Wednesday, April 19, 2017

memorials turned into ministry: sharing your story


In my previous post, I discussed the memorial stones God directed Joshua to have the Israelites arrange (Joshua 4) after He pushed back the waters of the Jordan River so that they could cross over into the Promised Land on dry land. My first reading of the story made me think about the importance of reminding ourselves of what God has done in order to encourage us as we move forward into new territory.

As I was reading over it again today, I was struck by all the other people who benefit from our memorials of God's intervention in our lives and realized that memorials are not for ourselves, alone. When we see how God has been at work in our lives, we have a responsibility to share our story with others. When God performed a miracle that allowed the Israelites to cross over the Jordan River, His purpose was not only to get them across the river; it was to reveal Himself to several different groups of people.

When we begin to consider who we can share our story with, we can first think about who is already in our circles of influence. In Joshua 4:2-3, God commands Joshua to "take for yourselves twelve men from the people, one man from every tribe" to set up the memorial stones. Each tribe would have one representative for the tribe, or extended family, to help remember what God had done. One of the most obvious, but sometimes most difficult, places to start with sharing our testimony is our own immediate and extended family.

Among the twelve delegates were men from the two and a half tribes that had already been given their inheritance and were coming to help the remaining tribes as they prepared for battle. A second group of people we can share our story with includes our spiritual mentors who are walking our journey with us, encouraging us, teaching us, praying with us, and fighting our battles alongside us. These are the people who were there to witness the struggles you faced and who were praying and cheering you on as you fought to take the inheritance the Lord promised to you. Though their encouragement is an important part of what spurs us on in difficulty, we can bless them in turn by sharing what the Lord has done in our lives and invite them to celebrate with us. I often find that when God does something exciting and obvious in my life, I almost immediately want to call my parents to tell them. They know me well and know my struggles, so they can appreciate the significance of the specific things God does in my life. I recently called to my dad to share with him something specific that I had prayed about and God had answered quickly and clearly. He asked me to keep him updated on what God is doing and said that it is an encouragement to him to see God working in my life. I hadn't thought about how this would be a blessing to him, not just a joy for me.

Probably the most explicitly stated group of people who were to be the beneficiaries of the memorial stones were future generations of Israelites. In Joshua 4:5-7, Joshua says that when their children ask about significance of the memorial stones, the Israelites who took part in crossing over the Jordan River were to tell them about the miracle God performed. We can share our stories with our literal children but also with future generations in general, as well as our spiritual sons and daughters. In our culture and often in our churches, different generations are very segregated. This chapter in the Bible speaks to the importance of taking the time to tell believers who are spiritually younger than we are about God's goodness in our lives. I believe in the importance of intentionally building relationships with people who belong to other generations in our churches and communities. Our testimony can be more effective if we are already in relationship with the people with whom we are sharing because they will care more in general and will better appreciate the magnitude of what God has done when they know us, our past, and our struggles.

When we share our testimony with both previous and future generations and then listen to their stories of God's goodness in their own lives, we can find points of connection and better appreciate the fact that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Joshua 4:23 says that the Israelites are to tell future generations that, "the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed over..." In understanding the similarities between what God has done recently and what he has done in the past, we begin to see patterns of behavior based on His unchanging character. This allows us to know Him better and increases our faith as we begin to expect His help and deliverance after seeing it happen over and over again in our lives and in the lives of others.

Verse 24 stood out to me the most in my rereading of Joshua 4 today:
that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.

While remembering what God has done for us is an important encouragement to ourselves, God also reveals Himself to others ("all peoples of the earth") through what He does in us. We have the privilege and responsibility of telling others about the one true God, and I believe that sometimes the most effective way to do this is simply to share how we have experienced the truth of who God is. The Bible tells us in many ways, explicitly and implicitly, who God is, and this must be our starting point and our checkpoint, but often the way we come to a deeper understanding of those characteristics is through personal experience. I grew up hearing, reading, and knowing that God is faithful (Lamentations 3:22-23) and compassionate (2 Corinthians 1:3-5), but this took on a much deeper meaning for me when I experienced Him grieving alongside me and witnessed His faithfulness firsthand. If I tell others that God is faithful and compassionate, they may or may not believe me or agree, but other women who have had struggles similar to mine might be more likely to connect with those specific times in my life as I share how God was faithful through my times of suffering.

The "all the peoples of the earth" category can sound overwhelming, but when God gives you a story of deliverance, He means for you to share it and will provide the audience, whether it is an audience of 1 or 1,000. We need wisdom and discernment in how much to share with whom, as it is not always appropriate or beneficial to share every part of our story with every person. We can pray for wisdom and guidance in this and need to be sensitive to social cues from others as we try to gage how interested and comfortable they are with our story. Context is also important; sometimes we need to save sensitive topics and our vulnerability for one-on-one or small group discussions.

Some practical applications that have helped me recently on my own journey to find how and with whom to share my story:

1. Consider those who are already in your circles of influence and who may have had similar struggles and experiences. Then think about the broader scope of people you don't already know who may be experiencing similar struggles. What groups of people would identify with your specific journey? You don't have to be limited by this, but it may be a good starting point.

2. Put yourself in situations where you will interact and build relationships with people from different generations, cultures, beliefs, etc. We can minister to and disciple believers and non-believers, alike, as we share what the Lord has done for us.

3. Pray for God to increase your love for the people He wants you to serve. I can't think of a prayer God would desire to answer more than a prayer for Him to increase your love for someone! When our love for people increases, our boldness and courage in sharing something difficult increases as a result. Also, people will generally be more comfortable with and receptive to someone who has a genuine love for them.

4. Pray for God to start putting faces to the people with whom He wants you to share your story. I recently prayed this prayer and the previous one and am amazed at how quickly He began to put me in various groups of women to connect with, both for their benefit and mine. This is one of the many important reasons to find and join communities that share safe spaces.

Once we begin to come out of a difficult wilderness season and have had time to experience our own healing, we can begin to think about how and with whom to share our story. One of the most beautiful things about sharing what God has done is that often the completion of our healing seems to come when God uses what we have learned in the wilderness seasons to help others. Thus, our messes that became miracles can become memorials that God uses for ministry. God does not desire that we suffer, but he does cause all things to work together for good (Romans 8:28). I'm so thankful for the truth of 2 Corinthians 1:3-5:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

messes, miracles, and memorials


I have always been, and remain, an introverted homebody. When it was time for me to leave home to go to college, my parents and my best friend drove me to my new school and helped me move into the dorm. I didn't have a car and didn't know anyone. I remember the strange, suffocating feeling that washed over me after the people I loved most drove away.

I knew that my temptation would be to remain isolated rather than endure the awkwardness of meeting new people. I made myself sit alone in the cafeteria instead of taking food back to my room so that I would be forced into close proximity to others. It took some time to meet and befriend what became an amazing group of friends, including my future husband, but in the mean time, God brought others who invited me to sit with them or came over to sit with me during meal times. I was so grateful for this kindness.

Before long, I had a group of friends from church who I came to love as family. After that happened, on some of the many occasions when I would sit and eat with these dear friends in the cafeteria, I would silently pause and remember what it felt like to sit in the very same room and eat meal after meal alone. I wanted to remember and give thanks for the blessing of the friends that God had provided because I didn't want to take them for granted, and the remembering made my friendships that much sweeter.

In Joshua chapter 3, God parted the Jordan River so that the Israelites could cross over on dry land to the Promised Land. In Joshua 4, God instructs Joshua to have delegates from each of the 12 tribes of Israel take stones from the middle of the river and set them up as a memorial. The stones were to serve as a reminder of what God had done, as well as a conversation piece for future generations so that when they asked about the stones, the parents could tell the story of crossing over the Jordan. They would also be physical proof to other nations of the mighty works of the one true God.

As always, God, in His great mercy, anticipated His children's needs. He knew their tendency to forget and take for granted what He had done for them. Perhaps He was thinking of times of adversity to come during which the Israelites would need the encouragement of remembering what God had done before, giving them hope about what He would do in the future. Perhaps He knew how much sweeter the land of milk and honey would seem to future generations when they learned about God's deliverance of their ancestors from slavery and wilderness wandering. In times of ordinary provision, we have the luxury of forgetting and not fully appreciating our complete and utter dependence upon God. When we are in the midst of adversity, we are perfectly poised to both confess our need for Him as well as to witness His miraculous provision, which is sometimes easily forgotten once life returns to a blessedly unremarkable semblance of "normal."

This holy Saturday, as we look forward to celebrating the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, may we remember the His suffering and the miracle of the divine becoming flesh and taking the punishment for our sins that we might enjoy the awesome privilege of being called children of God. We remember His suffering not as those who witnessed it, but as those who have the privilege of knowing the outcome. Though Hebrews 4:16 says we may now "confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help," we remember that it was not always so. Our salvation is a free gift, but it did not come cheaply. In times of suffering, we can look back on memorials from the past and remember how God delivered us before, giving us the courage to wait expectantly for His miraculous provision yet again. In times of rest and security, our peace is made sweeter as we remember the mess we were in before He delivered us. May the miracles, the messes, the suffering, the blessings, and the times of peace in our lives all serve their purpose as we bear witness to His goodness and mercy.

Friday, April 7, 2017

an unexpected hope

Last summer, when we took a plane for the first time with our (second) baby, I packed three breast pumps. (Before you make fun, one of them actually broke on the trip!) When I say that I like to be prepared, it's an understatement. Planning is a good thing, generally, but often my deep-down motivation for being prepared is to take control of all the things that I can anticipate going wrong. I have spent my life feeling happy to let other people control their own lives but wanting very much to be the one in control of my own. I am generally a compliant person, but when someone else tries to take control in a way that I deem inappropriate, something in me bristles and starts trying every which way to squirm out from under the pressure of the offender's thumb. Sometimes this leads to healthy and necessary boundary setting.

Other times, it's not such a good thing, especially when the "someone else" is God. My life up to this point has generally gone according to plan. I went to college, became a teacher, got married, had kids, and became a stay-at-home mom. These are all good things, and I have seen God's leadership and provision as He took my desires and directed me where I know He wanted to take me. However, something began to happen when I got pregnant with my first child. That pregnancy and the year after her birth were very challenging for me for many reasons, but one of the main things God used that time to teach me was how very much NOT in control I was--over my body, my child, her health, my emotions, my schedule, my sleep, and on and on and on.

At first, this lack of control was very overwhelming and frightening to me. If my first lesson was that I was not in control, the next was that God was and is in control, and the lesson after that was that He is lovingly in control. I knew those things were true and would have said so before I had children, but I needed to go through some life experiences before I could begin to understand what that meant in a practical sense.

I now find myself in a season when, for the first time in my life, I don't know what's next. I love being a stay-at-home mom to my two girls, but I am realizing that I need something else apart from being a mom. I really never made a plan for what would happen when my time at home with young children was over, other than a vague thought that I would go back to work and do... something.


The not-knowing has positioned me to see the Lord at work in a new way that I have never witnessed before. For the first time, I am learning a new dance with Him. In this dance, instead of forging ahead and praying for Him to go with me and show me the best choice out of some options I give to Him, I am learning to wait, which is nothing short of miraculous for a 6 (on the Enneagram) with an anxiety diagnosis. (Sidenote--if you haven't heard about the Enneagram, check it out right now and head on over to the conference in Dallas if you're able!) As He has completely thrown my world upside down and pushed me in a direction I never thought possible or practical, this direction is so clearly from Him that I'm finding it easier to release responsibility to Him. "Ok, if you brought me here, You show me what to do next. This was Your idea. If you want me to write, I need some training, teaching, mentors, content, an outlet, time to practice, DIRECTION." I have tried on my own for several years to deal with my anxiety, but when He took control, He blew me away. At the beginning of the year, I prayed for authentic community, a safe place to share struggles and encouragement and fellowship, but I couldn't figure out the best way to make it happen. Four months later, I am shocked to find myself knee-deep in community with several different groups (more on that later). For years, I have prayed that He would make my time reading the Bible less of a discipline and more of a delight, and now suddenly, since He decided to act in this area, my time with Him has been transformed (more on that later, too).

You know what is surprising? Waiting can be exciting when you know you are waiting for something good and unexpected, much like waiting for the next chapter in a great book. I have seen how my life is when I make the plans, and it is nothing like the thrill of waiting on Someone who not only has plans that are good for me (Jeremiah 29:11), but plans that are much, much better, more interesting, more exciting, and more daring than my own. When I make plans, I look at what I can see, what is available to me, what others around me have tried, what resources I already have, and what strengths and weaknesses I perceive in myself. When God makes plans, He bases them on His desires (all good), abilities (infinite), and resources (unlimited). Suddenly my lack is no longer a limitation. He can use my weaknesses or choose to shore them up. Not only is He good and in control, but He has all the resources necessary to make His plan happen. I don't, but He does, as stated in
Psalm 50:10:

for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.

I need to give an aside and acknowledge that I know that life as a follower of Jesus most definitely does not always feel fun and exciting. John 16:33 says,

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

We are to expect suffering, but I don't think that that negates the truth that following Jesus can be the thrill of our lives. If this un-extraordinary, fearful, insecure, anxious, self-reliant planner can find a thrill in Jesus, anyone can. In the world, we are to expect trouble, but in Him, we can expect peace. Whatever circumstances are your current reality, good things await you in Him. Galatians 5:22-23 lists them beautifully:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Though I'm getting better at giving up control and experiencing blessed freedom from always being overly prepared, I know I still have a tendency to imagine the worst thing that can happen in a given situation. However, I am learning to expect good things from our heavenly Father as He reveals Himself to be the author of my joy and the healer of my pain. My prayer for us today is that we would learn to unclench our fists and let go of the things we have held so tightly as He lovingly waits to take our burdens from us. I pray for you and for me that not only would we know Him, but that we would delight in knowing Him and in letting Him lead. If you have found yourself on this journey, let me know how it's going! I would love to hear from you.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30

Thursday, March 30, 2017

the God Who Sees

As I study the Bible lately, God is revealing Himself to me as God Who Sees. To be seen is to be noticed, known, cared about; to be seen is to matter. Sometimes as I am going about my day, busily running errands and passing by people without interacting with them, I think about the people who seem like the “extras” in my life story. I’ll look at someone I have not spoken to or interacted with or seen before and pause to think about how “not random” she is to God, how intimately He knows her, how precious she is to Him, how in tune with her He is, and I’ll wonder about her story.

I am awestruck by the story of Rahab in Joshua 2. She’s the kind of person who seems like she should have been an “extra” in the Israelite story. I read notes about her in my study Bible and learned that she was a Canaanite and a common prostitute, which possibly meant that she was a widow who was trying to make ends meet for her family. Her house, built within the city wall, was likely a humble place. She was not an Israelite, and even among her own people, she was not a high-ranking person of seemingly great influence or importance. However, after reading the story about how her family alone was spared when the Israelites went to battle with the Canaanites, I can’t help but think that God knew, noticed, and cared about every intimate detail of her life long before the Israelites came.  I believe that in His sovereignty, He placed her in an unremarkable, commonplace dwelling because He knew she would be in just the right position to be saved, both physically and spiritually.

In the story, Rahab tells the two Israelite spies that her people are terrified of the Israelites after hearing stories about them crossing the Red Sea and defeating two other kings. My study Bible notes her use of the word “Yahweh,” God’s personal name, meaning that she had become a believer in the Lord, God of the Israelites, and she goes on to make further statements of faith in the Lord.

 Her situation did not look good. She was a common prostitute dwelling among a group of people who were about to be slaughtered by the Israelites. After she came to believe in the Lord and offered help to the Israelite spies, they agreed to spare her and her family. As I thought about her life before and then after this encounter, I wondered what her life was like after the dust settled and the fighting was over. As I continued to read and study, I could not help but gasp when I read Matthew 1:5: …Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab. There she is, right in the midst of the lineage of Jesus. What happened in her life after she professed faith in the Lord? She had been a prostitute, and then became married. She had been a foreigner, and then was adopted into God’s family. In place of shame, she was exalted to a place of honor in the lineage of Jesus. She is mentioned in both Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25 as an example of a person saved by faith and justified by works.

When we feel like we are floundering, insignificant, unseen, and humbled by situations we are desperate to escape, we may find that God has placed us in just the right circumstances to receive salvation, blessings, and honor that are too great for us to even imagine. Rahab is the perfect example of the principle stated James 4:7: …God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. My favorite thing about what God did for Rahab is the same thing that he did for the widow who gave the two mites: he saw her. I love serving the God Who Sees, and pray that He would open up my eyes to give me that same sight, that I would really see those around me and that the seeing would lead to loving.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

safe spaces

 


Have you ever experienced the feeling of being so bogged down by something difficult going on in your life, perhaps one unexpected hardship after another or maybe one seemingly endless battle, that you struggle to move forward, yet when you look to the right and the left, other people appear to have things so much easier?

While I do think that "Facebook envy" is part of the problem (when everyone else seems to have their lives so much more together than you do because you are only privy to their highlights), I also think some people are dealt a more difficult hand than others. I don't pretend to understand why, but I read some verses in Joshua today that seem to apply to this phenomenon.

Joshua 1:12-15 says,
And to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh Joshua spoke, saying, "Remember the word which Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, saying, 'The LORD your God is giving you rest and is giving you this land.' Your wives, your little ones, and your livestock shall remain in the land which Moses gave you on this side of the Jordan. But you shall pass before your brethren armed, all your mighty men of valor, and help them, until the LORD has given your brethren rest, as He gave you, and they also have taken possession of the land which the LORD your God is giving them. Then you shall return to the land of your possession and enjoy it, which Moses the LORD's servant gave you on this side of the Jordan toward the sunrise."

As 12 tribes of Israelites prepared to take possession of the land God had promised to them, some of them frankly seemed to have it easier than others. Two and a half tribes settled and had rest from battle while the remaining tribes still had some fighting to do before they could take possession of their land. God calls those who are enjoying a time of rest to help those who are still in the midst of warfare.

I have found myself struggling on both sides of this. When I am in the midst of (figurative) battle, I sometimes feel envious of others and even ashamed that I am struggling so much while others seem to be enjoying times of rest and blessing. I find myself thinking, "My life is so good! Why is this so hard for me? Everyone else seems to be able to handle it so much better than I do!" However, when I'm enjoying a time of rest or even when I am feeling crushed under the weight of my relatively small battles, I sometimes feel guilty that others seem to have to endure so much more difficulty than I do, through no fault of their own. God does not seem interested in making us feel guilty or ashamed for struggling or for enjoying a time of rest that He Himself has given us (verse 13). We need not feel guilty for enjoying the good gifts that the Lord gives us, but we also can be compassionate toward others, knowing that for whatever reason, some may have had to fight harder to enjoy the same blessings from the Lord.

God does not ask us to feel guilty for enjoying His blessings, but He does call us to use our blessing to bless others. In some seasons, we are rested (physically/ spiritually/emotionally) and have the energy and reserves to dive in and help others who are drowning. Other times, we can barely stay afloat, and the thought of trying to pull someone else up is simply overwhelming. Rather than comparing our situation to someone else's, we can enjoy rest when we get it and use our extra energy to help others, and we can feel unashamed for needing help when we are in the midst of suffering and adversity.

We must first be able to notice others before we can even be aware that they might need help. I believe that many, many people are struggling with pain that would be more bearable if they felt safe being vulnerable and sharing their pain with compassionate listeners. We must create safe spaces where people can openly share their struggles without fear of judgment and condemnation, knowing that the listeners will be compassionate and supportive. I have been in groups before where people were not comfortable sharing, and so it was hard to know what battles they were fighting, which makes it impossible to help. I've also been in groups where I shared something really difficult I was experiencing and either received no response or someone else's judgment when I really needed support. There are certainly times when we need people to call us out and help us see the need for repentance, but when people are vulnerable enough to share a struggle which they themselves have already identified, sometimes the greater help is to ask how we can support them rather than adding to the voices of criticism.

When we get through a difficult battle, may the Lord enlarge our capacity for compassion so that "we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God" (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). When we are enjoying times of rest, may the Lord open up our eyes that we might really see the people He has placed in our lives and build meaningful relationships that allow them to feel safe sharing their struggles with us. When we are in the midst of difficult circumstances and see others who appear to be well-rested, we can thank God that we are not all fighting at the same time! Instead, He has graciously provided brothers and sisters who are refreshed enough to help us fight, and some of them have been through such similar difficulties that they know exactly what kind of support would be most helpful. May we watch carefully to observe how we can help one another take possession of the inheritance God has given us, for "Then you shall return to the land of your possession and enjoy it" (Joshua 1:15).

Monday, March 13, 2017

strengthened

Yesterday, I watched a short clip of Christine Cain on Facebook live. She was offering encouragement for those who feel like something has happened to hinder the work they are supposed to be doing for the Lord, causing confusion and frustration. She said that sometimes the Lord will allow the stripping away of everything that we thought we needed so that we will find that all we needed was Him. I listened with interest, wondering how to relate to this in my current season, but couldn't really identify with any of the examples of hindrances that she gave. I couldn't let it go though; I kept thinking about it.

Last night was one of those nights, again. One of those nights, like many, many others for the past 16 months, when both kids kept me up and I got very little sleep. Sometimes I rebound pretty quickly and move on with the day, and other mornings, I wake up feeling angry and frustrated, wondering when I will finally be able to consistently get a reasonable amount of sleep. This morning I felt angry and exhausted after yet another a rough night with both children. After laying next to my toddler for a couple hours early this morning while she was in a semi-sleepy, restless state, as I tried to muster up the energy to get up and "start the day" (i.e., the day which had started hours ago), I reached for my phone to read the verse of the day, mostly out of desperation for some encouragement. I can't tell you how many times the Lord has used the verse of the day from my Bible app to speak a quick, amazingly pertinent word when I am struggling and can't immediately spend much time reading
It was Ephesians 6:10:
Be strengthened in the Lord and in the strength of His power.

I read it over and over and over, prayed it, thought about it, and wondered about it. Later, I read the rest of chapter 6, which is about putting on the whole armor of God. I was struck by the idea that perhaps this sleep deprivation, which seems so physical, is a form of spiritual warfare. It has certainly interfered with my energy, mood, and what I feel I can or cannot accomplish on a given day. Then I realized that maybe I can relate to Christine Cain's words more than I had thought. The hindrance I struggle with in this season, the thing that I perceive as keeping me from doing more of the work that I am so excited and eager to do as I try to step into my calling, is lack of sleep, time, and energy, which also makes me feel mentally foggy. I have so little alone time in this time when parenting young children is often round-the-clock, and I'm usually exhausted during the little bit of alone time that I do get. I have been excited to get to work but keep thinking that I will have to wait for this season to pass or get easier before the "real" work can begin. Perhaps the Lord is stripping away what I thought I needed (sleep! sanity! time! energy!) so that I will come to a deeper trust that He really is all that I need.

2 Corinthians 12:9 came to mind as I pondered these things:
"But He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.

I cannot express how much I am looking forward to the day when I can say that I am no longer chronically sleep deprived, but perhaps, for now, it is an answer to my prayer that the Lord would keep me close to and dependent on Him. If anything good comes from anything I do during this time when I am so tired, mentally foggy, and irritable, it will be all the more obvious that it is the power of Christ perfected in my weakness. When everything that I thought I needed to bring my "A Game" to the work of the Lord is stripped away, may I find that His grace is sufficient. Perhaps I will realize that rather than waiting for an easier season, I need only allow Him to strengthen me, to be faithful in obedience to Him, and to allow His power to be perfected in my very great weakness. My very favorite thing about Ephesians 6:10 is that, according to my study Bible, the verb "be strengthened" is passive, suggesting that this is something we cannot do on our own but must rely on the Lord to accomplish in us. Praise God that He is a God who will act on our behalf when we are weak and weary! Whatever season you find yourself in, may you be strengthened in the Lord and find that His grace is sufficient as His power is perfected in your weakness.

Friday, March 3, 2017

joyful in hope

Before we had our second child, I had a miscarriage with some unusual medical complications that were unresolved for several months afterwards and resulted in an emergency surgery. When all of that was finally resolved, I knew I wanted to have another child but was afraid of more pregnancy complications. I was afraid to hope, which is often my temptation as I try to anticipate difficulties and somehow feel more in control when I am afraid. I have allowed myself to believe that if I can anticipate the worst thing that can happen, it may soften the blow a little and I'll be better prepared.

Shortly before what would have been the due date of the pregnancy that ended in miscarriage, I went on a women's retreat with women from our church. We stayed at a lovely place just outside of Dallas. The group I had come with spent a lot of time together during our down time, but I felt a need to slip away and have time alone as I pondered the teachings we had heard, prayed, and thought about everything in light of my grief and fear. I went on a walk and decided to go into a tiny chapel that was on the property. As I walked around the inside of the chapel, I saw a scripture that was hanging on the wall. It seemed to leap out of the frame at me:

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Romans 12:12

I was arrested by the first part, "Be joyful in hope." Hope is not foolishness, as I have at times allowed myself to believe. The Lord seemed to be giving me permission to let go of my fear and anxiety and to not only hope for another child, but to hope with joy. I have spent much of my life feeling afraid to get my hopes up for fear of disappointment. We are certainly told to expect adversity in this life (John 16:33), but believers do not have to grieve as the world grieves, without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). While we will certainly experience suffering on this earth, Jesus says that in Him (not in the world), we can have peace (John 16:33).

In seasons when life is particularly difficult and unpredictable, it can be easy to let hope slip through our fingers as cynicism, depression, and hopelessness take over. For me, one of the most difficult things about taking care of our high maintenance babies was how unpredictable everything was. I couldn't seem to get either of them on a schedule and never knew what triggered sleepless nights, which were frequent, and colic episodes, which were extremely stressful (with our first daughter). Feeding them was difficult and feeding schedules were unpredictable. My husband made the observation that when you have no routine or predictability, you have nothing to look forward to, no hope of relief, which is part of what made those seasons so difficult for me. My darkest, scariest moments in life have been when I have begun to lose hope for one reason or another.

Praise God that He is a God of hope, and a God who will fight for us when we are too weak to fight for ourselves! If we hold on to the hope we have in Him, we can be patient in affliction. Without hope, patience is difficult because we are no longer waiting for something good, but instead are simply drowning in despair. When we acknowledge the God of hope, who is ever-present with us whether or not we can feel it, everything changes. When I think about being "faithful in prayer" in this context, I can't think of a better way to pray than Romans 15:13:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

*Update: After I posted this, a friend who had been at the same retreat read my post and emailed me this picture of the chapel I mentioned. It's hard to see, but if you look on the right side of the photo, you can see the frame with the scripture I referenced.
 
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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

enough

Busy mamas! Busy humans beings! I speak from my own experience as a stay-at-home mom, but I hear that working mamas, daddies, and men and women who aren't parents, are busy, overwhelmed, and exhausted, too. If you are living in survival mode, for whatever reason, read on; I have good news!

The two babies I have had have both been relatively high maintenance. They were healthy enough to not need any major medical intervention, but unwell enough to wreak havoc with their sleeping and eating. Long-term sleep deprivation along with anxiety and post-partum depression sent me into survival mode for about a year after each of my children were born. I am just beginning to come out of that first year with my second child and have felt guilty for not having longer and more consistent quiet times for prayer and reading my Bible. Some days, the only time I spent in the Word was reading the verse of the day from my Bible app, and there were plenty of days when I skipped Bible reading completely. 

I realized that the underlying issue was not just feeling guilty for being in a busy, difficult season. My real fear, deep down, was simply that my offering to God was not enough. I felt ashamed. I had a picture in my head of what I should be offering to Him, but it included things I did not possess at the time. This issue has not been a struggle exclusively in this season. When I was a teacher, I worked so hard and gave so much of myself, but I saw others who seemed to be doing more than I was, and I felt guilty.

Looking back on the past year, I am amazed at how God has used my seemingly insignificant offerings of time and scripture reading. If you read my previous post, you know that I recently had a life-changing encounter with the Lord. While it is a work He has been doing in me over time, I can point to one verse* that completely turned my world upside down. Memorizing it, meditating on it, and praying it have changed everything for me. I'm certainly not saying that I don't think it's important to spend time in prayer and Bible study, but I do think that the Lord knows our hearts and is compassionate when our offerings seem pitifully insignificant to our own eyes. He can take our tithe (which I believe can include our time and attention) and multiply it, as communicated in Malachi 3:10:

"Bring all the tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this," says the Lord of hosts, "If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it."

When you are in survival mode, it's especially easy to feel like you are giving all you have but that it's not enough.

1 Samuel 16:7 says, "...For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 

He knows how much we have to begin with, and He knows when we are giving all we possess. He knows our desire to honor Him with what we have, however little it may be, and I believe that He has great compassion for us when we give "out of our poverty," like the widow in Luke 21:1-4:

And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had."


Our job is not to give Him as much as the person next to us, or even to give the amount that we picture in our minds as being "enough." Our job is to be faithful with what He has entrusted to us personally, which changes as we move in and out of different seasons of life. May we not be so ashamed and self-conscious about our offerings to the Lord that we decide to forego giving anything at all. Give out of what you have, this day, and know that He takes delight in your offering. The widow who only had 2 mites could have decided to skip going to church that day rather than give such a small amount in front of all the rich people who gave so much more, but she chose to give out of her poverty, which the Lord counted as "more than all." Perhaps the two best words in the whole story are in verse 2, "He saw." When we are giving all we have and are painfully aware of how little it is, He sees and counts it "more than all." 



*John 14:27 Peace I leave you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives; do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

the day He changed my name

At the beginning of the year, on the morning of my birthday, I woke up thinking that I needed a scripture verse for the year. I read John 14:27:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.


I felt strongly that God was giving me the word "peace" for the year. Of course, because I'm me, after briefly thinking that that sounded nice, I began to worry that if I'm going to be learning about peace this year, I can probably expect to experience some significant adversity. I hated to be pessimistic, but it seemed likely.



Not long ago, some friends introduced me to the Enneagram, which describes 9 interconnected personality types. I listened to a series of lectures about each of the 9 personality types. As I listened to the very last one, from the moment the teacher started speaking, I heard her describing me. She said that their greatest sin is fear and is often manifested as anxiety. She said that they always see the worst thing that can happen in any situation, and that even when things are going well, they worry about what could go wrong.



She said many things, but what I heard over everything else was that fear and anxiety are such a prominent backdrop, people with this personality type are often not even aware of it and don't realize that not everyone else experiences the world this way. I have always known that I'm an anxious person and have worked hard the past few years (or perhaps I should say God has worked in me) to cope better with my anxiety. Hearing that it is at the core of who I am was like looking into a mirror and being forced to face what I knew was there but didn't want to see. I could not understand how this could be the core of my identity because I knew that that was not what God wanted for me, but I also knew it was true. I was up all night, upset, wrestling with this truth. I knew that God had given me the word "peace" for the year, but I was confronted with the truth that I was completely wrapped up in fear and anxiety.



Shortly thereafter, I had the privilege of attending Beth Moore's Lit Conference for women in their 20's and 30's who believe they have been called by God to use a gift of teaching, speaking, and/or writing. It was an inspiring, challenging, exhausting 12 hour day, and I learned so much, but the most significant thing that happened was during the worship time at the end of the conference.

I was exhausted from a very full, emotional, day and was wondering where I should let my thoughts land at the close of it. As my mind was searching over all the things I had learned that day, I felt like God was telling me to set it all aside and just be with Him. Christine Caine got up as Christy Nockels continued leading worship and said that we (the women attending the conference) all knew that God was asking something of us, but that He wanted to ask us, "What can I do for you?"



I was shocked. I had been in such a mode of figuring out what He was asking of me, I could not believe He would ask what He could do for me. I thought about the "peace" scripture and prayed for deliverance from fear and anxiety. I considered the part that says, "I do not give to you as the world gives," and I thought about how the world gives: selfishly, expecting something in return, and temporarily, giving things that don't last. I thanked God that He does not give with selfish motives and doesn't seek to manipulate, and then I prayed that He would give me lasting, deep-down peace that would last for the rest of my life. I continued praying and felt like God was showing me that my peace would not come from knowing that everything is going to be ok but that it would come from knowing that He is with me. As the worship time and conference drew to a close, my friend and I left together, completely exhausted.

The next morning, as I began the drive home from Houston, I thought about how I should spend the luxurious four hours of alone time on the road. I took notice of a beautiful blue sky with picturesque white clouds, such a lovely sunny day for driving, and I relished the fact that I had all of this time alone to do whatever I wanted, with no one asking anything of me. I found myself thinking about how unusually good I felt. And then it hit me. "Did He do it? Did He answer my prayer and deliver me from anxiety?" Enjoying a lovely drive home and "feeling good" may seem unremarkable, but I felt an underlying contentment and calm that was different from the needlessly anxious hurry I had been in on the way there.


I have continued mulling this over in the weeks since my return from Houston and wondered what it meant. When I first got home, I felt like the background of anxiety was gone, that I no longer had a nervous energy buzzing around in the background of my mind, which was something I had not even been aware was there before.



I've been thinking about when Jacob wrestled with God in Genesis 32:22-32. As Jacob is wrestling with the angel of God, the angel asks Jacob for his name. When Jacob responds, it's as though he is finally owning up to the sin of deception that is at the core of his identity because "Jacob" means "supplanter*." He was a "heel grabber" from the moment he was born when he grabbed the heel of his older twin brother Esau, and he continued to demonstrate deceptive, conniving practices throughout his life up to this point of encounter with God. Thus, in giving his name, he confessed the sin of who he was at his core, and then God blessed him and renamed him "Israel," which means "God strives," "God rules," "God heals," or "he strives against God" (according to the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary). After the encounter with God, he owned up to his mistakes and was reconciled to his brother.

I believe that on February 11, God gave me a new name. Before I could fully appreciate the healing and deliverance from anxiety, I had to be presented with the honest reality of who I was and how wrapped up in fear I had become. I was so upset to see and confess this about myself, but He already had a plan. As always, He used the truth lovingly and mercifully to begin the healing that He knew I needed. He had given me the scripture about peace, and then He took me to Houston and put me in a room with over 700 other women, under the leadership of an amazing panel including Beth Moore and others who have used their gifts to serve God. As we all worshipped Him together, He met with me intimately and asked what He could do for me after already placing in my heart the desire for the very thing He desired to do in me.


I want to share what He has done for me because I believe it brings Him glory, but I know that even if no one else ever knows my story, He is glorified in the act of healing me. He delights to heal His beloved children. I am thrilled to serve a God of restoration, who makes all things new, sees us both as who we are and who we will be, and who pursues us lovingly with a longing to work in us and conform us daily to His image. Before I had this healing encounter with the Lord, my name, my identity, was "Fear and Anxiety." I know that I will still struggle with feeling anxious at times, but I believe that it will no longer define me. Because of the work of Jesus on the cross and in my life personally, I have mercifully been given a new name. When the Lord looks at me and sees who He created me to be instead of who I have been, I believe He calls me "Peace."



Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
2 Corintians 5:17-19




*dictionary.com defines "supplant" as "to take the place of (another), as through force, scheming, strategy, or the like."

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

that's what I am.

I believe that I am my truest self when I worship and when I write. That is how I was put together, and because God the Creator of all things is the one who created me in my inmost being and knit me together in my mother's womb (Psalm 139:13), I have to believe that He is the one who designed me this way. 

My earliest memory of writing is when I was fascinated by cursive but did not yet know to to read or write it. I remember writing connected loops on a piece of paper and taking it to my older brother and asking hopefully, "Is this cursive?" "No, Lindsay," he, the older and wiser, responded. I would try a different-looking series of loops and ask again, and again, and still the answer was "no." My dad was more sympathetic and hesitant to dash my dreams: "Yeeeah... kind of..." We have home video of me when I was maybe 5 years old, sitting with one leg crossed over the other, writing on a tiny notepad in my lap. 

My first memory of writing a piece that I was proud of was in second grade when I wrote a poem about Halloween. I remember thinking with surprise and delight that the words just came to me suddenly.

When I was in fifth grade, drawing on the experiences my dad had shared as a social worker, I wrote a fictional story about a girl who discovered that her friend was being abused and assisted her in getting help. My story was so long that my very favorite teacher invited me and a couple of friends to stay after school so I would have time to read it aloud and they could give feedback.

Later, maybe in middle school, I wrote a story called Annie's Destiny about a young woman who discovers, through an odd journey to a magical place, that her failure as a journalist is an opportunity to fulfill her calling to write children's books.

In high school, I discovered and fell in love with the classics and found that if I devoured enough books written by the same author, I could start to pick up their voice and style and use it in my own writing. My best friend and I worked on creating a Jane Austen-esque plot for a story we were going to write together. I began writing it but never finished it. I wrote a short story for an English class assignment and wrote it in the style of Mark Twain, who was my obsession at the time. "What a great storyteller you are!" my English teacher wrote in the margin. I knew the style had come from reading so many books written by the master storyteller. My history teacher, in his habit of talking about things that had nothing to do with anything academic, asked the class one day who we would choose if we could be stuck in an elevator with anyone. I chose Mark Twain. My teacher must have thought I was such a weirdo...I guess I was.

When I was in college, I remember writing a poem that was inspired by a friend and showing it to him. He showed it to one of his friends, a person whom my friend seemed to think had some authority on the subject of writing. After reading it, his friend basically said that my poem was nothing special. I am quick to admit that I am a people pleaser and often care too much about what others think. However, I can tell you honestly that when he told me that the poem I had written, that piece of me, was nothing special, I didn't care. I knew that what I had written was exactly what I wanted to express. I had no idea whether it was "good" or not, but I felt complete peace and satisfaction with it because I knew that it was exactly what I wanted to say.

Being able to say that I have been called to write for Him has been the recent result of a long but accelerating journey. I've been afraid to say it out loud because that requires ignoring the voices in my mind that have been telling me that I'm not good enough, mature enough, well enough equipped, old enough, wise enough, and just plain not "enough" to have anything of value to say. I suppose they are right. I'm not enough, and they are right that there are plenty of other successful writers who are more qualified than I am, and many of them are doing a beautiful job of using their gift of communication to share the love of Christ and transforming truth of the Gospel. It's hard to believe that there is a place for another voice amidst all the noise in the world.

However, I know and believe with all of my heart that the Creator God who made me is more than enough. God, let me live fully and continually aware of the fact that I am not, and never will be, enough, without You. I pray that He will keep my poverty at the forefront of my mind so that I will keep coming back to Him, the only One who can supply all of my needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). May I throw off false humility and instead be emboldened to share the authentic story of God's goodness and truth in my life and in the lives of others so that I might do what I was created to do and point others to Jesus. 

Not long ago, I watched a movie on Netflix called "That's What I Am." It is a great coming of age story set in the 1960's about a middle school boy who is inspired by a gifted teacher who says, "I'm a teacher; that's what I am." As the boy learns to muster up the courage to stand up for others who are mistreated, he finds his own identity and says, "I'm a writer; that's what I am."

Here I am, taking my true, imperfect but honest self, and throwing it out there into the world, doing my best to keep my gaze fixed on my heavenly Father as I watch for His direction, equipping, correction, forgiveness, encouragement, and approval.

My name is Lindsay, and I'm a writer. That's what I am.