Friday, December 27, 2013

A Leader Serves

It was shocking really, when he washed their feet. The task was so low, so loathsome, that the twelve would've rather left it undone than do it themselves. Known for arguments about who among them was the greatest, this ragtag group of disciples cherished lofty ambitions.

Foot washing was not on their agenda.

Jesus gives us a model for leadership that is counter-intuitive for even his most sincere followers. He takes the worst of the work and does it with the height of passion. He is not angry. He is not exasperated. He is not shaming them; he is leading them. I imagine him smiling, delighted with his chosen duty; tender, but thorough with the cleaning. He surely did the work well.

Servant Leadership has almost become a catch-phrase in Christian circles--an honored concept, but one I rarely see in practice. I say rarely because when I do see it, I find myself feeling what I imagine the disciples felt when Jesus picked up the basin and the towel. I feel a moment of protest, a twinge of regret over my own neglect of the task, and a profound admiration for the one who stepped up to serve. I am completely convinced of the merits of servant leadership, but often remiss to employ them myself.

After all, there are many leadership concepts that seem to be at odds with the idea of servant leadership. Where does delegation fit in? And what about giving people opportunities to grow into bigger responsibilities by starting with the lesser? And if the leader is always washing feet, who is casting the vision and directing the programs? But I am beginning to learn how to reconcile these seemingly opposing approaches.

First of all, I'm learning that service is incorporated into all that I do, but it is not focus of what I do. Jesus didn't only wash feet. He was not above doing it--but he was also not against letting someone else do it. He didn't teach Foot Washing 101 to the masses nor proclaim it in the temple. He just did it when it needed to be done, and then gently reminded his disciples that they needed to serve others in the same way. So while I need to be ready, willing, and able to do the lowliest of jobs, I do not need build my vision around those jobs. I do them so that the vision can be accomplished. I don't have to walk around with a mop and dust rag in order to be a servant leader--but I certainly better know where to find them and how to use them.

One of the best ways I can incorporate service into my leadership style is by making sure that my schedule has margin. Leaders tend to be Type A personalities, and Type As are notorious for being driven. We fill every hour of every day with important meetings, projects, and activities. Then, when we are faced with an urgent need, we don't have the means to meet it. Our agendas handicap our capacity to serve. In order to be able to wash feet, we can't be captive to the clock. The harried don't have time to notice the needs of others, much less meet them. Most servant leading happens in the context of the unanticipated, the overlooked, and the eventuality. When I don't have margin I leave the messes to others and miss the opportunity to practice servant leadership.

In order to try to leave room for foot washing in my life, I have started scheduling only 30 hours of my work week. This does not mean that I am only working 30 hours a week, it just means that there are at least 10 easily interrupt-able hours in my week. Before I find ways to make myself busy during those "unscheduled" hours, I assess the needs of those around me. Does David need for me to run an errand? Could I help clean the church? Is someone in our community ill? Could I take them a meal? Often, the need is obvious. Sometimes, no need arises, and I give my time to other tasks. But I find that this margin makes me more sensitive to others and more attentive to the feet that need washing.

Second, I'm learning to serve without keeping score. When it comes to the menial work of life, its easy to resort to humanistic approaches like "taking turns." While I'm all about sharing the work, score-keeping kills generosity and love. It's all too easy to settle for trade offs rather than servant-hood. "Your turn to do this dishes." "My turn to choose a movie." "Your turn to make the bed." "My turn to pick a restaurant." Always trying to get one's fair share is completely at odds with the concept of servant leadership.

David and I learned this early in our marriage. As I was typing, David just folded a load of laundry--for the third time today. He is not less busy than I am, he just keeps beating me to it. And then he came to me and asked, "Is there any way I can bless you today?" This is our marriage M.O. Each of us does the things that we notice need to be done. And then just in case we've missed something we ask, "Is there anything I could do to bless you?" In other words, "How can I wash your feet today?" Obviously, David is better at this than I am--but I'm inspired by him. And as he serves me in this way I am eager to imitate him.

In order to be a servant leader, I need to not only do the menial things that just need to be done, I need to approach my day with a "How can I bless YOU?" agenda (again, without running a tab). I'm sadly self-absorbed, and so in order to lead with this sort of other-focus, I have to build new habits into my life. When I am serving on a team, I check in with the others before checking out for the day and ask, "Is there anything I can do before I go?" I sometimes ask people on my teams to lead me--that is, I might say, "I'm not sure what all needs to be done here, but I'm more than willing to help if you can give me some direction." For on-going projects, I make a habit of checking in regularly with members of my team. I not only ask how things are going, I end each call or email with an offer of service. "Is there anything I can do to help or encourage you?" This doesn't flow from me naturally just yet, but I'm leaning into the process with the hopeful expectation that my heart is being transformed into the heart of a servant leader.

Finally, attitude counts. Doing any act of service with a heavy sigh and a spirit of exasperation pretty much negates the positive leadership effect of the effort. Sure, the job gets done, but the method was one of shame and disgust, not heartfelt service. I am sure that Jesus washed feet happily. He did not feel more important when teaching in the tabernacle and less important when kneeling before his disciples. He knew that in each instance he was doing his God-given task. A servant might fuss about her tasks, but a servant leader does the same tasks with sincere determination, care, and joy.

I can embrace any task with delight because I do it for the Lord. As the apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians slaves, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." Whatever...with ALL your heart. SO whether leading a charge or cleaning up after the horses; whether giving a speech or filling the water glasses of the listeners; whether directing the board or cleaning the board room--all is for the Lord.

For thought and discussion: How is your margin? Are you allowing time to serve the ones you lead? Are you ever tempted to keep score? What is your attitude when the menial tasks land on your plate? 

Monday, December 23, 2013

When did I see you hungry?

After our English Carol Service last weekend, people hung around for fellowship and yuletide yummies. I was enjoying a super satisfying slice of shortbread and stimulating conversation when our pastor pulled me aside and I asked if I had any food prepared at home. Apparently, while English speakers were basking in the afterglow of the candlelight service, a young French girl with a baby had shown up hungry at the back door of the church. The stores were all closed. Christmas cookies wouldn't suffice.

Soak in the poignancy of that moment...I had just preached on the incarnation--God with us--and now I had the opportunity to practice it.

I bundled up, told David where I was running off to, and clip-clopped towards home in my high heeled boots. The boys, who had left church fifteen minutes ahead of me, were already reheating the homemade Chicken Noodle Soup that I had made the day before. Leftovers.

"Is there enough for three?" I asked.

When I told them why I needed a bowl of soup, they were eager to share. We scooped up steaming broth, veggies, chicken and noddles into a Tupperware bowl, and gathered some slices of bread and a few clementine oranges. It was a meager feast, but it was all I had.

And so the young mama ate that night.

We haven't heard from her since. Unlike in Paul Harvey's touching tales, in ministry, we rarely get "the rest of the story." We see the pain, we minister to the need, and we're left wondering if we really helped at all.

While I may never know what happened to the other girl in my story, I know what happened to this girl. This girl (who has never known a hungry day in her life) fed Jesus. In the midst of the celebration of his birth, I got the privilege of welcoming him into my ordinary life.

I pray and pray all through the Advent season that I would have a heart ready to receive him. But how often do I miss him when he comes?

I look for him among the stars, in angel choruses, and in the wrinkled pages of my Bible; I found him in the vulnerability of a hungry young mother.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat...."

Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you...?"

“...whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

Matthew 25: 34-40

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Leader Submits

The most important thing I can do as a leader is walk in submission. I know this is the truth, even when I struggle to abide by it. Leaders have a natural bend to, well, lead. Leading comes naturally. Submission--not so much. However, while I've never found a single verse in the Bible that commands believers to lead, there are over 30 that command us to submit. Leadership is optional. Submission is not.

We are to submit to governmental authorities:
For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. Romans 13: 4-5 
We are to submit to our co-laborers in the Gospel:
You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people. I urge you, brothers and sisters, to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it. I Corinthians 16:15-16
We are to submit to our spiritual authorities:
Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. Hebrews 13:7 
We are to submit to our brothers and sisters in Christ:
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:21  
I am to submit to my own husband:
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. Ephesians 5:22
And above all we are to submit to God:
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:7
Consider Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, the one who was in very nature God--he submitted to the will of the Father. He agonized in the garden, he begged for another option, and then he said, "not my will but yours." The equal of God yielded to God.

Jesus taught us that submission isn't about surrendering or following or giving in. Submission is about positioning yourself fully behind the will (and hopes and dreams and needs and desires) of another.

Submission isn't throwing up your hands and saying, "Fine, have it your way!" Submission is rolling up your sleeves and saying, "Tell me how I can help!"

Submission has nothing to do with being defeated or resigned. Submission has everything to do with choosing to serve the cause of another as enthusiastically as if it were your own.

And the truth is, if I am not submitted in all aspects of my life--to Jesus, to David, to my pastor, to my co-laborers, to my brothers and sisters in Christ, and even to my government--I have no business leading. Submission is the safety-net that God gives leaders, and when I neglect it I put myself and others in danger.

Let me give you an example. Whenever I preach I run my sermon by David and/or my pastor in advance. These two people have theological training that I don't have and I want them to review my sermon for accuracy and clarity. In voluntarily submitting to them as brothers in Christ and spiritual authorities, I protect myself and our congregation from heresy. As a leader, I want to teach truth and I want to serve our church family well. Submission helps me to accomplish those goals. Now neither David nor my pastor require me to submit my sermons for review. They aren't at all worried about my capacity to teach. I am the one who chooses to come under their authority. However, if someone ever takes issue with something that I have preached, I will have two defenders by my side. They would be eager and willing to explain my point because they would have already signed off on it. Submission is  a safeguard for me, for our fellowship, and for the integrity of the Gospel. Why on earth would I resist it?

I find it easy to submit where I question my own capacity. Like with preaching. But in areas where I feel competent (dare I say, "gifted"?), I can struggle to bow my will. When I really think I know best, then I am tempted to neglect my God-given authorities.

And there is a balance because often, as a leader, I have a vision and a strong sense of direction. If others say, "Let's do it this way!" or "I think we should go that way!" it takes a great deal of discernment to know when to submit to them and when submitting to them would take me out of submission to the Father. Which is why constant and continual submission to God is essential. But I believe it is possible to walk in God-given authority and total submission at the same time. That's what Jesus did. It wasn't either/or, it was yes/and.

And it seems that submission is not just a women's issue. It's a Christian issue. All believers are called to submit. So while wives may have wrestling matches with learning to submit, I don't think that men are off the hook. I can say with total confidence and great joy that I am called to submit to my husband, David. But David recognizes the power of mutual submission that Paul was talking about when he wrote "submit to one another." As the head of our family, he submits too--because, well, leaders submit. God gave us a metaphor for how this plays out in our lives:

Early in our marriage, David and I took a walk in the woods. We were following a trail, but it was overgrown, and tree limbs often jutted out across the path. Because the trail was narrow, we were walking single file with David leading the way. Eventually we came to a large tree branch and, being a gentleman, David held it out of my way and let me pass in front. Then I was leading for a while. But soon we came to another obstacle, and this time I held it back and allowed David to pass me and re-take the lead. Since we had agreed on the path and the overall direction, neither of us really cared who was in front. We just wanted to help and serve and enjoy each other along the way. I think most of life is like that. God gives a vision--that's the path. But we share leadership along the way.

Now if we had come upon a bear, I definitely would've wanted David in front because he's stronger and braver and he doesn't scream like a girl. So when the path God reveals has a bear warning sign--David stays in the lead and I happily follow. But if we had come upon a river, David would've asked me to dive in first to check out the water because I'm a good swimmer and he sinks like a rock. So when the path God reveals has a water feature--I stay in the lead. In either case, we stay submitted to God's leadership while honoring the strengths and shielding the weaknesses of the other.

And while it would be nice to be able to stand behind my husband in the case of a bear attack, the real reason I submit to him (and anyone else, for that matter) is out of reverence for Christ. I don't submit to someone out of reverence for the other person, because no matter how great the other person is, he or she is bound to make mistakes. I submit because I revere Christ, and Christ asks me to submit. Submission says, "I don't have to be in control because I trust Jesus." I can be comfortable following new leaders and struggling leaders and even clumsy leaders because my faith isn't in earthy authorities, it's in a holy God that calls me to submit to those authorities

The one thing submission can never be is forced. By definition, submission is willingly yielding to another. If coercion or manipulation or subjugation is present, then submission is absent. Therefore as a leader I can receive submission from followers, but I can't extract it from them. It is their gift to give. But I find that if I am walking in submission as a leader, others naturally follow suit.

As I learn to walk in submission I see the Lord do wonderful things. Teams flourish. Individuals excel. Collaborative efforts increase and results often exceed expectations. Above all, God is glorified. He is glorified because HOW we accomplish something is as important as WHAT we accomplish in God's economy.

Submission is good for the soul.

For thought and discussion: How to you react to the idea of submission? As a leader, to whom do you submit? How are you "holding back branches" for the ones you are called to lead?

Monday, December 16, 2013

English Carol Service

Last night our church had its 4th Annual Traditional English Carol Service. We were packed to standing room only for this event, which features not only Christmas carols but also scripture reading, candle-lighting, minced pies, and mulled wine. The majority of those who come are not members of our church, so it is a great way to reach out into the community.

As resident English speakers, our family usually has the privilege of participating in the production of this service. Last night David played guitar, Graham played bass, Chandler sang in the choir, I delivered the Gospel. Below you will find the story that I told as means of an introduction to my message. 

In the United States, where I grew up, school children always eat lunch at school. Some bring a sack lunch from home and others buy a hot lunch from the cafeteria, but all the students eat together in a giant lunch room. The only adults present during lunch are angry aids and administrators who had the misfortune of being assigned “lunch duty” and seemed to take their resentment out on the students. Needless to say, school lunches were not much fun for me.

One day, as I was walking with my classmates in a squirming line towards the lunch room, I noticed a stir. Looking up, I saw the source of the commotion.  It was my Dad. My Dad was an important business man who worked in a big office downtown. He wore tailored suits and wing-tipped shoes and he always carried a briefcase. He traveled all over the world and made mind-blowing presentations before brilliant scientists. I had known him to be in three countries in the course of a single week, but I had never seen him in the halls of my elementary school. I was so confused. What was my Dad doing at my school in the middle of the week? Why was he suddenly in my little world?

I broke all protocol, got out of line, and ran to him. He swooped me up in his strong arms, gave me a big kiss, and simply said, “I came to have lunch with you.” 

My Dad stood in the food line right by my side, he pushed his tray right behind mine, and then paid for both of our meals. He followed me to the table, and then somehow folded his enormous body into the tiny chair next to me. His knees were practically touching his ears, but he didn’t seem to care. And then all my friends and classmates gathered around, each one wanting a piece of Mr. Dennis. We regaled him with our tales, showed him all of our tricks, and told him all of secrets. My dad told us stories of his school days, asked us all sorts of questions, and smiled broadly. On the one hand, it was a bit bizarre to have him sitting at my grubby little lunch table, there in my childhood context. In his presence my world suddenly seemed smaller and dirtier. On the other hand, it was comforting to see that he was exactly the same person here as he was at home—gentle, funny, kind, charismatic, upright, respectable, and even in-charge.

That event was a long time ago. But it still moves me. My Dad could have dined at any restaurant in town. But he chose, that day, to come to my world. He chose substandard food, a sticky table, and a bunch of noisy kids. And he delighted to do it.

In a way, my Dad’s trip to my Elementary school is a picture of what God did for us at Christmas. We can easily overlook, as we imagine that helpless baby on the hay, that he, the swaddled one, was the Creator of the Universe. He was the great I Am, the one who parted the Red Sea, the Holy One of Israel. He left his heavenly downtown office for this messy lunchroom that we call earth. Imagine the Eternal God folding himself into the confines of human flesh so that he could dine at our lowly table. So that he could listen to our hearts, look us in the eyes, tell us of his love, and demonstrate his goodness.

That, in a nutshell, is what separates Christianity from every other religion known to man. Every other religion tells us what we need to do to reach God. But Christianity teaches that God reached down to us. The God of the Christian faith is simply the God who showed up.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Love Notes from Dad

My Dad, who always made my school lunches, would often tuck little notes of encouragement into my brown bag. I remember feeling such a boost when, in the midst of a hectic school day, I would sit down in a noisy lunchroom, open my sack, and find his tender words among my sandwich and carrot sticks.

This week, it seemed like my heavenly Father sent me a few such love notes. As I traveled to the town of Mâcon to help train mentors for emerging French leaders, as I was far from family and immersed in many unknowns, as I timidly stepped out into a new ministry opportunity, God whispered words of blessing through unexpected messengers.

The first whisper came on the train. I had already traveled from Tours to Paris and traversed Paris via the metro from Gare Montparnasse to Gare de Lyon. Then I boarded another train in order to get from Paris to Mâcon. I found my seat at the back of the car and settled in with my computer to work on a monthly report. I tapped away on the keyboard for about half an hour, and then paused to eat a sandwich. In that moment, my seatmate--a thirty-something French man--asked, "Are you Jennifer Williamson?" It turns out that my seatmate was a pastor who was headed to Mâcon to be trained and encouraged as a mentor, and he recognized me from a photo in an email where I had been introduced as one of the facilitators for the group. We had a lovely conversation the rest of the journey. In that moment it was as if God said to me, "I see you."

The second whisper came at the retreat center the next day. The man who was in charge of all the logistics for the event approached me just before a lunch break seeking a minute of my time. I thought he was going to tell me something about a reimbursement for my travel expenses, but he hesitated and said instead, "I had a dream or a vision or something last night, and I think I am supposed to tell you about it." He was almost apologetic, not wanting to freak me out, and insisting that it could have just been a strange dream, but he wanted to tell me about it nonetheless. In the dream, he saw me before the throne of God, praying for something that had been heavy on my heart for a long time--though he didn't know exactly what that "something" was. He then heard the Lord say, "Be patient." And that was it. I thanked him sincerely. In that moment it was as if God said to me, "I hear you."

The third whisper came on the last day of the conference. There was a man at the mentoring community in Mâcon who had also been at the church planting conference in Lyon two weeks prior, where I had been responsible for the times of meditation. He sought me out intentionally to tell me how the Lord had used the meditations that I had shared in Lyon to speak specifically to him. God touched him in an amazing and unexpected way--in a way that I could never have anticipated or orchestrated. I was blown away by his story, and I thanked him for telling it to me. In that moment it was as if God said to me, "I'm using you."

I could have opened my Bible to Genesis and the story of Hagar and realized through her experience that God sees me. I could have read Hannah's story in the book of 1 Samuel and deduced that God hears me. I could have scanned through Paul's many letters and come to the conclusion that God uses his children for his purposes. And yet....

And yet God, in his tender mercy, chose to speak these things directly to me, he chose to write them into the very pages of my life. He sends loving, personal expressions of his grace if I just open my heart to receive them. He's such a great Dad.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


“You have the type of leadership gift that has baffled the church for years!” Tom said to me, bemused.

“Yeah, I know,” I admitted sheepishly, feeling like I ought to apologize.

He wasn't the first person to make this observation. Most of my life I've felt like a walking contradiction. Christian-Woman-Leader: three characteristics that aren't ALL THREE supposed to be found in one person. Believe me, I've asked God to give me different gifts. No one is bothered by a woman with the gift of hospitality. Or mercy. Or service.
My friend Tom was right. Some Christian organizations don’t seem to know what to do with women leaders, and as a result, some women leaders don’t really know what to do with themselves in Christian organizations. Though many of us have owned and operated successful businesses, directed community projects, or held public offices, the minute we find ourselves among the body of believers, we’re like fish out of water.

Which is sad, really, because the God who saved us also gifted us and called us. He gifted us to lead. And contrary to popular belief, most Christian women who have strong leadership abilities have absolutely no desire to overstep their God-given boundaries. We submit to our husbands. We respect our pastors. We pray for our elders. We want to do the Lord’s will in the Lord’s way. But somehow this becomes crazily confusing at church or on the mission field! The rules of engagement are often unspoken and awkwardly enforced through sanctioned condescension or polite indifference.  I've never heard anyone try to argue that God does not gift women to lead; yet, I've seen many try to avoid the implications of the fact that he does.

Some have tried to resolve this tension by defining arenas within Christian organizations and churches where women are permitted to serve as leaders.  Women can lead children (what mother doesn't?); Women can lead other women; Women can serve as deacons; Women can chair event committees. I know some of the verses that seem to support such an approach; yet I know many others that contradict it. Priscilla would have been out of a ministry position—after all, she taught a man. Deborah could not have been a judge—she had authority over men.  And don’t even mention Junia (no one ever does!)—the woman that Paul refers to as an apostle.

On the other hand, some people have sought to resolve this tension by waging war in the church. Losing sight of grace, love, and humility, they have wrangled rights and recognition using means that no end could possibly justify. Jesus repeatedly tells his disciples that the way up is down, that the first shall be last. We (men and women) are to seek to serve not demand to lead.  While pitching self-righteous fits in the name of equality, many have forgotten that our ultimate call is to wash feet. We fight over titles and ignore the real work that needs to be done.

So what’s a girl to do? If she pushes too hard she might get stamped with an ugly label and create strife among the body of believers. If she suppresses the gift she might quench a fire that burns within her. What is God’s highest and best for both the body of believers and the women leaders in its midst?

Through the years, I have been blessed to work in churches that have helped me to grow and thrive as a leader. I have also been blessed to serve in Christian organizations that respect traditional views about women in leadership. In both experiences, I've made a lot of mistakes. But I am learning how to honor my brothers and sisters in Christ while doing the kingdom work to which I have been called. Over the next few months I’d like to explore some attitudes and activities that I’m trying to embrace as a leader.  Topics will include:  

·        Submitting willingly to every authority that God has placed in my life
·         Washing feet. Keep washing feet.
·         Honoring my brothers/sisters; speaking well of them and of their leadership
·         Staying teachable, welcoming input, responding favorably to feedback
·         Blessing my critics
·         Leading where I am in quiet confidence (without expecting applause)

None of these are new concepts and none of them originated with me. They are simply some things I am learning to apply to my life so that my leadership will honor Jesus. I’ll be dedicating one blog a week to the subject of leadership, a subject that both thrills and terrifies me.

If you regularly read my blog, then you know that I don’t instruct or teach—I don’t in any way consider myself an expert. I just share my experiences, I explore ideas, and I describe what the Lord is teaching ME. I will take that same approach to this subject. Please feel free to chime in! I welcome your input and I grow from your wisdom. May all be said and done for the glory of God.

Monday, December 9, 2013

A French Wedding

On Saturday, David and I were witnesses in a French wedding. It was a marriage between two church members, both of whom have been previously married and who each have five children.

A civil ceremony is required in France--in fact, it is the only ceremony that matters in the eyes of the law. Conducted by the mayor of the town in a very official manner, the civil ceremony takes place in City Hall.

Witnesses sit on either side of the bride and groom and sign official documents once the vows have been exchanged. Typically, only close family members and witnesses attend the civil ceremony, though other friends and family wait outside to cheer when the newlyweds leave the building.

The entire thing takes about 10 minutes from start to finish. Christian couples will typically have a church ceremony following the civil ceremony--both on the same day. This was the case for our friends.

The civil ceremony was at 10 a.m. and the church ceremony was at 3:30 p.m. As David and I were both participating in the church wedding, we don't have any photos from that yet!

It was the first time we were allowed in to witness a civil ceremony, so it was culturally enriching experience. We were honored to be asked to participate in our friends' special day. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

An Advent Observed

Life is moving a million miles per second. Ministry takes me away from home a lot these days, and as I rack up frequent-voyager miles on my railway card, I'm wondering when I'll ever get a Christmas photo taken, a tree trimmed, or gingerbread men frosted. Meanwhile my boots need to be repaired, my prescriptions need to be refilled, and my dog needs a trip to the groomer.

And into the swirling activity of everyday life comes the wonder-filled season of advent--the blessed anticipation of the dawn of our redemption. 

Laundry needs to be folded. Bills need to be paid. Garbage bins need to be emptied.

The world keeps spinning while angels sing. As I tend my metaphorical flock, will I pause to ponder their song?

The cat has fleas. The refrigerator is leaking. The Christmas letter must be written.

Meanwhile, the God of the universe has wrapped himself  in the envelope of human flesh and mailed himself to a cross. Will I receive this living word?

There are sermons to preach, weddings to witness, conferences to attend. How can it be that a minister does not still herself long enough to appropriately honor the very object of her worship?

Did the shepherds not leave their flocks to marvel at his glory? Shall I care more for mutton than His Majesty?

Perhaps advent can be celebrated in the midst of my everyday life. Lord, as I empty the garbage, remind me that your coming emptied the garbage in my heart. As I fold clothes, remind me that you have clothed me in righteousness. As I pay bills, remind me that when you died on the cross you paid a debt I could not pay.

He made his home on a bed of hay. Perhaps he can make the dirty of stable of my life holy by his presence. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

They Washed Feet

The room on the third floor of the retreat center had been the site of shocking realizations, shared information, healed relations, spiritual formation, tense confrontation, and innovative collaboration.

Leaders from seven different French denominations had come together to figure out how to tackle the task of church planting. Their goal is huge: 1 church for every 10,000 individuals in France. To attain this ratio, the existing 2600 churches must continue to thrive while planting an additional 4500 new churches. The need is great--the work is daunting--but the body of Christ is motivated, and they have come together under the mighty hand of God to work with HIM to get the job done.

I had the privilege of attending this event. I coordinated times of worship and reflection that were interspersed throughout the three days, I helped with translation (as one of the facilitators was an American), and I managed some logistics.

And I was moved to tears by the beauty of the body of Christ. The second night, after some tension and debate, we formed a circle, read scripture, and washed each other's feet.

The leaders of several different denominations, after facing hard facts and making great plans, humbled themselves before God and each other, got down on their hands and knees, and washed feet.

They washed feet.

The American consultant, who works with churches and Christian organizations around the globe, said that he had never seen anything like it. All over the world people are having the same conversations about discipleship and church planting, but never before had he seen such interdenominational cooperation.

They washed feet.

They demonstrated their intention to serve and bless one another. They set aside their differences and basked in the glory of the cross. They left behind everything that divided them, and they chose to embrace the unity that they have in Christ.

It was beautiful, and I was blessed to be among them. I'm inspired by them. I'm rejoicing with them. And I'm rolling up my sleeves to work along side of them. To wash their feet in any way I can. And to be grateful for the many ways that they wash mine.

A room full of leaders set aside their scepters and took up basins and towels. And they washed each other's feet. Just like Jesus.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Happy Birthday, Graham!

As of today, I have an adult child. Graham is 18.

At lunch, he quoted one of our favorite authors, Mark Twain:
My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it.
Oh yes, he was trouble. And yes, I enjoyed it. Every challenge was a blessing, every struggle a joy. And while I know (tears glistening in my eyes) that motherhood doesn't end when children reach adulthood, there is a strange feeling of accomplishment in seeing one's offspring come of age.

He is wise, and honest, and practical, and real. And most of all, he is ready.

I love you, my bug. It's an honor to be your mom. You are the answer to the longest prayer I ever prayed. And in every way you are immeasurably more than all I asked or imagined. I'm thankful for the miracle God gave us in you.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Fungus Among Us

The French love to hunt wild mushrooms. This time of year you find cars parked all along the side of the road where eager scavengers have wandered off into the forests to search for flavorful fungi.

A friend and neighbor recently gave us these beauties from the abundance of his bounty. The first sack was filled with Pieds de Moutons (Sheep's Feet would be the literal translation--not sure what we call these in English) and the second was filled with Chanterelles (which we call chanterelles--they sell for about $18/lb in the US). 

Multiple varieties of mushrooms grow all over the French forests, and even unskilled hunters can try their hand without fear because all pharmacists are trained to identify and classify mushrooms. So happy gatherers simply take their find to the local Pharmacy, and all dangerous or poisonous mushrooms are discarded by the pharmacist, who usually just asks for a portion of the good mushrooms in exchange for his services.

Our friend carefully explained how we were to clean and store the mushrooms and we followed his instructions to the T. 

David plans to use some of the Pieds de Mouton on our pizza tonight--which should add a nice earthy flavor.

Our chanterelles are in the freezer, awaiting their use in quiches or sautéed as an elegant side.

Learning about mushrooms is just one of the things that I LOVE about living in France!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ministry is Messy

Ministry is messy.

If you don't get that, you're missing out.

For many years my church experience was rather sterile. People who went to church were well-mannered. Everyone came to services clean and smelling good. Nothing unexpected happened.Obedient congregants stood when they were supposed to stand, sang what they were supposed to sing, sat quietly during the sermon, and left smelling as good as they did when they arrived. Our biggest problem was a misspelled word on a power-point slide. Everything was neat. Orderly. Predictable.

And I liked it.

I knew what to expect when I went to church. It was comfortable. It was familiar. And why shouldn't it be? Isn't God a God of order? Isn't he good and holy and perfect and clean-smelling? Shouldn't church reflect that nice, neat God? I knew all the reasons for "excellence" in a service. I understood that we needed to offer our very best to God. I delighted in knowing that faithful men and women devoted their time each week to the production of a service that would be glorifying to God and honoring to those who came to worship him. And I know, really I know, that the motives behind those fabulously flawless services were good and right.

But lean in close so that you can hear my heart. Let me whisper something that the Lord has been slowly, patiently revealing to my soul which is soiled by an inordinate attachment to tidiness. Ministry--real person-to-person, life-to-life, broken vessel-to-broken vessel ministry--is messy.

Loving the neighbor who truly believes that aliens are living in his attic--that's an adventure. Figuring out what to do with his eager participation in worship services--that's messy.

Realizing, as you swallow the communion wine that has just been handed out, that the wine has gone bad and tastes like vinegar--that's messy. Seeing faces contort as they try their best to swallow rather than spew--that's messy too.

Watching my teenage son escort an obese woman home after prayer, knowing that he has purposefully, significantly slowed his steps to meet her pace--that's beautiful. Knowing that she is undoubtedly rambling on about inappropriate topics, and watching him listen with respect nonetheless--that's messy.

When the African woman prays aloud, prayers full of truth, laced with scripture--that's amazing. But when the prayer that should have lasted 30 seconds goes on for five minutes, ten minutes, even longer--then what? Then ministry gets messy.

When the pastor makes mention of pornography in a sermon, and his ten year-old daughter raises her hand and asks, "What's pornography?" That's messy.

When those on the fringes lead others to Christ--and we scratch our heads and wonder,"Which one of us is really on the fringe?" That's messy.

When we suddenly become aware that all have entered the house of the Lord with baggage, and that those suitcases are filled with everything from mental illness to poverty to histories in the occult, and when the baggage is brought right through the doors of the church and laid bare for all to see--well a nice sterile service just might not be possible. Things might get messy.

The spiritual control-freak in me panics. The spiritual neat-freak in me starts looking for a spiritual broom. And the spiritual perfectionist in me wishes everyone would close up those suitcases, take them home, and hide them in the back of the closet where they belong. That stuff does not smell good. Could someone light some incense? I'm pretty sure church is supposed to smell good.

And then I get a glimpse of Jesus, who is neither panicking nor plugging his nose. Nothing laid bare was beyond his knowledge. He already knew about the problems and their stench. He's glad to have all of the people with all of their baggage in his house. He loves the unlovely. He touches the untouchables. He blesses the broken.

Often I find myself overwhelmed by the messiness of ministry, unsure of how to help, drowning in a wave of needs. But when I see how Jesus loves them--how he loves us--I realize that I don't have to have all the answers. I just have to lead them to the one who does.

We have a Savior that isn't afraid of our messes. A Lord that doesn't recoil from our stench. A God who chose not to stay sterile in his heaven, but humbled himself to take on our dirt.

He unpacks each suitcase in the shadow of the cross, he bleeds his redemption into every tangled mess. And he delights to do it, because the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.

Church, are we the instrument of his grace? Will we welcome and serve the ones he loves, even when the work is messy? Even when it means our service might not go as planned? Or will we forget that we, too, stumbled into his courts naked and blind, wretched and poor?

Ministry is messy. And hard. And worth it.

Monday, November 18, 2013


As the youngest of five girls, I grew up in a home of estrogen. My big sisters were my very first friends and to this day they are special to me. Maybe it is because of my family of origin that I have always cultivated deep and meaningful friendships with girlfriends. I am not one who needs a lot of friends, but I am one who cherishes intimate friendships with a handful of dear souls.

During my recent trip to the States, I had lunch with a few of my very favorite friends. Though we've barely talked over the past year, we picked up as if we had just seen each other last week. It was a beautiful moment; and yet, it left me strangely sad. I miss my friends.

I have made new friends in France, and I love and appreciate each one. But it takes a loooooong time to build depth and intimacy. And in this crazy-move-around-the-globe-transient missionary life that I live, I will not stay in one place for the duration. Which means that the friendships I invest in today will soon become a part of my growing list of left-behind loved-ones.

So as I sat with my friends in the States--talking too much about me and longing to hear more of them--I realized that I have a friendship void in my life. A void that may be with me until we are all gathered into eternity. And that is sad.

Because those girlfriends are the type that will tell me when it's time to color my hair. They mock my "preach-i-ness" in a way that appropriately humbles me and makes me feel deeply loved, all at once. They cheer over cute new boots, they know how I like my latte, and they talk me back to sanity when I confess that I am considering a neck chain for my reading glasses. ("No way! That adds ten years right off. We love you too much to let you go there!")

They are the sort that really want to know about my son's love life, my husband's diet, and my new favorite conditioner (Happy Happy Joy Joy by Lush). They've seen me through tough parenting decisions, bad fashion choices, major career changes, and amputated fingers. (okay, it was one finger, and it was David's, not mine. Still. They were there!) They love me where I'm at (grammatical error intended).

I delight in knowing that when we get together, nothing has changed. But those moments are so few and far between.

So to those of you who have the luxury of living in one place for a long period of time--appreciate your friends! Hug them often! Cheer them onward! Pray with them. Play with them. And while you do, whisper a word of thanks to the author of friendship Himself.

And to those of you who ARE my far-away friends, know that you are very near to my heart! I count your friendship among my greatest treasures and I cherish the memories we made together. I look forward to every moment we will share in the future, no matter how brief or infrequent. I thank God for you and the rich investments that you make in my life. And I love you bunches.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Song for my Mom

Note: I am currently in the States, celebrating my mom's 80th Birthday> The following are the remarks I shared at her party:

Some of you know that I like to write. The first piece I ever published was a poem that I wrote about my mom when I was about 8 years old. It was published in the San Antonio Express News on Mother’s Day. They had a poetry contest and my poem won an honorable mention. But in retrospect, I’m guessing it wasn’t the elegance of my prose that merited an award. I’ll bet that somehow, despite the clumsiness of my words, the judges were able to see the complex beauty that is my mom.

I say complex because my mom is one of those people whose beauty is rich and varied; yet, it never clamors for attention. Much of her greatness has gone unsung through the years, and she’s never once asked for recognition. But today, mama, we want to sing your song.

We sing of your creativity—how through decades of changing styles you clothed your girls with glory. Because of your brilliant imagination, your diligent stitching, and your flair for fashion, we were always well-dressed. And each carefully constructed garment was a masterpiece. You dressed us in your love. But your creativity went far beyond your sewing skills. Sisters, who of remembers being about 10 years old, when mom decided to do one of her “spot-checks” on our clothes dressers? What happens to messy drawers? And unmade beds? My mom even made discipline fun. Effective, but fun.

We sing of your industriousness—how you worked harder and longer than any woman I know. As the Head Nurse of the orthopedic ward of a County Hospital, you were honored and respected by all who had the joy of working with you. Anytime we visited you at work, we got a tiny glimpse of how much your nurses loved you, and we know they loved you because you worked tirelessly beside them, never lording your authority over them. You were the first one in, the last one out. And when you came home from work to 5 girls you kept moving. Often Dad was traveling and you flew solo through music lessons, band concerts, hospital trips, homework challenges, meal preparations, and piles of laundry and ironing. I have never seen her bed left unmade, her sink left unclean, nor her kitchen floor unswept.

We sing of your wisdom—how you seemed to speak just the right insights into each of your children at just the right time. You never imagined that a one-size fits all approach to parenting would work with five girls as diverse as we were. You taught us that fair is too low of a goal, and you strove to always do the best thing for each of us, even if it was different than what you did for others. Of course there were some non-negotiables, mostly having to with neat drawers and made beds.

We sing of your passion—how we knew, we always knew, that no matter what, you were FOR your family. You love our father fiercely. You loved him even when others criticized him. You loved him when he lost his job for standing up to a tyrant. You loved him when he was promoted. You loved him when he was down-sized. You loved him when he traveled. You loved him when he made mistakes. You love him out loud, and if anyone knows just one thing about you, it would be this: You loves Burris. And we girls know how to love our husbands because you love our Dad so well.

And right after Dad, you loved your girls. You loved us individually and you loved us collectively. You loved us extravagantly and you loved us strictly. When needed, you loved us like a mother bear loves her cubs. I’ll never forget the time when we were shopping and a woman accused me of shoplifting. You grew 10 inches and growled, defending my honor without hesitation. I stood in awe, realizing under those florescent mall lights that my mother (who always seemed so meek and mild) would walk through fire protect her girls. You love right to the end. You loved our Sharon when she was her silliest, her sickest, and her stubborn-est. And you taught us how to love when it hurts; how to laugh while we cried, and how to sing during the storms of life. Maybe especially during the storms.

We sing of your faith—a faith hard wrought, tested, and refined. You are not one who holds blindly to comfortable platitudes. You have struggled with God, and you taught us that God is big enough to handle all of our fears and failures. You have never stopped growing, never stopped surrendering, never stopped seeking, never stopped believing. You let Him speak His love both to you and through you.

We sing of your kindness—You may well be the kindest person on the face of the earth. You care deeply for just about everyone you meet. You treat people with sincere dignity. How many—how many of our friends have benefitted from her goodness and grace? How many neighbors? How many strangers? My mom is the type of person that takes the smallest cookie, the hardest chair, the last place in line because she really wants others to have the best. Our joy makes her smile. Our success makes her cheer. Our comfort puts her at ease.

But perhaps the most amazing thing about my mom is her genuineness. If she is happy, she’ll tell you. If she is sad, she’ll tell you. If she is mad, well, she won’t have to tell you because trust me, you’ll just know. But you see, there’s so much grace in that. So much grace in both love and anger expressed, not buried. She will never become bitter because she harbors no resentments. She feels things deeply, freely, fully, AND openly. And I’ve come to realize that the root of her genuineness, the heart of that kind of transparency is a rare and precious humility. A humility that considers others better than herself, not in a self- deprecating way, but in an other-honoring sort of way. She bears her soul not for her benefit, but for ours. For my mama, my dear, sweet mama is a peacemaker, and her transparency is her way of continually surrendering herself to others. In this way, she reminds me of another peacemaker: Jesus. He was stripped bare on the cross, made naked so that he could provide a covering for us.

My mama, today, as we celebrate 80 years of your life, I marvel at what we see in your wake. Five daughters, one in heaven. 4 GENTLE sons-in-law, the very thing you prayed for us. 16 grandchildren who all bubble with affection for you. You’re coming up on 58 years of marriage—a marriage that is still abounding in love. You have friends around the globe, women like Sabine, Patti, and Maren, who would love to claim you as their own. And your godly influence still impacts me every single day, especially first thing in the morning, when that still small voice in the back of my head whispers, “Jenn, make your bed.”

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

I Like Us

On Tuesday mornings David and I have a standing coffee date. For two hours, we step away from our computers, put down our books, turn off our phones, and we connect. We rarely leave the comfort of our own home, yet the time together feels special.

For one of his classes, David is reading the book His Needs, Her Needs. It's one of those classic books on marriage that both of us read many, many years ago. As newlyweds, we soaked up the words on the page like sponges, eager to learn from experts. However, after 21 years of marriage, we approach the book with some wisdom of our own. David will read certain sentences aloud, and we'll chuckle because, frankly, not everything applies. That doesn't mean that the book isn't insightful or even helpful. It just means that we've learned a few things along the way, and after studying me for 21, David has a level of intimate expertise on the subject of one particular woman's needs that can't quite be captured by the generic "Her Needs." And vice versa.

And so over the past few weeks, we've been talking through the book, discussing what does resonate and what doesn't. Because one of the things we have learned is that we have to keep on learning. David and I are both dynamic individuals who are in the process of being redeemed by a loving savior. That means that we are each growing and changing day by day. Basically, I'm not the girl he married. He doesn't expect me to be. He expects me to be transformed and he cooperates with God and me in that transformation process. And vice versa.

Today I am feeling profoundly grateful for my husband, my fellow-sojourner, my very best friend. I'm blessed by his love and delighted by both who he is and who he is becoming. And I am glad he loves me and still gives me room to grow. As each of the individual "I"s change, the collective "we" changes too. We're not who we were 21 years ago, and that's a good thing. We're better, and that's grace.

Still, here in the midst of this redemptive process, in the messy places between then and not yet, in those awkward moments of becoming, I like us. Yes, I like us a lot.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Rattling Bones

How does one say, "fender bender" in French?

We'll just consider it a special Halloween treat. Or is a trick? All I know is my car is crumpled and my skeleton is shaken.

Chandler was in the car with me for this special event, and let's just say he's popping the Advil right along with me.  David (my hero) has already dealt with the insurance company. 

Pray for our sore backs and for the poor little old lady that hit me. I think her car got the worst of it.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Body of Christ

In essentials unity.
In non-essentials liberty.
In all things charity. 

I'm a denominational mutt. I've been Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Non-denominational, and Pentecostal. During college, I had a stint at the Episcopal church, but went to Sunday evening services at a wild Charismatic church. And no, I don't have commitment issues. My family moved a bit while I was growing up, and my parents just looked for a local Bible-believing church and put down roots. Then in college I got engaged to a Lutheran boy with Pentecostal tendencies who was directing a children's choir in an Episcopal church. I guess he's a mutt, too. 

And after tasting the many expressions of Christian faith, I am overwhelmed with LOVE for the whole body of Christ--in all its shapes and colors. 

I love liturgy, and my heart swells when I sing, "Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life! Alleluia." before the reading of the Gospel in the Lutheran church. I cherish the rich heritage and I embrace the old green prayer book with great respect.

I remember with joy my formative years in the Presbyterian church. I am the sole person in my family that has only been baptized by sprinkling. I was seven years old and convinced that I wanted to make a public profession of faith. And though most of the churches I have attended since that time baptize by immersion, I've never felt the need to do it again. If its good enough for the Presbyterians, its good enough for me.

And how the Baptists love to sing those mighty old hymns! By the age of 12 I had memorized all 4 verses to most of the hymns in the red book, and I could play many of them on the piano. Whole sermons are put to music, and the beauty and truth of those words still resonate in my heart. 

The church our boys grew up in is Foursquare, and self-described as "mildly Pentecostal." That is to say, our church believes in the use of all the gifts of the Spirit, but they rarely practice the gifts in the Sunday services. You know, things are done in an "orderly" fashion, as the apostle Paul suggests. 

But in each of these churches, the Gospel is preached. The Bible is recognized as the inspired Word of God. Jesus is worshiped. Truth  is taught. Love and grace abound. Which is why I grew up believing that the Body of Christ is a wonderful thing! Like a quilt, rich in textures and colors, it is the different fabrics that makes it beautiful. If all the patches were identical, it would be a pretty boring quilt. And I believe with all my heart that no one denomination could possibly express the fullness of Christ on its own! We need each other in order to show the world the glory and greatness of our King.  

But today I am saddened as I read Twitter feeds where two prominent American Christian leaders are setting up camps to oppose each other--over non-essentials. People, this breaks my heart! What does this say to a world that desperately needs to know that there IS a Savior? What does this say about the transformational power of the Gospel? What about, "They will know we are Christians by our love?"

My dear brothers and sisters, will you join me in praying for the American Church? Pray for unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials, and charity in all things! 

Friday, October 25, 2013

GEM France Retreat

Ahhh, the joy of being in the Alps! And not just because my hair behaves perfectly in the dry mountain air. No, our time away was fun-filled and inspirational to boot. We are blessed to be a part of an amazing group of GEM missionaries and the few times a year that we all get to together are always rich.


At the camp, we are spoiled by good food--that we don't have to plan or make or clean up! We are also spoiled by field leaders who raise special funds for the retreat so that it barely costs anything for our entire family to go! But best of all, the GEM France retreat is always a safe place. Some of our colleagues are going through rough times with ministry or family. When we get together, they can share from their hearts, be refreshed, and find encouragement. Others come with great joy and enthusiasm for how God is working among and through them. These people bring energy and hope into the mix. Some come weary; they find rest. Some come thirsty; they are quenched. Some come  reluctantly; even they leave with unexpected blessings.

This  time I was especially blessed by my GEM family because they gave Graham the opportunity to lead worship for the first time in his life. He's helped us lead in the past, but this time he was the boss. He selected the music, called the rehearsals, and did all the praying and talking. Graham is a gifted musician and a natural leader, but he still felt nervous and really wanted to do well. I am so thankful for how our teammates welcomed and blessed his efforts. Some are, you know, not exactly Spring Chickens. Yet, they sang Skillet and Jesus Culture and Flyleaf music as if they loved it. They worshiped, whether or not they liked the genre. And yes, I was very proud. Graham trusted in the Lord's leading, stepped out in faith, and saw God work through him. 

Here's a sign that we've been in France for a while: we went to the Alps and didn't bother to take a single photo! All photos used here were taken by a new teammate, Jordan Egli. He's an awesome photographer. Thanks, Jordan!

Friday, October 18, 2013

10 Totally Trivial Tidbits

  1. This past week was  packed with training people! David helped to train 4 gifted, bright, passionate young French evangelists in the fine arts of hermeneutics and homelitics. I trained 3 brilliant, inspired, faithful young women to teach our new Sunday School curriculum. Last night, tired but deeply satisfied, David and I shared a long embrace. Wrapped in the arms of my beloved I said, "We live a weird life. Twenty years ago, did you ever imagine that we'd one day be training Christian leaders in France?" He shook his head and added, "In French! We did it in French." Yep. I'm amazed. 
  2. I'm really liking purple these days. I bought purple place mats for the dining room, a purple binder for the Sunday School curriculum, and a purple sweater for my fall wardrobe. Strange. Does that make me an old lady?
  3. I just finished knitting a scarf for David and I just started knitting a scarf for myself. I am simply giddy about the yarn I found for my scarf! It's not purple. But the ladies in my knitting group, who are eager to see me progress in my knitting abilities said, "You need to knit something besides scarves!" The thing is, I am in the middle of knitting a cardigan as well, but I started to feel a bit overwhelmed by that project, so I'm taking a little break and knitting scarves--with really great (non-purple) yarn.
  4. I love my iPad, except for the auto-correct feature. After having several auto-correct mishaps during a recent Facebook chat, I typed, "I hate auto-correct!" But it auto-corrected that to "I hate colorectal!" Now tell me, how do explain that one?
  5. I'm reading the most wonderful book right now, called "Une soupe aux herbes sauvages." It's a memoir written by a woman who grew up in rural France during the early 1900s. Man, it was a hard life! Yet, there are moments of joy and tenderness. I'm also reading a religious history of France, a book about an American who renovates a house in France, a book about mentoring, and a book about miracles, healing, and deliverance ministries. Clearly, I am lacking in the fiction realm. Please let me know if you've read any great fiction lately--I'm downright desperate for a good novel! (BTW, David and the boys are still bothered by my tendency to be in the midst of reading several books at once, but I like it! Variety is the spice of life. Do you read just one book at a time?)
  6. A friend of mine found canned jalapenos in France, which is, you know, really cool! And rare! Knowing that I'm a big fan, she bought me several cans. They are SO good. But there is an oddity. When I open the can, there is a layer of carrots on top. Yes, there are carrots in the jalapenos. Why?
  7. God has been speaking to me lately about compassion. I don't really understand compassion, but the Gospels record numerous instances when Jesus was moved to action because He had compassion. He willingly entered into other people's pain. When I see suffering, I want to run as fast as I can in the other direction--I have no compassion, thus my response to suffering is unloving. But lately God has made it impossible for me to run, and consequently, a tiny spark of compassion has been ignited in my heart. I'd kind of like to snuff it out, but I suspect God has a different plan. A better plan. I'm going to try to trust Him. But between you and me, it's kind of freaking me out.
  8. Today we had our first parent-teacher conferences of the school year. According to all of his professors, Chandler is "presque parfait !" Almost perfect. Like I needed them to tell me that. 
  9. We leave this afternoon for our annual GEM France conference in the alps. Graham will be leading worship this year, and the rest of  the Williamson family is his back-up band. He's put a great deal of planning into it, and we've had two good rehearsals. Its pretty awesome to watch my boys take the lead in some of this stuff. Awesome and fun. And sometimes hilarious.  Spoiler alert: We may be doing a rendition of "Religious Man" from Nacho Libre. Bring your sombreros! 
  10. I did a new Pilates video this week, and let's just say that I am the most uncoordinated human being on the face of the earth. I was literally tied up in knots. On the bright side, I was appropriately sore in all the right places, so I might have done it correctly!

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Void

During a rainstorm a certain 17 year old said, "There's nothing to eat."

So a certain mom, keenly aware that he would too-soon leave the nest, set out to resolve the problem.

And while she stirred, the boy made music. 
And her tears fell like the rain.
How would she ever let him go?
"Slow down!" she cried, wishing time had ears to hear.
But her pleas were pointless.
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. 

And in no time at all, warm cookies filled the void in the 17 year old stomach.
But what would fill the void in the mama's heart?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Today I was thinking about Aimée, my precious god-daughter. Don't let that sweet face fool you, she's only smiling because I had raisins. Mostly she screams when I hold her. Which is fine, because I love her just the same.

She doesn't like me yet, and while I hope that she one day grows to like me, my feelings for her will never change. I love her.

She doesn't know that I've bought her a special bracelet. It's too big for her now, but it will be waiting for her once she grows into it. I hope she likes it. But if she doesn't, that's okay. She can reject all the gifts I give to her, and it won't change my love for her one bit.

I don't know if Aimée will prefer ballet or football, but whichever she likes, I'll like it too. I'll cheer her on even if she's lousy, because my love for her isn't based on her abilities.

I don't know if Aimée will like dolls or legos, but whichever she likes, I'll like too. I'll play with her as much as she'll let me, because I just look forward to spending time with her.

Aimée doesn't have to do anything great or be anything important for me to love her. I just love her.

I delight in watching her. I long for her smile. I weep for her tears. I love to caress her soft head, to squeeze her fat feet, and to hear her say "uh-oh!" I don't even mind changing her dirty diapers.

And as I was thinking about this little girl who really does not have a clue who I am, this sweet baby girl that wants nothing to do with me just yet, God spoke to my heart.

I love you like that, only better.
You don't have to do anything great or be anything important for me to love you.
You have no idea of the gifts I am storing up for you.
I delight in watching you.
I long for your smile.
I weep for your tears.
I don't even mind cleaning up your messes. I died for those messes.
I just love you.

Inconceivable! How can God love me so completely, so deeply, so perfectly? I'm a mess, yet He loves me. And just like Aimée can't begin to understand my love for her, I can't begin to understand God's love for me. I look for raisins from His almighty hand and contend myself with passing fancies rather than rest secure in the love of the one who holds me. 

Today I want to stop squirming in His arms and choose to trust in His goodness. He loves me!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Constant Stream of Company

For the first time in about 87 months, we have a week with no guests scheduled to eat or sleep at our house. Now I'm not saying that I don't like visitors. Au contraire. Je les adore ! (I love them!)

Nevertheless, I'm taking full advantage of the break:

I actually left the guest bed UNmade for three whole nights. Just because I could.

I haven't cooked a square meal or set the table all week. (David and Graham are in the States, and Chandler and I are subsisting on three main food groups: Magnum Bars, popcorn and cheese.)

I showered for a full 30 minutes this morning because I wasn't at all worried about saving hot water for anyone else.

I left dishes in the sink over night because I wasn't even close to running out of clean glasses.

During the day I actually stop and listen to the silence in my house. I thank God that I don't have to make conversation with anyone. Even my prayers are wordless.

 On Saturday, I swear, I did not get out of my jammies.

I am SO SO SO blessed by all the wonderful people who have come to visit us.

But I am also blessed by a few quiet days chez Williamson. Thank you, Jesus!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Called Out

Have you ever had someone speak convicting truth into you heart?  The kind of truth that wakes you up? The kind of truth that calls you out? The kind of truth that makes you both deeply sorry and profoundly hopeful? The kind of truth that Jesus uses to change you from the inside out?

Let me ask you this: What if that truth came from your son or daughter?

Would you be angry or honored?

I was honored.

Still, it was hard to hear. Even harder to admit that it was true. I wanted to justify my actions, I itched to defend myself. Instead, I acknowledged that my son was right. I apologized. I asked for forgiveness. I accepted forgiveness (that one was strangely difficult!). And I chose to believe that grace is greater than all my parenting mistakes.

Proverbs 27:6 says, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend." In other words, when those who love me tell me something that hurts, it's usually for my own good.

I am so thankful for a son who dared say some hard things so that I could grow.

Jesus, change me to be more like you through the revelation of this truth!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


On Sunday David had the privilege of baptizing two guys that he has been discipling. You don't need to understand French to enjoy this wonderful event.