Sometimes I read something seemingly unrelated to my life because I think it might be interesting. Such is the case with my latest read.

I just finished reading The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, MD. Gawande explains the vital use of simple checklists in operating rooms. These simple checklists have saved patient lives by catching seemingly routine things that are easily forgotten, like administering antibiotics prior to surgery in order to prevent infection. Gawande led a study with WHO to implement these checklists all over the world. The result was that surgery-related deaths and infection rates plummeted– so much so that Gawande questioned the findings ruthlessly before submitting the results.

Interestingly, it was the teamwork and communication around the checklist lead to greater outcomes. Gawande studied multiple disciplines that utilized checklists in order to develop the surgical checklist. In the construction firm he studied, even the lowest-ranked was counted as a valuable team member and could stop the process if she or he saw that something on the checklist was missing or incomplete. The success rates increased dramatically!

I felt really validated by this book. You see, when my sons were little, we developed checklists for EVERYTHING. Kids on the spectrum know when something, no matter how small, is missing. My kids also followed instructions very literally, and if a step was missing that we just figured they’d know, like taking off their shoes before hosing the mud off of them. So our checklists became very detailed, indeed! My checklists continued to be helpful for my ADHD self, and we have packing checklists saved that we print out for every trip, a decorating checklist for Christmas, and detailed checklists for cleaning chores.

Checklists even came in handy when we were in intensive family counseling, when we had a crisis surrounding our oldest kid. We made checklists for outings, play times, after school routines, hygiene, and safety. Each family member gave input and agreed to the checklists. We even had a checklist in place to determine if we needed to call a crisis line if my son was having difficulties. It was, ahem, intense. But it was also helpful to know that there was a plan in place if something were to go wrong.  And many times, going through the simple and intensive lists, we corrected mistakes before they developed into major issues. If we did have to take uncomfortable steps in a crisis situation, they weren’t surprises. Everyone was prepared and on board, even if they didn’t like it. This dramatically minimized the power struggles.

For 2018, I am making new checklists. One of the first I am going to develop is a Response Checklist, which I will go through before I respond to something that really ticks me off. I don’t think I’ll have to reinvent the wheel. There’s always the THINK list: Is what I’m going to say True?…Helpful?… Inspiring?… Necessary?…Kind?  I will also consider carefully and prayerfully my definition of “necessary.” For example, it’s not always necessary to prove I’m right! Another is a checklist of what to do if we face a financial crisis. That one is definitely a family project.

I am hoping that my checklists will be useful tools to navigate 2018. I know that by praying and planning when I am calm, God’s guidance and our preparation will allow us to handle whatever comes our way.

What checklists do you use/ think would be helpful?

Happy New Year!




Cage the Tiger


One of my favorite books is Friedman’s Fables by the late Edwin Friedman.  This classic contains fables for life.

One of my favorite fables is “The Friendly Forest.” In this story, a lamb and a tiger live with other animals in a friendly forest.  The lamb is understandably very afraid of the tiger.  The tiger is aggressive toward the lamb.  The lamb expresses concern to her neighbors. The other animals think that the lamb is being silly when it cowers from the tiger’s growls, stares, and other actions.  The tiger is just being a tiger.

After attempting to ignore the tiger, accept that the tiger is what it is (aggressive in nature), living in fear, and trying to get the other animals to support her, the lamb decides to leave the forest.  The other animals think she’s being silly, plead for her to stay, and decide to appeal to the tiger’s reasonable nature by having a meeting to work out the conflict.  The lamb is not so sure about this— her life is in danger! And if the tiger just being a tiger, and nothing is going to change, what’s the point? Finally, one of the less subtle animals speaks its mind.  The animal says that if they want the lamb and the tiger to live peacefully in the forest, they need to give up on making them communicate and cage the tiger.

This fable describes how I felt in my first parish as a pastor. There were tigers.  I was a lamb. When I complained, or asked for help dealing with the tigers, I was advised several times to talk to the persons, or think of what their gifts were and put them to work so they’d feel useful, or just ignore them because they’d always been that way and let things go in one ear and out the other, like everyone else did. No one thought of caging the tiger—especially not me.  I blamed the situation on my being ineffective or just plain incompetent.

Wrong.  After I left that parish I discovered that at least three young pastors had left the ministry after serving there. Another pastor shared that he stayed because he was just plain stubborn and wasn’t going to allow them to push him out. The person that followed me was burned out and anxiety-ridden at the end. A retired pastor said that that church was really hard on him and he had to take time to heal after his time there.  And when I shared with a past bishop what my first appointment was, the bishop’s reaction was, “Oh, dear!” and a shake of the head. I was one more lamb sent to a congregation of tigers.

I am really sick and tired of the tigers being free to destroy the lambs.  So sick of it, in fact, that I heard God’s call to conflict transformation ministry, and interim pastoring, in order to strengthen churches and cage the tigers. The church at large was slow to respond to my offers. I realize now that historically, we “nice church folks” just haven’t known what to do with those pesky tigers.

So, I write this post to give you pastors and other church leaders out there some guidelines for caging the tiger.  If you are in a situation where this process below seems too insurmountable because there are too many tigers at each step, have a consultant like myself come and guide the process.  (Pick me! Pick me!)

Constructing the Cage: Conflict Guidelines

  1. Study the scriptures about conflict. Lead Bible Studies on conflict. Make conflict an okay subject to discuss. Matthew 18 is a great starting place.
  2. Make ground rules, or conflict guidelines, based on these scriptures. Seek wisdom from people in the congregation that are trustworthy, wise colleagues, and your spiritual mentors.
  3. Share the ground rules and get buy-in from the non-tigers. (The tigers will only thwart this.) Discuss different scenarios.
  4. Make the ground rules official. Work according to your church’s polity / bylaws so that each step is above reproach, whether you are led by staff, council/board, elders, etc. (That way, for you UM’s, if they call your District Superintendent and complain, you can document the steps you have taken.) Have a congregational meeting and review the process that has led to the ground rules, remind them of the scripture, and if appropriate, have a congregational meeting to approve the ground rules. Note: Make sure that the ground rules state specifically how your congregation will handle conflict. Make it clear and appropriate to your context. You may want to keep your supervisor (District Superintendent, etc.) in the loop, too.
  5. Go over the ground rules and call attention to them ad nauseum. Read them at administrative meetings, post them in the hallways and bathrooms, put them on your office door, above the water fountains, make a puppet show… anything to make them part of your congregation’s culture.  Take time at your gatherings to go over a ground rule or two and explain it.
  6. Practice, practice, practice. Model how to carry out the ground rules through role plays. For example, show them what to do if a “tiger” comes along and starts complaining.  Here’s a scenario when Matthew 18 is being followed.

Tiger: “I’m really sick of what’s going on around here.”

Person: “What do you mean?”

Tiger: “Pastor is awful.” (Proceeds to start gossiping and trashing the pastor.)

Person: (If necessary, cuts in) “Have your talked to the pastor?” (First step in conflict resolution is one on one conversation with the other person.)

Tiger: “No.”

Person: (Points to the rules on the wall as indicated in step 6.) “Well, then, that’s your first step.  When will you make time to do that?”  (Hint: offer to accompany the tiger if the tiger won’t go alone.)

With this simple role play, you will have equipped people in the meeting to take the first step of caging the tiger before a possible bloodbath.

  1. Follow the ground rules yourself. As a pastor I have had people come to me complaining about other congregants.  Rather than listen to gossip, I learned to direct the person back to the one they were mad at.  If they didn’t want to go alone, I offered to go with them.  It was surprising how many times huge conflicts immediately dissipated.  Funny how that happens.

These are the first steps to caging the tiger.  I’m here if you need active support!

Melancholy Prophet

I debated whether or not to publish this, so I waited a couple months. (Just fyi.)


On this cloudy April day, I am feeling melancholy. I am in one of those ruminations where I keep thinking about all the ways we human beings cover up our own lives—how when there is pain, or a serious issue, or something that may mean change, we are really good at hiding it.  But there are consequences. It’s like covering up an infected, festering wound with a bandage. It looks good, it hides the pus and blood, but it only leads to more sickness and perhaps death. Nice thought, huh?

Here’s a couple reasons why I’m in this funk.

  1. Today I finished watching Thirteen Reasons Why on Netflix. In this series, a teenage girl dies of suicide. She leaves behind recordings on cassettes, in which she details 13 reasons / people who led her to her decision. This girl didn’t tell her parents, teachers or counselors what was going on. She just hid her pain instead. After her death, the teenagers who are mentioned on the tapes try hard to keep the truth covered up. Finally, that Band-Aid is “ripped off” as the parents finally get the opportunity to listen to their daughter’s tapes. The end.

Really?? What happened to the rest of the characters? Do the bullies and perpetrators ever make restitution or face real consequences? Do the parents find closure? Do the school personnel deal with the bullying / climate at the school? Or is the Bandaid just put back on? And if it is the latter, who else will despair enough to die?


  1. A well –meaning friend sent me an article about the White House “lighting up blue” for autism awareness. As an autism parent, I only felt disgust. I think this is a bandaid to cover up what is really happening. As I said on my Facebook post, “Lighting up the white house blue means nothing if the policies will negatively affect those who have autism. Just saying.” So go ahead, White House, light it up blue, but are you going to make sure that a Free Appropriate Public Education is in place for those with intellectual disabilities? Are you going to make sure that they have the Medicaid services they need? Or are you going to just be nice and put a lit-up-blue bandaid on to distract the damage that is being proposed?

I admit that, when I get into a funk, everything seems 100 times worse than it probably is. That’s also the danger of the life of someone who is called a “prophet” by her friends. Prophets see things that others don’t see, make connections between seemingly unrelated things and speak the truth about those things. Prophets are not popular when they do that. It’s ripping a bandaid off of a festered wound so it can be treated: messy, stinky, but necessary.

Tomorrow I go to finish my training and receive my certification as a TIIMS (Transitional and Intentional Interim Ministry Specialist). This means that I will go into Christian congregations that are in transition– a major conflict or crisis, loss of a long-term pastor, etc.–  and be there short term to help facilitate healing and remove barriers to moving forward. Part of me is very cynical about this. I wonder how many nice “bandaids” I will have to “rip off” in order to get to the root of the “infection” that is making the congregation “sick” and unable to move forward in mission and ministry to their communities. I am fully aware that the congregation will have to follow through with the prescribed course of action. And I am skeptical.

Yet I keep going. I know that I only see in a mirror dimly, but someday I will see clearly. I believe God is up to something good. And so I keep ripping off bandaids so the healing can begin.

Thanks for putting up with my musing.

Hole in the sidewalk

One of my favorite poems is “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters” by Portia Nelson.  This poem tells about falling into the same hole in the sidewalk over and over again until the author takes responsibility for avoiding the hole and decides to go a different route.  It reminds me of when I go down the same path of having the same argument / getting into the same situations over and over– and get nowhere.

Over the past couple of years, our oldest son has been in some crisis or another. My husband and I tried the same things over and over to “help” him and all we did was end up in a hole ourselves. The stress of the situation took a huge toll on my husband’s and my health. There were days that I could simply function– only take care of my own and my family’s immediate needs.  Some days, if I simply knew what I was going to cook for dinner it was a good day.  My husband suffered physical stress symptoms that led to a health scare and he was much less productive at work.

We decided that we had to do things differently. We learned that we cannot help our child if we are down in a hole ourselves. We also realized the will never learn to avoid the “hole in his sidewalk” if we keep rescuing him when he falls. We finally practiced tough love and let our child, who has a disability and a personality disorder, suffer the consequences of his actions. It has been the hardest thing we have had to do as parents. We didn’t abandon him, but we took a step back, and got him other supports so he could live a more independent life. It was up to him to use those supports. Our son dealt with expulsion from school, homelessness, theft of all his savings, and met some dangerous people. When he was penniless and felt threatened, he finally saw that he was indeed in a deep hole and was willing to try those supports.  He is now learning to do things differently and has his own apartment.

We discovered that there are many parents like us who lost their retirement savings and became so stressed out that their health failed due to rescuing their children, disabled and abled, over and over without regard to their own well-being. Learning their stories has helped us tremendously in choosing a different path. Our other children are now less stressed and we are healthier.

So, friends and readers, I challenge you to think about the “holes” that you fall into over and over again.  Maybe it’s an unhealthy relationship. Maybe it’s an argument with a co-worker, spouse, parent, or child.  Maybe it’s your own ruminating.  Or maybe, like me, you have a tendency to procrastinate over and over and then get stressed and snarky! Whatever it is, let’s work to go down another street that leads to the life that we are meant to live.


Stories from the church trenches

Stories of church conflict:

  • Parents called for the youth leader’s resignation because she led Bible studies at McDonalds.
  • Church Elders were so offended with the 1960’s hymn “Lord of the Dance” that they considered ripping the pages out of the song book.
  • A church needed a full scale congregational mediation over destructive disagreement concerning the pipe organ.

I had trouble believing these were true stories and dismissed them as “silly.” I was surprised that these training role-plays were true! They were great practice for the ministry which I am living out with fear and trembling, determination and humility.

What is really behind church conflict?

Some people claim that the cause of such conflict is Satan.  Others claim it is stupidity, or as I believed, “silliness.”I learned to look beneath the “surface” issues and discern the deeper “real” issue.

Now I believe that, most often, the cause of church conflict is fear. (Note: I admit to wondering how Evil can use this fear to make people behave in silly ways and make the situations worse!) It seems that people are feeling more and more powerless in a world that seems more and more scary. Media tells us that there is danger at every turn. We see news of mass shootings, political scandals, and, in my humble opinion, alarmist fear-mongering that sounds like real news. In a world that seems unstable, it is human nature to seek and cling to whatever provides a feeling of safety.

For Christians, many times that place of safety is the church. Many quote Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” This refers to the supremacy of Christ over the changing teachings of the culture. However, many times this is interpreted as “Jesus does not change; therefore, the church should be a place of no change.” We forget that Jesus continually challenged the status quo and called people to change their entire belief systems and ways of life! In anxious times, we often equate our stability and security in Jesus to our stability and security in our traditions. We may be threatened by even the possiblity of change to what we are doing and / or how we are doing it.We will cling to and defend what we know and what we have always done rather than change. It is as if change is the match that ignites the fuel of anxiety and fear.We fear what can happen if the match is lit. So we will fight for the safety of what we know.

What can we do?

First, we can pray, pray, pray and remember where our security really lies: In Jesus Christ, not our ways of doing things. Scary, I know.

Second, we can accept that the presenting issue usually is not the “real” issue.

  • For the church conflict over the youth director leading youth Bible study at McDonald’s, the “real” issue was fear that the Sabbath and sacred teaching were being watered down in a world of fast food and instant gratification.
  • For the church upset about “Lord of the Dance,” the “real” issue was fear of losing traditions that were vital to their identity. This congregation had a long tradition of being against dancing. If this tradition was compromised and discarded, what could be next?
  • And for the church upset over the organ, one of the real issues was how to honor their past while embracing the future.

Underneath the power struggles, back biting, and fear in each of these conflicts, there was a real passion for the Bible, for the health of future generations, and for Christian integrity.

The stories don’t end there. These congregation admitted they they needed help, called in a mediator,  and journeyed through the struggles. They came on the other side of the conflict stronger and more cohesive than they had ever been before. One church even had three successful capital campaigns that were necessary for their exponential growth!

The moral of the story: Realize where our security truly lies. Look for the “real” issues that are deep beneath the surface. Listen to concerns. And call for reinforcements if necessary.  There is hope!

Thoughts? Comments? Post below.

You want to do what??? Why I’m in the Mediation biz- Part 1

I have a long history of being afraid to speak out. In fact, I have been so afraid that at times I’ve lost my “voice,” or my ability to speak up for myself and others.

I began losing my “voice” in my 4th grade classroom on a typical school day when I heard the town whistle. This whistle was also used to sound a tornado warning the night before in my small western Oklahoma town.  I immediately believed that my whole elementary school was in danger. I gathered my courage for a few precious seconds, stood up and yelled, “It’s the tornado warning!”

False alarm. It was the noon whistle. (For those of you don’t know, the town “whistle” is used for tornado warnings, tornado “all clears,” and to let the town workers know it is time for lunch.) The bullies in my class jeered. “It’s the noon whistle, dummy!  She thinks it’s a tornado!  Funniest thing I ever heard!  How stupid!” I was so embarrassed! And my friends didn’t speak up for me, so I believed they thought I was stupid, too. I was teased for the rest of the school year. Thankfully it was already late spring and the end of the school year was near.

Right then and there, I decided that I was not going to be embarrassed, seen as stupid, or make a fool out of myself ever again. Even if I could speak up or stand up for something or someone, I kept my mouth shut out of fear.  What if it were another false alarm?

My fear of speaking out was more intense in times of conflict. Witnessing church conflict as a pastor’s kid sometimes made me want to run from church, and sometimes Christianity altogether. Conflict resolution can be painful, and people have a tendency to avoid pain at all costs.  (I should know.) Rather than deal with the issues, people will lash out and make someone else a target. I just resolved to conform even more and to become a “pleaser” in order to protect myself and my family.

I couldn’t wait until I no longer had to go to church or deal with these people.

So, you can probably imagine that when God called me into ministry I balked.  Yet, here I am.  And I have found that many pastors have issues dealing with conflict.  We desire to lead people to God, to help people, to equip people…. And then we can end up in some really conflicted, and dare I say nasty, places.

Through my experiences of being embarrassed and losing my voice,  being a preacher’s kid, and witnessing church conflict, God called me to teach the church how to address conflict and to empower people, especially my clergy sisters, to find their voices again and speak out against injustice.  It’s quite a journey.

So, dear readers, what are some of your experiences in conflict?  Are you afraid? Or are you bold?  Avoider, or engager?  I look forward to your comments.