Language Matters

I am perhaps a bit obsessed with language.  I believe that how I phrase something matters, both in verbal and written communication.  This is perhaps not a surprise to many, since I am, after all, a lawyer. I think God knew to lead me towards that profession rather than the many other options that also interested me, since I do really enjoy the craft of words.  Nevertheless, being a precise communicator has its advantages and disadvantages.

The positive side:

First, much of the legal work I do for Cru has to do with helping US Campus staff know what words to use when addressing potential or actual legal challenges on their campuses. This often comes down to how to phrase things in a respectful, common-ground-seeking way that still stays true to our values and messages as an organization. We want to help the administrators on various campuses understand why what our student Chapter is doing benefits them and is consistent with the state of the law.  It is often the subtle things that make a difference in this type of communication.

Second, because most people interpret life through the lens of their worldview, and because the worldviews in our culture are becoming more and more diverse, we have to provide more context for our thoughts and assertions. It is important to both seek to understand the other person’s perspective, helping him/her to feel heard, and important to clarify where my perspective agrees and differs.  This is helpful in building good rapport; it is also helpful to avoid leaving a conversation thinking we understand one another when we actually do not.  I have found that this is helpful when talking about the Bible in particular, both with unchurched and churched people.  

I cannot assume, for example, that a student I am talking to has any context for understanding that God’s commands in the Bible are steeped in the context of both truth and grace. For Christians, I have to continually remind them that service, ministry, and Godly living must come out of a place of security, confidence and joy in their walk with God. I want to help people understand that Biblical standards for right and wrong arise out of the fact that God is a holy and loving God who knows that we will be most satisfied when we obey because he loves us as a loving Father, giving his children boundaries for their own protection.  If we are his child (adopted into the family of God), we have his unfading love, but we will experience his love more when we draw close to him and walk in his ways. The language I use to describe these truths matters because society likes to falsely paint God as an angry, demanding, selfish father—and such thoughts can sneak in and warp the interpretations of the gospel in students hearts and minds…  But God’s Word is so powerful and so good—I am thankful for it!

The negative side:

One downside of my obsession with language is that I get frustrated when people don’t understand me.  I want so much to communicate well that I don’t give myself much grace when either I fail at communicating well, or someone else simply is not tracking with me for whatever reason. We are relational beings, and communication is very complex and full of pitfalls. I am thankful for God’s grace in the midst of it all. We are broken people, and yet he is such an amazing example of faithfulness and love that accepts us, but doesn’t leave us where we are.  I don’t want my relationships to be characterized by frustration over communication problems, but rather by a commitment to seek understanding and cover all things in love.

Another downside (on a lighter note) is that Jeremiah gets frustrated when I micromanage his writing (haha). There is a certain amount of personality that needs to come through the writing, and he sometimes complains that I am taking away the emotion he is trying to communicate when I adjust a sentence “to be more clear.” We work it out, and are actually a pretty good team when it comes to communicating in ministry and life (He gives me amazing ideas and feedback for discipleship planning, helps me to simplify complex ideas, and reminds me how to sound less formal when I am planning devotionals.  And I help him organize and clarify his thinking and communicate to “do-ers,” since he is such a big-picture thinker). But it does come up from time to time…

A Final Thought:

I think the key overall is to keep a light view of things. None of us can hold ourselves to a perfect standard in any area of life. God has given us different giftings, and we can seek wisdom and strength from Him to use those gifts in ways that most glorify Him and build up the Body of Christ. But we also must give ourselves and all those we are in relationship with grace upon grace, just as Christ gives to us. If we do that, I think we will find that we appreciate and rely upon the gifts of our brothers and sisters in Christ all the more, and find more fruit from our gifts as well.

P.s. (Jeremiah told me to put this): sorry for being so wordy…

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Lunch with Jesus

This morning, a friend said that he had been asked what historical figure he would most like to have lunch with (for an employee spotlight). He said Jesus. He then said, “I’m not sure what we would talk about. What would that be like? What questions would I have?”

What immediately came to mind for me was, ‘How am I doing? Am I on track to hear, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.” That’s what I would want to know from Jesus.

It seemed to me at the time that was a good thought. I want to please Jesus with my life, and I therefore want to know how well I am doing at pleasing him, at being a good steward of my life. As I drove home, however, I began to question why this came into my mind so quickly. Why did asking about MYSELF come to mind when thinking about having lunch with Jesus. Why not want to know more about Him?

I have found that immediate reactions tell me about myself. These thoughts force me to ask myself these questions: Does having these thoughts make me self-centered? Does that show how deeply concerned I am with how other people view me, that I would ask about MYSELF if I was sitting with the creator and sustainer of the universe. Does that show how deeply insecure I am? Does that show how man-centered (actually, that would be self-centered) I am?

Why not ask about Him as my first though? Why not ask about what it felt like to add a human nature to His divine nature? Why not ask about how to know the Father better? Why not just ask Him to teach about whatever He thinks I need to hear, and simply be content to listen?

I have far to go in this life to embrace worship as a constant. I want it to be true that I hear ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ But I want it to be because I was so focused on Christ that I didn’t care about what others were going to say about me.

I want the words of John the Baptist to be true of me, ‘He must increase, I must decrease.’ – John 3:30

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Reflections of a New Foster Mom

For much of my walk with the Lord over the last 20 years or so, I have wanted to be willing to do whatever God asks, and to be stretched and changed by him.  I think it is funny how He often brings that change about–carefully stripping out the pride that I have tied in to the roots of the desire, and gradually refining me, replacing my pride with trust and dependence as I reach the limits of my own strength and initial resolve rather quickly.

I have always been drawn to adoption, but never truly thought much about foster care, because it seemed even more intimidating than adoption. But then the Lord started us on the journey of pursuing adoption through the foster care system last Spring.  Even through the whole process of getting licensed, we felt pretty certain that our call was to mostly adoption—providing a “forever family” for a child who needed one. Yet once we received the license, we kept reflecting on some of the case studies we had learned about in our licensing, and on the reality of the need (and lack of foster homes in Northern Arizona), and we decided we should open up ourselves to the possibility of fostering as a whole.  We wanted to help meet the needs of children here, and wanted seek to truly live out the love that our Savior has shown us when we were weak and undeserving and needy.  It tends to be much easier to say we are willing (yet try to confine our options to and even pray for the easiest situations) than it is to act.  We determined to be willing to respond and act in the face of need.

Well, here we are, with two foster children in our home, overnight becoming part of our family for as long as God desires.  I don’t think I even knew what I was really saying when I said “yes” to the phone call a couple weeks ago, but God knew.  I am not going to give any case details here to preserve confidentiality, but wanted to share some reflections from my perspective as a first time Foster Mom.  With the two new children, the ages of the children in our household are now 2,3,4,5 and 7.

It is not easy, and there are definitely times when Jeremiah and I feel in over our heads, particularly since we are the only Cru Staff couple here, and have many college “kids” we are already caring for.  But love requires sacrifice, and only through that comes great joy.  When the two children arrived at our doorstep late one night a couple weeks ago, we looked at their scared faces and immediately wanted to welcome and love them. Based on my very brief experience thus far, I will share a few amazing things, a few challenges, and a few blessings that are arising from this whole experience.

First, some amazing things I have noticed: (1) Children are truly resilient—I am consistently surprised by the hope and trust children can display in the midst of a complete displacement from the life they knew.  And even in the face of crazy circumstances like neglect (by far the most common reason for removals in Northern Arizona) or abuse, these children (like all children), are wired to want close relationships, to have big dreams for their futures, and to rejoice in new fun experiences, while still treasuring memories and longing for restoration of their family relationships.  (2) I am honored by how quickly these children have seemed to receive my love and rest in us as a place of safety. I don’t want to breech that trust, and long to continue to be safe for them in every way. (3) Children just cry out for love and acceptance, and are not afraid to express that need and pursue it. These children at least want hugs and closeness. It is not hard for me to seek to treat them as I do my birth children, with much affection and consistent boundaries (as much as I am capable of consistency with my many failings).

Some challenges that I perceive to be somewhat unique to Foster care are the following. First, When you are going to have a baby, you know pretty much when it will happen and what to expect. You also have figured out how to slow your life down when it happens. When receiving Foster children into your home, none of that is true. You don’t know when; you don’t know what age the child/children will be; and you certainly do not have a plan set in place to slow life down (at least I didn’t…).

Second, while we knew suddenly adding children of varied ages to our home would place stress on our birth children, we didn’t know exactly what it would look like. We had resolved to keep the birth order, at least for our older children, but were somewhat willing to flex a bit around Judah’s age. It has proven most difficult for him to have one new child on either side of him–meaning he has lost his “place,” his time alone with Mom, and most other stable things he had in place… He is adjusting, and often has tons of fun with the kids, but has been lashing out a bit more than normal…

Third, my sin is never far away…my impatience, my self-will, my desire to control situations.  Yet I am even more powerless than I already was in affecting the lives and hearts of my birth children. With that come fears…

  • What if I can’t do my job well because of this…with the ministry to students here, with my legal work for Cru… What if people are upset with me? (my people-pleasing…)
  • What if I am missing out on certain focused time with my birth children? Will they resent me for it?
  • What if I am not good at this, and I get impatient and don’t parent well?
  • What if we don’t get to adopt because we took a sibling foster placement?

When such fears arise, I have to remind myself that I have a personal, compassionate, gracious Father in Heaven, who has given me all that I need for life and godliness, and who will not give me more than I can bear (when I put my hope in Him). He is sovereign, and has a plan for my spiritual growth, my character growth, and my family’s provision. He is with me. What a blessing it is to know Him!

And speaking of blessings…I have also seen blessings, and believe many more will come through this process.  (1) Our birth children are learning what it means to love beyond their comfort zone, which will hopefully point them to Christ all the more and all He has done for us. (2) I get to see a more complete picture of what it means to come like a child to the Lord—to depend upon Him and cling to Him—as I observe and cherish both sweet and raw moments with these beautiful children. (3) I get to see my own need for Christ even more fully—as I am confronted with my limitations and my brokenness, with five children dependent upon me that I cannot possibly meet all the needs of. But God can meet their needs, and as I am driven to Him, I can more effectively point these children to Him. (4) We get to continue to grow our heart for restoration of families and renewal of individuals, trusting and praying that God’s power can reach into any situation, and His light can shine in the darkness, bringing hope and healing.

Thank you for your prayers as we are on this journey. God is doing a great work in our hearts and lives.