“I feel like I’m in a pinball machine,” Trevor told me. I felt like I was in a pressure cooker.
A few weeks before, Trevor’s sister had told him about an amazing opportunity with her company. Trevor has lived in Syracuse his whole life; I remember him telling me when we were dating that he had no plans of ever moving.
Still, I encouraged him to interview for the position. A former elder from Missio is co-leading a church in that city, so we would have a place to plug into. Plus, the job would provide a substantial pay increase and growth opportunity for Trevor’s career. “What do you have to lose?” I asked. And so he dusted off his suit and traveled to the interview.
Weeks passed, and we thought that was that . . . until he received the job offer. We had just one week to decide.
Should We Stay or Should We Go?
We were torn down the middle; we both believed we could say yes or no in good conscience. We could glorify God and be devoted to good works in either place. Neither decision was sinful. “It’s not even that one decision would be wiser than another,” one of our elders remarked.
We prayed, we searched Zillow.com, we talked, and we both completed an exercise of best and worst-case scenarios if we did or didn’t go. We also sought counsel. A couple helpful pieces of advice/questions we received:
The burden of proof lies with the new place. It’s up to them to convince you that it’s worth all you’d be giving up. If you are divided right down the middle, it doesn’t sound like there’s enough there for you to say yes.
Who do you want to do life and ministry with?
“I want you to weigh in,” Trevor told me more than once. It was a good opportunity for me to learn not just to dutifully say, “I will go wherever you go,” but to really engage my mind and heart in deciding along with him what would be best for our family.
As Trevor processed the potential move, he said more than once, “I feel like I’m missing an opportunity if I don’t take it, but leaving family and friends . . . I just don’t know that I can put a number to that.”
The night before he had to give his answer, we sat across the table from each other. “On the count of three,” he said, “show by thumbs up or thumbs down if you want to move. One, two, three.” And both our thumbs pointed down.
Syracuse, We Choose You . . . Again
We felt relief, but also a mixture of sadness the next day. It would have been an adventure, for sure. But there’s something about suddenly being given an opportunity to start over somewhere that shows you just how much you have right where you are.
God has blessed us big time, and unknowingly, we had begun to take this place and these people for granted. But thanks to this difficult decision process, we are recommitting to this place. Syracuse—among the top ten most poverty-stricken cities in the U.S.—is where we want to be a part of giving every man, woman, and child repeated opportunities to see, hear, and respond to the gospel. And the people at Missio church are the ones we want to do this alongside of.
In a world full of pressure to climb up, up, up, I am so grateful for a man who is committed to this cold, needy place. Syracuse, we happily choose you. Again.
How about you? Are you fully engaged where you live, or have you grown lax? Are you taking your influence on the people around you for granted?
In the words of Jim Elliot, “Wherever you are, be all there.”
PS: Through this process, we prayed that God would keep or move us to the place He knew would be most strategic for His kingdom advancement. That appears to be Syracuse. When you think of us, please pray for increased boldness and gospel-success in our neighborhood and city. Thanks so much!
Dear blog reader, Today I want to share four gifts from my desk to you. I haven’t posted here for a couple months now—not ‘cause I’ve had my feet up—but ‘cause I’ve had my bum in my chair and my fingers on my keys focusing on several projects for Revive Our Hearts. I want to share them with you now, in the hopes that something here will bless you today.
Gift 1: Living with the Difficult People in Your Life
From July 31 to September 11, I had the privilege of leading a seven-week Facebook Live study for our newly released Bible study, “Abigail: Living with the Difficult People In Your Life.” I taught two nights—once on God’s providence and the other night on the sticky Imprecatory Psalms. The other evenings I interviewed guests. I found Vaneetha Risner’s story on forgiveness especially powerful. Enjoy! (And thanks to my hubby for taking care of Iren while I recorded these live segments!)
Gift 2: Ten Truths to Set Leaders Free
I then contributed a chapter to this new ebook, which you can download for free. My chapter addresses the lie, “My ministry is insignificant compared to leaders with larger platforms.” Plus, read other lies and truths for leaders from nine other writers.
Gift 3: I Choose Truth
Three coworkers and I wrote this 30-day “I Choose Truth” email devotional. Here are the six weighty truths I covered:
“There is no one I cannot love.”
“There is no one I cannot forgive.”
“It’s not about me; It’s all about Him.”
“I can keep God’s commands.”
“The cross of Christ is sufficient to conquer my sinful flesh.”
Finally, today I’m over at TrueWoman.com writing about My Favorite True Woman Conference Yet. Trevor and I just got back late Monday. Usually, I’m holed up transcribing messages or writing blog posts, but this year, I co-hosted the livestream. Because I knew I’d need stories to share on the stream, I was “forced” to interact with women and not simply type on my computer. What a gift!
I wrote this post to share some of these women’s stories with you. Thank you for praying for them as many of them have just returned to difficult life situations.
I hope these four gifts from my desk to you encourage your heart today. I’m grateful for you!
Relational conflict has dogged me recently, in spite of the fact that I’d naturally rather offer up a limb than experience—or inadvertently cause—conflict.
When someone accused me of sin, I prayed, “Lord, don’t let me flatter myself in my own eyes that my iniquity cannot be found out and hated” (Ps. 36:2). I know I’m stained with sin, but I couldn’t see my specific sin in this particular situation.
But then, through Romans 5:3–4, God called me to get off my knees, climb out of the weeds, and look at the bigger picture:
We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character hope.
Perseverance: One Gift of Relational Conflict
Hadn’t I just bemoaned to a friend that I had no perseverance? I realized this after a difficult week with my husband. He was depressed, and I took it all personally and acted desperately. My friend’s response was enlightening: “Don’t beat yourself up. You’ve only been married two-and-a-half years. You haven’t had enough hardships to grow that perseverance in you.”
Oh, right. Perseverance is produced through suffering.
Do you want the peace and fortitude you see that woman exhibiting in the midst of chemo? Do you long to withstand raging winds like that flexible palm tree? The only way to grow this kind of perseverance is through accepting the suffering God sends your way. How thankful I am for John Calvin pointing me back to God’s providence:
The Lord has willed it; therefore it must be borne, not only because one may not contend against it, but also because he wills nothing but what is just and expedient. To sum this up: when we are unjustly wounded by men, let us overlook their wickedness (which would but worsen our pain and sharpen our minds to revenge), remember to mount up to God, and learn to believe for certain that whatever our enemy has wickedly committed against us was permitted and sent by God’s just dispensation.
Today I’m writing over at TrueWoman.com. To read more about how relational conflict also produces character and hope, click here. More than that, though, I discovered that God uses these conflicts to draw us back to Himself, our great and only Good. This is the best gift of all. More on that too over at TrueWoman.com.
An Invitation If Relational Conflict Is Part of Your Life
I want to invite you to join me tonight (Tuesday, July 31) for a special event. Through my work with Revive Our Hearts, I’ll be leading a six-week online study on Abigail: Living with the Difficult People in Your Life. If relational conflict is part of your life right now, I’d love to have you join in at 7 p.m. ET. You can catch all the details here, and this is where you’ll go to watch the Live broadcast at 7 p.m. ET. Hope to see you there!
One of my greatest highlights from the last couple of years was successfully matchmaking two couples—at one dinner party, nonetheless! The dinner party setup and subsequent party one week later allowed Jordan and Ethan to get to know Amanda and Gabby—at least enough to know the pursuit was on! They took it from there, and this summer, Trevor and I attended both of their weddings, just two weeks apart. Only God!
I believe you, too, can experience the joy of being used by God to help a Christian man and woman find and get to know each other. In fact, I believe you are needed.
Finding a suitable spouse to marry today seems . . . impossible. Where can you meet him or her if not in a bar or on an online app? Where and how can you possibly get to know them in a safe, casual, comfortable environment? That’s where you come in. But first, one very important disclaimer.
Beware of Unwelcome Matchmaking
Please, only offer your matchmaking services to those you know want to be married and who would love some help getting there. If you’re not sure if they want your help, ask them. One single guy told me,
“I went through a period of time in my early 20s where I had resolved myself not to date as I was too busy and working on sins and struggles in my life. But every other week people from church would pull me aside and suggest I date someone they knew. There were lots of uncomfortable conversations.”
Similarly, a mom of a single young woman told me,
“My daughter’s biggest frustration is the need to fix her up with the one other single in her congregation.”
Let me be clear. Singleness isn’t a disease; it’s a gift.
At the same time, marriage is a gift as well. If it’s a gift your single friend longs for, here’s how you can help.
Tips for Matchmaking Well
Care for Christian singles. Don’t try your hand at matchmaking ’cause you could use a little romance in your own life, or ’cause you hope to have a good story some day. Matchmake because you care deeply about your single friends. Extend yourself out of love for them. At the same time, matchmake not for their ultimate happiness (marriage isn’t about that!), but for God’s glory. Matchmake so that one more couple can show those around them the beauty of the gospel (Eph. 5:22-33).
Listen well. You are not looking for someone you like; you are looking for someone your friend will like. Do you know what your friend wants in a spouse? Don’t blindly set them up with someone just ’cause they’re the only other Christian you know in twenty miles. Get to know your single friend. Ask lots of questions. What does he or she desire in a spouse? What does he or she need to complement them?
Pray for wisdom. Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Ask God for wisdom. Pray that He will establish your steps. Ask Him for success.
Brainstorm together. Talk through the people you both know—even married people—to identify the sorts of characteristics they are looking for. Make sure you’re on the same page. Then begin to brainstorm singles you know who are similar. Let your single friend give input on whether they’re interested in getting to know this person better or not.
Open your home. Invite the person your friend is interested in getting to know better over to your house. Don’t be awkward about it. In our case, we invited Amanda and Gaby over a Facebook message, simply telling them we were “having a couple other friends over.”
Open your home again. Continue to open your home so your single friends have other opportunities to hang out and get to know each other. We followed the dinner party up with another party one week later. And that wasn’t the end for us. Currently, my husband and I are seeking to create opportunities for one single male friend to slowly get to know a specific Christian woman in the context of an informal, group setting.
Those are just a few ways I believe you can matchmake well. Do you have anything to add? Have you tried your hand at matchmaking? What do you think contributed to your success or failure in that area?
PPS: This photo was taken a few months ago, when a group of us got together to celebrate Ethan and Gabby’s engagement. You can see the two new couples here. From left to right: me, Trevor, Amanda and Jordan, Ethan and Gabby.
Tonight, weather-permitting, a bunch of strangers will converge on our backyard for a cookout and a bonfire. We don’t know most of these people yet, but we hope to soon. They are fellow residents of Eastwood, a village in the city of Syracuse, New York.
A Positive Response from the Community After a Double Homicide
Thanks to a community Facebook page someone set up, we invited anyone and everyone in Eastwood to join us for a meal. When I posted the invitation on Facebook, the response was overwhelming. One woman messaged me, offering a $25 gift certificate to a grocery store, even though she wouldn’t be able to make it. She wrote,
You and your husband did something extraordinary in a cynical world. You loved your neighbors, all of them! Thank you for being a shining light this difficult week in Eastwood!
A Negative Response from a Church Member Concerned About Safety
While our neighborhood is thrilled by the opportunity to come together, a local church member had a different response:
I don’t think it’s wise. You have no idea who might be coming to your house. You just had a shooting in your neighborhood!
I didn’t say too much in response. I understand where this person is coming from, but here’s the deal:
Jesus didn’t call us to pursue safety; Jesus called us to the task of global evangelization.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matt. 28:19-20).
Is Safety Your Ultimate Goal, Christian?
I’ve wasted decades playing it safe. Praying for safety. Locking proverbial doors, shutting proverbial blinds, and staking a proverbial “No trespassing sign” in the front yard of my life. For years I thought the goal of Christianity was to hunker down and protect myself from the world. (How could I have gotten it so wrong?!)
I now live in a city of 500,000 people. God has tasked me–along with every other believer in this city–to share with them the good news that they have a Creator who loves them, a God who sacrificed Himself to atone for their sin and restore their wrecked relationship with Him.
This good news is shared on ordinary days, in ordinary places, like backyard barbecues, by building relationships with our neighbors . . . even when we don’t know exactly who we’re inviting into our backyards.
I wonder, Christian, what is your ultimate goal? Is it safety . . . or is it relationship with and representation of your God?
“Safety is of the Lord,” my parents taught me as a little girl from Proverbs 21:31 (KJV). May we trust Him with the number of our days, and may we swing open our doors in the meantime!
(Here are just a few ways you can pray about our Cookout on Collingwood.)
Wise, life-giving, Christ-centered words related to this double homicide.
I intercepted my baby, Iren, as he crawled, mach speed, for the dog’s food and water. We were dog-sitting for my in-laws, and Iren was once again displaying his magnetic attraction to dog food.
Another Mess to Clean Up?!
Lifting both bowls from the floor to the table, I confidently walked into the bathroom. What harm could he do now if I took my eyes off him for a few seconds?
But when I walked out a few seconds later, there he was in a puddle of water, soaking wet. The dog’s food was strewn all over.
Anticipate Your Baby’s Next Move
I should’ve anticipated my baby’s next move. I’d seen Iren tug at our tablecloth the day before. Right then I should have folded up the tablecloth and tucked it neatly back into the buffet. But stupidity won out over common sense, and I left it. After all, the table looked prettier with a tablecloth . . .
As I stripped Iren of his wet clothes, mopped up the water with a bath towel, and refilled the dog’s food and water bowls, I was tempted to get frustrated, angry, and stressed over the extra work Iren had caused me. But a moment of clarity struck just then.
Who’s the adult here? Who has a higher IQ?
Own it, Paula. You don’t have a right to be frustrated or angry. You’re the adult here.
Who’s the Adult Here?
I know we moms can think that being frazzled and stressed out just comes with the territory. But does it really have to?
Rather than stewing in anger over extra messes, let’s work smarter, not necessarily harder. If our children can reach something, and we leave it within reach, then it’s fair game.
Anticipate your baby’s next move, mom. Prepare for it. And put away that tablecloth! I’m pretty sure your husband and kids will be grateful you chose a stress-free heart over a beautiful table.
I’ve enjoyed letting you peek over my hubby’s shoulder to see that I’m not the only writer in the family. You’ve read his Romans 5 hymn as well as his mock Chick-fil-A hymn. Today, I promised you one final installment of poems by my accountant hubby, just for fun.
A Shakespearean Sonnet
First, the Shakespearean sonnet he wrote over three years ago while flying west to propose to me. (If you knew the ins and outs of our dating relationship, you’d see that this is replete with symbolism and meaning!)
An unexpected blessing came to me,
A treasure from the realm of heaven sent.
‘Twas flown on wings across a digital sea,
The seed that grew into love’s bless’d event.
A bloom of life and love was found within
An unexpected place. A prairie flower
Grown in good soil she neither toils nor spins,
But drinks the rain, enjoys the Sun’s great pow’r.
I journeyed far to gain this precious rose,
By land and air, through darkness deep inside.
I’ll carry her through thorns and fears below
Held by his Hand in raging storms and tides.
The rising Day will banish soon the night.
Sojourn with me till then, and be my wife.
(How could a girl say no to that?!)
A Dog-Doo Shooing Strategy
So we wed and moved into the yellow house on the corner. No sooner had Trevor rid the house of fleas than we started finding dog poo in our yard. So naturally, Trevor wrote a poem. He placed it in a weather-proof sleeve, and attached it to our fence with some plastic baggies:
I thought to take a walk one day
All through the eastern wood of ’Cuse
But wait, my dog, he longs to play
I bring him too, I’ve no excuse
I walk down road and street and lane
And see my neighbors on the way
Oh no I have forgot again
My dog he has to poop today
I have no bag, nor sack, nor can
But wait, I think this lawn will do
He’s just a dog, and not a man
He leaves a number one and two
But wait, I see this baggie here
It’s free for all to clean the poo
Now I remember, oh so clear
My neighbor’s lawn is not his loo
DOG HAD TO GO? TAKE A BAG! 🙂
(I’ll leave it up to you to determine whether that solved or exacerbated the problem.)
I hope you enjoyed catching a glimpse into my hubby’s writing. Unfortunately he doesn’t have an up-to-date blog, but you can follow my hubby’s tweets at @gottheology.
Once there was a young man who was such a rabid Chick-fil-A fan he reworked an old hymn about it:
Trevor’s Chick-fil-A Hymn
Guide me O thou cows of Cathy
Pilgrim through this chikin-less land
I am weak, and very hungry
Hold me with thy powerful hand
Buttered bread, so lightly toasted
Feed me till I want no more
Feed me till I want no more
Open now the crystal fountain
Whence the sweetest tea doth flow
Let the fiery chikin sandwich
Lead me all my journey through
Tastiest fast-food, kindest service
Be thou still my flavorsome fill
Be thou still my flavorsome fill
When I tread the lands without thee
Bid my hungry fears subside
Death of thirst, and hunger’s destruction
Land me safe in thy drive-thru’s line
Many thank you’s I will ever give to thee
“It’s my pleasure” I will ever hear from thee
Sparks Fly at Chick-fil-A
Alas, this young man lived in New York, far from “the Promised Land” (as he lovingly referred to his beloved Chick-fil-A).
But as luck would have it, he bumped into a girl over Twitter who lived near a Chick-fil-A. After they’d talked online for about four months, he asked what she’d think of him visiting her for a long weekend.
Knowing how much he loved Chick-fil-A, she arranged for them to meet for the first time in person in “the land flowing with sweet tea and lemonade.”
Their friendship was forged even deeper over that long weekend. So much so that at their parting breakfast—over his spicy chicken biscuit—the young man let this girl know that he was interested in more than a friendship. And right there in the Mishawaka Chick-fil-A, they became boyfriend and girlfriend.
The boy and this girl dated, got engaged, and then wed on October 3, 2015. Three weeks later they traveled all the way back to Michigan to celebrate with their friends over . . . yes, Chick-fil-A sandwiches.
Every chance they got they stopped at Chick-fil-A on their travels until one day . . . they learned that Chick-fil-A was coming to a town near them!
In Line for Free Chick-fil-A
The young man knew exactly what he would do. He would rise early and wait in line in hopes of being one of the first one-hundred customers. If he was successful in his mission—assuming he spent that day doing community service—he would win a free Chick-fil-A meal each week for a year!
Suffice it to say, you can now spot that young man and his wife through the Chick-fil-A window as they save money many Friday nights by taking advantage of this free meal on their weekly date night.
Chick-fil-A: You’ve been good to us.
Karen Wilson, we don’t know if you’re still serving as the Marketing Director at the Chick-fil-A in Mishawaka, IN, but thank you so much for donating part of our reception meal back in 2015!
And Dan Cathy, my hubby loved meeting you when you flew in for the Chick-fil-A opening in Syracuse. You have created a beautiful business, and it has blessed us personally in significant ways.
To my readers: Thanks for your patience. A couple months ago I shared some of my hubby’s writing with you and promised this Chick-fil-A hymn plus two more poems. Watch for the final installment of his writing next Monday.
Do you feel inadequate to help teens in your life? Maybe you think you need a crash course in emojis as well as an active Snapchat presence before you can influence them for good.
You Aren’t Adequate to Help Teens
Maybe you’ve never gotten too close to teens because you’ve been afraid you wouldn’t know how to answer their questions or deal with their needs. Or maybe you’ve barraged them with Bible verses, but woken the next morning wondering, Did I really help them? Were my comments even relevant, or did I just heave a heavy burden on their back?
In one sense it’s not a bad place to be, realizing you have nothing to offer unless God works in their lives. Jesus knew what He was talking about when He said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” You and I will always be insufficient this side of heaven.
But today, I hope to point you in the direction you need to head in order to be able to help teens with anything and everything. I’m not saying there’s no room for a varied education—I love to learn!—but if I could advise you, I’d tell you to learn one subject inside and out. I’d encourage you to learn to apply it from every angle to any person’s life situation.
The Gospel Is Adequate to Help Teens
Are you ready? It’s the gospel that your teen needs—yes, for salvation (Rom. 1:16), but also for life. He or she needs you to help them see how Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection has everything to do with their Friday nights and Monday mornings . . . and everything in-between.
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
Did you catch that? These people received the gospel by faith (in the past), they’re standing firmly in it (in the present), and they’re being saved by it (in the present and in the future).
What is this gospel which is saving them? Paul continues:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (vv. 3–4).
Why It’s So Tough to Apply the Gospel
“But Paula,” you protest, “if everything my teen needs (and everything I need) is found in the gospel, then why is it so tough to make that connection and to apply it to everyday situations?”
I think it’s because we don’t fully grasp the gospel’s significance and outcomes for our own lives. Also, it’s easier to deal on the moral, what-I-can-see-with-my-eyes level. Connecting the dots to how teens need the gospel means we must want more than just outward conformity.
I wonder . . . do we? Do we really want their hearts to be captured by God, or are we just after outward conformity to rules that make us feel comfortable when they’re abided by?
If you want the former (and oh, how I hope you do!), you have to get to the heart behind why they’re doing what they’re doing. The bad news is this will take longer. It’s not as easy as just saying, “Stop it!” or “Fix it!” You have to dig deeper to root motives.
But the good news is when you apply the gospel to heart issues, it has the potential to bring about real, lasting change from the inside out. So how can you begin?
4 Practical Ways to Get Started
Here are four tips for you as you seek to apply the gospel to teens’ lives (or anyone, for that matter).
Meditate on gospel truths. Familiarize and re-familiarize yourself with the gospel. Think about it. Pray prayers based on it, read books about it, and memorize verses about it. Talk about it with Christians and non-Christians. Pray that God would restore your wonder in what He has done for you through Christ. Breathe it, live it, talk it, and sleep on it. Don’t get over it.
Interact with teens. Approach them in church and show interest in their lives. Go see the play they’re acting in. Invite them to go shopping with you. Or come over to color with you (yes, coloring is fun for big people, too!). Love the teens around you; don’t just try to change them. Get to know them, listen well to them, and enjoy them. (Click here for ten practical ways to push past social anxiety.)
Pray. Rather than focusing on the fact that you don’t feel relevant, pray for the teens around you. Ask that:
God would help you see them as He sees them.
He would fill you with love for them.
They will “get” gospel truths and implications.
He will do what only He can do and give them full, abundant life in Christ.
Apply the gospel to their life situation. If your teen still has a glazed-over look, it’s possible you didn’t explain it clearly, or it’s possible their heart is hardened and their eyes are blinded to the good news. But know that the fault never lies with the gospel itself. It is, and continues to be, as Romans 1:16 says, “the power of God for salvation.”
Click over to TrueWoman.com, and practice applying the gospel to a specific teen’s struggle.