June 23, 2016

A Personal Update and Request for Prayer

A week ago Monday morning, my husband Kyle asked me if I had anything going on in the afternoon. If not, he said, he'd like to come home from work early, spend time with the kids and then take me out on a date in the evening. One glance at the calendar and I breathed a sigh of relief that nothing was scheduled, because I really wanted to spend one-on-one time with my husband. I missed him, even though we'd been in the same house. We'd been unseparated but also moving beside each other, grinding it out under the demands of home and ministry that had seemed weightier than normal for months on end.

I heard the door open at 3:30 pm that afternoon from where I was sitting in the dining room and rushed in to greet him, eager for the time we'd planned to be together. When I turned the corner, however, all I saw was blood. He stood there, staring at me, his raised hands covered in the blood he was trying to catch as it dripped off his face.

"I need your help," he said, matter-of-factly, as if he was requesting my assistance getting groceries out of the car. Yes, I could see that.

"What happened? Tell me what happened," I said over and over, searching his eyes for answers, rushing simultaneously for paper towels to wipe his face and find the wound causing the blood flow.

"I don't know. I don't know what happened."

And then I remembered the moped scooter. A friend, away for the summer, had loaned it to him, and he'd ridden it that day. He'd actually owned one himself many moons ago and had ridden it everyday to work, an easy shot from our house to the office.

"Did you have an accident on the scooter?" I asked, frantic for answers.
All he could do was nod. He couldn't tell me any details, because he couldn't remember them. He couldn't tell me if anyone had stopped to help him or how he'd gotten himself home after whatever had happened had happened. He just kept bleeding and staring, and it finally dawned on me that I needed to get him to the ER.

My kids were upstairs playing and as I climbed the steps to get them, I prayed that they wouldn't be scared at the sight of their father, who was so clearly in need of medical attention. They followed me quietly downstairs and loaded themselves in the car, and as we drove we prayed together. Kyle, who had reclined the seat and covered his face with a towel, asked me, "How did I get home? Did I drive the scooter home?" I answered him, and then thirty seconds later, he asked me the same question again. Thirty seconds later, again. Then he changed his tape on loop to simply, "I'm sorry." He would later apologize to me around 30 times while we were in the ER, and I knew what he was saying. I knew why he was saying it.

When we were waiting for the CT scan in the ER, the details starting coming back. He'd been driving in an area where he'd pulled over into a turn lane to let cars go past, and when he'd tried to get back in the lane, the road was uneven and had caused him to fall. He'd landed on his side, hitting his head (thankfully wrapped in a helmet) and scraping up his face, hands, and arms. He said he remembered laying in the middle of the road, cars stopped all around, and a woman talking to him from a minivan, asking if he was ok. And then, evidently, while blacked out, he'd gotten back on the scooter and driven the final mile home.

I was speechless, to think of my husband in such a state.

And then he added, "I remember thinking that I just needed to get to you. I knew if I could just get to you, everything would be all right."

The doctor came in with the CT scan results and announced there was no brain bleeding. They cleaned his face and arms up, pulled specks of gravel from his stomach, and checked for broken bones. Nothing. The gash in his face had bled profusely but didn't need stitches. He had a bad concussion, but he didn't need even a stitch!

That night, we looked at the frayed jeans he'd been wearing in the accident and thought of how different this could have gone for him. We counted all the ways God was good to him in the accident: no glass on the road, no car ran him over, and even the fact that he'd been traveling uphill at the time and, therefore, moving slower.

However, the past nine days have been difficult. Kyle has been in pain and in the fog of a serious concussion. He slept away most of last week and continues to take time off of work as his brain heals.

At times, I have felt stressed, overwhelmed, and anxious about the future. But then I think of all the ways we have experienced God's faithfulness. I think about the people who have cared for me and who have prayed for him. I think about how his face looked and how he didn't need a single stitch. I think about those jeans.

It's challenging to me that Paul says to rejoice in suffering. Suffering, in the way we've experienced it in these days, has been emotional, jarring, and completely disorienting. It's hard to think clearly when you don't know what the next hour holds. So I don't think Paul is saying, "Be glad this happened to you!" I think he is saying that we should consider what joy can come in the midst of the pain of suffering.

One joy that has come for me is getting to see what is in my heart and how God is refining me. Suffering brings all of it to the surface, doesn't it? I see where I place my partial hope and it's far too often in my husband or my plans or the way other people serve me or a sense of control I think I have. It is a joy to have life instantly put in clear focus and see where true hope is truly found, and that is in God alone.

I'm not saying it's been all peaches and roses and rainbows. At times, as the sole decision maker for our family, communicator of needs, and primary caretaker, I haven't felt as if I'm doing this very well. What I'm saying is that in moments where I want to dwell on any bitter or anxious thought, I'm choosing to look for the gifts in all of this, and I'm finding there are many.

Will you please join me in praying for my husband as he recovers? Will you pray for me as I care for him and my children? And when you do, will you also pray for a dear friend of mine, whose brother also suffered a head injury last week and is in the ICU. His name is Will. I will be taking a break from the blog to care for my husband and family (and celebrate the marriage of one of the pastors of our church!) but will update you soon. Thank you, dear readers. I'm grateful for you!

June 15, 2016

Wild and Free in Ministry: An Interview with Jess Connolly (and a Naptime Diaries Giveaway!)

I remember exactly where I was when I "met" Jess Connolly. I was watching my kids run from Virginia to California to Texas on a huge map painted across a school blacktop in northern California, when my phone pinged. We were a few weeks into a sabbatical after five whirlwind years of planting a church, I'd released The Church Planting Wife a few months prior, and seconds before the ping I'd been thanking God for the gifts in my life (energetic kids included). The phone ping was a notice from a friend, who linked to Jess' announcement that she and her husband were going to plant a church in Charleston, South Carolina. I followed the link, wondering who this Jess girl was, and instantly fell in love with Jess and her passion for Jesus and for other women to know Him. 

Three years later, I haven't ever met Jess, but we've communicated a bit online. She was a huge cheerleader for my book, From Good to Grace, and she's just the kind of girl who, through her writing, makes you feel as if you're friends. She's also got a contagious joy that is splashed all across her just released first book, Wild and Free, co-authored with her friend Hayley Morgan. I recently corresponded with Jess about what it means to be "wild" and "free", especially in the context of church planting and ministry. I know you'll find her answers encouraging! And, Jess being Jess, she offered to throw in a $100 credit to her online print store, Naptime Diaries, for one lucky reader, so after reading her wise words, be sure to enter the giveaway below. 

CH: What does it look like for you as a church planting pastor's wife to live "wild" and "free"?

JC: Oh goodness! Man, it would be so, so hard to be a church planter's wife if I didn't feel the call to live wild and free. For us, wild means walking in the God-given identity that we've been given by our Father. So walking wild as a church planter's wife means that I feel boldness and joy in the call He's given me, as well as faith in His ability to equip me for that mission. As my husband's wife, as a leader to our women, as a servant, as a mother. I can look to Him and get my approval from Him and NO ONE else! 

Living free as a planter's wife looks like throwing off expectations or burdens that I need not carry. It looks like believing that God told me His burden is easy and His yoke is light and knowing that if I'm feeling weighed down by "should's", I'm probably listening to everyone else and not Him. It also means that I'm free from shame and condemnation. I can't be found and I can't be accused and I can't be criticized in any way that separates me from the love and grace of my Father. 

I'm wild in that I'm a daughter of the King, set free from darkness to bring others to the marvelous light I've been brought to. And I'm free in knowing I've got miles and miles to go, lots of growth ahead of me, and nothing to prove. 

CH: You speak to the fact that women in our culture live under a heavy burden of expectation. How do you resist any unrealistic expectations set by others or even by yourself so that you can remain free to be who God has asked you to be?

JC: Man, that's a great question. I think one of the best ways we can resist the temptation to live under other people's expectations is by ministering to them. If I feel there are women or men or leaders over me that are putting burdens on me that I know I'm not meant to carry - I try to serve them, love them, pray for them, and help them taste some freedom from that burden. The temptation is to feel angry or frustrated or caged - but I think we get so much further when we just want good for others. 

An example of this would be something like... Let's say there's a mom in your community who out-serves everyone! She takes all the meals, plans all the activities, and you know that subtly - she wants you to do the same. Instead of feeling angry with her or insecure beside her, I thank God for how He's gifted her and I make sure she knows that she can come undone around me. I don't shame her for where she's at, because it could be that she IS living in freedom, but I let her know that I am a safe place. 

I encourage her with the truth that she is already enough. Shoot, I'll give her a copy of Wild and Free. But I won't make her my enemy, because she's not. We're all on the same team. And if I can't love her into stopping putting burdens on me, I'll make it very clear that I'm not going to live under those burdens however politely I can. 

CH: In my relationships with church members, I sometimes find myself mentally wavering between feeling too much for them or not enough for them. In fact, I think my greatest fear is disappointing people. What advice would you give me and others who feel that way?

JC: I would encourage you to picture the Father constantly with you! Which, we know, He is! It's not enough to tell you that they really like you and you're doing a great job! Because the sad truth is - sometimes people do think we're too much and often times they think we're not enough. 

But if our Father is constantly with us, it's such a beautiful thing to picture how HE is responding to us. Is He standing arms crossed, asking us to get our junk together? Does He have pursed lips, frustrated that we just said too much or got too emotional or seemed a little too needy? Even in our sin and actual brokenness, is He ever drawing the line and telling us to just quit! Fix it! Be better! Never. 

So I'd encourage women to forget about how the people around them are acting. Think about how God is responding. Let's put our eyes on Him as the only one who can give us approval. And we already have it, in Christ alone! 

CH: In the book, Hayley says, "I feared discomfort more than I believed in God's power, and it was crippling me spiritually." You also talk about how being "wild" also means being weird or uncomfortable. How have you learned to be at peace with discomfort? 

JC: I think a great question to pause and ask ourselves is - what's the goal here? What's the goal in life? Mission? Relationships? Is it to get to the end in tact and well-liked? Is it to gain all the friends and approval? Or is it to worship God and bring as many people with us as we can on the way? When I think about that every single day - I'm left with the overwhelming sense that I'd rather get to the end a little undone, a little weird, a little uncomfortable than any other way. 

CH: What encouragement would you give a fellow pastor's wife struggling with anxiety regarding her role and influence?

Well, let's be honest. First I'd tell her to buy your book, Christine, and read your blog! I can't think of better resources. Second, I'd tell her to double down on her time with Jesus. To really, really, really seek God and seek His face and worship. Not to necessarily learn more of the Bible - but to start with getting wild and honest with God. I think if we can all commit to being real and honest and intimate with our Father - we're going to be in such a better place for it. He speaks peace better than any advice I could give. He hands out identity and calling and purpose like it's candy. And He points to our influence, giving us yearning and burden and desires to bring other people to Him. 

Let's spend time with Him. 

Grab your copy of Wild and Free now, right after you head over to Instagram to see how you can enter to win a $100 gift card to Naptime Diaries. I love these prints and even have a few (the canvases pictured below) hanging in my home right this very moment. Thank you, Jess, for your generosity! 

June 8, 2016

A Weak Mother is a Good Mother

If there is one thing I want to do well, it’s rearing my children to know God's voice and love his ways. But if there is one area that I feel most inadequate in, it's rearing my children to know God's voice and love his ways, and every other little thing I’m trying to teach them under this larger umbrella, from how to study for a test to engaging in polite social interactions.
I panic when I think of my children embarking into adulthood, typically because I imagine that they’ll have to call me to come tie their shoes or they’ll freeze to death because I'm not there to remind them to wear pants rather than shorts in the winter. Or they’ll spend every waking minute in front of a video game console because I’m not there to monitor every second of their activities. Those concerns, however, pale in comparison to the greatest hopes I harbor for my sons. I want them to become men of integrity and character. I want them to know deep in their bones that walking with the Lord is the path of abundance and joy. But I can barely imagine them driving, much less becoming the compassionate, strong, godly men I pray for them to be.And then I remember that a man isn’t built in a day and to keep my eyes in the moment, to take small steps, to do the next thing. I find myself most overcome with the task of motherhood when I despise the day of small things (Zechariah 4:10) and when I gauge my own strength as a catalyst for the growth of my children. When I look to myself, I am fully aware of how powerless I am. I feel like I should be better at this than I am. Or maybe it’s that I feel like all these things come easily to a “good mother” so I must not be one. I want to be a good mother but how do I get there?
I am so impatient with myself, so quick to throw my hands up in frustration or surrender. And I find myself thinking that God feels that same way toward me: impatience that I’m not further along, frustration that I fail, irritation at my faithless worrying. Those thoughts show that I often perceive God huffing at my weaknesses, wishing I could get it together already, arms crossed and foot tapping. The good thing is, however, that he knows we are weak mothers and that he doesn’t expect us to be anything else. In fact, he wants me to embrace my limits.
He’s been talking to me about this through His Word. Some of it has been conviction. All of it has been hope-filled. The main point he is driving into my heart over and over and over is that I cannot manage my life, I cannot control or change my children, and I cannot work hard enough to produce men of valor. I am weak. I have no authority, nor power, to change the hearts of my children.
But he doesn’t stop there, just driving nails in my coffin. Instead, he points to 2 Corinthians 12:9: “My power is made perfect in weakness.” While I am feeble and weak in motherhood, he is all-powerful. He created my children, he knows them more intimately than me, and he has plans for them that are good. He promises to be strong in my weakness as a mother.
Perhaps this is why motherhood seems so daunting and where I make it far more difficult than it has to be--because I don’t like to admit my weakness. I don’t like to admit my inabilities or acknowledge how little control I have over their hearts and actions.
But perhaps this resistance to weakness is also a resistance to the very power--God’s power--I crave to pulse through their lives and my own.
This, yes this, is a godly mother: a mother willing to acknowledge her weakness before a grace-giving, power-filling God. Through daily dependence on God’s Spirit, he takes our lack of wisdom and our feeble efforts and allows us to be a major cultivator of beautiful fruit in the hearts of our children.
This is so what I want: to know deep in my soul that a good mother is not one who bakes intricate treats, who schools a certain way, who manages her household within an inch of its life, or who has her children in a million wonderful activities. A good mother is one that acknowledges her need for the power of God to enable her to train and teach her children. A good mother is one who rests (and glories!) in the ability of God to change the hearts of her children. She is one who prays and acts in faith, believing that God can take a meager, imperfect offering and turn it into a miracle. A miracle that showcases the beauty and power, not of a great mother, but of a great God. 
This post is a revised version of one of my chapters in Desiring God's book, Mom Enough

June 1, 2016

In Whatever You Face, You Aren't Alone

It's astounding to me that in His time on earth Jesus was tempted in every way that we are. And by astounding, I mean that I have difficulty believing by faith what Hebrews 4:15 so clearly states: "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin." This is an incredible statement, one that starts my mental rolodex of sins churning. Was He tempted to lust? Tempted to hate and hurt? Tempted toward envy and jealousy? Tempted to seek riches and fame? Tempted to oppress? Tempted to gossip and hold grudges? Yes, all of these.
Although these are powerful temptations all, I somehow find it easy to believe He resisted them. Because they aren't mine; I don't know their full power. However, when the mental rolodex turns personal, highlighting my besetting temptations and sins, I marvel with gaping mouth that He fought the good fight on this earth and came out perfectly victorious. He was tempted, as I am, to worry, hopelessness, and despair? He was tempted toward bitterness and selective love in His interactions with people? The one that really gets me is that, perhaps even to a greater degree than me, He was tempted to turn away from His Father, knowing the cross that lay ahead, and say, "Not Your will but mine be done."

How can it be that His every action, every word, every motivation, and every thought aligned perfectly with the righteous will of God? How grateful I am He resisted the temptation of asserting self-will!

This is where tears spring to my eyes, because this is where Jesus' glory shines so bright. He had every opportunity to choose His own way, every opportunity to give up on the people who misunderstood Him, rejected Him, criticized Him, and thought they knew better than Him. In other words, He had every opportunity to give up on me.

He was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin, and this sinlessness was for you and me! How can it be that this perfect righteousness is attributed to us? "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Although it's difficult to imagine Jesus the Christ living in a limited, fleshly body and facing the world's full scope of temptations, it's a vital doctrine of our faith, not only for our minds but for our hearts. Because what follows in progression? Because He has faced and resisted the full scope of temptation the world has to offer, "let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).

Knowing Jesus was tempted as we are gives us confidence to go to Him and ask for help. If we don't believe He faced what we face, we run and hide from the only One who can truly understand what it's like to walk in our shoes. Instead of resisting temptation, we resist Him, believing He responds to us with scorn and shame rather than compassion.

Our Jesus is your compassionate High Priest. It may be difficult to believe, but it matters that you do. Because in whatever you are facing--and some of you are facing extremely difficult trials each with their accompanying temptations--Jesus stands ready to help you.

Will you go to Him?

May 26, 2016

My Favorite Things (Summer Edition)

The school finish line is within sight but I'm crawling, people. Crawling. 

This year has been a great one in terms of family (We have a teenager now, which I am truly excited about!), in terms of church (We'll celebrate 8 years at the end of the summer!), and in terms of writing (I turned in my next book--on friendship--in March!). The Lord has seen me through some touch-and-go times this year, but in the end I can say that He is changing my heart slowly but surely. There has been so much abundance this year that my husband and I have had multiple conversations about how we can "steward the abundance" well.

Although it's been good, I'm still ready for the school year to come to a close. I'm ready for sun and heat (neither have been around much yet here in Virginia), slow mornings, and a whole lotta down time with my boys. Yes, really.

In honor of the summer fun ahead, I want to share with you some of my current favorite things. I hope that they'll add a little fun and flare to your summer as well.

Dude Perfect
Dude Perfect is a group of five guys who film themselves doing crazy trick shots. They now have a weekly show on CMT where they basically do stupid guy stuff and prepare for their trick shot videos. My boys LOVE Dude Perfect, and I love that they love these videos because they are super fun, hilarious, amazing, and 100% family-friendly. Oh, and the Dude Perfect guys are Aggies, so it helps with the brainwashing. My oldest son got a Dude Perfect indoor basketball goal for his birthday and my kitchen has now become a trick-shot zone.
Hope*Writers Podcast
As a writer, I'm always looking for encouraging and practical resources from fellow writers and bloggers. I've found the Hope*Writer's Podcast (by Emily Freeman and Myquillin Smith) to be both deeply encouraging and helpful. I especially loved the Instagram episode, because I love Instagram, but I have no idea what I'm doing with mine. If you're an aspiring writer, you'll definitely want to check out the podcast. (And have you seen my advice post for writers?)

Speaking of Podcasts...
I absolutely loved and continue to think about Jen Wilkin's one-off talk (at A&M no less), Robe Your Minds for Action.

Books, Books, and More Books
If I like a book, I recommend it to everyone I know (and give it 5 stars on Goodreads). The books I find myself recommending most lately are Unashamed by Lecrae Moore, Galatians For You by Tim Keller, and The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. (And I continue to talk about The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson.)

Man Weekend
I don't remember if it was my idea or my husband's, but I want to share an idea with those of you anticipating a child's milestone birthday or event. When our oldest son turned 13 last week, my husband planned a "Man Weekend" for him. He invited men from our church who know our son to go away for a night with the two of them. They played Knock-Out, blasted each other with water balloons, and ate lots of food, but the point of the getaway was for each man to help our son know what it means to be a godly man. They talked to him about following God, how to treat women, honoring God through sports, and friendship....at least that's what I hear; I wasn't invited :) I was at home praying for my son to have ears to hear! What a blessing to have men like this in his life.

Cajun Shrimp
Last summer for my birthday, my friends gave me a bag full of their favorite beauty items. My friend Susan gave me her go-to nail polish, Opi's Cajun Shrimp. I've had it on my toes ever since!

Go-To Food: Pioneer Woman's Dinnertime Cookbook
Did I mention that I have three growing boys? Man, can they eat! The Pioneer Woman knows something about cooking for hungry (cow)boys, so my favorite recipes these days are from her Dinnertime Cookbook. I especially like the freezer meals, such as the homemade Taco Filling.

The LongReads Weekly
I'm a HUGE fan of longform writing. Recently, I subscribed to the LongReads Weekly newsletter, a compiled list of the week's best longform writing from all across the interwebs, and I look forward to it popping into my inbox each Friday.

I have Sandra McCracken's Psalms, Ellie Holcomb's As Sure as the Sun, and United Pursuit's song Hidden on repeat.

King of the Court
Fun fact: I like to play sports. I grew up playing softball and played up until a few years ago when my kids' sports schedule gobbled my time right up. Currently, I'm binge-playing tennis. My husband, who beats me at everything, humors me, as does my friend Amy, who also beats me at everything. So instead of getting creamed, sometimes we play King of the Court, which basically means that I lose to two people instead of just one.

TGC Women's Conference
Can't wait! Anyone going? I'd love to meet you!

Happy Start to Summer, Friends! What are your current favorite things?