Dear mom…. Love, your Christian sister

Dear Mom,

I know. You’re tired.  You’re scared.  You wake in the morning, thinking of your family’s day. Is another day here already?  What will everyone eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Will the kids ever stop saying, “Mom, I’m hungry.”  Can you cook on a budget, using resources sparingly? You worry about getting groceries today, tomorrow and next week… and you’re tired.  You scan the news and then stop because you feel the worry rising in your heart.  What if your kids lose their mom? Their dad? Their grandma or grandpa?  Who will raise them?  Will they be okay?  Are you too old to just want your own mom right now?  You think of new ways to sanitize, save money and invent activities that end up only keeping the kids busy for a few minutes rather than the promised few hours.  You hope the rest of your family is taking things more seriously than they seem to be right now… and you’re tired.  How long can you hide your worry from the kids?  How can you comfort your kids as they experience the loss of personal connection with friends, family, extra-curricular activities and school?

Will you ever be alone again? You’re tired.

You browse Facebook and Instagram and are reminded of other parents doing the next creative, made from scratch, home project and wonder if you are frying your kids brains with video games and Netflix… and you’re tired.  You sift through a hundred emails from your kid’s school with new assignments and new expectations, almost collapsing under the weight of undone duties and mountains of laundry.  You wonder if you will have enough laundry detergent anyway… and you’re tired.  Maybe you have lost income. Maybe you are working from home and wondering how to add one more thing.  Will you get fired?  Will you get fired later because you are in a season in which you can no longer give your whole self, uninterrupted to your job?  Are you now perceived as less professional when your zoom call looks like it’s streaming from a playground and none of your co-workers get interrupted by their kids?  Maybe you are still leaving home to work. How long can you keep up this pace, these extra hours and the worry of what new germ you might bring home every evening?

How much calculating can your mind do as you plan, protect and manage life for each member of your family?

Life has always felt like you are not enough and too much at the same time.  Your passions, worry, self-doubt, exhaustion and emotional range are too much for yourself and others.  Your efforts, labor and physical abilities are not enough… and YOU ARE TIRED.

I get it.  So here is what I hope will be a little permission and little encouragement. 

First, the encouragement.  You are not alone, but not because me or anyone else gets it.  We don’t really need others being in our same boat.  Our need is for someone to be with us, seeing us, hearing us, and intimately knowing us in deep ways.  Our need goes deeper than the normalization of our experiences. We need someone to carry the burden and the load.  

No one sees you, knows you and is with you like your heavenly Creator is right now.  He made you.  He crafted you and your heart and calls out to you.  He connects in deeply precious ways with the hearts of his daughters. Only he can truly be with you, with his comfort, his peace and his promises. You family and your life was never really yours to begin with. He is the King of his kingdom. He is trustworthy to rule his Kingdom.

The psalmist says, “For you make him most blessed forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence.  For the king trusts in the LORD, and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved.”  (Psalm 21:6-7) Even the king of Israel knew who the real King was and how God offered his own presence.

So here is our challenge, will we sit with Him and let Him be with us and make us “glad with the joy of his presence?”  You see, God’s promise is not to expand our efforts so that every expectation is met or to fix our world today and rid us of all suffering.  His promise is nothing short of Himself, present and real in our moment.  No, it will not always be this way. However, until His coming perfect Kingdom, He is WITH us.  In the quiet moments of our hearts, where no one else dwells but His Spirit, we are drawn to His side and near to His own heart.  It is only here that He can “quiet you by his love.” (Zephaniah 4:17)

Jesus encouraged us to abide in himself.  “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.  Abide in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:9-11) How may his joy be full in me?  I must begin here, seeking first his Kingdom and his righteousness, abiding in his love and keeping his commands.  (Matthew 6:25-34).

Does this feel like one more thing to add to your day?  Stop.  You are missing the point.  This is not a thing to do.  It is a place to rest.  It is that place when you are praying because you can’t sleep.  He is there.  It is that place when you play worship music while cooking because something deep in your soul needs the life-giving notes of praise sung back to Jesus.  It is the stolen moments of soaking in His Word because your very life depends on drinking from the fountain of His truth and goodness.

But here is the warning:  if your faith has been able to survive on a daily podcast and a few songs on Christian radio, your trust in God needs to anchor deeper now.  This kind of trust is only anchored by His grace pouring out his presence to you.  Ask for it.  Ask for Him.  Run to Him alone.  Tell Him that above all else, you just need Him.  He will answer.  He will give you peace. (Philippians 4:4-9)

Second, the permission.  In case we forget, we live for an audience of One.  That’s right.  Just One.  All the habits we have carried for years, bending to the performing expectations of ourselves and others have crowded our ears from hearing the simple commands of our Father, who bids us follow him today and rest on grace for this one day.  So right now, tell God that you will rest in His grace for this one day.  Tell Him the same thing tomorrow and the next day and the next.  Remind yourself that God is not surprised by this moment in our lives.  He is not freaking out right now.

God is not sitting on his throne (that’s right it’s His, not ours) stressed about whether your kids get their worksheets done or whether you make boxed macaroni and cheese because you need a 15 minute solution to dinner.  Mom, incomplete homework and boxed macaroni and cheese are not sinful!  His riches go deeper.   We are called to live in the grace of our one day with only one question in mind: How can I follow Him deeply in this one moment out the strength of His spirit and not myself? 

We live for an audience of One and He is ever present and ever strong. 

But here again is the warning: No one will command you to live for an audience of One.  As a matter of fact, some will do just the opposite. Your own flesh will do strive for the opposite. His command to live in his grace and his will alone in your day will still call you to obedience, service, love, goodness, and truth.  But His commands are not suffocating (I John 5:1-5) because they always reside in the presence of His love, the strength of His nature and the grace of his forgiveness. How gracious of our Lord to simplify it so well, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:34-40) Simple, not simplistic.

I confess, it took me about two weeks to remember this and to begin to live again for just the moment He gives me.  In short, it took me two weeks to repent of my prideful anxieties of performance and people pleasing.  Do you know what happened?  I started to enjoy my family more.  I started to see His gracious generosity around me.  I started to become more thankful, trusting and praising of Him.  I began to deeply feel the grief of a world in pain but at the same time rejoice in gratitude at His common grace abounding in one moment.  My own challenges have been brought into deeper perspective. 

I began to experience the anchoring center-point of my faith: the life, death, burial, resurrection and coming return of Jesus of Nazareth.  It has never been about more that his salvation and glory.

I am not doing more.  In some ways I am doing less.  I have said no to some things I never thought I would and have said yes to some things that matter more; my family, the young women I mentor, my neighbors and community who just need the same joy of Christ that I have been given. My efforts still feel meager, yet they are offered to our Lord who will do with them as he wills.

So tomorrow I will struggle again.  My prideful demands will surface.  I will remember the real and present fears of our world and my own fears will surface.  I will again have to pray, seek my Father’s face, repent, rejoice and be renewed. I will learn to trust again tomorrow. 

This is our journey.  This is how he untethers us from our world and anchors us to Himself.

This is my prayer for you.  So, mom, abide in Him and let Him take care of the rest.

 “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7)       

The Anger in Forgiveness

 

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“Why should I be sacrificed on the altar of his growth?!”  I remember the day I said these words out loud to God.  I was angry.  Angry and hurt.  I didn’t think I could get that angry.  Now it seemed like God was taking his side.

For an entire year a young man in my Christian community had publicly insulted my weight and femininity. His sideways, passive comments were lobbed in front of our friends and although we tried to ignore the jabs, we all knew what he thought of me.  I was fat and unattractive.  In private, friends tried to assure me, “He’s wrong.” “Stacie, you are pretty.”  But these comments went to the heart of my insecurities.

At the end of the day I was left to struggle with his words.  The worst part was that deep down I believed he was right.  I knew enough theology to know that God saw me as precious and beautiful, but the rest of the world?  This man was just voicing what everyone thought and no one was willing to say.  I was undesirable.  So, there I was, hurt and angry.

Growing Anger

Months passed.  I sank into sadness and isolation, functional on the outside and withering on the inside.  Prayer became a plea for God to rid me of this person and help me feel better about living in a world where I was less than everyone else.  Wasn’t God angry too?  Then came a pivotal conversation.  A trusted friend stepped into my world and offered his help, with one condition.  I needed to confront the person hurting me, share my injury and forgive.  Nothing could have seemed more unwise to me.

Although I had read the passages in the Bible about forgiveness and confrontation (Ephesians 4:32; Matthew 18:15), this had to be an exception.  Isn’t is unwise to confess hurt to someone who has only shown that they can and will hurt you?  I was pretty certain he had no idea of his effect on me and I was determined to make sure he would never know.

But then the Scripture became inescapable.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. -Ephesians 4:29-32

I was not allowed to attack back, scream and rant in anger.  I had to go to him for HIS good. I read and re-read and screamed through Ephesians.  Someone else’s behavior never lets me off the hook for acting for their good.  I am never off the hook of love and forgiveness.

My choice seemed terribly simple.  I could either die the slow death of withering from the inside, wallowing in anger, hurt, and bitterness, or I could obey God and move toward my enemy’s good.  Two paths that felt like death lay before me and God would only walk with me down one of them. God would sacrifice me on the altar of his good.  I wish I could say I had spiritual strength, faith and foresight.  What I would do next was merely obedience and little else.

Forgiveness Deserved?

I knew pride, resentment and ugliness were rooting deep in my heart and I was desperate for their death.  I was desperate enough to submit to God and confess in deep repentance the ugly truth: I didn’t care about his good.  I didn’t want to love this person.  I didn’t want to forgive.  I wanted him to pay.

In order to share with this man how he injured me I would have to be filled with the Holy Spirit but this didn’t feel strong.  It felt open, vulnerable and weak.  I didn’t even think I could talk without crying.  I prayed through Ephesians 4 over and over again, unsure of whether I could even be kind or civil.  I prayed for the heart I wanted, but didn’t have.  I prayed for strength and compassion. I prayed to expect nothing.  It could not be about getting an apology or seeing repentance.

At this point you may be tempted to think, “But he is wrong.  He doesn’t deserve kindness.”  That’s true.  But neither do we.  Why is it that when I wrong someone I want mercy, but when someone wrongs me I want justice?  The cross of Jesus shows how equally in need of forgiveness we all are and how graciously it has been offered by the One who has never been in need of it.

So, we talked. I cried.  Then, something miraculous happened.  He didn’t understand.   He did not apologize.  His words were stoic and formal.  He was caught off guard and at a loss for how to respond.  I didn’t get deep sensitivity or caring.  But it didn’t crush me.  I climbed on an altar, expecting to be sacrificed but found myself freed.  Like a tiny seed in my heart, something began to bloom.  I wanted this man’s good.  I wanted God to be kind to him.  I was able to forgive.

A Miracle

I have rarely in my life felt so protected, loved and cared for as I did the day I walked away from that conversation.  I had done as God asked, not just for his good but for mine.  My heart could break without breaking me.  God’s rebuke of me could be kind.  God saw my pride, self protection and rebellion.  I had dared to ask God to choose my good over another one of His other children, as if I were faultless.  Something in me was ugly, prideful and demanding.  Here in the ugly bits of myself there is forgiveness, mercy and grace.

Since that time Paul’s words on forgiveness live in me like light in darkness.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  -Romans 5:6-8 

Forgiveness is a miracle.  It is one of the most amazing ways we as Christians can experience the miraculous nature of the cross in our relationships.  His forgiveness of us births in us the humility to forgive, even those who hurt us.  Forgiveness is still hard, but necessary.

Do you know what it is to be forgiven?  Do you need to forgive?

 

 

What singleness and miscarriages taught me about God’s love

 

 

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Something felt familiar.  I was laying in my bed, consumed by sadness, loneliness, pain and grief.  At 17 weeks pregnant we were faced again with a routine appointment that revealed a heartbeat that had stopped.  Again. Twice in one year.  Two babies. Two miscarriages.  My sweet husband, with grief of his own, had no way to take away mine.  It is one of those moments in life when the acute pain of sadness is isolating.  Yet, there was something oddly familiar about this moment that was anchored to experiences from decades ago.

As a young woman in my twenties I had become convinced that marriage would be a gift denied to me.  For years I found myself without pursuers and romantically alone.  So I slowly came to the conclusion that God intended me for singleness.  By my early 30’s I was no longer trying to love life and find contentment until marriage.  I was grieving the total loss of a deep longing.  God, who was all powerful and could give me anything, seemed to be saying, “Never.”

A deep longing never to be fulfilled was familiar.  But somewhere under the layers of tears I had learned long ago where to find hope and companionship.

IS HE STILL GOOD?

In singleness I attended the weddings of most of my friends.  I saw their happiness and imagined their full lives of marital enjoyment.   In the loss of my second and third child I celebrated the birth of 6 babies, all born in the same months I would have been due to have my own.

With an undeniable belief that God exists and that He is in control over our world, we can sometimes find ourselves stuck.  If He is there and if He is able to bring good things into the lives of others, why not us?  Sure, I can understand why God would shield us from sinful desires, but is He still good if He withholds good desires?  Has He forgotten us?  Does He not see?  How could this possibly be loving?

Like Mary and Martha at the tomb of Lazarus, the easiest answer is to assume God has failed us.  “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Two women who both make the same accusation.  (Luke 11: 12 & 32)  Yes, that’s it.  He helps everyone else, but doesn’t love me enough to help me.

I consider it a special grace when Scripture answers my accusing heart.  When Jesus finds out that Lazarus is sick and about to die we are told, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” (Luke 11:5-6)  He loved them, so he let Lazarus die.  He is up to something here and he wants us to know that whatever it is, it includes his love.

Although He can love us, be good and deny us what we desire, we should not make the mistake of believing that He does nothing.  Jesus loved Mary and Martha in their grief.  In their grief he offered two things.  First, he offered Himself. “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.  And he said, ‘where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see,’ Jesus wept.  So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?'” (Luke 11:33-35) There it is, the accusation.  Did you catch it?  If he loved Lazarus wouldn’t he have kept him from dying?

JESUS WEEPS

Even in the deepest grief, my Spirit rebukes me when I am tempted to charge God with not knowing as much as I do about love.  Love finds it origin and anchoring in the character of God.  We start with Him to get our understanding of love.  And here at the tomb of Lazarus, love responds.  “Jesus wept.”  Let’s be clear.  Jesus is not weeping for Lazarus, as the onlookers suppose.  When Jesus does raise him from the dead, it is only to find one chapter later that the enemies of Jesus are plotting Lazarus’ death. (Luke 12:10)  I suspect that being brought back from the dead did not make Lazarus happier.  Now he gets to be the guy that dies twice in one lifetime.  Lucky him.

No, he is not weeping for Lazarus.  Jesus weeps when he sees his loved ones in grief and pain.

Let’s not underestimate how much we need this.  In pain, we may be tempted to cry out for a why.  I don’t know about you, but why wouldn’t help me.  If God had appeared to me after my second miscarriage and told me that countless lives would be saved as a result, I would at that very moment still feel crushed.  No, why doesn’t stop the tears.  What do I really need?  I need to not grieve alone.  I need God to weep with me.  Watching another friend be chosen by a good man and still feeling alone, I need a God who mourns with me and comforts me.  (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)  The comfort that comes in those private moments with Jesus is not an abstract idea, but a personally intimate time of healing and peace.

Second, Jesus offers to right the wrong.  I need a God who can make all things right again.  “Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.  Do you believe this?”  (Luke 11:25-26)  God, who came in the flesh and bore our sufferings, has promised to make all things new.  This is not the end of our story.  (Isaiah 35; Romans 8: 18-39)   Life is found in Jesus.

Somewhere in the middle of the tears, there is truth more profound and personally experienced than the grief itself.  God is there.  I am comforted.  I am not alone and it will not always be like this.  Although I now live in the aftermath of sins devastating effects,  I have found peace, comfort and joy sitting at his feet.  As much as God has blessed me through the encouragement of family, friends and other Christians, there is no substitute for Him and me when no one else is around.  It is here that I find rest for my soul.  (Matthew 11:29)

DOES SUFFERING MEAN GOD DOES NOT EXIST?

Finally, grief can make some question whether God is even there at all.  I find this odd. Grief is the irrepressible cry of the heart that says something has gone wrong.  Things are not supposed to be this way.  In grief we know most keenly that there is a way life is supposed to be and we are made most aware that something is not as it should be.

If God does not exist, there is no other way the world should be.  Grief is an illusion.

Only in the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus of Nazareth can we find the answers to our deepest longings and know that our cry is an accurate reflection of reality. He validates our grief.  This is not the way life is supposed to be.  He weeps with us in our heartbreak and in the middle of it all there is beauty and rest.

How is there beauty and rest?  After the tears, there is a secret revealed.  Our deepest longing is for God Himself and to the one who seeks, this longing will never be denied. (Matthew 5:4-6)