Monthly Archives: July 2021

Encourage, Accept, Embrace


When the Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA championship last week, ESPN reporter Malika Andrews interviewed the team during the trophy presentation.  She noted that the Bucks had been knocking on the championship door for several seasons but that when player Jrue Holiday joined the team this year, they finally broke down the door.  She asked Jrue, “What made you such an immediate fit with this team?”  Jrue said, “They embraced me.”  He added, “They believed in me.”  While Jrue may have been the missing link that helped the Bucks win the finals upon his arrival, he credited his teammates for welcoming him and making him comfortable as the secret to their success.  

Joining a new team, starting a school year, or entering into any new situation can be stressful.  Setting foot into a church for the first time can be one of the most angst inducing choices anyone can make.  Some may carry a lot of emotional baggage associated with religion and churches.  They may have heard that they were unloved and unwanted from the pulpit.  They may have felt excluded, either explicitly or subtly, by other members of the faith community.  For others who were not introduced to church by family or friends, the decision to approach a church may fill them with uncertainty, which can produce a great amount of fear.  

Even for those raised in a healthy church setting, finding a new church environment can be daunting.  Churches are like any other social communities – people naturally form friendships and smaller groups within the larger group of members.  And while one of the greatest benefits of church can be the close relationships that develop, churches can also have cliques, which make it hard for new people to feel comfortable.  

Sometimes, those of us who are members of churches fall into the trap of thinking it’s the job of the new people to fit in, that if they want to belong, they will make an effort.  But we “on the inside” need to welcome those who bravely stand on the threshold.  We need to make an effort to get to know them and introduce them to others.  While some of us who belong to churches may not feel completely comfortable talking to new people because of our own insecurities or the inherent fear of rejection, we must remember that the newcomers probably feel much more intimidated and wary.  

In Galatians, the Apostle Paul said, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”  Galatians 6:10 (ESV).  We have the opportunity to do good when we welcome people into the household of faith.  At best, our faith communities can become families who support one another in good times and bad.  Even though not every person who enters the church will stay for a long time or be as invested as others, we can show them grace when we encounter them, no matter how briefly.   

In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul stated, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had,  so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”  Romans 15:5-7 (NIV).  We glorify God when we accept God’s people.  We have the honor and privilege to demonstrate God’s love to people as they seek to become closer to God.  Let us embrace them as they pursue a relationship with God knowing that we will strengthen our own relationships with God in the process.       

Keep Showing Up

Keep Showing Up

On Saturday night, my family participated in a trivia night at the pool where we spend a lot of our time in the summer.  A total of ten teams with six to ten players each accepted the trivia challenge.  Most of the teams consisted of younger and older adults so they could access a wide range of knowledge.  The members of our team named “The Carter Kids” were the following ages: 9, almost 12, 15, 17, and two 40-something adults (my husband and I).  The odds were not in our favor.  During the first round, we hung in there, though we didn’t do that well.  By the end of the second half, the spread between the team in last place and the one in first was only about 20 points, and we were ranked sixth – 13 points off the lead.  

The last question was multi-part, and each team decided their wager between 0-20 points.  But this time, if the team missed the question, the points were deducted from their final score.  Sticking with our most common strategy up to that point, we guessed.  We decided to go big or go home and bet 20 points.  We were shocked when the announcer said, “coming from sixth place to win, The Carter Kids!”  We whooped and cheered.  Our friends who work at the pool rushed in to give us fist bumps and high fives.  I think the other teams were surprised and perhaps a bit miffed that our little group had pulled off a victory.  

The experience made me think of Jesus’ disciples.  From their outward appearance, they were not going to win any awards or be that effective.  For the most part, their group consisted of inexperienced, uneducated laborers pulled off of fishing boats and those guys’ brothers or buddies.  Jesus could’ve convinced more elite people in the community who had standing and education to join his band. Instead, he selected imperfect guys who would mess up on a regular basis.  Peter is one of my favorite Biblical characters for his bluster and blunders.  Thomas will always be special to me because he expressed the doubts most of us would’ve had (or maybe that we have today). They were a ragtag bunch by anyone’s standards, but Jesus, God incarnate, chose to be friends with them, traveling, eating, teaching, laughing, and eventually launching them out to continue his work when he was gone.  

Even though they were not the team most would’ve picked, they kept showing up even when they were wrong or didn’t understand what Jesus was really doing.  They added value because they were present and open to learning.  They hung in there even when all seemed lost.  They loved Jesus and invested in their relationships with him by spending time with him.  While they wandered, denied, or questioned at times, they always came back around to join Jesus in his efforts.   

When faced with challenges, we often tell ourselves that we are not capable or competent.  We derail our own hopes and dreams because we retreat or run.  If we are asked to do something in our faith communities, we may think we are unworthy – that there’s no way God could use us for God’s purposes.  But sometimes, just showing up will turn the tide in a situation: being available to help, open to the idea that someone else sees something in us that we cannot see, and willing to try even though success by human standards is not guaranteed.  We can find solace in the disciples’ characteristics and actions.  They weren’t perfect, but they consistently and continually asked Jesus what he wanted them to do (even when their tone verged on impertinent).  

We can be like the disciples and ask God what we can do, with all of our foibles and failures.  Ultimately, God wants and needs us in order to reach others.  We may never feel that our efforts result in a big win, but God sees all that we are doing for the kingdom on earth.  I believe wholeheartedly that God appreciates our willingness to keep showing up over and over again.            

Cultivating Connection in Community


“Help, help,” the little girl called out.  From my vantage point by the pool and her sing-song tone, I could tell that she wasn’t in distress but was playing in the water with friends instead.  I taught my children from an early age that they shouldn’t yell “help” at the pool unless they genuinely needed the lifeguards’ assistance.  I didn’t want them to cause unnecessary alarm and hoped people would take them seriously when they actually called for help.    

Asking for help only at dire times makes sense when we’re talking about water safety.  Unfortunately, in our culture, we’re conditioned to believe that asking for help in most circumstances demonstrates weakness.  We’re taught to be rugged individuals and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.  We think we shouldn’t ask for help unless we are desperate, and even then, we should hesitate before reaching out to others.  We’re told to take care of ourselves and depend on no one if we can avoid it. 

Instead of making us stronger, however, our collective focus on individualism can create seclusion and loneliness.  Our go it alone attitude has the potential to do us in.  I’ve come to believe that community is more important than ever, especially after last year’s pandemic cut us off from each other.  Honestly, I never realized how much I need to connect with people until we started emerging from the shutdown.  I missed hearing people’s stories, giving hugs, asking about their families, learning about their circumstances, and spending time with them.  Whether it is one on one or in a group setting, the sense of belonging and the deeper bonds that I feel after being with others is essential to my wellbeing.  I wasn’t fully aware of the heaviness I carried until it started to lift in the presence of others.   

As we went back to church in person, I began to understand just how vital the community of faith is to me.  I was relieved to again be with these people that I loved and found joy in welcoming new people into our faith family.  The writer of the book of Hebrews said it well, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another . . .”  Hebrews 10:23-25.  God intends for the people of God to hold one another up and to be together when we are able.

While not everyone is ready to venture back into their communities of choice, I urge all of us to reach out and connect to others in some way.  We are not meant to do life alone.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy some alone time, but long-term isolation is not the same as taking a little time to relax, rest, and recharge.  We grow in empathy and understanding when we are with others.  We expand our vision and deepen our faith when we come alongside others and walk with them through the minutiae of the everyday routines and stay with them during the harder times when they need help.  

We give and receive God’s love when we are together.  If we invest in one another, we will feel more comfortable asking for help before desperation sets in, and we can rest assured that our people will rally around us in difficult times.  Let us make the time to find and develop relationships with people for the good times and the bad knowing God is with us through it all.     

Dreams Might Come True


I love the first day of a new month.  To me, it feels like a fresh start with new possibilities, like a mini-New Year’s Day or the start of a school year.  I particularly enjoy changing the calendars around the house.  I can’t wait to see what image or phrase accompanies the turn of the calendar.  This July, I flipped the page to find the words “Let your dreams come true” in red, white, and blue script.  At first, I didn’t think much of it, but then I realized that this was not normally the way I’m used to hearing this encouragement about dreams.  Usually, the saying is “make your dreams come true.”  The difference in the wording struck a chord with me.

The emphasis on “making” one’s dreams come true focuses on the person’s actions.  “Letting” one’s dreams come true changes the focus to allowing dreams to materialize.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe in working hard to achieve goals.  Discipline, practice, and consistent effort are essential to accomplishing anything.  But sometimes, even when we want to make things happen in our lives, we end up sabotaging ourselves.  The relentless pursuit of our objectives may produce anxiety that can grow out of control.  We may allow fear of failure to consciously or unconsciously undermine our efforts.  We may be haunted by the feeling that we are not good enough or suffer from imposter syndrome.  If our work doesn’t produce the exact results we want, we may feel so disappointed that we can’t see another way forward.  We close ourselves off to expanding our vision of the future.  And the self-doubts are amplified if we think that our dream is a calling from God.    

In Moses’ story in the Old Testament, God beckoned Moses into conversation initially through the sight of the burning bush.  God told Moses, “I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”  Moses had plenty of doubts about his abilities.  Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”  God replied, “I will be with you” in order to reassure Moses.  But Moses had more questions and said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”  God gave Moses a lengthy answer about what Moses should say to the elders of Israel to convince them that Moses was called to lead.  And in response, Moses said, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?”  Once again God gave Moses a long answer and showed him physical signs that he could perform to convince people.  

Moses himself wasn’t convinced, however, and protested further.  “Pardon your servant, Lord.  I have never been eloquent . . . I am slow of speech and tongue.”  God said, “I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”  “But Moses said, ‘Pardon your servant, Lord.  Please send someone else.’”  The extent to which Moses tried to block God’s instructions because of his own insecurities is almost comical.  He might as well have taken the stance of a toddler who crossed his arms, stomped his foot, and said, “I don’t want to!”  Exodus 3-4.        

I relate to Moses’ reactions and find them quite comforting.  He was unsure and full of doubt.  He questioned his competence and qualifications.  If left to his own devices, Moses would have refused to act at all.  Even when God encouraged and supported him, Moses didn’t think he could do it.  Like Moses, our doubts may play on a constant loop in our heads.  Our negative thoughts can close us off to our dreams and God’s dreams for us.   

Moses had to get out of his own way in order to let God’s dreams for Moses and the people of Israel come to fruition.  If we believe in the possibilities instead of our doubts, we can make space to let our dreams come true, especially those dreams that come from God.  God believed in Moses, and God believes in us too.    

The Good, the Bad, and Everything in Between


All four of my kids are at camp for three weeks this year.  Unlike prior years, my seventeen-year-old daughter Riley serves on the staff this year and therefore has access to her cell phone.  She doesn’t text or call often because she is working hard, but one night, she called me in tears.  Someone said something extremely unkind to her; she wasn’t sure how to handle it; and she was exhausted – physically and emotionally.  We discussed what to do in the immediate situation.  She called me back later that same night with an update, and then we hung up so she could get some much-needed rest.  I stayed up for a long time afterward though, worried about her, hoping she would bounce back the next day.  When she called a couple of days later, she said, “sorry about only calling when something bad happens.”  I told her that I wanted to be there for her when she was upset, but that it would be nice to hear about the good things too.  She took that message to heart and called to recount another day’s events in a cheerful conversation that lasted an hour.         

This experience gave us a good trial run for the future when Riley goes to college in the fall of 2022.  I want to act as a sounding board and safe haven for her during tough times.  I also want to know when she’s happy and content.  I can’t recall whether I struck a good balance with my parents during my early adult years.  I called my parents when I was sad or down (on more occasions than I’d like to admit), but I’m not sure I shared as much about the good stuff with them.  

I know that I struggle with this same dilemma in my relationship with God.  I tell God all about my pain, my suffering, my worries, and my anxieties.  I cry and journal and ask, beg, and plead for God’s help.  But I don’t always talk to God about the wonderful aspects of my life.  I don’t thank or praise God enough.  Instead, I rely on the theory that God already knows everything or the concept that “no news is good news.”  But that’s not the best way to deepen and grow a relationship, any relationship, even with God.

King David’s relationship with God spanned the triumphant highs and tragic lows of David’s life.  David was brutally honest with God in anger, sadness, or peril.  He told God when he felt abandoned or scared.  But David also shared his joy and gratitude with God.  In Psalm 13, David covered the gambit of emotions in only six verses.  He began with lament: “How long, Lord?  Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?”  (Psalm 13:1-2).  David expressed his fear that his enemy would overcome him.  Then he said, “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.  I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.”  (Psalm 13:5-6).  David communicated with God openly and continually, which resulted in a close and intimate connection.

God wants to hear about our hard times and act as our refuge in times of trouble.  But I’m convinced that God wants to hear about the positive events in our lives as well.  When we take time to focus on good things, in addition to the bad, in our prayers, our hearts will open to God in gratitude and praise.  We can be like King David, and in the same conversation express a range of emotions to God.  Riley and I will work on this balance to establish a more full and abundant relationship.  I’ve decided to try and strengthen my relationship with God by expressing more of the good along with bad.  God wants us to share the good, the bad, and everything in between.