Sunday, May 27, 2018

If a picture paints a thousand words...

Here is a picture of Rob and me on our 20th wedding anniversary. Here you see two people who are genuinely happy to be together, genuinely wanting to capture the moment after an incredibly nice dinner provided to us from generous friends. When I look at this picture in another 20 years from now, I hope that I remember that at the end of our meal, we looked at each other, wiped our faces, sat back in our chairs, sighed deeply, and agreed that this was the best dinner either of us had ever eaten. I hope I will remember snapping this pic after sitting for what felt like a long time at our candle-lit table that overlooked Mirror Lake in Lake Placid with a crystal clear backdrop of the gorgeous high peaks of the Adirondacks behind it. I want to remember that we were down-right giddy to be alone together after thinking for weeks that we wouldn't be getting away because the hard-saved money we had set aside for our special anniversary was spent getting a brand new alternator and new tires on our van. We had resigned to just do a nice dinner, but a quick look at our rewards showed us that we actually could get a free night away. It was like winning the lottery! The smiles are real. We were really happy when we took this picture. No lie. We were hugging and laughing, reliving some wonderful memories of our engagement up there. That is what I hope I will remember whenever I see this picture. I want to remember the surprise 20th anniversary blessing from God.

I'm sure you have heard the idiom "a picture paints a thousand words", meaning that an idea that is too complex to explain can be conveyed in a single still image or that the image itself does a better job of explaining its complexity than a mere description does. I can argue that point because as much as I love this picture and the remembrance of the events of that night, the truth is a picture doesn't paint a thousand words.

 Perhaps our smiling faces tell you the story that we are blissful in our happiness always. That we never struggle to be married, never worry or cry or feel slighted or abandoned by each other. Maybe this smiling picture tells you the story that 2O years as man and wife has been easy and all fun. I don't really know what this picture tells you, but I can promise you that this picture and the hundreds of pictures that we have taken together over the 23 years we have been together only tell a part of our story. The pictures that fill my photo albums are the part that we like to remember and like to share. The pictures really happened and the events in about 80 percent of them were real events that really took place and the smiles (for the most part, minus a few, "smile and I will give you candy!) are genuine smiles. These pictures serve as a living diary of sorts... of memories frozen in time to look back on and to remember with gladness.

But, this picture and most pictures from our life together only tell part of our story.
There is actually another memory that will accompany this picture.  I want to remember that part too because it makes the memory a little more real and a lot sweeter. Unless you are close and intimate friends you could never guess the feelings and the memories it invokes.

In the future, when I look at this picture from our 20th wedding anniversary, I hope that I remember that this year had been hard. We were feeling the stress of a year of being apart a lot, walking through the grief of the cancer invading my mom's body on the heels of a year of counseling  Rob went through for ministry burnout which looked like walking with him through the unmarked path of anxiety and panic attacks that often accompany burnout, the sudden loss of my uncle, a myriad of different weird health issues for me, making emotional, mental and even physical space for a dear friend walking through the trial of their lives, and the daily highs and lows of life and full-time ministry. All the while, we were trying to preparing our hearts and our lives for our oldest graduating high school and our lives forever changing without her here.  If you are reading this, I can imagine some of you might look at the last year and say, "that's nothing compared to what I went through!". I have walked through some really hard things with others this year enough to say to you that you might be completely right. I am just saying that for us, this was a hard year. One that we often don't stop and allow ourself to have permission to qualify.

 I came up for air about two months after my mom's diagnosis turned out to be a real miracle story instead of the three-6 months the doctors gave her,  and we were able to go back to our "normal". It didn't take long for us to discover though, that weren't walking in unity as a couple. Our stressful year had taken a toll on us and we didn't even know it until we were experiencing it.  This realization was slow-learned, but we realized it together and we grieved that we were in a place where we were frustrated, angry, hurt and totally not communicating. We dedicated at the beginning of our marriage that no matter how hard it is, we would push through the awkwardness of sharing the things we were feeling and thinking with each other. This takes time because there is little space in our world right now for a lot of alone time but, we took it when we could, and we prayed and asked God to help us even though it still seemed that every conversation left us more "off".  Slowly, slowly, slowly we fell back into synch after some really hard conversations, a steady amount of truth from His Word and plenty of journal writing (me). It wasn't one big conversation, it was a good many little ones of listening and talking and sharing and even some crying, but eventually the cloud began to lift and clarity filled our space. There was a tremendous amount of patience and long-suffering on Rob's part for me and to this I praise God. He told me he was committed to me in this and that showed me (again) that I have so much to be thankful for. I know this is not the reality for everyone. I was humbled by his patience with me.

 So, this little trip away together came at just the right time for us to celebrate coming through it. I hope that I remember that this picture was taken at the end of a really hard season as a couple but that we leaned in to each other and into Him. I hope I remember that it was a real celebration for us and we were hugging each other really tight because it is downright miserable when marriage is difficult but a real sweetness when it is good. Looking at this picture and thinking of what I will remember from this year spurred on thoughts about our life together in general. I am nothing if not reflective!
There is so much more to our story than various forms of smiling pictures from our 23 years together and as much as I want to bask in the glow of the happy memories, I also don't want to forget the other parts of our story. There are parts we didn't document but that are a real vital part of what makes I am not afraid of the messy parts. I know that the messy parts are real life and that marriage is a sanctifying work just like any relationship is. Marriage, like the Church family, is a tool of God to help us see our sin and to see other people's sin and to fall on the mercy, grace and and fondness of Christ in our broken state. It is a wonderful part of our story and one of the great points of the big Story.

Over the course of our 20 year marriage, we didn't take any pictures of our faces after angry things were said to each other. We didn't take pictures of my puffy eyes in the morning after going to bed crying. We didn't take any pictures of the times we held hands while we fought because we were afraid the other was going to leave. We didn't take pictures of the sleepless nights where I wrapped my arms and my legs around him as he wept and struggled to pray to a God that he felt wasn't listening.  We didn't take pictures of the emergency room and the doctor's offices where we learned that another one of our babies didn't live. We didn't take pictures of the scenes that accompany panic attacks and anxiety. We didn't take pictures of our little girls in the back seat crying because we were leaving home and our families. We didn't take pictures of our house empty with moving boxes.

No, an obvious vacancy in our family albums are the times we didn't document. Times we were scared, sad or disillusioned with life, with God, and with each other. We didn't take pictures of kneeling by our bed praying for our kids and we didn't take any pictures of the ceiling we were staring at when we lay awake, playing over and over in our minds all the ways we had blown it with them that day.  We take pictures of our kids playing and laughing, but we don't have any pictures of them throwing temper tantrums and slamming doors.
Try as I might to come up with one picture of these scenes and the countless others,  do you know I can't turn up one?
Even the pictures  I have of my three deliveries are from right after my babies are born ( I am VERY thankful for this!! ). Seems we were too busy in the midst of actually bringing a life into the world that we didn't stop to take pictures of labor.

 And that really is it, right? We didn't take pictures of the LABOR.

We didn't take pictures of the labor of our 20 year marriage, but these parts and so many other highs and lows are our story. They birthed things beyond our wildest dreams in us. These moments, along with the wonderfully happy ones are what make up our story. They have changed us and opened us up and they have matured us in areas we didn't even know we needed maturing in. These moments and countless others were where the real work of sanctification happened in our lives.  They are just as much a treasure to me because this work in us is what will live on for eternity. These moments might be just blurred images in my mind, but they are the part of a bigger Story that God is weaving together in our lives for our good and for His glory.  Right now we are in the middle of the "already, not yet" that Paul David Tripp talks about. God uses it all to conform us to the image of His Son. Now THAT is a picture that will paint a thousand words and that gives me a reason to celebrate this amazing milestone and to look forward to the next one.

A dear older couple that we love who just two days after our anniversary celebrated their 50th, handed us a card and a little gift bag. In the little gift bag was a bell that said, "Ring for a kiss" and the card read, "It gets better and better!".  With a clear picture of what the last 20 years has brought, and with eternity in view, I smiled.
Honestly?  I can't wait.

"Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It's God's gift from the start to finish! We don't play the major role. If we did, we'd probably go around bragging that we'd done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing." Ephesians 2 (The Message)

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Our weapon in the warfare of the mind (a.k.a. how you feel)

This was my fortune from a few weeks ago. It’s funny because I had been trying to write and continue to try to write in my journal. I sent this pic to a wonderful friend who just the night before had told me she felt I needed to be writing things down during this season. I know this has really benefited me in the past. 

 Do you know, I’ve tried? What bubbles out of me in those moments of reflection in this current season aren’t things I like. When I face what I feel I am overwhelmingly discouraged by it. It makes me feel worse to be honest. I’m sure that there is stuff inside of me that needs a safe space to unload, but what I really need? I need to not focus on what I feel. I need to focus on what I know. I need it like “a deer panting for the water”. The Word is my mirror. My feelings are not the mirror. My feelings are strange and fickle and changing all the time;leading me down paths of unrighteousness.

 What I feel distorts and separates me from the truth like a gossip separates close friends. 

The Word is unchanging in its message (this message isn't about me). Its about the Holy, Uncreated, Unchanging One. The One who is Unchanging says that He sees, He knows and He loves and He does things according to His plans and His ways. 

When I read the Word I read that nothing can separate me from His love (Rom.8:31-39). I read that He goes before me turning the darkness to light and the rough places smooth (Is. 42:16). I read the truth that He is "I AM" (Exodus 3:14). I read the truth that He is acquainted with suffering and that He is at the Father's right hand making intercession for us (Heb.4:13) I read the truth that the Holy Spirit prays for us when we don't know what to pray.(Rom.8:26) I read the truth that His plans and His will for me are GOOD and that He is omniscient in what He allows that "good" to look like (Rom.8:28). I am reminded that His ways and His thoughts are too high for me to attain them (Ps139). I read that, like Jesus prayed for Peter, He will guard my faith by praying for it (Luke 22:32) I learn that it was HE who planted the seed of faith in me (I Cor.3:6-8) and that He has made a covenant to me (Heb.8) to keep me. This is all done independently from me and my fickle, fleeting faith. It can only be Him. (Ecc. 7:20) 

I want that truth to ring in my ears and drown out the noise of what I feel. I want it to so permeate my life that what comes out of my life is not what feelings produce (fear, anger, disillusionment, pride, self-awareness and shame) but what the fruit that abiding produces (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control).  His strength in my life is most obvious through my weakness (my need for it). 

He has done all the work for me! He has provided every tool I need. He has  given me the Spirit to follow (Gal.5:25). I will pick up this tool in this war for my heart. I will wield it like a warrior against every thought that would seek to debilitate me on this journey. I will run in the paths of righteousness as a worshiper for His glory and I will remember that even when I don't that He is there with me. Protecting me, leading me and comforting me. (Ps.23). And I will remember that it isn't my faith that saves me (Eph.2:8)  It is HIS commitment to HIS names' sake that does. (Ps.106:8)

 Pour it in there, Father. Speak Your words of life! I am Mary at your feet. 
I am hanging on every Word.

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.
For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. - 2 Corinthians 10:3-6

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Marks of Your Remaking

This was written by a close friend of mine who was walking through some very difficult times in their life. Contemplating the things they knew verses the things they felt. Ever been there? I certainly have.  I am guessing that you have too. Perhaps, like me, there are times as you face the realities of your life don’t line up with what you are reading or hearing from the Word. These seasons feel full of searching for answers of His revealed character; trying to reconcile what you know with how you feel.  My friend shared with me a moment during this difficult season of wrestling with God. It wasn’t a planned prayer time, it wasn’t while sitting in a chapel or church service. Just a sacred meeting at the kitchen sink where the bottled up emotions spilled out of the heart and into God’s waiting and listening ears.

We are told in scripture that we can come boldly before God’s throne to receive mercy and grace in time of need (Hebrews 4:16), but often we can feel that coming to the throne with our true selves will be blasphemous and disrespectful. And this was the experience of my friend. Caught between the need for transparency with the Creator and a holy respect of Who He is. The answer was mercy triumphs over judgment. The God of the Universe wrapped His wings around my friend in the thick of their hurt and spoke words of life.

My friend was reluctant to share this experience because in their words it is much like trying to take a picture of a sunset that leaves you breathless; it just doesn’t do the experience justice. The moment almost too sacred and holy to recount properly. 

 They described to me the response from the Holy Spirit as a wave of truth and peace washing over them, right there at the kitchen sink. It reminds me of the verse in Romans 8:26 that says the Spirit prays for us in wordless groans when we don’t know what to pray. 

This is a little snap shot; a picture of the sunset of that experience for my friend. It blessed me in my current season like few things have. It put words to my wordless prayers and poured truth straight into my questioning heart. I was reminded when I read this that God doesn’t promise to give us answers to our questions this side of heaven, but He has promised to give us all of Himself. 

Please read, share and know that the grace and peace of God, manifested through His Son and ministered to you through the power of the Holy Spirit goes with you today!

"The I AM is WITH you, FOR you and will forever be faithful TO you." 

The Marks of Your Remaking


Can You hear me?

Are You listening?

God, I have heard of Your greatness and wonders. I have read Your Word and learned of Your provision and power. I have listened to the generations before me speak of You, sing praise to You and give testimony of Your faithfulness. I have believed the unbelievable about Your story of redemption and rescue for a humanity that You love, pursued and bought back with blood.  But I have to be honest with You right now, if dishonesty is even possible with You.

I don’t feel it right now. 

I am hurting, and the joy that I once felt at the sound of Your name is getting lost in the fog right now. Where ARE You? Where is the power which I have seen and of which others speak?  Where is the protection and provision that You said you would give? It pains me -- scares me to even say this blasphemy, but it is where I am. You know it already, right?

I know that in Your name is the power to move mountains and raise the dead, so why won’t you lift me from this place? I know You own the cattle on a thousand hills and the whole earth is yours, so why am I in poverty? I know that Yours is the strength and might.  Then why don’t You move a muscle? 

Do You still number my tears? Because I’ve lost count.

Do You still visit the distressed? Because I haven’t slept through the night since I can’t remember.

Are You still the One who brings peace and rest? Because I am in turmoil and anguish. 

Do You still see the end from the beginning? Because I surely didn’t see this coming. 

Do You still heal the sick? Because I am longing for death.  

Do You still change hearts? Because mine is weak and hardened and feels heavier by the day. 

Do You still heal the broken relationships and dreams? Because we are shattered. 

Do You still break chains? Because this feels like captivity. 

Do You still go after the missing sheep? Because I feel lost and forgotten. 

Are You still the burden-bearer?  Because I am crushed under this weight. 

It is NOT well with my soul. Oh my God, where ARE you? Where is all of this headed?

I hate to even to say these things or acknowledge that I feel this way. I feel ashamed for this place I am in. I feel sorry to even admit it, but my heart is heavy and my flesh is weak. God help me -- help us! I’m bleeding out, crying out, and I am not sure how much longer I can hold out.  Are You slipping away or am I?

His reply came back to my inquisition, a true Word, if you can even call it language. It was a strong but loving rebuke. Soft and gentle, yet thunderous and terrifying. A challenging comfort not in spoken language that one could even write, and not just a feeling. It was illumination -- like a book you never read but all of the sudden remember.

“Oh My child, My love. I HEAR YOU! I KNOW. I know this hurt you bear better than you do. I feel it more deeply than you ever have or will.  I am not ignorant of this pain; I am feeling it too. I am bearing it WITH you and FOR you every moment. I am strengthening you in your every breath and every step, in ways you can’t begin to understand. Don’t take my silence for absence! Sometimes my whispering is the only way you can hear Me. 

You are right. Mine IS the strength and power; the earth melts at the sound of My voice. I could end this hurt with a word. I could end your poverty with the wind of my breath, but I won’t -- not yet. You can’t short-circuit My plans for you and there is no shortcut the purifying work I am undertaking. This cup you will drink to the dregs because I am preparing you, washing you; remaking you. I am mending the broken pieces, cleansing you of dirt you didn’t even know was there. Oh, you have no idea of the beauty I am re-creating here! If there was a better way to accomplish my end, then in my power and wisdom I would do it.  But here we are, where we are. My will be done.

You ask Me where this is headed. I’ve told you; you already know. It’s for your good and for My glory, a glory that I have declared that you will share.  Just don’t lose heart on the journey there. 

Listen to me, My love, My child.  These pains WILL turn to joy, not because they will cease to hurt, but because of the beauty they will become. Don’t you see the nail-pierced hands? Can’t you feel where the spear went in to My side on that bloody “good Friday”, that day of darkness and death where the guilt and penalty of your sins died too? These wounds -- these tokens of death, now celebrated symbols of life. I turn ashes to beauty, My son. I AM the Redeemer of dark things.

I don’t just allow these trials; I send them. I give them to you as a gift you don’t know how to receive yet, but trust Me -- one day you will. I won’t withhold these gifts from you.  They are evidence of My love; proof that you are Mine.

I DO see the end from the beginning but for Me, it is more than just sight, it is experience. I AM everywhere, but what you don’t yet understand is that I AM also every “WHEN.”  I AM the end from the beginning. I AM outside of this “right now” that you speak of, and I AM already there with you as you look back at the journey you would NEVER have chosen, but would also NEVER change. 

I AM there with you already, where the pain and hurt become celebration. Where all of your doubting, questioning and the anguish of your soul will come out of your mouth as songs of praise. It will be the most beautiful song you will ever sing.

I AM already there where the sorrow will turn to joy and mourning to dancing. Not because of the absence of your pain but because of the presence of My glory. The pain you have felt is real and the scars will not go away, but their meaning will change. No longer will they be reminders of your failures or your disappointments or the hurts done to you, but they will be trophies of My grace -- the marks of your remaking. 

My love, My child -- your hope in this future will not be put to shame. You will not be disappointed in this remaking I am working.  In fact, your greatest imaginings will not even scratch the surface of the things I have planned for you. I LOVE YOU, deeper than you can possibly know!  You will spend Eternity unraveling the breath-taking mystery of what I am doing in your “right now.” BE STILL and know that I AM is WITH you, FOR you, and will be faithful TO you. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Deceiver

"I truly believe that if God would just cease the hurt...if He would just cure cancer, make my children love Jesus and appreciate me more, stop the constant sinning (ha!),  heal broken marriages, heal relationships in church to make it less distracting,  heal your know...end world suffering...that I would worship Him more. I wouldn't be clouded by these constant battles in my heart for loyalty to Him and submission to His plan."

Her answer to my statement, my friend who is battling a mystery illness that leaves her weak and her spirit on many days broken, was soft and direct. "That's not what happened with Adam and Eve, Annie. They had all of those things and it wasn't enough to worship Him."

Boom. There it is. The truth bomb. Thank you, God for truth- telling friends. Of course, she is right and I was in danger of dangling over the edge of the lie that was whispered at the beginning.

The struggle here on this spinning globe and the pain associated with it are not His original plan for us. Sin broke what God did.  God does use the broken things in our lives to bring us back to Himself and that, at the end of ourselves, is where we find our hope and our fullness of joy. We find our Savior.

How short-sighted I am. Here on my fridge has been for the last six years the "Enemy Deceiver's Battle Plan" that my dear mom wrote up and gave to me. How quickly I forget the deceiver's plan to lie and steal from me the Truth of God's Word. God's Word and the Holy Spirit's counsel is to bring me close,  to silence that liar's whispers with singing "BELOVED" over me.

Henri Nouwen wrote in his book "Return of the Prodigal Son":
"The farther I run away from the place where God dwells, the less I am able to hear the voice that calls me the BELOVED, and the less I hear that voice, the more entangled I become in the manipulations and power games of the world."

I am sharing this battle plan with you on here with the hopes that it may bless someone today who is dangerously close to believing that lion who searches the earth for someone to devour. If you are in your own personal season of trial, may this be a tool to snap you back in to the realities of the devil's schemes and back into the arms of the One who promises to redeem all the pain and the brokenness one day. Print it out and put it on your fridge. Tattoo it on your forehead.

As you celebrate ADVENT this season, I am praying (will you pray along with me) that we will see the broken things with the hope and the peace that this season sings. The pain of the world and the earth that groans for His coming cause us to lift our eyes from this worthless life onto the one to come. This season is many things to many, but let it be for  a reminder that Jesus took on flesh so that He could empathize with me, crush the head of the snake and redeem it all for His glory and our good.  One day ALL of the sad things will come untrue. All the broken things will be a distant memory and He will be the only One with the scars to show for it.

                                               "O come let us adore Him"

The Enemy Deceiver’s Battle Plan
the pathway to spiritual imprisonment
by Patty Fischer

The steps of Adam and Eve (and all mankind after them)
from “enticement” to “enslavement”
(Genesis 3:2-19, also James 1:14-16)

The “Enemy Deciever” SPEAKS- the lie is presented
They allowed Satan to make them question the Word of God (v2)
They allowed Satan to minimize God’s goodness and generosity (v2-3)
They allowed Satan to contradict God’s truth (v4)
They listened to Satan’s lie (v5)
They believed Satan’s lie (v6)
They involved each other in the lie (v6)

II. The “Enemy Deciever” STRIKES- the lie is perpetrated
7. They sinned against God (v6)

III. The “Enemy Deceiver” SURROUNDS- the lie takes possession
8. Even thought they recognized their sin, they did not repent of it (v7)
9. They tried to “cover up” their sin (v7)
10. They ran from God in fear, rather than to Him in repentance (v8)
11. They missed another opportunity to repent (v9)
12. They lied to God and to themselves (v10)
13. They refused to take responsibility for their own sin (v12-13)

IV. The “Enemy Deceiver” SUCCEEDS- the lie takes prisoners

14. They had to deal with the ultimate consequences of their sin (v16-19)

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The One who lifts my head

So many things that weigh down a heart. When the heart is heavy, so often is the head. It feels too heavy to hold the chin up. I am so thankful that the scriptures say in Psalm 3 that God is "A shield around me, my glory, The One who lifts my head."

I had this experience yesterday. The Holy Spirit is an excellent, patient teacher and counselor. He isn't subtle. He is obvious and consciously loud when you are listening. Yesterday I  hadn't been able to tell myself much of anything to cheer me up so I asked Him to do it as He is really a lot better at it. On top of it, God is more committed to my peace and my sanctification than I am for myself. This is the essence and the meaning behind "Be still. Know I am GOD."

Perhaps you can relate to the fact that when life begins to pile up with one big thing after another, you find that everything begins to feel very fragile and a bit foreign. Life right now doesn't really feel familiar at all to me. When I talk about my mom having ovarian cancer, and my uncle passing away suddenly last week it sounds like someone else's life to me.  There are other things weighing down this heart of mine in addition to those very hard things that I won't mention here, but it all feels heavy. Too heavy. I have big questions about things that don't have answers this side of heaven, so I get tired of thinking of them and just stop trying to figure it out, but it leaves me a little quiet and somber and that doesn't feel like me either. So, I just ask Him to keep talking and to not stop and I promise to keep telling Him how much I need Him and that I will listen.  He says in His word that He will pray for me when I don't even know how to do that, so even when His voice and His presence feels veiled, I can KNOW that I am covered. I am always so thankful for the joy I can feel and know when I am being loved by Him. The joy I feel in the face of hard things is His work and I know it.

 I don't remember even asking Him for help but, I know that I was feeling heavy in my spirit and not looking up much when Rob took me to the mountains yesterday.  We drove up to Lake Placid and passed waterfalls 100 feet up and babbling brooks that danced in the sunlight. Rob kept a firm grip on the steering wheel but took the time to point these things out to me and I would smile at him and nod my head. It was really pretty.  At one point in our drive up the winding roads though, my words caught in my throat at the sight of massive peaks all sprawled out everywhere. As we rounded a bend, I felt my heart whisper, "THERE YOU ARE!" and I was talking to Him.  The fog was clinging to these huge monstrosities and the light from the clouds was piercing through making laser beams everywhere. I grabbed Rob's arm and asked for him to stop and as soon as he could we pulled over and just sat there. Christmas music was playing. I am pretty sure someone was singing about Immanuel and I wanted to cry but I didn't want to miss anything. It was like taking a big huge gulps of air. I saw a bit of Him yesterday. The bit I could see and somewhat fathom anyway.  He was amazing! Majestic! Beautiful! I couldn't help but consider how small I was. How confused and sad and conflicted I felt and then I could almost hear Him whisper back, " I SEE YOU!"
This giant mountain-maker. El ROI. He sees me in my wordlessness. He sees my twisted up heart and has care, concern and fondness for me.

I don't understand His ways.


I saw evidence of Him yesterday and was convinced again. His glory is revealed in nature and His heart is revealed to me through the sacrifice of Jesus to make all the sad and broken things untrue. Head and heart lifted. Deep breath... face to the sun.

" The hidden things of God are hidden for a reason. They are none of our concern, none of our hope, none of our life...To those of you who are hurting, know that there is a God who loves you, who has always loved you and always will. Jesus Christ will not answer all of your questions, but He will give you all of Himself. And in the end, that's all any of us need." -Chad Bird

Monday, March 20, 2017

What being the wife of a Pastor has taught me about worship

This post has been banging around in my heart for a long time. I have wanted to write it for a while. For years, really. I have written it and rewritten it nearly a bazillion times. I might not even publish this one. I hesitate to write it for several reasons, but at the top of the list has to be :
1. Fear of being misunderstood
2. That you will judge me for caring too much what people think
3. Vilifying the Church to those whose hearts are already cold towards it.
Most importantly,  though.. .
4. There are wonderful, dear friends, sisters and brothers who love me and hurt when I hurt and I am so eternally grateful to them. They pray for me, they remind me of the gospel and they encourage me every time we are together.  I don't ever want to minimize their ministry in my life. 

The solid truth is that I love the Church. I love MY church and the people in it. I would hate for that to be misunderstood. They have ministered to me in ways I never dreamed possible. They have healed parts of me that were so broken. That continue to be broken. That is my great fear in writing this. That this will not be understood clearly. I can only pray that it is. 

There are many other reasons that I do want to put my words out there. It has little to do, however with some disillusionment that I have this all figured out. I like putting words to feelings, thoughts and to TRUTH. Especially in case there is another somebody out there that can identify, and who can limp along with me. I am a student of God's grace. I affirm for myself what Brennan Manning said: "My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it."

My heart's desire is to show how God works everything in our lives for His glory and for my good. I don't want my circumstances to define my life, I pray that my life is defined by the Cross of Jesus. So, that is my it goes...

So, yesterday. It was Sunday. My heart wakes up racing. I don't know why it races on Sunday. I am sure it has something to do with my mind and my weak flesh, but races and my hands shake. They shake all morning. There are a lot of thoughts going through my head on Sunday morning. Some of them are logistical. Getting the kids up and dressed and fed and a meal prepped for the afternoon and the place picked up for any afternoon guests. But, most of my thoughts are on other things. My flesh and the Spirit within me do battle on Sunday mornings.  I am faced with the challenge of putting my feelings through the grid of the gospel and it makes me tired (because it is hard work), it makes me feel weak (because it's the truth and I hate that) and it makes me feel vulnerable (because being the wife of a pastor makes me feel that way).

If you interviewed a million wives, whose husband's are pastors all across this country you might get a million different answers as to how they are feeling about the Church. I know that my particular struggles are not linked to where I am, but who I am, so I fear that naming my struggles will look one dimensional, or that the reader will think I am representing everyone. I don't and I can't.   But, I thought I would put mine out there (gulp) to hopefully help those of you who can identify and maybe for some of you who don't too.  Perhaps a look at my struggles will give you grace for someone like me.

My first thought on Sunday morning is for my husband. The light on his side of the bed is always the first one on and he is always in the Word. His first thought is of the people he under-shepherds and he is having his devotions. I hear him sigh when he gets up. I know his burdens. I know how much he loves the Church. I know how much he believes in it. I know the personal sacrifices that he makes to serve her.  I know the hours that he spends praying and counseling and pouring over scriptures to feed her.  I know his insecurities and areas that he is weak. I hear his prayers for the Holy Spirit to continue to work in him.  I  know the weakness in this man ; the frailty. The brokenness. The discouragement and the joys.  To then hear him preach the Word with power that I know as a witness comes directly from the Holy Spirit astonishes me every time. When I hear how people are growing, learning and excited  about what they are gleaning from the Spirit through his teaching I rejoice!  I get a front row seat on that and it thrills my heart. I am a witness to the work of the Spirit like few others.

 But, there is a harsh reality to being the wife of a pastor that is a difficult burden to bear.  In spite of all the of the wonderful things that I hear and get to delight in, I also have to bear witness to the hurtful, critical and often times abuse of him at the hands of the Church. I must bear it, while loving this man, admiring him and truly knowing him. No one knows him better than me. Not only do I bear with him, I sometimes receive the brunt of their dislike of him.  I have to pass people in the hallway at church (or Target!) as they pretend not to see me; avoiding eye contact, I have been in the position where I have overheard the whispers about him. Some of these same people that we prayed for the night before, clasping hands by our bed; treating us coldly and with criticism.  I must also try to sing songs about my Savior and His goodness and His grace all the while seeing their faces and their folded arms if we sing too many songs they don't prefer or wondering who will be writing the letter this week to Him about how "unsinkable" these songs about the life, death and sacrifice of Jesus was for them.  I have to put the hurt somewhere when people he has spent hours with, given personal money to, watched their kids, visited in the hospital, laughed around our dinner table with, cried with at their loved ones passing, held them at their funerals just walk away. I can see the hurt all over his face when he sees their spot in church empty. Again.  Sometimes, without a word of explanation.  I carry that hurt with him because most of the time we were doing these things together. I have to put my feelings somewhere healthy after hearing these same people have spent time with others where instead of breaking bread together in fellowship and praise, have spent this precious time whispering about him behind closed doors, tearing apart his character and questioning his motives.  My flesh cries, "FOUL!", because I KNOW this man. I know his heart. On so many levels it is unjustifiable to want to hurt someone who has only ever tried to love them and care for and sacrifice for them. It just doesn't make sense.  My desire to see justice for him is the prevailing theme of my thoughts. What can I do to make them see their sin? What can I say to prove his quality. I desire justice for him.  I go through a million scenarios in my mind of how to explain things better, or help them understand clearer. Couldn't I just shout it from the rooftops how much it hurts?


the Spirit whispers for me to remember Jesus.

When I look at Jesus,  I remember my sin. I remember how He loved me at my darkest. I remember how He took the wrath that I justly deserve. I remember that the scriptures say that everyone who was faithful to Him, even those who said that they would rather die with Him before they denied Him, did just that. They ran. They left him.  I remember how easily I do that too...even when I know what He has done for me.  I live in the freedom of His grace and mercy every day and how easily I run to what feels good at the time. How quickly I forget His love is enough and how quickly I abandon all the richness of that love for temporary satisfaction.

I remember that God sees my husband and he sees all of his best attempts at pastoring as filthy rags. God then looks at Jesus and His perfect pastoring, and then Jesus, my husband's lawyer, sitting at the right hand of His father says, "He has my record of perfect righteousness." and God is satisfied. He is like a proud daddy. He is satisfied with Rob because of Jesus.  I remember that my standard for righteousness doesn't meet God's perfection and I am thankful that my husband can preach the Word, believe it, and live it at all because of Jesus.

 When I remember our sin and remember Jesus, my heart no longer feels wronged. I feel thankful. I know that we undeserving of love. I am far worse than I would like to believe. Now, as I pass those people on Sunday morning,  as I hear the whispers, see the folded arms, hear how they are speaking of us in their circles, my heart is flooded with remembrance. I have communion right there.  My darkest. My desire for people to like my husband, appreciate him,  and follow him is what Jesus died for. It is ugly sin. The sin of  pride and arrogance and the idolatry of self-love. When I see myself for how I truly am, there isn't any room left to judge anyone else. What's left in my heart is thankfulness.  Jesus knew my idolatry and died for the punishment it deserved. He was raised victorious and my position is with Him. My sin was left in that borrowed tomb and left there. Now, instead of the delusion that Rob and I are deserving of nothing less than admiration and glory, I remember I deserve death.  I am flooded with a compassion and a mercy for the Church that is not coming from me  because the truth is that we are the same. My husband, for all of his wonderful qualities, does not deserve their love. He deserves hell.  And the desire for justice for him has not been answered, praise God.  Jesus took what my husband deserved. Wrath and Hell.  We all stand guilty and at the mercy of God.

So, I make intentional effort to forgive and to still serve because I remember that Jesus did this, does this and will continue to do it forever for me. And when I am in heaven with Him, He will still be serving me and advocating for me and He will be the only one with scars.

The Church is here to make Jesus beautiful, not me.  He is the Savior. If I am looking for people to acknowledge my worth then I am preaching to myself that what God thinks of me isn't enough.   Each thought must be made obedient to Christ. Each thought must go through the grid of the gospel.

As much as I wish the list of my struggles and my sin would start to grow shorter as I grow older, the list actually gets longer. Maybe this is a grace too. I need to see my sin as my biggest problem. It is humbling. It is embarrassing. It is weak. But, it is worship.

Maybe this is the point of  corporate worship after all. To gather together with other messy people who who don't always treat each other with the kindness of Jesus but who stand as grateful recipients of it.

 If the Church continues to be a place where I see my sin then keep me there. Rub me the wrong way. Show me the complexities of my dark heart. This will keep me grateful, humbled and broken before the Lord who deserves all the praise and all the glory.  I  can stand with arms open and heart abandoned. In awe of the One who gave it all.

Pray for me and for your pastor and their wives on Sunday (on Saturday night too), but don't pray that we are given what we deserve.  We deserved eternal death.  Pray instead that we stay thankful for the grace of Jesus. It is our only hope to serve and love the Church.

Much love.

Monday, January 30, 2017

A week of praise

"People who are loved the way we are loved should have lives marked by extreme thanksgiving and laughter because of the mercy and generosity of our King." -Elyse Fitzpatrick (Because He Loves Me)

We are in winter here in the Northeast! Winter. Gray, gray, gray winter. Sometimes white. But nonetheless it is a colorless palette outside my window. Occasional sunshine will light up my house and when it does, I find my face turning towards it and squeezing my eyes shut and taking in big, healthy gulps of it. Because... Its hard to find the sunshine in winter.

But, when you do? Your face turns to it. You appreciate it. You don't see things quite the same because your vision has been impaired by the sun. The things around you look "strangely dim".

I was amazed the other day, when the sunshine was literally pouring into my home, at the amount of dust that had settled into the dark corners. How didn't I see it? I seriously didn't know how I had missed it. How often on those dark days when the sunshine is hidden behind clouds, we blindly miss the dust bunnies that have been
piling up (metaphors ahead).

So, with permission from my kid I share this story with you about winter blues, the dust bunnies in our heart and how perspective enriched us and those around us.  This is how over a cup of hot coffee in our local Starbucks, my Mo, Rob and I determined that we would zoom out and zoom in.
This was our week of praise.

She yelled at us. She kinda...screamed. I didn't  remember ever seeing her this angry before. It hung in the air and also seemed to bounce off of every wall. We were all home and we all stood there in the kitchen looking at each other with wide eyes searching each other's faces and frozen in place. Rob sent Morgan upstairs for her outburst and with every step on the staircase, she seemed to echo the pounding of my own heart.  Rob and I looked at each other and at the other two who, like little mice scurried off into their own safe places and he shrugged and I shrugged and we decided that we would try to talk it out. Nope. She was not having it. She was as cold as ice. We left it for a day (any one that is reading this should stop right now and yell, "wow. ANNIE!) before Rob and I decided that what our middle kid needed was not what she deserved (mercy), but that she just might need something she didn't deserve (grace).

In this case, grace came in a cup (which...hello...yes.)

She was pretty rigid at first, but the latte did it's super power thing and she started to soften. I like to think some of this softening was her daddy saying, "Babe. Something is off with you. We aren't okay with the way you've been treating all of us. It hurts us. But, you are hurting and we want you to tell us everything." For good measure, while biting the inside of my cheek, I added, "And I solemnly swear that I will not tell you that what you are feeling and how you are thinking is wrong."  She took a deep breath and she unloaded on us. It took almost an hour. It was therapy for her and it was super sanctification stuff for Rob and me, but it was even better than we expected. We saw the light come back into her eyes and the way she was sitting even changed. It opened up for us some great insights into her heart and into our own but then... it took on a twist that we didn't see coming.

She started to give herself some truth. She admitted that her thinking about most everything right now was bent toward the negative. Like...she couldn't see the sunshine.  She admitted that in spite of what she knew, she couldn't seem to get past what she felt. Then, she listened intently to her dear dad , who battles with depression every single day, as he gave her gentle wisdom about prayer and perspective.
We decided together, there in the Starbucks, that an intentional leaning towards the joy that we find in Christ and the daily ways He ministers and whispers to us would be our aim.

I decided to also involve a few of my girlfriends in on the game and for this past week we have been texting each other every night different highlights from our day.
                                            It's amazing what a little light can do. 

This is no Pollyanna approach to life. It is hard work. It is purposefully choosing the joy that comes from a life touched by the SON. It is choosing to see the gifts in each day as a love gift from the One who could (and rightly should) give us a healthy dose of justice but meets us each day with His mercy and His grace. He welcomes us to unload onto Him (1 Peter 5:7 "Casting all your anxieties on him, because He cares for you") and then fills us with good things. (Romans 8:32 "He who did not spare His own Son but gave him up for us all, won't He also give us everything else?") Truly, the things from His hand are the good things.

A person that is marked with joy is one that has the knowledge that nothing can take away the love that the Father has lavished on us. Nothing. This is true thanksgiving. Joy that no one can affect and that no circumstances will change. This joy comes from a daily marinating in His love.

Yes, the clouds will roll in. The dust bunnies will settle again in the darkest corners of our heart, but what a comfort to know that when the sun shines, He will do the hard work of sweeping them away. (2 Corinthians 4:6 "For God, who said, 'Let there be light in the darkness,' has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.")

This world is in a season of winter. Everywhere we look, the landscape is gray. Let us, as ones who have the hope and light of the gospel, be people of responsive obedience to God's command that we be people of great joy.

As I type this, the sun is sending its long fingers across my computer screen. I can hear Morgan downstairs. She is banging around in the kitchen, but that's not that sound that is making me smile. I'm smiling because...she is singing.

" If then, you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on things that are on the earth, for your have died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. " Col.3:1-3

**I encourage you to start this week. Text or email a few of your close friends. Ask them if they would be willing to do a week of praise with you. I'd love to hear how it goes.**