A Younger Sheree Learned a Few Things….

Over the past couple of days I’ve been talking about being well known in a culture where isolation and independence are celebrated while biblical relationships are too often defined by Sunday morning greetings rather than sharing real life together.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is relationships can become an idol — especially to us girls. (I’m humbled by and grateful for the guys who frequent this blog, and perhaps this post applies to you, too.)

I have six adorable granddaughters. Watching them relate to each other and to other little girls is pure joy. I more often hear “Are you ok?” or “I’m sorry” or “That’s ok, it was an accident” from them than from my grandsons. Many little girls define their best friend as whoever they just sat next to in Sunday School. The little ladies in our church flock to the babies and toddlers to help, hold, play and cuddle while the boys typically chase each other around the room or create guns with pens or pointy fingers.

Years ago as a young wife I remember picking up the phone to call a friend after a conflict with Benny. I wanted counsel…and sympathy. While it was fine for me to reach out to a friend, some months later I noticed this was becoming a pattern. Rather than prayerfully go back to my husband to resolve our conflict biblically, I turned to friends for support and advice. With a partial motive of genuinely wanting the perspective of a godly friend to help me get things right with Benny, over time the Lord revealed a pattern of wanting sympathy more than godliness. .

Wait — am I contradicting myself? In a blog series on being well known why am I warning against being well known?

There was nothing wrong with me reaching out to my friends when I was hurting, confused or needed advice. And honesty doesn’t always equal gossip. (More on that tomorrow.) The problem was I was looking to them for things I needed to work out with the Lord and my husband, and using friendship as an excuse to subtly whine. Talking to my friends was much easier than reaching for God or hashing things out with Benny! They listened; asked questions; expressed empathy; identified with my struggles and temptations; and offered gentle counsel. Girl talk left me feeling heard and understood in a different way than many of my interactions with my husband. It was during those years that I discovered men are from Mars and women are from Venus. While Benny and I have grown considerably in our communication since those early years, I still often find it easier to connect heart to heart with the girls. Gender does make a difference in communication!

God has designed us to love people and to benefit greatly from our social circles. But being well known doesn’t mean finding more comfort in people — even family members — than in God. It also doesn’t excuse dumping on a fried when relational tension creeps up in our lives. I watch people rush from relationship to relationship looking for significance, value, friendship and affection — and have done so myself! — when God’s offer of relationship stands as the only source of timeless love.

The fact is this: we are completely well known by God. He made us; personally constructed our appearance and personality; gave us both limitations and gifts; decided if we would love or hate strawberries or sports or prefer the mountains or the beach; and then died so we could know Him back. No one will ever love us so powerfully yet tenderly.

What a friend we have in Jesus.

Idols aren’t just little statues that sit in the homes of religious non-Christians. As Ken Sande says:

“Most of us think of an idol as a statue of wood, stone, or metal worshiped by pagan people. But the concept is much broader and far more personal than that. An idol is anything apart from God that we depend on to be happy, fulfilled, or secure. In biblical terms it is something other than God that we set our heart on (Luke 12:29), that motivates us (1 Corinthians 4:5), that masters and rules us (Psalm 119:133; Ephesians 5:5), or that we trust, fear, or serve (Isaiah 42:17; Matthew 6:24; Luke 12:4-5). In short, it is something we love and pursue in place of God (see Philippians 3:19).”

People can be our idols and pursuit of friendship can easily become “something we love and pursue in place of God.”

Has God been stirring your heart to be more well known? Guess what, you ARE! He knows you best and loves you most of everyone anywhere. He knows how your jaw clenches when you’re inwardly angry before a selfish word comes out of your mouth. He knows your temptations and anticipates when you’ll be lonely or jealous or anxious long before you do. He helps, strengthens and protects you when you don’t even realize it and even when you think you chose to do right all by yourself.

And when you fail or reject or push Him away because someone else seems more available or fun or loving, He doesn’t pull back but continues to stay close with patient pursuit.

I pray that you feel not just well known today…but well loved.

P.S.  If you would like to read more about the subject of idolatry you can read the article I quoted from here.

My Son is Famous!

This isn't Jesse and me - but it looks really familiar.  (www.ellemumma.blogspot.com)

This isn’t Jesse and me – but it looks really familiar. (www.ellemumma.blogspot.com)

My son, Jesse, is about to turn 30. When he was young he wanted to play in the NBA. He was born three weeks early and was nearly 23 inches long — and finished up at just under 6’6″. Throughout his life his height convinced everyone, and especially him, that making money playing basketball was surely in his future.

Well…he never made it into the NBA.  He’s now a IT guy and the thing for which he is most “famous” are, in fact, toddler temper tantrums. God’s providence and humor were on display when Jesse became a pastor for a couple of years at the very church where a full blown tantrum decades earlier gained the attention of numerous church members who had just attended a parenting seminar taught by…yes…his dad and me! Our dentist was one of those watching Jesse’s flailing, screaming fit on the lobby floor while his mother looked around and said, “Hmmm, someone may wanna go and find this kid’s parents.” Don has joined our family in a few chuckles about that day on more than one occasion.

To this day, people who meet Jesse for the first time and remember those parenting seminars back in the 90’s respond with, “You’re the tantrum-throwing Phillips kid, right?” Being well known for screaming, kicking, writhing on the floor and even biting his mother in the shoulder wasn’t Jesse’s idea. But his toddler antics have given hope to many parents over the years. I can’t count the number of times people have mentioned being comforted by their own parenting struggles because of God’ grace in his life.

Being well known for weakness, failure or sin isn’t new. Nor is the hope people gain from seeing God change broken and flawed people. Ask people what they remember most about King David and many will mention his murder and adultery. The guy who killed Goliath; became a valiant warrior who led his people to stunning victories over formidable enemies; returned the Ark of God to Jerusalem; and wrote Psalms from which centuries of believers have found comfort and hope is remembered most for his sin.

Being well known for failure isn’t easy. I know a little about that. 15 years ago our family went through a hard season that resulted in my husband resigning from pastoring the beloved church we started in the late 70’s. Since then, many of those involved have humbly asked our forgiveness for the circumstances and decisions that transpired during that painful season in our lives. Nevertheless, people still sometimes think of us as “that family” or Benny as “that pastor” who resigned from leading his church. God has been faithful to redeem all that happened for good in our family’s lives — we are each trophies of His amazing grace! Yet, we have found peace in the regular reminders through interactions with people we haven’t seen in awhile that sometimes God chooses to use our failures rather than our successes to make the gospel shine brightest.

Do you desire to have relationships where you, too, are well known? Are you afraid, though, of taking the risk? What if people find out you’re weak? Flawed? Sinful? The fact is, they will because you and I are broken and remain in need of a Savior. Genuine relationships require revealing not just our strengths but also our weaknesses. And when that happens people sometimes treat us wrongly. They judge, proudly criticize and act as if they are not fellow sinners who are also weak and flawed. But even then, God remains faithful and loving. The cross demonstrated once and for all that He will never hold our sins against us or hold us captive to past failures. In fact, His perfect Son not only bore the wrath we deserved but then declared us not guilty for every past, present and future sin. When we are judged and misunderstood we can look to Him and resist the temptation to judge and misunderstand back.

With resounding praise we can say, “If God be for us, who can be against us!” Please take the risk of being well known! Yes, some may reject or judge you, but others will accept and show you compassion. It’s painful to be treated self-righteously but the One who forever proved that nothing can separate us from His love will help you to find the right people with whom you can share your heart and life.

Being well known is worth the risk.

I Wanna Be Well Known…Do You?

Over the weekend I was thinking about sin. Not in a condemning or introspective way but in a joyous, isn’t-God-amazing way.

One of the many cool things about being a part of a new church is that each person the Lord brings to us is like a freshly wrapped package waiting to be opened. It’s fun to ask questions and get to know this new person.

What a surprise when a brand new acquaintance actually takes the risk of inviting you into their heart and life! This has happened several times at Redeemer Church. New folks come in and quickly start disclosing things about themselves. The surprise isn’t what they disclose — but that they’re disclosing it with people they just met.

Recently this happened in a big way twice. One new friend asked if I would be willing to meet with their daughter who is having some personal struggles. These humble parents are willing to allow their child to open up her life and family, which is requiring being more concerned about their child than about what she might tell me about herself, her parents  and her family.  Another new friend confessed some recent sin and articulately communicated their desire to grow in godliness by turning from this sin to honor the Lord, even in secret.

Neither of these folks had to do what they did. It was a choice. And a hard one at that.

Are you well known? Are there people to whom you are comfortable going to get help? The fact is we all need help. We are meant to live in community with others who need help, too.  Our culture is driven by autonomy and independence, not community and real life friendship. My new friends are reminding my with their actions and their humility that even in our fast paced, technology driven culture there is room for genuine relationship.

I want to be well known. Even this blog is a way for me to communicate my brokenness. Like you, I need people in my life who know my strengths and weaknesses. Successes and failures. Sins and victories. Friends who are savvy about whether my silence is self-protective or sensitive because we’ve talked about it enough to raise their eyebrows when needed. People who I trust will call me out when sarcasm is a snooty jab rather than a playful quip. Fellow sinners who come alongside rather than judge and encourage baby steps in the right direction when others might wait for giant steps toward Christlikeness.

Being well known is risky.

Are you willing to take the risk?

When News Changes Your Life Forever

There are a handful of days in my life that changed me. Days I can tell you what I was wearing or where I was sitting when I heard the news. JFK’s assassination. Daddy’s heart attack. Mom’s cancer. 911.

imagesYesterday was one of those days, especially for a dear friend of mine who had something horrific happen to her and her family. When I heard the news I could only weep and shake my head in disbelief.

Anyone who lives long enough will have those days. Moments when you feel like you can’t breathe and disorienting chaos swirls through your heart and mind.

Those times when it feels like life is spinning out of control it’s good to know God is there. And not just there but good. Last night I visited my grieving friend. There were no words tender or wise enough to have helped her. No flowers bright enough. No hug warm enough. No prayer articulate enough.

Some years ago I was experiencing the trial of my life. It was one of “those” days. The news I heard that March day in 1998 rocked my world and started a series of life altering events. The sorrow and perplexity lingered for months, then came and went for years, as Benny and I sorted through the longterm effects of wrong choices made by someone we deeply love.

Friends called and tried to offer comfort, but it felt like someone was trying to put a bandaid onto an open chest wound. One of my friends told me she cried out to the Lord, asking “who is going to take care of Sheree?” You can expect what she heard back.

“I will.”

Oh, and He did. He took care of me through the loneliness. Heartache. Days when I couldn’t cook or do laundry or return phone calls. Sleepless nights. Fretful pacing in my bedroom when burying my face in a pillow was the only way to protect my kids from hearing Mommy’s sobs. Moments of begging God to help me understand why. And, yes, times when — for the first time in my life — I understood why people escaped to thoughts of death as a comforting option.

What should we do when someone we know or love is facing the trial of their life? The Holy Spirit will lead us. He will lead some to serve and others to organize service. A few to visit and many to understand why they weren’t asked to come. And all to pray. In my experience, the one thing that isn’t helpful is for well meaning friends to try to make sense of suffering by speculating what happened, why it happened or what might have been done to prevent it.  Such matters are between the sufferer and their Wonderful Counselor and Prince of Peace.

I’m resting today in this timeless truth from God’s holy word:

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Ps 34:18).

Are you suffering today? Is someone you love facing overwhelming circumstances?

Let’s remember that He is close and He still saves.

Jake Found a Treasure

When you’ve battled infertility every child is both planned and a surprise. But after five children we thought we were done. Until the next surprise. We named him Jake.

Sarah's mother and I made a memory hiding in the woods together to capture this moment.

Sarah’s mother and I made a memory hiding in the woods together to capture this moment.

Last weekend I witnessed him propose to his love. Being a photography hobbyist gets me invited to document fun things. When Jake asked me to hide in the woods while he asked Sarah to marry him I was thrilled.  The last of my four sons becoming engaged has been bittersweet. Any woman with a son knows what I mean by that. It’s sweet because I’ve watched him fall in love and cherish the sparkle in his eyes when she’s around. Yet bitter because I’m the one being (mostly happily) replaced. (Just like Benny felt when our daughters married….) I knew I was raising him for another woman who would be his helper, confidant and closest friend. I prayed for her for years and I love the woman he chose. One minute my heart is full of joy but the next I’m fighting tears; like yesterday when he sat down to spontaneously play the piano and I knew it’s only a matter of months before that won’t happen much anymore.

Precious moment

Precious moment

Last Saturday I had my pre-engagement conversation with him. It was similar to the one I had with his three older brothers before they proposed. Each time this conversation has happened I’ve felt like I was having an out of body experience. Who is that woman sitting face to face with her adult son? Wasn’t it just a few years back that she announced pregnancy number six to a yet again surprised daddy? How did he get so tall so quickly? When did he get big enough to grow facial hair and fall in love? And wasn’t it just a short time ago that she was driving all over central Florida to watch him play basketball and cooking pounds of pasta for his hungry friends?

Sarah learns she has company in the woods...I was fine until my just-engaged son caught my eye.

Sarah learns she has company in the woods…I was fine until my just-engaged son caught my eye.

As I sat there on Saturday looking at him I realized yet again I much I love my boy and how handsome I think he is. (No partiality, of course.) I love his glass-half-full way of viewing people and life; his warm greetings; his sensitivity when I’m sad; and his weird Phillips humor that understandably confuses many but makes me laugh till I cry. Coming into the house singing — and leaving whatever shoes he was wearing in the middle of the living room. Accompanying himself on the piano while singing perfectly chosen worship songs just when I’ve needed them. Rehearsing family memories with his siblings. Singing Disney songs while cleaning up the kitchen after dinner. Walking out of the house to meet his girlfriend and her family for dinner with crazy hair and wearing Redskins slippers. These are some of the many things I will miss about him sharing life with a Mrs.

Lisa, Sarah's mom, is my dear friend. What a blessing that my son's wife has been raised by such a godly woman.

Lisa, Sarah’s mom, is my dear friend. What a blessing that my son’s wife has been raised by such a godly woman.

Yesterday we were at his oldest niece’s softball game. Sarah walked up and sat beside him and he grabbed her hand. “Wow,” he said. “I didn’t realize how sparkly this ring is.” If he reads this post he’ll probably roll his eyes when he reads that her dazzling diamond can’t compare to the sparkle he’s brought into my life. We joked that part of the reason why we’ve gotten along so well, especially through his teen years, is because we’re a lot alike in many ways. I thought “likes” were supposed to repel — but not Jake and me. Yes, we’ve had our moments and one thing I won’t miss is his consistently messy room, but amidst of all the motherly sentiment I am truly happy for him.

My son and H

Proverbs 18:22 says, “He who finds a wife finds a treasure and receives favor from the Lord.” What mother can’t be overjoyed when her son finds the priceless treasure of a godly wife? My son is the recipient of God’s favor and blessing…and her name is Sarah Caroline.

I love you, Son. And thanks for letting me hide in the woods to capture these moments.

P.S. Like I told you on Saturday, I pray that someday your wife has a son just like you. I really mean that.