Criticisms, Infinity Scarves, and Mama Bears

Being the wife of a pastor, I feel like criticism is an innate part of our journey. But if you are around humans in general criticism will be something that you and your families will face. Sometimes it will be criticism that God wants to use to humble and sanctify us and other times the criticism will be unjust and the sanctification comes from how we choose to walk through it and love people through it.

We have all had that dreaded email come into our inbox or read to us by our husband. Or we have known that gut twisting feeling when we hear through the grapevine that someone is unhappy or offended by us. I am not going to address how the Bible teaches us to approach a brother or sister in this blog, but I do want to discuss the emotional response in the heart of a woman to these situations in two simple points:

When criticism comes, the enemy will attack you with insecurity.

I remember one Sunday night early in our ministry, receiving an email from an unhappy church member that left me emotionally reeling. She was going through a very hard time in life and was channeling her anger full force at my husband. I had had a friendship with this wounded woman; we had shared meals, sonic drinks and laughs together. Immediately insecurity welled up in my heart. How could she actually believe this about my husband and what was she thinking about me? I remember the insecurity choking the oxygen out of my throat and at that moment ran to my favorite chair and flung the book of Psalms open. When I feel emotionally askew I tend to retreat into the Psalms, which I affectionately call the electric blanket of the Bible. While reading, I remember the Holy Spirit speaking very clearly in my heart, “Tish if you do not learn to conquer your insecurity it will conquer you.” Truth be told, I like to be liked…and at times in my life, especially at the beginning of ministry, it caused me lots of problems. Setting the opinions of man above God’s rule in our lives is a sure recipe for insecurity. Engaging in a journey that is seeking to find our confidence and identity in Christ alone is the only lasting healing and victory over insecurity.

When criticism comes, the enemy will attack you with the temptation of bitterness and resentment.

When criticism comes to our family we can set the emotional thermometer of the response. Our words and reactions hold great influence over our husbands and children. This influence is a powerful force either in the hands of Christ, or our flesh and the enemy. How we react is important. With this being said, I can honestly say that the only times in life that I have wholeheartedly believed myself capable of physical violence is when someone has wounded my husband or someone dear to me. The emotional reaction can be… um… quite strong. Women have an attack reflex when it comes to our families if we feel like they are being harmed. Now obviously we are not actually going to choke someone out with our infinity scarves, although we may feel like it. However, this attack reflex can translate into bitterness and resentment very quickly. Ultimately, we are not the defenders of our family, but Christ is. We must remember in these key moments that there is a very real war raging and it is not against flesh and blood, but against the enemy who desires to discourage and destroy our families, our churches, and relationships. People are not the ultimate problem, sin is. If we do not engage with a spiritual and kingdom mindedness we cannot respond with love, patience, and wisdom.

When we free ourselves from the entanglements of insecurity and bitterness we allow God to use us by his Spirit to minister in the situation according to godly discernment and wisdom. We can encourage our husbands and families not by berating someone else but by being women who have words of grace, truth, and reconciliation. We can lend strength because we will not be weakened by insecurity or resentment. Our mama bear attack reflex is a real thing but God does not desire people to be the “victim”, he desires the enemy and his schemes against our families, churches and communities to be defeated by our instinct to fight.

So, you beautiful women, fight on.

Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many. – Heb 12:15

 

There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. – Prov 12:18

 

Do nothing from selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant…he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Phil 2:3-6

 

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hears, to which indeed you were called in one body. – Col 3:12-14

This One’s for the Moms

This one’s for the moms

Mothers of every beautiful variety, moms who delve out the love and grace of God every single day.

It may look like business as usual but it is weighty, eternal, and sacred work.

To the moms who are mothers in their hearts but have not yet seen God’s plan fulfilled, may God comfort you with hope and promise in the waiting room until his plan dawns like the sun.

You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?…This I know, that God is for me. Ps 56:8-9

He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. Ps 147: 3-5

To the adoptive and foster moms who have quieted the cries of orphans one little one at a time. May God give you His infinite wisdom and his unfailing strength as your family proclaims the distinct truths that God is the Defender of the weak and the Father to the fatherless.

Even if my mother and father abandon me, the Lord will hold me close. Ps 27:10

God provides homes for those who are deserted. Ps 86:6

And we pray with the psalmist, Lord continue to defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. Psalm 82:3-4

To the grandmas who are the saving strength of their daughters and provide the delight and attention that becomes a stabilizing rock for little hearts and hands. Your prayers move mountains and banish the evil one. Your brilliant love and belief in your little ones grant a bravery and confidence that will be worn as armor as new paths and futures are forged.

Their children will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Ps 112:2

And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. Luke 1:50

To the grandmas who are raising their grandchildren, may God bless you a hundred fold for your selfless-love. My grandparents cared for me from diapers to toddling and then again through my teen years. They saved my life. May God strengthen your heart, mind, and body for the task and may His surprises of provision be abundant.

The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint…even youths shall faint and be weary…but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not be faint. Is 40:31

To the moms who have lost a child, any words of comfort are small. You carry the loss in your bones, and blood, and every breath you breathe. May the God of all might be near to you in every way you need.

You light a lamp for me. The Lord, my God, lights up my darkness. Psalm 18:28

David speaks about his infant son saying, ‘I will go to him one day, but he will not return to me.’ 2 Sam 12:23

God is within her she will not fall, God will help her at break of day. Ps 46:5

To the single moms, no one but God really knows how much grit, moxie, and perseverance you demonstrate every morning, day, and night. May the God Who Provides sustain and replenish you.

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:19

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 2 Cor 9:8

Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Mt 11:28

To the moms to be whose bellies will soon tell the story of motherhood. The heavens rejoice with you at the wonder of a new life. May praise be on your lips as God strengthens you through this business of growing a human!

You have taught children and infants to tell of your strength, silencing your enemies and all who oppose you. Ps 8:2

Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. Ps 139:16

Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Ps 127:3

To the women who are remembering moms lost today, may there be smiles with the tears as you remember beautiful lives. May God confirm to you how her beauty and wisdom live through you every day, bringing glory to God.

and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.. Rev 21:4

For since we believe Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 1 Thess 4:13

To the moms that I have admired from afar, the moms I have learned from in close range, and the moms I now mother beside thank you for inspiring me and comforting me. To my sister and the friends that I have seen step into motherhood with grace, godliness, and strength watching you has filled me with awe…if only you could know how beautiful you are to me. Thank you for reminding me that God is not a God of one kind of beauty but His unfathomable and immeasurable beauty is rendered through your lovely differences.

To Mamma D who came into my life at 7 years old. You were so full of life I just wanted to be like you! You were a comfort to me in confusing and dark time. You were the first true fighter I ever knew. You have persevered with humor and grit. You are amazing to me. Love you.

To my Grandma, your love was the rock I found my footing on. Thank you for wanting me and setting your affection on me from my first day. Thank you for raising me…thank you for everything. I would be nowhere without you. I think of you every single day, and I await the day I will see you again and we will rejoice in all the Lord’s goodness together.

To my mom, who God gave me at 21 years old you have taught me how to be a daughter. You have shown me the refuge of a mother’s love. You have shown me the warrior’s strength a mother has for her children, in the Lord. You have sat down in my darkness and waited with me for the Lord’s deliverance. You have leaped and danced in the streets with me at the break of light. Your mother’s love has has taught me how to be a mom like nothing else has or could.

Today I praise God for every child who is not motherless. I praise the God whose imagination brought forth this brilliant thing called motherhood. Today I praise God for each one of my sisters who are called or one day will be called, mom. We celebrate the moms of every variance and kind. Realizing that each of us are an exquisite gift that has come down from the Father of lights, full of purpose to illuminate the glorious character of our God.IMG_2029

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24 Hours. 1,440 Minutes. 86,400 Seconds.

Time is money they say. Time is a commodity, a currency. I imagine that if time became the miraculous new product on the market, life savings would be emptied and credit card balances would sky rocket as mankind rushed out to buy a little more time. Just enough to make the dark circles go away, to finish that project, to get a little more time with family, we could start working out, we might take a vacation, or maybe just a long hot quiet bath, we could stay up better on politics, we could get ahead on our homework, we could volunteer in the church nursery like we’ve been meaning to, we’d talk to our families more, we would read the bible more, we’d update the pictures in our picture frames, we’d wash our base boards and dust our ceiling fans, we’d watch documentaries, and be more well read…All of our hopes and dreams could be ours if only we had a little more time. We could be the people we wish were with the lives we wish we had if only we had a little more time. We would all become “time” addicts. Soon there would be reality tv shows about people who had spiraled into self-destruction through their addiction to just one more minute.

The truth is 24 hours is what we got ladies. A lifetime of 24-hour days, for however long God gives us breathe is what we have. The hours we have are our chance at faith, obedience, and living a life for a greater purpose than ourselves. It is our chance for our lives to matter before time ceases and the heavens roll open.

 All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like a flower of the grass. The grass withers, and the flower drops off, but the word of the Lord endures forever. 1 Pet 1:24-25

All of our worldly pursuits amount to nothing unless our lives are driven by and lived for the Ancient of Days and the Eternal One. Every minute we invest in Him and what he has called us to do, is a minute invested into eternity. These minutes for his glory and for His name will echo out for the ages to come.

Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Mt. 6:19-21

If you are like me sometimes it’s easy to say yes to the big steps of obedience. “Sure, we’ll move to Bolivar and plant a church Lord (even though I didn’t know what church planting is exactly). “Yes Lord, we’ll follow you to Kansas City to a call of bi-vocational church planting and a job at Midwestern Seminary.” However, sometimes it’s in the daily nitty-gritty that the lines of obedience and busyness get blurred.

How do we balance ministry, careers, having friendships, time with our spouses, time with our children, homework, mentoring, serving, and time with Jesus? How do we then manage to squeeze in laundry, concert recitals, filling sippy-cups, grocery shopping, running errands, soccer games, cooking, and personal hygiene?!?

Prioritize Obedience over busyness. Ditch the lie that you should have it all together. This is perfectionism, pride, and a trap of defeat. Yes, we should be growing, but when chasing after the ideal versions of ourselves we terminate our chase of God. The goal is to walk in obedience. Ask the Lord, what does obedience look like in my life right now. Then say no to some things, so you can say yes to the “obedience things”. Obedience can look very different depending on your calling, gifting, and season of life. You may have small children, you may have a medical difficulty, you may be newly married, you may be a single mom…and each season will warrant obedience that looks quite different. We must stop comparing ourselves to other women with different gifts who are in different seasons of life. God may be asking you to do more, he might be asking you to do less, he might be challenging you to take Sabbath rest. The goal is prioritizing so that the time we do have is spent intentionally on obedience, for the glory of God and the advancement of His kingdom. Seek God for what obedience looks like in this season, prioritize accordingly, then rest your heart. If we keep our plates endlessly full of the ‘shoulds’ we will miss out on key focus and ministry priorities from God.

Christ is our foremost priority. He is life and from him comes all we need for life and godliness. So whether you sneak a few minutes while breast-feeding to read your IPhone ESV Bible app or whether you have time to do an in depth bible study, drink in his presence and ingest His word. Without him we are sunk and everything we do is without significance.

To live life without God is the most unproductive thing you can do. – Matt Perman

 Second priority is our spouses, if married and then our children. No one else can be your husband’s wife. No one else is the helpmate to him personally and to his calling. So we prioritize time to serve our spouses and to connect and cultivate friendship. If we have thriving friendships and intimacy first with God and then with our spouses this will bring stability and strength to our hands as we pour out the pitchers of our lives and energy for others. Again work within the realm of possibility. For you a date right now might be eating leftover rice krispies and drinking decaf on the back porch after the kids are in bed. Maybe connecting looks like using your date night money for a babysitter and making peanut butter sandwiches for the park, so you can get out of the house together. Staying connected might mean going to bed at the same time every night, or just committing that in the chaos of life when you lay eyes on your spouse after a long day you pause, look into his sweet face, and kiss him. Prioritizing your spouse, second only to God, is a ‘make it or break it’ in our callings as wives.

We are called to self-death. Sometimes I have wanted to be stingy with my time and my family time. I can start to think and believe life and ministry is about me. At times I have felt resentful at the cost of ministry. Before I know it I’m eating jelly-beans in bulk and throwing an extravagant pity party. The truth is life is not for us or about us, but our lives find worth in the glory it brings to God. He will ask us to submit to His will, he will ask us to abandon comfort, he will call us to do things that feel impossible. Though the call to ministry and being a disciple of Christ is a call of self-sacrifice. Each day I have a decision to make. Will I be obedient to the point of self-death? Will I count the cost and still follow Him? Will I carry my cross until my hands are swollen and bloody with splinters?

 Therefore my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. 1 Cor 15:58

 

Christ Jesus…who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of the servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Phil 2:6-8

 

As we are submitting our flesh and selfishness to the Lord, embracing our calling, and seeking God for what obedience looks like for us in each season this frees us up to rest in obedience. Obedience is success. Obedience is victory. Obedience is progress. Obedience is worship. Faith lived out in obedience is everything he is asking of you.

 

Sticks and Stones

What do we do with the unanswered questions? The whys? The where was God when…? What do we say when we stare across a table at unfathomable eyes that have seen and known unthinkable suffering? The difficulty can be in believing that the God of the Universe actually values, even prizes the intimacy of entering into the tumultuous chaos of our blackest moments of despair and faith struggles. Do we believe our strife to be a betrayal towards a God that cannot tolerate our frailty? Or worse, do we believe he is indifferent?

The truth is he does not want our theologically tidy prayers that ignore the realities of human experience. Our communion with Christ, if true, must encompass the fullness of our human experience, lest we truncate the height and depth of the love of Christ.

The Psalmist teaches us to carry our greatest joys to the feet of Jesus and also our most extreme heartbreaks. It is not only allowed, but it is the way of God approved, theologically sound, practice in prayer and worship. The Psalms call for the exhaustive recount of our sorrows to God as we appeal to him for response and action.  This is an act of boldness that stands on the firm ground of our covenantal relationship with God, this covenant that declares we are His and He is ours by the blood of the cross. The authentic relationship with God will not only survive the lament, but will thrive in the place where one’s heart is laid open before their God in absolute nakedness. God cannot meet us in a place that we are denying exists or minimizing. Stating our feelings before him is our declarative invitation that we want Him and need him, even that our survival depends on Him.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long ..must I have sorrow in my heart all the day?

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your steadfast love, my heart will rejoice in your salvation.

– Psalm 13

The lament is the response of faith and dependence on God. The lamenting prayer also seems to be the mysterious starting block to walking in a newness of life after brokenness. We see many times that after the Psalmist has emptied their heart before God there is a shift indicated by the little, transformative word ‘but’. This is the word that seems to express the moment when God’s strength meets the outstretched hand of the lamenter. The lament insists that after conveying our emotional, relational, and physical devastations to God we remember that our hope is ultimately and only God himself. When all is lost, Christ is not lost to us.

It takes only a couple of minutes to read a Psalm, but we do not know the life journey and time that it took for the Psalms to form in the heart of the Psalter. It may have been days, weeks, months, or years of lamenting and clinging to God’s faithfulness.  However long, lamenting is a pilgrimage to healing, peace, and newness. There is no need to professionalize our prayers. There is permission to raise a voice of honesty for yourself or another. A mandate to cry out in the midst of pain, to a God who sees and hears.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, for the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest…

But you, O Lord, do not be far off!  O you my help, come quickly to my aid!…I will tell of you your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you..

-Psalm 22

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:26

O God, insolent men have risen up against me; a band of ruthless men seeks my life..

But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

-Psalm 86:14-15

They band together against the life of the righteous and condemn the innocent to death.

But the Lord has become my stronghold, and my God the rock of my refuge.

Psalm 94:21-22

Jones, Logan C. . “The Psalms of Lament and the Transformation of Sorrow.” The

Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling 61 (2007): 47-58.

“This is my story. This is my song.”

This past summer I traveled to see where my mother grew up. The desire to know her has been a constant companion, that after all these years I still cannot shake. It has driven me to seek her out.  The first time I was sixteen and my grandparents hired a detective to track her paper trail. We found her and arranged to have dinner with her and her boyfriend as they were passing through town. I remember wearing hot pink and hoping that she would think I was pretty. It was a dinner of stumbling through small talk, but I didn’t care it felt like a start. When I was eighteen I tracked her down again and invited her to my high school graduation.  She promised she would come, but she didn’t. Then again three years later I sought her out, found a number for her from a relative and called her to invite her to my wedding in 2005. She said she had a hotel and that she would be there. Again she never came. That was the last contact I’ve had with her until this summer.

I wanted to go to her hometown and see where she grew up and meet any family if possible. She is full blood Ponca Indian and we are both on the roll so I went to the tribal office with my Indian card and they new her family.  They said I had a cousin that lived up the road, named Laverne.

I walked up to a trailer set back from a highway and tried to steady my hand, as I knocked despite two tiny, but viciously barking dogs that emerged from under the cinder block steps. An Indian woman answered the door with weathered skin and graying long hair. I told her who I was and she welcomed me in immediately, and said she always wondered if I would show up. She told me her story, one of God’s redemption. Her eyes were shining with gratitude as she recounted how Christ saved her from a lifetime of addiction. In her small dim living room she had a picture of Jesus and underneath was a small table with a bible singularly and proudly displayed in the center.

I asked her about my mom and she narrated what she knew. My mom was fifteen years old and in foster care when she got pregnant for the first time. Her unborn child belonged to her foster parents son, there were allegations of rape but nothing came of it. She was removed and put in a group home for trouble teens where her baby was put up for adoption and where she met my dad. Shortly after, she became pregnant with me. They got married and divorced when I was an infant.  For years both had known the ravage that addiction inflicts on the mind and soul, so the court ruled I would go to foster care. My paternal grandparents where in court that day and they described this moment so many times I feel like I was there. I can see my grandpa stand up and ask, “Can we have her?” Remembering this, I feel overwhelmed by gratitude for my grandparents and for the God who provided for me in that minute.

My mother came and went through this time. Although it’s pre-memory I’ve seen pictures and can plainly see that I formed a strong attachment and loved her as my mother, which explains my later seemingly irrational desire to find her and know her. My Dad though struggling with addiction and being very young always wanted to be a good dad.  He worked hard at a very young age, against all odds to get me back. I moved away to live with him from 5 years old to 12years old. My mother would come and go twice again. These times I do remember. I remember cuddling with her on a couch as she read. I remember she always left without saying goodbye. My Dad, is one of the most incredible human beings I know and was a very loving and good dad, and the years from 5 to 8 with him are some of my most treasured. However, addictions assault on him would not yet be won for some years. His addiction progressed to the point that he was dealing and manufacturing meth. This is the scariest and saddest time I can remember. My Dad went to prison and was in jail on and off until I was 18 years old. My sweet little brother went to foster care and I lived with my grandparents again at this time.

My grandparents were attending Grace World Outreach Church in Enid, Ok. I was twelve years old and hemorrhaging grief and sadness. The girls in the youth group were so nice. Honestly I just wanted to be around them. They invited me into their world like it was nothing. One night one of their moms prayed for me and shared Christ with me. I don’t remember the specifics, I just remember crying all over her poor shirt and feeling flooded with the truths, “I’m not alone.” and “God sees me and loves me.”  It was in that youth group under the care of my youth pastor, Kent, and the Grace World family that I came to understand grace, hope, salvation, and truth.

My redemption began with the redeeming of my soul. Over the years this redemption has reached into my past, present, and it reaches into my future as well.  When I came to Christ I had a u-haul of baggage that would take us more than a decade to unpack. He knew that if he brought it to light all at once it would have ended me. So over the years he has strengthened my faith, and insisted on more healing, which strengthens my faith, which can enable more healing. I have gone to counselors, battled depression, post-traumatic stress from abuse, and a whole paradigm of faulty belief systems about God and myself. I have spent time in dark spiritual and emotional dungeons, and I have seen Christ come for me and heal me again and again.

I heard from Laverne (my mom’s family) shortly after our visit. They had heard from my mother and she was very sick with sclerosis of the liver. They were bringing her home for medical care. Over a couple of weeks I made plans through my mom’s family to come see her. Laverne had told me she had spoken to my mom about our conversation.  Laverne told me that my mom had responded saying, “she probably hates me.”  And Laverne had responded, “no she doesn’t hate you she forgives you. She is a Christian woman now.” I’m so glad to know those little words were spoken on my behalf to my mom. I wanted to tell her of Christ and how he’s saved me. I wanted her to look in my face and see forgiveness and hope. I thought, “I’ve always wanted her to come to me.  That was too much to ask.  This time I will go to her.” The week came and as I tried to finalize plans all the sudden I couldn’t get a hold of anyone. I left messages and tried all the numbers I had been given.  By the fifth day I realized I wasn’t going. Two weeks after this I heard from Laverne and she said, “I’m so sorry, Sherry doesn’t want to see you. And we didn’t know how to tell you.”

Sherry couldn’t believe in my forgiveness, so facing me and her failures were unbearable.  She robbed herself.  If she could not believe in my forgiveness how much more does she doubt the forgiveness of the God of the universe who has the power to make her new?  For the first time in my life I understood.  For, in my healing process over the years when the Lord was asking me to face more hurt and baggage from the past, I wanted to turn back.  I didn’t want to face the pain and with healing sometimes it can only come when we are thrust into waters that seem dangerous and impossible on our own. We want to believe that it will be worth the excruciating burn of the refining fire but fear makes us doubt. It’s important we don’t hold back. It’s important we step with wobbly knees forward through our fear, because Christ always comes through. He will rescue each time strengthening our faith, growing intimacy with him, and healing our brokenness. Redeeming our stories for his glory.

Shortly after this contact with my mother, I sat across a table with our social worker doing our home study for foster care.  Tears streamed down my face as a new level of this redemption in my life became clear.  You see my rejections, abuse, and broken heart as a child makes me especially equipped to mother rejected, abused and broken-hearted children.  I admit, it’s likely going to be the toughest thing I’ve ever done, but I believe that God is going to allow me to mother children I never could have mothered with a different story.  All those times I wanted to run away from his redemptive process in my life, I praise God he helped me stay.  Because if I was still broken hearted I would have nothing to offer my children that I have yet to hold.  No strength or hope.  And so, I look forward to the future trusting in my faithful God, knowing that I will only grow more astounded with his beautiful redeeming ways until my last breath.

“…He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and burst their bonds apart…He sent forth his word and healed them and delivered them from their destruction.”

Ps 107:14, 20

“And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new…Write this down, for these words are faithful and true.”

Rev 21:5

“He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters.”

Ps 18:17

“You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”

Ps 32:7

The Equation of God’s Goodness

If God could write a sticky note reminder to me right now it would read:

Child, be careful how you define my goodness. Or this will continue to be a stumbling block to you. Trust Me.

- Your Eternal Father

I sometimes have my own ideas of how God’s goodness should play out. My equation goes something like this:

God is good + this is what “good” looks like = the good I expect in life playing out as I reason it should

Then I round a corner and disappointment punches me in the face. The definition of disappointment is ‘to fail to fulfill the expectations or wishes of’. Without even realizing it I put my hope not in the person of Jesus Christ, but the expectations I have for God’s goodness. Then when my face is numb with the blow of disappointment I feel baffled and crushed.  As I stumble back, the reflex of my pain can cause me to use my last bit of strength to retreat inward for self-protection, instead of driving me to claw stubbornly to the throne room collapsing at my Saviors feet.

Retreating inward for self-protection instead of turning to God in gutsy vulnerability is a form of self-reliance. When we seek to be our own shelter we often use denial, skepticism (which we may call ‘realism‘ and certainly would not call unbelief), self-pity or self-justification. In this place there is no food or water source except for these self-destructive defenses which can only harden our heart with bitterness, disillusionment, doubt, or fear.

When I find myself cowered down hiding from God with a hardened heart there is no other way but to begin with crying out in honesty.  “Lord, I wish it hadn’t happened this way. At this moment, and maybe forever I cannot begin to fathom why. But restore my soul God, restore my mind, will and emotions to you.” There can never be forward motion with God without utter truthfulness. Your feelings may not be rational or theologically sound. The reality of them may be fighting with your rehearsed Sunday school answers in your head. But only complete transparency will do. My feelings are the wayward, treasonous, foolish part of me that I must force to stand before Truth so they can be conquered. Always this jump from self-reliance to God-reliance takes trust that God is who He says He is, even when our human reasoning cannot grasp Him.

I cannot know whether the trial is from the hand of God’s sovereignty or the result of a sinful and bent world, but I can rest in Romans 5:3. It explains that we have access by faith to God’s grace that enables us to stand and at the same time rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only this, but we can rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that they lead to endurance, then character, then hope. And hope such as this will never disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts. You see in the midst of it all God employs our suffering to bring fortitude to our weak hearts and to grow in us a type of character that knows to hope in God’s glory and in an eternity of glory.

I have prayed things like, “God I want only your will.” “God I want my life to count.” “Lord, help my life to be about knowing you and making you known, only.” Because I don’t want to ultimately hope in motherhood, or comfort, or health, or man’s acclaim, or even my beloved husband. I want to hope in Glory. I want to hope in Christ. And this is the hope that will never put us to shame or disappoint. It is the only real hope.

The problem is I forget. I forget my First Love. I forget His love is better than life. I forget this world is not my home. And it can feel like the end when he wields his double edge sword of truth to cut away what’s false in me. But through the pain is also God’s grace, accessed by our faith, enabling us to stand and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16:33

Spiritual Warfare in the Desert Place

When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he said, Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it. – Genesis 28:16

Whether it is a day or a season, discouragement comes to us all.  It may be induced by loss, loneliness, waiting, or hurt.  The enemy relentlessly hopes to snatch this opportunity to gain an audience with us.  Will we listen?  There is a vast array of angles he plays.  Perhaps in our hurt he sympathizes with our self-pity, holding our focus on ourselves keeping our gaze from the Bright and Morning Star.  In our waiting, maybe he tempts us with despair averting our view of the Faithful and True One.  It maybe in our loneliness that the enemy seeks to convince us that we are utterly alone, hoping we will forget the God Who Sees Me.  Or in our hurt perhaps he seeks to aggravate our wound hoping to imprison us in bitter unforgiveness so that we cannot run to our Hiding Place and our Healer.

Whatever the enemies approach the goal is always the same delude truth, plant doubt, destroy us, steal God’s glory.  At whatever degree he can accomplish this, his pursuit of our destruction and the theft of God’s glory is unyielding.

In 2 Corinthians 2:10-11 Paul is talking specifically about the importance of forgiveness and extending grace when he says “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his designs.”  Unforgivenss is only one calculated tactic used by our enemy.  So it is important that in discouragement we do not drop our defenses against the father of lies, but become all the more alert for battle.

In bed one night Joshua and I cried.  We cried for children.  We cried for a family we have not yet laid eyes on.  We cried for the waiting.  We cried because our hearts ached.  That night we waged war in our desert place.  In that moment on the outside it may have only looked like simple prayers with tears streaming.  Though inwardly we were thrusting our weak and failing hearts towards our Infinite God and death gripping the Solid Rock.  We cried out the truth of our sorrow, owning it completely.  Then we spoke submission to his will.  We said, “Although your timing hurts, we submit to your rule, your will and to your timing.  Even though our flesh wants to retreat, we still ask you build our family according to your perfect plan and time.”  Then we asked for help and strength so that we could persist in faithfulness to our God.  We ended with praise.  We spoke out loud that the enemy could not steal our song of worship to the Most High God.  We declared that he is the Ancient of Days and that all of time stretches out before him, and he orders our days and his purposes for us according to his infinitely wise vantage point.  We choked out through pain a determined declaration that we love him, and that we only want Him and His way.

That night we dodged one faith detour.  I have been on plenty of these detours before, and will again in the future.  Nevertheless it is not about perfection, it is about engaging in the battle.  It is about being ready.  It is about His glory at whatever cost.  When we are in sunshine we cheerfully pray for His will only.  We ask him to do whatever it takes to keep us growing and faithful.  Then later in the desert place when we feel the cost of God bringing these prayers to reality this is when we must dig down deep.  Waging war in your desert place is about remembering where your help comes from.  Remember His love is better than life.  Remember He has not and will never forget you.  He sees you and he will come through.  Rise up in faith strong daughter of God.  Know that he disarmed the enemy’s power through the cross, and continues to fight on your behalf when your strength is failing.  Do not be devoured by lies, but lift up the sword of truth and watch as the enemy flees.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. – Ephesians 6:10-11

I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.  He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. – Psalm 121:1-3

When he [satan] lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. – John 8:44

Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. – James 4:7

You are my hiding place and my shield, I hope in your word. – Psalm 119:11

..and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God, carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place. – Deuteronomy 1:31

Ashes and Beauty

grief [greef] noun

1.  keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.

I thought I had packed away my grief in a tidy box to be forgotten.  I didn’t grow up with a mom.  Okay.  It was what it was.  I instinctively worked hard to minimize the significance of this in my heart.  After all I had had women in my life in different seasons that loved me and invested in me.  I had survived.  I would be fine.

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. -C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

When I began planning my wedding I tasted the reality of not having a mother in a new way.  It was only later that I recognized it for what it was.  At the time it felt like fear.  My childhood was such that I never saw a woman being the woman of the house.  When I thought of my childhood I remembered the chaos, but I had no memory of the routine of family life.  How do I manage a home? How do I prepare meals? How do I be a wife?  How do I prepare to be a wife?… I felt inadequate.  In addition the reality of planning a wedding felt overwhelming and lonely.  I tasted the loss of a mother in a new way.

I wanted a relationship with my mother-in-law.  We both were willing and excited.  She told me she had prayed for me for decades.  She assured me of her love for me.  I was awed by her spiritual strength and wisdom.  I did not immediately notice how I intuitively shrank back from her.

I was afraid of what she thought of me.  I was nervous she was judging me.  I knew I was lacking in ‘homemaking prowess’.  I felt ridiculous and thought she must see it too.  I mean goodnight, I had to throw away a pan after I attempted my first box brownie mix!

It went deeper though.  My biological mother had decided she did not want me.  I did not realize that this had influenced how I viewed my value as a girl and woman.  Reflexively I was bracing and protecting myself from rejection.  It was not a rationale fear.  Sandee Hedger had never been anything but wonderful to me, but my grief informed the reality.

Over time she felt this too.  She pursued me so well, offering her mother’s love.  However this ‘mother’s love’, I did not trust it or believe it to be true.  One day she sat down next to me and asked me if she could speak openly with me.  She told me that she could sense when I withdrew from her and that she felt I was punishing her for what my biological mother had done.  She told me that her love would not go away, that she loved me.  After this the Lord began to illuminate the process of grief and fear that I have thus described.  God began to do a new work of awareness and healing in my life.

I knew that it would mean so much to Sandee if I called her mom.  I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.  The word felt so uncomfortable and awkward in my mouth.  At the time I had a very narrow understanding of a ‘mom’. In my head I reasoned, “A mom is someone who has known you since your first day.  Someone who has loved you and watched you grow.  She understands your personality and your history because she intrinsically shares them.  I will never have this so I will never call anyone mom.”  Somewhere along the way I had so identified with my loss that it had become my identity.  My grief said, “This has been my journey, I have suffered in this way, and I will forever and dutifully wear my loss as a badge of identification.”  Then God had a stern talk with me in a Hobby Lobby parking lot.  He said, “Tish, you are so fixated on what I did not give you, that you cannot embrace what I am giving you.” My stomach sank in realization.  I called Sandee Hedger on the phone that instant and told her the self-conversation that God had just interrupted and what he said.  I apologized to her and told her that I recognized that she is God’s provision and great blessing in my life.  As I hung up the phone I determinedly said, “I love you, mom.”

God gave me my mom at 21 years old.  He knew I needed this woman, not just a woman, but this woman at this time.  How her mother’s love has changed my life.

I wanted what God had not allowed me to have.  I do not assume to explain here the complexity of God’s sovereignty in a fallen world.  I know that the boundaries and dimensions of my past, present, and future have been ordained and allowed by him.  Grief cannot be rushed or pushed aside.  Each new season of life presents new realities of what our losses cost us.  I have sometimes wondered if grief actually every lessens, but if it’s our ‘muscle’ to transmit the grief in a new season that becomes stronger and more skilled.  For me it’s been some big moments and thousands of small moments of choosing to bow to God and his rule in my life.  I thank him for his astounding patience towards me.

Do not be deceived my brothers [sisters].  Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Hebrews 1:17

“to grant to those who mourn in Zion- to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes. Isaiah 61:3

Marriage: Not for the faint of heart

Ephesians 5:31-32, Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

Marriage is a temporary shadow of the eternal reality of Christ loves for the church and how the church is to love her groom.  Marriage also brings startling opportunity for growth or stubbornness.  If you have previously tiptoed around your capacity for sin, you may want to brace yourself when you marry, because marriage will lay you bare.  Ephesians 5:29 says that “no one every hated is own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church…”  Your spouse is never the enemy.  Satan is bent on going to whatever means possible to destroy and attack marriages.  If he cannot end them he desires to see them dry up so they loose their potency to declare the gospel.  Before marriage I thought I was a pretty godly woman, after marriage I realized the monstrosity of selfishness that could at times rule my heart.  These days I am sometimes the ‘what not do’ and sometimes I’m the ‘what to do’; but here are a few discoveries and reflections that have helped me over the years.

 It’s that wonderful old-fashioned idea that others come first and you come second.  This was the whole ethic by which I was brought up.  Others matter more than you do, so “don’t fuss, dear; get on with it.” –Audrey Hepburn

1) Do not entertain thoughts of offense towards your husband.  Respect or disrespect starts in our mind.  Satan is the ‘accuser of the brethren’ and he comes with accusations against our husbands.  Silence his conniving words and say, “Hey no one talks about MY man that way” (finger snap is optional).

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord my rock and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:14

2) Prioritize your friendship.  When life is crazy and nerves are shot sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do is find a way to laugh together.  Go on a date, or if that’s not a possibility wait till the kids are down and find a way to connect.  Put music on, be silly, eat ice cream, play a game together, do what fits your personalities, but find a way.  It is not selfish to prioritize time together, it is not only a healthy practice it is a necessity.

3) Tell them when your feelings are hurt.  I really struggled with this at the beginning of marriage.  I had a bad habit of ‘stuffing’ my feelings.  Sometimes I would think how could it not be obvious, surely he knows.  Other times I would pout or be cold and when he asked what was wrong I would blatantly lie and say “nothing”.  (Which p.s. this is so confusing and frustrating to guys it makes them want to quit communicating and set themselves on fire).  Other times I wouldn’t want him to know because I felt stupid that my feelings were hurt.  I would think, “Tish stop being a child, your feelings should not be hurt over that.”  It takes humility to come to our spouse, not in accusing frustration but in honest vulnerability, and say “My feelings were hurt when this happened.”  No longer do they have to guess what our passive aggression means, nor are they oblivious to our feelings while we are in danger of growing resentful.

4) Kindly clue them in when you need them just to listen.  You might also mention that listening does not require they agree with the ‘logic’ of your emotions (they will find comfort in the fact that we are well aware that at times our emotions are absurd when measured by logic).  Tell him you need him just to understand your emotions.  At first he may look at you like you are the Mad Hatter, but they will be pleasantly surprised at how ‘verbal processing’ can bring a peace and understanding in their wife that ‘problem solving’ can’t bring.  Sit back and relax boys and let your listening do the heavy lifting!

5) When you have been short, irritable, or disrespectful do not entertain self-justifying thoughts, apologize IMMEDIATELY.  This is your flesh trying to minimize the reality of your sinfulness.  The more time goes by the more momentum our self-justification can gain.  In the beginning of marriage I would lay in bed, under such conviction that I needed to apologize and I would lie there and count in my head, “okay on 3 I’m going to apologize.  1..2……………………okay really Tish on 3.  1…2………..3….ahhhhh!  Okay I’m just gonna do it 1…2…3.  Then I’d roll over and mumble “I’m sorry”.  Fortunately I had an open husband that would respond to my puny apology and we could move forward.  Now if I feel the conviction I need to apologize, I do it immediately.  If we aren’t face to face I’ll call him, and if he can’t answer because he’s in a meeting I’ll text.  It is so healthy for us and this shows such love and respect to our husbands.

6) How do you handle tension when you can’t address it immediately?  We’ve all been there.  We find ourselves in a frustrating place with our spouse but we are, ironically walking into church or into dinner with friends and can’t talk right then.  Make a decision to turn your heart away from your anger or hurt and check in quickly with your spouse and say something like, “I know we can’t talk this out right now, but I want you to know that I love you so much and am so thankful for you in my life.”  This will help guard us from moodiness or sulking.  This also keeps our heart soft towards our husbands.  This is true love in action and builds the muscle of self –control showing our emotions that they don’t get to run the show.

7) Make a habit to share with your spouse how God is convicting and challenging you.  This builds accountability into our lives, it cultivates great intimacy with our spouse, while opening up spiritual conversation.

8) When our husbands are being insensitive or short with us, offense can quickly rise up.  The truth is life is hard and we all battle fatigue, temptation, and sin.  Instead change your perspective and see the spiritual, physical, or emotional need that is there.  Joshua and I ask each other often, “Babe what do you need today?” or “What do you need from me today?”  Christ will bless us when we put our spouses needs above your own.

9) When you confront sin or a mistake never do it while you are frustrated or in selfishness.  Part of marriage is that we look out for each other’s blind spots.  We speak truth to each other in love.  This can be so very beneficial as you both continue to grow in faith, however Satan will try to hijack this process. It is of utmost importance that you do an honest scan for selfishness in your heart.  The only time to confront sin is when we are bringing it to light only out of love for our spouse.  Wait until you have mastered your frustration or until you are in complete humility of heart.  I often have waited until the next day or even a few days.

10) When you are hurting, confused, weary, struggling with despair, depression, anxiety, grief, or burn out do not go to your spouse first.  Make a habit of pouring out your heart first to your Creator.  Take your neediness to him before your husband.  Husbands are a great blessing, but they make crummy gods.  If we first take our neediness to them we will be disappointed and they may feel overwhelmed.  Allow God to be ultimate in your life.

Above all cultivate intimacy with your Creator.  Joshua is my husband and the love of my life, but death will separate us one day.  When death closes my eyes their final time on this earth I will open them again and be face to face with the love of my eternity.  Man cannot be the fulfillment of our hearts desires; only Christ fills all in all.  Continue falling in love with your creator and intimacy with your spouse will be an outflow.

For your maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name…” Isaiah 54:5

Diseased Discontentment

As humans we carry a basic and powerful void that causes an inward sense of discontentment.  Marriage, motherhood, ministry, friendship, education, nor careers can overcome the deficiency. Our culture offers self-medication via shopping, exercise, food, sex, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, plastic surgery, or wealth.  Perhaps your medication of choice is people-pleasing, perfectionism, control, co-dependency, competitiveness or moralism.  This natural void within us is only further diseased by hurt and pain gathered throughout our journeys.  Experiences of abuse, abandonment, rejection, distant parents, or other situations send mix signals about our worth as we grow up.  The result is a compulsive need to stop the bleeding, numb the pain, and fill the void.

As a newly saved Christian teenager I would go to youth camp or a youth conference and experience a kind of clarity of heart and mind.  All of the sudden, life seemed so simple:  Love God.  Hate sin.  Make decisions accordingly.  I made lists filled with promises to God of what I would do and would not do.   I felt energized for the change.  This lasted a couple of weeks.  I soon lost momentum and grew restless, distracted, and weary.  A discontentment settled into my bones and left me feeling desperate.  Craving instant relief, I turned to the different remedies of the world trying to temper the desperation.  I continued to thrust myself into a cycle of trying to quench my thirst with strategies that only created more thirst.

for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that hold no water. Jeremiah 2:13

In Jeremiah’s day limestone would be cut out and shaped so that a type of well in the rock would collect ground water, this was called a cistern.  Much more preferable would have been fresh running water springing from a stream or river.  This was referred to as living water.

The first evil is that I often turn my face away from God in impatience, lack of belief, lack of trust, or fear.  The second evil is that I turn to the world’s methods searching for a drink that can alleviate my wanting.  In Jeremiah 2:13 we see that the makeshift well is broken and cannot even hold dirty water.  The tragedy of the moment is that Christ has purchased my unending access to Living Water by his death, burial, and resurrection.

There are still moments I spend energy and time working and cutting a cistern from stone hoping to quickly collect ground water. I am still learning how to drink from Him only.  I am learning how to bring my unmet needs to His beautiful feet and wait.

Come with cracked dry lips to the Fountain of Living Water.  Worship Him as you say,  “…all my fountains are in you” (Psalms 87:7).                         

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