There’s no place like home

Happily settling in, enjoying midwest comforts and family time. Grateful to be back!

Moving: Junk and Joy

It’s packing day tomorrow. Moving day Friday. Thanks be to God all but our clothes are stacked  in a wall of boxes from last summer’s move.  Oh, we’ll slam headfirst into that wall of stuff and junk when we unpack next week.  But tomorrow, no sweat.

Marie Kondo’s test whether to keep any item is to ask yourself, “Does it spark joy?” IF SO, we must be the most joyful people ANYWHERE!

My well-to-do grandma had a shoe-box tucked away on her closet shelf, scrawled with the label, “string to short to use.” Now there’s a carry-over of a fearful, depression-era mindset. No joy in that shoe-box. Can’t save everything.

What about our good friend Blair McKee’s classic 2 step moving method? 1) Light match. 2) Toss into pile. Weeeelll, as good as it sounds to me today, no joy in that either. Can’t  dump everything.

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As Ken’s the boy-scoutish “be prepared” saver and I’m the Scarlet O’Hara “fiddle-dee-dee” thrower, how will we face this big event together? I guarantee it won’t help that he’s on the red-eye flight home from Portland tonight, slammed from a crazy work week at the PC(USA)’s General Assembly. So perhaps we’d best face it delicately? Please join me in praying for our marriage.

As you throw out an item, Kondo says you thank the junk for serving you well. Who knew I’ve been doing it wrong? I’ve been incredibly thankful, and didn’t even realize it. (I’m not sure what Kondo says to do if you recycle or sell the stuff, but at this point I’d do a flipflop of happiness.  Some stuff I can’t even get people to take for free.)

What would happen if we applied this method to the Church, asking about each practice and event, “Does it spark joy? And then thanking the ones we toss out for serving us well. Certainly better than the match method, tempting though it seems.

I do think the “spark joy” option might actually work better in the Church than in our borrowed mansion’s king-size, walk-in closet. Especially since we’re right-sizing  back to a ranch with a twin-size closet.

Hmmm, on second thought, where is that matchbook?

FamilyLaunch will be back when we’re settled in Palatine, IL, joyfully!

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…”

 

 

 

Mosquitos, surfboards, and imaginary grandkids—how our fights move with us from house to house

Our first marital fight lasted five minutes and was about the television. Does the watcher turn it off when another enters a room, to focus on them—or does the intruder keep quiet to respect the watcher? We unwittingly moved this fight straight into our new apartment from our childhood living rooms.

John Gottman says marital disagreements remain the same throughout a marriage. If a couple came into his love lab as newlyweds and again at year ten, they’d be talking over the same conflicts. So if we are married to our spouses and our issues, we’d better make peace with them both. See if you recognize your issues in ours, amplified, perhaps, by our impending change—move number eight.

Our last fight took place during three whirlwind days and was about which house to purchase in IL. Our kind realtor Eric witnessed how it played out and who won. I’m not sure when he caught on to the battle being waged (maybe sooner than we did!), but he was patient and unafraid to add light-hearted moments in the midst of our competing visions. Three days straight with strangers looking at 22 houses within 13.6 square miles can’t be easy.palatine We three share this in common: we all love Jesus, we parent high-schoolers, we have a history of Young Life zaniness, and we like to tease my brother Troy, so we enjoy an instant bond. We talk about faith, work and family. Eric tells us what his mentor used to say, “God doesn’t waste his gifts. And sometimes you’ve gotta get out of God’s way.”

Since Palatine is a subdivision suburb, at least four of those houses are one model and three are another, in various states of repair. Our wish list: two-car garage (yes, ranked first for guess who) with three beds, two baths, and a family room or finished basement.  As we walk into the first house, Ken heads straight for  garage and basement, noting storage for skis and surfboard. I’m wandering the kitchen and living room looking for bright, white paint and lots of light. Eric is bouncing between us, sizing us up, part counselor and part salesman.

67,000 people have successfully moved to Palatine before us, so we know it can be done. Even so, after morning one, we are in despair and in need of caffeine.  Is our price point too low? We regroup in a local coffee shop to rework our plan. Next three houses, bingo—hope rekindled! I find what I am looking for—a sunny, small home with a screened, sun porch to boot.  Next house, Ken does a happy dance over a cathedral-ceiling. When we tour an 80’s colonial, I surprise us all, snapping at Ken, “Nope, don’t like it—too big. Or buy it and hire a house cleaner and lawn service—or clean it yourself. Time for practical choices.”  And clearly, time for lunch. Next,  Ken finds his heart’s delight—perhaps double the size of my earlier dream house— vividly painted, large rooms, with a big garage, yard, family room—and did I mention, space?  Eric looks at me, “Well, you apparently like this one, because you’re not complaining that it’s too big.”

“No, but Ken does, so I think I can, too. And I’m finally catching on that he doesn’t like ordinary, cookie-cutter homes.” Ah hah!  We begin to realize our unspoken, competing visions, as they pop out in the open:

I am picturing us 5 years from now as empty-nesters in a cozy, easily-managed home with little yard that is affordable. I work at a church primed for growth and Ken golfs obsessively (which, yes, I will be learning), so we don’t waste any spare time on upkeep. And we’ve miraculously eliminated all Ken’s junk… I mean, we’ve whittled the pile down to his most valuable stuff. (Oh yes, that’s a fight we’ve moved from house to house. Eight times. And will keep moving until our BIG move to heaven!)

Ken, as a retirement consultant, is picturing us 15 years from now in a larger home, with our children and families visiting. Our four, future grandkids with their dimples and lanky frames need a sprawling backyard and a basement to play in (and bonus—that means plenty of room to store his 3+ sets of golf clubs and surfboard.)

Back in the car, Eric tries to find common ground and figure out how to help us, “I can see you both like screened porches.”

”Yes, we do. Screened porches rule!  God created the world good, with screened porches. Screened porches just might be the key to our happy, mosquito-free future.”

Last stop at 7pm: a way-overpriced, remodeled ranch on the north end of town, with some access issues. We walk into the open-format house and Ken instantly loves it, grinning from ear to ear at the 70’s-relic, double-sided fireplace and step-down living room. Eric and I are confused, “What is this room supposed to be? And why, oh why did they put in a football-field of speckled-gray marble flooring?”

The kitchen is beautiful, the rooms light, but the outdoor fireplace makes me think of Hansel and Gretel.  Ken gets punchy and babbles about mansard roofs and crawl spaces as we tour the huge, creamsicle-orange basement, “Carly’s favorite paint color!” I’m shaking my head. By now Eric’s clearly done with us, but says patiently and hopefully, “Maybe you’ll need to sleep on this one and see if you agree tomorrow.” I pronounce confidently, “No. This is not my house.  Let’s go. I will win this battle.” (Ooh, did I actually say that aloud?)

Keep in mind; I lose every debate we have as Ken out talks me every time. I lost at rock paper scissors for the first seven yearrock-paper-scissorss of our marriage; I clutched and always threw scissors. We even chose our wedding china that way! On the day I finally realized it, Ken laughed and teased, “Yep, it’s been working great for me. Epic winning streak!
Wondered when you’d catch on. For a smart girl you’re kinda dumb sometimes.” But Ken has learned in 23 years and a sudden move to Philly, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

Next day we tour and retour. Show my fav and Ken’s to Kari and my brother Troy, the former appraiser turned counselor. The top contenders couldn’t be more different, matching our competing visions for our futures. Much to Eric’s amusement, Troy asks therapisty questions like, “How do you feel in this space?”

“Depressed— it’s too dark.””Exposed—too much traffic.”“Well, I’m worried about the massive, lawn-and-garden care required.”I’m worried about the postage-stamp, soggy yard at the other place.”So Ken lets go of his fav, the spacious, dark house with the big yard on a busy corner and I let go of my fav, the cozy house with the sun porch.

Long story long. We make a low-ball offer on the over-priced, cathedral-ceiling house the next day, and then I get cold feet. (Did I mention the German rathskeller in the basement complete with bar from 1960. Retro-cool for about two weeks of ownership, then just an odd monstrosity. ) When they won’t even counter, we take another spin through three houses before catching our plane. Fewer laughs this time around. No perfect solutions ever in life. We are well past the point where winning or losing is an option if we want to go forward. We sign and leave a blank offer sheet for Eric to hang onto for us. We ask one another, “If we had to buy a house today, which one would it be?”

Fast forward two weeks. The clock is ticking off 30 days ‘till closing on the “not-my -house,” remodeled ranch with the orange basement. What?  How does that happen? Hansel and Gretel aside, when we dash through again en route to the airport, it grows on me. Ken imagines aloud future family gatherings and Young Life clubs meeting in the living room. He’s compelling. He pictures furniture placement and yep, we still disagree, “No, dude, the burgundy couch definitely goes up here, not the brown one.”  Eric laughs, “Did you just call him ‘dude?’” While Ken checks out the garage one more time, I sit in the living room and pray, “God, might we live here? Can we minister to our family and others in this weird, but lovable space? Will you please make that happen within our budget?” Yes. It seems possible to all of us.

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Gay and Bruce Bailey

Eric asks what I think of the house and I tell him, “My mentor Gayolin Bailey used to tell me, ‘We have to eat all of our words before we die.’ All the ‘nevers’ have to go away, to become ‘maybes’ or even ‘yeses.”   I may be willing to eat my words to live in this crazy house.”

Wiseman Eric just nods and smiles, “It’s a good house. The sellers are still asking way too much. But it is empty… when you make your offer is when we’ll learn a lot about how this will go, how desperate the sellers are.”

Yep. When we lay down our need to win or lose, when we drop the weapons, when we make our offers of loving compromise to each other in marriage, that is when we also learn. When we are willing to eat our words.  When we stop playing rock paper scissors and listen to each other. When our “nevers” become “maybes.” I guess then our competing futures don’t have to compete after all. We get out of God’s way to teach the other and ourselves something new.

We’ll see if Troy and Kari and Eric and Susie will do us the honor of being our first guests.  “Bring your teens and s’mores and make your way up here for a BBQ. Oh and bring your mosquito repellent. Maybe leave a trail of breadcrumbs to mark your way.  We’ll test out that outdoor fireplace and orange basement—and our common vision of God’s good plan for our family’s future.”