3 Ways to Avoid Awkward Holiday Conversations

Cue the Soft, Peaceful Music…
     I love the Christmas season. The deeper my walk with Christ, the more I appreciate the time when we celebrate His incarnation. Yes, I’m a foodie – all the foods, drinks, smells, and flavors of Thanksgiving and the weeks leading up to Christmas create vivid, IMAX moments in my memory of seasons past. The most powerful thought that comes to my mind each year is that Jesus came to earth to deal with the source of our troubles – sin and death.

Sour Notes
     Everyone around you has the same problems. Sin and death. Some just experience louder and longer versions of the same struggles. Some just have layers and layers of problems piled on them. But, essentially it all comes down to the problem of living in a broken, Genesis 3 world. We’ve trained our oldest daughter to recognize one of the simplest results of the Fall – hurt people hurt people. And, we’re all hurt people, but grace means we don’t have to let the cycle continue and we don’t have to be the source of someone else’s hurt.

Enter “The Awkward Conversation”
     What does the intersection of Thanksgiving/Christmas and “hurt people” mean to you? Sometimes, it means running into someone you haven’t seen in a long time and asking one of those “awkward” questions:

“So, Sandy, you and Rick getting married soon?” Rick just left Sandy for his executive assistant. Oops.
“Hey, great to see you! Where’s Margaret?” Margaret died of cancer three weeks ago. Tragic silence.

Rewriting the Script:
    Too close to home? Been there. Done that. So, what do I do, show up and not say anything? Well. That’s an option… But, the bible offers several practical disciplines that God commands us to practice before that awkward conversation that will make it ten times easier to handle the kinds of situations that only exist in a fallen broken world filled with fallen broken people. Actors don’t just “learn lines”, they prepare their character. Athletes don’t just work out, they practice their craft. Wise disciples of Christ engage the Master and His wisdom.

1. Show up “Clean”.
     For years, Men Step Up’s table leaders have carried a card around in their wallets that demands of them 5 things, one of which is “Show up clean and on time.” “Clean” to these guys and to anyone as a disciple of Christ who disciples others, means asking themselves and the Lord this one question: “Lord, is there any unconfessed sin in my life?” David wrote “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139.22-24)” Jesus would later teach in the Beattitudes: “blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

     Bottom line – sin clouds our vision and numbs us to not only the voice of the Holy Spirit, but the innate sensibilities God has impressed on our conscience and memory of Godly wisdom. This prevents us from paying attention to the fact that “Rick” isn’t in the room and Sandy looks a bit emotionally aloof or that Margaret, too, isn’t at the party and we recall her name showing up in a prayer chain email a few months back. What if we prayed those lines from Psalm 139 on the way to ever function and begged God to “create in [us] a clean heart?”

2. Stay Clean. 
     For personal reasons, Cristine and I have eliminated alcohol from our diet as of about two years ago. But, have you ever noticed that some of the most careless things can come out of our mouths after only one glass of wine or one snobby, locally-micro-brewed IPA? Scripture is replete with commands to “be alert”, “be sober minded”, “consider others better than yourselves”. When we’re not at peak performance, around tons of people (each of which bring their own “holiday” baggage to the room, not to mention our own), how can we possibly be as alert, sober minded, and attentive to the needs of others when we’re even mildly impaired? I could focus on the word “mildly”, but it’s used here to describe the word “impaired“. Are you with me?

     So, as a rule, I used to show up with a “two drink maximum”. But, since we are all easily blinded by the wiles of our own indiscretions, what would it look like if you took the number of drinks you consider “conservative” and cut it in half or quarter?

3. Got Dirty? Get Clean Fast.
     The most astounding prayer Jesus ever prayed was hanging on the cross while insults were being hurled at Him: “forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” For you and I to get great at praying (and really meaning) that prayer is a major chunk of walking the Christian walk. Family times often bring awkward tensions brought about by unconfessed or unforgiven sins. Work parties can so easily turn into contests of who can suppress the urge to tell someone what they’ve wanted to say about unfair conditions the longest. But, forgiveness is the only true solution.
     John Woodall once asked me “are you aware of your subtle methods of seeking revenge?” That question stuck with me like a drop of gas fallen from the pump onto my shoe. Impossible to shake the smell, right? It’s true – you and I all share in Cain’s folly… “I’ll show you!” The regular practice of confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation ought to flow from the believer with force.
     “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Have a great Thanksgiving and a Christmas season marked by incredible “un-awkwardness”.

in Christ,


Monday Morning Momentum (Alright, 3:42…)

     This week is anything but “business as usual”. So, instead of trying to articulate during an inarticulate time, I’m letting Tenth Avenue North run the Monday Morning Momentum Minute. They’ve said it much better than I can and if a picture is worth a thousand words, the chalkboard in the background is worth a million bucks. Have a great week – you are loved.

     Thanks, for all of your prayers on our behalf.

in Christ,

More from Cristine

     This past year, the Lord met us in (or directed us into) some dark places. The term “dark night of the soul” became not only a phrase we understood more empirically, but an everyday, household word that brought our own, human weakness into the foreground and had us on our knees regularly in upward reverence. One thing became clear – God was supreme author of this season. A byproduct of this time we spent in the crucible is that His exposition of the pain in our past would clearly be used to minister to others on the other side of the night.

     Cristine asked me to look this story over before sharing it on the blog, but I don’t have much to add or subtract. I hope if you have experienced pain, loss, abortion, grief, or other similar tribulation, that His story of how He loves us and the grace He can and does pour out on us meets you, comforts you, and lifts you up to know more than just a shadow of the Almighty who calls us to be His own. – AP

Cristine’s story (or, more of it than you had before):
      As some of you know, I had an abortion when I was 22-yrs-old.  I was not a believer in Christ, so my decisions were based on my fleshly fear & selfish self will.  Years later, I believe the Lord showed me that this baby was a boy. I also felt impressed by the Lord to name him (posthumously) “Jack”. (I also highly recommend seeking the Lord to name your aborted child in order to bring greater completeness to the grieving process).

     I often pray to God that He will open the Heavens every now & then to allow Jack to see me so that I can tell him how much I love him. As I write this, I do believe I have received full forgiveness from Jack as well as the Lord from this grave sin against both of them as well as myself and the many others who would have been impacted by Jack’s life here on earth. Now I just want Jack to know that I love him, that I think of him often & that I can’t wait to see him when I get to Heaven.

     Over two years ago, I became pregnant with our twins. As only one with multiples can imagine, my mind was blown in the natural about the fact that I was carrying two babies. But, in the
supernatural, it was also blown because I couldn’t imagine that my Heavenly Father would double my blessings in that way after having this abortion back in 2000.  And really… it was a triple blessing since He had already gave to me Presleigh 8 yrs after having the abortion! 

Coincidence? Probably not.
    Aarron and I have always put great thought and prayer into naming our children. It took us going through the 5,000 Baby Names book, the 10,000 Baby Names book, and an even bigger one before we came up with (and agreed on) a name for Presleigh. We had already agreed on a name for our daughter “Jovi”, which means “joy”, but hadn’t come up with a boy name. One day in November, we were driving to our counselor’s office the day after already finding out they would be boy/girl twins, when the Lord downloaded to me the name “Jezreel”.  So, I was thinking… “I wonder what the meaning of ‘Jezreel’ means.” Both within 15 minutes and before I could tell Aarron, he turned to me & said “I wonder what the name ‘Jezreel’ means?”

     WOW! Say what you want about coincidence, but that’s not a very common name. It’s also not one that either of us had read about recently in our devotional time.  Wow. I mean, I hadn’t yet had a chance to tell my husband what name just popped into my head the moment before… & here Aarron got the same confirmation from the Lord at the same time! We were amazed, to say the least- as well as VERY anxious to find out what that name meant.

What’s in a Name?
   Now, it just happened to be that our counselor had a Biblical name book at her office. So, once we arrived & told her what happened while on the way to her office, she immediately grabbed that book in order for us to find out! The meaning showed up in Matthew 13 where the Bible says “the Son of Man sows seed”, and “Jezreel” comes from the Hebrew meaning “the Lord sows/plants”.  Now, there is another place in Hosea 1:11

“The people of Judah and the people of Israel will be reunited, and they will appoint one leader and will come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel.”

     In that verse it is believed to be that the “scattered seed- known as the people of Israel- would then be gathered by the Lord”, so great is the day of ‘Jezreel’ (or rather ‘the gathering up of what was once the scattered seed.’)  And, of course, we know that we Christians are referred to as the ingrafted branch of Israel, so applying that Scripture to me meant “that I was once lost but now I am found (and gathered up by the Lord), as well” -very fitting, wouldn’t you say? I mean, the fact that this son that the Lord now blessed me with was to be THE very representation of what My Heavenly Father has done for me in my life was too awesome!

When Does the Other Shoe Fall?
     You also may remember there was a little hiccup during that pregnancy. The perinatal doc was concerned that “Baby A”- aka “Jez” could very likely have a brain problem from some ventricle showing up as congenital abnormality (according to the ultrasound).  I thought… “Yep, here it comes… my punishment for my aborted son Jack.”  I had so much guilt, worry & concern that I brought about this ailment- that my transgressions were now falling upon my unborn child.  So, we prayed, I confessed, repented, wept… we gathered the troops (fellow brothers & sisters in Christ) to pray and PRAY HARD along with us!  (Thank you to those of you who were part of that, btw!)  And we waited & hoped & trusted in God’s Word.  For He says in Psalm 103:12 “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

     Fast forward to months later we see that during the time of delivery, both babies were not only allowed to be born naturally, but were healthy & whole- Praise God! Abba Father has also allowed Jovi to be the physical proof of the joy the Lord returned to me WHILE ALSO showing me how she was meant to come into this world alongside of her brother Jezreel (“Sower of seeds). He brought me evidence of this in Psalm 126:5-6 “those who SOW in tears will reap with songs of JOY. He who goes out weeping, carrying SEED TO SOW, will return with SONGS OF JOY…” !!!  Jezreel AND Jovi- united in Christ (who is “the Word made flesh”).
     Now, as most of you know, I have the best husband ever. [He’s blushing while he proofreads this…]  While were just dating I made him fully aware of the abortion, so now upon my request of wanting to honor Baby Jack in some way, we both agreed that Jezreel’s middle name would be “Jaxton”.  This is the name Jack whose Hebrew origin is John meaning “The Lord is gracious”.  As Aarron so eloquently puts it: “The name Jack, with an ‘x’ [a cross to symbolize the work of Christ] in the middle and a ‘ton’ [a suffix meaning “town” or “from the town of”] conveys the meaning ‘from the town of John’ or more poetically- “from a place where God’s grace makes His home”.

The Living, Active Word:
     Ok, so with ALL of that said… today my Master Creator showed me something else that showered me with even more revelation of His unfailing love, compassion and kindness to me.

     Sometimes I like to be refreshed & reminded of Jesus’ love, so I was reading in Hosea 2:6-7 about how God had once upon a time blocked my path, walled me in, allowed me chase after other lovers (literally) but not find them (not find the love I needed in them) to then call me back unto Himself; to find my true Love & Husband in My King & My God.  So, there I was falling even more in love with the One who loves me & saved me when BAM! My eyes were yet again enlightened by what I was reading!

     Hosea 2:22 says when we (in that book referring to the people of Israel) return to the Lord God He will cause the earth to respond with “grain, new wine, new oil and they will respond to ‘Jezreel’.”  So, I go to Biblos.com for further understanding on what this may mean.  The first part of that passage is referred to as: to nourish and strengthen; like “wine” to comfort, cheer, and revive; and like “oil” to heal and soften, as well as make glad”.  (Do you see how “Jovi” for “joy” is in this passage yet again?!?!?) Ok… I am seeing this all come together now.  Then the Lord ties it in a beautiful bow for me when I ask?  “So, what about ‘will respond to Jezreel’?”

     Well, the commentary goes on to say: “And they shall hear Jezreel; or ‘answer’; that is, these trees and fruits shall answer to the requests and desires of Jezreel who shall be abundantly blessed with them.” Jezreel is not used here as the name of a place as it is in other verses of Scripture. No, here it seems to mean “the people of Israel just as I wrote about above from the verse in Hosea 1– unworthy in themselves yet shown such favor through the riches of God’s grace He still chose to bestow upon them.” The commentary also translates it as “The great rejoicing with which they shall receive God’s gracious returns towards them”. The end of this chapter goes  on to tell us that “God will show His love… we will be called His people… and there will be no denying the One we call Our God.” (Hosea 2:23 paraphrased by Cristine.)

How Great is Our God?
    “Wow” just doesn’t seem to suffice.  Even after all I have done to You, Father God, mixed with the hurt I have inflicted upon others as well as myself by committing the sin of murder in aborting Jack along with innumerable others wicked deeds- Your grace still allowed me to live, Christ’s blood still covered my sins AND Jesus still calls me friend!  Where can I go from there but forward?  I mean, to know that I will someday see the fulness of my family when I see Jack in Heaven is exactly that hope the Bible speaks of in Romans 5: 5  “hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” And by faith I pray that this testimony continues to defeat the enemy in my life as well as help those reading overcome the accuser just as it says in: Revelation 12:11 “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony”.


Getting Unstuck

     Computers are either the most useful pieces of technology ever invented or “the biggest piece of crap in the world”! What makes the difference?

It all depends on what day you walk into my office.

     Common ground?

     I don’t know if you’ve ever had a computer “lock up” on you. But, if you’re breathing in 2011, chances are pretty good that you’ve sat there in front of the screen… just… waiting… forrrrr… ANyThINNNNGG to happen!!! The trick, I was told, when this happens, is to hit Ctrl-Alt-Delete to interrupt the program that’s “not responding” and get yourself out of whatever loop has the computer stuck in an endless cycle.

     Lately, I’ve had more than one conversation about something with guys I’m meeting with and Cristine’s brought up the same topic at our staff meetings – “people are getting stuck in conflict and can’t seem to get out”. Someone’s been rude, been overbearing, been demanding, been thoughtless and the other person is refusing to let them back in before they “apologize first”!

     One of the most difficult spirits to overcome in the Christian walk is the spirit of entitlement – “you owe me an apology” it’s rooted in pride, chief of all sins. But, when we look at scripture, we see that God is the only one who can lay claim to someone owing an apology, yet He gave us Jesus – slain on the cross, punished for our junk, sacrificed as lamb to end all sacrifices. One of my favorite quotes from Louie Giglio was this: “God owes us nothing… but judgment.”

     Alright, I didn’t like it when I first heard it. But, it keeps things in perspective. “…Christ died for the ungodly… While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5.6b,8b)” Last week, my friend, Ron shared with a bunch of guys a letter that Jesus dictated to John the Baptist in the book of Revelation. 90 years after his death, they were already off track. Not completely, though, just enough. He commends them for the things they were doing right – calling out the phonies who came in God’s name, working hard, persevering, etc.

“But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. (Rev. 2.4)”

If you can’t say “amen”, you’d better say “ouch”!

Discipleship at Work

     The point is, Jesus gives them a very scathing reminder that it’s easy to get wrapped up in a lot of Christian activity and miss Christ. No wonder the world looks at us as hypocrites – we’re starting with Christ and following through with self! This week, I’ve been able to talk to a number of guys about loving their wives as Christ loved the church, considering others better than themselves, etc., all through the lens of “getting unstuck”. God didn’t need to make the first move when it came to reconciling us to Himself. Yet, He did. He sent Jesus to a messed up, prideful, sinful world and gave Him what we deserved – judgment – and gave us what Jesus deserved: forgiveness and sonship.

     If you and I didn’t deserve someone taking the first step, but got it anyway, who are we to demand it from others?!

     As we’ve talked in discipleship this week, a number of the guys have made a resolve to do what Jesus suggests in the next line of Revelation –

  1. Remember – who you are and what a mess I brought you out of
  2. Repent – turn away from the tendency to worship your agenda and to do list over the Creator of all agendas and all there is to do
  3. Return – to the work you used to do by living by the Spirit (see Romans, chapter 8 – the whole thing.)

Repeat after me – “remember, repent, return”. “Remember, repent, return”. “Ctrl – Alt – Delete.”

Class dismissed.

in Christ,


Sorry for Your Loss. . . (1 of 3)

Jamie and Dad and the “Stubby Coach” race car
LINK CORRECTION: the February newsletter link to part 2 of this series was incorrect. To see part 2, click here.
This being the inaugural post of our Seasons of Life blog, I thought I’d keep it light. But, then, I thought about how many of you have been so kind to ask how we’re doing since the loss of my Dad just before Christmas. Thus, our first post is about a new season in our life, one without the presence of someone who wasn’t really physically present in our lives, but gave us a great present when he left: joy and peace. Enjoy. -AP
“I’m so sorry for your loss… So sorry for your loss… I’m sorry for your loss…” It went on and on. Family members I had forgotten existed or didn’t even recognize me passed through the line shaking hands, hugging us 8 brothers and sisters, even shedding tears or telling riotous stories that got us all laughing. “I’m sorry for your loss…sorry for your loss… sorry for your loss.”
But, what had I lost?
The call came in late on Tuesday night, December 14th. “Dad’s taken a turn for the worse.” Translation: the end is near – very, very near. Bob Pina had suffered multiple heart attacks in his 40s and 50s, at least 7 strokes during his 50s, 60s, and 70s. Cumulatively, this meant at least two things: 1) if my dad could weather all that, I might be bulletproof. And, 2) vascular dementia for him. Vascular dementia is similar to Alzheimer’s in that the victim suffers a loss in cognitive function (reading/writing/word retrieval) and either periodic or gradual memory loss. Over the past 10 years
Dad’s been in and out of nursing homes and most recently moved from a hospital in Florida to a nursing home back home in Massachusetts where he spent the rest of his days.
Replacement hat for Dad’s Korean War Vet hat.
Dad and I had a “lost and found” kind of relationship. I began losing him (to his job, an affair, and other extracurricular activities) around 6 or 7. He and mom divorced when I was about 10. I spun my wheels in my early teens trying to “find” a father/son relationship with him, gaining only inches overall. As an adult in college we’d find each other for a few hours here and there on the phone, but I was busy with school and he had already begun suffering health troubles. Sometimes, an open heart surgery would give us some forced conversation, but I never “found” what I was looking for. Again, I lost him, to “life as usual” and the busyness that was my 20s.
As his health began to decline, I discovered he was failing mentally and finding what I sought might be biologically impossible: he was no longer the same “Dad” and I was no longer a kid seeking to play some catch in the back yard. I was losing what little I thought was left of him and had better make the best of the time left.
In 2001, I came to salvation in Christ by faith alone. The list of debts Dad owed me had grown long: a “normal childhood”, a father/son picnic, scouting, self esteem, an apology I’d never get for him not “being there” at performances, games, and other events, an “I’m so proud of you, son”. But, now, saved by grace, I thought if Christ forgave me when I was yet His enemy, how could I not forgive the man who brought me into this world?
I carved out time and opportunity to have a handful of “I forgive you” conversations. Not only did it bring us together despite the hundreds of miles between us, I found great freedom and comfort knowing there was no longer a debt/debtor relationship between us. I had wiped that account clean. Deep breath. Exhale. “Found,” again, but slipping away mentally and showing physical signs of age. Lost, this time in stages.
Jamie, Jeremy, Aarron, Robbie, Lori, Shanua, & Karen
Fast forward to the funeral I didn’t think I’d attend. My younger brother confirmed the news on December 15th, 2010 – after “winding down” for nearly a decade: “Dad died at 3:15 AM.” Our twins had been sick for several days, we were running on little sleep, funds were tight with Christmas ahead and I was busy manning our year end fundraising drive. A trip to Massachusetts just didn’t look feasible nor necessary. Having made peace with Dad and the loss that had been building over the years, I thought I’d buried my Dad a shovelful at a time with each fading neuron.
Somewhere in the midst of the long line of mourners and well-wishers, I caught a glimpse of my Uncle John, across the room. Just as I was about to give a sarcastic look to the next person shaking my hand and say “Lemme guess, ‘you’re sorry for my loss’? What do you know about my loss?!” I was hit with an epiphany – “I have no idea what it’s like to be in my 70s and lose a brother I’ve had for 70 years or more.”
Just when the cliché was becoming cliché, it dawned on me how specific this generalization really could be. I stepped out of the receiving line and went over to Uncle John, hugged him hard and said with more sincerity than I thought I had in me:
SORRY… for your loss… I’ve never lost a brother, just a dad. But, I’m so sorry for your loss.”
Suddenly, I saw everyone in the room with a new face: a brother, a dad, a grandfather, a dune-buggy racing buddy, a drinking buddy, a racing buddy, a cousin, an uncle – everyone lost someone in that room, it just happened he was my Dad. Lost… but peace and joy (at a funeral?!) I thought I’d already found was found anew, afresh, and in greater abundance.
Last year (2010), the truth of 2 Cor. 1.3-7 became a banner my wife and I carried around with grateful hearts as we followed our Lord and the calling He’d placed on our lives. The verse essentially talks about how God gives comfort to those who are afflicted not just so that they may receive comfort in and of itself. Rather, He comforts them so that they may have an inkling of understanding on how to comfort those experiencing the same affliction. My hope is that God consoled my Uncle John, Uncle Rufus, Uncle Kenny, Uncle Freddie, my Mom, Louise (Weezy) – Dad’s first wife, and the many others in that room through the overflow of comfort He poured out on me.
May you have an opportunity to minister to others not out of an empty cup of hypothesis, rather the overflow of a cup teeming with comfort akin to the suffering of those around you who need it. May your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. May you comfort those in any trouble with the comfort you yourself have received from Christ.
In it with you,