Thoughts on Marriage Conflict

It happened again. An argument. Even as I sit and write I cannot remember what the argument was about. In all likelihood the argument was a direct result of something one of us said that the other chose to take in the worst possible light; the assumed detection of a voice inflection that changed a normal question into an accusation. “What did you have for lunch?” morphs into, “What did YOU have for lunch?” and BOOM it’s on like Donkey Kong.

Why does marriage have to be such a dogfight, a fight to communicate, a fight to have, receive and give grace? Why does it have to be a fight to give worth and value, a fight to continually seek the best and want the best for your partner? Why does it feel like a daily grind to put off selfishness and self-centered behavior?

The reality that makes marriage work is an unashamed commitment to marriage as a covenantal relationship as opposed to a consumer relationship. In his great book, “The Meaning of Marriage”, Tim Keller reminds us of the danger we face today,

“In contemporary Western society the marketplace has become so dominant that the consumer model increasingly characterizes most relationships that historically were covenantal, including marriage. Today we stay connected to people as long as they are meeting our particular needs at an acceptable cost to us. When we cease to make a profit-that is, when the relationship appears to require more love and affirmation from us than we are getting back-then we ‘cut our loses’ and drop the relationship. This has also been called ‘commodification’, a process by which social relationships are reduced to economic exchange relationships, and so the very idea of covenant is disappearing in our culture.”

When we covenant in marriage we recognize that God is using this union to sharpen, refine and sanctify us. The commitment to the covenant supersedes how either of us “feels” at any given moment, because it is sustained by the God who initiated the covenant to begin with. Tragically, if we aren’t watchful, we will quickly move our marriage from a relationship of covenant to one of consumer and treat our spouse like our cell phone or cable tv provider.

So, how do we combat this danger? A couple thoughts.

First, treat your personal selfishness as the main problem of your marriage: Keller again; “If two spouses each say, ‘I’m going to treat my self-centeredness as the main problem in the marriage,’ you have the prospect of a truly great marriage.” Confession, I have to remind myself of this multiple times a week.

Secondly, take your marriage, but not yourself seriously: One prayer request I right down each morning is for Jessica and I in our marriage. If I take our marriage seriously, I need to battle for it in prayer. Also, most of the “spats” Jessica and I get in could either be avoided, or are ended, when I realize I’m being too uptight. The solution is for me to laugh at myself or the situation. Laughing at your own ridiculousness cures many ailments.

Finally, remember that your wife was your beloved bride, before she was the mother of your children. Remember her always for who she was to you at first and act and treat her accordingly. Ann Voskamp wrote about it beautifully here.

Friends since marriage is a dogfight, lets be sure we are fighting with our spouse against our enemy instead of with our enemy against our spouse.

Marriage 12 plus years in

It’s funny how after 12 plus years of marriage I can still feel “new” at this whole wife thing. I mean, how long do you have to live in a role to have it figured out? One would think twelve years is long enough to work out all the kinks.

Why is grace so hard to give to my husband? When I have a decent day with my kids, why do the struggles I have come out in resentment towards him when he comes home and I refuse to be loved? Why is welcoming the praises difficult, when choosing negativity isn’t?

I have an idea, and it’s not new or original. Our family is under attack by an enemy who wants to destroy us. I wake up in the morning and try to squeeze in as much Truth from the Word as I can before little ones awake. I read of grace and truth and the Love of the Father, and I can FEEL IT and I KNOW IT! I feel embraced by truth and grace. I count my gifts and I pray to be a blessing. Then little ones awake, the day really gets going. I strive and I strive and I fill needs. I push down frustration and I clean messes. I make meals and I sing of Jesus love with my kids while we unload the dishwasher. I teach and discipline and then my dear one comes home and it is like I just can’t do it any longer. Without even trying, a wall is built between he and I because I’m tired and I’m broken and it’s just hard.

Twelve plus years in and we are still learning how to communicate. We probably will always be adjusting. I am begging the Lord for His grace. I pray that I hear the words of my husband and that I stop to let him hug me. I am praying that I look for opportunities to put my hands on his tired shoulders. I want these walls torn down. Resentment is not what I want filling my heart. The kids and I talk almost daily about the fruits of the Spirit. We talk and pray that our hearts would overflow with peace, love, joy, kindness, goodness and self control. We have some amazing days and then we have some very real days. I couldn’t ask for a better man to go through hard things with. I pray that I wouldn’t only think that is true, but I would believe it and say it.

You wont be seven forever

I took you out last night, Daddy Daughter Date. You were so excited. You looked so pretty. When your brother looked at you in your blue dress, midnight, the color I remember half moon lake where I grew up, he said, “You look like a women!” his cheeks blushing. The necklace was made with your own hands, and you were both beautiful. Your mom took our picture, and that’s when I saw it, you wont be seven forever.

I walked you to the Volkswagen, and you climbed into the back seat, a mess of arms and legs. You were slightly annoyed at having to ride in your old cast off booster seat, and I had to help buckle you in, but I will take it today.

The dinner was Italian buffet and you ate two plates of spaghetti and noodles, and two breadsticks. I even got you a cherry Sprite, and you were so happy. I know in 10 years it will take more than a cherry Sprite for you to be happy, but I will take it today.

Rainbow sherbet for dessert and we took a silly picture with a polaroid camera, the memory of the evening seared onto photo paper, and that’s when I knew it, you wont be seven forever.

You gave me a handwritten card that said you loved me because I was “Brilent” . Please always give me cards. You held my hand as we walked through the parking-lot and called it a perfect night, commenting on the nice breeze, the moon rising, and how nice we both looked. I opened the door for you and you said excitedly, “Daddy! You are like a gentlemen in disguise!” That’s when I heard it, you wont be seven forever.

I know in 10 years it will take more than noodles, cherry Sprite and holding my hand for you to be happy, but I will take it today. Even though you wont be seven forever, you are seven today, and that is enough.

 

Sweet Spots

Yes… I do post lots of pictures of the best moments of my day. Why? Because I think we need that reminder sometime.

Real life in my house is always messy, lots of sibling fights, short remarks I make to my husband after a long day with the kids. Real life is me trying to keep my eyes open to make it through another lesson… Opening the fridge at 5:30 and thinking what on earth will I make for dinner when remnants of school and snacks liter the kitchen ( along with ALL the Tupperware on the floor… By my 14 month old😉).

I get so tired and the kids are needy and I’m needy…

But then a great moment happens and I snap a picture because right along with the crazy is the beauty. We just have to stop and recognize it.

Happy Mother’s Day to all those mothering. To those serving, loving and giving day after day.

Don’t forget to find the beautiful in the mess. I’m not trying to hide my mess from anyone. Just trying to remember all the sweet spots.

Lessons from failure

This post is the 3rd in a three part series on my Leadership Failures in Church Planting. The first two posts can be viewed, here and here.

As I said in part 1, worse than failure is the failure to learn from failure, and learn plenty I did. Below are a few things I learned and also why I’m grateful for the failure.

We battle not against flesh and blood

One of the main things Dr. Suarez told us aspiring planters in seminary is, “Church Planting is Spiritual warfare.” Over and over again, he would illustrate and exhort to us the seriousness of this charge. Over and over again, I failed to remember and take this seriously. Our enemy hates new churches , he hates new disciples and disciple makers. If we are not constant in incessant in prayer, we fail before we begin.

Ego is not your amigo

I heard this from Scot Thomas and now say it to myself at least once a day. Every leadership failure I experienced in planting is directly connected to my ego. Mainly this took the form on not asking for help when I needed

We fall to the level of our training, not rise to the level of our expectation.

I have yet to meet a church planter who doesn’t have a large and compelling vision for what they hope God will do through their life and ministry. Nobody stands before partners and parishioners proclaiming mediocre hope for the future. Yet, as grand as our aspirations are, they are fools gold if we don’t properly equip ourselves and our people. My hope was for De Soto Community Church to be a church planting church up and down the K-10 corridor in Kansas. I desired that we would host interns, raise up missionaries, and send those missionaries to plant more multiplying churches. As good as it sounded then, (and still sounds good now), the reality is, I had never walked through an internship, been part of a multiplying ministry, or at that point, planted a single church myself. It was ridiculous to think I would “magically” do something I hadn’t adequately prepared myself to do, no matter how much I hoped it to be so.

 

Why I’m grateful I failed

Failure helped form my identity

Failure has never been an acceptable outcome for me. Setbacks? Yes. Learning opportunities? Of course! Failure? NO! Yet, with all my stubbornness, bluster and determination, here I was failing. It almost crushed me. In failing in our plant, I was reminded where my worth truly comes from. My identity as a blood bought child of the King was never dependent on the success of my church plant, and it took the loss of the plant for me to know that unequivocally.

Failure humbled me

If we would have “succeeded” and all of my wildest planting dreams would have come true, my already enormous head would have become a virtual planetoid. Failing helped remind me there is more than one way to plant a healthy and reproducing church. The way I chose to plant isn’t the best or only way. This has been invaluable in my current work serving church planters and partner churches. I am much more open to new ideas, methods and models of planting, as well as my perception of who would make a “good” church planter.

One more thing…

Never let the fear of failure keep you from adventurous risk in ministry. Worse than failing is not doing anything at all. If that’s not enough, take a word from my favorite President and ‘Dare Greatly’.

Resources that helped me.

Falling Upward: This book was given to me by a great friend and mentor in the wake of what was unfolding. Regardless of what you make of Rohr’s theology, the lens through which he gives us to view life is refreshing, honest and helpful

Ego is the Enemy: This book is second only to Extreme Ownership in what I’ve most recommended for everyone to read this past year. Thoroughly researched and incredibly helpful; Holiday confronts us with uncomfortable personal truth and gives us a preferred way to deal with it. Another of his books, Obstacle is the Way is great as well.

Extreme Ownership: I tell everyone they need a whole lot of Jesus and a moderate amount of Jocko in their life. This book finally helped me to call failure what it was and gave me some solid hooks to hold on to for processing and planning better.

Making of a Leader: This book is seminal for understanding how God is building you as a leader through different phases of life. Where the Rohr book aims at the heart, this aims at the head.

Choosing what is real

As I sit in a coffee shop I’m pondering authenticity. In a world where fake is everywhere, it can be difficult to decipher what is real.This coffee shop doesn’t mess around. My plate came out with bread that went through a slow process of refinement by the hands of people I can see as I write. The eggs and bacon…(oh the Bacon!) are freshly fried. Even the jam is perfectly crushed from fresh fruit. It is wonderful.

Does it cost a little more? Yes. Did I have to wait? Of course.

In this moment though, I wonder why I would ever want to settle for less. What is there to gain from rushing through life? Why do we choose to fuel ourselves, mind, body, and soul with things that aren’t real?

I challenge you to experience something real today.

Get outside. Have a conversation with someone in person. Make something from scratch and actually enjoy the process and the mess. Write something by hand.

Don’t settle for a high-fructose filled life, when God made sugar and called it good! Seek to find the “real” amongst the everyday.

When I take the time and search for what is real amongst the fake, I am constantly reminded of Christ, His goodness, His Love, His Mercy. I am reminded of the gifts He gives us every single day.

A few gifts I’m thankful for today…

  1. alone time with my eldest daughter.
  2. a long talk last night with my husband even though our kids were still awake
  3. sunshine in the early morning after several mornings of rain
  4. being outside of my house for a little bit this morning and reminded of life happening outside my walls
  5. hot coffee in a ceramic mug
  6. learning with my kids on the back porch

Everyday we choose. Everyday we choose to either seek after what is real, or settle for what is false. Today, and hopefully tomorrow, I choose real.

Leadership failures in Church Planting (part 2)

Earlier this week I posted the first of two parts in Leadership Failures in Planting. You can read that post here. Today I want to continue by giving you the other six reasons our plant failed from a leadership perspective.

I launched us without enough preparation

While our core group had been meeting for several months before we moved to the community we planted in, our family had only been in town about 3 months when we held our first “preview” service. Most of those who came initially were well wishers and servants from our sending church about 25 minutes away. I didn’t give myself enough time to build relational and missional credibility in the community before we began worshiping weekly. Also, while we did a great job with serving in the community once we started, this should have started months before the first service and lasted much much longer. Additionally, while I thought everyone was on the same page with the vision, purpose and mission of the church, and how we would pursue and fulfill the mission, the truth is they weren’t. The sole responsibility for casting clear and compelling vision was mine, and while it was clear in my mind and heart, I’m not sure our people embodied it very well. It didn’t translate, even though it sounded really cool! As I’ve heard Brian Sanders say, “If you have to remind people of the vision every seven days, there’s a good chance they don’t get it.”

I didn’t listen as much as I should have

Not listening enough has a direct relationship to not being prepared. When those in the church came to me with legitimate concerns, I needed to take time to listen. Instead of slowing down, practicing pastoral patience and listening more intently, I used “my vision” as a stick to beat people with. This resulted in feelings of inadequacy and guilt in those who in my eyes, “just didn’t get it.”. 

I didn’t consider the perception of our meeting space

We were very blessed to partner,  with a local parachurch youth ministry in our community that has a sterling reputation! The ministry owned a wonderful facility with a great meeting space for us to use and even office out of at no charge! Yet, what began as a great opportunity limited us when we never moved from there. The longer we remained in their facility the more our church became associated with that ministry, and we failed to establish our own identity in the eyes of the community. The biggest reason we stayed so long is we didn’t have enough resources to rent any other space. Another result of not raising enough support.

I didn’t bring a seasoned leader with me

De Soto Community Church was the first church I planted, and the first church I ever lead as the sole Pastor. While I had served on staff at a church prior to this, and lead other aspects of ministry, I had never lead a group of people on a level like this before. The combination of my lack of senior leadership, my age when we planted (26), and the fact that we had no children at the time, lead to what I saw as a reluctance to follow leadership coming from someone unseasoned. While I couldn’t do anything about my age or our current family make up, I could have built my team with people in different phases of life to ensure that as decisions were made, it wasn’t just my voice speaking. Planting with a plurality of leadership voices would have also served to help guide me personally through decision making.

I didn’t capitalize on the victories we did experience

God did a lot of incredible things in De Soto!  The Gospel was preached, lives were changed, and the name of Jesus has a good reputation in the community through the work of which we were a part. Our neighbors grieved when we left, (we grieved as well), civic and governmental leaders voiced sadness we were closing, and teachers and administrators in the schools we were active in also were saddened. Yet, when good things did happen, I didn’t celebrate. When our members gave tirelessly of their time in sports camps and block parties, I didn’t honor them. When we received more contacts than we could handle at outreach events, I didn’t follow up as thoroughly as I should have. Many times these things occurred because I never asked and equipped others to join me in the work.

I wasn’t humble enough

I let my pride, hubris and youthful arrogance get in the way. I didn’t walk closely enough with others who could speak with clarity, honesty, and focus into the specifics of my life and leadership. These people who could have helped weren’t there because I didn’t invite them in. As young leaders we must fight for other people to pour into our lives. One constant in the lives of the leaders we most want to emulate in our lives and ministry is how full their schedule is. If we want time with them, we must be teachable and persistent. I always wasn’t. Saying you didn’t meet with your coach that month, because they didn’t respond to your one call or email is on you, not them.

So, what are some lessons learned? Read about that here.

Read Part 1 here

Read Part 3 here

Leadership failures in Church Planting (part 1)

It has taken me five years to write this. It has taken me five years to come to a place healthy enough to admit without qualification, I failed. Why, without qualification? From the very day after we closed De Soto Community Church, the first and only church I have planted; the first church I literally gave blood, sweat and tears to, I could admit failure, but only while including others in the existing “blame.” Yes, I had failed, but if this person hadn’t done (x), or if only I would have known (y), things would have and could have been different. As Joco Willinck and Leif Babin say in their incredibly true and helpful book, ‘Extreme Ownership’;

Any team, in any organization, all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader. The leader must own everything in his or her world. There is no one else to blame. The leader must acknowledge mistakes and admit failures, take ownership of them, and develop a plan to win.

I had failed. Worse than the reality of failure, is the failure to learn from failure. So, how did I fail? I submit the following reasons:

I didn’t pursue enough training

I am so thankful that the North American Mission Board (NAMB), has now created more pathways, and paid pathways, for internship and apprenticeship for those who feel a calling into church planting. When we began our planting journey, as I was completing my MDiv at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, there simply weren’t internships and apprenticeships available at the level they are now. Furthermore, I really didn’t know anyone in the city, planting anywhere in the city. For me to pursue more training would have meant a move to a different city for at least a year, and a need to raise support. While these realities are reasonable, and even incredibly necessary, the truth is I wasn’t disciplined enough, nor willing to walk this path. Not only did I suffer, but my church plant did as well.

I didn’t submit to a proper Assessment

As director of our local NAMB Assessment Center in Kansas City, I often find myself jealous of the high caliber of assessment our potential planters are now receiving. When we were planting, assessment was a requirement, yet there wasn’t a clear and defined expectation for what assessment should be. In my case, assessment amounted to meeting regularly with men I know and trusted, and receiving feedback from those men. While these men loved and cared for me, having a level of detachment from myself and my assessors, would have done wonders in pointing out areas of concern for our planting journey.

I didn’t count the cost effectively

While a certain amount of this is to be expected for anyone stepping into a new area of ministry, I allowed my hubris, pride and belief in my own ability and creativity overshadow the many challenges I saw on the horizon. Because of this, I didn’t plan strategically for how to confront the challenges I saw coming. We always fall to the level of our training, never rise to the level of our expectations.

I failed to raise enough support

When we began planting, we had no children and my wife was working a $12/hour job. Our needs were not very great and I simply wasn’t comfortable with the idea and mechanics of raising support. Therefore, I didn’t raise much support at all. While in the very beginning this didn’t seem like a large burden, it really hamstrung us down the road when it came to renting worship space, sending out material, and buying simple things like signage. While money isn’t the most important factor in determining the success of a church plant, the lack of resources can be detrimental, especially when needing to make a big “push” after creating momentum from ministry wins.

I didn’t recruit well

I typically took a Revelation 22:7 approach to recruitment, namely, “Whosoever will…come!” While we can laugh, or choose not to, at the very poor preacher joke; the reality is, this was a terrible way to call people into an act of spiritual warfare! Of those that initially came with me when we planted, not a single one remained when we closed the doors. Many of those on the initial team I recruited never moved to the community. This should have been an enormous warning sign! While not impossible to plant a church in a community you don’t live in, it limits the relational aspect of ministry exponentially.

The ones I did recruit, I didn’t train properly

Of the whosoever’s who came, I assumed a level of Biblical knowledge, missionary behavior, and ownership of vision they simply didn’t have. The failure of my team to be equipped in all of these ways is solely my responsibility. Since I didn’t adequately prepare and train them, it shouldn’t have surprised me when they failed, or consequently when we as a church failed.

Later  I’ll share the remainder of the leadership failures we experienced and some lessons learned along the way

Read Part 2 here

Read Part 3 here

30

To my 20 year old self on my 30th birthday…

So you are turning 20.  I remember it well.. Living in that tiny apartment.  You felt so lonely.  Matt was taking lots of classes at the seminary and you wondered if it was worth all the time you were spending alone.  (Heads up.. It totally was).

You are still feeling uneasy in your new city.  It’s not quite been a year since you moved.. And man was it a hard year.  Your parents divorced and the pain has been unreal.  You aren’t sure if life will feel normal again. (Heads up…It totally will)

During this last decade, I’ve learned that life changes and it changes fast.  I know change doesn’t come easy for you, but embrace it.  Big things will come if you open yourself up to something different and new.

So heads up… You are actually going to move again; no not 1/2 a block to a different apartment, (the pool is awesome!), but to a small town to plant a church.  I know you are thinking.. Plant a church?!  We haven’t even talked about that.. But God has a plan for you. You will plant a church and meet some amazing people.. You will learn so much about ministry and what it means to offer hospitality and listen to people who are going through hard things.  You’ll even start to understand why you have experienced certain trials.. Just so you can speak truth, love extravagantly and have a good ear.  You will buy a house, Matt will finish seminary and you’ll even have your first daughter.  (First?! Oh yes.. Just the first one)

The road will get bumpy and through some hard praying this season and this church will close.  It will be hard, but you will have a peace.  God will still be at work.  You will learn that growing and gaining wisdom doesn’t come without a price.

You’ll move out of that first house a bit more west with your now 3 year old daughter; 1 year old son and a new baby girl in your tummy.  (3?!). Those early days of feeling lonely are getting much better.  You’ve begun to realize your need for community and an amazing group of people live close by.  You feel a deep calling from the LORD to go.. So you go.

Side note… Embrace community! It’s much harder having friends as an adult but it is worth the effort.  Put yourself out IMG_0275there.. Open up and let people in.

Life is crazy.  Life with three children is a lot.  You will love to be home but your relationship with Matt will struggle.  In these long days you will have to learn more than ever to seek the Lord together and put your relationship as a top priority.  He needs you.. Not your leftovers. Love him well and remember what started it all.  Encourage him. Listen to him. Hug him tight.

Raising kids takes a lot physically and mentally .  Enjoy it though.  Soak up the story times, cuddles, rounds of Bingo and kitchen play. By the time you are almost 30 Your first little girl is  going to be in second grade , Your son a kindergartner, your Ruby girl  will be 2 1/2 and little Evie, 3 months.  (Yes you will have 4 kids!). You will need breaks though.. Don’t feel guilty about going to get a little time for yourself now and then.  You have to take care of yourself to be a good mom.  Surround yourself with people who are an encouragement to you.  You need that more than ever during these years.

Also, your day is going to be filled with difficult moments, although it will feel like your day is ruined, just take a deep breath and keep going. I know you feel any negativity ruins the whole day.  It doesn’t have to.

God is going to stretch you.  You will not always understand.  Seek the Lord… Love your husband.. Enjoy watching your kids as they grow and learn (did I forget to mention you will homeschool?!) Your 20s will be your best yet. Enjoy them.. Don’t waste them.  Be teachable. You don’t know everything yet.

There is so much more I want to tell you, but…You need a few surprises!image

Love,

Yourself.. On the day you turn 30

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