I have been a pastor’s wife for 19 years. I was a young 19 years old when I married, and my husband accepted his first pastorate. Looking back, I now realize I knew nothing. Seriously, nothing. I knew how to stand at the back of the church dutifully by my husband’s side and shake hands with sweet people who really didn’t know me. I did this for many, many years.
Throughout those early years in ministry I tried really hard to be a supportive, strong, encouraging leader in our churches. I really wanted people to like me. And in order for people to like me, I needed to dress the part, serve in every area effortlessly, and make sure they didn’t know any of my deep struggles. And God forbid they know any of my sin. It was exhausting and lonely and I was stuck.
This past Sunday, I taught with my husband about marriage. We shared openly about our own struggles, and afterward, so many people thanked us for being vulnerable. I was actually surprised at the ease with which we shared some difficult stuff about our past. But this has not always been my story. God has been so faithful to draw me out, change my heart, and in the process prove His faithfulness in so many lives.
When we left Arkansas to move to southern California to be part of Saddleback Church, for the first time, I was not the lead pastor’s wife. In fact, I was one of many pastors’ wives. There was no pressure. No eyes upon me. I could slip in and out of church with no one even knowing I was a pastor’s wife. God used this time in my life to show me a better way.
He surrounded Brandon and I with a small group of people that showed us what authenticity looked like. They weren’t “doing” church. They had real problems with real hurts and relied on a real God for help. They also relied on each other. This was foreign to us, and life changing. We left Southern California to plant Grace Hills Church back in Arkansas, and we came back to “the natural state” different people.
We were determined that we would share our lives with whomever God asked – not just the pretty part of our lives, but the hard stuff. Honestly, the first year of planting was one of the hardest years of our marriage. The enemy was seeking to steal, kill and destroy, and some days he seemed victorious.
It would have been easy to pretend that all was well, and most days it was really tempting. Being real is hard. It’s risky, and sometimes painful. There were days I begged God to let me go back to being the girl that nobody really knew. Many times, sitting with someone who was hurting in their own marriage, I felt the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit saying, “share your story.” Seriously, God? I. Don’t. Want. To. But I did. I shared my weakness. I shared my pain and my sin and then I shared the grace that covers me and the redemption of a Savior who brought life and hope to a hurting marriage.
The more I opened up, the easier it became. The veil of shame was lifted and Satan no longer had a grip on those dark places. They were pushed into the light, and there I stood… vulnerable, and covered in grace.
I will say this: I don’t share everything with everybody. I wait and I listen to the Holy Spirit. I have surrendered my life and my story to God to use as He wants to. So I walk in obedience. I desire to be real. I believe Jesus was real, and I desperately want to be more like Him.
Sharing my life – the good, the bad and the ugly – with hurting people has been one of my greatest joys, and I won’t ever go back. I have moments when I’m tempted to retreat, but I reflect on Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 2:8, “We cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us” (HCSB).
My people – the ones I do life with, and the ones I’ve yet to meet – are dear to me. Precious in my heart. Nope. I won’t ever go back.
June is the month of weddings. My Facebook feed is filled with beautiful pictures of love. Couples getting married and couples celebrating their years of wedded bliss. I read beautiful sentiments of love and adoration from wives and husbands. I see pictures of young love with their whole lives stretching before them and you can see the fairy tale dreaming in their eyes.
Yesterday was my turn. My turn to celebrate 18 years of being married to the guy who loves me best. As we shared publicly our love and commitment to each other and received warm “happy anniversary’s” from loved ones, I could not help but think about the countless people who hurt over broken marriages, unrealized dreams and pain of the past. Many of my friends are battling major hurts in their own marriages. So if I could sit with you this morning and share with you from my heart, this is what I’d say.
You are loved with an everlasting love
“…I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love;
with unfailing love I have drawn myself to you” ~Jeremiah 31:3
In a time when love withers and fades, it’s hard to remember this truth. We love so imperfectly, but our Creator is the lover of our souls. His character is unchanging and it is impossible for Him to stop loving His creation. He chooses to love us. We cannot earn that love nor do we deserve His love. The very essence of His character is love. If you are feeling unloved today, you need to rest in the truth that regardless of any circumstance or situation, your heavenly Father adores you. He delights in you. He rejoices over you with singing. He is your fairy tale and your happily ever after.
Only Jesus can heal your broken heart
“He heals the brokenhearted and bandages up their wounds” ~Psalm 147:3
We often look everywhere but the cross for healing. Your spouse will not make you whole. Your children, money, success, food, sex, alcohol, and friends…will not and can not make you whole. We can not fix ourselves. While counseling is good…counseling in and of itself can not restore what is lost. There is no striving to be done, no work to do.
Healing is a choice to rest in the finished work of the cross. That’s where it starts. Your husband will never be able to “complete you.” You are only complete through the blood of Jesus. When you surrender your agenda, relationships, plans and future to the Lord, He responds with his redemptive work. He alone can change the heart of man, and He can be trusted with your pain. He can turn your mourning into dancing.
Do not walk alone
“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed” ~Ecclesiastes 4:9
We were created for community. You do not have to struggle on your own. Reach out. Find a Christian counselor, involve your pastor and get in a small group. Share your story, even when it’s not pretty. Ask to be prayed over. Find a church of grace givers and let them speak truth to you. Fight the urge to isolate and believe the lie that no one will understand or that only condemnation will follow if you share your pain and your sin. God uses his people to point the way to healing and victory in Him. Lean into Jesus and take the risk of trusting His people. We are better together.
“Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble and keep on praying” ~Romans 12:12
Even in the middle of dark days, you can choose joy. On days when you don’t know where you will find the strength to face your spouse or when you don’t have it in you to fight for your marriage, remember this truth; the joy of the Lord is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10). Joy is found in Jesus, not our circumstances. It is possible to have victory over our emotions and to choose gratitude and joy, even in suffering. It’s a game changer, I promise.
Sweet friend who is hurting, whose marriage is on the brink of divorce, you need to know that God is for you. He is for your marriage and He will fight for you. He is merciful and even when our earthly love fails, His never does.
One of my favorite holidays is Mother’s Day. This is because it’s all about me, and I love celebrating me. I believe that carrying a child in my womb for nine months, giving birth, changing diapers, making lunches, wiping up vomit, and kissing boo-boo’s is deserving of a day of celebration and fanfare. Who’s with me?
So the truth is, I don’t quite feel like I’m Mom of the Year every day. In fact, those moments are few and far between. I, like many of you, struggle with believing that I’m not scarring my children for life. On any given day, I’m battling large amounts of guilt because I feel like I just can’t get this mom thing right. I didn’t put cute notes in their lunch boxes. I didn’t get the laundry done. I forgot about picking up the kite for “kite day” at school and I fed them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Slim-Jims for dinner… Again.
And some days, those are my shining moments, because the real truth is that sometimes, I mess up in far bigger ways. I yell in anger. I stare at my phone, interested in everyone else’s life while ignoring the three little people sitting in my living room. I get distracted and don’t remind them who they are in Jesus and instead, rush through the routine so I can binge watch Parenthood on Netflix. There are days I fail and camp out there, letting feelings of regret, shame, and sadness overwhelm me.
I’m learning that when I fail with my kids, it’s usually because of one of three big reasons. I’m living in fear. I’m dealing with insecurity. Or I’m battling emptiness.
When I’m fearful, I’m actually just failing to trust God with my children. I feel out of control and become paralyzed with fear. So in order to get back the control, I yell or become angry and unkind.
When I’m insecure, it’s most often because I’ve spent way too much time comparing myself to all of the other amazing momma’s around me. Often in my skewed perspective, every other woman is nailing this mom thing and I will never measure up. Therefore the pressure grows and I can’t deal, or I give up altogether.
In addition to these struggles, I often parent on empty. I’m simply not prepared to pour out love, grace and wisdom because I haven’t been spending time with Jesus – the one who pours love, grace, and wisdom into me. Difficult days will come. Hard moments will try me as a mom. I know the truth is that I have to be filled up with the grace of Jesus in order to pour that grace out onto my kids.
So today, I’m speaking hope to you and to myself. There is hope for us mommas who don’t get it right all the time. That hope is found in Jesus. That hope is realized when we know and believe that he is a God of forgiveness and favor.
He forgives. Let this truth sink in. Your Father, the Creator of the universe, loves you so much that he created a pathway for forgiveness. As much as I wish I would never hurt my children, I know I have and I will again. But there is mercy for my failures. And I know a few reading this, simply cannot believe that you can be forgiven. I know you believe that what you’ve done is unforgivable. Maybe, you’ve led a life of deceit, hurting your children in the midst. Maybe, you’ve been addicted and absent and the relationship with your children seems broken beyond repair. Listen to me. Our God heals and restores. There is no one beyond His reach. He will forgive. Even you. Even me.
I can also know that he grants favor. That is, he gives us the grace we need to lean into to make it through each moment. His grace is all we need. All of his blessings are undeserved, but it’s his nature to bless us anyway so that we can walk in the strength of his favor daily.
Forgiveness and favor are ours for the taking. They make the difference and set us free and sister… if the Son has set you free, you are free indeed! (John 8:36) It’s not enough to know they exist. We have to receive his forgiveness and take hold of his favor.
I’ve been a momma for almost 14 years now and I’ve learned a few things that have been difference makers in this journey.
Know who you are. Get in God’s word and know the truth of whom He made you to be.
Understand the power of the repair. We will mess up; in small ways, and in big ways. You need to know that our God restores. When you blow it, ask forgiveness from your kids, remind them of truth, and pray with them and over them. Ask God to heal any broken places in your heart and theirs. Pray bold prayers of protection over your relationship.
Let the Holy Spirit work. Believe that if you are a child of the Most High God, then you have his power at work inside of you. God’s word says that his strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9) My need for God’s power has never been more evident to me than in my desire to parent and to love my children well.
Don’t do this alone. No lone ranger momma’s allowed. We need each other. Find friends who can speak God’s truth into your life. Look for momma friends who will walk this out with you. Be that kind of friend to someone else. No more judgment on other moms. We’re all fighting a battle. Our enemy is not each other. When you see that momma in the grocery store with the screaming child; figuratively, link arms with her, pray a prayer for her, and give her a smile and a word of encouragement. We’ve all been there. I’ll probably be that mom later today, and if you see me, I will most likely desperately need your grace.
My Ella, Sam and Drew are precious gifts from God. They deserve the best, but they wound up with me. And the good news is that I’m the best momma for them. I will fail- maybe not today – but most certainly I will continue to do this momma thing very imperfectly. I’m so grateful for grace and new mercies. So, I’m ready for Mothers Day. I’m ready to celebrate all the ways I love my children well and I’m ready to celebrate a gracious God who fills in the gaps with his forgiveness and favor. Happy Mother’s Day, sweet sisters. Party on.
Momma, Ella, Sam & Drew