Vulnerable and Covered in Grace

Vulnerable and Covered in Grace

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, Angie TeachingI 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 0a9d9dcb9a0480aec9325d015258c4bfwere 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.

BraveGirl Angie

Angie

 

 

When God Doesn’t Show Up

When God Doesn’t Show Up

Today is June 5, 2016. I remembered the significance of today while sitting in church this morning. I realized that today is going to be just another day. A day where I’ll attend church with my family. A day where my husband will rush off to work after lunch. My daughter will nap. Our small group will meet. Nothing earth-shattering will happen today. Today will not go down in history like I thought it would one year ago…

It was June 5, 2015. I was enjoying a women’s ministry event in my community. At the end of the night there was a time of prayer. My sister wasn’t there because she was attending a friend’s wedding. But she was on my mind that night. As I prayed, I found myself pouring my heart out to God and asking Him that by June 5, 2016, something would be different in Martha’s life. That she would have a baby or be pregnant within the year.

My little sister is BraveGirl Martha. She’s a gifted writer with a hilarious and gentle soul. In my opinion, she’s one of God’s best creations. You may have read her recent BraveGirl post HERE where she talks about her struggle with infertility. For years I’ve watched her as month after month the waves of disappointment crash around her. Sometimes she stands strong against that fierce tide, but other times she gets taken under by the current. I’ve never once heard bitterness in her voice. I’ve seen nothing in her but a quiet dignity, a strengthened faith, and the spiritual growth that only occurs when you’re in the middle of a storm. She’s right in the thick of it, and she’s a beautiful testament to how God can and will work on His children when they cling to Him.

I admire the way she deals with the pain of waiting because I walked the road of infertility myself – very impatiently and with WAY less fortitude than Martha has shown over the years. One of these days I’ll write about my own infertility struggles, but today it’s not about me.

Today is June 5th. The day that God was supposed to show up, make His miraculous power known, and be praised for answering my selfless prayer. Because that’s the way He works, right?

We pray. We ask. We pass the time. Then God moves, swooping in, handing out answers to prayer the way Oprah gives away cars. And He’s also supposed to adhere to the deadlines we impose on Him…right? Am I the only one who secretly treats God as if He’s a genie in a lamp, just waiting to grant me my every wish?

It’s days like today that leave me questioning. Doubting. Wondering why, and why not? My faith feels a little shaky when I’m confronted with the idea that God didn’t come through. He failed to show up. I mean, He could have easily answered my prayer and today would have been a day of rejoicing and bragging on my Savior’s sovereign power and love. I tell myself, I would have given Him all the credit.

“God, you really missed an opportunity to be glorified,” is what my sulking heart wants to say to the One who loves me, my sister, and you beyond measure. Days like today make me feel like a toddler on the verge of a very loud and public meltdown.

Ever felt that way? Ever wanted to shake your fist at God over some unanswered prayer? Maybe you’ve already walked away because He never showed up for you when you thought He should.

Maybe today you get how I’m feeling. As I sit here writing, in the midst of my questions and hurt feelings, I know it’s decision time. It’s time for me to make a choice that perhaps you need to make as well. I’m choosing to remember my place. To remember who my God IS and who He ISN’T.

I’m choosing trust instead of a tantrum. I’m choosing what I know to be true over what I feel in this moment of doubt.

God IS NOT a magical genie. My Heavenly Father doesn’t exist to please me or you. He doesn’t sit around waiting on one of us to tell him what we want and when we want it so that He can bend His will to match ours. He doesn’t have to prove Himself because He already has.

Christ IS faithful. I’m choosing to stand on that truth today. And He isn’t faithful because of some prayer He has answered or will answer – He is faithful because HE IS FAITHFUL. It’s inherent to who He is. Even though it might seem like He didn’t show up today, He did.

He put breath in my lungs.

He surrounded me with people who care about me.

He gave me His living, breathing Word.

He chased hard after me today to remind me of the things He has promised me, Martha, and you! Promises He keeps. Promises like the one found in Proverbs 3:5-7:

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So that’s what I choose to do today. If you’re mad at God, disappointed in prayers that have gone unanswered, or just doubting His existence altogether, try something with me.

Let’s send up a new and different prayer to the heavens. Let’s admit that we are small but arrogant in our view of God. Let’s honestly bring our doubts, fears, and desires to the foot of the Cross. Let’s stop treating the King of Kings and Lord of Lords as if He’s nothing more than a well-stocked but faulty vending machine for our lives. I’m in…are you?

And on the days I forget to remember just who my God is, I’m going to follow the example of Martha and others like her, who are waiting faithfully, acknowledging their Savior at every turn, and allowing Him to direct their paths in His own perfect timing.

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bravegirl Emily profile pic

Hanging on by a thread?

Hanging on by a thread?

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him (Colossians 1:16 NIV).

It’s the end of the school year and craziness abounds! Honestly, sometimes I can’t figure out if I need a good laugh or a good cry!

Two weeks ago we moved into the boarding house with sixteen, high-school, international students. My husband and I serve together at a PreK-12th grade, private day & boarding school. In the middle of learning how to cook for more than four, I found myself trying to hold all the pieces together before the seems of our lives unraveled.

Study hall, study guides, yearbooks, final moments….
“What exams do I have tomorrow?”
“Can you quiz me?”
“I think I’m ready, but quiz me one more time.”
“Do you know where my book is? Did I leave it at our home?”
“Dinnertime!!” (For 30 people!)

Then it was the…

IMG_9022Exams, last day of packed lunches, benchmarks…summer reading!
“Hurray, it’s summertime!”

IMG_9020Let the celebrations begin! End-of-year parties, hugs good-bye, end-of-year ice cream tradition with my children and the remaining boarders…pack up, move out, boarding house check-outs, give-aways, dinner with friends… moving up ceremonies, graduation, diplomas, final good-byes, lack-of-sleep and around the clock transportation to the airport – for minors! My “mamma’s heart” realized I could not keep it all together on my own, nor was I suppose to.

IMG_9019In every season (including this crazy-busy one), there is one beautiful thread that holds me together.
The thread has been present since the beginning of time, and is woven through hearts of believers, similar to mine.

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Several centuries ago, God wove the thread right through the heart of a harlot, whose whole-hearted faith led her right into His faith-family tree.

When Joshua and Caleb arrived to Jericho to spy on the land, Rahab protected them, and in return, asked for their protection. She had heard stories about their God, and within those men she saw a glimpse of the Living Hope. Rahab wanted what they had.

Behold, when we come into the land, you shall tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and you shall gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your father’s household, (Joshua 2:18 ESV). 

When the Hebrews took possession of Jericho, God saved Rahab by way of the scarlet thread, or tiqvah, which means “hope” or “cord” in Hebrew. Rahab held on to tightly to her new found Hope.

When I come to the end of myself, I realize that I am hanging on to that same thread. 

IMG_9024On the cross His blood ran red, and my white knuckles grasp tightly to the thread who holds me together. I cling to the cord of my Living Hope with great expectations, and my heart rests in knowing this busy schedule is only for a season.

So, I hold on tightly and savor each moment with my children and these precious students.

All things have been created through Him, for Him (Colossians 1:16), and all for His glory.

When my focus shifts from self to Savior, I can hold on tightly to Him, and trust that He is holding all things together, and for that I am grateful.

Happy Summer!!

Heavenly Father,
  I praise you for Your presence in every aspect of our full, busy lives. You meet us right where we are. We hold on tightly to You and You hold all things together. Thank You for giving our hearts hope. May we shift our focus from self to Savior and cling tightly to You. By way of the blood shed on the cross, You bring us all together as one, and for that I am grateful. 
In the precious name of Jesus I pray,
Amen

Many blessings to you and yours,

Signature_Mindy

A Beautiful Storm

A Beautiful Storm

I’ve had the phrase “A Beautiful Storm” in my head for weeks now. It’s a strange oxymoron. How can something so tumultuous be considered lovely? How can something painful also contain such beauty?

My husband and I, after almost six years of battling infertility, got a phone call yesterday from the fertility clinic with the results of our first round of IUI (intrauterine insemination). We were giddy and hopeful at what the results might be. I had even taken a photo of the sunrise that morning with the plan to post it the day I announced our good news of an achieved pregnancy. I had allowed myself to imagine hearing the words, “You are pregnant” for the first time in my life.

But instead, I heard the voice on the other end of the line say, “The results are negative.” And the storm clouds rolled in right on cue, bringing along self-pity, hopelessness, and just plain sorrow.

So here I sit, cheeks tear-stung, with the intention (and determination) of telling you that even in the midst of this storm, I still see the beauty in it. Not because I’m anything special or more spiritually mature, but because I can’t deny the beauty I’ve seen transpire over the past few years. I refuse to not see it.

Please, even in the midst of your own struggle, try not to roll your eyes, close off your heart, or write me off. I know what it’s like to read a verse of encouragement quickly, not truly believing those words apply to me. I know what it’s like to feel crappy and want to make a home of it, complete with tacos, a heavy blanket, and no social contact whatsoever.

Some of the best advice I’ve ever heard is that God is big enough to handle our emotions. Whether we’re angry, hurt, or confused by our circumstances, we are allowed to cry out to him and beat our hands on his chest. I believe allowing ourselves to feel pain is healthy and keeps us from putting up so many emotional walls that make us numb. The problems arise when we give ourselves permission to camp out in the negative emotions and to stay in a place of darkness, never opening our eyes to see God’s potential plan or purpose.

Being able to see theIMG_6032 beauty within a storm is understanding God’s presence in the midst of it. For me, I’ve grown deeper in my relationship with God over the past few years because I’ve needed him more. I’ve experienced more intimate conversations with him, spent more time in His Word, and felt his comforting arms wrapping around me when I’ve needed it the most. I can also see God using this season of infertility to work in my marriage. It’s no coincidence that my husband and I are closer than we’ve ever been because of this heartache we are walking through together. Unified in our desire to be parents, we take turns being strong for each other during the hard times. And in moments when we’re both down, God always shows up, surrounding us with friends and family to love on us, check in on us, and care for us.

Recognizing the beauty in your storm also means considering how you will be changed by the time the winds die down and the sun reappears. I’m always fascinated by the weathered, tattered, calloused hands of an older man, roughened and scarred from the labor of a hard but productive life. Those hands tell an interesting story, one worthy of admiration and respect. Those hands tell the story of a man who didn’t give up.

While I’m not saying I want calloused hands when I get older, I am saying I want to leave a legacy of someone who never gave up. I want to walk through trials remembering that I’m someone who has been promised a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). I’m never alone because I am His. (Joshua 1:9; Deuteronomy 31:6)

No beautiful statue is created without some chiseling. The more intense the chiseling, the more intricate and admirable the result. Could it be that the more time God spends chiseling us, the bigger plans He has for us? Could it be that He loves you so much He’s giving you a story worth telling some day?

I encourage you to look around and see the beauty surrounding you. How can you walk away from this storm stronger? What are you learning about yourself? About God?

Let’s pretend we’re seamen and resolve to sail our ships with strong, weathered hearts, doused in truth from God’s word, strong eyes focused ahead on Him. When the waves crash over us, let’s cling to our Solid Rock of Salvation and relentlessly trust Him.

“…But we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5

BraveGirl Martha

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Seven Years Ago Today

Seven Years Ago Today

Flashback Friday thanks to #timehop. I’m in the middle of working on book projects, laundry and wondering how to squeeze in at least five episodes of Gilmore Girls in before car rider line beckons…and then I get sucked into a vortex of reflection, memory lane and all the feels. All. The. Feels.

On this day seven years ago, my Facebook feed was filled with friends eagerly awaiting the gender reveal of our sweet baby.

This day. This infamous day.

Not but a few weeks ago Jaxon had some surgery done on his nose. This surgery felt routine compared to the other handful of times we’d been there for surgery. This is his first surgery in several years. He’s a giant now. He gets it now- we can talk through what is happening and what he can expect. He can bargain his way into a treat from the gift shop…every time we are at Children’s. He didn’t wail for me when I handed him off. And this time, I walked out of the surgery door and met my Dad who hugged me. We gathered our things and headed to the cafeteria to grab some lunch while Jax was in surgery.
On the way my Dad looked at me as I sighed largely as we walked.

“How ya doin, girl?” He asked.

I nodded, sort of taking assesment of myself, “I’m good.”

“You’re dandy? Not a care in the world.” He probed a little, jokingly.

A brief tear threatened to push upward, stinging but I held it in check, “Well, He’s in good hands. I’m ok.”

And I smiled to myself as we walked into the cafeteria. I’m not the same person that I was when we started this journey.

Seven years ago we waited through an extra long ultrasound and waited an extra ordinarily long time to meet with our doctor. We had panic souring in our stomachs, confusion making us feel dizzy and dread pushing any ounce of faith we thought we had out of our feet.

Birth Defect?

Cleft?

Craniofacial?

Cosmetic?

Surgery?

What did these words mean that were coming out of the doctor’s mouth? They weren’t pretty, positive words like breastfeeding, birthing plan, epidural, bassinet, normal, healthy, routine, baby shower, getting your body back. He was saying all the wrong things. We drove home blank. We were supposed to leave HOURS ago. We were supposed to post that he was a he…and we’d break the internet with rejoicing. Baby X was Jax!

But instead…

We wrestled with how to tell our parents, our friends and when to tell them. We struggled with why. We knew he had a big healthy heart, he had all his arms and legs and no extras. He had all the things he should except for a palate and a complete lip. He was alive. He didn’t have cancer. He didn’t have a terminal disease.

But that doesn’t mean that my expectations of pregnancy, birth and parenting didn’t feel wiped away like the jelly that had been wiped off me belly at the end of the ultrasound.

But that’s the thing with my expectations. They are all kinds of wrong. Sometimes they are much too high when it comes to humans. But when it comes to what God has planned, my expectations are so far below low that they aren’t even on the chart. I had dreams, plans, ideas, goals about what I wanted. What I wanted to have, what I wanted to have happen, what I wanted to do or even what I wanted my kids to have. But God’s dreams, plans, ideas and goals have much more to do with what/who he wants me to be. Sometimes it seems like he is saying all the wrong things. Sometimes it feels like he’s doing all the wrong things. Especially if he loves us, right? But just because it feels wrong or we hear it wrong…doesn’t mean its not the exact right thing that we need to become who he wants us to be.

Seven years ago I was not ok. I was shattered in pieces. My heart was broken. I died a little. I felt defective as a person, as a woman and as a mother. I screamed, “Its not fair!” at God, in my heart, like a child. I was clueless, hopeless and most of all an emotional, devastated pregnant woman.

But over the next seven years I have, in stages, begun to learn (I’m not done yet) that20151031-_MG_9689 belief can solidify in the midst of unbearable pain, strength is truly imparted in the midst of desperate weakness, dreams have to be dashed in order to be replaced with brilliance, and the character of God is experienced in the midst of the darkest hours.

I wrote a post on Facebook the day he had surgery about the hand-off and I’ve written about it several times before but its a small example of the change God has begun to enact in me. I am so glad that I’m not that girl anymore. I wish I had been more grateful for my body back then, but other than that- good ridance. I’m so glad God wouldn’t let me stay that way. And I know that I won’t be the same seven years from now. I have no idea what else the future holds. What else the Lord will ask us to walk through. But I don’t know that it matters anymore, because we’re in good hands. And we’re ok.

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Megan Meredith

20151031-_MG_9832Check out more posts from Megan at: meganmeredith.org.

 

What Happens When You’re Shaken?

What Happens When You’re Shaken?

Author’s Note: Last year, my oldest son, Kyle, relapsed with leukemia, making me a two-time Cancer Mom. I’m sharing our journey not to ask for your pity, but for others who trudge this same road feeling isolated and alone. And for friends and family who watch the suffering and want to help, but don’t know where to begin.

I swallowed a sip of burnt coffee and glanced across the blue vinyl booth at my oldest son. His brown hair was messy, like when he’d stepped out of the shower this morning, he’d forgotten to tame it.

Since he’d moved to college, our occasional breakfast date usually made me smile. But I wasn’t smiling this morning. I was trying to shove the words from Building 429’s song, “We Will Not Be Shaken,” out of my head. Because after we finished our bacon and eggs, we had another date—with an ultrasound tech at the clinic across the street.

A few weeks earlier, Kyle had discovered a testicular mass. A mass that might be normal—if he were any other nineteen-year-old who hadn’t shared a sordid history with cancer.

“Whatever this is,” Kyle picked up his fork, “it can’t be as bad as leukemia.”

“You’re right.” I set down my mug, hoping he’d miss the way my fingers trembled.

God had this, didn’t He? He loved Kyle. He wanted good things for him. He knew the devastating battles we had already fought and won. He’d seen the permanent scars, physical and mental, that leukemia had left on Kyle.

Kyle first met cancer when he was ten. Their relationship lasted four long years. But he’d been clean for the last six, a year beyond the cancer survivor’s five-year magic milestone.

“It’s gonna be okay.” He dropped his fork onto the plate without taking a bite. “Not like last time.”

“I know.”

The waitress topped off my coffee and I touched my son’s hand. We will not be shaken. The words to that song wouldn’t quit playing in my head.

He looked up, his expression oddly calm. IMG_8848“Everything we went through? I wouldn’t ask for it again, but I wouldn’t take away what came out of it either. I wouldn’t be in nursing school. My faith would be different. Does that make sense?”

“Yes.” It did make sense. I’d changed too. Become more focused. More empathetic. More real. My marriage was stronger and I was grateful for my relationship with Kyle. We shared a bond most people would never understand.

We will not be shaken. Yet, there were those words again, like foreboding music in a movie that isn’t going to end well.

That morning, we finished breakfast and headed to the clinic. Kyle’s ultrasound showed the mass to be suspicious and led to a comprehensive CT scan to check for other tumors. The CT showed no additional tumors and surgery was scheduled. They would biopsy and remove the testicle.

Hoping we were being paranoid, but wanting to be prepared, we talked through the threat of testicular cancer. It was a very curable cancer, an inconvenience compared to the nightmare of leukemia. After surgery, Kyle might need some radiation, but then he’d be fine to return to college.

We will not be shaken. I had to admit, I’d been a little shaken.

Surgery came and went. The hope that the mass was nothing crept back in. We held our breaths for a week waiting for biopsy results, desperate for a reason to celebrate that Kyle remained cancer free.

I’d like to share the mass turned out to be nothing. I’d like to say our lives went on after a Grand-Canyon sigh of relief. I’d like to say our story ended there.

But I can’t.

The phone call came on Friday evening. Kyle walked into my room, clutching his cell, shaking. “Here. You talk.” He dropped the phone in my lap and sank to the carpet next to my bed.

IMG_8850“I’m sorry.” The doctor let out a deep breath. “It’s leukemia. This almost never happens. It’s a very rare form of relapse. Six boys get it a year. Kyle’s looking at twenty-four months of aggressive treatment.” He paused. “Maybe more.”

I don’t even remember ending that call. All I could hear was the word relapse. All I could see was my big, strong boy crying on the floor.

We will not be shaken. The words played over and over. But I was more than shaken. My faith wasn’t enough. Knowing God had our backs wasn’t enough. Remembering that Kyle had won this battle before wasn’t enough.

I crumbled. That word, relapse, picked me up, ripped me open, and clawed out my heart.

“Why Lord? Why give us hope? Why let us think Kyle could have surgery and go back to school? Why keep us waiting for this news for ten excruciating days? Why pile on rock after rock? Finding the mass. The abnormal ultrasound. Possible malignancy. Surgery. Biopsy.  Leukemia.”

They weren’t rocks. The Lord’s voice brushed across my heart. I gave you one piece of news at a time. You couldn’t handle the word relapse that first day.

The pain of knowing what was ahead gripped me tight. “You weren’t supposed to let this happen again. We fought. We won. We’re done.”

I understood that God had protected me. Set me up for the news of leukemia. I didn’t understand why he allowed cancer to come back into our lives. And I couldn’t cling to the words of that song.

The only thing I had left was what God had done for us in the past. He’d gotten us through. Somehow we’d survived our four-year walk through cancer’s hell and come out better on the other side. Even Kyle had seen that.

So now, in this moment, I had a choice. I could trust Him to get us through again. Or I could turn my back and face cancer alone.

I looked at Kyle, falling apart on the floor. He needed me to be strong, to have faith, to tell him we weren’t alone.

So I slid off the bed and pulled him into my arms.reading-rainbow-1391673 copy We cried together for a long time. He clung to me and I clung to David’s words from Psalm 16:8. “I [will] keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” And I prayed for the faith I was quickly losing.

I had no power over the news we received that day. I couldn’t take the cancer away or change the journey or dull the pain. But I could choose how we walked our journey. I could choose to face Kyle’s cancer with God lighting the way.

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20160401_215938Lori Freeland, wife, mother, inspirational author, and writing coach lives in the Dallas area. She’s published in various e-zines and anthologies and is a former editor for The Christian Pulse. When she’s not writing for Crosswalk.com or hovering over her three kids, you can find her drinking too much coffee and messing with the imaginary people in her head. Visit her website http://lafreeland.com to read more from Lori.

That Time I Almost Got Divorced

That Time I Almost Got Divorced

We thought we had it figured out. We couldn’t understand why all of our couple friends had such a hard time getting along. We didn’t get how someone could consider divorce if they had simply chosen their spouse wisely. We left get-togethers and dinner parties rolling our eyes knowingly. “Amateurs. If only everyone knew what we knew and did what we did. They wouldn’t ever fight either.” We were happy. We liked each other. We had fun together. And that was enough.

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 Until it wasn’t

Donny and I both had stressful, demanding jobs that we absolutely loved. We found our identity in them. We were both doing what we always dreamed we would do. We bought a house that we loved. Even our dog was perfect. He was obedient, well-trained, and easy to control. Life was easy. Why did everyone around us not know how to do this?

After about six years of marriage, we finally decided to bring a baby into our little perfect world we had created out of our own hard work and determination. We welcomed a breath-taking baby girl that was absolutely perfect in every way. She grew to be a an above-average toddler, of course. She was obedient, well-trained, and easy to control. Life was easy. Why didn’t every parent know how to do this?

We were so good at this parenting thing, it was only natural to add another perfect child to the mix to round out our perfect family. But in spite of our hard work, determination, and flawless parenting, we couldn’t control the miscarriage that would take our second child from us or that our third child would be born into this world with autism.

Life became very messy very quickly. Things were no longer going as planned. We were over-stressed, over-worked and over-tired.

We became secluded from others to hide the embarrassment of our son’s public meltdowns. I became obsessed with becoming knowledgeable, being my son’s advocate, and exposing him to every possible theory that might make him better. Donny threw himself into his work. It was all he knew to do. I was going to figure out how to fix it and Donny was going to figure out how to pay for it.

We grew apart. We had no idea it was happening. We never saw it coming. We were just too busy.

Things went from happy to content to discontent to downright terrible before either of us knew what hit us. This left us vulnerable to everything this broken world tells us is the norm. I started bad-mouthing my husband to girlfriends who encouraged me to “just vent”,  which accomplished nothing other than adding to my resentment. He spent more time away from home and found more excuses to escape the reality of our difficult situation. We murmured “I love you” frequently, but not with the same meaning as before.

We didn’t talk about it. Talking about it might cause a fight or worse, make it real. We were both peacemakers. Non-confrontational. We’d rather sit in silence watching old Seinfeld episodes than have to actually deal with the truth.

Finally, the worst case scenario struck our marriage and shook me to my absolute core. He filed for divorce and left our once happy home. How had I let this happen? At what point had things gone wrong? It was as if the scales had fallen off and I could finally see what we had both become. His love had become the pursuit of success. My love had become the pursuit of perfection. Neither had anything to do with the other.

I spent several months living life as a single parent. My perfect life had been stripped away from me and I was left wondering why. I spent my days and nights praying, reading scripture, seeking truth and answers. What I found was the will and the need to FIGHT for my imperfect family. 

After an excruciating battle, by the grace and mercy of God alone, my husband and I reconciled our marriage and made the intentional decision to make it our priority. During the time we were apart and in the time that followed, I learned so much.

Every single day I intentionally thanked God for my marriage and thought about what I could do to keep it healthy and strong. I read books and sought advice from godly women who were further along in their marriage journey. I prayed and asked for guidance. I actually talked to my husband about our marriage. (What a concept, right?) What if I had done this before I almost lost it all? If I knew then what I know now, could all of the hurt have been avoided? My sincere prayer is that others will learn from our mistakes and take a proactive approach in their marriages. We have to do everything we can to end this damaging, socially acceptable cycle of broken families.

These are the most important things I have learned that I feel led to share. However, let me make a disclaimer and say that if you are in an abusive relationship, these suggestions are not for you. There is no excuse for abuse and you have every right to get out of an abusive situation. Also, if you have been divorced, I am in no way judging you. Lord knows I have no room to judge a soul on this earth. Your situation is unique to you and restoration looks different for everyone. And then there’s grace. Thank God for His grace.

  1. Set aside time and energy for your husband every day.

Your marriage should come before your children. This might shock you and I never would have said it a few years ago, but every mother I know struggles with this. We think we are bad moms and fear the judgment of others if we get a sitter too often or go on a trip without our kids. I lived this false guilt for years. I said no to invitations to join my husband on business trips and decided it was just easier and cheaper to stay home on a Friday night. Listen to me.nate1 The absolute best thing a mother can do for her children is to invest in her relationship with their daddy.
Take time for each other. If you can’t afford a sitter, make a deal with a friend who also has kids and share babysitting duties. (She needs time with her husband too!) Eat a nice meal without a kids’ menu or a highchair. If Taco Bell is all you can afford, then have an adult conversation over a couple of burritos! Talk about the old days and dream about the future. This is what will remind you why you fell in love and ultimately help you not fall out of it.  You will go back to your children refreshed and ready to be better parents than you were when you left. Hit that reset button. It’s more than okay. It’s crucial.

Whether you work at home or outside of the home, at the end of the day you feel like you have nothing left to give and your husband is just going to have to understand. There will be days like that, but it can’t become an everyday occurrence. He matters. Your time together matters. Do your best to get your second wind.

  1. Never assume your husband knows how much you love him.

Say it. Text it. IMG_4711Email it. Tell others. Be proud of each other. I used to think saying “I love you” after a phone conversation or when we kissed goodnight was enough, but it’s really not. Don’t let those words become meaningless. You have to be the one who makes your husband feel wanted and needed and desirable. If you don’t, someone else will. He might not act like he needs you to tell him he’s handsome or good at his job or a great dad, but he does.

We all need to feel loved and appreciated and if we don’t we are setting ourselves up to find it somewhere else, even if we didn’t know we were looking for it. Tell your spouse WHY you love him or her.

Be SPECIFIC.

Love intentionally.

 

  1. Stop “venting”.IMG_3828

Women are the absolute worst at this. It starts with one woman venting because her husband never puts his dirty dishes in the dishwasher. The conversation builds and builds until we are ultimately trying to outdo each other. Before we even realize it, we have reduced all of the men in our lives to total imbeciles who would be completely helpless without our superior supervision. It’s just not okay. Most TV sitcoms might base their comedy on the idea that men are complete buffoons, but this mentality does nothing but damage our marriages. Try building him up rather than tearing him down. When other women start verbally displaying all of their husbands’ weaknesses, change the tone of the conversation by bragging on your husband’s strengths. I guarantee the other women will follow suit. After all, we do hate to be outdone, don’t we?

  1. Protect your promise.

IMG_9512You promised before God and men to be married forever. Sometimes we forget the “for better or for worse” part of that promise. Our world has become one in which everything is temporary. Nothing is forever. Are we all conditioned to think this way? To give up when things get hard or when one of you makes a mistake? Has unconditional love become socially unacceptable? wedding pic - bird seedI can tell you from experience, unfortunately it has. But the good news is that we can be the generation that changes things.

Don’t be afraid to fight for your marriage.
Pray over your marriage and your family. Pray against temptation and distraction. Be on guard and don’t ever be so naive as to think your marriage is safe from attack. Stay in the Word and believe God’s truths because they tend to be very different than what the world wants you to believe.

 

  1. Your relationship with Christ comes before your marriage.biblepicAbove all, the most important thing I have learned through all of this is that God is for marriage, but He doesn’t want us to find our fulfillment in another human being. Human beings are flawed. We are imperfect and make so many mistakes. God wants us to find our fulfillment in him. You can only pour into your spouse when you are filled up by Jesus. Your relationship with him will directly affect your relationship with your spouse. You can only give grace when you receive it from Him. Grace is essential when two people decide to live together forever. God wants you to find joy, companionship, intimacy, and divine love in your marriage. Your spouse’s role is not to be your life, but to enrich a life lived for Jesus.

No matter who you are, how you met, or how much you love each other, marriage is work. But when you do make the decision to become intentional, your marriage can be some of the most beautiful, fulfilling, rewarding work you have ever done. Don’t give up. Protect your promise.

RobynandDonnie

So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate. Matthew 19:6

BraveGirl Robyn

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Warrior – A Letter From The King

Warrior – A Letter From The King

Dear Daughter,

You see your weakness
and you crumble to the ground.
Covered in the weight and fear
of all consuming sound.
It’s the voice of your adversary
feeding every misconstrued lie.
He whispers “You are NOTHING”
hoping to discourage you to fight.

You lay there for a second
contemplating if any of this is true,
that you’re weak.
Not valued.
You’re beyond fearful too.
You can’t see past the darkness,
to the light of my truth.
But listen closely daughter,
I will show you how to move.

Get up and STAND FIRM
with your armor set in place.
Lift high your head daughter,
you are a WARRIOR in my name.

Wrap the BELT of TRUTH
tightly around your waist
with your BREASTPLATE of RIGHTEOUSNESS
firmly in its place.
Strap your SHOES tightly,
walk confidently in my PEACE.
Raise up your SHIELD of FAITH
to deflect your enemy.
The HELMET of SALVATION
is your security in Christ.
SAVED and SEALED by the blood,
bought with a precious price.
Now grab your SWORD of the SPIRIT
and speak BOLDLY from My Truth.
My word does NOT return void-
“I AM” declares it over you.

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You slowly get up
from the depths of the ground,
dusting the ashes of defeat
from the tip of your brow.
You’re STRONG.
You’re BOLD,
with a fierce look in your eye.
Staring at your enemy telling him,
“It’s now past your time!
Because my Daddy says
I’m a WARRIOR
He created me to fight.
I am not your weak one satan
and I will put you into flight.
You come at me like a flood
trying to drown me in your lies,
but I am armed and dangerous
in the POWER of HIS MIGHT!”

I will NOT be shaken.
I will NOT be moved.
I DECLARE my victory in Jesus’ name
His plans are for my GOOD!

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Decorate Your Mansion

Decorate Your Mansion

God cares about decorating.  I’m convinced of this.

He decorated the earth with countless majestic and beautiful things that are unique to each region and vary with each season.

Proverbs 31 speaks of the value in caring for a household. Making your home look clean, welcoming, and yes, even decorated is a part of that.

If you’re like me, you’ve jumped on the Joanna-Gaines-Fixer-Upper-Wood-Metal-Shiplap train and you’re not looking back.  I’ve spent more time than I like to admit pursuing stores for little pretties to display in my own home since that show came into existence. I enjoy picking out color schemes, patterns, and accents that define my personal style and tell every visitor to my home who I am.

I know God cares about the smallest of details. He wants me to honor Him with every aspect of my life and do everything to the best of my ability, even something simple like making my house look presentable. What I struggle to remember most days is how much MORE He cares about the effort I’m putting forth down here to “decorate” my mansion up in Heaven.

Because I’ve got one…a mansion, that is. And you do too if you’re His child.  John 14:2 says, “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”

Jesus was speaking to His disciples, comforting them before He went to the Cross. And as a modern day disciple-in-training, these words also apply to me. Other translations use the word “room” instead of “mansion.” Maybe it’s both: maybe there’s one ginormous mansion with a stellar room for each of His kids. Either way, I’m good. My point is, I’ve got a reservation, a place to call my own, up in Heaven with Christ. So do you!  That truth should make each of us giddy with anticipation.

So what am I doing to decorate my permanent dwelling place? How do I even begin to spruce up a home I’ve never seen and can’t physically get to in this life?

It has to do with treasure. Sound far-fetched? Bear with me, friend!

Treasure by definition is something of value or worth that we seek. Think about how many hours you spend hunting for earthly treasure. Home décor isn’t your thing? You’re not off the hook!  Maybe it’s your physical appearance. Perhaps it’s your vehicle or even your phone. Your treasure might be the number of likes or follows you receive on social media. Possibly it’s the number of dollars in your bank account. The unhealthy relationship you cling to. We all have something here on earth that we value and find our worth in – that one thing in our life that we spend the most time on and sacrifice the most money for. We pursue it because we treasure it.

Matthew 19:16-22 tells the story of a rich man who wanted to follow Jesus. In verse 21, Jesus said, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The next verse reveals what this rich man really treasured…he went away sad because he had many possessions.

How many times do we neglect to follow Jesus because of our possessions?

Jesus speaks again in Matthew 6:19-21: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Where is your heart today? What do you treasure?

There’s a clear delineation between earthly treasure and heavenly treasure, according to the Bible.  Let’s compare three differences between the two.

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1. Earthly treasure is all about STUFF. Heavenly treasure is all about SACRIFICE.

When your heart is focused on earthly treasure, you think about what’s yours to take.  You are consumer-minded. It’s all about getting what you want or think you need. When your heart is focused on heavenly treasure, your stuff just isn’t as important. Instead of always taking, you’re the one giving to others. You sacrifice the pursuit of making your earthly life more comfortable in order to help someone else have a brighter day.

2. Earthly treasure elevates your STATUS. Heavenly treasure elevates your SERVICE.

When your ego is stroked or your chest is puffed out because of the latest rung you’ve climbed to reach some man-made status quo, I hate to tell you, but your treasure may be earthly. Pride is dangerous because it can sneak into the depths of your soul, hidden even from you. One cure for pride is to lose yourself in service. There’s not a lot of immediate gratification in volunteering to help those on the fringes of society. But the humility one must have to serve like Jesus will refocus your mindset back to the treasure that counts for eternity.

3. Earthly treasure is like SAND.  Heavenly treasure is like STONE.

When your confidence is in your earthly treasures, it can be taken away and gone in a heartbeat.  What then? Do you think you’re worth nothing if you have nothing? Your possessions make for shaky footing. If and when the ground caves in, wouldn’t it be nice to have a firm, solid foundation holding you up? If your most valued possessions exist in the heavenly realms, you’ll barely feel a tremor when the avalanches of this life come barreling your way.

1 Timothy 6:17-19 says it best:

“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”

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This world is not my home. I don’t want to get so comfortable here in the temporary that I forget about the permanent, beyond-my-wildest-dreams forever home I have with my Savior. How sad would it be to get up to Heaven and have the most sparsely decorated place in the joint? That just won’t do.

I want to honor the sacrifice He made at Calvary by freely giving myself and my stuff away. I want to follow Christ’s example of service and humbly reach out to those in need. I want to stand with my feet so firmly planted on His truth that nothing shakes me. This is how I will store up that valuable, eternal treasure in Heaven and decorate my mansion above. More of Him. Less of me.

What about you? Have you been challenged, like I have, to live according to 1 Timothy 6? I’d love to hear about it!

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  bravegirl Emily profile pic

When I Don’t Hear God

When I Don’t Hear God

There I was, driving down the highway with all these questions in my head about life that were STILL unanswered. I get tired sometimes waiting for God to reveal answers to questions I KNOW He has the answers to.

It’s just not happening fast enough and I’m tired of waiting.

Sometimes I flat out rebel and go my own way which usually leaves me in a pity party with my friends frustration, bitterness, and resentment. They’re all really fun for awhile and then I realize they’re actually poisoning me instead of comforting me. They feed off each other and slowly but surely separate me from the voice of God. I stop caring, stop praying, stop getting into God’s word, start being rude to others, and worst of all, stop hearing from God…and He’s the one with the answers.

Do you ever find yourself there? If you’re like me, you need a game plan. You have to recognize what’s happening and then take action. I don’t know about you, but I rather hear from God than my buddies at the pity party. He’s so much wiser and when He reveals himself, it’s better than any party I’ve ever been to. And trust me, I’ve been to a lot of parties. His are the BEST! So here’s my action plan for hanging at His house and not the other one.

1) TALK TO HIM
God’s word says to pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:1), not just when we need a favor or because it’s meal time. It’s a never-ending conversation going on between me and God. Prayers of thanksgiving and gratitude, prayers asking His will, prayers pouring out my heart to Him, prayers to guide my next step and lead me every day. He WANTS to hear from me…and YOU.

Ask yourself, “Is God an acquaintance in my life? or is He really my best friend? my “go-to”?

The answer to those questions reveals a lot about our level of intimacy with God.

2) LEARN ABOUT HIM

God’s word is His voice. It is “God breathed and is useful for teaching and training in righteousness.” (2 Tim. 3:16)

If we want to hear Him, we have to KNOW HIM…and His word is where it starts. My mom’s voice sticks in the back of my head more than most people because of the connection we have. It’s the same with God. We’ll be able to hear Him because we KNOW how and what He thinks.

3) HONEST CHECK-UP

I continuously need to check where there is sin in my life. When we are living in disobedience to God, it’s REALLY hard to hear what He wants to say to us. This is a piggy back on my first point about prayer.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

When I am struggling to hear God, I get in prayer and get honest…Untitled

“Where am I messing up? Where am I wrong? What is in my life that is not of you? Show me where I am not listening. Show me where my heart is hardened.”

After a prayer like that, 9 out of 10 times, people or things pop into my head where I know I have been hurtful, stubborn, selfish, prideful, etc. (we don’t have to list all my shortcomings here ok).

4) DEAL

I try and deal and go head to head with those areas God showed me in that honest check-up.

Then I pray for strength to change my actions in those specific areas so that they are lined up with God’s will. This is a daily need for me and a lifetime process of pruning and being renewed so that I can walk in obedience to Him.

It’s a domino effect because obedience leads to hearing His voice.

If we want to hear the spirit, we have to walk WITH the spirit. This isn’t easy, but it’s necessary.

5) BE PATIENT

We are in an instant gratification society…we don’t understand the concept of patience. We are patient..just for a little while. Ha…which isn’t patience. This is where it can get tough, but it IS possible. We have to be patiently focused on God. It’s a day by day process of living for Him. It’s a learning process which can feel really slow and even painful at times, yet then it becomes freeing, fulfilling and life changing.

At God’s party, we will be changed from the inside out and that’s where we will find Him, His voice, and ultimately ourselves. And the best part…we’re ALL invited.

Signature_Christy

Brave Girl Christy