatly tied bow. And we can only trust the outcome with our God who knows our desire for our kids to walk with him and love him.

I know that not everyone will agree with this method. I’m not saying it should be this way for everyone. Some would say as long as she’s getting instruction then let her stay in the service. But we are committed to her being a part of the group because we so believe in the God-designed concept of church community that if we let her bail then we’re teaching her that church is a self-serving buffet. You can pick and choose what you like best and attend. And while we don’t make our kids attend every single outing and event offered we do want them to be at the majority of the activities since they’re a part of the group. It’s easy for me to say this right now because they genuinely love their church and want to be there. I attribute this to the grace of God at work in them and to a church committed to serving and teaching well. But if we ever go through a stage where either of the kids don’t want to go to church just because they’re tired of it they will not have a choice in going as long as they live at home.

This is where finding a church that fits your family and your goals for a church is so important. Once you find a church, knowing that no church will be perfect, then decide to plug in and make attending a non-negotiable. You will be surprised at what God does in your life as well as the life of your kids even if they’re not convinced it’s all that great right now.

Lord – help us as Christian families to never give up on your brilliant plan of the local church community. When it gets hard and we want to check out and when our kids beg us to let them stay home will you help us push through the inconvenience of going. Help us to extend grace to ourselves and others when they need an occasional Sunday at home to regroup. Help us not to judge others when they don’t come but to look for ways to encourage other Christian families to join the community of believers so that we can all work towards a common goal of bringing you glory and taking steps closer to you and each other. We can’t do this without your help. And for any grumpy teenagers stubbornly refusing to attend church we ask you’d soften their hearts and until you do that give their parents wisdom in knowing how to handle their own personal situation. We ask you would give guidance in how to expose that teen to your word and your body of believers. In Jesus Name, Amen.

“Free of Me”

I read some great books in 2017 and wanted to share about one of them today.

Free of Me by Sharon Hodde Miller is a brilliantly deep yet practical book to read. I’ll be honest, it’s not an easy read because she hits on some hard areas that can sneak up on us if we’re not careful. But exposure to what is keeping us from a closer relationship to Jesus is a good thing.

Sharon talks about how we can make God about us. In ways we don’t even realize. From books and Bible Studies about self esteem to long looks and focus on our identity it’s easy to slip into a fast track of self absorption even when reading our Bible and seeking God. But don’t think this is a book that beats you up. Not so. Grace is laced all through this book as Sharon speaks hard yet beautiful truth which is a true gift.

I want you to hear a bit of Sharon’s voice through one of her chapters: When you Make God about You. 

“What is really interesting about the Christian self-help approach is that it’s markedly different from God’s. Moses felt inhibited by his weaknesses. He didn’t feel capable of speaking to Pharaoh or of leading the Israelites out of Egypt, because he only saw his disqualifications. And how did God respond to Moses’s doubt? Not with a self-help pep talk. He didn’t affirm Moses’s leadership or his talents or gifts. He didn’t hug him and cheer for him and speak encouraging words over him. God didn’t do any of those things, but instead he changed the subject. God affirmed his own strength, his own leadership, has own self, because the outcome never hinged upon Moses. This story was not about Moses’s strengths, and Moses was never meant to be the hero. Only God could deliver the Israelites out of Egypt, so he directed Moses’s focus back to him.” 

Later Sharon speaks of bitterness and defines it this way: “Bitterness is the fruit of believing God owes you. We witness this bitterness in the prodigal son’s brother, who begrudged his father’s mercy. If you believe faith is payment for living a moral life, bitterness will creep in whenever life doesn’t work out. That doesn’t me we can’t feel anger about tragedy – the Psalms gives us plenty of freedom for that!  – but bitterness is an anger we welcome to stay. Bitterness is the anger we nurture and cultivate, until it grows into something toxic and consuming. Rather than making a way for healing, bitterness produces even more woundedness….How you respond to God when your plans don’t work out, or how you respond to Scripture when it challenges your lifestyle – these response are a litmus test of the kind of god you follow.”

I hear Sharon is writing her second book now so I’m super excited about reading that when it comes out. I’m praying for her right now as well and if you happen to think about it pray for her too. She has two little boys and with a baby due in the next few weeks and she’s writing a book. If the thought of that hasn’t sent her into labor yet I’m not sure what will. So yeah, we sisters need to be praying for each other – even if we don’t know each other and will never meet….on earth.

So what’s on your bedside table to read this year? 

God’s provision in unlikely places

My week had been messed with in all kinds of crazy ways and as I sat in my red chair praying to God for a stranger I’d just met I found myself praying for her provision. That he would give her exactly what she needed that day and the days to come.

If you were to turn the pages of my prayer journal back you’d read where I was crying out to God to provide our own specific needs. A washing machine that blew up, a mouth guard, a big car repair, leaking toilet and…..well, you live on this earth so you know all about unexpected expenses and how when it rains it pours sometimes. We just weren’t sure how the month would play out as far as being able to meet our budget. It wasn’t looking promising at all.

But this particular day my focus was on this woman I couldn’t get out of my head and heart. I made an umbrella prayer for her in my journal and decided I would do a deep clean in my kitchen starting with the cabinets. The ones we call the black hole for a reason.

As I was pulling stuff out and organizing something white caught my eye in the waaaay back. It was a bank envelope. As I opened the envelope and started counting out the cash I realized what it was. We had lost an envelope with $575 cash over a year and a half ago. It was money we had stashed away little by little and it was in a drawer and had fallen back into the cabinet below. To be found on a day when I wasn’t sure how our own needs were going to be met but was praying for God to meet a stranger’s needs.

Overwhelmed with God’s perfectly timed provision I sat there and cried.

Then I called Randy and tried to act all nonchalant and said, “Can you meet me for lunch? I have to tell you something in person.”

We meet up for lunch and I hand him the envelope to open. Immediately he knew what it was. And his deep sigh of relief about blew me into the next booth over….which takes a lot of gusto.

I needed to talk some things out with him though. I told him about praying for the woman I had met and for God to provide her needs. I also told him about a struggle I’d had the week before that in giving to a special cause that we really didn’t have the money to give to and I didn’t want to give to. I argued with God about it. Told him we didn’t have the money and our own kids were going to get  jipped so other kids could have something (which was dramatic and not true anyways). I felt like God spoke to me saying, “And that’s okay, Melody. It’s okay to give when you don’t have it yourself. It’s okay when someone else has something you or your kids don’t have.” He settled my heart and I knew it was the right thing for us to do.

So I told Randy – I don’t want to think I had anything to do with this money being found and with an unexpected check that came to us that same day from a speaking engagement. But I can’t help but see a correlation when we give something that is hard to give or pray on someone else’s behalf for something we need it ourselves how God ends up providing in the most unusual and unexpected ways. He’s always so faithful to do this for us. And yet it surprises me every time. I don’t know what to do with it all. I know it’s all from God’s hand and nothing short of his grace. But is it wrong for me to think there’s a connection between praying for and giving to others when it’s a true sacrifice and seeing God’s provision for us? Not like we’re the ones who brought this provision on but somehow the giving, the praying for someone else touched God’s heart maybe?

Randy listend and said, “I don’t think you’re wrong. I hear what you’re saying and it’s okay to recognize when God responds to us and how he responds. It’s the right thing to give him praise for that.”

So it’s out of a full heart that I post these things. It’s out of heart that is learning how to navigate need yet giving generously and the right response to God’s provision. Not saying we get it right even half the time. We don’t. But we desire to honor God with our money and in our giving.

Lord, thank you for being our Provider. You’re so good to us.

What that woman walking down the street taught me…

My friend and I were on the way to a coffee shop in town to catch up and reconnect. We’d tried several times before and either sickness or schedules prevented us. This particular morning I texted her knowing I didn’t have time for coffee but also trying to practice the discipline of biblical friendship. I texted and she said Yes.

So we’re about 1 mile into our short trip to the coffee shop (hello small town) when we noticed a woman a little younger than us with long blonde hair pulled to the side walking down the street in a bed sheet with very few clothes underneath. She was carrying a white plastic bag and she looked miserable as it was freezing outside. The whole thing just wasn’t right.

We both noticed her immediately and said something like, “She looks like she just left the hospital.”  We drove through several lights both uneasy with what we just saw. At the next light I looked at my friend and said, “We need to go back and see if she needs help, don’t we?” She said, “Yeah, we really do.”

We made a quick turn around and uttered a short prayer out loud of, “Lord, show us if you want to use us to help this woman today. Show us what this looks like.”

We pulled into McDonald’s and saw her walk in while we were parking. As we entered the McDonald’s we didn’t see her and decided she was probably in the bathroom. So we waited for her in the bathroom. Prayer pal stalkers gone wild. I was beginning to feel bad for the hospital escapee because we were about to pounce on her with some Jesus-lovin’ smothering grace. Lord help her.

As the woman came out of the restroom I cut to the chase ever so awkwardly and said, “Hi, we saw you walking and turned around not knowing if you might need a ride.” She seemed grateful and said, “Yes, but can you take me to “said town” about 15 minutes away?” We agreed.

We were all hungry so we all grabbed a bite and sat in a back booth.

As we listened we learned that she was battered by her ex-boyfriend and had a seizure. Stitches from a bite mark and a brace were only the surface problems she had at that moment. Suddenly I was thinking to myself, “Okay, we just committed to take this woman home and we know nothing about her, what’s in her little plastic bag or if “angry ex” is still on the scene.” I prayed silently and continued to assess the situation to decide if we could indeed take her home.

There was no question God was nudging us to take this woman home and so we did.

On our twenty minute ride there we talked about all kinds of things. She randomly brought up prostitution which was really wild because my friend and I are in a Bible study right now about a prostitute. Her name is Gomer and it’s all in the book of Hosea. For real – go read it!  So it was a natural lead in to talk about the things we were learning. How really – we all play the part of unfaithfulness to God. And in his love he is still there for us with the purest love waiting to buy us back.

As we pulled into her poverty stricken neighborhood she said, “Just look around at this mess. How will I ever get out of this?”

We told her she couldn’t do it on her own but with God’s help and practical steps forward she could do it. We told her about resources we knew about in her community that could help her and encouraged her to make one particular phone call.

My friend grabbed the woman’s hand and said, “Baby, I’m gonna pray over you before you leave.” And she prayed the sweetest prayer I’ve ever heard over a sister deep in pain. I’ll never forget it. We gave her one of our phone numbers and she left. This was two weeks ago. We’ve prayed for her ever since.

As I look back on this day a few things have settled in my heart:

  1. When I choose to do things I don’t have time to do (or don’t want to do in some cases) but do them anyway out of obedience God tends to show up in some pretty wild ways.
  2. When I think I’m in the front seat “helping” someone in the back seat the book of Hosea reminds me that we’re all in the same seat before God. We’re all spiritually unfaithful and messed up. Nobody is better or more loved than another.
  3. Although we’re all in the same seat before God sometimes he calls us to drive and take initiative. When we sense that moving from him it’s best we lean in and go with it even if it’s a little scary and uncertain. I think this might be what faith looks like.

Friends, look for God this week. You’ll most definitely find him in his word but sometimes you’ll find him in the lending of a hand to a girl walking down the street in a bed sheet.