January 16, 2019

Sacrificial Service When You're Tired

The following post was commissioned by one of my Patreon supporters, who asked me to answer this question: "How do I show my husband value by meeting his needs when he gets home at the end of the day when I also have put in a full day and am exhausted?"

Thank you, Leigh, for making the "By Faith" podcast possible through your support! If you'd like to join her and others in supporting my work (and find out how you can commission a blog post), find out more here.

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When my boys were small, I distinctly remember standing at the stove, stirring a pot of spaghetti sauce in preparation for dinner, with a small child clinging to my leg, and hearing the garage door open. My husband was home from work, which I was glad for, but the noise and clatter of my other boys running through the house rattled my nerves, and I still had much to do in order to get food on the table. When he came in the door with a smile and arms open for welcome-home hugs, I watched as the boys ran toward him, but I myself did not go to him. I turned back to the stove and to my suddenly very important spaghetti sauce, excusing myself from warmly greeting him as a subconscious silent protest: look at all that needs still to be done, and look at who is doing it! I tried with my darting and dashing around the kitchen to manifest the old cliche before his eyes: a woman's work is never done.
The truth is that I was being stubborn. My husband and I had previously had a conversation about what we'd like to see different in our marriage. I'd myself asked for the feedback: "Are there little things that I'm not aware of that would make you feel more loved?" The only thing he'd mentioned was the moment he returned home after work. "I'd like for you to stop what you're doing for just a moment and give me a hug and kiss. That's all," he'd said. My husband rarely requests such specific changes, but I thought it was silly. Didn't he see that all I carried in a day--three young children, housework, volunteer work, part-time work, ministry, shopping, and cooking--came to a chaotic crescendo right when he returned home? Couldn't he see that I was already serving him through all of this? A hug and a kiss was frivolous and could certainly wait.

Again, the conversation. Again, the request. He didn't raise his voice (he never raises his voice). He didn't condemn (he never condemns). He again asked that I intentionally greet him at the end of the day.

Of course it was so much more for me than a simple greeting. And my response to the request said so much more about my heart than about my busy day. I didn't want to serve; I wanted to be served. I wanted reprieve from my day-long service. I wanted him to see me in action in order that he might validate and appreciate my service. No matter that he'd been pastoring, leading, shepherding, counseling, and managing all day. His arrival at home meant it was finally my turn to receive.

I know how ugly this sounds. Your heart may not be so ugly, but we all at some point are challenged by life's circumstances to serve and give, not because we're looking for return, but out of our love for God.

That's what I realized Kyle's request was challenging. It was not that I didn't love my husband or want to please him. It was that I needed a deeper well of love to draw from when my emotions, will, and energy were completely dry. I needed to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, imitating his sacrificial service in honor of his Father. It didn't matter if he was feeding people or teaching. Everything he did, he did with an eye toward God the Father.

We, too, must consider all we do to be for God. Our service may be directed toward people and benefit them in some way, but the only way we can pour out our lives for others is if we're serving "as unto the Lord."

The greeting of my husband at the door was stubbornly hard for me because I'd made it about me. But if I were to think, "This is a way I can love God (and of course my husband too)," then the choice is clear before me.

So for those of you who are serving while you're dry to the bone and exhausted to the core, here are a few suggestions:

Have the Conversation
Sometimes we put ideas in our own heads about what is expected of us and others around us are not actually expecting those things. It helps to ask a question: "How can I help you?" or "How can I show you love better?" and ask for practical answers. The response may be as simple as a greeting at the door, when, as I assumed, my husband wanted a perfect meal on the table just when he got home. My assumptions had made me grumpy and consistently dreading his arrival. Having the conversation also allowed me to say, "It's helpful to me that when you come home, after we say hello, you take the children from the kitchen and give me space to focus on finishing the meal."

Don't Spew or Stew. Express Your Needs
One of the best lessons I learned early in our marriage was that I needed to be able to label my own feelings. Before I learned this, my typical way of handling my emotions was to spew them out in every direction at the exact moment I felt them. My poor husband couldn't process everything coming at him, and sometimes he'd stop me and say, "Can you help me understand exactly what we're talking about right now?" I wanted to scream. Don't you know based upon everything I'm throwing at you? No, he did not.

My other typical way of handling my emotions was to stew in them, not say a word about them, and fully expect my husband to recognize what I was feeling. I didn't even know what I was feeling, and I expected him to read my mind?

I honestly was afraid to share my true thoughts, feelings, and needs, not because he made me feel unsafe, but because I'd never done it before in a healthy relationship. I slowly began to learn that I must take time to pinpoint exactly what I'm feeling and thinking. What is at the core of what's bothering me? What do I need from my husband in this? Answering those questions allowed me to know myself better but also to go to him with unemotional, clear requests.

When it comes to weariness and potentially needing a moment to yourself (especially if you've been at home all day with small children), ask for what you need from your husband, and be as specific as possible: "After dinner is cleared away, I'd love about 20 minutes in our room to read or text with a friend or take a bath." (Or whatever is your jam.) Let your request be something that recharges you for the evening ahead.

What I'm describing is not being demanding or unreasonably expectant. I'm describing a simple request for help. Sometimes, however, our requests cannot be met in the moment, and this is when we need to know Christ's love.

Know Love
You are greatly loved! Christ indwells you by his Spirit, and so you are never without him, his love, or his help. There are many times we will not feel the desire to serve. There are times we'll wonder if anyone will meet our needs as our requests go unheard. I've found in my own life that I can trust him to care for me, especially in those moments that Paul described as "being poured out as a drink offering." In his help, we have everything we need in order to sacrificially serve. We are never more like Christ than when we're serving others, and the good news is that he sees everything we do in honor of him.

January 9, 2019

What Relationships Do I Invest In?

The following post was commissioned by one of my Patreon supporters named Rachael, who asked me about discernment in knowing what friendships to invest in and to what extent. Rachael is single and works at a church in a transient city, where the opportunities for new relationships are many, and she does in fact have time for lots of coffee dates and such. How should she navigate her role and opportunities? I've answered in letter form below.

Thank you, Rachael, for making the "By Faith" podcast possible through your support! If you'd like to join Rachael and others in supporting my work (and find out how you can commission a blog post), find out more here.

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Dear Rachael,
I'm thankful for your heart to serve and love others. I imagine in your role you are pulled in many directions and have countless opportunities for relationships, but you may have little time to stop and consider what a privilege it is to do what you're doing. You may also have little indication that what you're doing matters, so from one laborer to another, I want you to know how grateful I am that you're at the plow in your city, faithfully serving the Lord. When I get weary, I remember that God sees every unseen thing, and there is a harvest waiting when we all see him face to face. Press on, dear sister!

One of the challenges I didn't see coming when I entered ministry is the abundance of relationships I'd enjoy combined with the limits on my time. I tend to forget I have limits; I prefer to try to push through them or ignore them altogether.

But it's good to remember we have limits.

We're limited in time, energy, and in the ability to carry the burdens of others. God isn't impatient with us in our limits; he in fact created us with them. And so we must walk closely with him in order to follow his Spirit's lead in knowing when we serve sacrificially and when we may need to stop and rest for a moment. If there is anything I've learned in ministry, it's that I can't depend on myself, nor can I trust myself. I must ask him about everything. I must say a gracious no when he leads me to do so, no matter what the person I'm saying no to thinks of it. And I must say a joyful yes when he leads me to say yes, following through with my word always, ever ready to sacrificially serve in the name of Jesus.
One thing God has taught me as I've tried to followed his lead is that I must label my relationships rightly. A friendship is different than a relationship. A friendship is different than a ministry relationship. And when we're in many relationships and ministry relationships, it's easy to lose sight of these distinctions. Here's how I know it's friendship: it's mutual. A friend sees me as me, not "me" as a role or a job or as someone who has no spiritual needs. A friend draws out the "me" that makes me what I am. Armed with this definition, you probably see fairly quickly that you have many relationships and a handful of true friends.

God has additionally taught me to follow his lead with my time. As a married woman with growing kids and a career, my time is more naturally delineated for me. As a single woman with a career centered primarily around people, there are greater nuances you'll need to discern when it comes to your time. In other words, you're going to have to draw some lines for yourself. I would suggest taking the two categories I mentioned previously--ministry relationships and friendships--and consider how you can give yourself well to both. If you're not careful, ministry relationships (i.e. work for you) can overtake all of your time, whether your work hours or free. How can you carve out time in your week that's reserved solely for friendship? Pursue your friends, both longtime and burgeoning, in those times. And when it comes to the casual, "Let's get together for coffee!" from someone new in your church, keep some open and specific spots for those opportunities as well.

Of course, this is idealistic and rigid, and I'm not suggesting that you keep such firm boundaries that you aren't loving people well. I'm just suggesting that you be intentional with your words and how you define your relationships with others. And I'm suggesting that you be intentional with your time. It's not more spiritual to do ministry work all the time than to spend intentional time with people that fill you up. One of God's graces to us is the gift of friendship, where we're encouraged and challenged. We should enjoy this gift while we also serve sacrificially.

If you're following along, you'll know that this means we must learn to say no to occasional requests. Jesus said no. People who understand God has created them with limits say no. People who are trusting Jesus rather than themselves to be the Savior say no. We say no when it's time for a Sabbath rest. We say no when a request pulls us away from fulfilling our commitments or priorities. Again, this is where we must walk with the Spirit and know his leading. I can only know his leading when I take prayerful time before I answer a request, and this is something I've learned the hard way.

Often when I cannot give my time relationally, it's not because I don't want to. It's because I'm limited and because God has pointed out my limits and priorities. But one thing he's taught me is that my no is often someone else's yes. I would suggest to you that you could see your role as a connector or an intersection rather than a cul-de-sac. You know many women, so how can you connect a new woman with someone in the church who shares an interest or a challenge? Perhaps that one-time coffee could be an opportunity for you to help her find her way into the church. What a joy!

I hope that helps, dear sister! May the Lord bless the work of your hands and give you discernment as you go forward.

With love,
Christine

January 2, 2019

Let Me Share With You What I've Learned About Friendship

I wanted to briefly pop in not only to wish you well in 2019 but also to let you know two things:

1) I've released a bonus episode of By Faith, and it's not an interview but rather the first three chapters of my book, Messy Beautiful Friendship, in audio form. It's free! You can find it on my podcast feed wherever you get your podcasts, such as iTunesStitcherGoogle Play, or Spotify. Or you can listen directly on my website. 

2) The producer of the audiobook, Christian Audio, has the audiobook version of Messy Beautiful Friendship on sale between January 1-8 for only $9.99. If one of your goals for 2019 is to be more intentional about friendship, I'd love to help you make that a reality. Grab your audiobook from Christian Audio here. Or if you prefer, here's the paperback version and the ebook version.

Happy New Year!


December 19, 2018

In Which I Answer Your Friendship Questions

Each week this season on By Faith, I’ve talked with a guest about the ins and outs of friendship. I've enjoyed each and every one of my guests and the wisdom they've brought us. Today is perhaps my favorite episode, however, because my longtime friend, Jo Franklin, joins me to answer your questions for an "Ask Me Anything" episode. That's Jo and me on the top row with our two other good friends from high school, Natalie and Anne.
Here are the questions we tackled:
  • How can we maintain long-distance friendships?
  • How, as a pastor's wife, do I keep from feeling fragmented in relationships? How do I handle feeling left out?
  • How should we keep healthy boundaries in relationships and say no when we need to?
  • How can women who are same-sex attracted honor God in their friendships and handle their temptations wisely?
  • What's the best way to pursue friendships when you're new to a church?
  • How do you reengage friendship when you've been hurt?
  • Should we be friends with someone we don't want to be friends with?
  • What are some overarching truths you've learned about friendship?
You'll also hear how Jo and I met, why my hair was the first memory she has of me, and what embarrassing thing we did together that makes me laugh every time I think of it.

Listen to my conversation with Jo on iTunes or, if you're on my website, in the embedded player below. Enjoy!

LINKS FROM THE SHOW

Connect with Christine
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Order Your Copy of Messy Beautiful Friendship

Learn how you can support Christine's work on Patreon

Subscribe to the "By Faith" Podcast

December 14, 2018

My Favorite Reads of the Year

It's no secret that I love a good book, but one of the additional pleasures I find in reading is sharing with others those that have deeply impacted me. If ever there is a book (or podcast or documentary) conversation I come upon (or let's be honest, initiate), I'm all ears, and I'm also full of suggestions. Last week, I atypically had only one child with me for the afternoon, and when he said he'd like to go the library please, a little tear of happiness and pride escaped from my eye.

So every December, I leave you until January, my faithful reader, with a list of my favorites from the year. You may note a few characteristics of my list. First, I don't read much fiction, or at least fiction that I'd heartily recommend. Second, these are not books that were necessarily published in 2018 but simply books I chose to read in 2018. Finally, I hope this list compels you to read along with me in 2019! You can follow what I'm reading over on Goodreads, and of course, I'd be so honored if you'd read a book or two of mine in 2019.

Below are my favorite reads (and why I enjoyed them) from 2018. The links are affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase through the link, I get a small portion of the proceeds at no extra cost to you.

Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry
I've heard Jackie Hill Perry teach, and she is a powerhouse of truth. As I read her memoir, subtitled "The Story of Who I Was, and Who God Has Always Been," I could practically hear her voice speaking the words to me. Jackie's story is powerful, but the way she helps us see inside her conversion and her battle with temptation that is so helpful to each of us. I appreciated that she shared her story, but that she also in the last few chapters gives us a practical theology of both navigating and ministry to those experiencing same sex attraction and homosexuality.

The Passion of the King of Glory by Russ Ramsey
In writing this book, Ramsey tackles the most difficult of jobs: attempting to retell the story of Jesus in a compelling way without losing the truth of Scripture. I read this book alongside my study of the book of Matthew, and it made the narrative of Jesus' life come alive with color and emotion.

The Call by Os Guinness
At the beginning of the year, I was wrestling with some existential questions about my vocation, specifically my writing career. A fellow author suggested I read this book, and I'm so glad I did. Guinness leaves no stone unturned as he leads his reader to find and understand the purpose of our lives, and he both challenged and settled the questions I took into the book's reading.

God Counts by Irene Sun
I met Irene a few years ago, and she is sunshine in the form of a person. She sent me a copy of her book for kids called "God Counts: Numbers in His Word," telling me she'd written it for one of her sons, who never could sit still for family Bible study but who loves numbers. She wanted him to see the beauty of God through his love of numbers. When the book came in the mail, I read it to my boys (who are 15, 13, and 10) at dinner, and though its for younger kids, we were completely mesmerized. We even guessed what the next numbers might represent and what those numbers would tell us about God. I kid you not, I even got a little teary-eyed as I read it to them.

If You Only Knew by Jamie Ivey
Jamie Ivey has developed quite an audience through her podcast, The Happy Hour, so I was thrilled as I read this book to find a deeply honest and biblically truthful take on sin and shame and how Jesus redeems us. I knew instantly this would be a book I share with women in my church who struggle under the shame of their sexual sin. Jamie's writing is accessible and relatable, and her passion for Jesus shines through every page.

Therefore I Have Hope by Cameron Cole
Cole and his wife experienced the excruciating pain of their son's death, and he bravely chose to write about it. Stepping through various stages of grief, he writes about the truths in those stages that helped them cling to and trust God. I immediately gave this book to someone I know who is grieving, knowing this is an author who gets it and who also offers true comfort.

Last Days of Night by Graham Moore
One of the two novels on my list, this is a book based in reality. Characters such as Thomas Edison, J.P. Morgan, and Nikola Tesla race to harness electricity, and all sorts of conniving ensue.

Love Thy Body by Nancy Pearcy
Pearcy is well-regarded for her writing on worldview, but this is the first book I've read of hers. I'm so glad I read it! She challenged the way I think of the physical body and demonstrated why it's important to have a theology of the body. So much of our culture's worldview involves the body, either idolizing it or ignoring it entirely in favor of how we want to identify ourselves. This is an important read for these times.

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
Another novel! What's happening? I picked this up from the library during the summer when I was craving a breezy beach read. While it's not necessarily a beach read, because it's based on a true story (that I'd never in my life heard about), I was hooked. The story follows children who are taken from their parents, kept in an orphanage, and placed for adoption in order to stock the coffers of the woman running the orphanage. A story of suspense weaves throughout, and of course, upon reading the last page, I immediately googled the true story. Highly recommended.

Endurance by Alfred Lansing
Friends, you must read this book. Lansing tells the true story of a captain and his crew trying to cross near Antarctica, getting stuck in ice for an inordinate amount of time, and their attempt to get home. If you do read it, the last chapter is one of the best images for the return of Jesus I've ever read. I cried and cried and cried thinking about how that ending is just like our future ending will be.

Crossway Scripture Journal: New Testament
I love to journal and outline Scripture, so my dear husband gave me this set of Scripture journals for our church's ten-year anniversary. I've enjoyed working through books of the Bible and keeping my notes in one place rather than in scattered journals that end up in nooks and crannies around the house. I hope to pass these on to my children one day.

Love Big, Be Well by Winn Collier
Winn, like my husband, is a pastor here in Charlottesville. Winn and his wife actually planted a church here in the same year we did, so we've gotten to watch his ministry over these last ten years. Winn is compassionate, pastoral in every way, and deeply committed to the people in our community. Reading this novel about a pastor and his church felt like reading about Winn and his church and the city of Charlottesville. It refocused me on the important work of simply loving people around me, and an added bonus is that Winn is just really enjoyable writer to read.

Seeing Green by Tilly Dillehay
God knew I needed this book at the time I did. Tilly's words helped me work through my own envy and helped me think through a topic I'd never really spent much time on. I invited Tilly to join me on my podcast to talk about envy and friendship, and that episode is one of my favorites from the season.

All That's Good by Hannah Anderson
I love Hannah Anderson. I read everything she writes, because she makes me think in ways I've never thought. Her latest book didn't disappoint. She writes about our need to recover the ability to discern what's good so we can give our minds and hearts and lives to those things.


There you have it, friends. Those are my favorite reads from 2018. Now it's your turn! Tell me in the comments what you're favorites have been or what I should read next!

P.S. You can find previous years' lists here: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013.