Faith and Getting The American Out

 

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Photo Credit:  Joel Ham Photography

 

I met a man a few weeks ago who does inner city ministry like we do, only he does it in the big dog towns.  He lives in the Bronx with his wife and three kids.  He was telling me about how they went to another state to visit a family in the suburbs and how his son got to ride a bike on a cul-de-sac for the first time. Actually, it was his first time to ever ride bike period. In the Bronx where they have been raised, he doesn’t get to do things like that.  There aren’t yards to play in and safe streets where they can ride freely.  When they returned back to New York his son said, “Dad, I just want to be able to ride bikes and run like normal kids!” His dad said, “What is normal?  That is normal for American suburbs, but it’s not “normal.” ”

This is question I think about all of the time when it comes to faith and how that is lived out within our culture as Americans.

What is normal?   That suburb life is only normal when you talk to someone in the suburbs.  Is it normal to a child in the middle of Manhattan?  In the middle of Beijing?  In Alaska?  This family was living an unconventional lifestyle and doing missions by living in a rougher area of a major part of New York city.  It’s a worthwhile thing and some people are called to do that.  But, that green sprawling grass and getting to ride bikes in the quiet streets of the suburbs, is what that child wanted to be like.  Just a normal kid….  Living our lives by a ruler of what is normal in our culture is dangerous.  It’s not only dangerous, but it leaves you discontent.  I felt that way tonight.  I do it all of the time.

So, what is normal?  What is normal for you/us?

You go to college, of course.  You get a degree and then you make money, maybe get married and you buy a home. We usually call those “starter homes”.  Half of the world lives below the poverty line and real-estate in major cities is so expensive that a “starter home” would be a quarter of a million dollars but regardless, for most Americans, we call these smaller homes…even new ones, starter homes.  Why starter homes?  Because you move up.  You make more money, you buy a bigger house. You start small. You make more money, you buy better cars.  You buy bigger houses because all of your kids need their own rooms.  Never mind millions of kids are homeless and/or poverty stricken and sleep on the ground in homes shared by 15 people but here, you must not just have a home, but a room for each person.  I will never forget how humbling it was when an African refugee family came to our 2,000 square foot house and after looking around, asked us how many families we shared it with.  We want extra closet space for all of our stuff.  A garage for both cars. We are a nation of moving up the ladder.  It’s normal…for us.  But just like that African family inadvertently showed us, we are blinded to our own extravagance.  My home and standards aren’t “normal”.  They are American or Western but not “normal”, simply cultural.  They would think us having more for our 5 person family would be completely un-necessary.   Most Americans would beg to differ.

I realize that I am so engulfed in my culture that I have wondered over the past few years of our move into an inner city unconventional lifestyle, how much am I blinded by simply being American?  How many of my standards of the choices I/we make as a family are swayed by what I consider is normal because of our culture?  I acknowledge that there may be many things I believe are normal, based on my biases that I am unaware of.  I have started to question over the past few years this very important question that is relevant across the world:

Are you letting your faith define your culture, or your culture define your faith?

Are we living comfortable lives because that is just “what we do” in one of the most comfortable societies in the world?  Are we basing our standards of living based on our faith or our culture?  Are we trying to make our children comfortable or Godly?  Are we making choices for our families and children based on faith or American norms where you live in the best place you can afford and interact with people like you in places you are comfortable?  Are you giving your children a lived out example of the gospel or American goals and standards?  Does the way you live your life challenge your kids in any way?  Do you look different to the world?

Are your prayers American?

“God, please let us close on this new home.”

That home is bigger and better and every kid has their own space.  That home costs way more and is climbing up that ladder.  I am NOT saying it is a sin to have a nice home or a bigger home.  I’m not even saying the desire is necessarily wrong. But what I am saying is, why do we want more?  Why do we need more?  In our culture, it’s just what we do. And that’s just my point, we think culturally. We don’t question it. Actually, we don’t even notice it.  But then I think this, God hears my prayers for a newer nicer home, which I have prayed many times, in the same ear as the Ethiopian woman praying her child lives through the night with Malaria.  God hears that prayer with the same ear as he hears the mother hunkered down in her home for fear that someone may come to kill her in the night for being a Christian. God hears my prayers for more in the same breath of the African mother who just wants one more bowl of millet to feed her hungry family. He hears my prayers for more with the same heart that He hears the Syrian woman happy with what she has. Most of this world not only doesn’t pray for, but doesn’t expect or ask for bigger homes and better material things but for shelter, safety, food.  I can’t help but feel that most of us, me included, pray and ask for more because my culture says that is the next step and we don’t feel convicted about it BECAUSE we are blinded to it.   I can’t help but feel that my culture is defining my faith and not my faith defining how I live within that culture.  The latter should make us look differently.

How are you living your life?  How are you making choices and by what measure are you making those choices?  Ask yourself, are there things you can’t see in how you live because you are living like an American Christian and not just a Christian?

I heard from my last pastor who lived in India for a time of a man who crawled on his leprosy nubbed limbs to church every morning.  It took him two hours.  All the while here we don’t go if we are tired or leave a church because they don’t have enough programs you love.  People around the world are dying for owning bibles. Lepers are crawling to churches and Christians are being beheaded.  Wake up, America! Wake up, believer!

I think of how my husband heard a man in Africa tell an American pastor that the difference between American Christians and African Christians is this:  “In America, you love God.  In Africa, we depend on him.”

That was strong.

More and more I think, “Do I think this way or do I think this is necessary or important because I am an American? Does the bible say this is important?  Does the bible say this is what my kid’s need?”

We aren’t Americans.

We are Christians living in a biblical context.  We just happen to live in the states.

One day, we will all stand before God, I, American Rebecca, will stand among the nations.  God will not ask of you or me, “How did you live by My standards within your culture?”  He won’t ask you if you lived humbly or non excessively for “an American”.  He won’t ask of you, “Did you make time for me and my church, by American standards?” God won’t ask of you, “Were you generous for an American?”  He will only expect of us what He expected of people from the very beginning, that we define our lives by Him, not a cultural standard.

When we stand before God, we will not get  leniency based on our cultural interpretations.  There will be no Ethiopian, Korean, Brazilian, American, Middle Eastern, Japanese standards.  There will be but only one standard, which was the only standard there has ever been:  Jesus.

Does Jesus define your life, lifestyle and your choices?  Or does your life look a lot like how Jesus might have been if He had been an American?  But wait, Jesus wouldn’t have looked different in any culture, right? Exactly.  He would have been Jesus in Nazareth, Jesus in Korea, Jesus in Iraq and Jesus in America.  If we are to look like Him, so should we.  So ask yourself, what does that look like?  Let Jesus define you wherever you may find yourself and not your location define your Jesus.

 

Part 2: Up Springs Hope

Guest Post by: Cristen Powers

Part 2:

I wish I could tell you that the story gets so much better. I wish I could tell you that within this, there lies a super duper, beautiful, healthy baby or babies growing inside my womb…. But that just isn’t the case.

After prayer and consulting with physicians, Jared and I chose to go ahead and begin the journey of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). Let me tell you something. If you have never experienced firsthand or had a loved one go through IVF, it really is nothing short of an emotional roller coaster ride that is far more intense than any month or months of trying on our own for a sweet bundle of joy. I’m just keepin’ it real.

We began our first round in May, and I was so proud of myself…giving myself my first injection alone and on the first try. Everything went perfectly really. Every injection, every pill, every ultra sound came back great. With IVF, you pump yourself full of drugs to produce a ton of eggs in one month vs. one egg like a normal woman in real life would. They told us in class to expect 10-12. We prayed for more. I prayed for beautiful healthy embryos from the very beginning. I prayed for the perfect number that God ordained. I asked so many loved ones to pray as well because I believe in the power of prayer from a mighty God. I am an open book with my life, and sometimes people enjoy that and sometimes people don’t. But I will NEVER go through something this intense without asking the ones I love to cover me and my family with prayer. Period.

My body responded beautifully to the medicine with hardly any side effects. Egg retrieval came, and they got 18 gorgeous eggs❤️❤️❤️. The nurse on the floor told me that was the most that day. To God be the glory. Then, out of those 18 eggs, 15 fertilized! We were told to expect to lose half. We lost 3. Out of those 15, we had 9 beautiful, amazing embryos that made it all the way! We did a transfer of two embryos and froze 7. They told us to hope for 3 total. We had 3 times that. And God gets every single ounce of that credit. We were able to do a fresh embryo transfer because my body recovered well from the retrieval and we transferred 2. The moment the embryologist came in the room and showed me a photo of those two embryos, my heart fell in love.

Now…I don’t want to start a political debate or in any way make someone who chose or viewed this situation differently than me think I’m judging them for one second because I’m not. But in my heart, those embryos that have fertilized and have grown for 5 days are life. They are my babies. God knows them. And God has a perfect plan for all of them. The moment my eyes laid on their picture, I was mush. I prayed over them. I loved them. The transfer went great, and I felt great about every single step of our entire process for about 2 days.

I started to get an uneasy feeling about day 3. It’s such a hard place to be in…hoping but not hoping so great that pure devastation could lie ahead. All the shots, drugs, pills, appointments, blood work etc… That stuff didn’t hold a candle to the waiting. The waiting with IVF was by far the worst two weeks of my life. It was the longest and the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. Nothing can prepare you for it. You just have to go through it. Two days before my blood work, I took an at-home test and it was negative. It was awful. I can’t really even describe in words the way I felt. I told my mom and a couple very close friends, and, of course, they were trying to be encouraging and positive and said it could be wrong, but in my heart I knew. I got the phone call two days later that my heart was right.

It’s hard to think about our future right now because we’re in the midst of the pain. But I know we will try again. I know that this is not the end of our story. I’m not writing all of this to get sympathy. I’m not writing it to make my pain in this period of my life appear worse than someone else’s. In fact, this story actually isn’t about me at all. This story is about Jesus. It’s about redemption. It’s about sanctification. Let me tell you. I have been on my knees a lot in the last month begging. I BEGGED. I cried out to the God who parted the Red Sea and got Daniel out of the lions’ den. I cried out for a baby. I surrounded myself with praise music and prayer and read Scripture to survive those two weeks. I prayed more than I have prayed in my whole life for the life that was placed inside me. And you know what, God heard those cries. He heard the first cry and He heard the last. And after hearing those cries, He simply said no.

There is one and only one who ordains ALL life. And it ain’t me. And it ain’t a doctor at a fertility clinic. But you know what else? I was on my knees for the first time in my life. I was reading daily Scripture for the first time in a long time. This last month has been so hard and so long and at times downright awful. Emotionally exhausting. But Jesus drew me in. I found Him in the midst of this struggle. I found Him on my knees.

I really do not believe our struggle with infertility is the end of the story that Christ has written for me. I believe it’s just the beginning. Or maybe the middle somewhere. But it’s not the end. I don’t have such a strong desire for children for no reason. I refuse to believe that God places desires in our hearts for things that are of Him…. And then tells us never mind….it was all a joke. I do not believe that my God does that. I do believe that He says no sometimes. And sometimes He says not yet. But regardless of when He says no and how He says it, it is making me more like Christ.

I’m gonna tell you what. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. But I never had to send a son to die on a cross. I never had to give up my ONE and ONLY son to be crucified by people who hated him. That is LOVE. That is heartache. THAT is SALVATION, my friends. I am a dirty, filthy rag that deserves nothing shy of hell. I don’t deserve my husband. I don’t deserve my job. I don’t deserve children. But I serve a risen savior who washed away my sins and made me white as snow. There isn’t anything better in this world. No kids, no money, no house, no spouse, no job, no NOTHING can satisfy you like Jesus.

God calls us all to different mission fields…we all have a purpose while on earth. My purpose hopefully one day will be to be a mother…to raise children to love Jesus and to go out among their neighbors and share the Gospel of the one who died for us. But until that day comes…my purpose is right now. Right here in this spot of hard… in this place of heart break and redemption that is keeping me on my knees. I pray Jesus fills me up with the joy of the Lord and with peace that passes all understanding. I pray He allows me to share His good news with other women in this hard spot, in this moment that can feel so unbearable at times. And I pray He uses me to bring glory to Him out of this heartache.

I’m gonna be real honest and tell you…my relationship with Jesus is so much stronger today than It was 3 years ago. My marriage is stronger today than it was 3 years ago. God has transformed my cold, stubborn, selfish heart to be more like Him in these last 3 years. Has it been hard? Oh, yes, it sure has. Has it been good for me? For my marriage? For us? Absolutely. That’s hard to say in the midst of this trial because I’m saying it through tears of pain. But God is constant. He hasn’t left us during any of it, and He will see us through ‘til the end. And if I die with no kids or with 10, it will be the purpose of the Lord.

If you are in the middle of this struggle, it is so hard. But it so much harder without leaning on the everlasting love of Jesus. He has filled my heart and soul with grace to drive away bitterness and resentment of all the pregnant people swarming around me constantly. He is the reason I have joy. He is my strength. The saying that God never gives us anything we can’t handle is the farthest thing from the truth. Cristen can NOT handle this road of infertility. I can NOT handle losing two sweet embryos and possibly more. But salvation allows me to lay what I can’t handle down at the feet of Jesus. And when I trust it to Him, He handles it for me. He really is all you need. Really. He is ALL. I. NEED.

Thank you Kim Ellis for that reminder. And thank you for the reminder that it’s okay to go through the drive-thru of Krispy Kreme when the hot and ready light is flashing to get some glazed donuts on the day you found out it didn’t work out the way you had hoped. I praise God in the midst of this struggle, and I praise God for hot Krispy Kremes.

Romans 5:2-5 “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

P.S. I wrote this entry the night we found out our first round of IVF was unsuccessful. Since then, I have had another surgery and lots of hard days. I am struggling with a lot of pain from jealousy, bitterness, and anger. I feel like I used to be able to handle going to a baby shower with a smile on my face. I could handle walking past the diaper and bottles at Target, and I could sit in a room filled with mamas-to-be and listen to their stories about pregnancy and motherhood. Right now, I don’t want to handle it. I don’t want to walk in an empty third bedroom of my home that we have been saving for a nursery. What I want to do is shake the next pregnant woman who complains about her pregnancy. What I want to do, is grab those Huggies off the shelf and launch them at the first baby belly I see. I did choose diapers here and not glass bottles. 😀 I want to avoid all conversations about babies and nursing and sleep deprivation. Instead, I want to lie on my couch eating chocolate and watching “Friends” episodes on Netflix.

To be really real…. I’ve tried to even avoid talking to God. I’m not proud of this person. I know this is sin and that Jesus is the answer. He always is. But I’m a human. I’m a sinner. This “mood” I’ve been in or this place I’m in right now just shows me again how much I need Jesus. I need Him. I need Him to survive this world. I need Him to make it through these hard days and possibly more hard ones to come. He’s still trying to teach me to let Him handle all this “stuff” for me.

I still believe God is going to work this together for the good. He promises us that. He also tells us we need the faith of a mustard seed. Right now, I don’t know if I even have that. But here’s the good news. Jesus is bigger. He is bigger than these last few weeks of mourning and depression. He is bigger than my doubt and lack of trust. He is bigger than my prideful heart and bitter soul. There isn’t any sin His grace cannot reach.

Right now, I need your prayer. Right now, I need to be covered by the grace of Jesus. I know He will see us through. And I know our story isn’t finished.

 

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The Forgotten Art Of Christianity

 

I lived two glorious years in Louisville, Kentucky when Lance was in seminary.  I use glorious lightly.  Okay, sarcastically.  There were high moments and irreplaceable people, but my marriage, health, and finances were otherwise poo-poo.  Those years were struggling years and, for a season, miserable at times.  It was when my health went south with chronic migraines that were initially hard to even diagnose, much less treat,  that I learned that there is an attribute that many Christians are lacking and that is bearing each others burdens.

Suffering and enduring with someone else is a very honorable characteristic but very rarely do you think of someone, “Hey, they sure are long-suffering today.”  Fruits of the spirit get thrown out in compliments often, but I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of a Christian being referred to as someone who bears other’s burdens well.

When I first got “sick” with migraines, I had to quit my job.  I couldn’t drive a car for a while because of the dizziness and there were weeks where I didn’t even go outside. It was incredibly depressing and suffocating. I had migraines daily for 8 weeks and then battled them on and off with good and bad days for the whole first year.  When it began I received cards here and there, visits, prayers, and many “How are yous”.  Then as time progressed but what was going on with me didn’t, people sort of dropped off in their presence with me.  I know that people still loved me…still cared, and to be fair, they probably didn’t know what to do anymore.  Ultimately, I don’t think people knew how bear one another’s burdens for a season.  That isn’t a judgement, but rather something most of us are lacking, including me.  Knowing how to be present for the long haul in someone’s strife is difficult.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to walk with someone through something enduring, you will.  It’s coming.  It is so simple to bring a meal to a friend when they have a baby or to clean a friend’s house when their parent passes.  Not only is it simple, it’s almost innate to do those things for people we love.  We WANT to be there for our friends and loved ones.  It’s natural.  However, what is not inherently in our nature, if left to ourselves, is enduring and bearing suffering with one another. Why?  Because immediate sympathy is a fast love response, but long suffering requires discipline.  When all of the emotions of sadness and shock of the initial onset of a burden wears off in to weeks, months and so on, then you aren’t acting on raw love and emotion.  It becomes inconvenient.  It can become a burden on your own time and schedule. It starts taking from YOU.  You can even start to become frustrated with the person who is struggling.

“Take my advice!”

“We’ve had this conversation a million times.”

“Get over it!”

“Quit complaining!”

“They bring me down and it’s so depressing talking to them.”

“You chose to marry them!”

“Make better choices!”

“Go get help!”

“Lots of people go through this sooooo….”

Nothing will show you how highly you view yourself or how much of a servant you are quite like walking alongside of someone through something ugly.

A woman in your church becomes suddenly widowed.  Everyone organizes a meal delivery schedule for the first few weeks.  People help her around the house or with her kids.  People constantly express concern for her and her family. But then, life goes on.  Well…your life goes on.

After all, what are you supposed to do?  You brought meals on and off for threes weeks and that is so hard on your time and maybe finances.  What are you supposed to do?  Just bring meals open-endedly?

Maybe.

If that’s what it takes.  Maybe if that what she needs.  Three weeks is comforting.  Three weeks is helpful.  Three weeks is supportive, but it’s not enduring.  It would be great if no burden we bore outlasted a few weeks of meals and a handful of calls and prayers, but that’s not real life.  Furthermore, that isn’t being the church if we can’t go beyond that.

Life is messy.  We all ebb and flow between good seasons and hard times and for us all, we all have a few issues we seem to battle for a lifetime:  a difficult marriage, illness, finances, un-forgiveness, anxiety, family relationships, infertility, anger and loneliness.

We will all survive deaths of loved ones and unexpected-ed personal tragedies:  your husband loses his job and you lose everything, miscarriages, diagnosis’s, accidents, etc.   With a world like this, the problem is, we are all at some point going to be required to endure and not just for ourselves, but to help others endure also.  If you are honest with yourself, you may have very well floundered in bearing a burden with someone long term.  You may not even have realized that you missed the opportunity.

Suffering, struggle and strife is not fun to be a part of in any way, regardless of whether it’s your suffering or someone else’s, but bearing with each other is an important sanctifying experience for both parties.

A sweet mother who recently passed away of cancer wrote about it like this:

In our efforts to terminate suffering, too often we can be forced to terminate the sufferer when were meant to liberate the aloneness of the sufferer, by choosing to participate in the suffering….choosing to stand with the suffering, stay with the suffering, let the suffering be shaped into a meaning that transcends the suffering.   The staggering truth is:  Suffering is never a meaningless waste of your life, but a meaningful way through your life.

Suffering is a call to come, to show up, to be there.  Suffering can be a gift because it’s a call for presence; it’s a call for us to be present.

If suffering is about bearing under, suffering is a call for us all to be a community to stand together and carrying the weight of bearing under, only to find that we are all being carried by a Greater Love.

Struggling and suffering alongside of each other is about being like Jesus.  It should be the mark of the church which means, bearing burdens isn’t just something for you and your best friend.  It’s for people you share church with.  Not often do other’s problems effect us and rarely do we take them on as our own and let them “inconvenience” our lives, but bearing isn’t easy, it isn’t quick, but it’s required of us and needed from us.  Disciplines require Christ reliance and never come easy, but they deliver bountifully.  As a believer, you are equipped to navigate through carrying each other burdens.  Messiness is guaranteed but you are called to and one day, you will need someone to help carry yours.

So in the end, the question is not if you need to bear a burden.  The question is, will you recognize when it’s needed, how will you bear it, and will you have the faithful discipline to endure.

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galations 6:2″

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Photo Credit: Joel Ham Photography

How To Talk In Church

 

As a pastor’s wife, I have a front row seat to a crazy phenomenon.  I sit in our pews in awe like some sort of religious natural geographic behaviorist, charting the habits of Christians at the microphone.  You know what I’m talking about. Everybody is from the year 2015 until they get up to pray and then BOOM, bible character. Timmy Toppins’ speech turns from a Kentuckian to a Corinthian. “I trust the Lord has kept His countenance upon us since we last gathered…” Tommy is going crazy.  Tommy doesn’t know what countenance means.  I start checking my feet for ancient leather sandals and looking over my back for a burning bush because something special is going on here.

I start clapping my hands in front of my face to make sure I’m awake and that this is real life. Is that Tommy Toppins up there?  The same guy that just ten seconds before he went up to pray fluffed his hair, made a Beyonce joke and said, ” I woke up like dis’.” Is this the future? Wait…I mean the past? Every Sunday it’s like my own personal journey through the holy lands during olden times.  At least throw an “um” or hipster word in there so I don’t become completely disoriented.

Yep, everyone LOVES talking like bible characters. This has even permeated getting a letter to support someone’s mission trip that begins, “Greetings in the Lord Jesus Christ.” What happened to “hello”?  What in the Thessalonian church is going on here? I can give you fifty dollars towards your trip, bro.   I don’t have to believe Paul himself wrote me that letter to give a donation.  You’re still going to Puerto Rico. (points like Oprah) You’re going! You’re going!  The whole youth group goes to Puerto Ricooooooo!!!!!!

From the pulpit, to letters, to just the other day my husband text me and said, “Can I go out to eat with some brothers one night this week?”

I replied, “Friends, Barnabas of Galilee, friends.”

See Barnabas didn’t even live in Galilee, but when you are trying to wake someone up out of talking like bible characters, you have to say something not biblically sound to really snap them out it. Jesus fed the five thousand crabs and cheese…anything.

This is serious, y’all.  Contagious even.  If you are asked to pray for your small group and find yourself busting out material from every John Piper sermon you have ever heard, it’s just the beginning. You are on your way to being a part-time bible character.   If this post made no sense to you and didn’t make you laugh, oh brother.  If you thought that “brother” just meant like Christian brother, then you are experiencing the epidemic firsthand.  Let me tell it to you in a way you will understand, “Doth not looketh good for you, Christopher of Bethlehem.”  Go rest ye merry gentlemen and take a load off until next Sunday. Please no one ask Christopher to publicly pray for at least 2 weeks.  Doctor’s orders.  There’s still time.

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Photo Credit:  Joel Ham Photography

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Dear Defeated Mom & Your Misconception About Discipline

 

Dear Defeated Mom,

If you spank or time-out your kids one more time this week, you might go crazy.  You have followed through and stayed the course through private and public fits, blatant disrespect, the food thrown on the floor on purpose, and the unrelenting sound of hearing your children squabble over the Frozen dolls.  You sit down in the pajamas you should have taken off ten hours ago and wonder, what is going wrong?  How did it come to this and where on earth did it come from?  Your kids are acting in ways you swore pre-kids your kids never would.  It must be you…your lack of parenting skills, a result of  you breaking down and yelling, or because you just can’t figure out the right way to get your message across.  Exhuasted at the end of the day, you lay down and face the facts that you are a bad mom and you have failed your children somehow.  Good kids with good mothers just don’t act this way.

But you are wrong.

Some of the most difficult kids are being raised by some of the best parents.  It is a lie to believe that perfect discipline creates perfect children.  I don’t know what belief system you subscribe to but in my book, we are ALL sinners, defiant children and impatient mothers alike.  You cannot spank a child’s temperament out of them.  You can’t yell or even very patiently strip a child of their sin nature to simply defy you.  Disobedience is in our bones. ALL of our bones.  God changes hearts, not the flawless consistency of one’s parenting abilities.  He uses us to mold our children and to teach them to obey and we should do that daily.  However, the belief that if you could just get your act together enough….just pull yourself up from your bootstraps enough on those knock down drag out days, that you could rid your child of their flaws and imperfections, it’s a lie that leaves you defeated and being certain you, mom, are both the problem and the solution.  Ultimately, you are neither.

I know what it’s like to do everything you know to do for days that turn in to weeks and months with little to no fruit. I use to help parents with their children’s behavior issues FOR A LIVING.  I know “what to do”.  But in my pursuit of trying to mold my strong willed child and my toddler rounding the terrible threes bend, I have learned that I have lied to myself, just like you and a million other moms have too.

I know moms who do everything they can and their child still hits at daycare.  I know mothers who have cried and worried about what their children will say in front of other parents, even though they model patience and kind words at home.  And these moms?  Don’t blame them.  Don’t pass judgement.  They keep plowing through in love, discipline, and consistency.  If you do blame them, you have also bought the lie that you can cure humanity with impeccable parenting. Among other things, that is purely un-biblical. It’s hard for me to believe that someone can be a parent and believe that a mother or father isn’t doing something “correct” enough if their kid screams for a sucker in the checkout line one afternoon.

Like all lies, they lead you down a path of second guessing, hurt, confusion, and discouragement.  You, defeated mom, are not a bad mother when you break, and your children won’t go on to be serial killers because they told you they hated you when you turned off their favorite t.v. show.  You have to understand Who brings about the ultimate change and victory in you both.  As one pastor said, “No one has ever been scolded out of sin.”  You can love them, teach them even when they seem unteachable for months, but you can not scold, spank, ground, or sit a child in the corner enough to make them NOT sinners.  You can’t say enough bedtime prayers or read enough bible stories to make them not be sinners. You can guide them with your discipline.  You can teach them the value of respect and obedience and what consequences come from rebelling against your rules and God’s.  Your parenting can lead them into change and into the right direction but you can’t finish the deal.  The fact that they are sinners and that your parenting isn’t enough to save them from that will show through on a regular basis.  It is not all about what you are or aren’t doing.

So, weary mother, this too shall pass and on many days, not soon enough it feels.  You ache to see your kids be shaped by your labors to make them listeners and respectful little people.  But when you don’t see transformation and the fruit trees are bare for seasons on end, remember that this is all a journey with failing parents and stumbling children. God never intended for you to be responsible for their full heart and character.  God changes the heart, we set the stage.

You are a good mom and good mothers feel like they are failing only because good moms are striving. If you aren’t striving, there is nothing to fail at. Your difficult mothering days that leave you broken and despairing aren’t because you are lacking the right techniques. Don’t believe the lie.  God equipped you for your children and His plan for each of you includes you both being sinners and both fumbling the ball.  He will redeem the heart of your child, just like He did yours.  Put the burden of shaping them on His shoulders and not on disciplining out of them what only God can truly transform.  Let your discipline point them to Him and let Him do the redeeming.

Love,

A Mother Just Like You

 

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Photo Credit:  Shelly Griffin Photography

Near Miss: Life Through Anxious Eyes

 

When I sit and think of my life and how things have panned out, I get a sense of relief…a feeling that I have escaped some awful things in life.  It makes me feel an equal amount of blessed and anxious.  I know, I know…weird combo.  I try to keep even my emotions spicy.

The surgery for infertility that came back with a treatable option, oh my gosh, what if they couldn’t have cured it?

The wreck my dad and I saw that we missed by literal minutes.  What if we didn’t pull off to grab chips at the gas station?  That could have been us.

That guy I dated when I was younger? What if I had been an adult and married him instead?  What would my life have been like?

When money wasn’t rolling in that month, what would we have done if family didn’t spot us some cash?  What if we had different families in different financial situations?  It’s so scary to think what would have happened to us.

What if I didn’t go in my daughter’s room and check her blood sugar that night when she was low?  The thought and the weight of possibilities in life can sometimes make me sick to my stomach.

As I look over everything that has happened in my 32 years, I feel like I’ve scraped through some scenarios of life by the skin of my teeth. Situations that are now resolved seem to look like a bunch of near misses.  I can catch myself in an anxious wave of not only the what ifs and questions of what lies ahead, but also in a weird reverse anxiety of what if it didn’t go that way for me?  The “can you imagines” give me a post anxiety that makes me feel like I almost didn’t make it at times.

But, all anxious thoughts have to be countered with truth.  Why?  Because all anxiety starts with a nugget of truth but then becomes so exaggerated that it is no longer rational.  Reason, rationale, and truth center the over embellished anxious thought and brings you back down to objectivity.

The nugget of truth is that I’ve been in some tight spots.  Over dramatized by anxiety, I start to feel like I have barely made it and a lot of bad things could have happened to me if life had swung other directions. However, the reality to ground those thoughts, is really quite wonderful.

While I feel like my life has been a series of triumphs and terrible “almosts”, really neither is true.  My life has been sovereignly orchestrated in both the safe and the scary by an almighty God.  My life is and was a series of “on purpose” not “almost didn’t”.

When Lance and I were broke in seminary and I was chronically sick with migraines and lost my job and insurance, I don’t have to wonder what I would have done had a doctor not given me the box of free samples of the medicine I needed. I don’t have to wonder because he did. I didn’t narrowly miss the grace of having some relief.  God planned to care for me that way. I can wonder all I want about what could have been but our lives are not could have beens.  Our lives are the way there ARE.  There was no plan B.  God knew that He would provide for that situation in THAT way and while it was a mystery to me as to how things will turn out, He knew the answer and what was supposed to happen…did.  It wasn’t a near miss at all.  It was a intentional target hit of what He was doing in my life at the time.  No need to wipe a sweaty brow.

So, your good test results, the bank account that almost shattered, the relationship that ended, all of your what if something else would have happeneds or your what if I had done something differents, you can set them aside.  Your life both in the good and bad, blessings and burdens, and every scary situation, they wear never a near miss.  There is nothing arbitrary about  an attentive God’s care for your life.

You are being watched over in every joy and tragedy by an intentional God and you are not haphazardly floundering about your life’s circumstances. Not then. Not now. There will be no success and no failure apart from His presence. Your life is playing out as it is supposed to under the authority of someone who can shift it if need be and if He didn’t, then it is as it should have been intended for your good.  Nothing, nothing was a near miss.  He is acting out a plan for your life and today, just like ten years ago, He still has the whole world in His hands.

 

I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. Job 42:2

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. Matthew 10:29

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. Proverbs 16:9

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.  Proverbs 19:21

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

 

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Parenting: What You Can Expect

Every mom has some sort of fear for their kids.  Most moms fears center in some way around how their kids will turn out.  Will they be healthy? Will they be happy?  Will they marry a good person?  Will they have good friends?  Will my child be responsible, caring, wise? I’ve even wondered in a nervous moment if my kids will be good drivers.  I leave no anxious corner un-turned, even with they are toddlers.  I MUST worry about them driving on rainy or slick roads NOW!

There are many things a mom has cross her heart and mind in a day.  For me, one of my greatest concerns is whether or not my children will grow up to have a strong faith in God.  Just like we can’t guarantee that our kids will be generous because we were or responsible because we tried to instill that in them, faith is something you offer and practice but it’s not surety that your child will love God because you did.  In even the best of homes, your children are completely and utterly individuals of their own hearts and nature.  There are no certainties.  I guess that is what causes a mother to worry:  You don’t know that they will benefit from anything you’ve given them and on most days you wonder if you are giving them all the right things, examples or enough of the good you hope to see in them.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my children and the faith they will or won’t have someday.  Sure, right now they are pastor’s kids and love bible stories and VBS.  In the right home, Charles Manson could have enjoyed all of the same things at 4 years old.  I don’t believe that it means that they are set to go and won’t have seasons of struggle about faith because they sing praise and worship songs as little kids.  I wonder how I can cultivate in them a godly heart and there is this one thought that comes to mind:

You can’t expect more in them than they see in you.

Ouch.

That is sort of true across the board.  Angry parents can’t expect patient kids.  Deceitful parents can’t expect upfront children.  In the same way, parents who have a disconnect between saying they love God and showing their kids how to live in such a way in daily life, can’t expect children who read the bible, apply the bible to their life choices, go to church when they aren’t made to and children who know how loving God is displayed in their relationships and so on. You can want it. You can hope for it.  But you aren’t justified to expect it if you are a poor example of this because they wouldn’t be learning it from you.  We can’t blame children for not becoming more than what we offered.  As an adult, our childhood isn’t an excuse for what we choose to be but while they are young and while they are becoming young adults, you can expect much more.

Yes, children can become anything.  It’s common to have children that are complete opposites BECAUSE of their parents.  A child who hated their drinking father may never touch alcohol.  A child who had to tip toe around their parent’s tempers may be patient and understanding of their future children because they want more and better for their own.  Of course this happens.  I know in spite of anything I do wrong, my children may be better than me and my choices and I hope so.  Still, I’m convicted that while our kids can come out on the other side, I want my children to be inspired and led BY me.  I don’t want them to turn out to have anything noble IN SPITE of me.

I want my children to have a solid understanding of God’s word.  I want my children to use its truth as the thing by which they measure all of their choices.  I want them to pray.  I want them to read their bible.  I want them to have a relationship with God.  I want them involved in church.

When I compromise on a song they hear on the radio, realize that they don’t have opportunities to see me read my bible either because they are in bed or because I’m not, and when I don’t pray with them every night, I feel the burden of selling them a bag of watered down goods.  I want more for them than compromise and “in the middle” and sometimes, I get in a funk and realize, that is exactly what they are getting.  I’m not living what I hope they become and I can’t hope for better than what they are taught.  I want to spur them on to godliness, not be a stumbling block on them getting to the fullness of what a life like that looks like.

I’m not guilt tripping myself and I don’t need to be told that I really am a great mother and that they will turn out to be good children.  Sure, every mom needs encouragement but I’m okay with not hearing those things over these small confessions because it’s not the standard I want for myself and it’s not what I want for them. I should do better.  I want them to see set apart, not blurred lines.  I’m okay with knowing that kids will rise to where a bar is set and that I’m setting the bar.  If I want them to be crazy in love with God, they need to see it bleed from me in every day….even the “it’s raining and cold outside and I’m stuck at home and will run away if anyone else cries” days.  That wasn’t a random example. That was yesterday for me. Cheers to more winter like days to come. Oh, brother.

You can want the world for your children and we all do.  You can’t be perfect and just like you, they won’t be either.  I just want to keep persevering so that one day my children can say, “I learned this from my mother and father and I saw the God in them that they wanted me love.”

You can only expect in them what they see in you.

What are you expecting?

 

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Faith & The Anxious Heart: Searching For Rest

 

Do you ever wonder what person you would have been in the Bible had you lived during that time?  I’ve thought about this before and I figure that I would have been a believer, hopefully, and that I would be like a really funny talkative woman along a merchant road that makes really weird and different baskets.  Yes, that sounds like me.  I would probably wear my pajama head wraps out of the house several days a week and ask the neighbor in the next mud hut to cook dinner for me sometimes because I hated cooking.  I’m pretty sure people didn’t live in mud huts then but this is my story and you are along for the ride.

I would assume I would probably have been a second guesser and a bit wobbly in my security of  the future.  I would have been passionate but a “Is He really going to go before me in all things?” kind of a girl.  All of those ideas about who I would be is based on much of who I am now:  an anxious, over-thinker, creative, zaney sort of gal.

Being an anxious person, I always think of people who weren’t cool basket makers like me in the bible who had such physical wonders that happened in front of them.  I tend to think of those people and goff at the fact that they saw seas parted in front of them, manna fall from heaven, burning bushes, pillars of clouds and fire, people raised from the dead, and I’m baffled they ever doubted God would care and provide for them.  I feel like, “If I saw all of those things happen in my time, how would I not believe He would watch over me?  How would I ever doubt?  How could you after all of that? How would you not be totally at peace at all times because you had seen provision in miraculous ways before your eyes?”  It seems so shocking to me that it didn’t have that blanket effect on everyone.

Have you ever thought that more people would believe and that you would believe more fervently if you had tangible acts of wonders unfold before you?  I think most would assume that witnessing miracles would make anyone a believer and a strong one at that.  The real truth, however, is that people didn’t then and I don’t think that signs and wonders would make more people believe today.

Maybe a person in the bible times would have thought, “If I could only see the whole story written out and finished then I could be at rest.” While we, on the other hand, have the full story and think, “If I only saw the kind of acts of power they did then, I would always be secure He was working and providing.” Nothing is ever enough for any of us because in both situations, we have to have faith. One person needs/needed faith that there was a complete story unfolding that the Messiah would come and do all He promised.  The other person, aka you and me, would need to have faith that He has come and is coming back and we don’t need the Pacific split to see that He is going to fulfill all that He’s promised both in whole and in the individual details of our life.

Many of us don’t want proof that He has come and will again.  That’s not what most of us would ask for a miracle of proof for.  Most of us just want to know that same God is going to give you that baby you prayed for, save that marriage, send you that spouse, keep the babies in your womb growing and healthy, heal your mom of cancer, etc. We want to know that He is still moving and we want the proof so we can quit fearing.

I find myself thinking, “If I just knew (insert question), then I could be at peace.”  I find myself truly believing that. I find I’m wanting divine revelation and direct evidence of things unseen in areas that require me to trust Him: healthy kids, long lives, financial stability, and so on.  Surely if I had the answer, I could never fear.

I want the answer scrawled out on a shower wall or a whisper in the wind to tell me what I need to hear to be at peace.  I’m the person who isn’t satisfied with the written word revelation that I’ve already been given just like the man who doubted God in the wilderness, even though he had been sustained by manna and led by clouds by day and fire at night.  I would expect the fire to be enough.  He would expect the bible to be enough for me.  We have the conclusion to what Moses, Paul and others were in the middle of but word nor wonders heals the humanity in us that makes us fear and want for every answer in everything.  We want answers. We don’t want faith.

Then I realize why this all is and why we always find ourselves searching for answers instead of having faith in what He is doing and trusting that He is at work in the unknowns.

It’s this:

The remedy for anxiety is not a sign because we would need perpetually more signs to sustain us as life unfolds.  A witnessing of a miracle would not be enough to keep us trusting and faithful.  There would still be another question and another weakness where we asked, “Just one more sign.”

Wonders don’t give us peace.

Evidence and life’s questions answered aren’t our saviors.

They aren’t enough and they weren’t supposed to be.

As crazy as it sounds to think that a person would watch Jesus feed the 5,000 from a few fish and loaves of bread and still doubt Him later, actually makes perfect sense because there is no rest in what He can do if there is no rest in Him. We are looking to God for answers, but we shouldn’t be looking for what He can show us but for who He is.  That’s where there is peace.

Yes, because of who He is, He is capable of all things…marvelous, miraculous things.  It’s not wrong to ask God to act in mighty and wondrous ways because He can and does. The problem is that we can be fooled into thinking that the right provision, right answer, the perfect miracle, will change who we are and give us freedom not to fear or waver in this life.  But, we  aren’t saved by answers and proof and it’s not by those things that we are set free.

God is mighty, compassionate, all powerful, all knowing, omnipotent, perfectly loving, perpetually patient, and sovereign. To name a few, it’s those things that can ease the anxious heart.  Knowing that someone who is perfect loves us perfectly and cares for our every need is better than a sea parting before us.  It’s better than knowing what the future holds because you can trust the author of the future.

There are days and times that I want nothing more than for Him to just tell me how certain things will unfold in the future but I have to stop believing that the problem is not knowing answers and realizing that the problem is an untrusting heart.  The same God that cares for sparrows cares much more for my every need and concern.  He loves me more than I love myself and He loves my family more than I love them.  He has penned every miracle since the beginning of time and He has penned my every step in between.

How mighty it would be to see an ocean split.  How breathtaking to see the glory of God pass before me so that it made me glow. Those are perfect things but they are pictures of a perfect God, not a perfect act that will heal the restless heart.  Only God Himself can do that.

That’s better than the perfect clear answers on my daily concerns.  As a matter of fact, it’s the remedy.

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Photo Credit:  Joel Ham Photography

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