Monday, July 25, 2011


I often times feel challenged by the verse from Psalm 141:3 about asking the Lord to put a, "guard at the door of my lips." It's way too easy for me to speak or give advice than to truly listen.

There are times when I'm listening to someone (and that happens often as a pastor's wife) that I would rather fix them than listen to them. To me, often times the solution seems so easy! Yet, what a gift we give to one another when we "listen to understand" rather than "listen to fix." When a person feels listened to and understood there is a visual difference in their body language. The shoulders let down and there is often a sigh of relief. A sense of peace. To be understood is a huge gift!

When I'm listening to someone and they are sharing really hard stuff, I have to keep in mind phrases like: "Oh, that must be so difficult for you," or "What a painful situation you're going through, I am sorry." I've also learned a helpful question to ask: "Is there anything more you'd like to share?" (It's kind of like going through the Taco Bell drive-thru and the server asks: "Is there anything else?") It's surprising, how when given an opportunity, people will share more - and sometimes for the very first time.

Just recently I had a woman come up to me and share she was sexually molested as a child and that she had never mentioned that to anyone before. She took a big risk in sharing that information. Had I not been listening carefully I would have missed it as she shared it in a round-about way.

There are also phrases I am seeking to eliminate as I listen..."I know just how you feel..." "Let me tell you about the time...." "You're just being too sensitive." In a way, listening takes a bit of denying our self. Denying our desire to interrupt, and denying our wanting to give that person our opinion - when it wasn't asked for. Listening is hard and it does take practice, practice, practice!

My busy, married daughter, Mandy has two little ones and is working on her PhD program. 3 1/2 year-old Sam was trying to tell his mom something, but Mandy was multitasking. Finally little Sam came over to her and with both hands cupped her cheeks and turned her head toward him and simply said, "Mommy, you're not listening to me." Of course, my daughter dropped everything and turned her attention to Sam.

I wonder....does our Heavenly Father ever feel like gently cupping His hands around my face and saying, "Beloved, daughter, please listen to me." I really do want to listen more. I want to be a giver of grace. I want to be more like Jesus. How thankful I am that He is always listening to us.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


I heard the following story over a year ago and it continues to speak to me. It’s a true story, and I believe it can be a reminder to check the way we respond to the little ones who live around us.

Five-year-old, Madison (name changed) was very excited about starting kindergarten.

The big day arrived and Madison was looking forward to riding the school bus with the other neighborhood children. Her mother, Angela walked Madison to the bus stop. It was a joyous scene. Children were playing on the sidewalk and moms were chatting with other moms. Everyone was looking forward to catching the first glimpse of the big yellow bus as it rounded the corner.

“I see the bus – it’s coming,” someone finally yelled out. Immediately cheers went up and children scrambled to pick up backpacks and get in line to climb the giant steps of the bus. Angela kissed her daughter goodbye, waited to see Madison wave from her window seat and then returned home.

Later in the day, Madison came home on the school bus. Her mom was eagerly waiting for her at the bus stop. “Hi, honey, how was your first day of school?” Madison seemed quiet and not open to continuing the conversation. Perhaps Madison is just tired, Angela thought – after all - it was her first day of school and she got up extra early.

One day, though, early in the school year, Madison came home a lot quieter than usual. Angela picked up on her child’s mood and began to ask more detailed questions about her school day. Finally, after what seemed like “pulling teeth,” her daughter responded, “Mommy, you forgot to pack my snack today and we are supposed to bring one everyday.”
“Oh honey, I am so sorry! That was my fault. I totally forgot about your snack. I’ll make sure I pack it tomorrow. And if it would help you feel better, we’ll check each day to make sure your snack is packed.” Madison nodded; however, she still seemed sad and reserved.

“Honey,” Angela continued, “What happened today when you told the teacher you forgot your snack?”
Madison was quiet for a moment; her eyes downcast, “She told me to go and sit on the reading rug while the rest of the class ate their snack.”

“So, you didn’t have anything to eat at all?”

“No,” came her meek reply. “I just sat on the rug.”

Shame was the undertone in her response.

My immediate response to that scene was to wonder why the teacher didn’t have some spare snacks on hand? Or why didn’t she ask if any of the students would like to share their snack with Madison and provide a wonderful lesson on sharing? Now, I want to be quick to add that I don’t believe Madison’s teacher purposefully sought to cause Madison shame. Her reasoning must have been justified to her. But I do wonder how many times I have responded to a child without really thinking through what I’m communicating and it ends up crushing that child’s spirit and producing shame?

This story helps me to remember that children are little human beings. They are important and extemely valuable. I admit that there have been times as a teacher’s aid where I found a child a little more difficult for me to like. It was easy to look down on that child. Or, the times I’ve been in a store and heard a child acting out – I can, without thinking, look down on that child. It is at those times that I have to ask the Lord to help me not to even think shaming thoughts about that child. (It’s easy to go there:“What’s a matter with that whiney kid? She’s disturbing everyone in the store. Glad she’s not my out-of-control child.”)

I love the way Scripture captures a few scenes with Jesus and children. His love for them is very obvious. Catch this from Mark 10:16: ”Then He, Jesus, took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.” Can’t you just picture this? Imagine your child, or a child you know, being gathered up into His arms and then Jesus placing his hands on their heads to bless them. To bless them – not to shame them.

There is another visual of Jesus with a child that is very sobering to me (Matthew 18:10.) It speaks to my heart and the way I treat children:
“Beware that you don’t look down on any of these little ones. For I tell you that in Heaven their angels are always in the presence of my Heavenly Father.”

Wow, if I look down on a child I am being a shame giver. God takes their value very seriously. You know, I think we may even have their angel watching us as we interact with a child! Now there’s a motive for accountability to not look down on little ones. You have an angel watching you!

Recently, I followed up with Angela as Madison had moved on to first grade. The good news is she’s thriving, more talkative about her school day and does not want to miss a day of school.

I want to remember, though, that our treatment of children can make them feel fearful or secure. We do have authority over these little ones and I pray we use that authority wisely – laced with patient grace.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Confessions of an Author

If you have been published, you know the incredible, joyous, expectancy you have welling up inside of you right before your book’s release date.

If you’re like me, though, you also have some pushed-down questions lurking in the back of your brain…Will people like it? Will it sell? How can I help market it? Does it have the potential to be a best seller? Will it ever reach the New York Times bestseller list?

After all, it’s your “baby” and you long for it to reach your audience. You’ve put in countless hours, neglected family, friends, pets and other favorite things. Not to mention all the tears that have splashed on your computer keyboard. There were also days when you struggled to even write one sentence that worked – or to find that perfect transition sentence from one paragraph to the next. In essence, you hope no one will think your “newborn baby” is ugly.

The release day comes and you hold your breath. Will it get lots of good reviews on Amazon? Will there be any negative 1 star ratings? (If so, is there any way of removing those, you wonder?) Will people post your incredible book on Twitter and Facebook? Will it be picked up and re-tweeted with 22,200 hits in one day? (You hope!)

Maybe you can’t relate, but I’m a little embarrassed to say that I have experienced all of the above with high hopes of my books taking off in sales. But there is more I experienced – I began to compare myself to other authors. This led me to plead with God. “Father, why are her books selling and mine aren’t selling like hers? Wow, how come she’s asking her publishers for 1.5 million for a new series that she hasn’t even written yet – and they are willing to pay her! How did his book get on the bestseller list and in just a few weeks? What’s the magic ingredient that propels a book over the top? How did that author get to be #1 on the Amazon book sales? (I think I’m somewhere in the 548,785 ranking on Amazon with one of my books. ☺)

And then comes a question deep from my soul - Did I just not write a good enough book? (Whoops, was that shame slipping in again?)

So, two weeks ago I was bemoaning these very thoughts and feelings to God. “Father, I’m never going to write again – it’s too painful. And Father, now I see on Amazon that one can purchase Listening for God for a penny! (Of course, you have to pay $3.99 for shipping so that makes the value go up a bit. ☺) But really, Father, a penny?”

Later that day I ran to a department store to buy a gift. As I was waiting in line to make my purchase the lady in front of me turned to me and said, “You don’t know me, but I recognize you. You wrote Shame Lifter. I want to tell you how meaningful your book is to me. It has also been a help to my mother who was sexually abused by her father. Your book gives me hope…”

Ouch! I almost missed the true purpose for my writing….to have people drawn closer to Jesus to encourage them in their walk with God and to offer a small piece of hope in the middle of their woundedness.

This morning, during my quiet time, I found a letter from my dad. It is the only letter I have kept from him. Sadly, most were too painful for me to keep, but this was his most encouraging letter so I kept it. One of his sentences grabbed my attention:

“Let Christ use you – don’t try to use Him.”

I love how Jesus quietly and gently whispered to my soul this morning: ”Marilyn, you haven’t realized this before, but you are trying to use Me to sell your books. Please, dear child, rest in Me. I will take your books where I want to – where they will do the most good. You do not have to fret about this. You do not have to worry about them making money. Your writings are something that I ordained in advance for you to do. So, your earthly father was right when he wrote: ‘Let Christ use you – don’t try to use Him.’ As your Heavenly Father I encourage you to write, but let Me use your writings in My way.” Ah, such freedom in that release!

So dear author – let Christ use you and your writings today – however He desires. Keep in mind that, “…nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless” 1 Corinthians 15:58 NLT.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What does God think about you?

I heard two good questions from our worship leader this past Sunday at church:

First Question: "When God looks at you, What does He think about you? Interesting...What does God think about me? I wrote down my answer on the sermon outline.

Second Question: "When God looks at His Son, What does He think about Him? Oh, that was a no-brainer...I wrote on my sermon outline: "God thinks of Jesus as His beloved Son."

Next, came these words from the leader: "God, the Father, thinks the same about you as He does about His Son." Amazing! Because of Christ taking our sins upon Himself, we actually have the incredible honor to "become the righteousness of God" (1 Corinthians 5:21).

I'm not sure how you answered the first question, but sadly many people answer in the negative by saying..."I believe when God looks at me He thinks I am very frustrating." Or, "God thinks of me as a disappointment." Really? (Oh sure, there are times when we need to confess sin in our life, but it does not change the way God thinks of us. His love does not waver nor does He have favorite people.) Please don't be tempted to "re-create God" by your own feelings. God is God and He, thankfully, does not change His thoughts or love for us because we feel we are a disappointment to Him (or cause Him frustration - or whatever else you may think).

You and I are God's beloved and it's a truth that has been hammering away at me for some time now. Lately, I've been able to grasp this truth in a fresh way. I not only know from the Word that I'm beloved - I actually feel beloved.

Back to the sermon outline...When the worship leader had us write down our answer to that first question - of how we think God thinks of us - I found out that I wrote the right answer. I was so pumped! That would not have been my answer a few years ago when I was living in shame. I thank the Lord for His grace in my life to see that when He says we are His beloved - He means it.