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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

"But She Has My Life!"

Recently, a friend of mine tweeted a quote that stopped me in my tracks: social media is to envy what gasoline is to fire. It isn’t as though I haven’t thought about this before and the downside to social media in general, but this concise and precise description spoke to me. Because sometimes, our intake of social media swoops up our minds and in a split second body slams us to the ground. Can anybody relate??

This happened to me not long ago. While taking a break from working on an article, I mindlessly surfed around the Internet, bouncing around various social media outlets until I landed on Lauren Daigle’s website. I’ve been listening to her album non-stop lately (it’s fantastic, you should too!), and I read with fascination her story and how she came to “make it” in the music industry.

Then I came across a blurb that mentioned how she leads worship for North Point Community Church and other ministries like The Living Room (North Point’s college ministry). She’s living in my hometown, attending my home church. As I read and flipped through pictures, I felt that old, familiar feeling creeping in: that pit-in-the-stomach, heart-tightening sensation of homesickness. Homesickness, tinged ever so slightly green by that googly-eyed, scaly-skinned monster we all know as jealousy.

My sometimes toddler-like heart led me to stomp my feet and whine she has it all! Through the alluring smokescreen of social media, I began to imagine that her life must be perfect. I understand how crazy this sounds, but it’s the truth: sometimes our enemy can have a field day in our minds, and he never passes up an opportunity to gut-punch us where it hurts the most—no matter how silly or small the medium being used.

If we’re honest, it often seems this way, doesn’t it? This “someone else has my life” sensation takes over and powerfully distorts our vision. Someone else has the job, the home, the kids, the husband, or the geographical location we think we should have. As I’ve written about before, I never imagined I’d be living 2,500 miles away from home and family, building a brand new life with two babies two and under. No, I envisioned weekly lunches with my mom, play dates with my childhood friends and their babies, and the security that comes from living in a place you’ve lived your whole life. Is it any wonder God took me out of that growth-inhibiting comfort zone?

I have friends who are facing the dissolution of a marriage they never thought possible when they once said “I do.” I have friends facing debilitating physical ailments that no one in their age brackets should have to face. And I have friends suffering mightily as they watch their children face heart-wrenching health problems and conditions. These represent the tip of the iceberg in my life and the lives of those in my sphere.  And, even though God has done tremendously great things in all our lives, the enemy can still bamboozle us when we wrongly turn our focus to what we think life should look like. Opportunities to fall into the comparison trap abound and lurk around every corner, ready to pounce on our hearts and take us down.

The Bible “greats” may not have had to deal with social media and all its trappings, but they were certainly not immune from the same heart condition. For example, when we first meet Gideon in Judges 6:11, we see a cowardly man threshing wheat in a winepress of all places, attempting to spare a sliver of his harvest from the oppressive hand of the Midianites (the people group terrorizing Israel at that time). Traditionally, the threshing of wheat took place in a large, open space, with plenty of room and plenty of wind to sweep away the chaff. Undertaking this task in the dark, enclosed space of a winepress was far less than ideal.

If anyone could say this doesn’t make sense! This is too hard! it was Gideon. While we don’t know the ins and outs of what went through Gideon’s head and heart, we do know that he chose to embrace and tackle his reality of threshing in a winepress; and it was into this seemingly nonsensical situation that God sent His Angel to meet with and call Gideon to the task of delivering the Israelites.

Gideon lived out the “bloom where you’re planted” idea—or in his case, the “thresh wherever you possibly can” concept. It may have been easy for him to look around and find someone whose life was “easier” than his, and maybe we could say the same. But the truth is, it simply doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing. If you’ve been called to a hard place, a sad place, a disappointing place, a lonely place, or a confusing place—the only thing that matters is you have been called to that place, and called by a God who knows and loves you and is preparing you for “good works, which God prepared in advance” for you (Ephesians 2:10 NIV).

What is your threshing floor today? Perhaps you, like Gideon, find yourself hunched over in a dark, dank winepress and wondering how did I get here? I believe this is all of us, to some degree or another, but I know and believe today that God can and will meet you and me there, right there—comfort in hand, plan in hand, incomprehensible love and patience in hand. It makes no difference what others are doing, because God has called and positioned you, my friend, to thresh right where you are. And we will all do well to enter our respective winepresses and live out our callings with joy, humbly relying on Him to provide the daily, sometimes hourly, strength we need.

May we, like Gideon, embrace our circumstances, knowing there is no winepress so dark, so distant, that He is not able to illuminate with His glorious presence.


Friday, September 25, 2015

A Thank You and An Addendum

Well this is unusual—I don’t think I’ve ever blogged two days in a row in my entire life!  

I want to thank you all so much for your incredible outpouring of love, encouragement, and support regarding my post yesterday. It is so scary to put yourself “out there,” but my heart is happy to know that my words and our story could encourage some of you. That is my sole heart and purpose for writing in this space!

However, I wanted to add a very important addendum to my post yesterday. Thus far, things in my marriage have been restored, and we are happily in a great place at the moment—but I recognize that oftentimes, this unfortunately is not the case . . . and many times, the healing you hope and wait and pray for doesn’t come. I have several dear friends who have faced or are facing martial hurdles that have proven too difficult to overcome, and by no “fault” of their own. I have friends who have tried and prayed and stayed as long as they possibly could, but in the end, it wasn’t enough.

I do not in any way want to convey the message that “God would have healed your marriage had you just done [X].” The sad truth in this fallen world in which we live is that sometimes, you can do all you can to save a marriage, but it’s still not enough. Marriages consist of two people, after all, and it takes two people to make it work through the long haul. God calls us to be obedient to Him—but our obedience is not a formula that equals a “happy ending” as we would define happy ending.

So for those of you who are enduring or have endured the heartache of an abusive spouse, an uncooperative spouse, a spouse who simply walked away or forced you to walk away for the welfare of yourself and/or your children—please know that God is still ever-present and strong and good in those situations too. He loves you dearly. He is working out His holy purposes, even in the midst of the mess and chaos our sin and the sin of others creates on this earth.

Please know that the same God who can heal and resurrect a broken marriage can put you back together again after the end of one . . . whether that end came through a divorce of your choosing, or your spouse’s choosing, or of no other choice.

And please know too that I love you—I was very close to being in those shoes myself. You are brave and strong. Keep leaning on Him to be your eternal hope and know that He holds you in His arms, close to His heart!




Thursday, September 24, 2015


     Today, Aaron and I celebrate ten years of marriage . . . a decade. Not a lifetime, to be sure, but still a significant number of years—especially in light of the current state of marriage!
     The funny thing is, we probably shouldn’t be married today.  Considering the trials we’ve faced, we should in all likelihood be divorced. Perhaps that’s a shocking statement to you, but it makes me smile, because I see the powerful, redeeming Hand of God all over our story. My heart is thrilled that we are still husband and wife, and I’m overcome with joy when I reflect on all God has done and restored in our lives. The words of Joel 2:25 ring in my head: “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten . . . You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you . . .” (NIV). Well, today I am indeed full. Full, and thankful.
     Not many people know our whole story and all the dark days and heartache we’ve experienced. But from those who know, at least in part, I am often asked how? How has your marriage survived and indeed thrived? Why were you able and motivated to stick things out in a situation where most would have walked away, dusting off hands and feet in the process?
These deep questions have had me thinking through the exact why and how. I look at our society today and the mockery we’ve made of marriage, and I am utterly burdened and heartbroken by it! My heart’s desire is for God to use our story and our experience to encourage and strengthen other marriages. Yet the somewhat scary part is, in order to do that, I have to tell our story . . . and hopefully tell it with clarity and grace!
Today, I am not ready to tell our story from A to Z—that will be a process, to be sure (and it would probably take a book, ha!). But I do want to share a few of the many lessons God’s been teaching me throughout these 10 years of marriage. If your marriage has been a breeze, then stop and thank Him for such a blessing! But for any of you who are or have been in a tough space within your marriage, I hope the following will encourage you and give you hope to keep on keeping on . . . it is worth it!
We need to look different. By we, I mean those of us who profess belief in Christ and have a relationship with Him. And by look, I don’t mean simply our outward appearance, but rather what’s in our hearts (which manifests on the outside!). I don’t know about you, but this is a tough one for me. On paper, of course, I have no qualm whatsoever . . . but when the rubber hits the road, then what?
I faced this head-on when life fell apart for us in the blazing hot summer of 2009. I’m ashamed to admit that my first thoughts were not at all related to looking different from the world. Instead, my mind went to a place of Oprah-isms: I don’t deserve this, I deserve better. I have to look out for myself. My happiness is important, and I’m not happy right now.
But in quiet moments at the end of the day, I knew in my heart that, as a follower of Jesus, I had a responsibility to respond as God would have me, not the world. If my life doesn’t look different from the rest of the world, then what’s the point? If my relationship with Jesus doesn’t reach into the darkest, hardest places of life and pull out redemption of a supernatural kind, then why am I pursuing Him?
In Romans 12:2, Paul writes, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (NIV). God desires His children to be different. He empowers us to be different. And this difference should permeate every aspect of our lives—especially the painful, thorny trials that come our way.
It certainly wasn’t an easy decision, but I told the Lord that I wanted to give Him room to work in our marriage. It was tempting to jump on culture’s bandwagon that shouts just throw your marriage away and start over! But I begged God to grant me the strength to stay while He worked, which He faithfully did—moment by moment, day by day.
We must cling to hope. For me, hope has been a lifeline in the months and years following 2009, as our marriage underwent major reconstruction and restoration. Hope is huge, but we must place our hope in the proper source. For far too long, I placed my hope in Aaron, in his ability to change, in our counseling sessions, in great books about marriage, etc., etc. But it wasn’t until I placed my hope fully and squarely upon the shoulders of Jesus that true hope bubbled up, and I was able to move forward in faith.
Psalm 62 is probably my favorite Psalm on which to mediate when I’m tempted to place my hope in lesser things. David writes, “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken” (NIV, emphasis added). On many a dark day, when counseling had failed and self-help books had failed and marriage conferences had failed, only the rock solid Word of God remained, and God graciously taught me that this was all I ever needed. Even if the worst-case scenario happened, and even if the other shoe dropped, and even if all my efforts to save my marriage failed—even then, my soul could rest in God alone. Even then, I could stand firm, knowing He is my rock and my salvation.
These lessons were hard learned (and I’m still learning them!), and at times I thought the fire and water might consume me, but God brought us through to a place of abundance (Psalm 66:12). I am eternally thankful for this lesson learned, as it continues to prove useful and necessary in my life!
Marriage isn’t about our happiness. Gulp. Y’all, this is a big one, and a tough one, right? Isn’t every single thing we see, hear, and read about marriage setting us up to believe the fallacy that it’s about our happiness, pure and simple? As believers, we must know that isn’t the case. Marriage is about making us holy and reflecting God’s design in our lives. It’s a tool God uses to refine us, bring glory to His name through us, and accomplish His will on this earth. The sooner you can accept and rejoice in this truth, the faster you will actually find happiness in your marriage! Funny how that works, huh?
I remember my own “Job moment,” (see Job 42) when God opened my eyes to the enormity of His being and His plans for this entire world, not just my own little minuscule world. He longs to use us for good and glorious purposes (Ephesians 2:10), and He wants our hearts more than He wants our happiness.
God gave me a bigger perspective on my marriage, and slowly, I began seeing our marital trials from Aaron’s point of view rather than just my own. God wanted to heal deep wounds in him, and as his wife, I was in a position to play a role in that healing. So how could I demonstrate Christ if I left him to wallow alone in his struggles? God asked me to set aside my own perceived rights to happiness in marriage and to stand by my husband—and I’ve experienced abundant blessings as a result.
I could write much more about this, but there’s really no need—Tim Keller already has in his amazing book, “The Meaning of Marriage.” If you haven’t read this book, get a copy and read it now!
God is good. I’ll repeat: God is good, even when everything in life is trying to tell us otherwise! We have to cling to this truth. Psalm 100:5 says, “For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations” (NIV). Indeed, God’s goodness is spoken of and attested to throughout the entire Bible. The hard truth is, sometimes we have to look for His goodness, really look. But it’s always there—His kind, loving hand print is all over your story and mine. Don’t let Satan deceive you into thinking it’s not!
In 2011, Aaron and I no sooner began pulling out of the pit we’d found ourselves in than we faced a new pit: infertility. For my personal faith, this was a “last straw,” of sorts that the enemy used to very nearly break me. Outwardly, things did not “look” good: my marriage was barely recovering from serious trauma, we would soon be moving 2,500 miles away from all family and friends, and now we faced the prospect of childlessness.
The enemy peppered me with doubts and lies regarding God’s goodness in such an intense way during that season of my life that oftentimes, I’m amazed at how God sustained me through it. And looking back now with the welcomed vantage point of time, I see God’s goodness written all over my life, even in the painful circumstances that made no sense at the time.
He always gave me what I truly needed rather than what I thought I wanted. He covered me in promises from His Word, promises that formed a small but powerful light to guide me through the darkness of Satan’s sifting. He surrounded me with amazing family and friends, who prayed for us, loved us, supported us, offered wise counsel, and always challenged us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and continue pressing ahead in truth. Through every single moment, His strong, scarred Hands held firm around our marriage, keeping us together when every other force threatened to tear us apart. I stand in awe of His goodness to us!
When the Lord chose to bless us with children and called sweet Isaiah’s life into existence, all of the tears, the pain, and the waiting suddenly and gloriously melted away. And in what I can only imagine is a part of His sense of humor, God filled our cup to overflowing by granting us our daughter Hemingway a mere 12 months and 11 days after Isaiah’s birth. What a God we serve! He is good, He loves us, and He is for us—never forget it!
We serve a God of resurrection power. Finally, let us never forget that our God is not only a God who heals, but also a God who resurrects. Take a moment to really dwell on what that means . . . even something that is dead is not beyond His reach. In the greatest show of resurrection power, God raised His own Son from the dead, conquering sin and death once and for all. And Jesus’s dear friend Lazarus was dead and buried and lying in a tomb for four days before Jesus arrived, breathing new life and eternal hope into his body (see John 11).
The theme of resurrection power is seen throughout the Old Testament as well. In Ezekiel 37, God gave Ezekiel an incredibly vivid, haunting vision, where a valley of dry bones (symbolizing the scattered remnant of the nation of Israel) rattles and rises up, coming to new life with the very breath of God.
This prophecy has always given me chills, and even more so now that I’ve experienced the miraculous, resurrecting breath of God in my marriage. For a long time, I believed the lie that our marriage was beyond help, beyond the reach of God’s healing hand, but nothing could be farther from the truth. When healing feels impossible, remember that resurrection is possible and can surpass even our most deeply held doubts.
A challenge. Thank you for hanging in with me in this long post, and if you’re still reading, bravo! Let me be so bold as to end with a challenge to you: will you be brave and give God room to work in your life? Whether you’re facing an impossible situation, relationship, physical ailment, challenging work environment, financial struggle, or whatever the case may be, will you step out in faith and trust God to dazzle you like only He can? Sweet reader, God is so much bigger than we give Him credit—will you choose to believe that, even when the walls are closing in? I hope so. I want you to know Him and the hope of salvation as I have come to know Him through the messy, painful trials in my marriage. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and give Him a chance to show you what “immeasurably more” (see Ephesians 3:20) could look like in your life. I can’t tell you precisely what that will look like, but I can tell you this: it will be more worth it than you can possibly imagine.


Just kids :-)


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Finding God in the Spilled Milk & Temper Tantrums

You know that feeling, when you’re deep in the fray of school, and the calendar slowly, dramatically turns to December and you realize, ahhh!! Finals are coming, time to buckle down and study like never before!! Are you imagining it? Lately, I’ve been in the midst of what feels like the spiritual equivalent of December before finals. It’s exhausting and thrilling, and I’m struggling to keep up with everything God is teaching and whittling away at in me. So of course I turn to writing, in an effort to make sense of it all and hopefully be of some encouragement to you along the way too!
My heart has many corners undergoing His refining fire, but perhaps none more so than the area of motherhood. Doesn’t just the word “motherhood” conjure up such tender images of mother and child, sitting quietly together or sharing a poignant moment before bed? Well, those times do exist to be sure—but it’s the less-than-Norman Rockwell, everything-in-between moments that have laid me out lately. It’s difficult to grasp until you’re in it, but my word—the ability of a two-foot-tall tyrant, who can’t even speak yet, to bring you to your very knees is stunning, remarkable really.
In the midst of the chaos accompanying the seemingly simple task of caring for two such toddlers, God swept down and pressed upon my heart His firm yet loving conviction: thus far, I’ve pretty much been mothering my babies in my own strength. I didn’t even realize this hollow reliance on my own resources until God gently whispered it into my heart. And, after about a thousand sippy cups leaking milk on the new rug and temper tantrums and refusals to share that toy that you weren’t even interested in until your sister picked it up, the harsh realization hit:
I’ve run out of gas.
I’ve reached the end of my own resources. On my own, I have no more patience, no more kindness, no more love. I desperately need Jesus in the midst of all the spilled milk and temper tantrums (theirs and my own!). I need Jesus in the daily battles over screen time and gum. I need Jesus in the exhaustion and sheer borderline rage that threatens to breach the surface when I’ve prepared a meal and my son turns up his nose and begs for animal crackers. I am so tired, so very, very tired, because I’ve been running on empty now for months. Running on empty, when the Source of all life, strength, and love has been standing patiently by my side, waiting for me to look up and find Him at the end of my fraying rope.
It’s painful, this reaching the end of your rope thing, but in the pain I’m finding beautiful relief. And I never cease to be amazed at how God pursues and meets us, sometimes in unexpected ways. My Bible study group is going through Priscilla Shirer’s powerful study of Gideon, the subtitle of which is “Your Weakness. God’s Strength.” Approaching this study, I expected to find strength in my writing goals or something along those lines . . . I never expected to be undone by the realization of my weakness as it relates to motherhood! But oh, how thankful I am that He’s teaching me now, now while my babies are still young and many of our problems can be fixed with a vacuum and a good, warm bath. Or a well-earned stint in time out.
Normally when I write, I like to share the main concepts of what God is teaching me, or scripture on which I’m relying. But today, this post is coming to you from the middle of the weeds, where I’m stretching tall to peek beyond their scrubby silhouette, aching for a glimpse of what lies beyond. I don’t have any answers or much advice—this is a season for me to learn, to be still, and to know that He is God. He is God, who will be exalted above the nations (see Psalm 46:10), and He is God who will carry me in His arms, close to His heart, gently leading me as I mother these babies He’s entrusted to my care (see Isaiah 40:11).
I do want to share two things that God is pressing into my heart, however, in the hopes that maybe you can relate and be encouraged as well. Perhaps we can learn together, or perhaps you can offer me your hard-earned wisdom, which I welcome with open arms.  
First, I’m learning that the lies of the world can quietly, insidiously creep their way into our hearts, without us even realizing their presence. I love being a stay-at-home mom, and there is nothing else on this planet I’d rather be doing right now. But when Priscilla waxed poetically about the great work of raising the next generation and what a high and holy commission that is, I was dumbfounded to discover that deep down, I doubted the holiness of my calling. And while I wouldn’t choose anything else right now, deep down I harbored some of those lies the world entices us to believe. The lies telling me that now—because I no longer work at the CDC—I’m not quite as valuable. Now—because I wipe noses and bottoms and prepare endless meals and snacks—my work isn’t contributing as much as it once did. Now—that I’m “just a stay-at-home mom”—I’ve lost my place in the world, so to speak.
Dear reader, these are lies, bold-faced lies the enemy would have you and me believe! And I didn’t even realize they’d furtively tucked themselves into my heart, as I would have denied their presence in my life with honesty and fervor. In the same vein, because parts of my heart believed that this calling to motherhood wasn’t such a big deal, I believed the lie that it was a task I could handle in my own strength . . . well, as previously noted, the error of that lie has made itself known, loud and clear! The lies of this world are sneaky and cloaked in apparent reason and rightness, but oh, how wrong and destructive they are, and how thankful I am that God is breaking me free from them! And God will be faithful to break you free from lies as well, should you find yourself falling for them inadvertently like I did.
Second, the beauty and meaning inherent in the small things is perhaps greater than anything the seemingly “grander” things in life can offer. Through the life of Gideon, God illustrates how critical a task it is for us to be faithful in all the small things in our lives. Faithful in the mundane, ordinary tasks we face each day, no matter what circumstances in which we find ourselves. Our ordinary tasks may look different, but they all play a role of key importance: they are preparing us for the tasks and the calling that comes next in our lives. As Priscilla points out, Gideon practiced the boring, laborious task of threshing wheat—separating the hearty, viable grain from the useless chaff. Little did he know that God was preparing to use him to separate His people from the worthless idols they were following.
I don’t know what grander things God is preparing you for today, nor do I have an answer for myself. But this I do know: whatever things He may or may not have in store, no matter how “grand” in the world’s economy, nothing will be as beautiful and meaningful as these leaky sippy cups and diapers that need changing. Nothing will be as poignant and breathtaking as scrubbing dirty, cherub faces at the end of the day and rocking those sweet bodies until peaceful sleep settles over them. Nothing. As mothers in particular, we deal with so much ordinary and mundane on a daily basis, it’s easy to miss the truth. There is so much beauty in these small things, and we need only to exchange our earthly eyes for spiritual ones in order to see and be undone by it all.
In her beautiful book “Surprised by Motherhood,” author Lisa-Jo Baker describes motherhood as “a sacred marriage of the mundane and the eternal.” I can think of no better description than that. May God give us eyes to see and the strength to persevere in the mundane, knowing that through the chaos and the quiet, He is paving the way to that which is eternal.