authenticity, comparison, gifts and talents, insecurity, spiritual growth, The body of Christ, transformation by truth, Uncategorized

Encouragement to my fellow women

(These are notes from my last session this weekend…an open letter to my sisters in Christ.)

The more we KNOW him, the more we understand ourselves and who He created us to be.

I love to hear people’s stories. We think we know someone, but we do not understand them well until we know how they grew up, what adversity they faced, what their family is like.

When I start the discipleship process with people, I ask them to tell me their story. It opens my eyes to see where they are coming from, why they struggle with certain things and what truth we need to tackle with their hearts in order to grow. Divorces, abandonment, losing parents, eating issues and disorders, sexuality struggles, alcoholism, promiscuity, materialism. WE ARE ALL MESSED UP. WE ARE ALL IN NEED OF BEING STILL AND KNOWING THE GOD OF THE UNIVERSES. WE ALL HAVE BROKEN HEARTS BECAUSE OF SIN—OURS AND OTHERS.

Do You know what the common denominator with these women is? Their need for Jesus—the way the gospel has captivated their lives—changed them everyday, given them hope, given them love, given them worth. Do they still struggle? Yes, but the more they take time to be still and to know, the more in Love with the Lord they are, the more hope they have to journey on.

No one is from an ideal family. No one is issue-less. We all have struggles. If we take the time to look around, we might see the reality of the lives of those around us. We see the outside that we are jealous of or that we judge, but there is a deeper story and struggle there. God does not promise a pain free life. In fact, if we had a pain free life, would we even think about Him? Would we see the need to examine ourselves?

I cannot promise what will happen in the next day or 10 years. There will be heartache and joy. There will be things that rock our worlds to the point where we do not know what direction is up. There will be things that we choose to do and find ourselves involved in that will make us question who we really are in the first place. I cannot promise pain free. Here’s what I can promise. If we trust—if we keep stopping and seeking Him…He will never change. He will become bigger to us while these other things become smaller. We will find His promises to be true. We will find that He is our sure thing—not our family, or a relationship, or a husband, or a career, or children, or our talent, or our money or our status. HE IS THE SURE FOUNDATION. Build life upon Him. Seek His word. Seek His character. Savor His beauty. He will build deeper hope and love within us as we sort through our disappointment and pain.

“I am the Vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in Him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from me, you can do nothing.” John 15:5

See, the world has pain too. Pain is to point us to God, but Pain without His hand of guidance and without knowing Him is pointless. People strive to find a place of belonging—to be accepted, to arrive, to feel worthy.

We feel like to be worthy we have to be well known or recognized or look a certain way or be respected in a certain way. I pray that there are women that are captivated by Christ and learn who they are in Him. I pray that each of us learn our personalities and learn to accept who God made us to be—not our sin but our extrovert, introvert, organized, creative, thinking feeling. I pray that we would realize we cannot be everything. I pray that we would learn to live as God created us to be instead of trying to fit into someone else’s mold and end up being frustrated and defeated. Some of us are more inward and have a few friends that we will encourage deeply—do that. We do not have to be the center of attention to mean something. Some of us have mad organization skills—friends may make fun of us, but use that organization for God’s glory. Help others. Trust the Lord and draw near to Him with confidence, abide and remain in Him and let Him shape us and bring about our transformation to be more and more like Him. We do not have to perform to be this super Christian—ABIDE and OBEY that way. Love will begin to grow as we die to ourselves and live to God.

In my 30s, I have learned my giftings and have developed them more. I have become more comfortable in my own skin. I know I am never going to have a spotless house or a continually organized closet or be an accountant, but I have friends that do! I paint pictures and listen to people and encourage and flounder for last minute plans. What if we, as women, walked in confidence in who God made us to be? What if instead of always asking “why don’t people see me this way? Why can’t I do that?” Or even putting people down because we are jealous, we rejoiced in others’ gifts and cried with others in their pain? How would we treat each other differently? We need those people who are different from us. I need Greg. We get on each others nerves because we are so different, but we fit nicely together because we work together instead of in competition. We are all different in the Body of Christ, but we all need one another. Greg—master teacher, me an encourager/shepherd merciful person. One of my best friends from high school and beyond was also the hardest for me when we were around each other all the time because we are a lot alike. We competed and struggled. And after a lot of hard work, we know how to celebrate and cheer on the other…after 24 years. We have learned our personalities are similar but our giftings are different. There were some frustrating times, but with maturity in Him, we have learned to champion one another. When we practice being still and knowing Him, we will be changed. We will love with His love.

John 15:9-12 As the father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep his commandments, you will abide in my love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. “

Being Still and knowing God Allows you to obey Him. Obedience breeds obedience. We obey by stopping to be still. We obey studying His word Then we begin to know him more, love his character more, treasure him more He changes us and we respond differently to others . We want to share his character with others and we  love them because ywe are being changed. Then we have to learn to bear with others so we go back to him and seek him again. My fellow women, Seek Him with all your heart and you will find Him. And you will bear much fruit depending on Him and knowing Him. You will become more like Him in his timing and you will learn to love those around you…and help to encourage them to love the LORD.

authenticity, community, comparison

Looking for a place to belong

When it comes down to it, we all want to belong.  We want to feel accepted and a part of something bigger than us.  That desire can take many different paths–from conquering teenage popularity, to acceptance into a sorority or fraternity, to finding like-minded people who share a passion of yours, to exclusive friendships, to simply finding someone who is safe and will listen.   Some of those places of belonging feel safer than others…some tide us over until we really discover who we are and find a place of acceptance and love for our true selves.

There is a satisfaction and a rest when you discover and accept who you are–giftings, personality, tendencies.  I love seeing women be thankful for how God made them instead of trying to be like someone else.  Then, true serving and living and loving and leadership has opportunity to flow from them.  They can then become a place where others feel safe to share and to belong.  We create places of belonging for others when we relax ourselves.

I am attracted to “real” people.  Real people who can laugh at themselves and know their hangups, people who are not intimidated by me and can encourage me instead of competing with me, people who listen and who share honestly about their fears, people who speak truth about situations instead of skirting around them with what seems proper.  “Real” people seem to be few and far between, but when I meet them, I already feel a kindred spirit with them.

I try to be a “real” person by disarming  all the subtleties that keep us from really knowing one another, but I fail a lot.  It is easy to be intimidated by the airs others put on (usually due to insecurities), to feel less than, or to feel unsafe to be oneself.  The truth is, one person has to choose to be one’s real self first.  If it is not your choice to do so, you may miss out on the real richness of relationships.  You may choose to do so when the other person does not and look weird or feel stupid…I have found the risk is worth it (though it does not feel good every time).

Women are…complicated.  We spend a lot of time assuming what other people think and what they are about and what they think about us.  This builds walls that are almost unconquerable.

In this day of social media where the walls can be the fortresses of perfect looking family pictures, status updates that seem better than ours and more intentional than ours, we can easily give up and choose to shut one another out because we don’t really see the real people.  Yet, we are deceived into creating unreal personas of people…whether they intend for us to or not.

We complicate relationships in public, too.  We can be intimidated by what people have or what people do or the assumed status that people create.  We can allow our fears to turn into walls that look like being “better than” others.  We find myriad ways of shutting people out to self-protect.  We find our “core” group and stick with them allowing no one else in for fear that we lose footing.  So many assumptions and so little truth going on in our head.

To be real, we must first know ourselves.  This takes time and courage and other people to help us discover.  Usually it takes adversity…and a lot of it.  It takes facing our adversity and pain head on instead of relying on the things we turn to that can numb our pain (shopping, drinking, eating, entertainment, drugs, achievement, working out, etc).  It is not easy to be real, but it is freeing to be real.

We also must be willing to know others for who they are and enter their messy places.  Once we face our messiness, the messiness of others is less scary.  We do not have to fix those places in others, but we do need to be willing to be present with them as they sort it out.

Truthfully, the only reason I can be real is because I have come to know the One who made me.  I have faced the fact that I am so so so different from Him (in my character), and I need Him.  In my difference from Him, I only seek myself.  I am completely broken as a human, and He knows that I am bound by my rebellion against His goodness.  I have enslaved myself in greed, in lust, in trying to be better but failing, in thinking that I am the center of the universe.  He sent His son, Jesus, to rescue me from me.  He took the penalty for all my selfishness and rebellion, showed me favor I do not deserve, accepted me, made me a part of Him, gave me a new heart where I can choose to be like Him in character and goodness, and put me at peace with God.  At peace with God, I am free to rest in Him and be myself.  There is no one or nothing than can intimidate me in this freedom.  The wonderful thing, is that I am free to share that with others.  When I think on these truths and learn more about Him and what it means to trust Him instead of myself, I want to be a “real” person all the time and invite others to be real, too.

Anxiety, authenticity, comparison, discernment, grace, insecurity, parenting, the gospel, transformation by truth

A good mom…

Well, it’s building again.  That pressure to do the right thing, to do it the best way, to prove your worth is on the rise.  Where does it come from?  From women’s mouths, popular books, sub-cultural norms to your ears–actually straight to your heart.  The words marinate in your heart until you believe it and act in pride or until you are shamed because you are not enough and you embarrassed because you have fallen short again.  This must be something really essential–you think.  Or has someone else pushed it as essential?

Motherhood.  Until I was first baptized into this “secret club,” I never realized the pressure to fit there, the pressure to perform.  It starts almost as soon as you get pregnant or fill out the adoption papers.  “Surely you are going to do….A thoughtful mother would only plan this way….Are you going to feed your child that?….You let your children go this long between feedings?”   “I will only do natural birth…  You are going to put THAT into your body?”  “You are going to name your child that?”  “Godly mothers do…I only use natural products…”

I was 36 when I gave birth after many years of infertility, and I will be 38 with my second.    I had some maturity under my belt, but that little teenage girl who was worried and timid about “fitting in” and would did not know who she was looked me in the eye in the mirror as all of these expectations came rushing toward me.  I had NEVER felt so much pressure.  There was a lot of opportunity to feel so much pride in my decisions–when I thought I chose to do something “right.”  There was also a lot of opportunity for me to feel “less than” from the club of mothers around me–things I chose or did not choose or could or could not do.

It is interesting how many trends can become en vogue in just a short span of years.  Right now, I see many young women in their twenties in the serious evangelical realm going for natural and home births.  I totally respect people for choosing that for themselves.  This is obviously something you pray and decide seriously about (as with many decisions in motherhood and child-rearing.)   I have then seen women who are crushed and feel like they have failed at a major point when a health issue prevents this (and they have to have a C-section or go to the hospital) and they lose that goal.   I  see people who are drawn to sleep training and parent-directed (AKA Babywise verses people who are very into attachment parenting (AKA Dr. Sears).  There can be a lot of judgement and shaming between those camps–I felt that when we decided to carry through with a Babywise philosophy.    There is MUCH MUCH MUCH pressure to exclusively breastfeed–which is a wonderful thing, but the pressure I took on myself from outside sources and wanted to work for me nearly crushed me as my body would not produce what was needed.  I truly believe the pressure that I internalized (yes–I take the responsibility) nearly put be over the edge with such deep postpartum that I could not see straight.  I could  go on and on and on…You get the point.

This is my concern…Somewhere along the way, we have made choices into essentials of our identity. “If I do not do it this way, my whole identity is shattered.”  We get on this proving ground and lose our minds and hearts.  And, as children grow, the proving ground changes but we still act as if our identities are essential to our decisions within the parenting realm.   It may be how we discipline our children or how we interact with them or what we expect from them at certain ages or what we expose them to (homeschool, private school, public school.)  I’m kind of getting the hives just writing this.  Because we cling to making the “right” choices as our identity, then we must enforce that with others.  We judge them in our mind, hearts and with our mouths because they are not doing things our way.  We think they are less than because in order for us to continue to gain our identity and worth from these things, they have to be wrong or get on board and think we are right.  We make things essential that are side issues.

So, as the pressure mounts, yet again, on this uphill climb in pregnancy and mothering, I remind me and others of what is essential.  The essential piece to our identity is the Gospel–whether we are single, married, jobless, parents, CEO or stay at home mom.  We do not prove our worth or acceptance to God by what philosophy we adhere to or birth plan we choose, whether our children sleeps in the bed with us until they are 6 or is in the crib the first night, whether we breast or bottle feed, whether we give immunizations or feed kraft macaroni or organic.  All of us are going to fail as parents because we are human, fallen, sinful creatures.  We can lean hard into the Lord from day one and do everything “right”, and our children will sin and rebel and break our hearts.  We can royally try to do it on our own without the Lord, and our children are going to sin and rebel and mess up.  It is what we cling to and  remember in our triumphs and our failures that will shape our hearts and our children’s hearts.  Who does our help come from?  Where do we go for our essential identity?  How in our failures and our children’s failures do we point them toward the hope of the Gospel?

Our children will get the message from us loud and clear as to what we think is essential to our identity (and, in turn, theirs).  They see what we cling to and what crushes us when it falls apart.  So, from the beginning, I encourage those on the journey with me to be on the journey together, encouraging instead of accusing, making the gospel essential and not side decisions, loving instead of comparing.  Will you come with me?

authenticity, community, discipleship, God's word, infertility, spiritual growth, suffering in joy, The body of Christ

Why I share vulnerable places…

Many people in the course of these years of blogging in infertility or teaching in the midst have come to me or commented on how my blogs have encouraged them in the weight of their journeys.  Some that I suspected might struggle, some who I had no clue were struggling…

Some of you might say, “I could not put that out there.:  It is not easy–it’s a vulnerable place and when publicized it makes it more vulnerable.  You open yourself to possibly hurtful comments made by others who mean to help but push the dagger farther.  You also open yourself to the gift of others praying for you…countless ones who may not even share it until much later. I totally believe that God brought Jack and this growing baby by the prayers of the saints who found out about our infertility through Greg and I being vulnerable and asking for help.

I have always journaled–since I became a Christian 25 years ago.  It is a tool that  helps me tackle the reality that is going on inside my heart.  It helps me share with God and hear what He shares with me.  It helps me to study His word and mark down what comfort and direction His word brings in the midst of my emotions and life.  So, why did I blog it?

2 Corinthians 1:3-7

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.  If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.  Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

I am not my own.  I have been given a hope and life in Christ that flows over into others.  I spend my time attempting to point others to truth and to help them to grow.  The point of my deepest growth is oftentimes the point of my deepest pain pressing into Christ and his truth.  My suffering was and is met with His comfort, and in sharing that with others, I hopefully can help them lean in to the Lord and be comforted and in turn they hopefully do that with others.

So, why do I blog this?  Because the reason I faced it is for the comfort for the Body of Christ…to share with them the depths and the treasure of Christ.  This is a tool to do that.    I want to treasure Christ more than anything I might have lost or may be losing and help others to do the same.  He is worth it.

I am not special in this…That doesn’t mean you have to blog it.  In the world of blogs where people become celebrities, that is not what the aim is.  The world does not need another mom blogger, but the world needs moms who struggle who are honest with those around them about where their hope is found–Jesus.  People around you are hurting and they need to know how you struggle to your hope–not perfectly, but in the truth of Christ.  If you struggle with perfection or an eating disorder or infidelity or singleness or jealousy or have lost a sibling or a child or a parent or suffer from depression or Pick any thing, God has a way for you to share with someone else.  We are a Body…with all different parts held together by the Head–Christ.  Where would God have you share?  Are you pressing into Him?

authenticity, discipline, God's sovereignty and goodness, infertility, spiritual growth, suffering in joy, thankfulness, transformation by truth, trusting God, Uncategorized

Remember

Life is hard. We forget the good at times. We forget where and how we have grown. We forget friends who were faithful along the way. We can major on our feelings of the crisis or the mundane we are in.
This is the human condition. That is why God reminded the children of Israel over and over and over in his word of their story and His faithfulness in their story.
When I was in the deep throws of infertility the first time(…thinking we would have no children and wrestling with all my emotions of that fact), I took time to write my life story in my journal. I was at the beach in January by myself. For hours I poured through the pages of my mind remembering joy and sorrow and God’s faithfulness. Many times I would say out loud “OH YEAH–I totally forgot that fruit or that growth or that miracle!”
This morning, as I was praying, I remembered that journal. I need to find it and reread it–TODAY. We are forgetful and are often driven by our feelings of pain in the moment.
We each have huge miracles and pictures of grace in our lives that we easily dismiss when the next pain comes along–just like Israel when they got hungry and tired right after God had parted the Red Sea.
Let’s take time to remember so that we may run this race with endurance.

Anxiety, authenticity, discernment, facebook, healing, Uncategorized

Living without Facebook

In the last five to six years, my life has changed with technology.  At this pace, it will continue to.  As much as I don’t want myself, my child or family to be engrossed in technology, this will be our battle in this present age.  People have begun to “live” in a virtual world.  The ways we “connect” with people have been changed as we learn about one another through tweets and status updates and instagrams.  We may not be able to recognize someone’s voice but we know intimate details about them.

I have been in John 10 in the last few days…”My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me…no one will snatch them out of my hand.”  The intimacy of getting to know Jesus’, the Father’s and the Holy Spirit’s voice…wow.  Sometimes I feel as if I know facts about Jesus just as I do a virtual friend.  Information without intimacy and transformation.  He becomes a task and a to do just as the hundreds of status updates.  This happens when I have too much on my plate and too much noise in my mind.  I am not able to stop and hear and see Him in opportunities that arise.  Opportunities become annoyances that are in the way of “my” tasks.  Those God appointed moments that He has planned for me to walk in good works and become a refined workmanship of Him, I can make a mockery of.  (I miss the very reason He has me here because I believe I know better what to do.)

The last year I have talked about my plate a lot–learning how to balance.  SInce being on Facebook for the last five years or so, it has become a way that people have reached out to me ministry-wise, in friendship and has replaced email in many ways.  With the young adult population I work with, it was a “necessity.”  However, as of the last six months, it has become another thing that has stretched me thin–wide and not deep in relationship with others.  I felt pulled to return intense messages of needs of others while not interacting deeply and faithfully with those the Lord had given to me in person.  I felt pressured and harried.  I checked it first thing in the morning and multiple times a day…and for what?  I really don’t know.  Maybe I was afraid I would miss something earth-shattering like a picture of someone’s kid or an engagement or a pithy comment about a tv show:).

These last months without Facebook have been awesome.  At first, it was hard–my mind was trained around status updates.  Then, I began to think a part from that.  My mind has been retrained.  No one needs to “know” what I think about my day or the latest tragedy or latest pop culture reference.  It is not wrong to have a facebook, and I will probably have one again.  However, it has been so refreshing to let my mind and heart rest from the pull.

I miss the people of facebook–people who I do not regularly have contact with, people who have lost husbands and children and mothers and dreams.  I do miss knowing how I can pray and minister.  I do not miss the noise in my heart that comes from the added facts that are oft times pointless–other people sharing their noise.  I do not know what the future holds with me and facebook, but I do not have a committed relationship to her right now and I am thankful for this break.

authenticity, comparison, discernment, eternal things, God's word, idols, infertility, self-absorption, transformation by truth, trusting God, Uncategorized

Where does my hope come from?

Jack turned one a few Sundays ago.  My heart was full with thanks, memories, relief that that first month was not to be relived:).  What a beautiful, fun-loving, joyful, strong, funny, determined little one we are blessed with.  In the time of postpartum depression, I could never have imagined the beauty of his life and liveliness.

Sleepless nights, deferred goals, multiplied chores, inconvenient days…all of those are included in parenthood.  I stand today thankful.  I am thankful for this opportunity and humbled by it.  It is so easy to become overwhelmed and forget the miracle and not stop to experience the joy of moments that are racing by.  The giggles, the new milestones and funny tricks, the little mumbles and squeals…all can be easily missed.

You know what I hate, though?  These nagging thoughts that pull on my joy.  I am still trying to figure out balance–time in the word, time to keep house, time to cook, time to minister, time to do business, time to invest in my relationship with Greg, time to teach Jack, time to play with Jack, time to invest in family, time to invest in friendships, time to exercise.  I seriously do not know how to do it.  The thoughts that play in my head include the word “fail” a lot.

We all choose ways to try to make life work.   I have found myself struggling with two things…seeking peace where it is not to be found and comparing my family situation with others.  Everyone needs breaks to regroup.  The Lord has convicted me that I think that breaks and a vacation and date night and quiet times is where I will find my peace…where I will finally rest.  The only problem is I have not been getting any of these regularly or at all.  So, as with every expectation that is blocked, I get frustrated.  I think “if I could just…if they would just…I need more of…”  Until the last two weeks, I have not been diving into the Word consistently.  I have been expecting little breaks and laziness to be my solace.

This backward thinking has been designed in the sinfulness of my heart.  I have been seeking my idols of comfort and ease.  See, I have always sought after them before God.  He has been teaching me for a long time about this, and I always forget and forsake Him to try to be comfortable again.  I then begin to prop up my idols by comparing (coveting) my situation with other parents who are leaving their kids with grandparents a lot or going on vacations alone or even with their family.  See, I have not been joyful for them…I have just been thinking that they have it made…poor old me.

The Lord woke me up to the grossness of my thoughts.  He reminded me that peace is only found in Him.  No vacation or quiet or pampering or girl’s night or date night will give me the peace that passes understanding…only Him.  I have found solace and true joy in His Truth again.  He has allowed me to see where I have allowed these thoughts to take control–the more I have spent time in Him, the more I see the battle for these thoughts of covetousness.

Weirdly enough, I have entertained them much more as a mom than as a woman who struggled with infertility.  In infertility, I spent a lot of time in the word and in trying to guard my heart against sin. I spent a lot of time then reminding myself that the purpose of life on earth is not to be fulfilled with marriage and children and vacations and stuff.  I remembered daily that my hope is found in Christ and in eternity where we will see fully and experience fully His joy.   Since I have less extended time to spend in the word and I have not guarded my heart against sin in this area, it has been covetouspalooza in my mind and heart.  I have experienced amnesia of where my hope is to come from.

I am so thankful that the Lord has graciously awakened me to this sin pattern and the truth of His grace and hope in the midst of this season of my life. I do not come to you today with seven steps to get “cured,” but I come reminded of His grace in the Gospel, the power and efficiency of His Word, the joy that is experienced in Him.  Instead of having a free for all of jealous thoughts, I have been working toward remembering truth, rejoicing with those who rejoice and choosing to be thankful for so many blessings in my life.  It is still a struggle but one that I see the lie in now.

I want to be faithful…I want Greg and Jack to be spurred on in that…to see the richness of Christ.  That is more important that any momentary comfort on this earth.  I also remember that there is an eternity to travel and rest on the new earth.  Following Christ I lack nothing.