Have the Christmas You Have

For all my lovely friends who struggle at Christmas time, I want to offer this phrase:
Have the Christmas You Have.

Christmas is a time of joy and laughter and tradition. It’s also a time of sadness, depression, loneliness, frustration, conflict, guilt, comparison…and every other possible emotion or experience.

Just as every day is different for every person, every holiday season is experienced differently. Some are full of met expectations, some actually exceeding our wildest dreams, others seem as though their events were scheduled by the committee over at Murphy’s Law application center–where everything that can go wrong will go wrong. And sometimes there isn’t a whole lot we can do to move ourselves from the last category up the list.

In my own circles this holiday season are those struggling with anxiety and depression, some grieving the loss of loved ones, some worried about their finances, some mourning the loss of dreams they had of Christmases celebrated with a house full of family, and still others who dread interacting with their relatives in gatherings they’d rather skip.

When you find yourself in one of those places and people wish you Merry Christmas, it can take all your reserved strength to respond with civility. Who is anyone to tell anyone else what to feel and how to experience life? I challenge any person who thinks they can give that direction to ponder what it might mean for those who’ve lost family members to suicide this year.

Just smile.

Merry Christmas.
Joy to the World.
Jingle Bell Rock.
Happy Holidays…


All can be a mocking reminder of pain to those who are hurting.

I don’t mean to say that those who have a merry Christmas should feel guilty or sad or on edge about offering holiday greetings. It is important, vitally important, for us to recognize that not everyone can be merry at Christmastime.

So if you are happy this Christmas season, great! Sing out! Smile loudly in public places! Wear the heck out of those ugly Christmas sweaters. Be the holiday spirit. Don a Santa Hat and make it rain for kids everywhere!

But if you are struggling, let me be the first to offer you permission to simply have the season you have. Experience each moment and know that if you are in difficult times, they don’t usually last forever. If you are grieving know that in time as you acknowledge that loss and work through your response, the pain will ease. If you are hurting, can you have a sliver of hope that the painful wound will heal?

Broken just 2 days before Christmas 2014.


Have the Christmas you have, and pass on the permission for others to walk through this season having the holidays they have as well!

Living each day, regardless of what comes our way.




Last week I attended the birthday party of a newly 24-year-old gay man in a bar. I know that may come as a shock to some of you, and you might even hit “unsubscribe” because of it. Before you do, though, I hope you will hear me out one last time.
I was at a queer birthday bash in a bar because that is precisely where I believe Jesus would be. He didn’t get the reputation of being a “friend of sinners” by keeping his distance from the gritty side of life. And he didn’t get called a glutton and a drunkard by abstaining.

That can be tough to hear, I know, especially if you have spent a good portion of your life in places that teach an image of a porcelain Jesus. You know the ones, alabaster skin, waif-like beauty, clean, manicured nails.

I can’t tell you whether Jesus was man-gorgeous, but I can tell you that he got his hands dirty. Jesus was a tekton, a builder working alongside his father. He hung out with fishermen. He called himself a shepherd. None of these occupations are known for their similarities to the fragrant allure of the perfume counter.

Some of the rest of you are going to be angry because I insinuated that being at a gay man’s birthday party is gritty. You would be correct. It was one of the most low-key gatherings I have attended in a while, and I am a pastor so do not underestimate just how tame things get when I am around.

I sat at a table of people with diverse lives, histories, and backgrounds. Some had boozy drinks, others savored a craft beer, some mostly sipped water. Not one of them expected that the late-30’s mom type who just sat at their empty space was a pastor, except the person who invited me to sit beside them. That person knew my secret identity, but no one else did. So they were honest. Honest about their lives. Honest about their dreams. Honest about their frustrations.

One person spoke about their interactions with the post-worship crowds on Sunday at a local deli counter. One nicely dressed Christian physically assaulted her co-worker because they were out of his favorite chicken. Here was the moment that would out me.

I had a choice. I could have remained incognito, the one person at the table who knew me would not have revealed my secret. Honestly, though, there was no way I could not say what came next. “I’m so sorry that happened. As a pastor, that ticks me off and breaks my heart.” Then I added just for flair, “Next time he comes in, you should tell him you are praying for him.” I couldn’t help it. She would not strike the average church goer in middle-America as being the praying type.

I’m not always a good spokesperson for Jesus. I would guess that all of us fall short from time to time, and I can’t say I’ve never been the guy so mad about chicken that I blew it. (Ok, maybe not about chicken, but other things for sure.)

My point in writing this is really to call my Christ-following friends out of the closet, out of the church doors, out of our enclaves and onto a chair at a table, in a bar, celebrating the life of someone God loves with people whose only interaction with Christians is post-worship hangry-ness. If we want people to have a different view of Christ, a different impression of Christians, we have got to spend more time with them.

I can hear the objections, “But, go to a bar?” Yes! GO to the bar. “Sit with people who are drinking?” Yes! SIT with people. (Ok, sit where you are invited to sit, and maybe don’t start at a biker bar, and make good choices, and be safe, and take a friend.) But the only way you are going to look like Jesus–friend of sinner, glutton, drunkard–is to go where Jesus went and hang with those society has labeled as not enough.

Spending time with people does not mean we agree with all their choices or that we share all of their opinions. What it does in us is to demonstrate the value of those around us, and what it does for them is offer an alternative view of Christ and his church. Those open doors are worth everything.

We have done an awfully good job of dividing the world into “us” and “them.” We hang out with people who are like us, and sometimes in a very literal sense we say, to hell with “them.” I believe that breaks the heart of the One who came to tear down the dividing walls of hostility. It is uncomfortable and challenging to spend time with people who are not just like us. Growth is uncomfortable, but necessary if we are to love “them.” If our personal righteousness and reputation are more important to us than bringing light and life into the lives of others, we aren’t heeding our master’s call.

Our presence with them, hearing their stories, seeing the light in their eyes, will change our hearts. Which is great, because Jesus already loves them. If we truly believe what we say with our mouths, that Jesus Christ died to save sinners, with us at the top of the list, then Jesus Christ died to save those we have too often labeled as defective. And it’s time to peel off the sticker we’ve plastered over Christ’s stamp declaring their worth as priceless.

My friend, whose birthday was being celebrated, pulled me aside and asked, “Is it wrong or selfish of me that I am glad that all these people are here for me?” Three tables, about 12-15 people total. “No, my friend. It’s your birthday, and you are worth celebrating.”

Joining God in loving those around us,

The Question that Changes Everything

Most of us walk through life thinking what we see is a reflection of reality. Our opinions are based on real, factual, objective observation and they are right!

But wait…

What if you don’t have all the information?
What if you don’t see things clearly?
What if you are actually just picking up opinions someone else dropped in front of you?
How can you tell?

I don’t imagine that many of us wake up every morning ready to apply the scientific method to our daily routine. Do we research our toothpaste? What about that brushing technique? No, most of us wave off any thought of wasting our precious time on what we are sure is good enough, even if it isn’t perfect.

Have you fallen into a routine where you always drive the same way to work? Do you always order the same thing from that restaurant you always go to? Are you watching the same news anchors and commentators day in and day out? Maybe it’s time for a change.

I want to share with you one simple question that has made the biggest impact in my life. It has changed my opinions, caused me to do a little more digging in regard to things I take for granted, and it even changed the way I drive across town.

Are you ready?

(No that wasn’t the question!)

What if I’m wrong?

There it is, the question that changes everything. What if I’m wrong, about this toothpaste? About the situation in the Middle East? About my politics or my parenting?

I like to think I am always right. Who doesn’t? Admitting I’m wrong is uncomfortable, and really, let’s face it, I just hate it! But the truth is that I very rarely see the situation, the issue, the product, from every angle. There is almost always something I’m missing, and guess what–That is ok!

I’m human. You are human. We are limited in our understanding!

No one has all the right answers, there isn’t a cheat sheet to life. So give yourself a break and start learning to assume that there is a remote possibility that you are not 100% right all the time!

What if I’m wrong? What if you are wrong? What more do I need to know, see, do, experience in order to get a better handle on this?

Wisdom is not always having all the right answers, it is instead the ability to recognize both what information we have and what we still need to learn in order to make the right choices.

Seeing things clearly,
How ReFreshing!

Responsive Presence

When a doula walks into a room, she may be quiet, she may be boisterous, but she is always observing.

A doula will tune in to your breathing, then breathe with you.

A doula will tune in to your movement, then move with you.

A doula will tune in to your mood, then feel with you.

When she breathes with you, you begin to breathe with her. She moves you into a deeper and smoother pattern without a word. Simply breathing next to your breath.

When she moves with you, you begin to move with her. She directs your movement with a touch, with eye contact, with hands on your hips. She dances with you.

When your doula feels with you, she projects peace and confidence. Confidence in you! You begin to feel it, too.

Suddenly, you are calm, dancing, and confident that you can do this. You can climb this mountain. You can breathe through this contraction. You can birth this baby!

A doula does not ask you to trust in her strength, she helps you find your own. Through her responsive presence, she finds you when you feel lost and walks you back from the edge. She knows the magic of hip squeezes and peanut balls, but mostly she is simply there. Simply present. Observing the room, feeling the mood, and adding just the right nudge to move it all in the right direction.

Being an active responsive presence.
That’s ReFreshing

Steadfast Heart Doula Services

7 Questions to Help YOU be your own best advocate!

If you are like me, it can be hard to know what to say when your doctor or other professional asks if you have any questions. The truth is we often don’t understand enough about what is happening to know what to ask. That is why we are talking to a professional! Here are some questions to help you learn the things you need to know in order to make the best choices for you.

7. Ask for more information–“What else can you tell me about this procedure?”
Sometimes when talking with an expert, they may assume we know what they know about their field of expertise.

6. Ask for more time–“When do I need to make a decision about this?”
Not all decisions have to be made right now, or even today, or this week. Find out your time frame and ask when you need to decide.

5. Ask for clarification of jargon–“You used a word just then I am not sure I understand, can you explain it to me in plain English?”
Related to #7, you and I may not understand the words those experts are using.

4. Ask for a second opinion–“I want to make sure I get more than one perspective on this, who do you recommend for a second opinion?”
If you don’t think what they are describing applies to you, or if you feel that the person you are consulting is not relating well to you, go see someone else. You are the consumer, you are paying for a service. Don’t feel bad about getting a second opinion.

3. Ask about alternatives–“What other treatments are available? Is there something else we haven’t tried?”
Maybe there is a treatment, or a process that is unavoidable for your situation. Ask about alternative ways to gain the same benefit.

2. Ask about risks–“What are the possible side-effects?”
Often, all we hear are the benefits. Don’t forget to ask about the risks in the short term and the long term.

1. Ask why–“What specifically are you hoping to achieve with this therapy?”
Especially when pressed to make a decision quickly, ask why this is the best option for you and your situation. Maybe it is, but maybe it is more beneficial or convenient for the professional.

Don’t say yes unless you feel it’s best!

Disagreeing with Grace

I’ve been pondering all of the arguing and mic-dropping going on with political tensions and with world problems like poverty, violence, and discrimination. How is it that people with so much in common cannot hold a civil conversation with one another? How do we step out of the cycle of verbal bomb-throwing and find our way back to productive communication?

I watched my sister a few weeks ago talking to someone handing out literature on the street as we were shopping. They were trying to raise awareness for their particular cause, and they had their speech and talking points all prepared in advance. I confess that if I had been alone, I would have probably avoided eye contact and walked on by. If I had been feeling particularly open, I would have offered a half-smile and kept walking. I don’t like to hear talking points. They don’t impress me, and I always assume they are heavily weighted in favor of the cause being promoted.

My sister is awesome, though, and she stopped to talk with the person. When she heard the cause being promoted she asked about the sponsoring agency, she found a point of common interest, and she asked about the specific goal of this person on the street that day. They were looking for donations, and instead of making a commitment to donate right there, my sister asked for the online donation options and how to find more information about the organization sponsoring the fund drive. It took less than 3 minutes and it gave the person advocating the opportunity to share about their cause and allowed us to walk away without feeling obligated or shamed into supporting something we didn’t know much about.

I walked away from that encounter in awe of my sister’s ability to handle a potentially uncomfortable interaction in a way that everyone could feel good about. (Once again, I want to be my big sister when I grow up.)

I’ve spent the past several weeks pondering how I can interact with others in a similar way, whether I agree with them or not, whether I feel like the other person has an agenda, or even when I am the one with an agenda who wants to be heard. I think I’ve come up with some basic principles that can help.

Giving them the right to be heard. Allowing others to speak their minds gives us the ability to gauge whether they would be open to hearing our point of view. At times, stating our case when others are not open to listening falls into the category of casting our pearls before swine. If the person we are in conversation with cannot hear another perspective, anything we say, no matter how beautifully phrased, is going to sound like an attack to them. If they don’t know the value of our pearls, it feels exactly like someone throwing rocks.

We can begin by reframing our expectations based on what the other person is able to give. When we walk into a conversation,we have to recognize that we may not be in the same place as our conversation partner in our emotions, our understanding of the topic, or desire to find a solution.

Using words that frame our thoughts, that state our position, without attacking the other person offers our perspective without putting them on the defensive. Talking about what I am for does not have to include any discussion of others who do not agree. Try it out, can you talk about your passion or are you simply arguing against the passions of others?

Acceptance does not mean agreeing all the time. Acceptance means embracing those we are in relationship with in spite of disagreement. I can accept your good motivation, and assume the best about you and your cause even if I do not join in promoting it.

If you are as tired as I am of all the arguing and tension, why not add a little grace by listening, seeking understanding, offering mercy and love in spite of disagreement?

That could be very ReFreshing!


On Being Wrong

So recently, I was wrong.
I know, right? This almost never happens to me. I am usually right. I bet you are, too.

I was wrong, but not in my content, my facts, I was wrong in my attitude. I was wrong in my presentation of my facts. I was wrong in the way I treated someone else with whom I disagree. And because of all that, I might as well have been wrong in my content.

Right facts presented with wrongness in the way I speak shuts the door on communication. It means that the person I disagree with will never listen to my words, they only hear my tone. It means they will immediately become convinced of their own rightness because they are the injured party, a victim of my words.

The walls of defensiveness are up, and they will not come down. Not in this conversation, and because of memory, possibly never in future conversations. I have set the tone for our interactions. It will take a lot of right interactions to reverse the effects of this one wrong one.

What is to be done, then? Apologies have been made, and forgiveness offered. But I can’t get it out of my head, just how wrong I was in my rightness.

I think we all find ourselves here from time to time. We come to the end of an interaction, and we wonder about what we could or should have said better, but time does not allow for do-overs. Our only choice is to take the wrong from this situation and make good on what we have learned.

To speak with respect, even–and maybe especially–to those with whom we disagree. To offer grace, and think the best of those who may be misinformed. To take a breath and release the indignation that comes from being convinced of our own rightness. To recognize the beautiful image of God in the person before us. To offer respect so that respect may be offered in return. To hear the heart, to see behind the words and tone to the deep concerns that drive them.

To find the common ground on which we stand, even if that is simply our own humanity.

Finding a way to make good on our past wrongs.
Now that’s ReFreshing

For some great resources on wrongology, check out Kathryn Schulz’s TED talks: