Just Jesus Please

Every Fall, our teaching team at church meets to pray and brainstorm about the message series for the upcoming year. This past October, we each wrote down what we thought might be important topics, and then we shared them with each other. One theme emerged this year from all five people around the table: the desire to talk more about Jesus – the historical, radical, confusing and redeeming person we know as Lord and Savior and Friend. So, beginning just before Easter, we are going to spend several weeks on Jesus. As Ruth Bell Graham once said, “Just give me Jesus!”

 I’ve begun ruminating and talking with others about Jesus, and I think many people feel confused about Him, and some have decided to throw Him out all together.  There are many things that challenge, confuse and even sometimes anger me about Jesus too. Like why did he heal some but not all? Why hasn’t he returned yet? Is he really the only way to God? Why did he so often teach in parables?

On the flip side, I keep returning to some things I like about Jesus:

  • Jesus was always a redeemer and healer; his trajectory in relating with others was toward their growth and wellbeing.
  • He noticed and cared for the oppressed and/or those who were unrecognized or under-valued (e.g. fisherman, women, tax collectors, children).
  • He taught with authority and creativity, and he mentored in close proximity.
  • He honored tradition but also breathed fresh air/new life into what had become a system of rules.
  • He gave people hope that things could be different – in this life and the next. He then exemplified this with his own death and resurrection. The greatest tragedy and injustice was turned inside out. This gives me hope that even the most terrible circumstances may have surprising ends.
  • He is a picture to me of “God with us,” Emmanuel. Because of his life, I have a clearer vision of my own purpose to be an extension of God-with-us to others.
  • Scripture tells me I can be clothed in his righteousness and when God looks at me, he actually sees me through the righteousness of Christ.

Whether you are presently angry with Jesus, confused by him, enamored with him, or just plain curious, I hope you will find the upcoming series helpful. Jesus’ invitation is always, “Come,” and the Platt Park teaching team would love to have you come and join us as we study and dialogue together.

Renting vs. Owning

“It is not my business I’m running, it is not my staff that I am leading, it is not my church, or my house, or my car, or even my child. Everything belongs to God. The whole earth is His.” Remember this from last week’s note? I can’t get this idea out of my mind… For the entire decade+ of Tim’s and my marriage, we have been fixing up homes. Every house we’ve bought has been a fixer-upper, and we have made it our main hobby to restore and improve spaces in our spare time. This hobby started in Iowa when we bought our first house, an 1862 Mississippi river home with lots and lots of charm and work. Since then, we have restored a couple of tri-plexes in the Highlands, one single-family home and a condo.

Now we are renting the church parsonage (the house that goes with the church property), and we’ve invested heart, energy, and time into fixing up that space too.
We don’t own the house we live in, but I can honestly say that I am happy to be working on it.

Our culture seems to believe that if you’re renting, you can kind of trash the place, whereas if you own it, then you need to take care of it. Sometimes our culture even looks at relationships this way. We have an idea that in some cases, we’re free to be haphazard and careless with what has been entrusted to us.

But in God’s economy, everything belongs to him, so whether I rent or I own, whether this is a short-term situation or a long-term commitment, I am a steward of anything He has provided. I may not “own” the house I live in today, but I am no less accountable before God to care for and develop it. Everything belongs to God. The whole earth is His.

Leadership Lessons

Almost every year for over 10+ years now I have been carving out 2 days in August to attend the Global Leadership Summit. This event is simulcast all around the world, with 170,000 leaders in attendance. I love this event so much that I even left a family vacation early one year to be at the Summit…I know, that is really weird.

This week 9 people from our staff and elder team attended. Here are my favorite leadership lessons from this years Summit. These lessons took me just 2 days to learn, but will likely take a lifetime to apply! And I am up for that challenge!

1. From Collin Powell: It will look different in the morning; successful leaders infect their people; get mad but get over it.

2. From Patrick Lencioni: if you want to loose your best people then give them anonymity, irrelevance and immeasurement in their work.

3. From Liz Wiseman: you can have a diminishing impact without intending to and without knowing it. Multipliers believe that everyone is smart and is going to figure it out.

4. From Chris Brown: I don’t have a quote from Chris so much as I have an impression of powerful story telling in preaching!

5. From Joseph Grenny: leadership is intentional influence.

6. From Vijay Govindarajan: Innovation = idea+leader+team+plan

7. From Brene Brown: Humans have a basic need to be seen and loved, to belong and to be brave. And if you are not in the arena-getting beat up yourself, then I will not listen to your criticism of me.

8. Oscar Muriu from Nairobi Chapel: Jesus did not just throw himself into the harvest, he first found his leaders.

9. From Henry Cloud: the downward spiral of a leader includes: taking it personal, thinking its pervasive, believing it is permanent.

10: Bill Hybels: be strong and courageous because leadership is not for the faint of heart.

Why I Love Our Staff

I’ve reached this point in life where I no longer want to work with people that I just don’t like. Maybe that is selfish, maybe it is wise, but I want to come into work each day surrounded by a team of people that I genuinely enjoy being around. And I have to say, that is 100% the case with our current staff team at Platt Park Church.

Let me tell you just a few reasons why I love these people.

#1. Josh Peterson – Josh is such an awesome mix of super goofy, highly intelligent and plain ‘ol passionate. What you see is what you get and there is just not a lot of “junk” to get through or around with Josh. I love that he is an artist, but not a diva. I love that he loves philosophy and theology and God and people and serving. Josh will roll up his sleeves for just about any project, and I’m so happy he’s on our team.

#2. Lara Hedberg – When Lara opens her mouth she has super wise things to say. She never takes up too much space in the room, but she shines bright in her passion for excellence, her creative eye and her articulate way of pursing Christ in all of life. Lara is un-afraid to state her views even when they are minority views, yet she does it in the most kind and compelling way. I love her wide-eyed eager embracing of a beautiful set of values that guides her daily life.

#3. Amy Borjas – Meet Old Testament scholar in a Children’s pastor role! Amy has a brilliant mind, a kind heart, strength for building systems and an un-paralleled attentiveness to the unique needs of individuals. She makes people feel special by showing each person (no matter their age) a strong level of respect. She makes me love God and the Bible more because of her contagious passion for the scriptures and God’s redemptive plan throughout history.

#4. Tim Grade – Even if we were not married I could not pick a better co-pastor. I have never known a more hard-working person then Tim. He works hard, loves well and can be found fishing with old guys or tinkering in his garage in his spare time. Tim rarely seeks the spotlight or sugar-coats his words, which is why we all trust his leadership and follow his example. I’m lucky to be working with and married to this incredible man. There is no one I respect more.

#5. Gary Aronhalt – You can tell more about a person by how they navigate life’s challenges and disappointments than by how they handle life’s successes. I have seen Gary live with integrity, open-ness and grace in the midst of some struggles and that gives great credibility to his voice and leadership on our team. Plus, if you can run 44 miles on your 44th birthday…ummm, yea, I will respect you.

#6. Steve Rhyner – Church business administrators have the great challenge of keeping big picture visionary pastors’ feet on the ground by being the voice of reality with the church finances. Steve never takes on a “bad-cop” persona, but he keeps us in check with a smile on his face, a spirit of care, and a commitment to being above board on every level of finances for our church. These skills are definitely not in my wheelhouse, so we would really be in trouble without Steve and I am grateful for all he does for us behind-the-scenes.

#7. Ginny Alison – Ginny is the newest member of our staff team and is a pure joy to be around. During her first month on staff, she went out of her way to connect with me (not as the pastor) but as a mom of one of the kids in her program. She cares, and from the perspective of being a new mom, that kind of care can just about make you cry. Plus, Ginny is an eager, smart, justice-minded seminary student with a bright, bright future in service of God’s kingdom.

We are truly blessed to have this kind of team.

A Letter to My 2008 Self

Dear 2008 Susie,

Please take a deep breath and relax. This season of chaos in the church is revealing an unhealthy family system that has been in place for a long, long time. So try not to take all the chaos so personally. The people who are leaving the church are not personally rejecting you, even when it feels that way. Keep looking into God’s face. See His love for you. Hold on to Him, walk with integrity, love others, and take time to laugh with Tim and your home team of friends who love you no matter what your job or calling may be.

Please know that a day will come when you will feel total forgiveness and freedom from all this turmoil – you will actually feel this freedom in your heart and in your body. The weight will be lifted, like a balloon floating up in the air, and you will be free of anger. You will actually feel compassion toward the people whose decisions have hurt you so deeply. Time + God’s healing + hard work + counseling will give you a new perspective on all of this. It’s going to be okay.

So hold your head up and remember God is still on the throne, and even though it’s brutal right now, this hardship is going to form you in a thousand positive tiny little ways.

With love and grace and tears of gladness,

Your 2013 Susie

P.S. I wanted to share this because all suffering at the time seems overwhelming and final, but in my experience God has proven to be the redeemer that Scripture says He is, taking the broken rubble to make something beautiful. I hope this truth encourages those who are facing painful experiences and perhaps relational conflict or disappointment right now. I learned a new phrase this week from Gleenon Doyle Melton called life brutiful: brutal + beautiful. May you step into your struggles with God and move towards life brutiful today.




on Power

Last week, I was in Guatemala with 10 other people from our church and in partnership with Mothers’ Global Village. Every morning we partnered with a local school to assist the local teachers in a kids’ program.  Our team consisted of people age 6 to 60+, including 9-year old Will, who–along with his 6 year old sister–was instantly famous. The Guatemalan kids ran to them immediately and wanted to touch their hair, speak in Spanglish, and play games with these two American kids. The rest of us were chopped liver next to Will and Kate.

After a couple days in the village Will noticed that one of the Mayan boys, Joni, who had darker skin than the other kids, was being excluded from games, and the other boys were not treating him fairly. This really bothered Will. Later that night he said to his mom, “That is not right. Those kids should not be treating him that way. And I’m a gringo, and I get respect here, so I’m going to do something about that.” And he did. Will went out of his way to choose Joni first and make sure he was never excluded. Later in the week, Will visited Joni’s home and took him a special gift.

Power. Will intuitively recognized he had power in this situation, and he wielded it well. I’m inspired by this 9 year old. We all have power, and we all get to decide how to use it. May you use whatever power and influence you have today for the good of others, and may the all-powerful God give you the wisdom to know right from wrong and the courage to choose it.

Having an “I used to think” List

Gary Aronhalt recently spoke in our worship service and made a passing comment that everyone ought to have an “I used to think” list.  I have ruminated on his idea ever since hearing it. We don’t usually like to admit that we used to think or believe one way but have since changed our opinion because that means admitting we may have been wrong. However, the alternative to changing perspectives is staying stuck and not progressing or growing as people.  Do I really want to be proud of thinking the same things today that I thought when I was a pre-teen, teen, or young adult?  Do I really imagine I have it all figured out today and will perceive myself, the world, and God the same when I am 70? Most likely, many of my present suppositions will change over time, which is a healthy mark of personal and spiritual development.

So I’ve been thinking… and here is my first draft of a list of Things I Used to Think:

I used to think that whenever people changed churches, they were flaky and just church hopping. Now I think that we have friends and faith communities for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. I used to think that because I’m an ENTJ and logically minded that I would not be a very sentimental mom. Now I think that parenting has opened up a part of my heart that I did not think existed. I used to think that if a woman made more money than her husband, they had a bad marriage and probably would not make it. Now I think that people of quality are not threatened by equality. I used to think that people could not be friends with their parents. Now I know that I can. I used to think that what a person believed was about all that mattered. Now I think who we are, what we think, and how we behave are interconnected. I used to think that God was stationary, like a rock. Now I think that God is on the move and active, like a world traveler. I used to think that if I was publically humiliated or rejected by others, I would not survive. Now I know I can.

Perhaps for me there is a theme of growing a bit in the grace and freedom of my life in Christ.  I’m curious, what would you put on your list? I would love to hear!



Dear Pappa-Roo

This Sunday is Fathers day and for the first time in my life I have two fathers to celebrate – you and Tim.  Since I’m raising a boy now I have been thinking a bit about what makes a great man and what it is I hope to instill in Russell as he grows up. I am grateful for the man you are and the father you have been.

I know that we all have regrets in life and that one of yours is that you spent the first 40 years of your life running from God. But I want you to know how grateful and glad I am, as your daughter that you have spent the last 30+ years strongly seeking after God’s heart.  I respect the courage that it took for you to humble yourself at age 40 and do a complete 180-degree life change.  I admire the strength that it took for you to stop drinking and change so many of your values, priorities and habits.  I have a foundation of love and hilarious memories today because of the sacrifices you made for our family.  I remember that time when I was in 5th grade and you turned down that promotion in Chicago because it would’ve meant too much time away from your family.  Very few men choose to prioritize their families in the working years of life, and it is one of the qualities I so appreciate about you.  My life is full of laughter today because you taught me how to laugh hard, be silly and keep on finding ways to smile even in the storms.  Thanks for all those “Fury” rides, family vacations, “lucky” prayers before bed, and for adjusting and learning to pack your own lunch when mom went back to work.  Thanks even more for making your marriage with mom a priority and for showing me what a loving relationship really looks like.  Thanks for being strong enough to admit when you were wrong.  Thanks for modeling the love of Christ and a life of service. Thanks for showing me the Father-heart of God. Thanks for being my dad.

Love you,


I’m a summer girl

My birthday is July 13 (so you can start shopping now) and summer has always been my favorite season.  Memorial day weekend feels like the kick-off to my favorite season.  I’m not sure why it’s my favorite – maybe it is the backyard BBQs, the slip-n-slides, pools, after dinner walks while its still light out, or the fireworks for the 4th of July.  This year we’re starting summer right with a weekend full of people!  First we have Brandon and Lisa’s wedding tonight, then Simon’s graduation party tomorrow, then Jean and Pilly’s for dinner Sunday, and then Gary and Melanie coming over for drinks on our roof on Monday.  It’s the perfect start to my favorite season – a weekend filled with the presence of friends.  I know all you introverts are thinking, “please just shoot me now!” in thinking of a weekend full of people, but for Tim and I this works and we love it.

I wonder when we think back on summer 2012, what is it we’ll remember?  Will it be the flowers planted, or the house projects, or the events, or the work? I hope we’ll spend time with each other – sharing life and laughs and good food.  But what I hope makes the top of the list is how we lived the summer soaking in the presence of God.

Cheers to the start of my forever and ever favorite season, may it be a summer you remember because you live it in step with God and basking in his love.