Five Questions You Can Ask to Save Your Holidays from Family Drama

It’s three days before Thanksgiving and Christmas is just a ho-ho-ho away.  For most of us that means more family interaction during a season when we’re often physically, emotionally, and spiritually stretched thin.DSC00629For people who are trying not to gain weight, they say the most important thing is to go into food intense situations with a plan.

As I look back on our early days of marriage, there are things we could have done to set ourselves up better for success.   We could have used a plan!  Yesterday I shared the following with a young married couples community I shepherd at our church, but these  guidelines for a holiday plan apply whether you’re married or single…

1.  Talk ahead about expectations.

Ask: What’s ONE thing you are most looking forward to and  ONE thing you fear (or dread)?  If you’re married talk about these with each other and then make sure to find a way to communicate with family members you will be spending time with.  Same thing goes if you’re single, but in either case, make sure you ask others about their hopes too!  Just knowing ahead of time what others are thinking helps you to adjust your own expectations.

2.  Acknowledge and make allowances for different wiring.

This was the text from my pastor husband this morning: People are so over-rated.  I don’t see why Jesus likes them so much…they keep wanting to talk! :)

The holidays mean throwing together introverts like John who get energy from alone time, with crazy game-loving extroverts like my relatives.  Early in our marriage when 25 of us were crammed together at my parents’ cabin for Thanksgiving we’d look around and John would have disappeared.  We’d find him huddled in a dark corner of a bedroom reading a book.  At first that felt unacceptable!  Rude and crazy!  Why would anyone not want to spend every festive minute together with my wonderful family, playing Monopoly (loudly) and putting on talent shows??

Ask: Who in our family needs space and alone time?  

3.  Be aware of what joys and sorrows, and hot-button issues family members are bringing to the table.

Are there people in your family struggling with infertility and others who are newly pregnant?  Someone celebrating a new job and another dealing with loss?  Are there ways to be sensitive and honest about the difficulty of rejoicing with those who are rejoicing and mourning with those who are mourning?

Are there issues where our family has differences?  In my family, thankfully we’re on the same page on most of the hot topics like religion and sports (:)), but we have differed some in our parenting styles.  We need to be aware of communicating mutual respect and support and reserving judgment in this area.

Ask: What are the topics that might lead to tension or pain?  

4.  Consider what needs to be reconciled or reframed.

Unfortunately, for many families, the holidays are the only time during the year when everyone is in one place.  This can lead to misunderstandings that can fester with lack of proximity.  Someone says something or does something that hurts our feelings and because time is short we withdraw and let the wound deepen during the year.

Ask: Are there any relationships in my family where I need to ask forgiveness, or do I need to talk about hard things in order to reconcile?  

This might mean setting up time to go out for coffee to have that “crucial conversation.”

Ask: Or, are there ways I need to protect myself from toxic relationships that are abusive or bring out the worst in me?

This might mean reframing your view of a relationship, or limiting your time together.

Really, each of these questions is just a way to ask “How can we love each other well this holiday season?”

Does one of these four suggestions or five questions resonate with you?

Romans 12:18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.


More than Enough

Monday I wrote about being “enough” and it’s continued to be on my mind this week.  One of the reasons I think people love Thanksgiving is that it’s all about focusing on the “enough” before the holiday season when we’re prone to be stressed about not enough.  Not enough time, sleep, or money, and too much food, noise, and activity.

Maybe one of the reminders we need to carry with us into December is that God is always enough – enough grace for our sin, enough strength for our weakness, enough patience for our striving.

But more than that, maybe we need to be reminded that we are always enough and never too much for God to love.  He’s crazy about us “as is”.  Our picture is in His wallet, our number is on his “favorites” list.  He grieves with us in our despair, and happy dances with us in our joy.

I came across this song that I thought might be encouraging as we head into the weekend.  Enjoy!

Where are you tempted to think you’re not enough?


How Do You Create a Sanctuary?

People say I have the gift of hospitality, but I once put a cup of salt, instead of teaspoon of salt, into a batch of lasagna so clearly it can’t be about gourmet cooking.  I also once totally forgot that we had invited six people for dinner, so hospitality apparently doesn’t hinge on attention to details.  Instead, I would agree with someone I heard recently who said, “Hospitality is inviting heaven into the house”.

Actually I’d expand that to say, “Hospitality is inviting heaven into the house…the bus, the office…the coffee shop…the airplane…the parking lot.”  And I know many people who do that much better than I do.

A couple years ago, John told a story in a sermon about a mentor of ours.  For a season, Gordon and Gail MacDonald were pastoring in New York City.  They befriended some city bus drivers who were Christ-followers, but felt they didn’t have an environment for ministry.  Gordon pushed back and suggested:

“Why don’t you start up your buses each morning and, while the engine is warming, walk down the aisle of the bus and shout, ‘In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, I declare this bus to be a sanctuary where passengers will experience something of the love of Christ through me.’ You can be a pastor in your own sanctuary.” Continue reading

When You’re Not Enough

I’ve been feeling a little skittish lately…a little anxious and a little fearful – not like myself at all, but more like a hostess who’s afraid she’s going to run out of food.  Concerned there’s not enough, or that she’s not enough, or that she’s forgotten something important – like the meat.

Ironically, when I’m feeling off my game I usually need to listen most to what I’ve been teaching others.  So this morning when I woke up at 2:00 and again at 3:00 my mind turned to a passage that many of you know is very meaningful to me.  It is one I preached on in Zambia recently.

It’s the passage in 1 Kings 17 where God sends Elijah to the widow of Zarephath to ask her for a drink and a piece of bread.  The only problem is that she only has a handful of flour and a little oil. She’s preparing the last meal for herself and her son and then she figures they’ll die.

When Elijah makes his request she answers, “As surely as the Lord your God lives, I DON’T HAVE…”

Like the widow that’s usually our “go to”.  Think of a challenge you face today – relational, work-related, parenting, health-related – and where does your mind go? Continue reading

Theology of Sleep

Tuesday night our small group met as usual at my house.  After dinner we were curled up in our usual places in my living room, discussing Lectio Divina, the practice of slow, contemplative reading of a passage of Scripture.

Ready to apply this practice, we agreed to a time of silence before the Lord first and then one person would read the verses.  We closed our eyes and the silence was delightful, rare, welcome. I became aware of myself in the presence of God.  The silence stretched on and I thought, “Here I am Lord. This is good, because it is so seldom we do this.”

Silence, silence, more silence.

I thought, “Did I misunderstand?  Was I supposed to read the passage?”


Finally I opened one eye and peeked.  Heather was trying hard not to laugh and pointing across the room to Molly who was fast asleep! Continue reading

What we Bring to the Table

Awhile ago we hosted a dinner party and it felt like a slow motion train-wreck.  Honestly.  At one point we were afraid one of our guests was going to leap over the table and physically attack another guest.

And to think I was upset beforehand that I didn’t have an appropriate soup tureen and ladle.  The stuff we worry about!

I haven’t watched Game of Thrones or the Red Wedding episode, but from what I hear, after this dinner I really don’t have to.


To say there was tension would be an understatement.

Husband John and I have done quite a bit of post-mortem analysis and have asked what we can learn from this.

As I think about what was brought to the table (besides soup), I realize there was tremendous fatigue.  It had been a very long weekend in the midst of a busy season for most of us.  When we’re tired we’re not at our best.

We also brought preconceptions, insecurities, and judgment to the table.

But Fear was the uninvited guest we hadn’t expected.  Continue reading

Who is Disadvantaged at Thanksgiving?

I got home from Zambia Friday afternoon, so happy to be back in my cozy home with a soft bed.

When I left, the trees were painted glorious and Halloween was immanent.  When I returned the trees were sad and bare, the sky gray, and Thanksgiving almost upon us. Continue reading

Not Taylor Swift

This morning you will wake up to tweets about “postpartum Taylor Swift disorder” and news about how Kim Kardashian is the hottest mom on the planet.

I want to tell you about someone you won’t see in your Facebook newsfeed, or on the Today Show.

This is one of my new friends who lives in a slum in Lusaka, Zambia.  Her name is Faith and she wears it well.


Her husband is a pastor. She helps him with the ministry, and cares for six children.  And so that they can make ends meet, she raises chickens in her house.

200 chickens inside her house.  Because she can’t afford to build an outdoor coop. Continue reading

The Little Thing You’re Doing…Does it Matter?

I’m in Lusaka, Zambia.  It is 97 degrees and instead of red leaves falling off  the trees there are flamboyant red flowers. photo-9

We were checked for Ebola at the airport (even though it is nowhere near).  photo-10

And I ate fried caterpillars.


And this morning I preached at a church in a slum that is vibrant with praise, singing and dancing.

Sound exciting and exotic?  Well maybe, but… Continue reading

Encouragement for Your Hard Race

photo-6It was a perfect day. 65 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. The blue above contrasted with the cornucopia of color, vibrant energy, and thousands of people around me on the National Mall in Washington D.C.  From the air I imagine it looked like a very busy colony of colorful ants.  I was at mile 11 on the Marine Corps Marathon route that our daughter Katy was running.

Although she’s run many half-marathons in different states, this was her first full and training for it had been difficult (What an understatement – like ANYONE training for a marathon has it easy!).

I had gotten her split time at 6 miles and she was on pace.  I peered over heads and around little kids as the runners kept streaming past me by the side of the road.  I kept craning my neck, looking so hard for the bright teal t-shirt I knew she was wearing.  I felt overcome with emotion –  hopes and dreams for, and pride in this precious daughter of mine.

I anxiously kept scanning the crowds of runners and praying for Katy, like the father of the prodigal son, willing him to come into view from afar

Is this a tiny bit of what our Heavenly Father feels as He watches us running our race of faith?  Is He picking us out of the crowd, fully aware of the miles when it’s going to be harder to keep putting one foot in front of another?   Continue reading