April 10, 2015

In Her Shoes: A Christian Woman Who's Had An Abortion (Part Two)

In Part One of this In Her Shoes series, a Christian woman shared about her rebellion against God and the circumstances surrounding her two abortions. Today, she tells about how God redeemed her and how she's experienced true forgiveness.

What were you living with in your day-to-day life?
I kept my abortions secret for a long time, although there were constant reminders of what I'd done. For example, every time I went to a medical appointment and they asked about previous pregnancies, I would admit one abortion but not both. It seemed to me that if you make a mistake once, people can forgive you. But if you make a mistake twice, it cements who you are.
Describe the wrestling inside as you tried to reconcile your present with your past.
Over the years, I grew spiritually, despite this buried secret. I was able to serve in the church and other women, but I lived with a nagging sense of “if these Christian women knew who I was and what I’d done, there would be no room for them to embrace me as their friend”. That thought encouraged me to keep it quiet and keep it buried. I didn’t want everyone to know who I was. I was pretty open with everything else in my life, but not this one thing. I felt certain godly women would walk away from me in horror.

At this point, I was completely familiar with the scriptures. I would read Psalm 139 and wish I’d read it before my abortions. I hadn’t known those words about life in the womb were there. I had been raised in the church and didn’t know that was there. It fueled my desire to know Scripture and know exactly what it teaches. I also became aware of abortion being wrong and against God’s plan. The more I was convicted of how wrong it was, the more I was sure of my own shame.

I knew all sins were the same in God’s eyes. But in reality, we do compare our sins. Confessing impatience doesn’t sound the same as confessing murder. I wondered if God saw sins differently. I was panicked for years that abortion is the sin that can’t be forgiven. I didn’t think God could forgive me for this.

How did you move from long-term shame to sharing it with someone?
I had so much anger at myself, and eventually I just got sick of living with the secret. I so badly wanted to hear something different than what I was telling myself about how God couldn’t forgive me. I needed to talk about it.

I was also aware of my long term sadness. Threads of that were affecting my life. God had revealed to me over a period of time all the shame and sadness and fear of punishment I held and how heavy the weight was. Eventually I got to the point where I considered that if what I believe the gospel is true, then certainly healing was available to me. I needed to accept the truth of the gospel for myself. It was if God were saying to me, “You say you believe the Word I’ve given you. You say you want to honor Me, but you’re not walking the walk, because you’re not believing I’ve forgiven you.”

What made you finally decide to do something about it?
I had a conversation with a friend who I felt was safe to share with. She’d told me at some point, “Shame thrives in secrecy. There is healing available through confession. Confession is the first step toward experiencing God’s healing.” It was extremely hard to say it, but I confessed my abortions to her. I hadn’t really believed that saying it out loud would help, but I felt a progressive lightening of the shame, and that was a compelling catalyst for looking into how I could pursue healing. I didn’t feel forgiven by God in the moment I confessed, and I didn't think I was ever going to feel forgiven, but I desperately wanted to. At the least, I wanted to know how to walk in faith that I was forgiven. I decided to pursue a group study to at least know the scriptures and act like I’m forgiven, though I didn’t think I would feel forgiven.

What did you do next?
I went to a group led by three women who were post-abortive. We had a weekend retreat and then 8 weeks of meeting together and studying Scripture. It was important to me that the group be led by women who were post-abortive.

The first day of the study, I said, “I want to feel forgiven”. But I was surprised I said that because I felt certain it would never happen.

Do you feel forgiven now? If so, how did you get to that place?

I do. The Lord touched me exactly how I needed according to how I am put together. He knows that it has to be in Scripture for it to speak to me. He used the scriptures I’d read countless times, but He opened my eyes so I could read them in new ways.

What are some of those passages that spoke to you?
The first one is in Exodus, when the Pharaoh ordered all the Hebrew women to kill their firstborn. Moses’ mom chose to not do that. What I was struck by is that this was an act their culture expected of them. The same is true for our culture in that it’s accepted. There were women in the Old Testament who had to kill their babies. I didn’t have to; I chose to. I had no problem believing God forgave them, so why couldn’t He forgive me? That was healing for me.

The second passage was about David and his desire for Bathsheba. He so badly wanted her, and when he got her pregnant, he wanted a quick fix for the problem of Uriah. He chose to end a life to get what he wanted. I chose to end a life because I didn’t want the responsibility of a baby. I was so focused on what I thought I wanted and what I needed; I didn’t think about the fact that I was going to kill a life. David killed for similarly selfish reasons. Right after Uriah died, David took Bathsheba into his household and she bore him a son. You can almost sense David’s relief when he got what he wanted,  almost like he got away with it. I could relate to that short term period of feeling immense relief after the abortions. But the very next sentence in Scripture says, “But the thing David had done displeased the Lord”. And then the Lord sent Nathan to David. God, through Nathan, pursued David to help him confess the sin. God so badly wanted to restore His relationship with David that He pursued him. 

When David was confronted by Nathan, he confessed his sin. At this point in the study, I kind of got stuck. Not admitting my sin was like wearing a 2000 pound weight around my neck. It limited what I was able to offer the Lord, because I hadn’t let go of the shame. I hadn’t allowed the forgiveness. I had asked for it over and over again, but I hadn’t accepted it. I couldn’t serve the Lord to the full extent because I wasn’t fully available. David had responded differently, however. He let it go. And he was called a man after God’s heart. I knew I needed to let it go and accept God’s forgiveness. 

The third verse that God used was Philippians 3:13. Paul, who doesn’t have the best past, says he focused on what’s in front of him and not behind him. In order to do that, you have to deal with what’s behind. If you don’t accept forgiveness, you can’t move forward. Not accepting the forgiveness was limiting my ability to glorify the Lord.

The Lord brings healing to everyone differently. He needed to touch me in the way that I would respond. When I saw His specific care toward me, I remember thinking, “The desire to feel forgiven was the desire of my heart, and God’s given it. I feel forgiven now.” 

I took a step forward in faith and He poured grace and love all over me. I remember praying, “Lord, I will take at step toward You, but I just want this to be between you and me. I don’t want you to use it in the lives of other women.” But because He abundantly poured grace and love all over me, I now can’t help but to want to talk about it, because it’s not about me anymore, it’s about Him.

I still feel a lot of sorrow and sadness about the choices I made. I feel disgust for myself, not in a browbeating way, but a disgust for the way I was living my life. I don’t know if that goes away. I don’t think that it should be my expectation that it will go away. We should feel disgust over evil and sin. I hate abortion as much as the person who's never had one. But I do think that because I’ve known the depths of my sin, I’ve digested the gospel in a way that I’m not so sure if I would’ve if I hadn’t wrestled with all of this. My life is a perfect example of God taking something evil and turning it into something for His glory.

Going through the experience of grieving and reliving these experiences, but also feeling forgiven and hope for my future and an enormous weight cut off my back has been much like feeling death and resurrection all at the same time. I’ve felt the gospel. I'm grateful for that, though not grateful for the experience. I feel like I understand grace much better than I did a year ago. And the natural response is to want to pour that onto other people for His glory.

For people who are reading this who have had an abortion, what would you say to them?
Healing is available to you. If you take one step forward, God will go above and beyond for you. If you’re living with shame, that is weighing you down. If you really want to serve the Lord, you have to get rid of it. Again, you just take one step and He’s going to make it happen for you. You’ll start laughing at how far He goes. He lavishes it on you, so you can’t miss it. 

Men are involved in every abortion. There is a different piece for them because they didn’t have the baby in their body. Some men have had abortions and didn’t have a choice in it. Whatever the case, the same healing and forgiveness from God is available for them.

An important part for me was having women who have not had an abortion show me God’s grace through how they treated me. That was tangible grace. They still loved me, they weren’t turning away in horror. That was the face of God to me. There is obvious worry in putting stuff out there, that people will judge. I feel sorry for those who judge, because they are missing the point. They haven’t fully accepted the grace that covers all of us. Grace frees you to not be identified by your past. I am not my past. 
For people who read this who haven’t had an abortion, what would you want them to know?
If you haven’t had an abortion, please know that your acceptance and love of a post-abortive woman are critical and help with healing for her. Also, it is not only about what you can give to that woman. She has something to offer you when it comes to understanding grace and forgiveness. Because we all have shame, we carry little secrets around feeling as if we’re not worthy of God. Learn from the woman who’s been forgiven of abortion, because her life shows the extent of God’s love and grace toward His children. Think about the woman pouring out perfume on Jesus’ feet. She knew the gift of forgiveness. The Pharisee standing by, complaining about the waste, had something to learn from her but he missed it. He missed what God made beautiful about her. 

The statistics are high for Christian women and abortion. Be aware that there are men and women in your congregation who have made this choice and are dealing with shame of it. Pastors, when you speak about abortion and the sanctity of life, remember these men and women. Say to them, “We see you, we love you, there is healing available to you.” Let them know there are biblical resources available to them. Convey acceptance and love.

What resources would you recommend?

For a full list of recommended resources for women and men who are post-abortive, as well as resources for churches and ministers, please click here.

I love that she says, "Grace frees us to not be identified by our past." If we are in Christ, we are identified only as God identifies us: as holy, righteous, redeemed children of God. I rejoice in what God has done in this woman's life, and what He's done in mine! I rejoice that He can do the same for you.

April 9, 2015

In Her Shoes: A Christian Woman Who's Had an Abortion (Part One)

Let us not ever forget that the Church is a redeemed people. Each of us, by the grace of Christ, have been redeemed from our slavery to sin. Among our own, let us not forget, are those who, though made holy and righteous, wrestle with secret shame about the sin they’ve been redeemed from. Let us not forget, so that we might bring the light of grace into the dark and hidden, so that we might speak grace and be a tangible picture of God’s grace toward one another, so shame and condemnation are banished.
I ask you today, as I’ve done before, to take a walk in another woman’s shoes: a Christian woman who’s had an abortion. I’ve asked her to share her story so we see the power of Christ’s redemption and so we’re ready and able to respond when someone we know and worship beside confesses an abortion. She desires to start a discussion in the greater Church about men and women who walk in secret shame, shame that has ripple effects in their lives. In her words, she wants those men and women to know “there is tangible healing available in Christ”, something she didn’t think possible for herself for many years. Here is part one (of two) of her story:

Describe the circumstances surrounding your first abortion.
I had grown up in a Christian family, but in my college and adult years, I was not walking with the Lord. I was, however, seeking the attention of men. I lived a promiscuous and partying lifestyle. One night, I was with a guy I was casually dating. We drank too much and had sex without using protection. In the morning, aware of not using protection, I worried. If Plan B existed at the time, I probably would have used it.

A week or two went by and I went out with some old college friends, one of whom was a guy I’d known. Again, I drank too much, as did he, and we ended up in bed together.

Later that month, I missed my period, took a pregnancy test, and it was positive. Because I’d slept with two men in two weeks, I didn’t know who the father was. I felt so much shame that my promiscuous lifestyle had gotten me to a point to where I didn’t know who fathered the child. I was further conflicted because the first guy was of a different race, so I knew if I brought it to term, it would be obvious who the father was. I couldn’t face the shame of trying to figure out who the father was, the shame of sleeping with two guys in two weeks, so I told the first guy I was pregnant. He said immediately, “We need to pursue an abortion. This is not something I want.” Because I was pursuing acceptance from men, I wanted to do what he wanted to do, to please him. I don’t know what I would have done if he said that he wanted me to have the baby. I think I was relieved when he said he did not because that meant I did not have to face the issue of paternity. I also lived very much in the world. I believed the baby in me was just cells, not a living thing.

I found an abortion clinic. He drove me, he paid for it, and he was there the whole time, attentive to me. The physician was nice, comforting us with the idea that we were doing the right thing. She was maternal and seemed to care for me. And so we had the abortion. I was awake the whole time. I remember feeling taken care of, which is strange to say. I felt this doctor had my best interest at heart. I never was offered an ultrasound, at least not that I remember. Part of the problem is that I stuffed the feelings down so far that I don’t remember much, but I do remember feeling I was in good hands.

Afterward, I went home and slept for a long time. I felt enormous relief at not having to face the shame of the pregnancy and figuring out who the father was. But I also remember thinking what a horrible person I was because I made this guy believe this baby was his, and I don’t even know if it was.
Describe the circumstances surrounding your second abortion.
Years went by, but not much had changed in my life. I was still in rebellion against God. I started seriously dating a man, and we got pregnant. When I told him I was pregnant, he didn’t want the baby. He said, “This isn’t how you do it. This isn’t how people have babies. You have to be married to have babies.” He was very aware of perception. This time I was in a different place. I knew who the dad was. I was financially sound. I could have raised the child by myself. My life was much more together by this point. But again, I wanted to do what the guy wanted to do, because I foresaw that keeping the baby would mean losing him. I was also still convinced that as long as I got an abortion before the end of the first trimester, it was just a bunch of cells.

Again, I found an abortion clinic, but my experience was very different from the first one. The clinic environment was very cold. I was one of 8-10 women on stretchers shoved in what seemed like a big shower room. There was a room to the side where they would take each woman one by one and then bring her back and offer her orange juice and crackers. None of us spoke a word to one another. I don’t remember hearing crying, but I felt it was very strange that we were all there for the same purpose, but none of us spoke to one another. The shame was palpable. And then it was my turn. I was wheeled into the side room. I wasn’t given any pain medication, and I remember every painful tug. I remember thinking to myself, “I deserve every painful thing I’m feeling. How did I get in this position again?” The doctor was an old man who didn’t talk to me at all as he ripped this baby from my womb. He didn’t care at all about me. It was like he was disgusted with me and I remember feeling he has every right to be disgusted. I disgusted myself.

The guy I was dating went with me, although I don’t remember him being there. I felt completely alone. It was me who had to take care of it, me who had to go through it. I felt that way, although he was there and was supportive in the way he thought he could be. I felt completely alone. I only know that he was there because we talked about it years later.

I went home and slept. Like the first one, I felt an enormous amount of relief, as if it never happened, but I also felt intense shame that I’d allowed this to happen twice.

Describe the next few years. What were the after-effects of abortion that you were living with?
A couple of years after my second abortion, I got married. Soon after that, I started to feel a pursuit from the Lord. I can’t verbalize it fully, but I knew He was pursuing me and giving me a desire to go back to Him.

My husband and I started trying to have kids. When I found out I was pregnant, I was excited. I remember thinking, “This is what it should feel like”. Throughout the pregnancy and after our baby was born, however, I often thought, “Oh my goodness, what did I do? This was a human being, a soul. I can never be forgiven for that. Horrible people do this.”

At that point, I was heavily reconnecting with my faith and pursuing God, and I was unsure how I was going to reconcile my past with where I was headed. I decided not even to attempt to reconcile it but to bury it. I would pursue my faith and try not to let my memories and thoughts ever come to the surface, and, if they did, I’d stuff them back down.

There were two big lies I believed. One was that I didn’t have to tell anyone about my abortions because it wasn’t having any ramifications in my life. The second lie I’d convinced myself of was that there would be no freedom in confession. I didn’t think that in order to heal that I’d have to uncover and wrestle with what I’d done.

But I was wrong. I did have to pick open the wound in order to heal.

The redemption part of this story is so rich. In the second part of her story, she describes the internal wrestling she experienced, how she finally found the courage to confess her abortions to a friend, and how she took the first step toward healing. Read Part Two here.

April 7, 2015

No More Ministry Exit Strategies

I’d been a pastor’s wife for less than a year when I began preparing my exit strategy. I’d unknowingly slipped on the pastor’s wife persona when we arrived at our church, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and had been attempting to live up to its clawing expectations ever since. I wanted so badly to be a good pastor’s wife, to have the answers when asked, to serve up profound wisdom, and to love people well. However, preparing my exit strategy highlighted what it is that I really wanted so badly: to be liked, to be approved of, to be appreciated, to be thought of as a “good” pastor’s wife.
I was going on as if everything was perfectly fine, but, inside, I was all knots and confusion. Condemning thoughts lurked behind every conversation, every Sunday morning, every word that spilled from my mouth. Privately, I cried and cried as I evaluated and wished back every mis-step.

Hiding my insides from others wasn’t the worst of it. I also hid myself from God, so sure that I was failing Him. I didn’t dare cast my cares on Him, because I felt certain He’d throw them back in my face, disappointed about all the things I had yet to get together. So I tried harder--smile, hug, serve, minister--as if I was a single performer under the stage’s harsh spotlight, feet tapping ever faster, trying to win the smile of God. Yes, He was my audience of One, but my audience appeared, in my own estimation, completely unmoved.

Life moved slowly, or perhaps it was just me moving slowly, weighed down, heavy, trudging along.

Less than a year in and I was already so.very.tired. I didn’t cry out, not to anyone, least of all my God. I simply gave myself a pep talk, swung the weight once again on my back, and took a step.

The thing I didn’t yet understand about God is that we don’t move toward Him, but rather He comes to us. He is a pursuer, a wooer, an initiator. With me, He waited until I had only fumes of self-effort left, and then He came. Because, as I can see now, He knew I needed to understand my need, because only then could I understand the extent of His grace toward me.

Sitting across from two college girls, I attempted to explain how God works by starting with “if”. If I obey Him, then He will approve and act. Did that not sum up everything I’d believed and everything that formed the foundation of my Christian life?

Respectfully, one of the girls said, “Christine, I don’t think that’s right.” And God came. There in my heart, I knew instantly that things were changing, that God wanted to show me some things, some things about His true character, about grace.

I drove home, praying all the while, “God, I know nothing of grace. And I desperately need to know. Show me.”

And God came, specifically through the book of Galatians. I discovered that, because I am in Christ, I am holy and righteous before God, and nothing I do or don’t do can change my status before Him. I discovered that He’s given me a Helper, the Holy Spirit, to help me, guide me, and convict me. I don’t have to lead and convict myself but can depend fully on God to do so. I discovered that my external behaviors are not what make me loved and approved by God, but that once I receive the love of God given through Jesus, it will compel me to love Him back. What I’m saying is that I discovered grace and my whole life flipped on its head because of it.

As I received this great grace, I finally understood why Jesus said His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Because He carries the burden of my sin, my ministry, my life. I am loved, so I am freed to love.

The posture of the Christian is not performing in order to receive, which bears bitter fruits of pride and condemnation. The posture of the Christian is primarily receiving, because we’re receiving something that wells up in us and compels us to joyfully respond.

God came. That exit strategy? It’s long forgotten, because He still comes. He is still guiding my exploration of His love and grace, and all that I uncover becomes another building block in my enduring hope.

April 1, 2015

Dear Mama of Littles

Dear Mama of Littles,

Perhaps you've snuck into the bathroom with your phone and they haven't discovered you missing yet. Or maybe you're half-asleep on the couch, celebrating having survived another day of diaper explosions, nursing while cooking and simultaneously wrangling a toddler, or rushing from home to childcare to work to childcare to home again only to discover spit up has been plastered on you since early morning.
Mama, the season you're in is exhausting. And often numbingly routine. I promise that you won't have littles forever, so while you've got them, enjoy them. Those little chubby, dimpled hands holding yours and chunky legs on your lap won't always be so small and adorable or even fit in your lap at all. Though they take all the energy and brain cells and patience you can give (and more), give freely. Those littles are gifts.

Can I tell you something, Mama? In order to pour out your life, you must have life to give. This is why I'm writing you, because when I was Mama to littles, I mothered hard but often only with reward in mind: the end of the day, the occasional morning to sleep in, the dazed stroll around Target, the milestone when the baby finally slept through the night. My hope, I'm saying to you, was in false hopes, temporary hopes, lifeless hopes, hopes that were never guaranteed to give me anything.

I didn't recognize this until one Saturday my husband, seeing how depleted I was, sent me to the bookstore by myself to read. When I got there, I was immediately drawn in by a celebrity magazine--a guilty pleasure--and spent my entire time reading that magazine, and then another and another and another. When I got home, I felt more tired than before I'd left, because I had sought life from something that could not give it. I'd sought help in something that could not give it. This is the greatest temptation for a Mama of littles.

Mama, mothering littles strips and sanctifies. Let it. Let it show you your false hopes. Let it show you that you can only have true hope in things that are sure and steadfast.

This is why I'm writing to you, because I spent too many years as a Mama to littles holding out hope for the next reward, no matter how small it might be or how small the return. I didn't think of God as my only true hope, and because of this, I didn't spend time with Him.

One day while my boys were napping--a day when I actually picked up my Bible instead of napping too--I read Psalm 27:8 where David says, "When You said, 'Seek My face,' my heart said to You, 'Your face, Lord, I will seek.'" Mama, do you see it? In the midst of life, however busy or mundane, David said God called him to His side. And David simply said, "OK." And therein lies a dynamic that, as a Mama to littles, I needed to see.

Because sometimes I woke up before my kids and felt God nudging me. Sometimes, picking up the toys in the living room just after my kids were in bed, I felt God nudging me. Sometimes I'd feel anger and impatience rising and I felt the Holy Spirit's conviction and offer of help. There were moments throughout my day when God nudged me and impressed on my heart: "Come spend time with Me" or "Ask me for help in this moment". Mama, I'd been saying no, I'd been seeking things I thought would refresh me and help me continue mothering but weren't. I'd been putting Him off. I just needed to say yes. Yes to the Helper who offers daily counsel, wisdom, truth, and grace, even and especially in the routines of mothering.

I needed to say yes, Mama, and you do too. Say yes when He's nudging you. Say yes when He calls you to His side. Say yes to Him rather than to the tv and all the lifeless choices that are draining you instead of giving to you. When you say yes to God's nudging, you are saying yes to help, to true hope, to true life, and to letting your Father lead you and take care of you. Isn't that exactly what every Mama to littles is craving?

He wants even now to draw you under His wings, just as you nurture your own littles.

Say yes, Mama.

March 24, 2015

Poured Out Yet Not Emptied

I feel empty and disembodied, the wheels of my mind unable to churn, the substance of my soul too heavy to lift. Weary, so weary, only willing to expend the last dregs of energy to search out true rest. Parched and thirsty but so dry that taking a long drink seems only a false start. God hasn't spoken in a while, so why would He choose to now?
But I go to the water and ask for a drink, testing, almost as if I'm proving He won't give. Then too, I'm at the end, the last resort, conscious I cannot fill myself, so it's the only thing left to do.

The first words of Ezekiel 16 and I'm in tears. The floodgates have opened, my emotions spewing everywhere, because He is reading me and saying to me that He sees me helpless on the ground. It is a picture of redemption, of all God did for Israel, and of all He's done for me.

"As for your nativity, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed in water to cleanse you; you were not rubbed with salt nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you; but you were thrown out into the open field, when you yourself were loathed on the day you were born."

I was born into sin.

"And when I passed by you and saw you struggling in your own blood, I said to you in your blood, 'Live!' Yes, I said to you in your blood, 'Live!' I made you thrive like a plant in the field; and you grew, matured, and became very beautiful."

He made me alive.

"When I passed by you again and looked upon you, indeed your time was the time of love; so I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine," says the Lord God.

Christ in me, the hope of glory. I in Him and Him in me.

"Then I washed you in water; yes, I thoroughly washed off your blood, and I anointed you with oil. I clothed you in embroidered cloth and gave you sandals of badger skin; I clothed you with fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your wrists, and a chain on your neck. And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. . . You were exceedingly beautiful, and succeeded to royalty. Your fame went out among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through My splendor which I had bestowed on you," says the Lord God.

He has made me beautiful in holiness and righteousness so that I might bring Him glory.


Uh oh. I know immediately where this is going, not just for Israel but for me.

"But you trusted in your own beauty, played the harlot because of your fame, and poured out your harlotry on everyone passing by who would have it."

I read about how everything they'd been given by God--their beauty and splendor--they took possession of, twisted from good gift to satisfaction-giver, and used for self-glory and adultery against the very One who'd given all. The gifts became their god. 

"...because you were insatiable....and even then you weren't satisfied...I will gather all these lovers with whom you took pleasure; I will gather them from all around against you...they shall strip you of your clothes, take your beautiful jewelry, and leave you naked and bare."

Bare. Stripped. Abused. Empty.

Turning gifts into gods leaves us empty.

He is gently reading me; the tears stream knowingly. There is a difference, He seems to say, between being poured out and being empty. Emptiness comes from pursuing idols that (or who) are mute and impotent. Pouring out is only an ability that comes from first receiving; it is dependent upon Someone else giving.

What then are these idols? I can't see, so I ask Him to help me see.

Idols are the things I'd give up anything for, that I would, however silently or unseen, walk away from God to grab onto and get for myself. Things that if God asked me to let go of in order to keep a grip on Him, I would have a hard time letting go of. Things that I try to hold onto while at the same time holding onto God. Things that I'd stomp my feet and pout if I couldn't have them or if they were taken away.

My own abilities
The appreciation, approval, and admiration of others
Living a unique or extraordinary life
Having an obstacle-free path to the life I envision for myself
Being able to do all that I want to do in life
An ordered life with everything in control (my control, of course)
Ease and comfort of life

These are my gods. I equate them with God, and by equating them with God, I negate God.

These are my gods, and they've left me bare and empty. I repent of these gods, because only One is true and alive and faithful. Only One has said to me in the blood of my sins, "Live!" Only One has made me beautiful. Only One gives. And Only One can help me pour out my life without leaving me empty.

"Nevertheless, I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you...I provide an atonement for all you have done," says the Lord God.

Thank you, Jesus.

March 19, 2015

A Manifesto of Grace {Printable}

A book release feels like riding a stomach-dropping roller coaster after waiting for hours in a long, hot line. All the anticipation, all the biding time, and all the hard work explode in a flying flash over rails. In this analogy, I'm stepping off the ride right about now, adjusting my hair, finding my footing, and wondering what in the world just happened. In a good way, of course.

Thank you to each of you who have read From Good to Grace, those who have essentially ridden this roller coaster with me by helping me spread the word, and those who have written to tell me what it has meant and how God is ministering through it. Those are the greatest gifts you can give a writer.
One of my favorite parts of the book, one I keep returning to in my mind, is the Grace Manifesto at the end. Are you allowed to say that about your own book? It's a little like having a favorite child or pronouncing yourself to be awesome, but I don't care. I love the Manifesto, because it tidily sums up the whole book, it is a written reminder of what God has done in my own life in the past 14 years, and because I remember well the moment I sat at my dining room table and typed it out. The words fell out of me, and I pounded the keys as if I were speaking these truths over you out loud and exhorting you to believe and receive them.
I've known since that day sitting at my dining room table that I wanted to share a printable version of the Grace Manifesto with you when I got the chance. I hope you'll read the entire book, but if nothing else, I hope you'll print off a copy of the Manifesto and hang it or tuck it in a place where you'll read it often. But don't just read it. Read it out loud. There's something about speaking something out loud; it's a means of proclaiming our faith in what Christ has done.

Again, thank you. Thank you for giving me such great gifts--the reading, the sharing, and the responding. I hope this printable will be a gift and a blessing to you in return.

Download a printable of the Grace Manifesto for yourself.

Have you read From Good to Grace yet? If not, grab your copy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Christianbook.com. If you have read it and enjoyed it, would you please share it with others? Word of mouth is so helpful. Finally, be on the lookout for details regarding a summer book club!

March 17, 2015

Dream Smaller

I am more and more aware of my need to test the spirits of this age (1 John 4:1). Being driven, ambitious, and performance-oriented, I'm drawn to eloquent charges to go out and change the world and prone to believe they're words from God Himself. There are more voices than ever, more platforms than ever, and more and more are proclaiming statements that ring true in my head but chain my heart.
None feel the need to test the spirits of this age more than pastors. I am not one, but my husband is, and I pray earnestly for him to have wisdom and discernment as he guards and shepherds our church.

Because if Twitter were to be believed, the weight of the world hangs on those with the microphones. Pastors, racial reconciliation! Pastors, domestic violence! Pastors, marriage (and singleness and divorce and remarriage and widows and widowers and orphans and miscarriage and infertility and abortion and homosexuality)! Pastors, missions and church planting and evangelism and missional communities! I'm tired just thinking about it, and I haven't even said anything about preaching, counseling, and leading staff, much less the caring for souls. Or breathing.

I'm not saying these are bad things to focus on, teach on, or preach on. I'm not saying we don't want to affect our world. I'm saying we--the Church--must test these spirits. Because it all sounds really good. We love action points, we love exhortations that get us fired up, we love dreaming big, we love the idea that God wants to use in miraculous ways, and we rightly want to address the brokenness of our world and change it.

The underlying belief among Christians in this age is that the responsibility for changing the world is ours.

When I test these spirits, I find a weight too heavy for any one person to carry. I find change hinging on what people do and a push toward doing all the right things in all the right ways or all is tragically lost. I find a macro-level call by God to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations brought to the micro level, the individual level, where I am to go and do it all.

Let me tell you how this plays out in my life, because I think it might help explain what I'm getting at. I'm a pastor's wife who loves being a pastor's wife. I love nothing more than seeing lives changed and a strong, spiritually vibrant community. I want so many good things for our church and for the people in our church. I love them. I desire to see fruit in their lives, just as I desire to see it in my own.

But what happens when spiritual growth is slow and even nonexistent, or someone leaves our church (or the Church altogether), or the unsaved are not saved after the billionth gospel presentation, or someone has a deep need that I can't meet? What happens when I've failed someone or my efforts seem pointless? What do I do?

If the macro-level exhortations were to be believed, it is all on me to figure it out and to create change and fix everything. It's on me, not on the church as a whole, and definitely not on the Head of the church, Jesus Christ. I must have all the spiritual gifts. I alone must be the mouth, hands, and feet of Christ. And, really, there shouldn't even be these obstacles and failures, because those are only signs of my own ineptitude and that I need to be trying harder.

This feels heavy, and it's a weight I place on myself but that also comes from misplaced good desires. Misplaced, because I've completely relegated God to the spectator role. I desire good things for people, but I'm placing my faith in my own power and not in the only true power there is--the power of God.

Only God has the power to change a heart, to regenerate and renew. Only God can heal and reconcile.  Only God authored the gospel and authors our faith. We are not the gospel; we don't have to be the gospel. We are His agents and ministers, taking the gospel, but we can't convict of its truth.

Anything that makes us think that we as individuals have to be the whole Church and change the entire world with our one life and our handful of natural and spiritual gifts is not to be trusted. It is a tweak of the truth, which is that I am to use my one life alongside others using their one lives and, together, we act as the Church and work under the power of the Holy Spirit. Together, we adorn the gospel.

So what does this mean? 

It means I don't need to constantly add things to my list of ways I should be serving God because it's how others are serving Him. As I present myself to God each day in His Word, I can trust Him to show me how He wants me to adorn the gospel with my one life and with my spiritual gifts, abilities, roles, and circumstances. I don't have to be the whole church.

It means God values faith in His power more than any self-effort I bring to the table, which isn't much. This elevates prayer. It reminds me that I can ask for the hand and movement of God simply through prayer. By praying, it also reminds me who is actually in charge of change.

It often means thinking smaller rather than dreaming bigger. It means moving the macro-level call to the micro-level life. Unless God is clearly calling me to make a dramatic move, I can be certain He wants me to be faithful right where I'm at. He wants me to be a faithful wife, a faithful mom, a faithful friend, a faithful neighbor, a faithful mentor, and a faithful writer--because that's where He's placed me. I sometimes want the dramatic call because I don't want to do the difficult work of daily faithfulness.

It means that faithful, everyday acts done for the glory of God that don't seem like they're changing the world are the things actually changing the world: prayer, discipling our kids, working unto the glory of God, sacrificing for others, and using our gifts of mercy and knowledge and discernment to edify others in our local Body.

It means freedom, not burden. Because Someone's already carrying the weight of responsibility, and He's invited us to play a small (very small) part. He's faithful to us in the day-in, day-out, so we can respond in faithful love and obedience to Him. And that just so happens to be the Christian life in a nutshell.

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