A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Quick-tips Holiday Survival Guide to Awkward Family Situations

Holiday gatherings with family can be fraught with frustration, hurt, and old habits–right alongside the pumpkin pie. Here, a few ideas to help you cook up a happier, freer Thanksgiving and beyond.

  1. Understand most of us arrive at family gatherings hungry–for more than green-bean casserole. Before you arrive, do a self-assessment: Where am I at right now? (Tired. Stressed. Giddy with expectation. Hopeful. Guarded. Sensitive.) What do I want/hope for? This helps you be aware of your expectations, rather than them subtly manipulating your actions–and others. It’s okay to arrive with desires. It’s when those desires become demands–to which we feel entitled–that we get into trouble.
  2. You’re not the only one arriving with expectations. So many of the family members you’ll encounter may have soul-holes of their own they crave to have filled: for significance. Approval. Affection. Comfort. Relaxation. Power. Control. Security. As a general rule, “don’t feed the idols”; don’t enable destructive patterns. You can be kind without perpetuating dysfunctional behavior patterns (like manipulation).
  3. If you have trouble setting boundaries, here are some thoughts for you. 
  4. Go in proactive rather than reactive. When my family arrived in Uganda, we arrived with a mission: to love well; to help people see what Jesus looked like. I’m suggesting you enter your family gathering with a similar mindset. Rather than focus on what you wish to get, pray about your time together, and for each person there. Ask God to give you eyes that see; ears that hear. Ask, “Lord, what do you want to do here? How can I love people well and show them you?” Go in as givers rather than takers.
  5. Realize the power of old patterns. Family has a remarkable capacity to suck us (ahem, me) back into old, often unhealthy patterns of relating and responding to people. Walk in the door and boom–you’re 16 again, right? I try to get my heart satisfied in God first so that I don’t seek for family to feed old appetites (for me, approval, affirmation, security). With those old patterns, one prayer I like is from Psalm 25:15: My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for He will pluck my feet out of the net. Remind yourself of common “triggers” for your dysfunctional behavior, and be ready for them. You might even prepare what you’ll say or do in place of your old pattern.
  6. This may sound melodramatic, but for many of you entering more-than-awkward–as in, unhealthy–situations, meditate on verses like Ephesians 6:10-20 (putting on the armor of God) and 2 Peter 1:3-4. Pray
    • for God’s power to return a blessing in the face of every insult (1 Peter 3:9)
    • to speak truth in love (Ephesians 4:15)
    • to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (James 1:19)
    • to only use words that build up, give grace, and are right for the occasion (Ephesians 4:29)
  7. Build mental breaks into your schedule. If you’re an introvert overwhelmed by crowds, consider taking a walk with one or two people. If a certain dynamic drives you crazy, take a break to the store, get something out of the car (including a deep breath and your peace of mind!), or duck into your room for a few minutes to speak truth to yourself.
  8. Often our extended families simply hold different values than we do. Pick your battles (you might even do it in advance). Perhaps you’ll decide, One day of video games will not kill my kids, but I’m going to gently ask my mom ahead of time not to bring up my daughter’s weight. When you feel the need to confront, a general rule: Keep it as private as possible for as long as possible–and use your words to give grace rather than shame to gain control or revenge (I’m trying to be strict with myself, using Ephesians 4:29 rule as a guide).
  9. Have preemptive conversations with kids about their behavior and the differing standards of relatives. Troubleshoot with them about how to respond and behave. This post can give you some ideas to steer everyone toward discernment rather than being judgmental.
  10. Are expectations for this relationship, as author Peter Scazzero writes,*
    • Conscious?
    • Realistic?
    • Spoken?
    • Agreed upon?

If not, there’s a chance you’re expecting someone to possess, well, relational ESP: Please read my mind. You may need to extend some grace over what you want that isn’t happening. Honestly, sometimes it means that I rewrite my expectations for the relationship based on what this person is able to give, rather than just what I wanted. Too often, my expectations steal my joy; my gratitude for what is.

11. Get rest. Late-night games and conversations can be one of the best parts of your time together. But later on in the week, they can also contribute to you offering the stressed version of yourself. (You’re already living out of a bag, had that “fun” roadtrip here, don’t have your time alone, and are washing 47 people’s dishes during the day, right?) Take breaks to refuel so when conflict arises, you’ve got margin to respond in a way that heals rather than destroys.

12. The condensed version of your options in conflict: Get help, talk it out, or overlook. (As for that last one, you can “overlook” if you can truly forgive and desire to bless someone and pursue the relationship rather than punish them. Otherwise, it can fall more in the “denial” category.) Give yourself space to not react emotionally and process what you really think. Then talk it out, or get help (i.e. from someone who’s wise–not to gossip or garner support for your position).


How do you prepare yourself for healthier family interactions over the holidays?


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A Guest Post: FREE Printable Thanksgiving Scripture Art!

Editor’s note: This is a guest post of Personal Creations, who wanted to extend their printable Scripture art to you! Just one more thing to be grateful for this year. Happy Thanksgiving! – Janel

When it comes to Thanksgiving, we gather around the table to enjoy a the turkey, the cranberry sauce, the all-American green-bean casserole–and to celebrate each other’s company. Before carving the turkey and piling the plates with food, take the time to say a special thanks to the Ultimate Giver: God.

While prayers of gratitude have been around far before Thanksgiving in 1620, all early celebrations of thanks began with God at the center. Across many unique celebrations, people praise Him as a way to say thanks for the all the good that He’s given…and given…and given.

Illuminating the many acts of thanks and praise to God in the Bible, Personal Creations wanted to create Thanksgiving Psalms to use at your Thanksgiving feast, and for many celebrations to come. Print them here!

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Self-deprecation–and other “stupid” thoughts

self-deprecation and other "stupid" thoughtsMy friend gazed at me through FaceTime, a kind smile on her face. “I just want to let you know that I just counted you saying the word ‘stupid’ six times when talking about yourself.”


She grinned. “I’m telling you this for your sanctification.” A little church-girl humor there. I thanked her.

I was surprised not that I did it, but maybe how frequently. I know that self-deprecation is part of the stressed version of myself; it’s one of my “tells”. And as I’ve written, my behavior has been more in that vulnerable state lately. Unmoored. Tippy.

I’ve gotten better about not making jokes about my body, at least. (Body issues of mine have a thick and convoluted history; read here and here.) To my sister a few years ago, I shook my head–made a comment about my hulking German shoulders making me look like a linebacker from the back. She countered me, all seriousness: “Would you ever talk that way around your daughter?” Honestly, I wouldn’t. (If you vocalize your body image issues around your kids, don’t miss this brief video–which yes, my sister passed on.) But I had to wonder: Was it a problem to say it openly to a friend?

All of this makes me wonder why I’m more comfortable with self-deprecation than talking about my strengths. Which, healthy as it is, still feels about as natural as swallowing a tennis shoe.

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Spiritual Disciplines for Real Families: 10 Ideas to Help you Build Submission and Respect

Like this series? Get more of these here.

I’ve been putting this post off.

It’s pretty much because creating a sense of respect in my kids still makes me want to tear my hair out.  Admittedly, my oldest is now 13, so we’re breaking new ground in this area.

Um, honestly? American culture demands very little of kids in this area. Our country was actually founded on some degree of…rebellion. Ugandans, for one, are mildly horrified by the manners of many American children toward their parents. But then again, African cultures are largely shame-based. I think you can solidly establish respect without shaming children–but it is harder without wielding shame. Yet they are not mutually exclusive in my book.

Our kids are going to be under authority their entire lives. With the exception of a few horrid dictators of suffering countries, everyone on this planet is under authority of some kind. (Jesus is, too.) Offering our kids the gift of submission is one of those keys that opens doors for the rest of their lives.

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Guest Post: Diversity Training for Our Kids

diversity training for our kidsWe were headed to church, exhaling clouds of steam in the still-cold car. Up in the front seat, I happily remarked to my husband about the expanding diversity in our small town–as judged authoritatively, of course, by my trips to Wal-Mart. After five and a half years in Africa, I can feel a little stifled amongst all the vanilla around me.

My daughter, from the backseat: “Why does ‘diversity’ make you happy?”

She didn’t, it turns out, know what diversity was. So we talked about it: That God expresses Himself through every culture. That differences make us more vibrant and loving and whole. That we want people of all types to be welcome here.

In light of this year’s extensive, heartrending violence, maybe you’re wondering along with Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, “How did we get here?”

Here’s what we know. The Church must–must–lead the way in accepting each other as Jesus accepted us (Romans 15:11)–when we were still His enemies. As pastor and radio host Bob Lepine recently pointed out,

The source of all racism and white supremacy is the person the Bible describes as the father of lies (John 8:44). Racism is demonic. It’s diabolical. To believe that one group of people has more value or worth than another is the spirit of antichrist…

Racism is a sin against God Himself. It is God who created us in His image, after His likeness (Genesis 1:27).

….Christians must publicly, humbly, and boldly stand against racism. Followers of Jesus should be at the forefront of the chorus speaking out against what has taken place. Especially when white supremacist groups claim that what they’re espousing is somehow a Christian way of thinking.

There should be no equivocation on this. No nuance. We must speak clearly and forcefully in proclaiming that all men and women bear the imago dei–the image of God.


So how can we instill this in our kids? Today,  I’m guest-posting with some practical ideas on this critical topic at my friend Kristen Welch’s site, WeAreTHATFamily.com. I’d love for you to chime in. Hop on over and check it out!



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Off-Season: When You’re Not Where You Wanted to Be, When You Wanted to Be There, Part III

Her: So what do you do for a living?

Me: Oh. I’m a freelance writer.

Her, crease darkening her brow as she wonders, Is this a clever way of saying “virtually unemployed”? : Okay… So what does that look like?

Now. Compare this scenario to about six months ago.

Her: So what do you do for a living?

Me: Oh. I’m homeschooling my kids because we’re in Africa. On the side I teach some refugees.

Her, a glow widening her smile: Wow! That sounds amazing!

One of these, you see, is decidedly more sexy than the other. (Even with the “homeschooling” part thrown in.)

I get it. Most of us have a hierarchy of Job Coolness Factor. (I’ve got one, too. And Christians aren’t exempt.)

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Shadows, Gwyneth Paltrow, and the Inside-out Life

inner life inside out smallerAllow me to briefly refer to a bad movie, if you would. After all, that’s what makes for a great Thursday.

Remember Shallow Hal (2001), with Jack Black and Gwyneth Paltrow? Tacky as it was, the idea of the movie is actually sheer genius. Hal, a total womanizer (this is not the genius part), disregards any woman outside of the “knockout” category. That is, until a spell is cast upon him. Within the spell, women’s inner beauty–or lack thereof–manifests as outer beauty. Hal falls hard for a woman who, to him, looks like Gwyneth Paltrow. To the rest of the world, she’s woefully obese. Hal can’t figure out why she’s treated with such disdain; why no one can see how he’s won the jackpot. She’s unspeakably kind and physically dazzling.

What I like about an otherwise dumb movie: What if the portion others see of us misleads and distracts from our actual selves?

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“Making Memories”…and Mom-fails

making holiday memories mom fail

So last night happened.

Honestly, if I were a weather forecaster, I should have seen this perfect storm whirling my way, shooting out a few lightning bolts. It was brewing for two weeks as my husband and I sprinted to keep up with the pace of American life, which still overwhelms us. (Me to him: “I don’t know how people do this well.” Him: “I’m not sure they do.”) As much as we’d thinned out the “must do’s” from the “should do’s”, the calendar was still practically leaning over with the weight of all that ink. Mix in more work deadlines than I have fingers, and my brain was starting to resemble mashed potatoes.

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Guest Post: For When You’re Tired of Driving All the Good Stuff

driving all the good stuff pushDo you ever get tired of being the driver in your home? Y’know–driving the homework. The dishes from their hands to the dishwasher. The manners and respect. The time with God. The self-control in conflicts. The propriety in dating.


I need to admit: I get tired of the lack of my kids’ ownership in the values my husband and I care about–whether it’s peace, or order, or worship, or personal responsibility. And as my kids get older, in some ways, my control diminishes.

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Guest Post: Taming the Chaos in Your Home

There are moments in my home that can only be tidily described as chaos.

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