Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Favorite Books of 2009

I love books. That’s no secret, especially since I read for a living! But I don’t just have a passing interest in books; I love books the way a cat lady loves her cats. I pore over them, treasure them, and spend embarrassing amounts of time sorting them in our library (by category, then by author’s last name, in case you’re wondering). I have books in every room of the house (yes, every room), and I even stash books in the car, diaper bag, and my purse, so that I am never without something to read.

As a freelance book editor, I edit dozens of manuscripts every year. For example, in 2009, I worked on forty-three books. Most of them were really good reads—some of them are bestselling, amazing reads!—but all of them taught me something and helped me grow as a Christian, as a reader, as a person. And of course, the privilege of getting to know the authors I work with is priceless.

In addition to the books I edit, I also read books for the sheer joy of it. Some are light reads, while others make me think. Some help me improve my writing and editing skills, and others give me fresh insights on church planting and ministry life. All of them impact me in some way, even if it’s only to note how a poorly written book could have been improved!

On this last day of 2009, I thought it would be fun to share with you a few of my favorite personal reads from this past year--though not all of them were published in 2009. Enjoy!

*Note: None of the books I edited are on this list. Though I’ve worked on some truly great books this year, including them among my favorites would not only seem self-serving, but I couldn’t possibly pick one author over another. They’re all wonderful! :-)


Eyes to See, volumes 1 and 2, Bret Lott
If you want to read the classics but don’t have a lot of time to devote to lengthy, 19th-century novels, you’ll love these compilations! Bret Lott, editor and New York Times bestselling author, has compiled these two collections of “enduring stories that challenge and inspire.” Each chapter is a short story or chapter of a well-known book that will give you the richness and diversity of classic authors such as Leo Tolstoy, G.K. Chesterton, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Charles Dickens, and Flannery O’Connor, to newer voices like John Updike, Frederick Buechner, and Helen Norris.

A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle
I can’t believe that I didn’t read this book when I was in school. How did I pass up such a gem? If you haven’t read A Wrinkle in Time, no matter your age, I highly recommend it. Though it can be read allegorically—and has much insight into the human condition and the nature of God’s truth—it’s also an enchanting story of love, longing, and loyalty.

The Giver, Lois Lowry
This short book packs a powerful punch! Reminiscent of Brave New World, Lowry’s The Giver is set in a futuristic society where the government has eliminated poverty, sickness, and unhappiness. But as 12-year-old Jonas discovers, this utopia comes at a terrible price. This intriguing story weaves Christian allegory with hauntingly contemporary insights.


Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life, Shauna Niequist

I stumbled upon this book on a clearance rack and honestly wasn’t expecting much from this author’s debut memoir—but I was pleasantly surprised! Cold Tangerines is a “shameless appeal for celebration,” says Niequist, and each chapter is flavored with vulnerable, poignant insights that showcase the myriad ways God infuses our everyday, messy, fragile lives. I laughed out loud at "Basement" (yep, we all have rooms that only our best friends are allowed to see) and related to many of her stories of friendship, love, and loss. I’m already looking forward to her sophomore book, due next fall.

Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith and Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith, Anne Lamott

One of the authors I work with is repeatedly compared with Anne Lamott, so before editing his next book I decided to become familiar with Lamott's writing style. I found these at Half-Price Books, packed them in my pool bag (did I mention that I always carry books with me?), and read them while the kids splashed around in the pool this summer. Now, if you’re the type of person who only reads “Christian” books and takes offense to strong language or unconventional views of God, Lamott's writing isn't for you. But if you can appreciate the truth behind honest and witty irreverence, then you will love her books. As a writer, Lamott is truly exceptional. She has mastered the craft of storytelling, weaving tales so bittersweet and poignant that you will laugh out loud while reaching for your Kleenex. If you are a writer—of any genre—I recommend Lamott’s books as part of your library.

An American Childhood, Annie Dillard
I admit, I was on a bit of a “memoir” kick this summer, so next I ventured to Annie Dillard’s remarkable autobiography. This book is so exquisite, so breathtakingly well written, that it’s in a class of its own. The Philadelphia Inquirer review sums it up best: “The reader who can’t find something to whoop about in this book is not alive. An American Childhood is perhaps the best American autobiography since Russell Baker’s Growing Up.” Amen!

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, A. J. Jacobs
From the man who chronicled his reading of the entire Encyclopedia Britannica (The Know-It-All) comes one of the most hilarious books I’ve read in years. Make no mistake: Jacobs is not a religious man. He is a New York Jewish agnostic who describes himself as Jewish “in the same the way the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant.” He decides to follow the laws and rules of the Bible, beginning with the Old Testament, for one year. He starts by growing a beard and chronicles every itchy moment. I was amused as Jacobs obsessed over literal interpretation of Bible verses. And I laughed hysterically when his menstruating wife got so mad she went around the house and sat on all the furniture, thus rendering everything “unclean.” In this book, you’ll meet a fascinating array of Jewish rabbis, Christians of every stripe, and Jacobs’ friends and neighbors who help him (or harass him) along this ambitious, memorable journey.


The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, Tim Keller

If you only read one book in 2010, read this one! In the spirit of C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, Keller draws material from literary classics, philosophy, anthropology, and other disciplines to make an intellectually compelling case for God. With biblical insights, impeccable logic, and compelling insights, pastor Keller challenges skeptics’ most common objections to Christianity, such as “How could a good God allow suffering?” “Science has disproved Christianity,” “You can’t take the Bible literally,” and many more. Read this book and take lots of notes, reread it, and then pass it on to a friend.

The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith, Tim Keller
After reading The Reason for God, I was eager to plunge into Keller’s next book The Prodigal God, despite its off-putting title. I’m glad I did! This book is much shorter and easier to read, so if you’re new to Tim Keller and daunted by the size and scope of his Reason for God, you might want to start with this one. In this book, Keller looks at the parable of the prodigal son from the perspective of the elder brother and uncovers God’s “prodigal” grace toward both the irreligious and the legalistic. Whether you’re a longtime churchgoer or haven’t set foot in church in years, this book will challenge, convict, and inspire you to seek a fresh relationship with God.

Passionate Conviction: Contemporary Discourses on Christian Apologetics, ed. Paul Copan and William Lane Craig
Yes, I know this sounds like an apologetics textbook, but it’s actually a fascinating read for anyone who wants to defend the Christian faith. Each chapter summaries a lecture from a national apologetics conference, including contributors J. P. Moreland, N. T. Wright, and Gary Habermas, to name a few. The book covers questions such as “Why Doesn’t God Make His Existence More Obvious to Us?”, “What Do We Know for Sure about Jesus’ Death?”, and “Is Morality Relative?,” in addition to fascinating insights ranging from science to ecclesiology, including the cosmological argument for intelligent design, Christianity’s uniqueness among Eastern religions, the challenges of postmodernism, and reflections on the emerging church.

Church Planting/ Ministry

Confessions of a Reformation Rev.: Hard Lessons from an Emerging Missional Church, Mark Driscoll

My husband is an experienced church planter, so I thoroughly enjoyed pastor Mark Driscoll’s engaging story of starting Mars Hill Church in Seattle. As a church planting wife, I could relate to many of Driscoll’s experiences of the failures, frustrations, and just plain messiness of planting a church that is faithful to the gospel of Christ in this post-Christian culture. I appreciate how Driscoll not only shares the story of Mars Hill but also presents lessons he learned as well as practices that worked. This is a valuable resource for any church planter or pastor.

Change Your Church for Good: The Art of Sacred Cow Tipping, Brad Powell *
(*Full disclosure: I edited an updated version of this book, but I’m commenting on the original hardcover I did not work on.) In this book, pastor Brad Powell shares his experiences of transitioning an old (and, at the time, culturally irrelevant) church into the vibrant, effective ministry of North Ridge Church in Detroit. His premise is that the church is the hope of the world—when it’s working right. Though his insights are directed to pastors who are transitioning small churches, there is much that applies to church planting as well. A recommended read for any church planter or pastor who wants an effective, relevant church.

Christian Living

Seeing God in the Ordinary: A Theology of the Everyday, Michael Frost

This book is a delightful treasure from Australian professor Michael Frost. In Seeing God in the Ordinary, Frost urges Christians to develop a robust faith that enables us to be filled with wonder at our astonishing God. Reminiscent of one of my all-time favorites—Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind—Frost urges readers to rediscover the place of imagination in the Christian life and explores how the great themes of Christianity are woven into modern books, poetry, and movies to reveal the presence of God in our day-to-day lives.

Fearless: Imagine Your Life without Fear, Max Lucado
Lucado’s latest book is a timely reminder that for those who know God, we have nothing to fear—not the economy, not healthcare, not even the tremulous state of the world. In his trademark style, Lucado examines Jesus’ statements about fear and encourages us to take heart, even in difficult times. Whether you’re new to Lucado or a longtime fan, this book will not disappoint.

Breathe: Creating Space for God in a Hectic Life, Keri Wyatt Kent
As a mother of three who juggles kids, church planting, an editing career, friends, and a never-ending to-do list, this book came along at just the right time for me. This light, easy read reminds women that our value isn’t found in what we do but in who we are. Keri’s decision to scale down her family’s activities affirmed my commitment to keep things simple with our children. If you are feeling weary and burdened, I encourage you to pick up this book, slow down—and breathe.


The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamillo
Kate DiCamillo is becoming one of my favorite authors. From her classics The Tale of Desperaux and Because of Winn-Dixie, to her lesser-known but still exquisite The Tiger Rising and The Magician’s Elephant, DiCamillo has the rare ability to write children’s stories that appeal to readers of all ages. Of all her books I’ve read so far, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is my favorite. This endearing tale of a china rabbit who, through a series of extraordinary events, learns how to love brought me to tears. If you like The Velveteen Rabbit, you will love The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. It’s a modern classic that has earned its way onto every child’s (and adult's) bookshelf.

The Help, Kathryn Stockett
With characters so rich and realistic, I’m still amazed that this is Stockett’s debut novel. Set in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi, where black women “were trusted to raise white children but not to polish the household silver,” this is the tale of friendship, betrayal, anguish, and love written in such provoking detail that you feel swept up into the lives of these women. I know it’s a cliché, but I couldn’t put this book down; I read it in a single night. I’ve read lots of fiction books this year that I don’t recommend, but The Help is a shining exception.

On Reading

How Reading Changed My Life, Anna Quindlen

In this short but insightful book, novelist and former Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen describes her love affair with reading with enthralling accuracy. “Reading has always been my home, my sustenance, my great invincible companion,” she explains. “I did not read from a sense of superiority, or advancement, or even learning. I read because I loved it more than any activity on earth.” As someone who definitely relates to this kind of fanatical “book love,” I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was inspired to read several of the books on the recommended reading list Quindlen provides for fellow bibliophiles.

Reading Is Believing: The Christian Faith through Literature and Film, David S. Cunningham
In this engaging look at faith and culture, David Cunningham helps readers understand how a Christian reading of novels and movies leads to a deeper, more precise and experiential knowledge of faith. Cunningham examines such classics as Dickens’s Hard Times and Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale to modern books (Tori Morrison’s Beloved) and movies (Dead Man Walking). As a Christian who enjoys reading widely (not just “Christian” books), I appreciated Cunningham’s ability to recognize and communicate God’s truth as revealed in popular culture.

On Writing

The Hero’s 2 Journeys, Michael Hauge and Christopher Vogler (CD set)

As a book editor, I’m often asked, “How do you know what to change in a book? Do you just fix typos?” Oh my, no. It’s much more than typos, I explain. It’s more like listening to a symphony and hearing notes that are dissonant, out of place. Sometimes you can just fix a note or two; other times you have to reorganize an entire movement so that the melody ring through more effectively. But when I listened to The Hero’s 2 Journeys (okay, it’s a CD set, not a book), I realized the authors were describing in detail what I had been doing by instinct all these years. Though these lectures focus on writing screenplays, Hauge and Vogler lay out a template for storytelling that applies to writers of all genres. If you are, or ever plan to be, a writer, I strongly recommend listening to this writer’s workshop. I promise, your editor will be grateful you did!

The Art and Craft of Storytelling: A Comprehensive Guide to Classic Writing Techniques, Nancy Lamb

“Storytelling is an art. But it is also a craft.” So says Nancy Lamb, encouraging writers not only to use their instinct, but to develop the skills and technique required to create an effective story. As an editor, I love this: “Storytelling rules aren’t restrictions. In fact, a basic understanding of the rules frees you to do your job as a writer.” (And all the editors in the room said, AMEN!) Whether you’re a published author or an aspiring one, this book will help you refine the art—and craft—of storytelling.

The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises, James Scott Bell

This little red book is a battle plan to achieving publishing victory. Drawing humorous and insightful parallels from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, novelist James Scott Bell lays out tactics ranging from developing ideas, building characters, and crafting dazzling dialogue… to battling self-doubts, coping with unrealistic expectations, and dealing with rejection. With short, pithy chapters, this book is easy to read, full of practical insights, and well worth your time.

Monday, December 7, 2009

She's Making a List, Checking It Twice...

As I was doing Miss B's eyedrops last night, I noticed a piece of notebook paper on her dresser. “What’s this?” I asked, taking it over to her as I sat on her bed for our nightly pre-tuck-in chat.

“Oh, I’m starting a club with my friends,” she said, naming four or five other girls in her second-grade class. “This is the list of our club rules, symbol, code, and password.”

Chuckling to myself—This daughter of mine is already starting clubs and making lists!—I asked if I could read it.

“Sure!” she said brightly.

I'm not sure what the code and password have to do with anything, but I have to admit, I am heartened by her "rules":

If only grown-ups would play by the same rules (minus the "no boys allowed" part), this world would be a much better place!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

You Never Outgrow Your Need for a Daddy

“A father to the fatherless . . . is God in his holy dwelling.”
—Psalm 68:5

Our three-year-old son has a vivid imagination and, to my chagrin, an aversion to silence. (Despite my friends’ warnings that boys don’t talk as much as girls, Buddy has always been a chatterbox. As my dad would have said, he “suffers from undelivered speech.”) So whenever he’s in the car with me, I can guarantee a lively conversation from the backseat.

On the way to his preschool today, I heard him calling out several animal noises—Neigh! Cock-a-doodle-doo! Roar!—from the backseat. Picking up on the game, I scanned the trees and buildings we passed by, trying to “find” each animal he called. (“Look, there’s a rooster!”)

At some point during the game, our son decided to act out an episode of WonderPets. He hollered out an animal noise—Moo!—and then quickly followed up with, “Oh no, Mama! There’s an animal in twouble!”

“Oh no!” I gasped. “Is it the cow?”

“Yes!” he said with urgency. “There’s a baby cow, and it’s stuck up in the twees!”

“Oh my goodness.” Suppressing a giggle, I tried to sound appropriately concerned. “That’s terrible. We better save that poor calf!”

“Yeah!” he agreed. “I’ll be the guinea pig. You be the turtle!” (Apparently he doesn’t know the WonderPets characters’ names.)

“Okay. Let’s go save the calf!” I said in my best turtle voice. “We have to do teamwork, okay? I’m driving, so you’ll have to find the baby cow. Can you do that?”

“Yes, I can!” Buddy said proudly. A few seconds later, I heard him pipe up from the backseat, “Look, there he is!” He narrated his dramatic rescue of the calf from its precarious perch, culminating with, “I saved him!”

“Congratulations, Buddy. That’s great,” I assured him. Thinking of what always happens at the end of WonderPets, I suggested, “Do you want me to go get the calf’s mommy, so she can hug him and give you some celery?”

“No!” he insisted emphatically, to my surprise. “He needs to be safe now. He needs his daddy.”


What is it about a father that makes us feel safe? No matter how independent, strong-willed, or self-sufficient we make ourselves out to be, if we’re honest, we’ll admit that deep down, there’s a fearful place inside our hearts, a place where we hide our achingly desperate need to feel secure, to know that Someone is taking care of us.

As many of you know, my dad died suddenly and very unexpectedly when I was in high school. I won’t bore you with the details, but I spent years trying to pretend that I could be strong enough, smart enough, and independent enough to ignore that gaping hole in my heart. I didn’t even allow myself to grieve Dad’s death until almost a decade later. And to this day, I still can’t watch a father walking his daughter down the wedding aisle or see a dad show affection toward a grown daughter without feeling a gnawing physical ache, a deep longing for my own father.

I know other people whose fathers are alive—but emotionally far away. Adults who left home long ago to build their own lives, but they are still desperately seeking their father’s approval, crying out for attention, affirmation, for anything. No amount of success, no achievement, not even a loving family of their own can quench the thirst for their own father to say, “Well done.”

For those of us who no longer have fathers on this earth—and for those whose fathers are achingly far away—I want you to know something today. Take these words and tuck them into that secret place in your heart, the place where you long for a father to make you feel safe.

We have a heavenly Father who will never leave us or forsake us. He is “the helper of the fatherless” (Psalm 10:14 NIV).

Whenever you crave the security and safety of a daddy’s arms, remember that you are “loved by God, called and kept safe by Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:1 MSG; emphasis added).

What kind of Father is our God?

He's the kind of Dad who takes off at a dead-run to embrace you. A Father who is overjoyed to see you, forgives you, and lavishly celebrates your return, no matter how far away from Him your life’s journey has taken you (Luke 15:11-24).

He’s the kind of Dad who completely removes your disgrace and wipes away all your tears (Isaiah 28:5).

And best of all, whenever you feel scared and alone, He’s the Father who “will be right there with you; he'll keep you safe and sound” (Proverbs 3:26).

Because the truth is, no matter how old you are, you never outgrow your need for a Daddy.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Life of "Daily Loveliness"

I was one of those kids who knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. If you had asked me as early as elementary school, I would have enthusiastically told you that I would follow in my father’s footsteps in corporate management. And like my dad, I would honor God by living a life of integrity and faithfulness in the business world.

True to my word, after graduation from high school, I enrolled in the business administration program of Texas A&M University, eager to blaze my trail into corporate America. Everything was going according to plan—in fact, I was even selected to participate in the business school's honor program—except for one problem.

I didn’t like accounting. Or finance. Or most of the other classes along the way to that business degree. I was only excited about the classes like marketing and advertising, where I could write. (You can read more about that here.)

Long story short, after my freshman year, I switched my major to English and spent the summer as an intern at Word Publishing in Dallas. As soon as I entered the world of Christian book publishing, I was hooked. I knew this is what I was meant to do with my life.

I was going to be a book editor.

Trouble was, I was only nineteen. Honestly, how many teenage book editors do you know? And how many bestselling authors do you think would entrust their manuscripts to a nineteen-year-old?

Didn’t think so.

But the Lord works out His plan in amazing ways. By the end of that summer, I was proofreading professionally. And not long thereafter, an in-house editor at Word made me an offer I couldn’t refuse (or believe!).

She asked me to edit a book.

“The whole book?” I asked her. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” she reassured me. “I’ve seen your work, Jennifer, and I believe in you. Trust me: you’re going to be a great book editor.”

Those words literally changed my life. They were the encouragement I needed to chase my dream. I eagerly accepted the job and have been editing ever since.

Let me introduce you to the woman who gave me my break into book editing. A woman who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. A dear friend, colleague, mentor, and confidant.

A godly woman who went home to be with our Lord a few weeks ago.

NASHVILLE, TENN—The Christian publishing industry lost a colleague and friend when Laura Kendall, longtime editor for Word Publishing and Thomas Nelson, died this week in Nashville, Tennessee. Laura had retired from Thomas Nelson in 2005, after two decades of editing books by bestselling Christian authors including Max Lucado, Billy Graham, Ruth Bell Graham, Anne Graham Lotz, Charles Swindoll, Barbara Johnson and Tony Campolo. She was still providing freelance editorial services and consultation from her home in Nashville until last week. Laura fought a brief battle with pneumonia and went to be with her Lord on September 2. She is survived by two nieces and two nephews and many who counted Laura as a spiritual sister and devoted friend.

Laura Kendall was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1938. She earned three degrees including a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology (Mercer University, Macon, GA), a Bachelors of Divinity (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) and a Masters in Sacred Music (Northwestern University). She worked as a voice teacher and then as an account executive for publicity agency Hahn Crane and Associates in Evanston, IL. She joined Word Publishing (Waco, TX) in 1978 as Director of Publicity and soon moved into an editorial role, eventually earning the title of Senior Editor. Ernie Owen, former Publisher at Word, recalls Laura’s unique gift: “Many authors owe a debt of gratitude to Laura. She had an uncanny sense or feeling for dealing with people and manuscripts.” Laura continued to serve Word and its authors when the publishing company moved to Dallas and later to Nashville (as a division of Thomas Nelson). She officially retired in 2005 but continued working as a freelance editor and consultant. Beyond sharing her professional skills, Laura shared her heart with authors and colleagues alike, and her presence will be missed as both an editor and a friend.

Laura was recognized for her professional expertise but also for many personal talents and graces treasured by her friends. She possessed a trained soprano voice and sang with her choir at Glendale Baptist and was known for her elegance, her love of music, and what one friend called “her daily loveliness.”

* * * * *

As word spread of Laura's homegoing, remembrances and responses poured in from her friends and colleagues. Here are just a few:

* “Treasured memories of Laura with her beauty, charm, grace and deep faith will remain with us always.” (Pat Bianco)
* “She was a thoroughly classy lady.” (Claire Cloninger)
*“May we all enter our golden years with such grace and style.” (Kris Bearss)

Over and over, the same words were repeated as friends and loved ones described Laura:

Grace. Dignity. Elegance. Classy. Lovely. Faithful.

All of these are such fitting descriptions of Laura. She was a woman who truly understood what it means to be an example of dignity, wisdom, faith, and beauty (Titus 2:1-6).

Lord, may we all set such an example of "daily loveliness" for our children, our family, our friends, and everyone we encounter so that You may be glorified in and through us the way You shone through the life of Your devoted and faithful servant, Laura Kendall.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Sound of Freedom

One of the fascinating things about living in north Fort Worth is that our house is only a few miles away from Alliance Airport. The brainchild of real estate mogul and former presidential candidate H. Ross Perot, in partnership with the city of Fort Worth and the FAA, Alliance Airport is an industrial airfield that also serves as a training site for military aircraft.

A few days after we moved to Sendera Ranch, Brett was installing storage shelves in our garage when fighter jets screamed over the house, literally shaking the walls. I remember him coming into the house and turning on the TV, convinced the military was bringing down a rogue aircraft from DFW.

However, we soon realized was that it was the Blue Angels, rehearsing for that year’s Alliance Air Show (which, by the way, is an amazing show. If you’re anywhere near Fort Worth on October 24-25 this year, you should see it!).

After living here for a while, we’ve gotten used to seeing various military aircraft zooming overhead, along with the regular assortment of 747s and passenger planes heading to and from DFW. On any given day, we can see F-16 jets, Blackhawk helicopters, and other military aircraft that I can’t even name. They’ve become so commonplace that our family hardly even notices them amid our daily routine.

Except for one humid, overcast day a few months ago.

That Thursday morning, I was working at the kitchen table when I heard a noise so loud that it rattled our back door and windows. I hurried into the backyard, convinced that it was some kind of massive explosion, honestly expecting to see flames leaping from one of our neighbors’ houses.

What I saw, instead, was an F-16 fighter jet streaking just below the clouds.

A sonic boom.

I looked down at my two younger children, who had also heard the boom and, frightened, had come to find me.

“What was that?” J.J. asked, covering her ears.

I kneeled down to her eye level and pointed to the sky.

“Honey," I gently explained to her, "that's the sound of freedom."

Eight years ago, on a clear, sunny September morning, the world heard the piercingly awful sound of terror.

But today, if you listen closely—beneath the acerbic political firestorm over health care and bailouts and even our military’s deployment abroad—you can still hear a sound so precious that it makes America unique among all other nations in the world.

Freedom to vote without fear.

Freedom to express your opinions.

Freedom to agree--or disagree--with our nation’s leaders.

Freedom to attend town hall meetings, write to your representatives, and even post your political views on public sites like Twitter and Facebook.

Freedom to participate in a democracy that has welcomed differing viewpoints and flourished for more than 200 years.

Listen closely. Pull your children toward you and gently explain it to them until they, too, can hear it.

Because, no matter how bitter the debates may be, when it comes down to it, freedom is a sweet, sweet sound.

To those who have dedicated—and even sacrificed—your lives to protect the freedom we all too often take for granted . . .

Thank you.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Can Christians Honor the President without Agreeing with Him?

Ever since the media announced that President Obama will be addressing public school students today at 12:00 EST, I have been intrigued by the outcry against it. I admit, when I first heard that the president was speaking to public school students (including two of my children), I was concerned about the specific content of the message and prayed about what God would have us do as parents. But as I investigated further and discovered that President Obama was simply encouraging children to pursue their education with passion and vigor, my concerns were assuaged. The speech (which you can read here) contains no force-fed leftist agenda or overt anti-God sentiments, as the pundits had gravely warned us. In fact, he actually closes his speech with the now-traditional presidential benediction: “God bless you, and God bless America.”

“But wait!” some Christian parents said. “It’s not the content of the speech we’re worried about; it’s the liberal, godless classroom activities that our children will be forced to do!” So I looked into those as well. The suggested classroom activities to complement the speech—which are completely optional--contain questions such as “If you were president, what would you tell students?”, “What can students do to help in our schools?”, and “Why is it important that we listen to the president and other elected officials, like the mayor, senators, members of congress, or the governor? Why is what they say important?”

I’ve read the entire speech. And all the classroom activities. And to be honest, I don’t see anything dishonoring to God in any of it. What I do see is an opportunity to reinforce to our children a healthy respect for those who hold public office and to help them understand the sobering responsibility our public servants have to make decisions every day to improve and protect our country.

As it turned out, our school district gave teachers the option of showing the president’s remarks, and neither of our girls’ teachers opted to show it today, so this is a moot point for us. However, if all school districts had chosen to show the president’s televised remarks to all public school students today, how should we, as Christian parents, respond?

“Pull all the Christian children out of the public schools!” some would advocate. “Don’t let the government convert them to godless socialism!”

“Keep your children at home on Tuesday!” other Christians say. “Don’t let your children be influenced by this anti-Christian, left-wing-agenda-driven radical!”

If you’ve read blogs penned by Christians on this subject, in addition to the few who have shown a prayerful, careful response, you’ve no doubt read astounding vitriol from those who disagree with the current administration. Some Christians (who are supposed to be characterized by love) are publicly lambasting, berating, and even belittling our commander-in-chief.
But wait.

This is the President of the United States we are talking about here.

Granted, I did not vote for Barack Obama. And I do not agree with most of his political and economic policies.

But whether I like it or not, Barack Obama is the leader of my country. He is not only the President of the United States, but he is also the president of Jennifer Stair, citizen of the United States. And he is the president of my husband and my children. And if you are a U.S. citizen, he is your president too.

If we look beyond the vigorous, vehement firestorm of debates among Christians about whether to subject our children to the president’s address today (or whether Christian children should even be in the public school system at all), here’s the bottom-line question:

Can Christians honor the President of the United States without agreeing with him? Can we have a healthy, God-honoring respect for the office of the presidency without supporting the person who holds that office?

Listen to what the apostle Paul says in Romans 13:1–7:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (ESV)

Regardless of whether you choose to homeschool your children, send them to a private Christian school, or put them in public school (which is, I believe, a decision parents are free to make as God leads them), as Christians we are all commanded to “be subject to the governing authorities” and to “pay … respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”

As Al Mohler said, “Barack Obama is President of the United States. Christians must be the first to pray for this president and to model respect for the presidency, even when we must disagree with the President's policies and proposals.”

By our actions and by our words about the sitting president, are we setting an example to our children of how to "be subject to governing authorities"? Are we teaching our children how to respect and honor--without fear or resistance--those who hold authority in our local, state, and federal government, without necessarily agreeing with the people who hold that office? Certainly, as responsible citizens of a free and democratic country, we should voice our objections to our congressional representatives, attend town hall meetings, and make our opinions known. But we can do so while maintaining a healthy, God-honoring respect for those in authority, even--and especially--when we disagree with them.

Let’s face it: at some point in their lives, our children will eventually find themselves in subjection to an authority figure who holds beliefs different from our own. Whether a schoolteacher, college professor (yes, even in Christian colleges), boss, manager, or even pastor—your children and mine will someday have an authority figure with whom they disagree. As much as we want to protect them from encoutering difficult circumstances, the reality is that as our children grow up and begin making decisions on their own, they will eventually be faced with a situation in which they have an authority figure who embraces a differing political stance, religious belief, or worldview.

When that happens, how will they respond?

Will they berate, besmirch, and belittle that authority figure (the way, perhaps, they saw their parents do)? Will they retreat in fear and seclude themselves from having any positive influence in society?

Or will they, like the apostle Paul, understand how to respect and honor those in authority without fear or resistance—because they grew up in a home in which their parents modeled a God-honoring, prayerful respect toward authority figures (including presidents) with whom they disagree?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Celebrating Our Daughter's New Birth

Our children are not only preacher’s kids, but church planter’s kids. (As anyone who has planted a church knows, it’s a completely different adventure.) Our oldest daughter was born three weeks after we launched our first church, followed 21 months later by our younger daughter (who, for the purposes of this blog, I’ll call J.J.). After a brief hiatus where Brett served on staff at another church plant, we followed God’s call to launch The Church at Sendera Ranch—expanded to a family of five, with our then one-year-old son in tow.

In other words, our kids have no idea what an established church looks like. They’ve never been part of a church that has its own building, much less activities such as children’s choir, AWANA, and the like. Instead, our kids have only known churches that meet in such unusual places as movie theaters, elementary schools, and now a preschool. And none of these church plants (so far) has offered traditional children’s church activities outside of Sunday morning classes.

On the other end of the church spectrum, I was brought up in a traditional Baptist church, where I attended Sunday school, GA’s, children’s choir, and Vacation Bible School. We put on well-practiced, extravagantly costumed musicals for the church, as well as eagerly competed in “sword drills” (finding Bible verses) and memorized large sections of Scripture for such prizes as a new KJV Bible with our name embossed on the cover. I learned how to read music--and follow the alto part--by singing out a pew hymnal, and I knew the first, second, and last stanza of almost every hymn.

To be very honest, during the past eight years, on occasion I have lamented that our children weren’t having the same kinds of church experiences I had. And (I’m embarrassed to even admit this) sometimes I worried that they would be somehow spiritually stunted from the lack of such organized, Bible-based activities as AWANA or sword drills. Still, God had called us to a life of church planting, and we’ve always understood that call to be for our entire family.

So every Sunday, our kids help set up chairs, greet visitors, and show other children where the classrooms are. And they not only participate in both services at TCASR, but they also stay to help us break down the tables, straighten the kids’ rooms, and pack everything away. They've helped us distribute door hangers, hand out brochures about our church, stuff Easter eggs, and serve popcorn and snow cones at community events.

And they have watched us host small groups, invite people to dinner, pray with and for people in our church, and share Christ as we have opportunity to do so. And since our church doesn’t have a building, Brett offices from home, where they have a front-row seat to watch him pray daily for our church, faithfully study his Bible to write each week's sermon, contact church members and visitors to pray for them, meet weekly with the men he disciples, and lead people to Christ.

Come to think of it, all the time I had spent fretting about our children not participating in traditional church activities, they were seeing God at work in ways I could never have imagined as a child.

And in answer to our earnest prayers, God has called not only our older daughter, but now our younger daughter to Himself at a young age. The details of J.J.’s conversion are precious and sweet, but for the purpose of this blog, suffice it to say that she came to know Christ with the same zeal that she has for all of life.
And on June 28, 2009, Brett had the honor and privilege of baptizing our own daughter, now our sister in Christ.

So I’m going on record: I take back all those worries about our kids not being part of traditional church programs.

The truth is, as a child, I experienced a lot of church—but our children are experiencing a lot of Christ.

What else could a mother possibly hope for?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Recession-Proof Faith

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”
—Jeremiah 29:11 NLT

As I was driving to Costco in Southlake the other day, I passed by the now-vacant monolith that used to be Circuit City. It seems surreal that the famous red logo is gone forever. But it’s not just Circuit City, of course. Everywhere you look these days, another business has closed its doors or filed for bankruptcy. Chances are, you know someone who has lost a job in the past few months. Or perhaps that someone is you.

In these challenging economic times, many people—hardworking, loyal, and highly skilled people—have landed on the cutting-room floor of downsized company budgets and suddenly find themselves living paycheck to . . . no paycheck. And others who still have their jobs feel anxious and stressed, going to work every day in fear that they, too, might get the dreaded pink slip.

Let’s face it: during a recession that has lasted longer and is more widespread than anyone expected, it’s hard not to worry about what will happen tomorrow, next week, next month, or even next year. Especially when the daily news details story after story of financial and political turmoil across the world and in our own neighborhoods. But, as Christians, we should not be anxious or worried about the future. That’s easier to say than to do, as we all know. There’s a good reason that the most often repeated command in the Bible is “Do not fear”!

God assures us that nothing that happens in this world is outside His perfect plan, including the current economic recession. Even when circumstances seem bleak, He promises that His plans are “for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

When we are tempted to fear what tomorrow may hold, He urges us, “Remember the things I have done in the past. For I alone am God! I am God, and there is none like me. Only I can tell you the future before it even happens. Everything I plan will come to pass, for I do whatever I wish” (Isaiah 46:9–10).

In other words, we don’t have to worry about tomorrow, because all of our tomorrows are in God’s hands.

And whenever we start to fret about whether we will be able to pay the bills or buy groceries, we can take comfort in our heavenly Father’s promise to take care of us and to provide for our daily needs.

That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? … So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. (Matthew 6:25, 31–33)

How can you have recession-proof faith?
By remembering that God, who loves you, will give you everything you need.

When doubt arises, remember what God has already done for you. Think back to the situations He has already brought you through. Look at how many times He has restored your joy. Take courage in knowing that He will bring you through, no matter the situation.

And when you need an extra boost of faith, consider the apostle Paul’s prescription for finding peace in troubled times:

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! … Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. (Philippians 4:4, 6–7)

So the next time you find yourself feeling anxious and worried about the future, take a moment to rejoice in the Lord, tell Him what you need, and thank Him for what He has done. Then He will send you what you need most of all—His peace.

This article appears in the July-August issue of Haslet Style.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

New Life, Restored Sight, and Final Healing

For those of you who are regular readers of my blog, thank you for your patience the past two weeks. In the past fourteen days, I have experienced a vast spectrum of human emotions—from amazing joy and celebration of my younger daughter’s new life in Christ, to the worry and fear of my older daughter’s eye surgery and the excruciating wait to know the results (which are very positive, praise the Lord!), to receiving news that made me drop everything to travel my dear grandmother’s bedside for a week, helping my mother care for her as Grannie waits to go to heaven and be finally, fully healed.

In due time, I will write about each of these experiences, so stay tuned. I have only two days at home to spend with my family and catch up on manuscripts (and have Internet access), and then I will go back to my grandmother’s bedside, should the Lord not yet call her home.

In the coming weeks, I will share with you the journey the Lord has taken our family on this summer. I appreciate your continued thoughts and prayers as we await my grandmother’s homegoing.

In the meantime, check out my husband's blog about a memorable wedding he officiated this week. It's an amazing story about how God changes lives, sometimes even in the middle of a wedding ceremony!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Blocking "HolyGod"

About a year ago, I finally caught up with the twenty-first century and joined Twitter. For those of you who have been living under a rock, or perhaps are not technologically inclined, Twitter is a social messaging website where you post short updates (140 characters or less) that can be viewed by your “followers,” people who have permission to be included among those who are able to receive a regular feed of your posts.

At the advice of Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson and cutting-edge business leader, I began viewing my Facebook and Twitter accounts not only as ways to keep up with my friends and family, but also as opportunities to begin building an online “brand.” In his blog on the subject, Hyatt reveals, “By the way, I accept all friend requests on both Twitter and Facebook. Period.”

A few weeks ago, I took Hyatt’s advice and began accepting all “follower” requests on Twitter. The results have been fun! I’ve discovered many other people involved in the publishing industry, church planting and ministry, and families just like ours. I’ve also accepted follower requests from marketers, real estate agents, life coaches, and completely random people I have nothing in common with. And you know what, it’s been fun to read their updates and begin to get to know these people in a casual way.

Now, I’ve gotten a few bizarre follower requests along the way, but the one I got yesterday tops them all. Literally.

Yesterday, I was contacted by “HolyGod”—who requested to follow me on Twitter.


I checked out the Twitter profile, and sure enough, it’s someone who is pretending to be the Creator of the universe. He (she?) tells people when to expect rain, gives status reports on his ongoing fight with Satan, etc. Surprisingly, in the post-Christian Twitterverse, “HolyGod” has more than ten thousand followers.

Before I go any further, let me assure you that I do have a sense of humor. I don’t take myself too seriously, and I appreciate tongue-in-cheek biblical humor as much as the next person.

But to me, what “HolyGod” was posting on Twitter crossed the line. It wasn’t just satire; it was sacrilege. (Note: this is my own opinion; I am in no way criticizing anyone who does follow HolyGod on Twitter. Please, no irate e-mails.)

Fortunately, Twitter has a function that allows you to “block” people from being your followers. So instead of hitting “Follow” (in return), I simply clicked the option that says “Block.” After being prompted by a screen making absolutely certain I want to block this person (yes, I did), I then got a bold, large message scrawled across the top of my Twitter page:


I couldn’t help but snicker at the irony of the message. And then I thought…

How many times in my own life do I actually block Holy God? (The real, almighty Creator of the universe, not the Twitter version.)

When I sense God’s nudging to pray for someone or call a friend, do I act on it—or do I “block” Holy God, thinking I’ll get to that later, when I have more time?

When I have the opportunity to share the gospel or help someone in need, do I act on it—or do I “block” Holy God from using me in that way?

When I have the time to study God's Word or deepen my faith through our church's growth groups and Bible studies, do I joyfully take advantage of these opportunities—or do I “block” Holy God from growing my faith through these outlets?

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. So here’s my challenge to you (and me) today:

Today, and in days to come, when you sense God nudging you,

will you “block” Him, or will you “follow” Him?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

It's Never Too Late to Finish Well

My life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.
--2 Timothy 4:6-7 NLT

As most of you have heard by now, this week marked the passing of three American icons—Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson. Last night, I read a few online news stories as the nation mourned the loss of these celebrities—some of the most recognizable names in television, movies, and music.

Though death is a cause for remembrance and celebration of lives well lived, as I began to read some of the obituaries of these three celebrities, I realized that their passing also presents us with a very real challenge: What will others say about us when our time on earth is over?

In an AP article announcing his death, Michael Jackson is described as “the sensationally gifted child star who rose to become the King of Pop and the biggest celebrity in the world only to fall from his throne in a freakish series of scandals.”

Farrah Fawcett’s obit describes one of her last television appearances, viewed by thousands on YouTube, as incoherent and disjointed, with the 50-year-old actress giving a series of rambling answers to the bewildered David Letterman.

Ed McMahon's obituary notes financial problems that kept him in the headlines in his last years, including possible foreclosure on his Beverly Hills mansion and legal action involving other alleged debts.

Yikes! Would you want any of these words etched into your tombstone?


Me neither. But then again, what will my obituary say? Am I living in such a way that the ones I leave behind will be encouraged, enlightened, and emboldened by my example? Or will my passing from this earth be a cause of relief, regret, or—worse yet—unnoticed by those I hold most dear?

It’s a sobering thought. But thankfully, it’s never too late to finish well.

I don’t know about you, but after watching the news this week, I really, really want to finish well. I want to be able to say, like the apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful” (2 Timothy 4:7).

But the longer I walk with God, the more I realize with startling clarity just how far short I fall from His glory. With thirty-five years behind me and only God knows how many more ahead, I have to cling tightly to the God’s promise that His grace is sufficient for me, for His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:15). And I am increasingly grateful that the Lord’s steadfast love never changes, and His mercies are new every morning! (Lamentations 3:22–23).

And someday—perhaps today, maybe years from now—when the Lord calls me home, I hope my epitaph says something like this:

“Jennifer Stair was a woman after God’s own heart. She loved God, was devoted to her husband and family, and faithfully shared God’s love with others as she fulfilled His plan for her life.”

What about you? Are you finishing your life well? What do you want your epitaph to say?

Should Kids Be Allowed to Watch Sad Movies?

Last weekend, our family saw the new Pixar movie Up. We’d seen the trailer, and it looked like something the kids would actually sit through in a theater. (With three kids ages seven and under, we don’t often make it to the “big screen”—we usually wait for movies to come out on DVD.) But my fastidious husband had collected enough Coke points for four free movie tickets, and he thought it would be a fun Father’s Day treat to see a movie with the whole family.

As I always do before our kids watch a movie (especially ones rated PG), I checked a few parent review websites (such as to make sure the movie was okay. Satisfied that it was suitable for our kids, we made plans for our Father’s Day movie excursion.

I happened to mention to a group of mom friends that we were taking the kids to see Up, and one of them responded, “Oh, I would never take my kids to that movie. I heard it’s sad.” A few other moms nodded in agreement. “I heard it even makes you cry,” one mom explained.

I was surprised at the number of online reviews for Up that mirror my friends’ opinion: “This movie has some sad themes, so it’s not suitable for children.”

Really? Sad movies are not suitable for children? What about Miracle on 34th Street? Bambi? Or for that matter, any of the Disney movies? (A friend once pointed out that in almost every Disney movie, at least one character dies. Think about it: The Lion King [Mufasa], Beauty and the Beast [Gaston], Sleeping Beauty [the witch], Cinderella [her parents], etc.)

As a kid, I remember bawling so hard while reading A Taste of Blackberries that I could barely make out the words. And when we watched Where the Red Fern Grows at school, even though I had read the book and knew the ending, I still cried for the rest of the day, so sad for Billy and the loss of his beloved dogs.

It got me thinking: in this helicopter-parenting age, have we possibly overprotected our children to the extent that we’re not allowing them to understand the full spectrum of life? Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying we should tell our young children all the sordid details of adult situations. But have you ever sat down and explained to your children what it means when a person dies, or miscarries a child, or experiences a broken family? These kinds of things are happening to your kids’ friends (or perhaps even to your own children). Are you taking the opportunity to explain these situations to your children in a gentle, age-appropriate way? Or do you ignore or avoid them, trying to protect your children from things that are sad?

Maybe it’s because Brett is in the ministry, so when we pray together as a family, we often pray (without specific details) for members of our church who are experiencing health issues, the loss of loved ones, or other sad life events. Our children join us in praying for God to heal our friends’ broken hearts and help them experience His comfort and peace. And maybe it’s because our family has experienced our fair share of sad life events, including miscarriage, the death of loved ones, and even the death of a beloved pet. When these kinds of things happen, Brett and I explain them to our children in an age-appropriate, Christ-honoring way.

And yes, we have allowed our children to watch sad movies. We’ve cried together over Old Yeller and mourned the death of Matthew Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables. And when our oldest daughter recently read a book about the Titanic, she cried when she discovered the ending that we know, but she didn’t—not everyone made it to the life boats. It was a great opportunity for us to talk about the importance of giving your heart to Christ and the urgency of sharing the gospel, because even “the ship that couldn’t sink” did, and none of us is guaranteed tomorrow.

So what do you think: is it okay for younger children to watch sad movies (or read sad books)?

If so, why? If not, why not?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Impact of a Life Well Lived--A Tribute to My Mother

Her children rise up and call her blessed. . . .
“Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”

—Proverbs 31:28–29 ESV

Several times over the years, people have asked me, “Who had the most influence on your life?” From the time I was young until today, my answer has never changed—unquestionably, unwaveringly, out of all the godly people I have known during more than a decade of Christian ministry and all the amazing, bestselling authors I have been blessed to work with over the years, the most influential person in my life is my mother--Jan Haney.

My mom gave her heart to Christ as a young girl, and she has consistently lived a life of extraordinary faith through the years, despite incredible challenges. A stay-at-home mother of three girls, Mom was happily married to a godly and widely respected man, sang in the choir, taught Sunday school and Bible studies, volunteered at her children’s schools, and touched the lives of countless friends and neighbors with her faithful prayers and words of encouragement.

And then one cold February night in 1989, Mom went to bed a content stay-at-home mom, and she woke up a widowed, jobless, single mother of three.

The days and weeks after Dad’s unexpected homegoing are still a bit of a blur—I was only fifteen—but I remember that through her grief, Mom’s faith never wavered. “God is faithful, and He will take care of our family,” she assured us, despite the fact that she had no job and hadn’t worked outside the home in more than seventeen years. “We will never go hungry, because God is our Provider. Don’t you ever forget that.”

My younger sister, Heather, who was only nine when Dad died, recalls how much Mom relied on God during those difficult days:

One of my most vivid memories from when I was little was early one morning, it was still dark outside, and I must have been sick or something, because I woke up and was going to find Mom. She wasn't in her room, so I crept out all bleary eyed into the living room. It was dark in the den where I was standing, and she was in the kitchen at the table. Except she was on her knees and she was literally draped over a kitchen chair and she was singing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” with all her heart. Not that it was loud, just full of emotion. And I remember being a little scared at first, because I had never seen Mom like that before, that emotional, maybe only in the days right after Dad died. But it still overwhelms me to think about it today.
And I think about that day a lot. I've told countless people about it when I tell the story about how my Dad died, because it made such an impact on me how she handled it all. And I feel like I got to witness just how she was able to handle it all. Because she literally gave up and fell onto Christ the way she fell onto that chair. And still to this day I can't sing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” without getting a huge lump in my throat that usually results in sobbing.

So when I think of Mom and what she's taught me, I think of the song “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and how incredibly faithful God has been to her, and to us. And I think about how in love with Jesus and desperate for Him she was and is. And the older I get, the more amazing it is. When I got married, it became more amazing. Every time I faced a seemingly overwhelming trial, it became more amazing. And now that I have [my daughter] Emmy, it's more amazing still. How faithful God was to carry her through the loss of her beloved and so much more. And how many people's lives have been impacted for Christ because of her incredible testimony of His faithfulness.

In the years following Dad’s death, when it seemed the foundations of our family could have crumbled beneath us, Mom gave us a sense of continuity and security by making sure we continued our many family traditions, especially the ones Dad had done with us. From the silly (having breakfast for dinner on Sunday nights) to the serious (reading the story of Jesus’ birth by candlelight from the family Bible on Christmas Eve), Mom and the three of us Haney girls have continued our family traditions over the years as a way of reassuring ourselves that we are still a family, still together and for each other, no matter what may come.

My older sister, Beth, is especially grateful for many of the traditions Mom continued in our family:

One tradition I remember fondly is morning devotionals. Growing up, our family would start each morning with Mom reading a devotional over breakfast followed by prayer time. There is something comforting about knowing that you are being prayed over each day, especially on mornings when I was away at college. As a mom myself, I know there are many mornings I covet five more minutes of sleep; reflecting on my Mom’s dedication to our tradition of regular morning devotionals inspires me to do likewise with my children.

Another family tradition Mom celebrates is birthday dinners. I know many moms make birthdays special when children are young, but I am blessed to have a mom who still goes out of her way to make birthdays memorable no matter how old we get. To this day, I still gather with my family at Mom’s house on my birthday to have her prepare my favorite dinner and dessert, which she serves on a “Special Day” plate. As the years go by, I cherish my turn with the special plate more and more.

Out of the many traditions my mom began or continued over the years, my favorite will always be Mom’s Christmas pajamas. Every Christmas Eve, Mom gives each member of her family new pajamas. We sleep in them that night and wear them while opening presents on Christmas morning. Her joy in selecting and giving the pajamas, coupled with her amusement as we all parade around in them, makes this tradition priceless. What's more, after a long day when my husband is out of town and I have had it with the kids, I often put on a pair of pajamas from Mom and it is as if she is giving me a much-needed hug. What a treasured tradition.

The many family traditions Mom established (or continued after Dad’s passing) instilled in me a sense of security, identity, and unconditional love. Her example encourages me to carry on some of her traditions with my own family, in addition to creating traditions of my own. Thank You, God, for an incredible mother.

Now that we are grown with children of our own, my sisters and I are more grateful than ever for Mom’s consistent example of faithfulness and love for the Lord and her family. Like Beth, on mornings when I want to roll over and get just five more minutes of sleep, I think of my mom, who still gets up at 4 30 a.m. to meet with her Lord and study His Word before beginning her day. And when I am tempted to selfishly gripe about how difficult it is to work and also raise three kids, I think about my mom, who—just a few years older than I am now—suddenly found herself the sole breadwinner for her own three children, with no husband to turn to when she was overwhelmed, tired, and needed some “me time.”

All these years, Mom has faithfully served her Lord; taken care of hundreds of children as Argyle Elementary’s beloved “Nurse Haney”; taught dozens of women in her Thursday night Precept Bible studies; and supported, encouraged, and prayed for her three daughters as we all graduated high school, received university degrees, got stable jobs, met and married godly men, became involved in various church ministries and even full-time pastoral ministry, and now are raising the next generation of children who will, Lord willing, will also grow up to be faithful men and women of God, like their grandmother.

Thank you, Mom, for such an amazing legacy!

Respect and serve the Lord!
Your reward will be wealth, a long life, and honor.

—Proverbs 22:4 CEV

Friday, May 8, 2009

A Song for the Summer

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. —Colossians 3:16 NASB

I was eager for my family to meet Brett. We had only been dating a few weeks, but I could already tell this guy was really special. Something about his enthusiastic love for the Lord, his charming personality, the way he was dependable yet fun, and of course, those dancing blue eyes . . . I had a hunch he might the “The One.” But there was one thing I had to do before I would know for sure—the litmus test for all new boyfriends in our family.

I had to bring him home for dinner.

Although my mom had visited me at seminary and had briefly met Brett there, this would be his first official family dinner with the entire clan. If Brett could hold his own with my mom, two sisters, and their significant others, then I knew he would fit in well with our boisterous, lively family.

Somewhere between “Please pass the rolls” and “Anyone want seconds?” my sister Heather leaned over and commented (rather loudly) to my other sister, Beth, “You’re right—he does break out into random song!”

What? I glanced over at Brett, who had polished off his meal and—sure enough—was happily singing a few lyrics of a praise song during a lull in the conversation. When he realized what was going on, he joined in the laughter around the table as Beth told us how she had observed Brett humming or singing a few other times that evening. Yes, Brett admitted, he loved to sing, and sometimes he couldn’t help but, as Beth called it, “break out into random song.”

Fast-forward eleven years. Brett obviously passed muster at dinner that night; we’ve been happily married for more than a decade. His tendency to “break out into random song” has become a well-told part of our family story, as well as something we’ve all simply gotten used to over the years.

Last week, as I was unloading the dishwasher and getting things ready to fix dinner, with our daughters playing outside in the backyard, I was amused to hear our two-year-old son—the spitting image of his father, with his dark hair and dancing blue eyes—wander into the kitchen, singing a happy little tune to himself.

I couldn’t help laughing. Like his daddy, our son apparently had a song in his heart, and he, too, couldn’t help but break out into random song!

As I chuckled over how all three of our children have inherited their daddy’s tendency to sing around the house, it got me thinking . . .

When was the last time I caught myself singing?

Now, I’m not a singer or songwriter like Brett is. You’d never catch me singing for an audience or under a spotlight. But I used to sing a lot more often than I do now—humming to myself while doing housework, singing worship songs in the car, singing happy little tunes with the kids around the house, just for fun.

But somewhere, in the midst of the day-to-day busyness of child rearing, ministry, book editing, homemaking, and seemingly endless other responsibilities, I apparently lost my song. I’ve been so wrapped up in a hurry-up-and-get-it-done mentality that I’m no longer enjoying the process by “singing and making melody with [my] heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19 NASB).

What about you? When is the last time you caught yourself singing? Not singing because you’re supposed to, like belting out the “Star Spangled Banner” at a ball game or joining with the congregation at church. But when was the last time you simply sang out of the overflow of your heart—whether crooning a happy song around the house, praising along to the radio in the car, belting out your own tune in the shower, or humming in the hallway at work?

Perhaps, like me, you need to recapture your song. Come on, don’t be shy! You don’t have to perform in front of a crowd, or even in front of your kids. But if your heart has become so full of to-dos that there’s no room for tunes, maybe it’s time to find your song this summer.

In these uncertain times, when far too many people are focusing on what’s wrong with the world, I encourage you to reflect instead on the many ways God has blessed you. As the psalmist said, “Sing to God a brand-new song. He's made a world of wonders! . . . Shout your praises to God, everybody! Let loose and sing!” (Psalm 98:1, 4 MSG).

Think about your family, your friends, the clear blue Texas sky, the sizzle of a steak on the grill, the laughter of kids at the pool, the lazy days of summer. And then, as you begin to thank God for all of the wonderful things He has provided for you, see if you, too, catch yourself breaking out into random song.

(This article appears in the May/June issue of Haslet Style)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Astounded by God's Provision

"Have you ever been astounded by God’s provision? If so, what were the circumstances?”

I came across this question last week while doing my lesson for our women’s study of the book of Ruth. We were studying Ruth chapter 2, where something astonishing happens. In order for you to understand how truly amazing it is, let me briefly set the scene.

Ten years earlier, Naomi and her husband left their home and journeyed with their sons to a foreign country. While there, tragedy struck—Naomi’s sons and husband die. Naomi despairs until she hears that the Lord has visited His people in Bethlehem (literally “house of bread”), and she decides to return home. Her daughter-in-law, Ruth, pledges lasting faithfulness to Naomi and travels many miles with her to a land where she knows no one and has no promise of security or provision. Ruth and Naomi have only a strong faith in God and a willingness to follow where He leads.

Soon after their arrival in Bethlehem, Ruth asks Naomi’s permission to go to a field and pick up leftover grain, so they will have something to eat. Naomi says yes.

In the next twenty verses, God pours out His providence and provision on Ruth and Naomi in a way they never could have imagined. Here are the highlights:

  • When Ruth sets out to work, she “happens upon” the field of Boaz, who is a distant relative of her deceased husband (v. 3).

  • Boaz, a wealthy landowner, just so happens to be personally visiting this particular field on this day (v. 4).

  • When he hears of Ruth’s character, Boaz invites Ruth not just to glean in his fields, but to work alongside his harvesters (vv. 5–13).

  • Boaz then invites Ruth to lunch (usually reserved for hired workers), where he gives her plenty to eat and even allows her to take the leftover grain (vv. 14‑16).

  • After working in the fields till evening, Ruth discovers—to her amazement—that she has gleaned 30 pounds of barley! (vv. 17–23). To put this into perspective, the average day’s portion was around 2 pounds.
So in the span of one day, God has provided Ruth with a job, abundant food, security, friends, and—we find out soon—the man who will become her husband, with whom she will have a son who is the grandfather of King David, the forefather of Jesus Christ.


Fast-forward to 2009. Many of you know that one year ago, God called our family to make our home in Sendera Ranch and start a church in this community, where we knew no one and had no promise of security or provision. We had only a strong faith in God and willingness to follow where He led.

In the span of one year, God has not only provided for our family in astounding ways (I have so many stories I could share!), but He is drawing together the body of Christ at The Church at Sendera Ranch in ways that are abundantly beyond anything we could ever ask or think (Ephesians 3:20).

Here are the highlights:
  • When we needed a location for our first gathering, we “so happened” to find a preschool right by our neighborhood where we could meet—for free.

  • When our congregation outgrew that location, God provided a local elementary school, where we could expand our ministry and reach a larger community.

  • Whenever we have had ministry needs, God has provided servant-hearted people to fill these roles—such as our amazing worship leader and praise team!

  • When we prayed for a location closer to Sendera Ranch, God worked out the details for us to meet in Premier Academy—a brand-new Christian preschool with top-notch children’s classrooms and a flexible meeting schedule—giving us even more opportunities to reach people in our community.

This morning, more than fifty people participated in our Belong class, coming to join the many others who are excited about being part of what God is doing here at The Church at Sendera Ranch. And every week, God continues to abundantly provide for the church He is forming here, bringing people to TCASR and knitting together our church family as we faithfully serve Him, grow in Him, and together change lives for good here in our community.