The Amazing Benefit of Asking for Advice

Maybe it is because I am the oldest of seven children; or maybe it is my pride; but I like to do things myself.  I don’t like to admit when I’m struggling.

But once, when we were living in the Netherlands, concern for one of my sons was so heavy that I asked our pastor, Jim Jarman, if we could meet.  He invited his wife, Lynn, to join us.  After school on the day of our appointment, I rode my bicycle from Wassenaar to Leidshendam.  I shared my concerns with Pastor Jim and Lynn, expecting that they would give parenting advice.  Instead Lynn said, “You don’t trust God with your son.”

Self-defensiveness rose in me.  But as I cycled home, Lynn’s comment echoed in my mind.  I remember the moment when the fietspad turned and, coasting downhill into a tunnel under the train tracks, I realized what she said was true; I didn’t trust God with my son.

So often when I am struggling, I want to blame someone else, but God is teaching me that the solutions to my problems start with examining my own heart; assessing my own relationship with God.  Lynn’s truth-in-love words helped me begin to learn that lesson.

On this day of the year, we remember how Jesus wrapped a towel around his waist and, servant-like, washed his friends’ dusty feet.  When he finished, he said, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”

It would have been easier and safer for Pastor Jim and Lynn to give parenting advice.  But instead they washed my dusty heart, inspiring me to trust God and to be more patient as God worked with my son.

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It would have been easier and safer for Pastor Jim and Lynn to give parenting advice.  But instead they washed my dusty heart, inspiring me to trust God and to be more patient as God worked with my son.

Application:  Dear friend, if you are struggling, asking for advice from a wise counselor is worth any risks.  Weary friend, when a trusted friend gifts you with tough advice, spend time in solitary reflecting on it.  Speaking the truth in love can be like surgery; it hurts, so it can heal.  Weary friend, are you struggling to trust God with those you love, as I am?  God, give us faith to believe you are both caring and capable.  “For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”

Reflection:

How are you struggling to trust God?  Who or what might help you learn to trust him more?

Recommended Reading:

Prodigals and Those Who Love Them: Words of Encouragement for Those Who Wait by Ruth Bell Graham

The Most Effective Way to Speak Hard Truths

Aunt Ruthie, my mother’s youngest sister, went out of her way to spend time with my sister and me when we were middle schoolers.  She drove us in her car, wind in our hair, music blaring.  She took us on our first trip to a mall; and treated us to our first restaurant lunch.  I ordered a bacon, lettuce, tomato sandwich: salty, sweet, crunchy, gushy…delicious!  When I reach out to someone younger or someone others might ignore, it might be because Aunt Ruthie reached out to me first.

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Aunt Ruthie took us on our first trip to a mall; and treated us to our first restaurant lunch.  I ordered a bacon, lettuce, tomato sandwich.  Delicious! Photo Credit:  Steve Kerr

In my later teen years, I chose a one-piece bathing suit on my own.  I loved its asymmetric leafy print, but the derierre was skimpier than I realized.  My mother diplomatically asked me to try it on and show Aunt Ruthie, who said it wasn’t flattering.  I protested and cried a bit, but Aunt Ruthie volunteered to help me return the bathing suit and choose another one.  Whenever I have the courage to speak hard truth lovingly, it might be because Aunt Ruthie cared enough to speak the truth to me first.  Whenever I help someone to follow through and live the truth, it might be because Aunt Ruthie helped me pick a better bathing suit.

Wherever we have lived, Aunt Ruthie has sent birthday greetings to each person in my family, and over one hundred others.  I asked how she remembers.  She answered, “Every year I write the names…on my kitchen calendar.  I write the cards monthly—first I pick out cards, then decide on [Bible] verses for each person, and then write the cards.  It’s my way of keeping in touch with people I love and pray for, but don’t see often.”

Recently I shared my anxiety with Aunt Ruthie about the purchase of our new home.  The next day she sent me this quotation, “Give me ten million dollars, and one reversal of fortune may scatter it. Give me a spiritual hold on the divine assurance that ‘the Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want’, and I am set for life. I cannot go broke with this stock in my hand. I can never be bankrupt with this security.”  (Charles Spurgeon)  See how she continues to speak truth into my life?

A rich young man once asked Jesus what he should do to get “eternal life.”  Jesus told him to obey the commandments; the young man said he had.  Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.”  Maybe the young man wanted affirmation for his efforts to be a good person. Jesus lovingly implied that only being perfect is enough; and we can’t achieve perfection by our own efforts. Each one of us needs a heart, transformed by God. We need to value treasure in heaven more than treasure on earth; and following Jesus more than independence and self-sufficiency.  This truth was too hard for the young man; he went away sad.

Application:  Dear friend, we earn the right to speak truth into another’s life by faithfully caring.  Loving makes us brave enough to speak hard truth, even when we anticipate the listener might protest or cry.  Weary friend, I often shy away from speaking hard truth.  I’m not brave enough because I don’t love enough.  Or I blurt out hard truth with an irritated tone, harming rather than helping.  Jesus demonstrated speaking the truth in love; Aunt Ruthie demonstrated it, too.  God, help me to follow.

Reflection:  Who needs you to lovingly speak the truth into his or her life?  How can you cultivate a heart that listens and learns when hard truth is spoken into your life?

Recommended Reading:

Powerful Conversations: How High Impact Leaders Communicate by Phil Harkins

Reporting Suspected Abuse Can be Confusing

I loved my teacher education classes.  I applied to student teach elementary aged students.  My sons were in preschool and grade three, so I was confident with children their ages.

My first four-week assignment was with a third-grade class.  Every morning my supervising teacher wrote the plan for the day on the left edge of the green board in her best handwriting.  She began the day by talking through it with the students.  I imitated this habit throughout my career.

My second four-week assignment was with to fifth-grade.  The teacher had recently given birth to twins and was struggling to transition back to work.  One day she was absent, and a substitute was assigned to our class, as required for insurance purposes.  But I taught and managed the class that day.  Students were quietly working in response to an assignment and one girl raised her hand.

“Mrs. Kerr, can I borrow your sweater?  I fell on my tailbone this weekend and it hurts.”

I folded up my red bulky sweater so it could serve as her seat cushion, and she sat on it.  But throughout that day and night, I turned her question over and over in my mind.  I looked up signs of abuse in one of my textbooks.  A few signs applied to the girl who had borrowed my sweater:

  • She seemed distracted, distant, insecure or withdrawn
  • She had recently begun to skip lunch
  • She would sometimes recoil from incidental contact

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We had been taught to report suspicions of abuse, so I went to school early the next day, not sure that the clues I had observed added up.  When I walked into the faculty lounge, the school counselor happened to be there.  I asked if I could speak to him privately.

Not realizing my supervising teacher had been absent, the counselor went directly to her for clarification.  She reacted angrily, asking why I hadn’t informed her first.  Our interactions that day were tense.

I left school thinking my teaching career might end before it began.  But it didn’t.  That evening the principal called and told me that it was likely my student had been abused.  Child Protective Services were investigating further.

The Christian Bible tells us to “defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.”  But doing that can be confusing, risky, and tiring.  Maybe weariness is sometimes a badge of honor?

Application:  Dear friend, whether you defend someone short term, like I did, or long term, you are doing the kind of work God does.  “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?  Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”  Weary friend, pray daily for alertness, wisdom and bravery as you watch over those entrusted to your care.  Ask for advice and help from others, too.

Reflection:

How are you currently living out the call to defend the weak?  Who could help you do that more effectively?

Recommended Reading:

Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal by Eric L. Johnson

Simply Opening Your Gift is Not Enough

Brad and I graduated university on Wednesday; got married on Sunday; honeymooned; and then moved from New York to California, where Brad started working as a petroleum engineer.  I worked as a temporary secretary.

We found a church we loved, and before long I volunteered to serve as the sixth-grade boys’ Sunday school teacher.  I had experience teaching first grade Sunday school at my home church, teaching girls at summer camp, and leading Bible study for my peers at university.  I had never struggled to get people to sit still or pay attention.  And everyone had always called me, Sharon.

And then came my first Sunday teaching sixth grade boys.  Despite my careful preparations and enthusiasm, chaos reigned.  At the end of the hour, I was exhausted, and convinced that I needed new methods.  I asked God for wisdom.  Then I realized although I was required to follow the assigned curriculum, such a wiggly, chatty group needed action and interaction.  So I designed games, scripted plays, and invested in candy the boys could earn by demonstrating their learning.  (I no longer use or recommend the third method.)

I began the second Sunday school class by introducing myself as Mrs. Kerr.  I had been called that name only a few times, and I typically responded by looking around to see who Mrs. Kerr might be, expecting her to be older and wiser than I.

As I taught my sixth-grade boys interactively, they became cooperative, glad-hearted, although still wiggly, students of God’s Word.  And I began to become Mrs. Kerr, a teacher who learned her methods by trial and error, reflection and revision, observation and experimentation.  To this day, Mrs. Kerr is my teaching name.

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My most recent group of cooperative, glad-hearted students

A new name is a gift, a new identity, though it may initially be a few sizes too big.  A man named John had a vision where Jesus promised the gift of a new name as a reward to people in the church at Pergamon who listened, and who overcame.

I think growing into any new name, into any new identity, takes teachability, followed by overcoming action.

Application:  Dear friend, God gives us gifts so we can give to others.  This is not always easy, but when we work and serve in our areas of giftedness, God seems to multiply our efforts.  He gives us success, creativity and joy, out of proportion to our efforts.

Reflection:  Are you using your best gifts?  If you are, how can you learn and practice to increase your effectiveness?  If you are not, how can you transition to a place and a role where you can use your best gifts?

Recommended Reading:

Spiritual Gifts Survey 

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work by Timothy Keller

How Sharing Name Meanings Built a Friendship

My friendship with Jackie wasn’t instant, but I remember the first meaningful conversation we had.  I know she does, too.  I asked her full name and the full names of her children.  She was named after Jacqueline Kennedy!  I think the name fits well, because of Jackie’s dark-haired beauty, and because of her resilience.  She has experienced so much hardship, but she is able to rise, forgive, and move forward.

In our conversation we discovered that we both have children whose middle names are Thomas.  I told Jackie the story of Thomas, one of the earliest followers of Jesus.  After Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to his disciples, but Thomas wasn’t there.  “So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But [Thomas] said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hands into his side, I will not believe it.’”

“A week later [Jesus’s] disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them.  Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’  Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’  Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’”

What Jackie and I love about this story is that Jesus welcomed Thomas’s doubts.  He let Thomas touch his wounds.  Then Thomas was the first disciple to announce that Jesus is God incarnate.

I am so thankful that we can be honest about our doubts with each other and with God.  A line in a song I heard long ago says this as a prayer, “I want to thank you…for the faith to doubt and yet believe that You’re really there.” Joni Eareckson Tada

Jackie meets Wesley Thomas
I had the privilege of introducing Jackie and Luis to my son, whose middle name is Thomas, and his wife.  Both couples happened to be expecting babies at the same time.

Application:  Dear friend, doubts are not something to hide, but something to uncover to trusted friends and to God.  Weary friend, don’t carry the burden of doubts about God or about the hardships you are experiencing alone.  I would love for you to share those doubts with me, using the contact page of this blog.

Reflection:

What doubts do you need to uncover to God?  How can you nurture faith that believes even what it doesn’t fully understand?

Recommended Reading:

The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey

How Gifts of Words Maintain Friendship

We had not been living in Abu Dhabi long, when I met Geetha.  Assigned to the same Bible Study small group, we sat down at a folding table across from each other.  I glanced up at her warm brown eyes.  We were instant friends, despite many differences.  Geetha grew up in India; I grew up in the United States.  After I invited Geetha for lunch at our home, she confided to me that she gets nervous eating with utensils.  Instead she daintily picks up her food with the tips of her fingers.  She says it tastes better that way.  With Geetha as my tutor, I tried eating biryani with my fingers, but was too worried about making a mess to tell if it had any influence on taste.

So, how did we become instant friends?  I am not entirely sure.  We seem to carry ourselves similarly in the world.  People sometimes mistook one of us for the other.  We have both lived in multiple countries; we are both teachers; we both love the Word of God; we both practice Christian disciplines.  But we didn’t know any of that at first glance.  I think our friendship was a gift from God in a season when I expected to be lonely.

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Throughout our friendship, Geetha has given me words, God’s words, as gifts.

In Abu Dhabi, we made memories together:

  • We spent a Quiet Day  at another friend’s home.
  • Geetha and her husband, Dev, joined Brad and I in celebrating our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.
  • Brad took Geetha on her first ever experience of dune-bashing.

Throughout our friendship, Geetha has given me words, God’s words, as gifts. The first was, “All of your sons will be taught by the LORD, and great will be your children’s peace.”  Although Geetha has daughters and I have sons, we both pray this verse for our children.

For my last five birthdays, Geetha has carefully selected encouraging word-gifts for me.  2018’s verse:  “The LORD will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.  You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”  Although we now live on opposite sides of the world, Geetha, with the Holy Spirit’s insight, chose words, perfect for this season:

  • Living in a van means we often need guidance about where to stay, and when to go; we search for balance between time with others and time alone.
  • We are in the process of moving to California, where there is a long-term drought.
  • My physical frame could use a little strengthening.
  • When I am weary, I tend to be irritable, rather than encouraging. I long to be more like a refreshing spring.

Application:  Dear friend, some friendships begin at first glance, others take time to develop.  I think we need both kinds.  Thank God for the precious gift of friendships sustained by encouraging words.

Reflection:

How might you offer the gift of encouraging words to a friend today?

Recommended Reading:

If Paul Needed Friends, So Do We by Tony Merida

The Power of a Praying® Woman by Stormie Omartian

3 Amazing Benefits of Moving

Sometimes I think I was born to move.  I lived in six homes before my eleventh birthday.  I remember standing in front of my fifth grade class, being introduced as the new kid, and thinking, “I hope I never have to do this again.”  That wish was not granted; and I am glad.

Since we married, my husband, Brad, and I have lived in eleven different homes; and for the last six months our home has been a small RV.  I am grateful for moving because it motivates purging our possessions, revives our marriage, and births renewal.

Moving motivates purging:  we can’t take everything with us, and so we ruthlessly sell, donate, recycle and discard things we no longer need.

Moving revives our marriage:  when we move to a new place, Brad and I are each other’s only friends.  We need to search together for a grocery store, hardware store, places to exercise, restaurants and a church.  We need to work together to solve problems that arise in the transition; we need to re-create home, our place of rest.

Moving births renewal:  we arrive in each new place incognito.  A fresh start is an opportunity to start healthier habits, to try out new roles, to make new friends.

There was one time though, when I did not want to move.  We had lived in Wassenaar, The Netherlands, for a total of eight years.  I was working at a school I loved, The American School of The Hague.  I loved commuting by bicycle, and riding long distances through the dunes on weekends.  I was experiencing the treasure of long-term friendships.

But Brad got transferred to the United Arab Emirates; and we had to go.  I was distraught, and everyone knew it, especially Brad.  (Sorry, Sweetie!)  A wise friend who knew how much I love the Christian Bible suggested I find a verse to write in calligraphy each day.  I acted on his suggestion for several months, and it slowly re-focused my heart.

In a sermon a few weeks after we moved to the UAE, our pastor, Cam Arensen, suggested we “plow God’s Word into our lives.”  I love how God sometimes sends us important messages through more than one person, in more than one place.  As I mused on that phrase, I decided it meant I should read the same number of pages of the Bible every day, proceeding directly from the beginning (Genesis) to the end (Revelation).  This has become my daily habit, and I have found that when I plow God’s Word into my life something grows:  renewed understanding of who God is, renewed understanding of who I am, and an increasing supply of love and grace towards others.

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“Plow God’s Word into Your Life.”  Cam Arensen

Application:  Dear friend, whether you have moved frequently like I have, or you have lived in the same home long-term, you can organize a soul move.  Weary friend, your soul will flourish if you purge excess possessions and commitments, nurture your closest relationships, and plow God’s Word into your heart and life.

Reflection:

What areas of your life would benefit from a soul move?  What habits can you change to help that to happen?

Recommended Reading:

Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin