Saturday, November 10, 2018

Staying Centered at Christmas

Okay, because Laura Troxel is waiting....and because last night I went to an event with some great women at Lakeside Christian Church who got me thinking about how to help our family stay centered this Christmas.

We have set 3 goals for our family this Christmas:
  1. We want our family to be moved by a beautiful story.
  2. We want to prioritize daily preparation for the celebration of the coming of the Messiah.
  3. We want to spend quality time around a table with people we love.
Here are a few ways we've tried to do this in the past, or continue to build those things into our lives at Christmastime:
An exciting adventure story of a 10 year old boy as he finds his way to the Savior born in Bethlehem. These daily readings kept our kids on the edge of their seat in anticipation....there are 3 books in this series, and through the years, we've read them several times! Probably best for ages 8-14, though has some scarier parts to be aware of if you have kids who don't handle that well.

Kindness Advent
In 2013 we did a Kindness Advent. Every day included a word to meditate on, and an act of kindness to do - sometimes in our home, and often for others. Some of our favorites were hiding $1 bills at the Dollar Store with an encouraging note, leaving treats for the mailman or garbage man, putting encouraging notes on car windshields at the grocery store, and inviting people to dinner. This was super fun and interactive - - but did require some advanced-planning and work from mom! For more ideas, check out

Last year we used Ann Voskamp's book to direct our daily advent preparations and made a Jesse Tree with ornaments that were a free download from her website. The Jesse tree is a smaller tree we put on our table and every day we added an ornament that told a different part of the Christmas story.

Handel's Messiah - I wrote about some of our family traditions here, and now that my girls are older and share my love of Handel's Messiah, finding a local "Sing-along Messiah" is an annual priority of mine.

Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God Album - When I think of being moved by a beautiful story, this album will do it. Our family will go see the tour at the Virginia Theater in Champaign on December 12th. Forget the Trans-Siberian Orchestra or the Nutcracker.....this is the stuff.

Other ideas....
Here are some other ideas I've heard, but haven't tried at our house....
  • Reading the Christmas Story from Matthew or Luke....I heard this tradition from my friend, Faith Brooks, who said her family would read the story every day of advent. The same story. Every day. But the beautiful thing is that they can now recite the Christmas story for memory
  • I know these Advent activities are supposed to keep me from spending and wanting and giving in to the consumeristic part of Christmas, but I WANT this Advent Wreath from Joy Wares:
(And, ahem, my birthday is coming.....)

So here's the point of it all. How do we focus on what's important this Christmas and not let the culture or expectations from others (or ourselves) hijack what it's really all about? I'd love to hear how you're entering this season with intentionality....

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Freedom from the Lies

It's interesting to me that Satan seems to have the most influence in my life through the little things....a choice about a $4 purchase, giving a short answer to my husband, getting distracted with social media instead of doing the work I'm supposed to be doing. I've been reading a great new book from Rebekah Lyons this week called, "You are Free", and I'm starting to hear the faint whisper of the enemy a little more clearly.

I was in a conversation last week with someone from church about whether I could help out in one of his areas of ministry. I quickly tried to formulate an answer about my heart for what he was doing and my lack of availability. I wanted to help out, and knew I was good at doing what he was asking. However, I also knew that my schedule was already packed with "good" things. I sort of fumbled and flustered and out of my mouth came the words, "I'm sorry, I'm just kind of flakey, and don't think I can commit right now."

Later that night, I sensed God asking me, "Is that really true? Are you really flakey?"

And peeking up from the blanket of guilt I had been hiding under, I thought, "No, I'm NOT flakey!"

I care for 3 busy teens and a husband with a brain injury which means every week I'm juggling dentist appointments, school meetings, car maintenance reminders, and all the rest of parenting ....I work full-time in a relationship-heavy ministry that requires lots of emotional energy and creative communicating...I lead a ministry at our church that includes more than 70 volunteers...I'm a mentor and friend to some amazing women....

I am busy.

And sometimes I'm guilty of overextending myself and taking on too much.

But I'm trying to be obedient to the things God has asked me to do, and often that means I'm going to have to say No to things.

I'm not flakey.

Are there lies the enemy has been whispering in you ear about who you are? Feel like a disappointment? Does guilt cover you like a heavy blanket? Do you find yourself trying to win the approval of God or others? Remember, God doesn't just invite you to be free, he says that you ARE free.....let's begin to live that way!

Friday, May 20, 2016

When Mourning Comes

I was mowing the grass.

With 10 days before the graduation party, the to-do list seemed to be growing by the second, and yard work was normally Todd's thing.  But Todd had been extra busy at work and the grass was getting embarrassingly long and it needed to be done.

But, as it usually does, the job was more complicated than it had to be....mechanical issues, things Todd had adjusted and then forgotten how to fix, my own inadequacy as a lawn mower, all converged into a grassy, gassy ball of mourning.

As I pushed the self-propelled mower that no longer self-propelled, the tears began to fall as I mourned the husband who could remember how to work the mower...who could remember that this mower was different than the LAST mower, and how to care for it.....who could think ahead to the events coming up that would require a well-maintained lawn.

And I was glad for the excuse of the yard to explain my flushed, wet face to the neighbors driving by.

Sunday, March 27, 2016


Before we hunted for candy-filled Easter eggs, we explained what Easter is all about.  We were separated from God because of our junk....How, no matter how hard we try, none of us is the only perfect person who ever lived was named Jesus (even Mohammed wasn't perfect) and he loved the world so much that he decided he would take the punishment we deserved so we could be friends with God again.

I wasn't sure how interested the kids were in the story until we got to this part. A quiet voiced asked, "He did that even for Muslims?"

"Oh yes. Even for Muslims".

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son. That whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Telling Stories

We sit on the floor and the children know this is something special.  Mom has cooked a lamb and chopped apples and walnuts, sprigs of parsley on each plate.  Stories begin...of saltwater tears and flat bread. And we worship and giggle and cough on horseradish. And I am amazed by a God who has passionately pursued his people. Pursued me.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Why I stopped praying for safety and good health

Last Sunday our family visited a church that was sending off a team of short-term missionaries.   The team made their way to the front of the sanctuary, and then someone gave the commissioning prayer.                
You know, the one where we ask God for "travelling mercies" or safety, and for protection and good health.

I know they have the best intentions....but I wanted to stand up and shout,

No!  Don't do it!  Don't pray for safety and good health!  

Pray for POWERFUL acts of God.  For DISRUPTION of your plans and for GOD's plan instead.  Pray for God's power to be evident in your WEAKNESS and in times of DANGER. For experiences that make your hearts pound harder and faster and labor that makes you weary at the end of the night.

I don't know about you, but when things are easy, it's alot harder for me to see God.  I don't LONG for him as much.  I don't DEPEND on Him like I should.  When I'm comfortable and safe, it's easy to make things, well, all about ME.   And as good as that sounds, what I've seen is that what is even BETTER than everything going smoothly and comfortably, is living right in the palm of God's hand.  Dependent.  Desperate.  And able to see Him move powerfully and miraculously.  I don't want to get to the end of my life and think, "Well, it's certainly been safe."
In the last month or so, a couple of people have said things to us like, "the Magruder family has had too much hardship...more than your fair share of doesn't seem fair".   Brain tumors, memory loss, unemployment, stroke, financial instability.....

But Todd and I have had this discussion many times...and we wouldn't change a thing.   Perhaps it's because we've experienced some adversity that we feel so strongly about it.  Every challenge we face has been an opportunity to see God's faithfulness and learn to trust him even more.  Every trial gives us a better story to tell about Jesus!

Please don't feel sorry for us.   And while we appreciate your prayers for our health and safety, we'd rather you pray BIG....for God to do "exceedingly, abundantly more than all we could ask or imagine" (Eph. 3:20).

Monday, June 01, 2015

The Case for Boredom

What happens when we fill every bit of dead space in our days with Candy Crush, Facebook, ESPN, Snapchat, and Pinterest...when the time we used to spend daydreaming, people-watching,  imagining, even just zoning out, is now occupied by our phones?  

There are fears that our smart phones are going to keep this generation from creating and inventing and thinking like the generations before us.  What will our generation be known for?   Being undefeated in Trivia Crack?

When the New Tech City Podcast introduced The Bored and the Brilliant, I was hooked.  It's a week-long podcast experiment about technology and our lives. If you feel overly-attached to your devices, take a listen.  You're not alone, and each day of the Bored and Brilliant Challenge includes a short podcast with a baby-step for you to try in the process of unplugging, and some great information to help understand why the unplugging is so important.

So, this summer is a great time to make sure you and your kids spend some time getting bored.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Why the 50 Shades stuff is making me crazy....

Christians often get a bad rap for being "against" stuff.

Whether a particular brand of Christianity opposes dancing or alcohol or tattoos or certain kinds of music or Democrats,  being anti-things is a one-size-fits-all label the culture seems to have given Christians.

Sometimes, for good reason.

But it's a frustrating premise to have to overcome when interacting with people.   Even on the campus where I work, where people have known me for years, that anti-stuff label is hard to overcome.   Just this week a Freshman revealed she'd gotten a tattoo and was sure I'd disapprove.  I looked at her over the top of my pierced nose and asked,

"What world would give you the idea that I'd disapprove of a cross tattoo??"

"I don't know....".

 I know.   It's because I'm a Christian leader, and her view of Christian leaders is that they are always opposed to stuff.

Which is why I'm struggling to know how to talk about 50 Shades of Grey.   (No, I haven't seen it or read book, but I've read enough - and not all conservative, Christian perspectives -  to have a pretty clear understanding of the premise).

And it's not because I'm against sex.  I happen to think very highly of sex, which is the reason why the 50 Shades craze saddens me so much.  So rather than emphasizing what I'm anti, let me tell you what I'm PRO.

I am PRO sex.
I love sex.  I'm all for it!  I think sex, in the right context, is one of the most fantastic, sacred, intimate things a couple can share.  Outside of marriage, however, it has the potential to be a painful, complicated, confusing mess.  

I am PRO women.
The college women I work with are brilliant.  And compassionate.  They have aspirations and dreams to change the world.  The are beautiful and hopeful.  And more and more, by the time they get to the University, many of them have been wounded deeply.  Some have been wounded by fathers and grandfathers and other family members whose understanding of love has been distorted and perverted.   They've dated men who treated them as conquests or conveniences, rather than as children of the most high God.    Often, these men have had their understanding of sex and relationships shaped by magazines, movies and websites from an early age.   For many, it started with a simple image, but quickly spiraled into more graphic and more perverse kinds of fantasies.  And while the amount of shock value it took to give the same payoff increased more and more, finally, the line between reality and delusion got blurred in the face of their addiction.

Statistics among college women currently report that 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted during their academic career.   Any movie that makes sexual abuse or assault look exciting or acceptable is an offense to the women who have or will experience such a violation.

I am PRO wholeness.
For women.  For men.  For families.  For marriages.  And the problem I have with books and movies like 50 Shades of Grey is that plays into a lie that instant gratification and selfishness in relationships is what will bring the most satisfaction.  That's crap.   Respect, selfless love, trust....those are the things that bring health and wholeness to a relationship.

For my college girls....
The 50 Shades of Grey movie isn't harmless fun.   It's degrading to women.  It's pornography, and any woman who has caught her boyfriend or husband looking at porn will tell you that it's not an innocent, benign activity.  Marriages have been ruined, families destroyed, individual men and women made slaves to the ever-increasing need for more.  It's not the perfect Valentine's Day movie and I would question any man's motivation to take you to something that glorifies a man dominating and abusing a woman.

A blogger friend of mine summed up my feelings about 50 Shades best:

"If you are a Christian, you have no business seeing this movie.  If you are a feminist, you have no business seeing this movie. If you are a Christian and a feminist, you really have no business seeing this movie."

But it's not because I'm anti-anything.   It's because I am PRO-something better.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Reading in 2015

I'm probably not the best person to be handing out book lists.

I like to think about reading.  I like to read other people's reading lists.  And I DO like to read....I just don't do it enough.   But since a few people have recently asked about book recommendations, I thought I'd go ahead and compile a list of some of the things I'm hoping to read this year.

Slow Church:  Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus by C. Christopher Smith, John Pattison

Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will by Kevin DeYoung

Sentness:  Six Postures of Missional Christians by Kim Hammond, Darren Cronshaw

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by BrenĂ© Brown

The Village Effect: Why Face-to-Face Contact Is Good for Our Health, Happiness, Learning, and Longevity by Susan Pinker

Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley

The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands by Lysa TerKeurst

Let's All Be Brave: Living Life with Everything You Have by Annie F. Downs

Jesus Prom by Jon Weece

I DID actually get a few books read in 2014.   Here are some great ones I would recommend:

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker

Interrupted: When Jesus Interrupts Your Comfortable Christianity by Jen Hatmaker

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It's Impossible to Be Spiritually Mature, While Remaining Emotionally Immature  by Peter Scazzero

Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life by Shauna Niequist

The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller

What else should I add to my list?  Feel free to leave a comment with your own recommendation!

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Grief shows up at strange times.

Years pass.  Jobs change.  Life is full with kids' activities and personal challenges and new friends.   And then, one evening over dinner with another couple, I realize that things aren't as raw as they used to be.  As they share about their own brain injury story,  it brings back memories of drowning... flooded with sadness, confusion, and a complete loss of control.   The other voices at the table become faint as I think to myself,  "it's been a long time since I've felt that way", and silently pat myself on the back for coming so far.

Yet the next day I find myself in a tailspin.  Paralyzed and unable to make decisions, fearful and overwhelmed.  What in the world?!  Where did this come from?  I seriously think I might be losing my mind until I recognize my old companion, Grief.    It's come back to the surface after a night of remembering with friends.

The reality hasn't changed.  "The new normal" seems more normal.  But grief reminds me that
1) It's hard.  It sucks.  The world may move on, but this brain injury will always be part of our family.
2) God is good.  He has rescued me from the mirey clay and put my feet upon a rock.  We have hope.

15 years ago, everything changed.  I had almost forgotten until my mini-freak-out this week.    Thankful for a reminder to remember.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Just get in the stinking water!

I claim that I want to hear from God.

I pray to know him more, to know his will for my life and for every part of my day.

I think about how much easier my life would be if I woke up each morning with clear instructions on what to do and where to go.

And yet, I back-talk God like a certain 12 year old who lives at my house......

I see myself in the story of Naaman, a soldier with leprosy who goes to God with the request of being healed.  God answers him, and Naaman throws a hissy fit like a 12 year old girl:
Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” 11But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.
How many times have I missed the healing, missed the blessing, because I wanted my own way? How many times have I told God I needed him, said I trusted him with the solution, yet when he told me what to do, stomped off to my room in a huff because it wasn't the answer I wanted?

The question is: Do I trust God or not? Do I believe he's the God of the universe, or do I think I have a better plan.

Maybe it's time to stop talking back, and just get in the stinking water!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Parenting Adolescents

A few weeks ago I was working with a Youth Ministry in Lima, Peru, and they asked me to teach a workshop for people in their community called "Parenting Adolescents".

As the mother of 3 of them, ages 11, 13, and 15, they thought I'd be an expert.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

This stage of parenting has me baffled.  And exhausted.  And fearful on occasion.  And I started the workshop by making the disclaimer that I am NOT an expert, and that if anyone tells you they ARE an expert on parenting adolescents, they're probably lying.   Most of parents stayed anyway.

Our 3 girls are totally different.   One is an emotional "gusher".....she gushes her love and need for her parents one minute, and then gushes frustration and distain for us the next.   One of our girls is the steady....she rarely shares emotion, likes to talk about things logically and rationally, but holds things close to the vest.    The other daughter is a never know what you'll get.

One thing I have learned in this season of parenting is that it's going quickly.   Our oldest is going to be a Junior in High School this Fall, so I know I only have 2 more years of her living in my house (hopefully?).  So we're kicking it in to high gear as we try to pour all of the important discipling lessons into her before we have to let her loose.

Moses gives instructions to the people in Deuteronomy 6:5-7:
Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Love him with all your strength. The commandments I give you today must be in your hearts.  Make sure your children learn them. Talk about them when you are at home. Talk about them when you walk along the road. Speak about them when you go to bed. And speak about them when you get up.

The difficulty, you parents of teens know, is that life seems to be moving too fast to make this a reality in our homes on a consistent basis.  Kids are in and out of the house at crazy hours, "busy" on their computers, in their own worlds with the earbuds that seem to be a permanent fixture on their heads.

How do we connect with teenagers long enough to keep teaching the important lessons they need to learn before they leave home?

1.  Meals at the table
I know, I's hard.   But one regular meal at the table every day, or at least a few times a week, gives us an opportunity to ask some open-ended questions like....
  • What was the best thing that happened at school today?
  • What did you guys talk about in Sunday School class this morning?
  • If you could change one thing about your schedule this week, what would it be?
  • What's something you wish you had more time for?
2.  Chores.  Together.
Even though our kids are busy, they still need to learn about responsibility.  They need to know how to finish a job you ask them to do, how to do their very best instead of just enough to get by.   They need to know how to keep an animal alive (okay, this one is optional, but it's been good for us).    As the parent voted "Most Likely To Be a Drill-Sergeant" in our home, it's easy for me to assign tasks to my kids to try to regain some sort of order at our house.    But when I do that, I often miss out on time shoulder-to-shoulder with my kids where they may be more likely to open up about life and friends and questions they've been having.      Assign your kid the chore of doing dishes, but offer to help them with the drying.   Weeding the garden is always more fun with a buddy (okay, it may never be fun.  Less miserable, maybe).

3.  Daily Routines
Find something to do regularly with your kid....something built in to your life that doesn't require a special invitation where their parent alarm goes off.    I started walking the dogs with one of my daughters recently.  Every morning at the same time we agreed to get up and walk the dogs - they need the exercise and so do I!    I mentioned that I had been wanting to do some scripture memorization, and asked if she could help me with that while we walk.     Sometimes we just walk.  Mostly I try to be quiet so I can hear what she's been thinking about.    Maybe you have a kid who needs to practice pitching, or one who wants to learn to cook.  Create some regular routines with your kids to be shoulder-to-shoulder with them.

I'm not sure how this is all going to turn out.   But I'm gonna keep trying, because these 3 beauties are the most important job God has given me.  I don't want to blow it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Dark Side of Mother's Day

What kinds of expectations do men have for Father's Day?

Is it the same kind of crazy that women struggle with?   The Dark Side of Mother's Day that we don't ever talk about?

That side that has you moping with disappointment and hurt even before you make it to church in the morning or feeling deep resentment and bitterness towards your spouse while smiling politely and opening the 4 bottles of anti-bacterial hand soap your children bought you....

Do they have the irrational belief that the rest of the world should stop on this particular day and their children should be singing their praises everywhere they go?  (Really.....I'd like them to be literally singing......)

I'm so thankful for my easy-to-please husband.

Me: "Any special requests for Father's Day?"
Todd:  "Oreo Ice Cream Cake (a family recipe).....and meat."

Easy.   AND he did the dishes after lunch.  Are there men who experience the crazy?  Not my man.

My spiritual guide/decorating consultant, Natalie, once told me that you should always make Mother's Day about YOUR mom....otherwise, you'll always be disappointed.   Expect nothing, and be happy when your kids offer to set the table while you slave over the Mother's Day brunch you're hosting.

Sounds like good advice.  Maybe I can eliminate the crazy and try that next year.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

5 Ways Your Church Can Encourage Missionaries

Being a missionary can be lonely sometimes.   Whether you're a campus minister at a local University or you serve in the African Bush, you can feel a little bit like the eccentric single uncle of the Church - you've got some cool stories at Thanksgiving, but you still get seated at the kid table.

In our campus ministry, we're lucky to be surrounded by many generous churches and individuals who are super-intentional about supporting and encouraging our staff and students.  Maybe you're on a church staff or part of a missions committee looking for ways to connect with the ministries your church are some ways our partners have loved and encouraged us!

1.  Let Them Know You're Praying For Them

One pastor friend of ours prays for us every Tuesday and posts his prayers on Facebook.  Not only do we appreciate the prayers, it also communicates the value of campus ministry to his congregation.  Another church will send us notes from their kids when their Sunday school classes have spent some intentionally praying for us.   I love knowing different people are praying for me and for the ministry every day.

2.  Be Generous With Office Supplies  

What you take for granted in your supply closet, we see as luxury.   Post-it notes, big writing pads of paper, software, and "the good pens" are mostly out of our budget or are paid for out of pocket by staff.  When we mentioned this need to one of our supporting churches, a church secretary said, "It wouldn't be hard at all to pick some things up for CSF when I buy our church supplies!".   They blessed us with a basket full of stuff as the new semester started. 

3. Share Staff Training Opportunities   

Is your church staff going to a ministry leadership conference?  For some of our churches, the cost of bringing a missionary along would be minimal (in the big scheme of things), and the impact it would have on their ministry would be huge.  Or maybe someone at your church is an expert on technology or productivity or something else that would be useful to a campus ministry staff....offer to do training for your missionary and their staff if they're closeby.   Or, maybe a team from your church would even be willing to travel to their mission field to do the training.  We've been blessed by someone from a local church staff who used their expertise to take our staff through a strategic planning process during a difficult transition.  

4.  Adopt Their Family  

A small group from our church has adopted my family and intentionally remembers and blesses us throughout the year with treats like a Family Movie Night basket, flowers, encouragement cards, or the occasional meal.  I know they are praying for us, and if I need help getting my doorbell fixed or need last-minute cooks for our college students, I know I can count on them.

5.  Come to their stuff
If they have a fundraiser, come.  If you can visit them on their turf, on the mission field, do it.  It shows you're interested beyond just sending a check and gives you an opportunity to really be part of what they're doing.  It's sometimes hard for us to "brag" on the great things happening in the ministry, so come and see for yourself.   I guarantee you'll be amazed at what God is doing, and the staff will be encouraged by your interest.

These partnerships between the local Church and missionaries or para-church organizations can be a little tricky sometimes.  Here are some practical ways the local church has blessed us and encouraged us as we work together for the gospel.  I'd love to hear YOUR ideas about partnering with church workers outside the church walls!