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 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? 

May 18, 2016

Through Years of Tears I Have Come

I waited patiently for the Lord;
And He inclined to me,
And heard my cry.
He also brought me up out of a horrible pit,
Out of the miry clay,
And set my feet upon a rock,
And established my steps.
He has put a new song in my mouth--
Praise to our God;
Many will see it and fear,
And will trust in the Lord.
Psalm 40:1-3
My oldest son turns 13 tomorrow, making him an official teenager, evidenced not only by the calendar but by his deepening voice. The planned celebration of this child has now expanded across three days, first with our family, then a getaway with his dad and treasured men in his life to learn how to be a godly man, and then, finally, with his friends.

Friends. Did you just run your eyes quickly over that word? I didn't. When I typed it and read it back to myself, my heart stopped there to marvel, the tears pooling in the corner of my eyes.

Ten years ago I was crying different tears over this boy. They were bitter, desperate, pleading tears that soaked and salted my entire life. Like a broken faucet, I couldn't restrain their constant dripping. I cried throughout worship at church, unable to sing the words and mean them. I cried while driving the car with my son in the backseat and another in my womb. I cried in my bed, clinging to my husband, broken at the sight of his tears mirroring my own. Always, I cried after interacting with other people's children whose affront to me was simply being typical, everyday kids who were hitting all their milestones.
At night, after my little boy had fallen asleep, I'd slip into his room, kneel beside his bed, stroke his hair back, and beg God to heal him. The tears that came then were guttural and desperate. I'd imagine what that healing might look like and pray specifically for those things: the ability to form sentences and communicate his needs, answer simple questions, and write his name one day. Can you do this God? It seems hopeless, impossible. The list went on anyway: an interest in others, no more echoing, basic self-help skills, some sort of emotional connection with me and with his dad, an understanding of God and the gospel, the capability to one day live on his own.

And a friend. Lord, let him one day have a friend. 

The first 8-10 years of his life were the hardest years of mine. I prayed myself through years of tears, the bitter ones finally turning to resolve. I prayed hard, but I also worked hard, because nothing came easy and everything--everything--had to be taught. I charged at autism with the fierceness and conviction of a mama bear with her cub.

I have fought for him in every way I've known how, yet all along aware of my powerlessness to change him, all along begging God to help him and heal him.

And God has done it.

I used to think of healing as always instantaneous and complete. That is not the healing God has done for my son. Instead, He has healed him and continues to heal him over time in small, supernatural ways:

Two words strung together.
Writing his name.
Answering "wh" questions: what? where? who?
Tying shoes.
Looking at others in the eye.
Doing school work they said he could never do.
Showing empathy and compassion.
Understanding humor and inferences.
And making friends. 

God has helped and healed not only my son but also my own heart. I used to think I was so in control, that I could shape my life according to my own desires and dreams. I used to have little compassion for the hurting or the outcast. I used to believe that God would give me my definition of good things based upon my good behavior. I used to place my hope in perishable, self-centered idols.

Now I know He is sovereign, He is near to the brokenhearted, He is my hope, and that He gives His definition of good things from His grace alone. His definition of good things, I've learned, is so much better than mine, even though it's been the gift of joy borne from suffering.

Because we moved to a new city when my son was five, no one outside of our family has seen the full scope of what God has done. So let me tell you what He has done: He has never left me. He has wiped away my despairing tears and given me a tender heart. He has listened to my cry and answered me. He has held and helped my son every step of the way. He has received my lamentation and put a new song in my mouth--

Praise to our God.

Won't you see my son's story and trust Him today?
Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His discipled asked Him, saying, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him." John 9:1-3 

May 11, 2016

Confidence in Your Calling

This year I've felt a bit wobbly in my calling. I've kept right on doing what it is I've known for sure in the past I was to give my time and energy to, but sometimes it feels as if I were to pull one little string of uncertainty, the whole structure of my life might unravel. There are some things that I know for sure: I am to be a student of Christ, an attentive wife, an engaged mother, and, of course, those meals won't cook themselves. But it's one question that nags me: Am I really doing what God wants me to do?
That question encapsulates all the others that pop and fizz inside... when someone tells me how God is leading them and I wonder if I should be doing that really great thing too.
....or when I am weary from the monotony of doing pretty much the same things I've been doing for 8 years and I dwell too long on, "What for?" and "What does it matter anyway?"
...or when I struggle to hear God's voice and wonder if I'm somehow missing Him.

I've prayed over and over for clarity from the Lord, but He clearly has to wade through a lot to speak to me, not the least of which is my lack of my faith and my lack of confidence.

The truth is that I'm more than clear where I'm called by Him to be giving my time and energy, but my confidence is too often shaken because I look to the wrong things for confirmation of that calling.

I think we all do this to some degree. We have crazy ideas of what God's calling on our life will look like or feel like, so we end up walking through life with fear and trepidation rather than boldness, looking to the wrong things for our confidence. What are the things we look to for our confidence instead of looking to the Lord?

We look to others for a sense of confidence in our calling. This is so dangerous for so many reasons, but primary among them is that all of us looking each to the other creates a homogenous church. We start believing that we must fit into a mold or our calling is not valid. We have a fear of being different or misunderstood or even judged. Our fear of people is far greater than our fear of the Lord. This is not only idolatry, but it also hinder us from the joy of walking behind God's leadership.

We look to our circumstances. We live by sight rather than by faith. When we don't get results right away or when people don't pat us on the back or when it gets hard or monotonous, we think we've missed how God is leading us to use our gifts.

We look to those who are confident in their calling. We turn to the left and to the right and see other people boldly using their gifts and think they don't ever deal with uncertainty or setbacks or criticism. It would be easier to be them and to have their calling. As a result, we believe either God is unfair or we are inadequate for God to use us, or some combination of the two.

I'm preaching to the choir here, friends. This is what I myself do.

2 Corinthians 3 tells us where to find our confidence:

"Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and and among those who are perishing...And who is sufficient for these things?"

Paul goes on to say that he doesn't have to drum up anything to make himself look good. He doesn't have to prove himself to anybody. He's not comparing himself with anyone else. Instead he says this:

"And we have such confidence through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers..."

What strikes me here is that confidence comes with knowing that God is the primary actor.

God leads us in triumph. He takes us where He wants us to go. (This is good news for those still trying to discern God's calling on their lives.)

God diffuses a beautiful fragrance through us as we go.

God makes us sufficient for where He takes us. He makes us into bold ministers.

I want so badly to please the Lord, but I don't as easily trust that He'll lead me. I tend toward believing He's more of an evaluator than a Good Shepherd. Sometimes I do trust Him but I'm looking to Him for some lifeless formula--do this, don't do that--rather than believing that following Him is more like a joyful triumphal procession or diffusing some attractive fragrance. In my mind, it's all gloom and doom if I don't get it right. In God's mind, it's already right because of Christ. I think our calling is mostly about enjoying and conveying the triumph and the beauty than it is some wacky formula. Short of rejecting Him, I can't mess that up.

Talk about a confidence booster.

May 5, 2016

Answers for Your Questions: Church Planting & Ministry Wives Edition

I ran into a fellow pastor's wife in town today. We both had a few moments before we had to get our kids from school, so we stopped to chat about our husbands, our kids, our churches, and, finally, how we are doing personally. In those 15 short minutes, I was helped and encouraged. God used her to speak words I needed to hear, some I needed to be reminded of, and some I didn't know I needed but plan to chew on for a bit. Isn't it so beneficial to get another person's perspective, especially someone's perspective who walks in similar shoes as you? 

This blog and my writing in general are certainly not just for pastor's wives or church planting wives, but as you can probably tell if you've been around long enough, I do have a special place in my heart ministry wives. If you are one yourself, I hope you will be encouraged by the two Facebook Live chats (included below) that I've done recently on all kinds of topics related to ministry and church planting. If you aren't one, you're welcome to watch them to find out more about what your pastor's wife may be facing and how you can help or encourage her. 

I plan to continue these chats for you pastor's wives and church planting wives, so be sure to like my Facebook page or request Live chat notifications if you want to follow along and ask questions. I'm no expert, but I definitely can speak from my own experiences and mistakes.

In fact, I'll be doing my next Live chat this coming Monday, May 9th at 8 pm EST, where I'll be answering questions about women's ministry. To join in, just be on my Facebook page at that time and the video will come up. You can submit questions ahead of time by email or you can simply comment with your question when the video is live. Can't wait to chat with you!

Video #1: Church Planting Questions
Questions asked include:

  • How do you set boundaries between family life and ministry?
  • What advice would you give for those starting in church planting?
  • How do you build relationships with other women?
  • How do you handle people that you've invested in leaving your church?
(And I let slip what my next book is about in this video. Eeek! So excited!)

Video #2: Church Planting and Ministry Questions
Questions asked include:

  • How do you encourage your husband when he's discouraged, especially when you are discouraged too?
  • How do you continue to stay connected to people as your church grows?
  • I feel that I can't share the deepest parts of me with others in our church. Can you speak to this?

Hope these are helpful for you! What do you want to do a Facebook Live chat about next?

April 27, 2016

Our Need Points Us to God

Over Spring Break, my husband and I took our three boys to the zoo, where we happily chased peacocks around and marveled at the length of the giraffes’ tongues as we fed them from paper cups.

We also happened by the otters’ cage just as a zookeeper was preparing to feed them. Holding a bucket of fish just out of reach of the otters, she removed one to a side room, began feeding the three left, and explained, “These are three male otters. They beg and eat as if they are starving, but they aren’t. Notice that as soon as they get their fish, they retreat to a private area to protect their food from getting snatched by their brothers.”

Sure enough, as they were each given a fish, they ran to separate corners and promptly masticated their food, smacking loudly, pieces of fish flying, eyes darting around. The zookeeper continued, “We have to remove the mom otter for a private feeding, otherwise her sons would take all the food.” And I’m sure, I thought to myself, all her sanity as well.

Somehow this all seemed vaguely familiar. With three growing boys, I have an ever-increasing grocery bill, and my name to them is not “Mom,” but rather, “Mom, can I have something to eat?” After dinner, there is typically a requested second round of dinner followed by a denied request for a third round of dinner and subsequent claims of starvation. Rather than a zookeeper doling out fish, I’m more like a lion-tamer in the ring, constantly fending off hungry tummies.

At the zoo that day, I was a bit jealous of the mom otter, removed from fish-smackers for a peaceful meal.

It’s difficult sometimes for me to understand my boys’ level of need for food. When the kitchen’s cleaned and closed for the evening, their constant demands can be frustrating. But in the end, I am their mother, and although I don’t fully understand their needs, I want to meet them, because I love my sons.

The fact of the matter is that I am no different from my sons. My needs are just as compulsive — for acceptance, for love, for purpose, for rest, for help — but I have lost the childlike instinct to simply ask my Father for my needs to be met by him. When my sons have a need, they immediately come to me. When I have a need, I veer toward shame, frustration, and guilt.

My boys aren’t above otter-like begging, but I have somehow grown accustomed to muting my needs through attempted self-sufficiency, or berating myself over having needs at all. I am easily frustrated by my own frailty and weakness, believing I suppose that neediness is akin to sinfulness. In fact, neediness is the necessary first step toward relating with and enjoying God, because neediness leads to dependence.

If we let them, our needs point us to God and usher us to his side, seeking an outlet, an answer, a fulfillment in him. In fact, the names he has chosen to call himself in Scripture speak these very things:

  • We all have a need for acceptance and belonging. God is called Father of the family we’ve been adopted into, with Christ as our brother. (Galatians 4:4–6; Romans 8:17)
  • We are satisfaction-seekers. Jesus is called the Bread of Life and Living Water, of whom we can daily partake. (John 6:35; John 4:13–14)
  • We all need outside help for spiritual vitality and growth. The Holy Spirit is called Helper, Counselor, and Convictor, because he enables and empowers us. (John 14:16–17, 26; 16:7–11) 
  • We all need deliverance from the power and weight of sin, along with the shame and guilt it births. Jesus is called Savior and Deliverer and Justifier, removing the curse of sin and making us right before God. (Galatians 3:13–14; Colossians 1:13, 19–22; 2:13–15)

God’s names, in turn, give us new names. He changes who we are. We are no longer orphans seeking our belonging; we are the Adopted. We are no longer thirsty; we are the Forever-Satisfied. We are no longer condemned; we are the Approved. We are no longer helpless and hopeless; we are the Helped.

The best part about the nature of our God is that he doesn’t begrudge our need. As a mother who loves her children imperfectly, I long to give my children everything I can possibly give them. As a Father who loves perfectly, he gives us exactly what we need in exactly the right way. Better yet, he understands our need, having walked in our human shoes of physical limits and emotional and relational pain.

In the face of our great need, the only option for us is to become like a hungry growing boy — or perhaps an otter begging for its fish. Rather than focus on the needs or think ourselves silly for having them, we must let our hunger pains point to the Need Meeter.

When we approach him, our Christ is no lion-tamer, pushing us away in our weariness and hunger and thirst. He instead says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). He says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).

He receives us with gladness, because he is the very one we need.