I’ve been reading a book on parenting teens. Fun stuff, the teenage wrangling. But really, this book is good. It’s Losing Control and Liking It, by Tim Sanford. One point has come home to me quite well: perfectionism kills relationship. My teen can be persuaded (occasionally) and influenced (sometimes), but in reality she can not be controlled. It’s a relational deal. Not just with teenagers, of course, but perfectionism between me and God. Extrapolating Sanford’s concept, if I think my heavenly Father expects perfection of me, the way I define it, there’s a stranglehold on our relationship because I can’t live up to that. There’s just no way for me to fill those big ethereal shoes. Yet, the Apostle Paul writes “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.” (Colossians 1: 28). He wants you and me to be perfect, but in his way, not ours. I’m reminded that the same guy told us that “the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17).

When my husband and I were newlyweds, some prayer and prophecy people came to minister at our church. We were asked if we’d like for them to pray over us; we agreed. They were given our names ahead of time for prayer purposes, but otherwise knew nothing about us. Sitting onstage in front of our congregation, one of the things I remember most clearly was his kindly face as he smiled and said to me, “You deal with a certain degree of perfectionism, don’t you?” Cringe. Yep. Not in terms of order and organization (don’t open my closet!), but in terms of what I expect of others. There’s been progress, but it’s been a lifelong process, and will likely continue to the grave.

God’s “perfection” for us is so different than the perfection we often impose on ourselves.  Mr. Sanford suggests we say “could” rather than “should” to cut off that perfectionism in our expectations of others. Subtle, but I’m finding it to be true. Self-talk can be impacted, as well, if we’ll just allow ourselves that kind of space. We have choices, and sometimes we don’t make the best ones. BUT we have more opportunities, more options. I’m aware of the danger of allowing myself to procrastinate and always leave the best choices for later. But removing that self-imposed perfection gives me more breathing room. Our Father gives us a perfection to shoot for that sets us free instead of putting us into bondage. You could breathe a bit more, then.

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About four months ago, I had an encounter with a person in our church who is also in leadership. We’d had some terse moments in the few weeks before, and I was more than a touch on edge. He asked a question of me that I took as critical. I spoke to him in terms that were less than kind, and frankly dismissive of his feelings. Worse, it all happened in front of a few others who were seated with me around a table. As he walked away, it occurred to me that I hadn’t even looked at him as we exchanged words. Yuck.

The next day my phone rang. It was a close friend, one of those who had witnessed my graceless retort. “That didn’t go so well between the two of you.” Internally, rancid excuses raised their ugly heads and growled. I paused. One word echoed in my head. “Christlike.” In this moment, thinking on that situation, did I want to be like Jesus? Overall, in my life, yes. Here was a real life opportunity to choose his Way when my flesh would rather not.

Sigh. “Right, it didn’t.”

“If it were me, I’d hope that you’d feel free to let me know.”

“Right. I need to talk to him.”

“Yes.”

And so I did that. Completely discussed me and my words. He forgave me, then made a few comments that I had to decide to ignore.

Pride and defensiveness threaten us. Our culture tells us that they are friendly traits, that we’re number one, that NO ONE can tell us what to do or how to live. But our Jesus looks at us, his Church, and tells us that we’re to be different. Those fiercely independent attributes, ones which my world finds so admirable, actually threaten to steal my determination to become like Christ. I have to catch them in the act and refuse to be an accomplice.

“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:15. The words of Jesus himself. Not just for how the world sees us, but how we see one another. How well do I love this person who has such a different take on things, who would do things differently than I do, who defines ministry in terms that are sometimes foreign to me?

Thanks to my phone-calling friend, who compelled me to act quickly, the relationship was moved from strained to at least tolerable. And hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, there may be some love for one another.

Oh, right, another verse comes into play here:

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” Proverbs 27:6

Thanks for that.


“Guard my life and rescue me; let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.” Psalm 25:20

I wondered about doing this. Really, the safe thing to do is wait until it’s all over, talk about what a struggle it all was, and how we were eventually victorious. We could look back and see God’s faithful hand at work. But there is something about the testing of our faith in the middle of trials that shows us how real our God is, how well we grasp and cling to him. We began to have problems with vandalism over two years ago (see this last post), and it has been frustrating, to say the least. This anonymous person has done a good deal of damage. It’s not simply the financial cost, of course, but also the loss of security that is unsettling.

On Friday, though, the anonymity was stripped away. We’ve been pretty sure we knew which family in our neighborhood was initiating this trouble. In fact, while Keith wired my tomato cages together (after our third incident), I watched discreetly from our bedroom window. Someone from the suspect family observed from an upstairs window in their house. This past Friday morning my husband found a dead rabbit which had been thrown in the corner of our yard, near my garden. It died from a head wound and appeared to have been stretched out. It was meant to instill fear. I felt a flash of anger, instead. How dare this person work to intimidate us?!

“He is the God who avenges me. . . who sets me free from my enemies.”  2 Samuel 22:47-49

Later that same afternoon, just three days ago, I backed out of the driveway to go meet a friend. A familiar white car flew around the corner, stopping parallel to me. A youngish man, roughly 25, sneered at me and started screaming. His face was defiant, hateful. My window was up, as the weather was hot. Although I know he speaks English, his words were completely incomprehensible. I was still, and shocked. For perhaps twenty seconds, he continued the tirade, then was off like a shot. A flash of anger, then great fear took me. This was face-to-face. This was serious. The police could do nothing without evidence. I shook while dialing my husband. He would confront them; I asked that he find a neighbor to go with him. It didn’t work out to have a witness, but Keith confronted a young man at the house about half an hour later, who confirmed that I had seen him, but that he was simply “waving and saying ‘Hi’.” Right. We now think he’s covering for his older brother.

We’re talking with our other neighbors. I see concern on their faces, both for us and themselves. No one else wants to be targeted. Police should be called if anything suspicious is seen. Yes, yes, we all agree to be watching.

I’ve been praying constantly since then. Sometimes about this; sometimes for others. The personal trial always moves back to the forefront. The anxiety and the nightmares have made this an exhausting weekend. Now in the middle of a three day fast (there go those trumpets!), I’m asking God to give me perspective, and asking what we should do in the face of evil. Some friends are encouraging us to move. It’s not that easy. I’m willing, but moving takes time, energy and a bit of cash. Not to mention the right buyer and seller. And it’s not necessarily the answer. We are doing what we know to do. But our God who sees all and has a greater perspective has more creativity, knowledge, guts and power than we could ever muster. We appreciate the concern and prayers deeply, but we must hear from our Father.

This morning, I had the strong sense that I was to turn to Psalm 29, that it was mine to take in and digest. It’s all about God’s power and glory.

“God’s thunder sets the oak trees dancing; A wild dance, whirling; the pelting rain strips their branches. We fall to our knees – we call out “Glory!” Psalm 29:9 (The Message)

It really seems that he’s directing me to reform my thoughts. Fear, vengefulness and anxiety have no place. He is powerful. Dutch Sheets teaches that we appropriate and actually send out the Holy Spirit to do God’s will and God’s work as we pray. I’m choosing this morning to turn my attention to a more worshipful focus, while asking him to show his glory in this trying situation. Stand with us, if you will, and ask the Father to show himself to us, to this person or people harassing us, and to our entire neighborhood.

Oh, and by the way, Psalm 29 ends with:

“God makes his people strong. God gives his people peace.” v. 11 (MSG)

“Be angry, and yet do not sin; Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Ephesians 4:26

I’ve been dealing with anger over the last few days. Justified, mind you. There’s a person who has messed with us off and on for a few years – a vandal who creeps onto our property and does some damage when we’re not home, or lately, in the morning before the blinds at the back of our house are opened for the day. We’ve had wind chimes torn down (twice), a porch blind damaged, a bird feeder cut down (required wire snips for that!), our front lawn driven through after a heavy rain. Small branches have been torn from new trees and tossed into the grass. More insidious pranks have been pulled, as well. Our garage keypad has been repeatedly opened (and presumedly tried), and, much worse, late one night our girls’ bedroom window was rapped on sharply. On another night, our oldest daughter was unable to sleep, and as she headed to the basement to read, someone knocked loudly on the front door, likely in an attempt to scare her. It worked. My husband and I both flew out of the bedroom, but no one could be seen, and no engine started. They are close by.

Very few people in this town have fences, but ours is now in the works, budget be scrapped. Last year my vegetable garden became a target. When I went out of town for a spiritual six-day event, my husband called to tell me that my zucchini plants had been stomped flat. Frustrating doesn’t even begin to describe the feelings. Violated, definitely. The rest of the summer we harvested maybe half of what was on the tomato and pepper plants. All the other veggies were stolen.

There are times when those imprecatory Psalms make sense. King David’s words such as “Pour out your wrath on them; let your fierce anger overtake them” (Psalm 69:24) sound more rational, more applicable than in days of calm judgment. And those are mere warm-up vittles for David, as once he got going, went on to ask for blindness, “bent backs” and “blotting out of the book of life” for his enemies (same Psalm). And I, although I’ve never been chased from my kingdom through the wilderness, recognize those feelings.

My enemy is cowardly and cunning. This is someone who’s gotten bold enough. Three out of the last four days, my tomato cages have been ripped up, with cherry tomatoes thrown in the yard and even the green tomatoes stripped away. Tonight my husband wired them all together, while I watched through a video camera lens that is hopefully hidden enough to catch them in the act next time. I certainly hope so.

I’ve prayed and fretted about this at times; We’re working out the security camera route and have tried the motion detector lights. Some things only seem to present a new challenge to overcome to this person, who is simply determined to persecute us, for some unknown  reason.

My garden is out there right now in the dark, and someone may be lurking around, testing the strength of the new tomato cage wiring. But I have a new focus as I prepare for bed: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10).

We look for justice; we do what we can. At the end of the day, as the sun goes down, God is still God.

I left home at twenty-three. Not from my parents’ home, from which I’d moved away at eighteen, but from my church, which had been an anchor since fifteen years of age. Eight formative years, including the last two years of high school in the church school. There was lots of history, familiar faces, personal turf. It was, for the most part, a comfortable place.

The decision wasn’t easy, and took over a year to make. It was predicated by several events and the realization that there were other great, God-fearing churches out there. A good number of people had left, and some were chatting it up with those of us who stayed, trying to influence us that it was time to go. Not wanting to deal in innuendo or gossip, I (and many others) made attempts to avoid them.

More credible allegations of spiritual control and manipulation ran rampant, but I’d been spared much of the abuse by sound-minded parents and a profoundly influential mentor couple. My question was more forward thinking: Where was I going? If God would show me the way to move ahead within this congregation, I was willing to do that.  Lots of prayer later, it seemed right to have conversations with people with whom I had anchoring relationships. Some of them knew why; some did not. There was both grace and heartache in that dialogue. And ultimately, there were more reasons to go than stay.

And so I left and started the search for a new home. Unexpectedly, there arose an uneasiness that revolved around my own spiritual walk. Some people who’d parted ways with our congregation had fallen apart. A nagging fear moved in: Was my love for Jesus simply rooted in my church culture, or did I really have some spiritual depth? Never, never did I want to be a floating, rootless Christian, unbonded from community. After a somewhat awkward search, my landing place was a large denominational church where I had some acquaintances. It was a setting for new relationships, healing, and deep affirmation.

Years later, as a pastor’s wife in a loving smaller church in the Midwest, I have perspective from the other side of the coin. Yes, people get offended, sometimes at things that are frankly ridiculous or simply misunderstood, and leave, taking their open wounds with them. Failing to work it out can be sinful, and often is. But there are others that need to leave in order to deal with life as God leads them. At a reception when our church in Texas was sending us out, an older retired pastor told us “When people leave, don’t take it personally.” We try not to.

Stay home if you can. Work it out if you are at all able. But if you are so inclined, get into a conversation with the Holy Spirit. Ask Him to show you your place where you are. And if He leads you to do so – no, only if He leads you to do so – leave home.

For nearly a week, there was a crisis going on around here. Not an argument, family issue or misunderstanding, but a deep personal thing. Tuesday morning was a full one, with plenty of catch-up work to do. But by afternoon, the crisis was raising its ugly head, and the impact from the time I’d devoted to spiritual things that morning had waned. The bad thing about not having a boss for accountability is the need to be constantly self-motivating; the good thing is being free to be more flexible. And the beckoning was unmistakable. Only one word: “Come.”

I sat on the couch and read Scripture, meditated a while, and waited. “I’ve asked for answers,” I thought. It was so still, so quiet. More time passed, then a compelling thought formed. “Come to the Eucharist.”

I knew where it had originated. Many years before I had briefly attended a large church that was much more liturgical than my upbringing. A famous theologian had spoken there one night, and he talked about the seminary students who approached him for counsel. His most common response to their needs was “Run to the Eucharist.” He described the healing and renewal that had resulted over the years. It was a deeply moving sermon, and one of few that I honestly remember well. Despite that, I can count on one hand the times that I’ve initiated the Lord’s Supper as a part of personal worship. Usually it has been received in the corporate context, which these days means just once a quarter in our church.

This was an invitation, issued by the Holy Spirit. I poured some wine, took my bread and returned to the couch. Recited appropriate Scripture. Prayed and waited again. Slowly, God’s manifest Presence came and settled. The details of what took place are too intimate, too close to be shared openly. But three hours passed. Three hours. The need was met, and I was changed. That indescribable, palpable peace remains right now, two days later. How long it will last, I can’t say. The essence of the encounter is this: If you receive an invitation to his table, Run.

If you’ve been hiding in a cave the last two days, you likely haven’t heard about the controversy surrounding Rob Bell and his still-unreleased book Love Wins. To be fair, I live with a theologian (my pastor husband) who deals in such discussions, and we hash out any major (and many minor) church and faith issues regularly. Bell received a thrashing from blogger Justin Taylor just two days ago, and the internet/Tweetosphere lit up with incendiary comments regarding Bell’s purported views on Hell, God’s wrath, and judgment of the unsaved. Mr. Taylor included a promo video in his post which could not be found on the publisher’s website, nor on Bell’s site until today. Provocative, it is. Watch for yourself. But is it merely stage setting, or an intro to wretched theology? It is possible, Taylor suggests, in an edited after the blog note, that we should “wait for the book so we can see all his cards laid out on the table.” Wha?? Quite a bit of conjecture, hmm?

In the original blog, Taylor cited 2 Corinthians 11:14-15, which he later removed. YES, we need to weigh teaching offered to us. But in advance of the teaching truly being available to us, should we lay on the conclusions? Judging is a difficult topic, as we are to judge sinful behavior, encouraging a return to righteousness and protecting ourselves (the Church) from false doctrine. But weighing in on someone’s heretical views before they are clearly expounded is surely displeasing to the Lord. As my husband said, “If they’re wrong about Rob Bell, they’re wrong to have judged him so quickly. If they’re right, they’re still wrong for jumping the gun.” Is having the scoop on potential heresy worth all of this?