Prioritizing My Marriage

Over the years, lots of people have asked Tim and I about working together, pastoring together, being landlords together…we have a lot of together going on! I’m a little sensitive when this topic comes up because it touches on all sorts of insecurities for me. First off, we were told in our early years of marriage that spouses could not pastor together because that was nepotism and it would never work. I’m sensitive also because I know that a lot of couples should not and could not work together, and so I never want to send the impression that this model is for everyone. Third, I am sensitive because although we work together in a lot of domains right now, it might not always be what we want to do, and so I want to protect the choice for either or both of us to bow out or change vocational focus someday.  But for now, Tim and I work together and we really like working together. I get to see a side of Tim in our small business that I never knew he had until we started that venture – who knew that Tim could paint?!? We have both changed so much in the 5 years we have co-pastored and it is thrilling to be growth partners with each other in ministry everyday.

But co-leading and co-pastoring is not what makes us married. Marriage is so much more than running a business together or running a household together. Marriage is about writing a love story together.  It is about walking hand in hand down the street for breakfast on a Monday morning (a pastors Saturday!).  It is about surrendering my self-imposed need to cook everyday and ordering carry out to eat on the front porch instead sometimes. It is about choosing to talk to each other and finding the space to really listen. It is about realizing that getting the dishwasher loaded can always happen later, but some sort of daily investment in each other needs to happen every day. It is about giving up the urgent in favor of the important. Marriage is about making time for each other every day – small little investments that add up over a lifetime. It is not about just talking business (although we do plenty of that!).  It is about talking and listening from your heart – hearing about the small details, the hopes, the fears, the dreams and the mundane. Tim and I have a lot of time together, but we have to fight for the time that really builds the sort of marriage we want to have. I think that is true for every couple, whether you work together or not. It is easy for us to just slip into all business – Who is speaking? Who is watching Russell? When are we having those people over? Can I book that private event at the studio next month? Can I buy a new truck? (No!  The answer to that last question is no.) There is a never-ending list of schedule-coordination, to-do-lists, and logistics to discuss.

Prioritizing is never easy. It means saying no to the good stuff in order to build the great stuff. Important relationships are worth prioritizing but it will mean the laundry sometimes goes undone. It will mean eating leftovers so we don’t give each other the leftovers of our attention and energy for another day.

Easter

Easter has become about a lot of things in our North American culture.  For some, Easter is about Spring and flowers and bunnies and family. It’s about feeding your children peeps for breakfast and then dropping them off at the church nursery (Platt Parkers, please do NOT do this! :))  Easter is about pretty dresses and a vague sense of hope….

But, for followers of Jesus around the world, Easter is about a single event in human history. Easter is the day when Jesus’ friends woke early to carry out their funeral customs for Jesus and grieve his death but instead found an empty tomb. The absolute and eternal emptiness of that tomb changed everything.

Grappling with this extraordinary historical event inevitably shapes our beliefs about life, God and the Bible.  I hope you’ll join us this Sunday as we grapple together and celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.

I pray that the power of a risen Jesus will have ever-deeper personal significance for each of us this season.

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!

 

 

What I Used to Think….and why being a Target mom is not so bad

I used to look at moms with their children at the store and feel a little sorry for them.  I mean, wow! – the disheveled hair, the baggy clothing, the digging in their purse while cheerios, bottles, keys and wallets tumbled out… It looked like a lot of work and not a lot of fun. Who would want to do that? I used to say to people, “I want to have had kids in 20 years, but I just don’t want to have kids now.” And then came Russell.

Now that I’m living the reality of motherhood, I can testify that it certainly is a lot of work and not always a lot of fun, but I can also now recognize parenting as a precious investment.  When Tim, Russell, and I are picking up groceries, or going to Target, or traveling somewhere together, we are creating memories and forming Russell’s childhood. When he’s older, Russell will remember some of these events in detail, but even more importantly, he will have impressed on his heart that our little, crazy, and fun family is a context in which he will always be loved.

Building this childhood for Russell is a privilege and a responsibility, and it’s very often a ton of fun!  I might fall into bed exhausted at night, but at the same moment, I’ll laugh so hard I cry as I tell Tim some funny story about the time I spent with our little guy that day.  So much of our laughter is about Russell and his funny quirks. He has added infinite joy to our lives and expanded us from couple to family. I’m sure there are many days when I look just like the other disheveled moms at Target, but I’ve decided to embrace the part. Bring on the memories, let’s build a childhood!

I wonder how much of contentment in life is about embracing the part? Accepting the season in its fullness, with pros, cons, beauty, longing, and frustration.  Living through the season honestly, vulnerably, and gratefully.  So many pieces of life are completely outside of our control, but we do get to decide if we will fight reality or roll with it. We get to choose to embrace the single life, the married life, the life with no kids, the life with kids, the life retired, the life as growing older. Every season has its pros and cons. May God grant you the grace to find and relish the beauty in your season of life today.

Slow down, little train!

Giving great gifts is underrated. If you’ve ever given a really good gift and seen the recipient weep, then you know what I’m talking about. Last Sunday was Father’s Day, and I gave Tim a great gift, and he received it with great joy. Many of you know that we named our son after Tim’s grandfather, Russell Potter. So for Tim’s first Father’s Day as a dad, I created a framed collage of photographs of Tim as a baby with his grandfather (the first Russell Potter) and then some photos of Tim with our son, the second Russell Potter.  Tim was overwhelmed upon seeing the gift. He got all welled up, and then I got all welled up and he just kept looking at all the pictures with so much love in his eyes. I was so happy I could not stop smiling and crying. It feels wonderful to give a great gift, to catch someone off guard with surprise, to overwhelm them with a little thoughtfulness, to show in some small way that you love them. And even though it may be true that it is better to give than to receive, the reality is you need someone to receive the gift if it’s going to bring you or them any joy at all.

Gifts from God are all around me every day, and lately I have felt a particular desire to soak them in – to notice them as gifts – and to receive them. Author Shauna Niequist said on her blog recently, “One of the biggest challenges in modern life is sensing God’s presence in the midst of the crush and swirl of daily life.”Birds singing, swamp coolers cooling, ducks in the Platte river swimming, the city looking back at me from the view on my roof, family and friends laughing together – these are all some of the countless little things I usually cruise right by while driving my little efficiency train. But how sad God must feel to offer these gifts only to have them ignored. Receiving a gift is part of blessing the giver.

May you notice and receive God’s gifts today,

Susie

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,

Susie

Real estate, White flags, and Jonah

In 2005, Tim and I bought a big ole tri-plex that in so many ways we really have no business owning. At the time, banks were giving mortgages to anyone who was breathing, with little to no money down and interest free, if you agreed to the “adjustable” terms of that loan.  We were arrogant and stupid enough to agree to these terms. I remember when we closed on the place, one of the guys at the table said, “Just wait, that place is going to be worth a million dollars in a couple years because this neighborhood is so hot.”  When we drove away from that closing, I wanted to roll down my window and start waving to everyone, blowing a few kisses, because I felt so smart, soon-to-be rich, and powerful for scoring such a great deal.  I’ve heard a phrase that says, “Experience humility today before you experience humiliation tomorrow,” and wow, did we get humbled!  A couple years later, the market changed, and we had a $700/month increase in the mortgage, and we could no longer re-finance it! I was scared and overwhelmed. Our options for help were limited. I turned to God.

I had prayed about our decision when we first bought the house.  But, I really prayed when the bottom started to fall out!  I prayed more fervently, more honestly, and more desperately than I had during the early decision-making process. 

I think my story is fairly common. We usually pray the most when things are the worst, or when we have nothing else to do, or when we have no where else to turn.  

This Sunday, we are continuing our new series called “White Flag: a study of the book of Jonah.” White flags are the universal symbol for surrender. This week we’ll look at Jonah’s prayer of surrender from inside the belly of the great fish – when he had no where else to turn and nothing else to do.  It’s a whale of a tale, and I hope to see you there.


Risk & Opportunity

A couple years ago, I co-opened a business called Sipping n’ Painting; my partners and I recently signed a lease to expand to a second location.  Several people in my life have warned me about “managing my risk” in opening the second studio.  I consider this wise counsel, and I also consider it only one side of a double- sided coin.  What about “managing the opportunity?”  or better yet, “stewarding the opportunity?”  Last year, Sipping n’ Painting received a small business grant, and I think it is just as important to steward the opportunity of that grant and the gift of current momentum in this business as it is to manage the risk involved in expanding.

The same is true for you. God has given you gifts.  You can lead, or teach, or pioneer new things, or host, or serve, or sing, or play, or innovate, or create, or come alongside.  Are you stewarding that gift? Are you stewarding the opportunities in your life today? Jesus told a story where he cautioned his followers not to “bury [their] talents” in the ground.  We can bury our talents (or bury the talents of others) when we become so risk-adverse, so consumed with “managing the risks,” that we lose sight of the opportunity we need to steward. 

Has the Spirit led you to venture into risky territory? What steps can you take today to wisely manage the associated risk AND courageously invest your talents?

 

How to Buy Happiness

If you think “money can’t buy you happiness,” maybe you are not spending your money on the right stuff.  The other day, I had the unique privilege of giving a check to a woman in great need.  The monies had been pooled partly from a little Thursday morning Bible study group I participate in and partly from the church benevolence fund, which is nurtured by Sunday offerings. Several weeks ago the book our group was studying challenged us to consider giving to someone we knew who had a financial need.  Several people in our group offered money and asked me to present the total gift. When I handed our friend the card and enclosed check, tears streamed down her cheeks. She said, “I had no idea how I was going to pay my bill.”

We often say, “Money can’t buy you happiness,” but I’m not sure that’s entirely true. I was filled with joy when I witnessed the woman’s heart be blessed and her financial burden eased. I felt so happy. I wanted everyone from the Bible study group and everyone who had given to last Sunday’s offering to be there to experience the gratitude and joy of a thankful recipient. Maybe money can buy us happiness, if we spend it on the right stuff. (For more on this idea, see Michael Norton TED talk on “How to Buy Happiness”)

Our God is exceedingly generous.  2 Corinthians 8:9 — “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”

Because God is generous towards us, we can extend similar generosity, free of fear and full of the hope of eternity, when God will wipe every tear and financial worries will be no more. Who can you go bless today?