One thing I will never regret:

This summer I faced a strange and unexpected trial. Most trials in my life are emotional as God has chosen to allow me to have good health so I don’t experience many physical trials yet and He has given me a desire for saving, frugality, and budgets so I tend to avoid financial trials; but God has giving me a good portion of broken relationships in my life so most of my trials are emotional. This summer was a little different as my mental endurance was tested.

In preparing to move to Rochester, I sought the Lord for work and housing. I waited in great anticipation for His leading. It was quite challenging, but His timing was appropriate. Just as I was getting approved for a home loan, I was choosing between three different jobs. Because of the job offer timings and the length of the pros on my pro con list, I chose a temporary job as an intern for the city. It was the job that offered medium pay of the three and was going to work with people which I thought would be “more” honoring to the Lord (the others I would have worked in my car driving around the state alone).

The job consisted of me sitting at a computer all day doing monotonous jobs like checking thousands and thousands of rows of data for accuracy and then copying and pasting the date I checked them. Relationally, I struggled the whole summer to connect with people. Most weren’t my age and were either severe introverts or just clearly not interested in connecting with me. Sometimes I sat on the other side of people at lunch in the break room and had short lived one-sided conversations. I often wondered if it was because I was the temporary “intern”.

Alone. Monotonous. 8 hours a day M-F. It’s hard to call it a trial, because when you say it, it doesn’t sound like such a hard thing. I have a job. It pays me money. What’s there to complain about? However, the mental struggle left me feeling like I was in a mental prison. Click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click. No escape.

I started to wonder if I had chosen the wrong job. “Wasn’t I trying to HONOR you God by choosing a job where I work with people??” I started to see that if there’s something God wants to teach, our decisions can hardly stand in the way. That little nugget of truth meant a lot more to me as someone who struggles with decisions. No matter where I go or what I choose, God is there and faithful. That lesson sounds very familiar.

However the one thing I will never regret as I sat at the computer day after day hardly speaking a word to anyone, is how God transformed my attitude from bitterness to gratefulness as I learned to mentally persevere. It became clear to me that the only way out of this was to walk through. God helped me see that He was giving me an opportunity to persevere; to grow and train those perseverance muscles. The one thing that will never fail to serve me is growing in perseverance. Growing in perseverance will never be wasted. Who knows what trial God will bring into my life where this perseverance will aid me in my faith?

This week my internship ended. Monday I start a new job. The job is actually the same job, just with a different organization. It’s possible I will feel the same mental strain as I did before, but I have prayed for God to lead and this is the job He has provided me. Maybe I will learn more about how to work towards having a job I love, but I am grateful that the Lord has provided. This will be my first “real” job since college where I have benefits and I’m getting paid something that makes sense for a person with a Master’s degree. Though it is quiet, there is a small part of me that is genuinely jumping with glee for this new opportunity. I have also learned that I often walk hesitantly into God’s blessings He has for me. So here’s to seeking the Lord and resting in His guidance.

James 1:2-4, 12 “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  And let perseverance have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. Blessed is the man who remains steadfast (or perseveres) under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”

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Confessions of a Church Planter: There is no where to hide

May 2018 I graduated with my masters and the next day left on a 14 day camping road trip to the west coast. The day after coming back I drove a moving truck up to Rochester, MN where I signed the closing documents on a house and started a new job that Monday. A crazy whirlwind, too crazy to send updates on Facebook… my family let me know that.

December 2016 our church decided to go on a church plant to Rochester, MN and asked me to join. For many reasons, I became convinced I could take this step with confidence that this is where God was leading. It was closer to home in Wisconsin and my heart was carrying a sense of homelessness where I was. It was time to go. From December 2016 to May 2018 God did several things, the main thing being to delay my expected graduation day and lead me into and out of a sort of dating relationship both of which caused me to surrender my fears of the unknown and even surrender of NOT going on the church plant. With confidence I began to trust that there was no where on earth I could put myself where God would not still be beside me.

Finally May 2018 came around and I was one of the last few people to move up to join the church plant. I can imagine any large transition like this, whether for a church plant or just a move, is difficult for everyone and loneliness becomes a faithful companion to many. But it has been sweet to see the Lord faithfully bind our hearts together as family and bring both new believers and faithful servants into our midst.

We went from meeting in homes, to meeting at a small college, to meeting at a school where we tear down and set up every Sunday. Now we are getting into the groove, but it sure gets exhausting. In a good way. One thing I am realizing that is not so obvious with a larger church family, is that there is no room for quarreling, disagreements, or pride. It really ought to be this way with any size church family, but in my experience previously, when there was disagreement between two people it was easy enough to ignore them and go and bond with outher friends because there was enough people. You could join a different small group or start hanging out with people from a different house church. When you’ve got seven or eight single people in your church and theres a disagreement amongst two people, there really is no where to go. The Lord has given me these people to lean into, build up, confide in, conflict with, and reconcile to. You can’t simply find other friends because we’re all we’ve got. And there’s something sweet and encouraging about that.

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2:1-4

How to grow in joy:

1 Peter eludes to the idea that we can be filled with inexpressible and glorious joy. We greatly rejoice in the living hope we have in Christ. The dots don’t always connect for me though. The Bible calls us to rejoice always… I rejoice sometimes. Over the last several years I’ve been working through my understanding and convictions on biblical joy. People have told me to choose joy, pray for joy, work through what is stealing my joy, and now I’m learning to pray for the testing of my faith if I want to experience more joy. I see that the center of our joy is is founded on our faith in Christ. That’s what I’d like to reveal here by walking through 1 Peter.

To be filled with glorious and inexpressible joy that results in rejoicing, pray that your faith be tested and proven genuine


What is the goal of your faith? Why do you believe in Jesus?

1 Peter 1:9 says our goal for our faith (believing in Christ) is the salvation of our souls (the preservation or deliverance from harm, ruin, or loss). That salvation, our inheritance, can never spoil, fade, or perish (1 Peter 1:4). It is kept in heaven, safe for us. In the meantime, we who keep believing in Christ, are shielded by God’s power (1 Peter 1:5). And so we have a living hope because we have been shown great mercy (not getting what we deserve) for our sins, an inheritance that is kept safe, and we are shielded by God’s power. We rejoice greatly in this living hope even though we have trials. But not merely by will power…

Why do we have trials, grief, or suffering? 1 Peter 1:7 says we have trials so our faith may be proved genuine, authentic, honest, and true. This authentic belief in Christ and what he has done leads to the praise, glory, and honor of Christ when He is revealed (because it was He who did it!) and genuine faith leads to being filled with an “inexpressible and glorious joy because we are receiving the goal of our faith”. 1 Peter 1:8-9

So it might stand to say that the reason we have little joy is because we are struggling in our faith in Christ. And the response to one another ought not to be “Just have more faith!”, but to tell God to have our faith made more genuine, more sincere and proven true.

God gives us trials so that by testing our faith and making it more genuine, we may have more joy. If we want more joy in Christ, we need to desire and ask for our faith to be tested so the un-authentic parts can be revealed, confronted, and removed. The result of authentic faith in Christ is praise, glory, and honor for Christ and inexpressible joy because we are being delivered from all harm, ruin, and loss.

Doesn’t everyone want the un-authentic parts of their faith removed? Well, it’s quite uncomfortable isn’t it? But, who really wants to say, “I want to keep the un-authentic parts of my faith!”? I suspect no one.

This is our plight as Christians. It turns out our childhood confessions of Christ as Lord and Savior need to be proved sincere. We are being ever tested that we might run the race and fight the good fight of faith through all circumstances. To endure the testing of our faith to that end (expressing and experiencing more praise for Christ and joy) we must grow up in our salvation (1 Peter 2:2) and we must not stumble because we disobey trusting in Christ (1 Peter 2:8).

Understanding that our trials are working FOR US to lead us away from death and INTO LIFE, as a GIFT from the Lord, Peter spends the rest of the letter persuading it’s readers to have the right perspective on trials so they may continue in faith, and so in the praise of Christ and joy.

To grow in faith and to not stumble in our suffering and grief we must:

  • Prepare our minds for action and be self-controlled so we can pray (1 Peter 4:7)
  • Abstain from sinful desires like malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, slander (1 Peter 2:1), don’t conform to evil desires, but be holy. Crave holiness! Sin wages war against our souls. Christ has brought us salvation from harm, ruin, and loss. Sin has brought us harm, ruin, and loss. Sin is the opposite of our goal. Resist the devil.
  • We ought to live good lives described in 1 Peter 2:12 to the end including repaying evil with goodness and submitting to all kinds of authority.
  • Do not be surprised by the suffering we are facing when suffering for Christ or doing good.
  • Commit, pledge, and bind ourselves to the faithful Creator, and continue to do good. (1 Peter 4:12)
  • We set our hope on GRACE as the gift of salvation we do not deserve and could not earn.
  • Take on the attitude or have a settled way of thinking that suffering helps us flee our evil fleshly desires, and live our lives for the will of God. 1 Peter 4:1-6

How do I respond when trials come? Why don’t I immediately think that God is testing my faith? That he wants me to have more joy in the promises of salvation and the hope of eternity? That he wants me to give him praise and glory? My immediate response is usually frustration, anger, and doubt. If it doesn’t feel good or work how I would like, I let that lead me to the conclusion that he’s doing something not good and, almost subconsciously, that God isn’t good. I pray that God gives me the settled way of thinking that the trials and suffering in my life are to refine my faith, to make it more genuine, because he wants me to glorify him and experience the inexpressible glory and joy from trusting in my savior. I pray that he refines my faith. I pray he tests my faith so the un-authentic parts can be revealed, confronted, and removed so all that’s left is faith and rejoicing. Test my faith Lord! Test my faith! Send me the trials to reveal the parts of my heart, soul, and mind that do not believe in your truth. Help me to not be afraid. Help me to consciously declare that you have given me suffering so that through my faith being refined I will praise you more and have more joy after being tested.

Amen.

 

Hoping IN versus hoping FOR and why it’s ok to listen to your heart

“Do not put your hope in [fill in the blank here]” says every Christian mentor ever. Years have been passing as I’ve struggled in trying to understand myself, my desires, and God’s desires. Message after message I’ve heard telling me to not follow my heart, don’t pursue happiness, don’t put your hope in marriage or a job or kids or friends or family.

Maybe it was me or maybe it was actually the message being given to me… I’ll never know, but the truth wants to come out. There’s dreams and desires stuffed down in there that feel covered in shame because either I was told to not have hopes and dreams, I’m afraid of loss/disappointment, or whenever I was being told not to put my hope in something I thought it also meant that I shouldn’t hope for anything either. Maybe they were telling me that, maybe they meant I ought not to hope for the things I longed for. Maybe I didn’t know the difference. Either way, my heart and soul are finding freedom. Here’s is where I am now:

Hope: the expectation/longing for good, a desire for something to happen, a type of trust/assurance

Hoping in: 

“Thus says the LORD, “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the LORD.” Jeremiah 17:5

“Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.” Psalms 146:3

“Here’s what you say to those wealthy in regard to this age: “Don’t become high and mighty or place all your hope on a gamble for riches; instead, fix your hope on God, the One who richly provides everything for our enjoyment.”” 1 Timothy 6:17

Man can turn away from the Lord, the strength that comes from man is not strong enough for what we need. Man was never going to be able to save our souls. If we want good things, why not look to God and expect the good we desire from him who provides those things instead of leaving it up to chance or asking man alone to provide?

Hoping for:

“In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.” As she kept on praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.” “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord.  Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.” Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”…So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.” 1 Samuel 1

 “As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant.  They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.” Luke 18:35-43

Beautiful longings come from the pouring out of our souls, our desires, our dreams. God doesn’t always answer yes, but the outpouring of our souls finds favor in his eyes. In it lies the confession that we know it is he who provides and we didn’t earn or deserve his favor, but it is a gift.

The heart: an anatomical feature given to describe desires and passions

“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick, who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9

“Watch over your heart with all diligence for from it flow the springs of life” Proverbs 4:23

“Indeed, if a man should live many years, let him rejoice in them all, and let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. Everything that is to come will be futility. Rejoice, young man, during your childhood, and let your heart be pleasant during the days of young manhood. And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things.” Ecclesiastes 11:8-9

The heart can be deceitful, it must be watched over, but from it flow the springs of life. We have the freedom and permission to follow the impulses of our hearts and the desires of our eyes, we are to enjoy the days that are good because they won’t last. Yet, there is a warning… God will judge our hearts. He will declare them as righteous or wicked. We will be held accountable for what the impulses of our hearts led us to do.

What God does with the heart:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23-24

“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lordhe turns it wherever he will.” Proverbs 21:1

“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.” Proverbs 21:2

“All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD.” Provers 16:2

“But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or his stature, because I have rejected him. Man does not see what the LORD sees, for man sees what is visible, but the LORD sees the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

“As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever.” 1 Chronicles 28:9

“‘I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.'” Jeremiah 24:7

Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10

“It is clear that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” 2 Corinthians 3:3

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

God knows our hearts. He directs our hearts. He weighs our hearts to test if it is pure or selfish. He cares about our motives. God sees our hearts. He searches our hearts. The Lord gives us a new heart that longs to know him. He creates a clean heart in us. The Spirit of the Living God has written the gospel on our hearts. He removes our hearts of stone and replaces them with a moving, breathing, bleeding heart.


Hear what your heart is saying. Listen to it. Listening doesn’t mean doing what it says, listening means paying attention. Take note. Affirm the desires and passions. Bring them before the Lord and ask “Have mercy on me!”. “Treat me unlike I deserve”. “Give, though I have not earned.”

Pray and do not lose heart. Luke 18:1

Nehemiah was merely a cup bearer to a king. Upon hearing the news of the destruction in Jerusalem and the despair of the people, with sadness of heart, he asked the king if he could aid to rebuild the temple. The Lord made a way for the conception and establishment of Nehemiah’s desire.

“And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid.  I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.” And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time.  And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah,  and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.” And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.” Nehemiah 2:2-8

It wasn’t an easy task, it wasn’t met without trouble or consequences, but where would Nehemiah been if he had never asked? What of Hannah or the blind man or the persistent widow begging for justice? What does silencing our desires do? If our only excuse is to avoid disappointment and pain, then I think we are choosing not to believe the Lord can truly satisfy in our unmet desires. That his comfort is sweeter than numbness.

Never allowing your heart to have a place in your life is about as crazy as not allowing your heart to hope for heaven. All of our hoping and waiting is just a small picture of the greatest redemption and gift our hearts long for.

And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

Romans 8:23-26

“Do not follow your heart, if it means your going to settle when you know there’s something better.” What if you’re not settling? What if following your heart is you becoming the person you’ve always wanted to be and the person God has always wanted you to be?

I’d say listen, I’d say go… and God will hold you accountable for all that you do.

Will God leave me alone to screw up my life?

I’ve never been very good at making decisions. Is it a fear of missing out? As I think about standing in front of restaurant menu board it is not that I cannot decide between two things that I love. Rather, I know its possible that I would make a decision, receive my compensation, and be disappointed. Now I am stuck with it because this was what I paid for. That greasy burger ended up making me feel nauseous, but that was the consequence of my decision. I picked wrong. But how would I have known otherwise?

My mom came to me one night when my parents were divorcing, telling me that I had to decide who to live with. “I don’t want to decide,” I said in tears as an 11 year old. I went with whatever made everyone else happy. My preference, which was to have them not divorce, was not an option.

While burgers and parents are two completely different types of choices, there are choices we are asked to make in life and the consequences of those choices can be illusive. We can seek the Lord, He can give us peace, transform our minds, lead us on the narrow path, but we can also be convinced that God is leading us somewhere he might not be (or maybe that’s apart of his sovereignty too… but a conversation for a different time). It may end us up somewhere we consider “not good.”

God, will you leave me alone to screw up my life? My mind and heart ponder this question. In it is woven doubt and pain, but also a deep curiosity. So I googled “verses about God not leaving us alone to screw up our lives” and I came across a story of a man who, potentially outside of wisdom, became convinced that God was leading him (a pastor) to move to a city to start a new church. (Ironic for me to read this.) He didn’t have a job prospect lined up or a house or really much of a plan, and he uprooted his family including small children only to end up a year later in line at a homeless shelter waiting with others for jobs to be handed out to earn some money to put food on the table. “How did I end up here?” he asked himself.

Well, shit.

I don’t entirely remember his consolation for his experiences. Something from Job, Psalms, and probably Romans.

I asked my roommates a few weekends ago, “Do you guys know or can you think of any verses that have to do with God and him not leaving us alone to screw up our lives?” One shared “God works all things out for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purposes.” She admitted it was trite, but I understood the sentiment. God works all things for good. Screw ups and bad decisions can be made for good. OK… but it still didn’t bring me consolation.

A week later I was reading Psalms. I’ve been reading Psalms from the beginning for several weeks now and got tired/bored so I flipped to the end and started reading them backwards… strange, I know. But I think God led me to a verse that we are all familiar with, but it stood out to me in this context.

Psalm 139:7-12 (by David)

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

God, will you leave me ALONE to screw up my life? Well, no. There is no place on the entire earth, that though it may seem like it’s covered in darkness, will be dark to God. Darkness is not dark to God. There is no place on earth I can go, no darkness I think I could hide in, there is no grave or place in the sky, there is no place that I could choose to settle where his hand, love, guidance, providence, and grace cannot find me.

So screw up my life?… maybe. Make a decision that ends in pain?…possibly. Become convinced God wants me to do something that might be contrary to biblical wisdom?… I could. But does that remove me from God’s favor or keep him from helping me or guiding me? No, he is ever as close in my successes as in my failures. If I say “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me.” He says, “The darkness is not dark to me, the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to me.” I could settle on the far side of the sea, but still he will never leave me nor forsake me. Even there, His hand will guide me.

And there are plenty of verses about God leading us and lighting the path for our feet. He does guide us. So without negating those truths, I end in the comfort that I can feel secure in the Lord with my decisions even if I make the “wrong” ones because he will continue to be there and uphold me with his right hand. And then it’s humbling because I realize I don’t even really deserve that, but his promised presence is his unmerited favor possible through Christ.

And for that I am grateful.

Child of Divorce: Do Not Fear

I came across this article today.

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/child-of-divorce-do-not-fear-marriage

My parents are divorced so it relates in that way, but most of this I hear ALL the time so I begin scrolling past all the “generic” truths about how I’m not bound to repeat the past, I’m free from generational sin, and blah blah blah (I’m being kind of dramatic), but then I got to the golden nugget of truth that God has really been rewiring in my brain these last 4 weeks: no matter how much healing I get, or truth I get, or wisdom I store up (which is good to do) – it does not protect me from suffering. There is no guarantee for me (or any of us) to walk into situations or circumstances (like marriage, parenting, or any other ministry) and avoid walking roads of suffering (including divorce). In fact Jesus promises that we will have MUCH trouble in this life. We are broken people.

I think more and more everyday God is helping me to let go of my fear of pain and suffering and helping me to walk knowing He is my confidence!

I am afraid of marriage. I think it sounds pretty awful. I think chaining yourself to someone and giving them the opportunity and power to ravage you makes me want to huddle in a ball in a dark corner of my heart. But, I also have a deep seeded desire and a great curiosity to discover what love and life is like in marriage. I want to understand Gods love more in that context, and I believe that is a righteous desire he has given me. If he didn’t, my instinct because of my fears would be to just sign the figurative contract to be single. For me I tend to think that no, it’s not so bad to never have loved at all than to have lost. Sorry Lord Tennyson.

So maybe God will lead me into marriage someday, maybe he won’t; but my spirit is becoming more and more convinced that I can’t say no simply out of fear of pain. And saying yes, for me, will mean yes despite or in light of the pain. Which will be a powerful commitment for me. I am not unaware of the potential suffering in store, I am more unaware of the potential blessings in store.

A dear sister (Christie) told me a few days ago, after a sermon on gender, marriage, and roles at a sister church we were visiting; that God gives us the strength in the times of suffering. God does not give us the strength to worry when it hasn’t yet arrived, but he offers us his confidence to be willing to be vulnerable.

So child of divorce (or any other circumstance), you do not have to fear marriage. Yes, but I may have titled the article: you don’t have to fear God leaving you in suffering though your heart and flesh fail or the other heart and flesh fails that you’ve bound yourself to. He, the Lord, is our strength, our confidence, our portion.

Forever.

This is Redemption

Breathe. Open the door. Take a step in. You recognize this place, but the memories are vacant like a moving box with the word “childhood” written on the flap in permanent marker with nothing inside. Maybe you can remember running down the stairs to the sunday school rooms or bobbing for apples out on the lawn, but besides the absent memories what this place really represents is the years of hurt and brokenness. The reminder of all the pain that has happened since you last stepped in these halls. The people? They are all different. The grown up children? They have all moved away. The pastor? You’ve never seen him before in your life.

We slide in the back row. My mom, me, and my brother. Why he started to go back to this church a month ago I have yet to understand entirely, but I have a guess that maybe we are all seeking the same healing from the pain that started all those years ago after leaving this place. There’s been a stirring of his heart, I reckon. A longing to understand, to make things right.  Why now? I wasn’t really sure until we prayed together at the end.

The pastor, after a challenging message about being on mission and sharing the truth of Christ’s saving of our souls, asked us to gather with the people around us and lift up our joys and requests to God. We looked at each other knowing we aught to put our heads together, but there was a sense of awkwardness. How do we do this? We’ve never done this before or at least not in 17 years.  

“Well…” he finally said hesitantly; so the three of us squished together as my brother gathered us under his arm like little chicks and began to pray. He told God how thankful he was for the life he’s given him, for keeping our dad alive after his recent heart attack, for his two sons and his wife, but mostly for forgiveness and for being able to be a new person in Christ, to be able to let go of the past, to have a new identity. As he prayed all I could think about was how God has changed us all. 5 years ago, my mom wasn’t a Christian, my brother didn’t think the bible had much merit, and I was still walking around withholding forgiveness from him for the years of sexual abuse. I was withholding the gospel from him. As a child I walked around claiming to be a follower of Jesus, but the only gospel message I was communicating to him was that God doesn’t actually forgive our sins.

As a child I walked around claiming to be a follower of Jesus, but the only gospel message I was communicating to him was that God doesn’t actually forgive our sins.

But I forgave him by God’s strength and mercy, and hardly with words as I couldn’t bare any more of a conversation than a cross with the words “forgive” on it that I gave him for christmas once. It was more so in my actions as allowed myself to trust him, hug him, spend time with him; to live like I’d forgiven him. I could trust him because he had changed and more importantly he could trust me and the truth I was sharing because I had changed too.

Then I thought about how my mom has grown as a disciple of Christ and how her change has influenced him. She’s growing to have a gentler, quieter spirit that understands her desperate need for forgiveness and to trust in the Lord alone. I can only imagine how seeing her growth has influenced my brother’s faith. I’ve only heard through the snippets of conversations they’ve had, but they too have shared forgiveness for one another.

As she started to pray, now almost distracted by the moment God was giving me that I hardly remember what she was praying, all I could think of what the years of hate and blame I held in my heart for her, the pain of life, the walls in my heart, the conviction of the Holy Spirit, the loss of Jeff, the conversion of her soul, the months of singing praise together at church, the conversations of forgiveness, the bible studies, the renewing of our minds, and the peace in my soul…

Here we are. The three of us. Tossed violently by the waves of life, forsaking even our faith. Wayward brides who were dumping out the boxes of memories; trying to fill it instead with what we thought would satisfy, but still coming up empty. We kept finding the memories in our mailboxes year after year, month after month, day after day; haunting us all. We were even drowning for a while looking for oxygen to breathe, looking for someone to save us.

But God, in his mercy, saw it fit to have “…Christ Jesus come into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”

God had a plan to use my hard heart and choices of sin to work back around to teach me grace and obedience that impacts not only me, but shares Christ’s love for his children specifically my brother and mother.

All I can say now is that it works! It really does. He does work all things for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his great purpose. His promises are true, even when they don’t feel like it before it comes to fruition.

And it’s not over yet, its really just beginning, but standing there together in the arms of my brother and mother, I understand…

This is redemption. 

New Foundations

For my faithful readers, you have been following a roller coaster ride on the relationship with my mom. I started this blog around 2011…. I think. (Just did a quick archive check… yup, November of 2011)

To do a quick recap (and for anyone that may be stumbling across this for the first time)… at that point in my life I was really struggling with a lot of anger towards her, a lot of temptation to blame her, and a stone cold heart. She’d say mean things to me, blame me for things, tell me I’m wasting time at church; I’d lie about how much I loved her and treated her like a jerk. But, at that time God was really knocking hard at my stone heart, knocking down walls and shining light into deep, dark infected places. The deconstruction began followed by this long, slow rebuilding of a relationship. The ministry of reconciliation that God has called us to mainly comes in sharing the gospel (reconciliation with Him, through faith in Jesus’s sacrifice and resurrection), but I believe it carries out in our relationships with one another. Specifically, I believe God has called ME to be reconciled to MY MOM. (2 Cor 5:11-21, Rom 12:18)

I was not convinced she was a believer at that time in 2011. It wasn’t until her boyfriend who’d been living with us for five years was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and died a month later. It was during that time that the gospel became the most important truth, especially for Jeff. The need for Jeff to believe it allowed us to have conversations that resulted in her accepting, believing, and affirming that the Lord Jesus is her Savior and she will spend eternity with Him in heaven.

After that, everything changed. But, the one thing that was different was I found myself wishing she wasn’t saved so she would suffer for the things I’ve suffered through. Harsh, right?  I think Jonah probably felt similar, but I am ashamed…

So it was clear to me by my attitude that there was a lot of work to do in my heart. So God continued to deconstruct and renovate my heart like the good carpenter he is. This covers the last two years. There’s high points and low points, but it wasn’t until this last Christmas Break that I reached the lowest point and considered giving up on the relationship all together. “I’m done! This woman is infuriating!” I told the Lord on my 5 hour drive home.

I was driving back to Iowa to a conference in Des Moines called “Faithwalkers” where we gather and hear teachings and encouragement from our sister churches all over the midwestern USA. God always has a way of using that time to redirect my life. A pastor of ours shared about trials and how the key to overcoming trials isn’t their finish, but in our endurance. That to endure is God’s prime objective. (Rom 5:3, Heb 10:36, James 1:2-3, Col 1:9-11) If we don’t… what does that say of our faith? So I was encouraged as it says in Colossians to pray this:

 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.

May you be strengthened with power… so that you may have great endurance and patience…

I was really struck by that and considered that maybe God wasn’t calling me to give up, maybe this was a lowest of the low points. Maybe God is calling me to endure through the highs and lows of this journey to reconciliation. What I needed was to pray to persevere! God put it on my heart to do a little book study with my mom via the phone, so I mailed her some materials (because at this point I was all too frustrated to talk with her on the phone) and I thought if any thing could help this relationship, surely it was God’s word.

I thought Maybe I can’t trust her yet, and that’s ok. I can rest in the safety of God’s word. 

So each week (it’s been 3 now) we call each other on the phone and for 2 hours or so we study through the gospel answering questions about how Jesus claimed to be God and how we can have assurance for eternal life through faith in the blood of Jesus. There’s questions at the end that ask you to reflect on what you just read and there’s nothing sweeter than hearing my mom say “I’m so grateful for God’s mercy and I’m so glad I know I have eternal life because of Jesus.”

This breaks my heart of stone.

In all of my attempts of reconciliation, I never once realized how what we really needed wasn’t heart to hearts of disclosing past wounds (though there is time for that) or taking unsafe chances of sharing my life with her. What we need is a new foundation built up from the truth of the gospel. It’s there I find courage to confess my sins, to share how the truth impacts my life, to open up about who I am. Its there I build trust with a women who has the Holy Spirit living and active inside of her. It’s possible all of my attempts that seemed more harmful than good to reconcile weren’t useless, but it’s possible (and I pray so much for) that rebuilding our relationship on the word through studying it together will yield greater fruit than my plans to relive and bring up the past ever could have. I don’t mean to say there aren’t things we need to talk about or that everything is forgotten, but rather to allow time for God to knit our hearts together and to allow His word and His timing to reconcile our relationship. By having a relationship built on the trust of the Lord and His word, it makes it possible to talk about past hurts and pains in light of the gospel. It may be that the most glorious thing God will do with my life is to reconcile my relationship between me and my mom. And I pray for that. I’ve always prayed for that… that I would see His glory.

And a glorious thing it will be. Please pray for me. I am encouraged at what God has done in 3 weeks, but I need to depend on the Lord for strength and love and I can’t do it alone. Thank you!

In His love,
Teresa

 

Anger Denatured into Gratitude

A once ridiculing, anxious soul is metamorphosing into unconditional gentleness. Where once was fear now is filled with peace and where once was guilt is now filled with hope.

My mother.

Unfortunately, in comparison to me- the steps I’d thought I’d taken to overcome bitterness and anger are now so clear against her grace filled love. My mom is transforming and I stopped somewhere a long the way. Or maybe I took a pause to clean out some old dusty cupboards of pain.


Being a child with divorced parents isn’t a whole ton of fun. It creates some sort of childhood trauma that manages to covertly infect most neural pathways to your mind and heart. Oh, memories! I sigh- and the purposely forgotten memories! And holidays- what a wonderful time to remember how broken your family is! This is not a rant, I promise. 

Through one recent conversation or another I found myself angry. It was something to do with plans and what dinner was at who’s house and why it was so unfair the kids had to go the other parents instead of coming to some Aunt’s house. Some sort of blame was exchanged…blah, blah, blah. I ended up angry towards my mom and then sort of stopped communicating, and really, what led up to that isn’t the important part, but I was angry and I left angry back to Iowa.

Along the 5 hour drive I meditated long and hard on my anger. At first I didn’t understand why, I just was, you know? So I just let myself be angry and sooner or later a cry for justice was to be found.

“It’s not fair!” I found myself exclaiming. There was a huge injustice done to me with my parents separating: I didn’t ask for it, I couldn’t do anything to stop it, and yet somehow I was in the middle of broken promises and lonely relationships. “What about justice?”

I let myself call out the injustice that had happened. It’s like there’s this imaginary pressure to not be impacted by divorce, like, it happens all the time or it’s not so bad or something. So all along the way of the last 10 years I’m bottling up this anger and sense of injustice inside, wanting to expressing it, but not knowing really what it is that I wanted to express. Yet I was letting it seep out every time my mom asked me when my dad is having thanksgiving or when I’m going over to his house.

Kind of ridiculous if you ask me now. Especially since she’s like this sweet lady who asks so prudently. Then I’m this ravenous wolf who just got punched on a wound.

So here I am in the car, “What about justice?” I say (seemingly to God) Of course, being God, he could almost laugh. Who could have a better understanding of unfair suffering than God? Jesus on the cross, anyone?

He doesn’t though- laugh, I mean. He comforts me by reminding me He knows about the injustice. It’s not fair. It’s not right. It’s not acceptable. He hates divorce! (Malachi 2:16)

Who could have a better understanding of unfair suffering than God?

And then of course, people kept sharing verses and articles on Facebook about unjust suffering and forgiveness…etc….. you know how that happens…

Verses like 1 Peter 2:19-25

For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God.

and 1 Peter 3:9

 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

Genesis 50:19-20

But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

And then I almost felt the Spirit asking me “What kind of justice would you like?”

Well… I don’t know I guess, I thought, it’s not like I want them punished (they believe in Jesus and his forgiveness and are in enough of their own pain) and in all actuality having them back together probably wouldn’t make anything much better either…. I guess I just wanted someone to hear me say it wasn’t fair. 

So I emailed my mom and apologized and helped her understand why I was so angry all the time. She apologized for her part, I apologized for mine and we both agreed to work towards forgiveness. I thanked her profusely for her grace as she is always so kind to me when I am unkind. She doesn’t mind the hits because she loves me so much and that’s pretty amazing.

That was all a month ago. On the drive back home for Thanksgiving today I asked myself what kind of attitude I was going to have this time. I prayed for a gentle one and I realized anything other than that would be a cry for justice. Then I asked myself, “How long will you cry out? How many do you need to hear you say it? Will it ever be enough?”

You’ve said it. It’s been heard. By God, by your mom, and by a lot of others. It’s been taken care of and it’s time to move on now. It’s time to be grateful for what you do have (believing parents, a home, food, people who love you, clothes, a job, income, school, air to breathe) and to be content with the portion God has given you. It’s time to stop looking at your circumstances with a microscope….

It’s time to be thankful. And so I shall!

Happy Thanksgiving! May God help you understand what good He is doing through your unjust suffering and unfortunate circumstances.

“Understanding unjust suffering is about not getting God to change your circumstances but beginning to understand how your circumstances are a part of His divine plan and you responding to that plan.”              Overcoming Unjust Suffering, Living on The Edge

 

The pursuit of Joy. Day 6

The Psalms: the last installment

Distant songs of joy

  1. We can proclaim the satisfying pleasure we find in God through jubilant song and shouts of victory, with the harp and the sound of singing, with trumpets and horns, with dancing. Not only that, but the rivers will clap and the mountains will sing because God has done marvelous things like revealing and clothing us with his salvation. God’s right hand has done mighty things!  (Psalm 98, 107, 132, 118, 149)
  2. God’s law is our joy (119:111)

    “Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart.”

  3. To be liberated from slavery is joy and the cause of it, which God has given us and why we sing songs of joy to him. (105, 126:2)

    When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.

  4. In times of sorrow, songs of joy are distant, but we yearn to sing them once again. (Psalm 137)

    “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How can we sing songs of the Lord while in a foreign land? If I forget you Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.”

I wish I sang songs of joy more often for the salvation God has given me, for the freedom he has liberated me to in Christ. I wish I was so moved that I might praise God with dancing and instrument, with laughter and joy. There are times when I forget that I have tasted and seen the goodness of the Lord and that he is ever with me!

But I can imagine the sorrow the nation of Israel felt in exile, “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land,” they said as they hung up their harps.

Unit next time…