|Feb 2||Grace Episcopal Church Luncheon||Madison, WI|
|Feb 9-10||Evangelical Free Church Retreat||Oregon, IL|
|Feb. 12||Gracepointe Church Mom to Mom||Naperville, IL|
|March 23||Valley Community Church Brunch||Pleasanton, CA|
|April 7||First Baptist Church – drama||Wheaton, IL|
|April 19-21||Parma Heights Baptist Retreat||Cleveland, OH|
FALL & ADVENT 2012 SPEAKING SCHEDULE
|September 17-18||Compass Church Connections Café||Naperville, IL|
|September 29||Iron Sharpens Iron National Conference||Worcester, MA|
|October 12-14||First Baptist Women’s Fall Retreat||Baraboo, WI|
|November 2-4||Harvest Women’s Fall Retreat||Lake Geneva, WI|
|November 17||Parma Hts. Baptist Holiday Luncheon||Parma Hts, OH|
|November 29||Maranatha Chapel||Evergreen Park, IL|
|December 1||Cross Lutheran Christmas Tea||Yorkville, IL|
|December 2||Our Savior Lutheran Advent by Candlelight||Burlington, WI|
|December 5||Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Evening of Reflection||Darien, IL|
Daughter, I have a story for you to tell.
It’s not your story, but I will put my words in your mouth.
Then whose story, Lord?
My servant, Mary’s.
But I don’t know anything about her.
You have the Scriptures.
But I am 40 years old, Lord. I can’t portray a teenager.
Have I ever disqualified someone from service because of age, daughter?
And I’m Scandinavian…three-quarters anyway. No one will believe me.
It’s not you they have come to believe but Me.
How exactly will this story come to me, Lord?
Listen carefully and be prepared to write down what you hear.
And then what?
You will go where I open the doors.
By myself, Lord?
No, I will be with you.
And over the course of nearly 20 years and hundreds of tellings, He is still with me. Thousands of miles safely traveled through blizzards and flight cancellations and the cultural chaos of Christmas. Untold miracles in women’s lives that have left me weeping, incredulous, wondering.
Wondering how a soon-to-be-60 year old can still be portraying a Jewish teenaged virgin after all these years.
The window of time is closing for your telling of this story. Use up all that I have given you. And by the way, all those years that you wished you were Jewish?
You always were, all along.
Filed under: Reflections, Tuesdays with Maggie | Tagged: Mary, mother of Jesus; Jewish believers; Torah; Messianic Jews | 6 Comments »
It’s Election Day in the US of A, and by the time you read this we may well know who will take office in January of 2013. Many have commented what a contentious campaign it’s been on both sides of the political aisle.
Most of us will never have to respond to political attack ads, but none of us is immune from criticism. The past two weeks I’ve posted some personal thoughts on handling the heat. In the final post of this series, here are seven practical steps to help us filter criticism in a redemptive way.
1. Choose blessing rather than bitterness.
In the days following our receipt of that “Scud missile” over 20 years ago, I felt incapable of turning off the recorder that mentally replayed the harsh complains of the writer. This individual had attacked our church, our family – even my writing, innocuous as it seemed. How could I respond in love to this person who seemed intent on tearing us down rather than building us up?
I realized I had three choices: to become bitter and put up a wall, to become emotionally barren and withdraw, or to consider myself blessed because of the One we serve. “Do not repay…insult with insult but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing” 1 Peter 3:9. The choice is ours.
2. Redefine victory.
To most of us winning implies triumphing over an opponent, getting our own way, or vindication. We want our critics to apologize or at least recognize how deeply they have wounded us. Most of the time this never happens. In God’s economy, “winning” has more to do with our spiritual development than it does with our opponent’s defeat. In Scripture, God often seems more invested in who comes out of a battle than what the outcome is. True victory comes from being able to truly love our adversaries as God does regardless of their behavior.
3. Study role models in Scripture.
Moses was no stranger to others’ complaints or David to rebuke. Mary of Nazareth certainly must have kept silent in the face of cultural scorn and misunderstanding. Learning to respond to adversity as these leaders did is a potent stimulant to spiritual growth. The life of Christ himself is a case study in dealing with criticism in a godly manner.
4. Look beyond the fault to see the need.
Sometimes our accusers go on the offense due to deep needs in their own lives that are unseen to us. We must recognize that we may be absorbing the anger of other people at times in a way that ultimately has nothing to do with us.
5. Contextualize the criticism.
When Mike and I carefully considered the painful letter we received, we realized that the writer’s distance from our church situation supplied potential for misunderstanding. Further reflection reminded us that our critic was experiencing significant work-related stress.
6. Retreat to restore perspective.
A retreat can be defined as a “strategic withdrawal.” The benefits of getting away for a few hours or even days are numerous. Withdrawing in order to prayerfully lay our pain before God can provide the insight needed to respond constructively.
7. Stop, drop, and roll!
At a women’s retreat where I was speaking this past weekend, the planning team performed a great skit based on a simple children’s song that teaches kids what to do if their clothes ever catch on fire. The same advice can remind big people what to do when we are “burned” by criticism.
First, stop and listen. Don’t fight or run. Trauma can be averted by taking time to hear out your accuser.
Second, drop to your knees and take the matter to the Father for comfort and counsel. Moses fell on his face when confronted with the Israelites’ complaints (Num. 14:5), and he didn’t respond until he had first received direction from the Lord.
And finally, roll with the punches! Take the proactive approach. We may not be able to prevent an attack but, with God’s help, we can control our response.
Are you one of those people who‘s completely impervious to how others regard you? Tell me how you manage it – please!
The evening after I posted thoughts about handling criticism last week, I ran into one of my favorite authors at an event at Wheaton College. Karen Mains’ book With My Whole Heart: Disciplines for Strengthening the Inner Life arrived in my life 15 years ago when I could not have needed it more. As I chatted with Karen following the lecture, I remembered an analogy she called “the prison on our backs:”
“One of the greatest bondages,” wrote Karen, “has to be our bondage to human approval. This bondage is so subtle that we often don’t know we’ve allowed opinion to become our jailer or praise to become the tag on the key that has locked us in this cell.”
Even if we recognize that we need to become free from the need for human approval, many of us still grapple with what I’ve always called the “tough skin vs. tender heart” dilemma. How can we care for people while keeping opinion in proper perspective?
Well over 20 years ago, a letter was waiting for Mike and me after we returned from a much-needed vacation that had the effect of what Mike privately called at the time an ”emotional Scud missile.” The writer was an older gentleman whom we loved and respected, but whose criticism arrived in a blistering attack without warning. An event this particular individual had been invested in had a low turnout, and he decided it was due to inadequate administration on our part. I was stunned when he predicted: “Neither of you will ever amount to anything in ministry, and neither will your church.”
“Whoa, wait a minute,” Mike commented after reading the letter incredulously. “He can say whatever he wants to about me, but no one insults this church!”
I talked the matter through with a long-distance friend who knew of my easily-wounded nature.
“I’ve prayed for a tough skin,” I cried over the phone to Meagan, who was also married to a pastor, “but I just don’t have what it takes.”
After a pause came her reply. “Don’t you realize,” Meagan mused, “that tough skin is often composed of scar tissue?”
The apostle Paul knew something about scar tissue. He experienced a lot of criticism in his life and ministry, yet was able to say “It is a very small thing that I am judged by you” (1 Cor. 4:3).
A Kiwanis Club newsletter once carried the following comment: “All of us could take a lesson from the weather. It pays no attention to criticism.”
But is simply ignoring verbal adversity an option for Christians? Familiar passages of scripture attest to the fact that criticism can work constructively in our lives by identifying hidden weakness or pruning us to produce growth.
Proverbs 15:32-21 puts it succinctly: “If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise.If you reject discipline, you only harm yourself; but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding.” (NLT)
Throughout the decade of the 80’s, I taught communication courses at a small university in the Northeast. After class one day a somewhat challenging student remarked carelessly, “You know, Mrs. Rowe, some of us call you the motor mouth. You don’t repeat yourself, but you sure can say the same thing in a lot of different ways.”
After recovering from my initial indignance (me? A motor mouth?!), I began to listen critically to myself as I lectured. The student was absolutely right. I did talk too much.
Not all the criticism that comes our way is constructive, but looking for the grain of truth in every critique is the first step toward responding in a positive way.
Mike and I found that our initial attempts to respond to the condemnation in that letter only served to fuel the fire. Any defense, however carefully worded, may cause a further flare-up. We learned not to offer an explanation unless one was requested. When months later opportunity arose to lovingly affirm our critic’s contribution to our congregation, however, it was as if the fire suddenly lost its source of oxygen. Our antagonist never did apologize for his damning words, and the incident left its scars.
But even that can be cause for praise, for underneath that tough skin God can, in his ultimate mercy, preserve a tender heart.
We’ll conclude this series of posts next week with some practical steps that can help us filter criticism in our lives in a redemptive way.
In the meantime, got a prison on your back?
Filed under: Reflections, Tuesdays with Maggie, Uncategorized | Tagged: Dealing with criticism; people-pleasing; pastors wives; Karen Mains | 3 Comments »
This past Saturday, I had a long phone chat with a young friend whom I greatly admire. Jessica * and her husband are serving in their very first pastoral position out east. They love their new church family and have eagerly plunged into the fray of ministry, expending themselves gladly on behalf of those they serve.
But Jess has recently found herself reeling a bit in the face of criticism from members of their congregation – complaints directed at her, the unpaid member of the team, rather than her husband. Words of concern that she spoke lovingly into others’ lives were misunderstood, twisted, and reported to senior leadership rather than directly to her.
How do you cope with criticism without getting burned?
October is National Fire Protection Month, and as Jess and I spoke I thought of the three-point advice my kids were given by their schoolteachers in the unlikely event that their clothes ever caught fire: stop, drop, and roll.
When Mike and I were in our first pastoral position, it occurred to me that this simple concept might help me “handle the heat” as well. Blasts of criticism, whether anticipated or not, can shatter the happiest of times. Our hands tremble when we put down the letter or hang up the phone. Food loses its appeal or becomes overly important. Like the endless loop on an old audio cassette, our minds replay certain conversations over and over. We remember. We brood. We create elaborate imaginary rebuttals in defense of our wounded egos.
No one likes to get burned – particularly by people who are significant in our world. When exposed to the heat of human disapproval our first instinct is to respond in one of two ways: we “toughen up,” assuming a defensive posture to protect ourselves, or we melt – capitulating to the demands of our accuser.
A friend sat with me over breakfast one morning decades ago listening to my recital of the ways in which I was trying to conform to the image of the perfect pastor’s wife.
“Maggie,” she finally interrupted, “are you carrying the donkey?”
The phrase, Shirley explained, comes from an old story about an elderly man and a young boy who were leading a donkey. When mocked by the first passerby for not using the beast in a more practical fashion, the old man hoisted the boy atop the donkey.
The second person to pass them on their journey, however, scolded the boy for riding while the old man walked, so the two switched places. Predictably, the next passerby scorned the adult for making a child walk, so the boy climbed back atop the donkey to join his grandfather.
When vilified by those they passed next for making the poor beast carry such a heavy burden, the two climbed off. The final traveler to pass the pair greeted them not with harsh words but with hilarity, for now the old man and the young boy were carrying the donkey.
Our sometimes frantic efforts to conform to others’ expectations can be just this exhausting. But is it wrong to want to be liked, to have people think favorably of us?
Scripture contains a pointed warning: “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26).
In the next couple weeks, I’ll be sharing more on this topic, including steps I’ve learned that have helped me filter criticism in a redemptive way.
But for now I’ll leave you with this question: are you carrying a donkey today?
*Not her real name
Filed under: Reflections, Tuesdays with Maggie | Tagged: Dealing with criticism; pastors wives; people-pleasing | 5 Comments »
My track record at filling a role in other wedding capacities is stellar. Mother of the Bride? Been there. Mother of the Groom? Done that too, and in both cases the marriages are thriving. Thanks be to God.
But if there is such a thing as a Bad Luck Bridesmaid, I’m your girl.
A few weeks ago, Mike and I were going through old photo albums from the 70’s – the kind with the sticky magnetic pages. (Ever read those warnings about what non-acid free paper will do to your photographs? Heed them.) As I was removing faded prints from albums dating back to my high school and college years, I was struck by a sobering fact that somehow had eluded me till now. Four of the five brides whom I served as an attendant are no longer married. The men to whom they pledged their lives decades ago broke their vows and their wives’ hearts. Their “I do’s” are now undone.
If I were running for political office, my opponent could seize on this fact to prove causality. (“Don’t vote for Maggie Rowe! 4 out of 5 marriages ended after she stood up at the wedding!”) But even in my most paranoid moments, I know there is no link. One marriage lasted a year or two. Another over 30. But in each case there was nothing I could do to prevent my friends from being betrayed, set aside, abandoned.
Sometimes I feel “survivor’s guilt.” Four of my close friends from my teens and 20’s were involved in marital collisions not of their making. Why have I been so blessed to remain married for over 35 years? Why could my friends not have experienced what I have: the utter joy of full confidence in a man who is not only my husband, lover and the father of my children, but also my closest and most trusted friend?
I have no answers today, if ever I did. And far too many questions. But sobering statistics aside, I still believe in marriage. Genesis tells us that God brought the first man and the first woman together to help one another – to form what author Carolyn Custis James thoughtfully calls a “blessed alliance”.
So when I attend a wedding these days as a witness, as I did in a nearly 400-year-old church just two weeks ago, I look first for the foundation under the feet of the couple repeating their vows. If it is solid, as it is for my young friends Stephen and Maggie who wed in Connecticut, I have no fear that a Bad Luck Bridesmaid might be present. These two clearly have given their lives to Someone Else before they pledged them to each other.
Granted, shared faith is no guarantee of a long-term successful marriage. And Happily Ever After has more to do with where you will spend eternity than whom you live with on earth.
But when two people mutually work at submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ, they reduce the chance of “I do” becoming “I don’t anymore.”
I was out of town this past Tuesday so once again I missed posting a “Tuesdays” reflection, but this week I want to share with you a guest post from a woman whose writing and theological insights I admire: Carolyn Custis James. Perhaps the essay that follows resonated with me in particular since I chose to spend a week of my summer vacation intensively studying theology this year, but as Carolyn points out, we are all theologians when we are working out what we believe about God.
She’s absolutely right. When life is tough, we need more than just sweet thoughts about God. We need to know him for ourselves.
[The following is reprinted from http://blog.kyria.com/giftedforleadership/2012/07/we_are_all_theologians.html?utm_source=womenleaders&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_term=9291812&utm_content=130488684&utm_campaign=2012.]
“Do you think of yourself as a theologian? When we hear the word theologian, we often we picture some older intellectual man—a professional academic sitting behind a desk piled with thick books in ancient languages. And there certainly are professional theologians who fit this description, busily teaching at seminaries and writing books. But theologian is a label that belongs to all of us because a theologian is simply someone who knows God. Theology is what we believe about God—whether it is true or not. Every Christian—male or female, young or old—is a theologian, and we were each made for that very purpose.
Adults are forever warning children about strangers. The message is not that all strangers are dangerous, but that you can’t trust someone you don’t know. When we don’t take the time to get to really know God in deep ways, we put ourselves in the impossible situation of having to trust a stranger.
When we go through a crisis or a devastating situation in our lives, we lean on our theology—whether it is true or false. Will it be something we’ve constructed ourselves? Or will it be the result of really knowing God? When a storm strikes your life, whatever it is that you believe about God is what your faith will have to grasp. This is where it gets dangerous. What if you’re holding on to wrong ideas about God, like “He doesn’t really love me” or “I don’t matter” or “He isn’t good”? That poor theology will only make your struggle worse.
It’s vital—it’s urgent—for women to go deeper spiritually and theologically. We can’t coast through life on sweet thoughts about God. All of us will face trouble in this life, and when that happens we need to know the truth about God and who we are in him to help us navigate those storms.
Mary of Bethany is one theologian in Scripture who inspires me. When we look at her whole story—not just one little piece—we can see how theology looks in a woman’s life. First, we see Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet– first-century language that describes a rabbinical student. Against cultural pressures for Mary to remain within the “proper” sphere for women, Jesus defended her choice to sit at his feet and learn. And Jesus who had come to “show us the Father” and always talked theology, was teaching the same deep theology to Mary that he taught the men. Her story sends a message to us that making time and effort to know God deeply is every woman’s first priority. This is a striking image of theological training.
But theology moves beyond the classroom and into real life when Jesus doesn’t come in time to save Mary’s brother from dying. Now, in her grief and disappointment, Mary must grapple with what she’d learned about Jesus and how it meshed with the deep pain of what was happening now. This is where Mary’s understanding of Jesus—her theology—deepens. She discovers Jesus is Lord of life and death and can be trusted, no matter how bad things get. This too is a picture of theology; theology is both learning and wrestling.
Finally, we see her anoint Jesus. This was more than just a radical act of affection and gratitude. Mary’s actions here show us that you don’t just learn theology—you live it. As the cross loomed for Jesus, Mary boldly (and one might add, outrageously) anointed him for his burial. Far from conceding victory to Jesus’ enemies, Mary was affirming Jesus’ mission and standing with him as he faced the battle ahead. Mary was living her theology—believing what Jesus had taught her and trusting him in this dark hour. Her theology made a difference to her and to Jesus who said, “She has done a beautiful thing to me.”
Since we are all theologians, how do we become better theologians? Certainly we should avail ourselves of opportunities to learn from scholars and professional theologians through books, classes, or seminary, for they can profoundly enrich the depth of our intellectual and spiritual understanding. But this is no substitute for what we can do on our own.
As we read and study Scripture, the most important question we can as, and one that will yield fresh insights about God, is, “What does this tell me about God?” The Bible is the revelation of God. It is infinite and the depth of the subject matter it deals with is infinite, so we can always dig down, peel back the layers, and go even deeper.
We can’t afford not to become better theologians. As women, we need to pursue a robust theology for ourselves. No matter how good and helpful the theology of others may be—that of husband, pastor, or friend—the theology we turn to when we’re in trouble is our own. [emphasis mine]
So how are you growing as a theologian? When has a solid theology helped you navigate difficult storms in your life? How do you desire to grow in your understanding of the God you know and love?”
Carolyn Custis James is a speaker and author of several books, including When Life and Beliefs Collide: How Knowing God Makes a Difference and Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women. www.whitbyforum.com.