Stuck? Throw an “Inch Pebble” Party

Doesn’t fb really stand for “family bragging?” Posts like: “Look at the clever Halloween costumes we made” (with help from a professional makeup artist and the costumer from Lion King?) 14639899_10153984291182918_8499421417956026212_n “My quarterback son just cured cancer during halftime of his Homecoming football game,” or “We— I mean–my daughter won the science fair blue ribbon.”

Am I the only one overwhelmed by parenting my kids, let alone comparing myself to other, overachiever families? (Just because I can’t get my act together to post fb pictures doesn’t mean we’re not having jaw-dropping, creative, family fun–it means you don’t have a good enough imagination.)

We all set basic goals for our kids’ growth (i.e .learning how to use a fork and knife). We help them practice skills and hone talents (not including how to armpit fart–boys teach that to each other.) We help them make mid-course corrections in order to become responsible citizens of the world. (“When you earn a D on your report card, no one but you think that means ‘I have a crappy history teacher.’ The rest of the world thinks, ‘He didn’t do the work.'”) And as families, we get stuck sometimes.

For ministry training this week, I’ve been reading an excellent book called Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath. aclkNot a church-y book, a business book. It covers how to build hope and create forward momentum, even how to make big changes through asking people to take incremental, easily do-able steps. Applicable to get your teen to clean a room, to pay off your enormous college debt, or change that most stubborn behavior.

Good points of the book are: 1) motivate rather than impose change by following the bright spots, 2) build on what’s going well, 3) make it easy to change right now by setting a clear path.

Aiming for your child to be successful in milestones (straight As on the report card or making the A team) is too overwhelming. Heath says to break it down even further. He writes,

piled-smooth-gray-pebbles-3836837Aim for family “inch pebbles.”

Especially for our kids, we might take the time to shrink the problem to what is doable NOW, one inch at a time. OR we can grow our kids by motivating and helping them really want to move the next pebble (celebrations,  vision casting, bribes all help build new pebble-moving habits). Create a path out of “stuck” by providing positive, actionable clarity. Heath says it works better every time than loud, parental “no’s” or even our best, can-do speeches.

It’s as if we flipped the switch on our kids–we suddenly move the pebble forward the next inch in the next five minutes. Worth throwing a party? Yes.

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Monday faith

 I recently celebrated one year of hanging out with students at Narberth Pres.

20160525_183230.jpgOn a good Sunday morning, 44 students walked through the doors of the youth room. They ate over 1,000 doughnuts in a year, played 150+ games of ping pong and foosball, and talked together with the youth team about how to follow Jesus. Twenty to twenty-five returned for high school youth group or middle school fun night, playing crazy games together and digging into Bible study.

It may sound impressive, (especially the doughnuts), but it really only adds up to about 40 hours spent with each student in a year. I ask our small group leaders to check in with students during the week and look for ways to connect and build relationship. Many thanks to the 14 adults who give consistent time and attention, sharing Jesus’s love with students weekly. I also thank the 27 mentors who walked alongside a Confirmation student for a season.

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Mentors praying for their Confirmation students.

What can a youth team do in 40 hours? Play goofy games to bond as a community. Communicate God’s great big, no-matter- what-love and Grace. Dig into the Bible. Check in and pray for each other. But not everything that’s needed for the week ahead.

Students are trying to build a faith that works, a faith that is worth living for, even worth dying for, as Kenda Dean writes. Not just a Sunday faith, but a Monday faith.

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Orange Conference 2016

John Acuff introduced the Orange Conference theme, “Researchers have found the saddest hour of the week for Americans is Sunday at noon. We do a good job on Sunday mornings, but when members get back to their cars, Monday is waiting.” He continues, “In Church, we are in a unique position to launch people into their Mondays. Our culture is saying ‘Help us with Monday.’ They visit us on Sunday but they live on Monday.”

How do we help build Monday-ready faith?  Asking, “Where do our students really live?” Being ready to meet them there. Digging into our students’ Monday realities transforms students and the Church.

Sunday says pompously, “Look how badly Monday needs me.” Friday snaps back,”If you ask me, it’s the other way around.” –OC2016 skit

Monday faith is one that offers hope when the situation seems hopeless. Monday faith keeps company when a friend feels down or is struggling. Monday faith offers to listen and reflects back God’s peace when life feels stormy. Monday faith extends forgiveness for Friday mistakes and grace for Saturday unkind words and actions. Monday faith requires more than doughnuts to tide students through the week, much more than a sugar rush,which wears off in minutes.

Building Monday faith takes the cooperation of the whole family, and the whole church family, too. Maybe you’ve seen this image on facebook:

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I believe it’s not only each families’ job to disciple kids; it’s the whole church family’s job. I ask you as the Church family to look around the pews and up and down the halls for students. Get to know them, say “Hi” with a big smile and greet them by name. Ask them “What’s up?” in their lives and remember details to follow up in future conversations. Take your turn as a mentor. Be ready to answer their hard questions with “I don’t know, but let’s figure it out together.” Model imperfect, but living faith. Students need to belong and be loved through their doubts and battles.

How do we model Monday faith? We invite students to serve alongside us. Doug Fields challenges the Church that teaching students to serve makes faith stick more powerfully than any lesson or program, “We can’t just teach students faith for Monday; we need to prepare them to serve out their faith all week.” Or research shows they’ll likely give up on faith when their adult Mondays become hard or lonely; learning faith involves belief    and action.

Students aren’t the only members struggling with Monday faith. Look for parents of teens who seem a little worse for wear. Offer encouragement. Compliment them in front of their kids and see the astonished looks you get. Support them in daily prayer as they try to be direct in facing problems, firm with boundaries, gentle with discipline, consistent with discipleship, and overflowing with love to sometimes prickly people. See why families need care throughout their Mondays?

Students and their families are also working on Sunday to figure out their identities for Monday. We as the church family can welcome and embrace them as God’s beloved, sinners who are foIMG_9496rgiven, and family who belong here, serving in God’s world alongside us. We can support youth with our money and with our time in volunteering and in prayer. With each baptism, we as a Church make a pledge to nurture that doesn’t expire and is never limited to Sunday. Thankfully, neither is God’s love, which is always ready for our Mondays.

 

 

Raining on the Sunny Side

In a stormy situation, my daughter recently asked me to pray for her for the best, most desired outcome, rather than simply for God’s will to be done. She reasoned, “God’s gonna do what God’s gonna do, so we might as well pray on the sunny side.”

When I listen, I learn from Carly. We are different–in all but determination–as her brain moves at lightning speed.  While I chased around this curly-headed toddler, she’d shout gleefully, “Mama, I’m messing with you!”

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Mural in Narberth, PA

Then my own sweet mama would try to reassure me,

“You only have to stay a half-step ahead.”

As if I could. Ever.

Now that Carly is studying south of the equator, her view of the world is turned upside-down. In a foreign land, her wisdom and heart are both moving and growing at the speed of light. Mostly without me. Leading our kids, while humbling us, also whacks us upside the head with lessons about leading others.

Richard Hester and Kelli Walker-Jones, in Know your Story and Lead with it, write: “Organizational leaders need to maintain an attitude of ‘relentless optimism,’ the theological view that God is always at work in our stories to bring about God’s kingdom. We need to tell the stories that acknowledge and express problems, but our stories must also reflect God’s ‘persistent, compassionate presence,’ if we are to lead effectively.”

That’s hard to do.  Especially when others suffer and all we can do is listen as they moan. We can’t even begin to fix it. With optimism, loved ones may accuse us of being too cheery. But life becomes even worse if we join in their pity party. What to do?  What about the can-do message Abileen gives the child she cares for in The Help:

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Or try this version,

” You are brave.

You are loved.

We are in this together.”

A wise king who faced incredible enemies, suffered betrayal, and failed more than once at leading while he climbed heights of success, wrote, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.  Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” Psalm 37:4-7, NIV 

Back to praying on the sunny side. I think God actually gifts us with many of the desires we have in our hearts as we trust and delight in him. And even when we don’t.

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Photos of the Vatican Wind Rose directional markers in St. Peter’s Square. Top of page is Northwest marker depicting the cold, powerful wind that blows storms into our lives. This Southeast marker shows the warm, gentle winds we prefer.

It’s okay to pray for what we desire most.

We’re being honest.

God can handle that,

including our anger at not getting

what we want.

 

 

 

Sometimes when we suffer misadventures or setbacks,

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The Grinch who Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss

a Grinchy view of God creeps into our hearts in the middle of the night, ready to steal our joy with empty sacks and a wicked smile. Grinchy God is not biblical. God is not trying to steal all the joy down in Whoville from the big and the small. 

What does the psalmist promise? As I am still, as I trust, as I do not fret, and as I wait, God will act. God will do. God will bring dawn. 

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And God can and does make our

“small hearts grow three sizes that day” through the process.

My newest friend Victor from Egypt once asked a student, “Which is faster the speed of sound or the speed of light?” She answered him, “The speed of God.”

God has a light-up the world plan for His good creation that is moving ahead at the speed of God, even when we can’t see a glimmer yet. So what do we have to lose by praying–and leading–on the sunny side?

 

“May God give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.” Psalm 20:4

 

Impacting Generations Yet-to-Come

My faithful, Scottish, great-grandparents prayed daily for the unborn generations of our family–and for their spouses. Powerful prayers, now impacting the fourth and fifth generations of our family in profound ways. In a Pentecost sermon at Narberth Pres, I share this challenge and how it is playing out for us.  Click Link for “Out of This World Encounters” on 5/15/16.11891100_10206281780916465_5790979975412851679_n

Much of our immediate family is pictured below. (not pictured: Ken, Kari and Brendan.) While four of us are in full-time ministry with Young Life, the PC(USA), or counseling, all serve in unique ways according to God’s good gifts: writing books, mentoring students and small business owners, photographing orphans in Haiti and YL Capernum dances, building houses in Mexico or El Salvador, raising our families, working with women caught in trafficking, teaching dance, producing videos, serving on boards of churches, camps, missions, and youth organizations. Davis, the first great-grand, has the ministry of cuteness–and all share the spiritual gift of entertainment. I love watching  each flourish and grow!McLennan Family Retouched FINAL

Teen hack: the power of ice cream and 4 simple words to say to students

I learned this leader/parent hack from Kara Powell of Fuller Youth Institute in a seminar at the Orange conference this month. I put it into immediate good use with Confirmation students. One smart, smart boy was having trouble finishing his faith statement—he was all about God as his father, but Jesus seemed to be an issue.

I learned from his parents he had nTX8aeETBquestions, especially about how faith and science fit together, and he was willing to meet with me.

When we met after school over ice cream, I asked him about his beliefs about Jesus. He looked incredibly uncomfortable, wishing to have his braces tightened instead of this impending interrogation.

I covered the orthodox biblical basics about Jesus as the Son of God, fully human and fully God: Jesus was present at Creation and he then came to earth as a baby, lived a sinless life for us, died for us on the cross, and rose again for us. “Sound familiar?”

Even though this student couldn’t articulate all that himself without prompting, (especially between bites of a grasshopper sundae), he surprised me and said, “Yeah I believe all that. It’s what I have been taught all my life. No problem.”yckg7pB7i“Okay, so rather than guess, why don’t you tell me what your questions are?”

“Well I want to know about creation. How did it happen? I know someone who believes, ‘Pop! People appeared right out of thin air. Created. Bam. Not me. How did Creation happen?”

As life-long believer and 15-year family minister, as Rev. Dr. Green, M.Div., D.Min, I do have plenty of answers ready to pull out of my back pocket. But instead, I “powelled” it and started with “I don’t know, but we can maybe figure it out together.”

He visibly relaxed. I followed up, “Anyone who tells you they know how Creation actually happened for sure is lying.” He actually laughed, “Yeah.” Now I had him. In conversation.

“You know the Bible isn’t a science or history text book, right? So it doesn’t try to tell us exactly how it happened but that God created us and created us good, in His image. We can look up the verses in a minute. Did you know there are two creation stories in the Bible? How do you think it happened?”

He talked for a minute about the Big Bang, “I’m not exactly sure how it worked either. But that makes me feel better that I don’t have to know exactly or believe only one thing exactly to have faith in God and Jesus and be confirmed. And to keep going to Church.”

I thought to myself, “Ahhh. So that’s what’s at stake.”

I agreed aloud with him, “Yep, I don’t know either. I’m not a scientist. But I do know it does take faith to believe in God’s creating us AND it takes faith to believe in a scientist’s hypothesis, because none of us knows for sure. Faith and science can go together, can help us figure it out. And science definitely helps us appreciate the wonders of creation as they are always making new discoveries about life and new forms of life.”

“Like in the ocean! I know.! I always watch Animal Planet. And the History channel.”

“History? Oh, you wrote in your faith statement you want to be an archeologist, right? LiKkXoGXTDid you know they are discovering new finds about the stories in the Bible like the Exodus? It turns out maybe they were looking in the wrong place and the wrong time period and that’s why they didn’t find much evidence before now.”

“Cool. I’d like to know more about that. I have lots of questions about the Bible, too. But that’s okay, right?”

“Yep. You have a smart brain and are sort of a philosopher I think, so you might really get this. I think of faith this way: we bring all we know of ourselves to all we know of God at this time. And those are both gonna be changing as we grow.”

“Yep. I like that.

“What do you think? Does that help you? Are you ready to confess your faith in Jesus publicly and join the church?

“Yep. And I might help with VBS too.”

Ahh. The power of ice cream and 4 simple words, “I don’t know but…” Why do those words work? Kara says they give permission to ask questions and to doubt, which kids will do anyway. They chase away silence.

How?

“I don’t know, but…”

 

 

 

Not Your Ordinary, Average, Little Villians

Three surprisingly strange messages are worth passing on to your kids:

Message one: God made us extraordinarily ordinary. Our neighborhoods sound like Lake Wobegon, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” Our kids have a tough time competing with the illusion or expectation of exceptionalism. They may not be picked for the team or surrounded by friends in the lunchroom. They will fail the final, let in the crucial goal, flub the well-rehearsed audition, bump the curb in the driver’s test—again, and panic in the clutch. On the surface (or on facebook), others may look like they have it all together or–at least got accepted to their first-choice college.Our kids will face disappointment and failure daily.

  • Fail. Rinse. Repeat. Failure is not optional. They will face it. Hopefully, not alone. We parents are designed to coach and encourage, not only to protect. To stand them on their toddling-feet again.To hold the wobbly, two-wheeler firm and then let go.DSC_3242.jpg

To help them fix the fender dent out of their own savings. To listen, to hug, and wipe away tears—at any age. To affirm character growth more than achievement.

Yes, they will have great moments of brilliance when they score 100 percent, sink the perfect shot, rake leaves for the widow next door, hit it out of the ballpark, give a kickin’ performance, win the girl’s heart. Followed by failure again.

  • Our acceptance and God’s. By our acceptance of and constant care for our kids through failure, we show that we are made by our Creator to live–not on the mountaintop–but in the plains, or even in the dark valley. We are not alone there. If there’s one lesson that’s clear in a Bible crammed with oddballs, screw-ups, and dysfunctional families, it’s that God meets us in our failures more often than our triumphs. We pay better attention when we are not at high altitude. In the valley, we need God’s help and we ask for it, we beg for it. We discover God’s love anew, sometimes in and through others acting in ordinary ways.

After all, isn’t this the message of Christmas: Emmanuel, God with us, God born in a manger, God living here on earth? God made us ordinary and God meets us right here in our ordinary moments

Message two: God’s grace knows no bounds for his beloved children. Our grace does. As parents, as we seek to love our children compassionately, we need to be “wise as serpents, gentle as doves.” I love what Kara Powell writes: “the odds are great that your child will ‘cross the line,’ or for some of our kids, catapult over the line.” Parents hold kids accountable for their choices and actions. We attempt to deliver relevant, immediate consequences. We try to do it without anger, but, let’s face it, we’re not all that good at it. God is. Sometimes we surprise them with a “get-out-of-jail-free card,” a penalty-free do-over, undeserved gracebandit-clipart-western_036.gif bigger than the moment requires.

If the little villians “name it and claim it,” apologize, take responsibility, and ask for forgiveness, yes, we forgive…but we shouldn’t necessarily forget. Don’t be a pushover. Our job as parents is to create and hold safe boundaries for our kids in a world without guardrails.

If we wish to form our children’s identities in Christ as beloved, forgiven sinners who are responsible citizens of God’s great big world, we can’t forget they bear each of these names: beloved, forgiven sinners.

  • Beloved. How can we best pass on God’s great-big-no-matter-what-love and surround our kids with a community of faith that adopts, values and encourages them, too? Love happens in little and in big moments every day. Be all in. Love your kids and others’ kids. As the apostle Paul exhorts, “Love wholeheartedly.”
  • Forgiven. God forgives and forgets. We work to forgive. To keep current, with short list of issues. To clear the air frequently, especially when they “don’t want to talk about it.” But we can’t forget—yet. Maybe after the college years. (“So, mom, remember that mysterious mailbox problem back in 1985?”) Truth doesn’t always come out completely at first…or ever. We need to be on the lookout for underlying, heart issues so we can point and guide kids back to reality, directly to the God who forgives. That’s because kids are also…
  • Sinners. Kids are notoriously sneaky, fallen beings. That said, we try to assume the best until we find reason not to hope. Meanwhile, we keep our eyes and ears wide open, whether they are toddlers, stuck in the “nos” and testing out their newly-minted wills or whether they are second-toddlers (aka teenagers,) pulled by unrelenting forces, including their own hormones and desire for independence.

toonvectors-12731-140.jpgOur original sin is never very original. Thankfully, kids make mistakes in covering their tracks. Kara Powell encourages parents, “Don’t panic. There are very few issues you will face as parents that are irredeemable, even the biggies…. The ultimate hope that is part and parcel of trusting God is the hope we have that in the long run, God’s mercy will win.” Jesus went to the cross, to hell and back to deal with sin, to provide for our salvation. We can be bold, pray hard, and face family issues head on.

Message three: pain can be good for us. We need to help our kids face this hard reality: God doesn’t promise success or an easy life; God promises His presence. God promises to be with us in our pain. This lesson needs to be modeled. It will be “caught more than taught” to our kids from us instead of by us.

Model pain. Sometimes pain serves as an early warning system. How do we face failure or tough man-and-girl-reading-bible.jpgcircumstances? How do we cope on Wednesday afternoon during a crushing week of disappointment upon disappointment? Do we let others into our lives to help, pray, and encourage us?

Name it. Kara Powell continues, “Having the support of caring parents who do not hide pain or struggle from their kids can help kids navigate the heartache and hardship of life in a broken world…. We must engage our kids in honest conversation and dialogue, soliciting their opinions and voice during those times of struggle. If you are honest and open with any issue of life or faith, your child will be a better thinker, not to mention theologian.” When life takes a wrong turn, we can grow and learn together with our families when we earnestly seek to follow God and ask for God’s help. High impact lessons can come from even our biggest screw-ups or deepest hardships. Pain pushes us to God, pushes us to grow.

Parents Must Be Present To Win. Here is our assignment:  just three messages to send out, but we must be there, all in. AND we do not need to go it alone. God’s kids, God’s truth, God’s grace to us as parents and to them.

We’re ordinary, beloved, forgiven sinners who face pain and failure in life. God packs in hope and freedom, love and grace abundantly along the way. We rediscover “the LORD, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,” who is more than enough to help us face today and tomorrow. We are bearers of good news to our kids, worth believing ourselves and worth passing on.

Dr. Seuss and the Places You’ll Go!

Years back, Ken invented a mythical place we did NOT want to end up living in any of our moves to a new pastoral call: Dismal Seepage, Nebraska (DSN for short). In fifteen years of ministry, we’ve interviewed at a few churches that were located too nearby to DSN. We boldly ran the other direction. Maybe to Tarshish. Once I cried through the worship service at a potential church as I realized the Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 1.45.14 PMonly thing our kids would like about that church would be taking turns ringing the big church bell on Sunday mornings.

The great philosopher Dr. Seuss was enthusiastic about moving, “Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away! You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself  any direction you choose.”

Philadelphia. We moved here from Chicago 20 months ago. Moved away from my close-knit, Midwest family to a place where I had no connections whatsoever. Moved east instead of west, which had been our long-term, intended direction.

Bruce Larson used to say, “When God wants to teach us a lesson, He takes us on a trip.”

This has sometimes felt like long trip for me. Did I mention living in the Northeast is vastly different from the Midwest or Northwest where we’ve resided? People passing on the street look right past me and NOBODY talks to strangers, even to friendly, smiling, middle-aged women. Our middleschooler likes the NE the most of all our family members, “It’s awesome here, Mom. Everyone is rude all the time. You don’t even have to try to be polite and friendly!” So there’s a plus I hadn’t considered.

But at least it’s not DSN, right? Not by any objective standards. A year ago it all depended on which day you asked me what I’d call it. I enjoyed walking the parks and rolling with the hills; I was wowed to see the explosion of cherry blossoms, like a Whoville wonderland! The Barnes museum with its impressionist art collection is my kinda place. I bump into founding fathers’ history everywhere I turn. And nearby are DC, Boston, and NYC where we’ve had fun, family, weekend adventures.

Plus our family plugged into a neighborhood church, a church where I eventually ended up on staff, serving youth and their families. It’s been a privilege.The church family has adopted us in love and opened their hearts to us.

The Spirit encourages us to look at life as an open door, an invitation to walk through to God’s adventure. In All the Places to Go, John Ortberg writes, “An open door is an opportunity provided by God, to act with God and for God” (14).

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 1.47.52 PMOne of my problems for the first 9 months was that I hadn’t made enough opportunity to act my way into anything. No job yet, not many friends . . . at least I finished my DMin degree.

Ortberg’s words resonated with me in my ups and mostly downs of that first year, “When I go through open doors, I will often discover that my faith is really weaker than I thought it was before I went through” (46).

Ortberg goes on, “ Anytime you step through an open door, your story and Jesus’ story begin to get mixed up together, and you become part of the work of God in this world. The only way to fix a broken story is to embed it in a larger story that begins and ends well”(77).

The resurrection reminds us the story does, indeed, end well.

I bumped into a series of facebook messages between me and my friend Ann from Indy, a young mother of two who was diagnosed with serious, advanced breast cancer. She has been a five-year survivor. She wrote me,

“I have hoped and prayed during these 8 months that this journey would be for God’s glory – no matter the outcome. It may sound strange (well it did to my mother-in-law but I bet you will understand) . . . one of my prayers has also been that I would not miss the blessing in all this. The lesson. The wisdom. The change. Whatever it is and whatever it is to be called – I did not and do not want to miss it! I am still asking God to help me discern what I am to learn and how I am to grow. Others have brought me courage and hope and I am so touched that I could do that for you – such an honor.” Ann VM, 6/27/13

How do I keep my eyes wide open to the blessing even in unexpected life change, that it may be for God’s glory? I don’t want to miss a thing.

I just bumped into this draft written last May.  Cool to see the difference a year makes and how God answers prayer in unexpected ways, often through His people!