Daring to Be…Uncommon

This week’s guest post was written by a dear friend from my Harding University days, Josh Keene. He is the friend who taught me about the south, including how to talk southern (y’eady? aight. ‘sgo.) and all things country-fied, and it has been beautiful to watch him grow from a Louisiana boy just out of high school into a wise and godly man, husband, and daddy. I’m grateful that he is sharing some of that wisdom with us here. Enjoy!

Earlier in March, I had the absolute pleasure of being able to attend the Ignite Men’s Conference in Lynchburg, Virginia at Liberty University. I went with the intention of being able to hang out with some amazing men of God, have some fun, and refill my cup.
Something that I have not done well over the last few years is making sure that I give some focus to self-care. In order to try to do that better this past month, I have worked hard to reconnect with some old friends who have helped tremendously in being able to refill me with the joy of the Lord, the joy that tends to be sucked out of me in my work. I am a family counselor that works with a high risk population doing intensive in-home therapy. My job is to meet with, walk with and counsel families experiencing the worst moments a family can experience.
My wife, being the woman that she is, has been encouraging me to take better care of myself for a while and it has not been until recently that I have actually begun to work on it. As a part of this goal, my wife bought tickets to this event and made sure I was able to experience an incredible weekend with some amazing men of God.
As a structural family therapist, I am continually looking for patterns and themes in and around family systems that help make sense of the issues that they are dealing with. If I had to pick a theme that I particularly noticed during this weekend conference, it would be how to be uncommon.
Uncommon? Why should we be uncommon?
As I listened to speakers like Tony Dungy, Joe Gibbs, Jerome Bettis, Alan Robertson, Phil Robertson, Rick Rigsby and so many more, the message seemed to have this same theme throughout. Take ownership of your walk with God, without worry about the expectations of others. We love others, we give to others, but we do not cater to their expectations or we will lose who we are and who we have been made to be in Christ.
Every one of us has been made sacred by God and yet we tend to settle for what is common, what is expected.


Whether it be from our family, our church, our work, our friends, expectations from others can keep us from our true purpose with God. See, it’s not just about being different, anyone can do that. It’s about being who we were always meant to be. It’s not about improving yourself, or being someone or something that you’re not because it’s the “Godly” thing to do. Jesus was not the Messiah that the Jews were expecting; he was so much more than that. He was a Saviour.
Do not settle for being the follower of God that others are expecting; be you. Submit to the purpose that He has created in you and made completely sacred to you.
Be an uncommon dad or mom, be an uncommon husband or wife, be an uncommon friend or co-worker. Be something that they never saw coming. Show love when they expect hate. Show mercy when they expect judgment. Show truth when they expect lies.
I love this quote by Wiersbe and I feel like it sums up by showing the balance that is needed. “Truth without love is brutality, but love without truth is hypocrisy.”
Find the balance and be someone that you never expected yourself to be. Be you.

Plodding through the Mud

This week you’ll get to hear from an old friend from my undergrad days at Harding University, Kelly Wiggains (I knew her as Kelly Duncan back then).  I am grateful that we have kept in touch over the years, as she is not only a talented writer (she writes about words, books and beauty over at kellywiggains.com. You should definitely head over and explore her blog…you’ll love it!  Go ahead and subscribe to receive her posts by email.  While I’m thinking about it, you can subscribe to receive mine as well.  Go on…I’ll wait…), but is a wise and godly woman who is also a beautiful wife and momma.  Read on and enjoy her beautiful wisdom!

Through the Mud

We read and talk about the “storms of life,” those times when life is pelting you with thunder sleet or hurricane force winds. That metaphor makes the trials of life exciting and eventful. After all, those kinds of storms even get their own names. Sandy, Rita, Ike. To talk about the trials of life as the same as experiencing a hurricane, well, that just sounds dramatic.
But the more I experience trials in life, I feel more like I’m slogging through ankle-deep mud in the middle of some random field.
Like I said, storms are exciting. Eventful. We expect big rises and falls, epic rescues. Live coverage at 5.
Slogging through mud doesn’t get a rescue, kind of like that family in the book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. Every time the family faces an obstacle on their journey, they say, “We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. We have to go through it.” The oozy mud is no exception.
You take a foot out of the gross.
You stick it back in, only a few inches ahead.
Now the other foot. Out.
Day in and day out, you make snail-like progress. You hold a hand if it’s offered, and you plod your way to the other side. It’s tedious and exhausting. There’s a lot of waiting and standing around. There’s not much else to do until you reach better footing.
“We’ve gotta go through it.” Squelch. Squerch.
Trials in life involve lots of plodding through the mud.
Currently, my mom is battling breast cancer. When her diagnosis first hit, my family felt the blunt winds. We drove in the middle of the night once, racing to the hospital as my mom’s lungs unexpectedly filled with fluid. We shuffled my kids to relatives once a month, so that I could go help as much as I could at treatment sessions, doctor’s appointments, test results. We had updates and reports. We wrung hands and added her name to prayer lists. It was dramatic! Highs! Lows!
But lately, we’re in the mud. My mom tries a new hormone therapy. She listens to another doctor. She tries a new medicine. We get mixed reports: good news and bad news. Squelch. Squerch.
I know those winds can pick up again at any time. Cancer is a big bully, taking cheap shots at my family when it gets a chance. But right now, we squelch. We squerch. We take a step and then take another one, realizing there’s not much else we can do or control.
We hold hands. We pray. And we look to the horizon for dry land. We know the dry land will come. That’s the hope that keeps the squelching and squerching going. If you feel stuck in the mud, know that there’s beauty in those inching steps. There’s fight and there’s victory. Small steps, yes, but progress nevertheless.

About Time

This week’s guest post was written by Deb Knoles, a beautiful lady who has known me all of my life, even while I was an angsty teenager, and yet still loves me! She is my second-mama (because everyone needs a second mother…believe me on this) and I trust her wisdom. Enjoy these wise and beautiful words from one who knows.

When I left last November for a week in Canada, the roses were still flinging out vibrant petals of scarlet, coral, and that incredibly soft pink/white that looks and feels like carefully rouged and powdered old lady cheeks. Indian Summer teased us into believing we’d have plenty more days to celebrate the garden.
Indian Summer
A week later, I returned to the park to find the roses hanging from their canes, ghosts of former glory, drained of color and turning brittle from a plunge into the deep freeze of a brutal cold snap. Who really believes that the air can move from comfortable 65 degree days to barely 15 in a short week? We do. We live in Illinois.
The dying rose beds set me thinking about the false illusion of seasons being the length we think they’ll be (a natural mistake for those living in a state that surely takes its weather cues from menopausal women). The seasons in my own life have tricked me, too. As one of those young shoots coming out of the ground I thought:  I’ll never grow up. (That one is sort of true if we’re going to get into maturity issues.)  I did grow (physically at least). I did not stay young forever. Eventually, I “flowered” into womanhood and found myself married to my handsome blue-eyed man.  Children arrived and I found an entire world of new seasonal misconceptions geared to each stage of their development.   My kids will never be potty trained. None of us will survive the teenaged years. The nest will stay empty. But every Season’s master illusion is this: THEN (in the next season), I’ll have time. SOMEDAY, I’ll have time.
Ah, yes. I’ll have time “then”. I thought for sure that would be true NOW. But just as I pushed back the borders of that completely illusive season of “having time”, I became a mother of toddlers again. This time my toddlers are 93 and 89. The term is literal. My parents toddle. Dad uses a walker and Mom uses my arm to counterbalance a back twisted by spinal stenosis, arthritis and scoliosis. They are darling toddlers. For the most part, they are gracious, respectful and endearing. Unless they are cranky, unreasonable and maddening.  Pretty much like the younger version of toddlers.  Well, really. It’s pretty much like all of us I suspect. It’s just more noticeable to the person who bears the mandate for being a caretaker.
Dead roses and sleeping trees. And my ridiculous notion that I’d someday have “time.” Interesting mind companions for a quick walk around the park. One of the perks of cold weather de-nuding the trees is that the structure of branches is thrown into sharp relief against the sky. You see a tree’s real character in the winter. With the leaves gone, I noticed a tree that has a branch that grew down, dug roots in the ground and then stretched skyward again.
I wonder what drove that branch down so deep. I wonder at the resilience that shot it back up toward the sky after its brush with the ground.  What kept it from just hanging out down there and giving in to gravity? There’s a story there in the tree that I will explore “when I have time”. If I have time. The grand illusion still has me in its grip.
Trees have stories. So do people. It’s a little—no, a LOT–intimidating to think what might be revealed in me when the leaves of my younger self have all fallen away. What’s going on under all the foliage?
In my parents I see the structure of a lifetime of good habits. Their discipline to always put everything back in its assigned place means they still live in a clean, well-organized home. (Oh, how I wish that could be said of my home!) They are thankful, gracious people. They’ve built their lives on faith and prayer and considering other people’s feelings and well-being mostly at the expense of their own. Their character holds up even as their bodies break down.
If I were a tree, I’d have collected a good many rings on the old trunk.
While I’m still young enough to camouflage a few of the branches I like to keep hidden, I’ve noticed that some of the leaves in my life have already reached their autumn. The golds and reds are fading to brittle brown and will soon drift away and leave all those branches bare to the wind. Perhaps this season of being a parent to my aging parents is designed to prune out the branches, give some design to the plain limbs and stretch out the stunted growth on others.
Loss of Leaf
Exposure of Limb
If I could be done with at least some of my selfishness, some of my false sense of pride, some of my striving for goals that don’t matter to anyone but me (and certainly don’t matter to God), perhaps the pattern those limbs trace against the sky would spell out “Glory to God”.
It’s a hard thing to watch these people I love face the very real indignities of aging. Death so often is wielded as a malicious weapon. The golden cord is severed with cruel speed in the too young. But too often for the elderly, as bodies begin to die one part at a time, that thread of life stretches out to the most tortuous tension. It delays a happy homecoming with weary days of travel on unfriendly roads. Dignity gets lost in adult diapers and poor digestion, in weakness and failing vision, and in the frailty of paper thin skin and bones.  And still we who love our aged blessings long for more time with them. One more golden memory. One more shared laugh. Is time ever “just enough” for us? I am grateful to know that when it comes, God transforms the sting of death into the most glorious life of all. We’ve just got to trust that His timing will accomplish all that needs to be done even when we vehemently (and mistakenly) think we might have a better suggestion as far as His clock management goes. He never stretches a season too long or ends it too soon for the harvest He reaps. I’m grateful, too, that He asks us only to trust and not to understand. Understanding His timing is so far beyond my grasp.
Whatever our season of life, we can let God use the challenges to shape us into a more beautiful pattern.  We can embrace the moment (this one right here and now!), revel in the glories of our season, and live it well. Or we can cling to the deception that we are just marking time till “then” and refuse to trust the Timekeeper. Either way, the clock ticks, the hours pass and the imprint shows up on our souls. Eventually, it will be evident to all what was real and what was just Spring’s window dressing.

What’s in a Name?

Today’s post was written by Amanda Wen, a dear friend whom I met while in worship ministry at our church. She is an amazing cellist as well as having the ability to write beautifully! We had the first three of our children within months of each other, which made it even harder when they moved away from us. She is wise as well as funny, which is a beautiful combination. I know you will enjoy these words from her heart.

What’s in a name?
Elizabeth, the wonderful author of this blog, posed a question recently to Facebook about finding a name for her fourth daughter. I don’t envy her task, as I was hard-pressed to find even one girl name I liked well enough to saddle my kid with it. But her question did get me thinking back to how I chose the names for my children, and the significance each has to me.
Before we even got pregnant with our firstborn, my husband told me, more or less at random, that he liked the name Caleb for a boy. I hadn’t thought about it at all, and as I had no particular objection to the name, it became the front-runner. The name became cemented early in my pregnancy, when a friend of ours, a young man also named Caleb, was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident. At his funeral, our pastor explained that Caleb in the Bible was an optimist, a go-getter, a “we can do that” sort of guy. “We can do that” is essentially my father’s motto, and with that, I knew our son’s name would be Caleb. (The meaning of the name, “bold, courageous, whole-hearted” goes along with this nicely). His middle name, Matthew, means “God’s gift.” We chose it because a) we liked it, and b) I couldn’t find another Biblical name that meant “surprise!”
“Surprise” was an apt descriptor of my feelings when, just a few short months later, I learned I was pregnant again. Although it was not my plan to have children so close together, it was God’s, and now, with four and a half years’ perspective and experience with two little boys who, though radically different in personality, are best friends, I know that, yet again, He knows best. But, continuing with the theme of surprise, we chose the name Jonathan, which also means “gift from God.” His middle name, Christopher, is the one name that honors both sides of the family. Considering that half the family is from China, this is no small feat indeed! The name also means “Christ bearer.” Could there be anything better to wish for my son?
When we conceived our third child, I had a strong feeling it would be a girl, and I was proven right. Unfortunately, choosing a girl name proved to be far more difficult. I wanted to avoid trendy names while still sounding somewhat contemporary, and I also wanted something Biblical.
Then one day, while I was reading in Psalms, I came across the word Selah. As a musician, I’ve always been intrigued by this word. Is it a musical instruction? Some sort of note to the choir director? What could it mean? I did a little research and discovered multiple meanings, ranging from “rock” to “pause and reflect” to a word that is indefinable, that simply means the highest form of worship.
The highest form of worship. Wow. And I knew then that I had the name for my little girl.
At first, Selah’s middle name was going to be Mei, a Chinese word that, depending on pronunciation, can mean either “beautiful” or “little sister,” both of which we knew she would be. But fairly early on in pregnancy, I was finally diagnosed with depression. My depression is not severe, and most of the time I barely know I have it, but during times of hormonal flux, particularly pregnancy, I cross over the line. My depression was worse with Selah than it was with either of the boys, and my doctor finally prescribed some medication for me.
After a few days of taking the meds, I realized what a godsend they really were. God had used modern medicine to give me my joy back. Joy that had been missing for nearly four years.
And so Selah’s middle name is Joy.
The name had been decided when we went to the hospital to have her, and while I was waiting for them to run some labs, I spied one of the Bibles the Gideons leave hospital rooms. This Bible, rather than being tucked away in a drawer, was open on a table. To Psalm 21, the first two verses of which are as follows.
The king shall have joy in your strength, O Lord;
And in Your salvation how greatly shall he rejoice.
You have given him his heart’s desire,
And have not withheld the request of his lips. 
 Selah Joy
Although God does not often give signs like that, it is so amazing when he does.