Friday, October 31, 2008

Family Ties

I always thought I would follow in my father’s footsteps and have a career in business. Dad was a successful and much-loved sales manager at Lever Brothers, and after he went to be with the Lord, I wanted to honor his legacy by going into business too. So after flinging my graduation cap to “Pomp and Circumstance” along with the rest of the Marcus High School class of 1991, I packed my Izods and Jordache jeans, along with other dorm room essentials like a hot plate and mini TV, into my trusty Dodge Shadow and headed to Aggieland, where I had received a full academic scholarship and planned to get my MBA.

My freshman year, I was selected to participate in the business school honors program, joining a dozen or so students hand-picked to be instructed by the deans of each department. I was on a fast track to success in the business world. Dad would be so proud, I thought.

Trouble was, I didn’t care much for accounting. Or microeconomics. Or finance. Or many of the other classes along the way to my business degree. Come to think of it, I only truly enjoyed classes like marketing and advertising—subjects where I could be creative and write.

By my sophomore year, the situation was becoming quite a quandary for this practical-minded gal. How could I continue pursuing a career that I frankly wasn’t interested in? On the other hand, if I didn’t get a business degree, what on earth was I going to do? I talked to my mom and several trusted friends about my dilemma, and their suggestion was almost unanimous: why not change my major to English, where I could focus on what I loved—reading, writing, and being creative?

I had a ready answer for that. I couldn’t possibly become an English major because (1) I had no desire to be a schoolteacher and (2) I didn’t want to wait tables for the rest of my life. After all, practically speaking, weren’t those the only two career options for an English major? (Before you beg to differ on this point, yes, I know there are many, many other options. But at the time, I wasn’t aware of them. Just hang with me here.)

After much prayer, I sensed the Lord guiding me to a perfect solution: why not combine my interests and go into the business of writing? Aha! Book publishing!

I did a bit of research and found a respected Christian book publisher in the Dallas area. Convinced that I was following God’s leading, I boldly picked up the phone and gave them a call.

Did they have any part-time positions available?


Any summer internships?


Could I just come pour coffee or something, to see what book publishing was like?


Humph. Not exactly the “clear sign from God” I was looking for.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, I continued calling the publisher every few months, making sure they still had my resume and politely asking if they had any summer openings yet. I kept getting the same answer.

I had almost decided to go back to my previous summer job when out of the blue, I got a call from a professional-sounding woman who introduced herself as Laura Minchew, vice president of the children’s division of Word Publishing. She had seen my resume and was impressed. Would I be interested in a summer internship in the children’s book division?

Yes, yes, YES!

That was great, she said. Then she mentioned one other detail—it would be an unpaid internship. Was I okay with that?

Um, God, when I asked You to provide a job at a book publisher, should I have specified a “paying” one? After all, money is kind of important for me, being in college and all . . .

Of course I was okay with that, I assured her, swallowing my protests to the contrary. Sign me up! I’d start as soon as the spring semester was over.

So in May 1993, I donned my most professional-looking attire (in that era, no doubt something paisley with puffy sleeves) and drove to the offices of Word Publishing, ready to find out what the book publishing biz was all about.

And I’ve been hooked ever since.

Those of you who have stumbled upon your life’s calling—the place where your passion meets your paycheck—understand what I mean when I say that from the moment I walked into the world of Christian books, I knew I was home.

At Word, I was surrounded by talented, energetic, creative people who were eager to help authors effectively communicate their messages of hope and truth to thousands of people around the world. I couldn’t believe there were so many people who loved books as much as I did! As David Moberg, former VP of Word and a highly respected leader in the Christian book industry, once said, “We have ink in our veins.” So it will come as no surprise that after my summer internship, I continued to work for Word at every opportunity throughout my college days and then enthusiastically accepted a full-time position upon graduation.

Honestly, I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else! There was a synergy at Word Publishing that, ironically, defies description. It was a golden era of like-minded, highly skilled people who wholeheartedly rallied around a shared desire to publish top-quality, God-honoring books. The leadership cultivated a family atmosphere where every employee felt valued and essential, thus inspiring us to work even harder to produce excellent products. In every sense of the term, it was a dream team.

My dad would have been so proud.

But like the poet Robert Frost famously penned, “So dawn goes down to day / Nothing gold can stay.” Only three years after I began working there full-time, Word was bought by another publisher and moved to Nashville. Several people transferred with the company, but many of us whose lives and loved ones were in the Dallas area simply couldn’t make the move.

After tearful good-byes, our close-knit Word family was literally torn apart as we scattered across the metroplex. Several people, like me, continued to work for Word on a freelance basis, while others found positions at other publishers or companies.

Fast-forward twelve years.

On the eve of David Moberg’s sixtieth birthday, he had made plans to travel from Nashville to accompany author Max Lucado to a book signing in Hurst. A couple of former Word folks came up with a fabulous idea: This would be a great opportunity for a Word Publishing reunion! A few e-mails and phone calls later, the plans were all set.

On Wednesday, I had the privilege of reconnecting with my Word family. It was a delightful evening of hugs and swapping stories and catching up with dear friends. Sure, there were a few more gray hairs around the table, but the synergy and sparkle of the Word team still shone through. We still share a common passion, as well as the deep bonds that come with having poured out our hearts together for many years to accomplish a common goal.

At one point in the evening, my husband Brett leaned over to me and said, “Now I see why you loved working at Word so much. The energy here is incredible!” No matter the time and distance that may separate us, these people are, in every sense of the word, my family.

As I looked through pictures of our Word reunion this morning, I got to thinking, What would it be like if the church had this kind of synergy? After all, no matter where we worship on Sunday mornings, the congregation is filled with people who share a common passion (a love for Jesus Christ) and who are pouring out their hearts together to accomplish a common goal (spreading the gospel and developing fully functioning followers of Jesus Christ). We are, in every sense of the word, the family of God.

One of the great things about The Church at Sendera Ranch is that as a new church, our congregation does have a genuine excitement. Many people at TCASR have said that from the moment they walked into the service, they knew they were home.

Like the golden era of Word, TCASR is made up of like-minded, supernaturally gifted people who wholeheartedly rally around a shared desire to change lives for good. Our leadership cultivates a family atmosphere where every person feels valued and essential, thus inspiring all of us to work even harder to share the gospel and serve our community. In every sense of the term, it is a dream team.

It is my prayer that we will continue to sustain this level of connectedness and purpose so that many years from now, someone will lean over to me and say, “Now I see why you love serving at The Church at Sendera Ranch so much. The energy here is incredible!”

What about your church? Is there a synergy and sparkle among your church family that attracts others and makes them want to be part of what God is doing there? If not, what can you do to help cultivate that sense of connectedness and enthusiasm in your church today?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Time for a Change

“How do I look, Mama?” five-year-old JJ asked, as she bounded down the stairs.

It was Sunday afternoon, and the kids and I were getting ready to go to my mom’s house for our annual pumpkin carving with their cousins. I sent Boo and JJ upstairs with specific instructions to change out of their dresses into play clothes that they could get sticky with pumpkin goo.

I should have known better.

JJ’s ensemble of choice was eclectic, to put it nicely. I have to hand it to her, though. Technically, her outfit matched. She even pointed out that a pink stripe on her tank top blended with a pink flower on her shorts. Okay, she got me there. And I guess technically a khaki sun hat matches everything, right?

But it was fifty degrees outside—hardly tank-top-and-shorts weather.

Now, to JJ’s credit, Old Man Winter takes his time moseying down to Texas. While folks in other regions of the country have been shoveling snow out of their driveways for weeks, down here in Fort Worth, we’ve been lounging on our back porches on perfect 75-degree evenings. So it’s understandable that JJ would assume her summer outfit would befit late October. (After all, there have been years when we’ve opened Christmas presents in our shorts!) But we finally had a cold snap that seemed like it would last awhile. (Side note: my husband, who is from northwest Arkansas, and I disagree on the definition of cold. In Texas, the official definition is “anything less than sixty degrees.”)

I sent JJ back upstairs to change into long sleeves and jeans. And then, on second thought, I went upstairs to supervise.

Walking into JJ’s room, I realized why she’d had such a hard time selecting an appropriate outfit. There were piles of clothes everywhere!

Alas, it was that time of year again—time to change out the seasons and sizes of clothes. And I was woefully behind in getting the kids’ closets organized. To be honest, it’s something I dread. Don’t get me wrong: I love the feeling of having an organized closet. I just don’t like the process of getting there.

But JJ’s closet was desperately crying out for help. Most of the summer clothes hanging in her closet were a size too small and needed to be put aside, the winter clothes from last year had to be sorted through to find things that still fit, and I needed to go through the storage bin of hand-me-downs from Boo to find winter clothes for JJ this year. Oh, and I needed to mow through JJ’s shoes too. And belts. Oh, and socks—JJ’s socks were getting too small, so I needed to change those out too. Sigh.

It was time for a change.

So I decided to take off work Monday, and I spent the day sorting through piles of clothes and changing out all three kids’ closets. It was a painstaking process—each item in their closets had to be taken down and examined to determine whether it should remain. Some summer clothes could be set aside for next summer; others were too small and needed to be put away. Then I went through the bins of next-size-up clothes that had been handed down from older siblings or given to us by friends over the years. What would fit? What would be appropriate for chilly weather? Which outfits were outdated? What could we pass on to other kids? And then the process began again with shoes. And belts. And socks. And . . .

You get the picture.

It took me almost an entire day to sort through all of their closets, and I have to admit, I’m still not entirely done. But I’m getting closer to having those organized closets I love. I know exactly what they’re supposed to look like—I just have a bit more work to get there.

The process reminds me a bit of what’s it’s like to clean out the “closets” of our life before God. Let’s face it: we all have things hanging around in our lives that needed to be sorted through.

Some things are flat-out sins, things that dishonor God and miss the mark of His holiness. Those need to be confessed and tossed out. First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” There are things in your life that you know, beyond a doubt, should not stay. So get rid of them! Don’t take time to examine them, lingering over the memories you had wearing them—toss them out! They’re taking up space in your life that you need to fill with God’s righteousness and love.

Some things are outdated and need to be put aside. Are there spiritual practices you’re still clinging to, simply because “you’ve always done it that way”? Though our lives can be enriched by tradition (cue Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof here), there are some traditions that clutter our hearts and prevent us from experiencing new life in Jesus. Fittingly, our Lord described this with a parable about—you guessed it!—clothes: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old” (Luke 5:36). Are you clinging to any old traditions that are keeping you from a fresh, genuine encounter with Jesus? Set them aside today.

Some things in our lives are a size too small and no longer fit. Are you stuck in the same spiritual routine that you’ve been doing for years? Maybe you attend church on Sunday morning but haven’t made room for your faith in your day-to-day life. Or maybe you’ve been doing the same kinds of devotionals, or praying the same generic “God bless the missionaries” prayers, for several years. Just like every infant experiences physical growth, every Christian goes through a process of spiritual growth. Perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at your spiritual life. In what ways are you closer to God this season than last season? If you’ve been following Christ for several years but are still wearing toddler clothes in your spiritual life, it’s time to “grow up in your salvation” and “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (1 Peter 2:2; Ephesians 4:13). Pass on your toddler clothes by mentoring a younger believer, and press on toward spiritual maturity by “being renewed inwardly day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).

As the seasons change and we begin the often-dreaded process of clearing out the clutter, let’s take hope in the fact that someday, we will no longer have to keep purging our lives of sin, old traditions, and immaturity. Like the perfectly organized closets I’ve envisioned for my children, God has an infinitely greater, perfect plan for all of His children. The Bible assures us that one day, our earthly, perishable bodies will be “clothed with the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:54). We will finally toss out the despair of this life and put on “a garment of praise” (Isaiah 61:3). And then—hallelujah!—we will be arrayed as the bride of Christ, “in fine linen, white and clean,” and we will dwell forever in the new heaven and earth prepared for us by our faithful, good, and loving God (Revelation 19:14; 21:1–5; Psalm 102:25–27).

And that, my friends, is change you can believe in.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Warming Up to True Community

The past four weeks, Brett has been preaching a sermon series called “Living Life in the End Zone,” based on Acts 2. Sunday after Sunday, he has been encouraging our congregation to experience true community not only by deepening our personal relationship with the Lord and serving in the local church, but also by reaching out to our neighbors to share the message and love of Christ in a practical way.

Like any good pastor’s wife, I have been sitting on the front row, taking good notes, and thinking about how proud I am of my husband for preaching the Word with clarity, boldness, and grace.

And then I take my copiously filled-in sermon notes home and promptly file them away. After all, like many pastor’s wives, I’ve heard most of this before. Many, many times before.

Not just from Brett, of course. I cut my teeth (probably literally) on a church pew. My parents used to pin my tithe to my diaper when they took me to the church nursery. My dad was a deacon and my mom was in the choir, and our family of five was at church every single week for Sunday school, worship service, discipleship training, Tuesday night visitation, Wednesday night prayer meeting, and every potluck and hymn sing and revival meeting in-between. Take seventeen years of that, add four years of college ministry, and then throw in three more years of seminary. Now top that off with ten years of marriage to a pastor, and you’ll begin to have an idea of exactly how many sermons I have heard in my life.

That’s why a specific event this past week turned into a truly amazing, God-sent opportunity to actually live out the truths I’ve been jotting down on my sermon notes.

It started last Friday, when our air conditioning went out. During the 90+-degree Texas heat, I might add. Oh, and I might also add that the manufacturer informed us that it will take at least two weeks for our replacement part to arrive.

Two weeks. In unrelenting, 90-degree heat. With three young children. And the two of us both working from home.

Can anyone say, YIKES!

Now, I have to admit that my first reaction to this news was something other than, “Lord, thank You for this great opportunity.” But we didn’t have money to replace the A/C unit, or even to buy portable fans to use while we waited for the part to arrive, so we didn’t have an option. We would simply have to endure the heat. For two weeks.

After a couple of days of sweating it out, I finally decided to send an e-mail to our church, asking if anyone might have a portable fan that we would borrow for a while. But to be honest, it took me awhile to work up the nerve to hit Send. After all, I’m not used to asking for help. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a master delegator and have absolutely no problem assigning tasks for a specific project. But when it comes to asking for help for myself or my family—well, that’s another matter entirely. You see, there's an unwritten rule in churches that pastors and their families are the ones who give help, not the ones who need help. And that’s pretty much the way we’ve been living the past ten years.

But oh my word, it was so HOT in our house. I had to do something!

When I checked my e-mail later that day, I was overwhelmed at the response. Dozens of people offered us not just the use of their fans, but even their homes. One friend invited our entire family to spend the night as often as we’d like—she had plenty of room for all of us, she said. Another dear friend let us know that she stashed a key outside, so we were able to use her home for the kids’ afternoon naps. Several moms offered to host the kids and me for afternoon play dates, so we could escape the heat. And still others have called us this week to check on how we’re doing and see how they can help.

In other words, our church is reaching out to us to share the love of Christ in a practical way.
It’s exactly what Brett has been preaching the past few weeks. Here we are, actually experiencing a true, Acts 2 kind of community!

There’s nothing more exciting than seeing God’s vision become reality. The past few months, we’ve been amazed to watch God build His church and draw us together as a church family. And this week, Brett and I were humbled and grateful to reap the blessings of the true community God has been building here at The Church at Sendera Ranch.

This Sunday, Brett is starting a sermon series called “We Hold These Truths,” covering the essential Christian doctrines. You bet your boots I’m gonna take good notes! And then I’m going to keep my eyes peeled for how God is going to put those truths into practice in our daily lives.

Stay tuned…