Twenty Years

TomWEDDINGPICThere are lists all over the place online such as, 10 Things to Always Do in Your Marriage, Five Things Never to Say To Your Spouse, 20 Ways to Affair Proof Your Marriage, and so forth. Good articles and lists can be good thought provokers . That isn’t what this post is.

It will be 20 years on June 30 since I married Tom. I’m writing this early, as I am in the middle of a move (our next big adventure), and I won’t be able to six days from now. Looking backward, I don’t have great prose, lofty advice or a smug account of how we’ve made it this far. God’s love and grace is the only explanation.

I knew the first time I laid eyes on Tom that he was a fine man. It’s one of those instinctive things I can’t explain. I’ve heard people describe love at first sight. Yes, there is such a thing. On this 20th anniversary, the only thing that has changed is that I love him more. It’s because of him that I know God’s love is a real thing. I see it in him every day in how he loves me and our children.  Constant, faithful, kind and decent to the core. That’s who Tom is.

Coming back from a walk the other night, we admired the birch tree he planted a few years ago in the front of our home. It’s thriving.  In each home we have lived at through the years, Tom has left something living behind. At one house, it was shrubbery. At three others, he has planted birch trees. He grows things and fixes things.  One of the first things he ever did for me as a single parent before we were married was to repair a broken leg on a chair. What’s broken he restores with careful hands.

We’ve gone through a lot in 20 years, weathered a lot of storms. Sometimes he leans on me, sometimes, (most of the time), I lean on him. Sometimes we lean into each other to keep from falling over.  That’s what  a life’s partner is all about. Just two people, walking through everything together, and looking up to realize a lifetime has gone by.

(The photo on this post is one I kept on my dresser through the months before we were engaged and then married. My favorite snapshot of the man who changed my life.)

Will’s Home – Just in Time for Mother’s Day!

Will’s back home from his first year at college. He had a wonderful year at Wheaton College Conservatory and made the Dean’s List. We are thrilled to have him home again, but he’s working hard this summer with a landscape company, so we’ll catch him when we can.  Here’s Will playing Toccata Festiva by Purvis which expresses the feeling of having our son home again. Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there.

A Good Name in Ministry

Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.

Othello Act 3, scene 3, 155–161

In the fantasy world of corrupt spiritual leaders, and by corrupt, I mean far more than the Creflo Dollar types, a “good name” is highly valued. After all, these leaders have built impressive organizations with a wide outreach and many expensive assets.

As the injured limp or crawl away from these ministries and word begins to circulate about what happened to innocent people, the common strategy from organizational leaders is to run smear campaigns for cover.

There is so much literature written on this behavior the web is choked with it. At stake is the “good name” of the leader and ministry. It must be preserved. The terrible “slander” of the “good name” must be stopped, even if it means lawsuits, behind the scenes threats and outrageous lies.

But a good name is far more than a public image solid enough to keep donations rolling in. A good name is far more than the holographic image projected by media, an image untarnished by any financial impropriety, DUI arrests or lurid sexploits.

A good name is supposed to represent an entire person, not just an image. In the minds of malignant narcissist leaders, including the self-deprecating variety found so often in fundamentalist Christian circles, anyone who dents that image, questions something or holds up a mirror to them about the harm they are doing behind the scenes is the one who must be destroyed, threatened, intimidated into silence. Their name must be mud-spattered.

The rationale for a leader’s legal threats, for example, is the protection of their “good name.” The fact that their own malicious and ungodly behavior has generated the cries of pain heard by the public is neatly covered over. The simpletons who listen to these leaders cluck and shake their heads. “Such a shame, so terrible.” In the distorted thinking of these useful tools of the narcissist, it is impossible that their beloved hologram could possibly engage in harm to innocent people or family members. It’s easier to believe the narrative cleverly spun by the Good Name. It requires no moral courage, no discernment, no critical thinking or godly analysis if fans just go with the legend instead.

In this way, enablers and sycophants help fuel the destruction machine for innocent people and their names. When evidence and testimony of witnesses is ignored in favor of the hologram’s teary-eyed stories, you have a cult mentality, not a Christian organization.

It is ironic, and sadly so, that as judgment descends on this country, the true state of the hearts in many evangelical and conservative ministries today is one of the reasons for it. The idea that Scriptural instructions are for everyone else but leaders is an entrenched one. It isn’t said or thought outright. It simply is the operating principle for many. Of course, this never ends well.

The good name of a manual laborer matters as much as that of someone in the public eye. And the name is only as “good” as the character behind it. When there is no transparency in donor-supported ministries (i.e.the names of those on boards of donor supported ministries should be public), no responsible and professional boards of directors who actually “direct” rather than serve as human rubber stamps, the good names of those departing these dysfunctional ministries get harmed. They are labeled as malcontents, slanderers, rebels, divas, nutcases, and so forth and so on.

I have news for anyone harmed by these outfits. The word ICHABOD is written over the door frames of the facilities. Any glory has departed. Whether it is ten months or ten years, any organization claiming to be Christian where there is no compassion, no heart for truth (that means listening to more than one party involved), and no concern for the souls on staff, has a bleak future.

What an avoidable tragedy it is. I believe that God honors repentance in individuals and by leaders of organizations. It is so rare, however, that I cannot name a single case of it.

There has never been more of a need for light in the darkness of our times. Sadly, neglect of first things, ambition, idolatry and opportunism in the name of ministry have weakened the underpinnings of Christian organizations all over. Like the bridge in Minneapolis a few years ago that came crashing down from bolts that quietly rusted away, ministries risk a similar demise.

At stake is more than the “good name” of temporal leaders. It’s the good Name of our Savior and his Gospel that hangs in the balance. Those who are harmed are not to blame for crying out and supposedly besmirching the Name of Above All Names. The squelching of  the victims of spiritual abuse to avoid public scrutiny is not the solution. Addressing abuse and making amends (and restituion, if necessary) to those harmed is the answer. When this does not happen, the bolts on the bridge continue to deteriorate. Tick tock.

P.S. A pastor was once asked by a journalist to explain an unsavory situation he was involved with. “We are Christians, we don’t air our dirty laundry,” he said pompously. No, sir, instead we fail to wash the laundry until the stench is so bad the wider world takes note. Something to think about.

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A Surprise on Heartbreak Hill

hillIt was so warm this week that Tom and I went out after he returned home and took our first real walk of the season. The last little dirty piles of snow from the bitterly cold winter had melted, and the late afternoon air was filled with the promise of spring.

Conversation with Tom is one of my life’s chief pleasures, and we get so deep in discussion at times that I forget where we are walking. There is a big hill that leads to our home, and last summer when Em and I did our three-mile walk several times a week, that hill was a killer at the end. (It always makes me smile to think that my sister, who is two years younger, tosses off marathons and half-marathons, while I congratulate myself on walking for a mile or two.)

My sister has mentioned the last stretch of the Boston Marathon that she has run several times. It’s called “Heartbreak Hill.” Well, my Heartbreak Hill is the one that leads to our house. But as Tom and I were walking earlier this week, I stopped suddenly and realized we were halfway up my Heartbreak Hill without me noticing it. When I am not with Tom, that hill seems enormous, exhausting and so hard to climb when I am tired.  However, when I was with the man I love, the hill faded away as we walked slowly up, deep in conversation.

It occurred to me that this is what love does. It halves the burdens. It makes the difficulties in life easier to face and the hills less daunting. Real love from a good man brings out the strength inside that you didn’t realize was there. Real love doesn’t deplete what is inside another, it bolsters what already exists, however small.

Love doesn’t take away the hills, but it stays with you on the climb, urging you on–not by badgering or hectoring or demanding, but by quietly being there, by listening and showing you how strong you really are.

As Tom and I approach our 20th anniversary this June and I reflect on what comprises a good marriage, I only have to think of that late afternoon walk up the big hill with my best friend, and how I looked back and realized how very far we had come.

Update 4/27/15

*Note* After my dad sent us the letter on behalf of VCY America, inc., threatening to sue my family and my sister Lisa’s family for trying to get Peacemaker Ministries help in Christian mediation of this shameful situation, we have heard nothing more. No apologies, no clarifications, no explanations. That pretty well sums up the leadership at the ministry of VCY America. There is no Christian love there. Forgiveness is made much harder where there is no repentance. For the last four years we have had injury after injury. But we know that God sees all, and that He alone can help us to try to move on and not allow spiritual abuse to derail our faith. I’ve removed the original content of this post. We are in possession of the threat letter, but want to try to move on.Julie Anne Smith at Spiritual Sounding Board is one of the only ones to treat us with dignity and concern. Thank you, Julie Anne for what you did.

 

The Most Important Trait

I think the most important trait in a man is kindness. Everything flows from that. Related to that is understanding. All the money in the world can’t buy the profound blessing of a man who understands you and doesn’t judge and dislike you for a weakness–someone who instead bolsters you up in that area instead of despising it. That’s what a good man does. They don’t crush the life and joy out of you, they give life and joy because of the way they live and show love. I am grateful to be married to a deeply kind man.

 

TomIngLake

It’s the People

TomIngI saw a photo recently of a graduation party for a high school girl. The year was 1946. The scene was a crowded Brooklyn apartment, a third story walk-up. The small table was cluttered with dishes. Seated around the table were a mom and pop and four high school girls with huge smiles, their moment of laughter and happiness caught on film.

There were no granite counter-tops in that kitchen, no gleaming stainless steel appliances and Italian tile back splashes (as nice as those things are.) But there were loved ones and friends together, enjoying each other’s company as they marked a life milestone together. That was a very rich family in that photo. They were rich in people.

I have a sister and brother-in-law who make a point to come from over 800 miles away EmBirthdayfor our children. One or both of them have been here for nearly every important life event the kids have had. There is a sound that always signals that Mike and Kris are here. It’s the laughter that goes on—the reminiscing about school days and neighbors and all the good times that have gone by. I learn about my husband’s childhood by listening, and I enjoy hearing about all that has made him the wonderful man he is.

It’s the people who enrich our lives. The time spent together around birthday cakes and graduations, and yes, funerals and family catastrophes and loss. You cannot buy this. You can’t rent it or advertise for it. People who love you are a gift from God. Don’t ever take them for granted. They don’t have to be there in our lives. They choose to be there. That’s what makes them so special. The love we give in return could not begin to pay it all back.

Will leaves for college on the 21st. His aunt is coming up in a few days just to spend time with him before he leaves and to be there when we drop him off. If there is one message I hope all of our kids take with them in life, it is this: People matter. Value them. Cherish them. Never use them and discard them. They are a one-of-a-kind gift.

Tom and Will have been gone on a father-son weekend since Friday morning. They have gone jet skiing, parasailing, biking and kayaking. But back at this end, Emmy and I have found ourselves a little forlorn. I miss the people. They are coming home this afternoon, and (for a few days anyway) the organ will make the floors vibrate downstairs, the trumpet will sound in practice, and the dear faces will be back at our own small table. It’s the people. It isn’t the same without them.

Thank you, God, for kind and loving people in our lives. We recognize this is a gift straight from you. Amen.

In Praise of Micro Ministry

Grandchild offering small bouquet of summer wild flowers to grandmotherThere was a picket outside a mega-church in Seattle yesterday. Victims of the whole celebrity pastor system that allows pastors to operate with zero internal accountability are increasingly refusing to stay quiet. When all efforts at handling things quietly and biblically fail, those injured by those waving the banner of Jesus are going public. Due to the damage to souls that is done by narcissistic leaders in high places, this is a good thing. Destroyed faith and lives are not small things, and if others can be warned about these places, good.

Detractors cluck at vocal victims of these ministries for “touching God’s anointed” or “harming the cause of Christ”, ignoring the fact completely that people are the cause of Christ, including those in these ministries who are thrown under the bus. One pompous employee of a Christian media ministry told a reporter that employees should just suffer their losses for Jesus and say nothing. But those suffering the losses and abuse really weren’t suffering for Jesus at all. They were suffering for someone else’s image and power, no matter how conservative and Bible-believing a cause being run. Nowhere in the Bible are we called to shield predators, liars and abusers of others. If that’s what Jesus needs to advance His cause, it’s worth a second look at what we believe.

There is another kind of ministry, far away from microphones, spotlights, and donor letters. It’s the ministry that puts groceries on a family’s porch when they are hurting, the ministry of calling up a little girl on her birthday and singing Happy Birthday to her because she has no grandparents in her life, the ministry of somebody’s company and a kindly ear that doesn’t listen to criticize, jump in or one up the other person. This kind of ministry is one on one. It’s the hug in the middle of a coffee shop, a call “just because I wanted to check on you”, a surprise email, a divinely-timed meeting where encouragement gets exchanged.

The evangelical church is massively screwed up, and not just because of false teachers, Disney-style entertainment on stage or big shot pastors. The church of Jesus has gotten off track, ironically, because people stopped being important as individuals. We became statistics and numbers and cogs in ministry machines. In the name of “saving souls” of faceless strangers, actual faces and hearts became increasingly meaningless both internally in ministries and in many cases, externally as well. Workaholics in these settings justify their rotten priorities by running like rats on treadmills to save families and souls of strangers while their own are destroyed. What a twisted notion of ministry.

Our neighbors recently lost their little dog they had for 15 years. That little dog was the shadow behind Cheryl and John all the eight years we have lived here. Emmy was most concerned for our neighbor lady, and when we returned home from the grocery store, she saw Cheryl in her yard tending to her flowers. Em ran over to her and told her she was sorry about Boomer. She hugged our neighbor for a long time and they talked and talked. I was proud and touched to see the growing empathy in our five-year-old who is learning to feel for others in their sadness. That’s a real ministry she has in showing love to others.

To those of you who engage in the ministry of love, one on one, and think you’ve done little for God, I have great news for you. You are being the hands and heart of Jesus in a way that no big shot with stage or microphone ever could be. Scripture records the one on one ministry Jesus had to rich and poor alike. He mixed with the educated of his day, but also the lame and the diseased and the untouchables that society had shunned. That’s all I want to do with my writing anymore. I spent many years writing and speaking about aberrant spiritual trends within Christianity, 24 years in total. I still hear from those who appreciated the info. But the finest work I will ever do for Jesus involves continuing to love my husband and children and grandchildren, writing about life lessons, giving a little encouragement here and there, sharing family joys and struggles and letting God use it how He chooses.

Macro-ministry is a mess these days. Corruption of all kinds is rampant. Frauds abound. Micro-ministry, one on one with others, is where our energies can be safely spent when we commit our daily lives to Jesus for His use. Somebody needs a kindly touch today. Maybe you know them?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Russell Moore Slams Christian Talk Radio

MooreThe president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission was called out Thursday by syndicated radio host Janet Mefferd over controversial statements he made at an ERLC gathering last week.

I detail what happened in this piece for the Pearcey Report. Dr. Moore’s sweeping indictment of Christian talk radio was way, way over the line. As of yet he has not retracted nor apologized for his comments. I and others have long believed that Moore is a change agent, and not a good one, in SBC leadership. His incendiary remarks are only the latest in a line of comments that are troubling and contradictory. For example, if Christians should not be involved with politics, only the Gospel as he recently stated, why in the world is he going around shilling for immigration reform with political leaders? That behavior seems more than a little political, Dr. Moore.

To accuse Christian talk radio – issues radio that covers the ongoing moral and social collapse in this country – of causing others to hate Christianity, and to make this statement without specifics or qualifications, is irresponsible, unprofessional and insulting to the many Christian broadcasters whose entire philosophy of programming is rooted in the whole Gospel message. Dr. Moore needs to get on Twitter and Facebook and either get specific about who he believes it is creating hatred for Christianity on the airwaves or apologize like a man.

Ironically, this week Dr. Moore, a big fan of social media, tweeted this bumper sticker, saying, “Love it.” We love it, too, Dr. Moore. Now quit your meanness to those who work hard to broadcast the truth in love.

Here’s the Pearcey Report, which is an ongoing source of thought-provoking and timely information on the important issues of our time. Read more on their About page.

A Small Tribute

I’ve said it all before, but this hectic season, I am saying it again. Sometimes we get so enthralled with the bad stuff and bad people in the world that we forget to appreciate the good.

tomwilsoncenterWe live on a broken planet, and the truth is that the brokenness can dominate our focus while the good is right there in front of us. I wanted to write this small tribute to my husband, Tom. He has kept going through everything thrown his way over 18 and a half years of our family. This Christmas season, again, I have watched as he has kept going through a lot of exhausting things. He is currently playing a long-running musical that challenges him in many ways. The show must go on, even through a terrible cough, icy roads, and even the wrong trumpet last week, so he had to transpose the entire show’s music in his head, live. He never complains.  He still has a sense of humor. He is kind to everybody. He is the truest Christian I have ever met who lives what he claims to believe. I want to be like him.

He managed to get our Christmas tree up when it didn’t look like he’d be able to find the time. (It was up in the rafters of the garage where I couldn’t get it.) Will’s been so slammed with exams and lessons and practice, he had no time either. But the tree is up. Emily is thrilled to see the ornaments she remembers from last year and the manger scene that she set up.

It isn’t long before Christmas, can you believe it? I am mulling over what to make for Christmas dinner. For the first time in my entire life, we went out for Thanksgiving dinner. It simply worked out best for all of us. Our son Emthanksgiving2013who is recovering from broken hip and leg was able to join us thanks to the disability access at the place where we ate. There was a big fire in the fireplace at the German restaurant. Emily was so awed by the stained glass there and the high-beamed ceiling and the balcony that she leaned over and whispered, “Is this a church?” All in all, though, there’s no place like home for the holidays. Will missed green bean casserole, so he’s getting plenty of that this Christmas to make up for it!

I thought I’d share this sweet old carol I love. I think it’s my favorite. It evokes so many dear thoughts and memories in my mind, as I am sure every carol does for someone. More than anything, it reminds me of our Savior and the Incarnation. What a miracle!