What’s In a Name?

Our little munchkin, Sawyer Elizabeth, shares a birthday with the Bard. One of my favorite artists and writers, William Shakespeare, penned some of the greatest and most profound words in literary history. One of the most memorable and oft-quoted comes from the star-crossed lovers of Verona: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Perhaps that is true of a rose, but I doubt even Shakespeare himself believed that Romeo’s name was merely a social convention, separated from which would leave him completely unchanged. A rose may smell as sweet, but I believe a being with a soul takes on a measure of destiny with a name. A name is a legacy. An identity. A definition. A destination. A prophetic utterance.

We named our little one Sawyer. It is my maiden name, and we had picked it out for a boy long before we were pregnant or before the bad boy of Lost fame entered the cultural sphere. When we found out our little peanut was a girl, we decided the name still worked and stuck with it. We pray she will continue to great legacy that has been passed to her from my family.

The middle name was harder to decide. We had half a dozen names picked out for a boy, but landing on one for a girl proved to be a more difficult process. Both Ryan and I liked Elizabeth, so we let that simmer for a while. We weren’t looking for a Biblical name, but when I turned to the writings of Luke to read about Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, I fell in love with her in a new way. Here were some things I discovered or remembered:

  • She was the first person to recognize Jesus. Elizabeth recognized Jesus as Messiah when he was still in Mary’s womb. We therefore pray that Sawyer would recognize Jesus at a very early age and embrace him as her Savior and Lord. Furthermore, we pray that she would recognize and identify the presence and work of Jesus in the lives of others.
  • She encouraged a new young mother. After her encounter with Elizabeth, Mary sang the Magnificat. We cannot know for certain, but is it possible that this was the first moment that Mary was able to rejoice in her supernatural but otherwise culturally awkward situation? Therefore, we pray that Sawyer would be an encourager to others. That she would help people see the fingerprints of God in their lives and help them find joy, peace, and completely fulfillment in him, regardless of what circumstances they find themselves in.
  • Elizabeth was faithful to God. Her name means “God is abundance” or “My God has sworn.” Therefore, we pray that Sawyer would discover that all she needs is found in Christ and that she would cling tightly to the promises God has given to her.

We have prayed many prayers for this child. Here are a few more: That she would live up to the honor of her names. That she would be generous, walk in humble confidence, be a reflector of the love of God, a voice for his truth, a model of his ways, and a beacon of hope. We pray she would know the presence of God and be filled with the Holy Spirit from a young age. That she would be a faithful and loyal friend. That she would be a disciple who makes disciple-makers in her generation.

May 12th, 2015 [ Tags: ] 6 Comments

Navigating Infertility and Mother’s Day

Many of you have heard about the birth of our daughter, Sawyer Elizabeth Zempel. She has already brought us so much laughter and joy. But as we approach Mother’s Day, I wanted to share some of the darker side of my story. With special emphasis on the word “my.” Every story is unique, and I don’t presume that my story reflects or defines anyone else’s story. This is descriptive of me and in no way prescriptive for anyone else. Some may find resonance in my story while others may find it furthers their frustration. My prayer is that it could bring a measure of hope and celebrate the glory of God.

Ryan and I wandered the valley of the shadow of infertility for about 7 years. That’s a short time for many women, but it certainly seemed like an eternity for us. During that season, I celebrated with genuine joy as many of my friends became moms, felt honored and humbled to dedicate babies at NCC, and learned more about the character and goodness of God and the power of community than I ever thought possible. Here is how I navigated it.

I Went Public
For the first few years, Ryan and I kept our struggle with infertility to ourselves. When asked, “Do you want kids?” or “When will you have kids?,” I always responded with some lighthearted, witty, or dismissive comment. But there came a point when I realized we needed to include others. The notion that “God will never give you more than you can handle” is not Biblical; furthermore, I believe it is a lie straight from the pit of hell to isolate us when we need others the most. God gives us more than we can handle so we can experience the life-giving and healing power of community. We shared with our families and close friends. We built a team of intercessors. We needed the community, but we also realized that others needed the community, as well. Most people don’t talk about infertility until they are on the other side of it, and we wanted to share the struggle while we were in the midst of it. People needed to hear my story in the darkest and messiest moments of it…not just at the “happily ever after” moment or the “we’ve come to a peace about it” moment.

Perhaps the most public declaration came on page 124 of my book Amazed and Confused. I never planned on including anything about our story, but a friend challenged me that I should at least write it down. I included it in the book as a declaration of the faith I had come to embrace— that God was good, faithful, and sovereign regardless of what our circumstances seemed to scream.

I Focused on God’s Character
Going public helped sharpen my focus on God’s character. I made an intentional decision that I would let what I knew to be true about God to frame my circumstances. Too often, we let our circumstances dictate what we believe must be true about God instead of letting what we know to be true about God dictate how we view our circumstances. I focused on God’s goodness, faithfulness, and sovereignty. I recounted every blessing and answered prayer I could remember.

On April 22, 2012, I preached a message on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and was challenged by their statement to King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3:16: Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to defend our actions in this matter. We are ready for the test. If you throw us into the blazing furnace, then the God we serve is able to rescue us from a furnace of blazing fire and release us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if He does not, O king, you can be sure that we still will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue you erected.

I made another bold declaration of faith as I preached that message: Faith is knowing God can, believing he will, but worshiping him even if he does not. It was perhaps the most personal message I had ever preached, even though most in earshot had no idea.

I Extended Grace
Not everyone knows what to say, when to say it, or how to say it. A comment that could bring me great peace one day had the potential to be unsettling the next. My friend Amanda Hope Haley wrote a book on infertility, and each chapter title reflects an inappropriate comment made by a (hopefully) otherwise well-meaning people: “Just give it time.” “Maybe you waited too long.” “Are you sure you are doing it right?” Um…seriously? No one ever asked me that one, but there were a few comments that carried enough potential energy to detonate a small internal bomb. I made a decision to extend grace. I would rejoice in the heart and the gesture of those who desperately wanted to encourage and discard the dumb comments.

For those of you who are walking with someone through infertility, just remember it is your presence and not your words that bring hope.

I Changed My Prayer
Finally, I changed my prayer. Instead of asking God to “give us kids,” I asked him to “make us parents.” Ryan and I intentionally and strategically began to parent. There were loads of twenty-somethings at our church who had never been parented, needed reparenting, or simply needed spiritual parenting. There were dozens of children at our church who needed other positive voices in their lives. I made it a point to encourage and inspire any child that crossed my path. Just because we didn’t have biological children didn’t mean that God had not created us or called us to be parents. We found great joy…and still do…in being spiritual parents. Now, our precious Sawyer has dozens of spiritual brothers and sisters loving her, praying for her, and helping her grow.

These are just the ways that I personally navigated infertility. If you are walking through it yourself, or if you know someone who is, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Barren Among the Fruitful by Amanda Hope Haley.

And pastors, can we talk about this? I guarantee you there are women…probably many…in your congregation who are silently struggling in the pews on Mother’s Day. You probably don’t know because they don’t come to your office to talk about such a private matter. But they’ve come to my office in droves. Let’s create a safe place in our churches for women, couples, and families to bring their hurts, hopes, and prayers into the light in the only place where true healing can be found— the Church, the Body of Christ.

May 7th, 2015 [ Tags: , ] 18 Comments

Making Disciples…Not Hunting Them Down

My friend Heidi Scanlon recently shared some wisdom regarding how she approaches discipleship. Specifically, the kind of discipleship that happens when someone approaches her and asks her for discipleship and mentoring. I asked her permission to share.

Sometimes, God calls us to specific people. He wants us to go after them, pursue them, and invest in them even when they haven’t sought us out. The Holy Spirit drops those names in our hearts from time to time.  I suspect Paul felt a specific call to Timothy. He obviously didn’t feel the same way about John Mark. Barnabas, on the other hand, evidently did feel called to John Mark. For most people, however, discipleship should hinge on their commitment matching ours. Otherwise, we waste our time.

In general, when we disciple others, they need to be faithful, available, and teachable. Not simply curious. We are called to make disciples; not hunt them down. Here are the ground rules that Heidi has put in place for such discipleship.

Heidi’s Discipleship Guidelines

  1. I will not chase you down. You have to organize the meeting and reach out to me to put it in the calendar. I am flexible and I don’t mind switching the days up even weekly. But I will not be reaching out to you. This is for you to invest in your own discipleship.
  2. If we miss more than 2 meetings in a row – I love you but let’s just be friends. Unless you can show there were real emergency type reasons. I’m not a prima donna. It’s just good for you to grow in commitments.
  3. Let’s pick a book. You choose. Can be a book of the bible. A book we read. Anything. I will ask you one main question every meeting: what did the Holy Spirit reveal to you and what did you do about it? Or I may say – how can we pray for that to become a reality in your life.
  4. You must agree from the beginning that you are going to find someone you can pour into after we finish our season together. It’s important that we can point to groups where we are discipling to the 3rd and 4th generation. I will ask you to pray about who you are being called to invest in in some way. Paul tells us to not be stingy with the word of God and what we learn. It’s important to pass it on.

And…some bonus wisdom from Heidi on being present for moms with young children…

The Lord gently leads those with young says the scripture. If they have little kids we need to come along side and help them. Empty their dishwashers. Sit on the floor and play with them and their kids. Talk about Jesus and marriage and family. Teach them to hear the voice of God if they don’t know how. Help them manage their exhaustion and emotions. Teach them tips and tricks like putting their bible on the counter when they are cooking dinner and mediating on a verse. Or praying for each family member when they fold their clothes. Or listening for the Lord to speak as they wash dishes. Or doing intercession when they are nursing a baby.

March 11th, 2015 [ Tags: ] 2 Comments