Posted in community, God's sovereignty and goodness, infertility, thankfulness, The body of Christ, the gospel

One

Last night, I came together as a part of our church body and participated in the Good Friday service. Greg spoke and talked about the 7 last words Jesus said on the cross. As a congregation, we sang about the gospel and participated in confession and repentance as we took the Lord’s Supper.

When I first became the wife of a pastor (which by the way I swore I would never be after growing up in a minister’s family:)), we had a pastor’s wives get-together. At this get-together, a guest who was an experienced pastor’s wife from another congregation, educated us that it was important to be seen supporting your husband. Her exact directions included sitting on the front row with him and rubbing his back gently for the congregation to see said love flowing between you. At this point, I stopped taking notes. I realized that I would not be a good pastor’s wife with this criterion because everything in me rebelled at that thought. Here we are, seven years later, and the first time I sat front row at our church with my husband was last night. With a sly smile, I threw in a gentle back rub.

Though not a front row sitter, I genuinely worshipped and enjoyed sitting front and center last night. From the first word sung, tears stung my eyes. The beauty of Jesus’ life, submission and obedience to the Father, and the heart of the gospel–my very hope was clearly articulated. I sat there thankful for the place God has us–where he has brought us. I reflected back to the time when Greg began his full role as teaching pastor, which ironically came about the time I turned 30. From 30 to 35 has been the most challenging time of my life–dad’s sickness and death, infertility, depression, Greg’s rheumatoid arthritis. From 30 to 35 has also been the most God-saturated part of my life–knowing Him clinging to Him more deeply. It hit me–this all happened around the same time Greg began teaching more. Now, I am not a spiritual warfare guru who sees demons around every corner planning my demise, but it hit me last night that not all of these things are coincidences. I have a firm faith in the Sovereignty of God–even in spiritual warfare, He has us–we are His and NOTHING is out of His control. (Read Job) But, at the beginning of the service, I realized that these things that we have experienced could be the cost of what we do. IT IS WORTH IT. Christ and His glory are worth it. This thought framed my worship as we all reflected on the death of Christ.

As we took Communion as a congregation, on the front row, we were the first to partake. After that, I watched a good portion of the congregation pass in front of me to take the bread and dip it in the cup. I cannot explain it–except for the Holy Spirit. I had such joy in seeing those brothers and sisters in Christ walk before me. Some I knew intimately in disciple-making relationships, some were dear friends, some were families that I see from afar, some were strangers, young adults, senior adults, children, singles, marrieds, widows. My heart was reminded of Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that we be one in Him–unified. With each face, I worshipped. The hope that we have in Christ flooded my heart, and I was so grateful for the exact place He has us–in this congregation.

God is so good. I have nothing and am nothing apart from Him. I celebrate in this Easter weekend the glorious death and resurrection of Jesus. I celebrate the cost of becoming like Jesus. I celebrate the family of believers that He binds together through His Spirit. I am not going to sit on the front row every week to rub Greg’s back, but I am thankful I did last night. Maybe that woman wasn’t all that crazy.

Posted in community, thankfulness, The body of Christ

Faithful Friends

When you are going through a tough time and do not even know how to pray…God sends faithful friends. When you can barely get out of bed let alone clean the tub…God sends faithful friends. He is the most faithful of friends even when our thoughts and actions are unfaithful…even when we have not an ounce of faith.
God has reminded me of this truth this week. Friends on facebook, friends on the phone, friends who get a babysitter and drive up from more than an hour away to help clean my house, friends who have been through the journey I am walking who say “I totally understand,” friends who have not been on the same path but still listen and pray and provide a place for authenticity have all ministered to me this week.
I am a listener, counselor, encourager, nurturer, but I do not know how to accept that from others very well. It is in a time of struggle where God teaches the beauty of himself and community when I know I need them and let them serve. It is through the give and take that we understand him more and grow more. This hormone fog will pass, but I pray the growth and the lesson will not. We need one another–we were made that way. Our greatest need(s) are met in Him and Him alone, but He uses the body to minister, love, encourage, rebuke, etc.
I thank Him that He is the definition, the example of faithfulness and that that faithfulness is lived out through his precious children.

Posted in authenticity, infertility, isolation, marriage, The body of Christ

Isolation: The Devil’s Playground

The more I age and mature as a woman, the more I see we remain the same. By that, I mean, we have some of the same insecurities as that of a 3rd grade girl who wants to feel included, wants to feel valued, wants to be invited to sit at the table for lunch but does not feel that anyone sees her.
Looking back over my life, in each transition, there have been times of loneliness, self-doubt, and glowing insecurities. Whether it was a day camp my parents sent me to as a 5th grader at Ridgecrest conference center, the first year of college where I felt I was my own personal marketer of who I really was (ie. “I’m Jennifer, I love Jesus, I can be fun, and please be my friend–I’m lost here”), the first few years out of college where I felt totally lost without a plan or spouse, marriage and the isolation in friendships that may bring, to crossing over from young adulthood to early mid-adulthood where we are in the in-between of not having children where everyone else does.
In my studies of others, do you know what is crazy? I think women tend to feel that isolation in every season and think they are the only ones. They may even be surrounded by “friends” but not connecting from the heart. They may feel they are playing a role, but do not even really know themselves. Most of the time, as women, they sit in silence with their imaginations raging–“I’m lonely–no one ever told me having a child is so hard and isolating.” “I thought I would have my answers met in marriage–I did not know how much I would long for connection with other women.” “Does my husband even care who I am?” “Everyone is leaving me behind, and they do not understand or care.” “I live alone. If I choked on a chicken bone, would anyone care or know?” (aka Liz Lemon from 30 Rock) “I think I am the only one who struggles with ______, am I even a Christian?”
God has blessed me with women around me who are real–who have shared those thoughts about marriage, about children, about eating disorders, about lust, about temptations, about sexual disfunction in marriage, about jealousy. He has in turn, blessed me with being able to share those thoughts out loud. Do you know what happens when you share them out loud and ask for help? Their power is shattered. Satan, The Accuser, cannot steal us from God’s hand if we are in Christ, but he can isolate and accuse us. We are meant to live in community, in a body, but this world today is all about isolation (Facebook, Blogs, email, texting, tv, internet shopping, small families, etc). My greatest fear is the age when I have teenagers who want to retreat into text messaging and pseudo realities instead of knowing how to live, walk and struggle in real relationships. A whole generation is in college right now on the cusp of adulthood, and they have grown up that way.
I long to be real and teach others to cling to Christ in the midst of pain, struggle, and questions. It is only in Him that we are made whole. He, in turn, brings us into a new community that we can be real and struggle with. When you say it aloud, you never know who will speak up and identify with exactly where you are walking. Two are better than one. Speaking up allows for light to shine in the darkness of that isolation…for truth to shatter the accusations…for love to cover over a multitude of sins. Speaking up allows for others to follow suit. Where are you isolated and need to speak today?

Posted in authenticity, grace, sin, The body of Christ

Will we…

Today, I had the privilege of reading this article. I loved the combination of the recognition of the Truth, the wrestling of the heart, and the commitment to the Truth in that wrestling. It is such a picture of walking with Christ.
This week, one of the themes has been being authentic about struggle. I sat in a room of women on Tuesday morning and asked “where have you seen God working this week?” There were as many answers as there were women. They shared deeply and authentically of God’s faithfulness in the midst of pain, frustration, confusion. This was not the kind of example that I had necessarily grown up with. I was taught to keep your struggles private and be strong. Little did I know the type of heart struggles adults really have. Many times the sin of others and ourselves so complicate and isolate our lives. Just because we are followers of Christ, we are not free from the consequence of sin and struggle with it. There are deep hurts and chasms of loneliness. This article touches on a man that struggles with following God and desiring a homosexual relationship. I thank God for his candor and for friends that have come alongside him to listen, pray and walk.
I was reminded that we are all a mess, but only those who choose to open up and share that mess begin to experience life as we are made to be in the body. I am thankful for the struggles and pain in my life because I am more sensitive to the needs and struggles in others. When young, I wanted to seem perfect to others so they would respect and lean on me. Now, I have seen there is strength in Him in weakness. Relationships are so much richer and deeper and redeeming when struggles can be shared and prayed through. I have also seen that more people come to you when they know you have experienced pain.
Pain and struggle can unite or divide us. It divides us when we want to hide and we are afraid of what others will say. There is no more isolating feeling when you are ashamed that you are the only one that struggles with a desire or committed a certain sin or are in a dire situation that no one else has shared they had been in. The enemy loves for us to swim in that fear and anxiety. There is no more comforting feeling than to hear one be honest about a struggle that you have felt alone in…a permission is given to be authentic. There are safe people and safe places to share. One who knows the depth of their sin and the depth of God’s grace will walk beside you because they are your brother or sister–they know the name of the struggle may be different but the nature of the struggle is the same.
So, what can we do to be the church, to authentically love others in the truth? Remember the gospel. Listen. Pray. Be there for others. Know that things will come your way that may make you uncomfortable–that you may not have an easy answer for. There may be such grief in walking with a friend that makes your head swim. Being renewed in God’s truth and asking for the strength that is in the grace of Christ Jesus is our hope. Life is not tied up in a neat tidy package, but God is faithful beyond belief. Also, remember that accepting someone and accepting sin are two different things. The last thing we need to do is preach a sermon, but there is truth and God is bigger than our struggle. Ignoring truth to accept someone just as they “are” is not grace. God does not do that to us…he does so much more. Grace is remembering the gospel–that we deserve wrath and God poured it on Christ that we may be made new and have relationship with Him. Through Christ, our sins (gossip, malice, adultery, lying, murder, homosexuality, sexual immorality, stealing, slandering, etc) are forgiven if we have faith in his work on the cross. We must learn to live in and give that grace to others as walk together to pursue holiness.
I pray that if you are alone in a struggle right now that you would pray for someone to share that with. It is scary, but when light sheds itself in a dark room, hope comes.