Investing & Resting: Tiny Investments of Covenant Faithfulness

“You sow, and you sow, and you sow, and much later you will reap.”

These words of life were spoken over me by an older friend of mine when I was a young mom to four children under five. The physical demands of rocking, holding, shushing, changing, and heavens to Betsy—the mealtime clean-up! There was never enough time to get all the spaghetti sauce off the baseboards nor pick every goldfish cracker up off of the floor. 

My friend’s words stuck with me; during the exhausting days of new motherhood, the image of sowing seeds coupled with the hope of reaping filled me with joy while I served the Lord in my home. Her words gave me the big, long, biblical picture of discipleship.

Read more over on the enCourage blog by clicking HERE

Twenty-Three Years, Loss, and Popcorn Trees

The first week of April is always breathtaking on my small suburban street in Southwest Ohio. Bradford Pear trees flank the sides of the road and the white blossoms are in full bloom. To some of the senses, the blooming trees are irritating—the allergy sufferers in my home have itchy eyes and sniffly noses—while breathtaking to the eye, the trees’ blooms are in juxtaposition in the way they are breathtaking to the nose.

For as long as we have lived on this street, our family refers to these first-week-of-April beauties as popcorn trees; when my babies were small one of them mentioned the blooms looked like popcorn and the name stuck . . . probably always will as they grow.

The changing of seasons is a reminder to me of God’s faithfulness and consistency. Every fall I can expect the October Glory in our front yard to be awe-strikingly orange and every April I can expect the popcorn trees to be in full bloom.

“For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven,” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

For me, the popcorn trees come with reminders of beauty and reminders of great loss. Every year, the first week of April comes with wrestling and reminders of springs past. My mother lost her battle with breast cancer so many years ago, this year will mark twenty-three years—I was fourteen, she was forty-one.

I can hardly believe it—the time in calendar years and days feels long, but to my own heart, twenty-three years have passed quite quickly. Every April 7th comes faster than the one before it, the grief contained in an awkward package that stretches decades, but cradled in what seems like moments.

The years have changed me. Especially the recent years we have lived life among the popcorn trees on our current suburban road.

Alongside the consistency of the early April blooms, God has been consistently faithful and good. Our circumstances have not always been easy, but God has always been faithful and good. God has provided seasons of joy, seasons of healing, seasons of loss, and seasons of pain. God is changing me and His faithfulness to me remains the same.

For God’s own glory, He has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass. He foreordains the seasons and every matter under heaven. To my human mind, I can’t always know or predict what God is up to—but my theology reminds me what God is up to is for His glory, not my own glory, but His glory.

The losses experienced on earth will pale in comparison to the gains of glory in eternity. “For this light and momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” (2 Corinthians 4:17). When I think about twenty-three years, the affliction of loss is long, but fleeting. Earthly afflictions are preparing Christ-followers for heavy glory.

Even with good theology, I admit, I stumble in the losses. I believe, but like the father who comes to Jesus to heal his son in the gospels, I believe, but I need the power of Christ to help my unbelief (Mark 9:24). When the losses on earth break my heart, I am weak—but I am confident in the power of the spirit that works within me, “the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us,” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Though I stumble, Christ is the only thing that enables me to rise. He is my hope, my banner, my shield, and my very great reward.

After a season of recent loss, the popcorn trees are a visual reminder of God’s faithfulness to heal, redeem, and restore all things. The healing may take decades, but one day I will look back and it will feel like merely moments. On the journey, I can choose to see the beauty in the blossoms or get caught up in the stink that strives to overcome the beauty. Twenty-three years ago, I never imagined God would bring me to where I am now—and though I stumble, I know I am living a life that would bring my mother great joy.

I pray and hope in the next season—God is doing more than I could ask or think, even when I cannot see. He will be glorified in the joys, the healing, the loss, and the pain. He is near and faithful. His consistency in creation reminds me that He never stops working and His promises are true.

In moments of great loss, it is a gift to be able to find beauty among the stink. He creates beauty out of brokenness and He will be glorified because He is faithful and good. By His power we can truly heal and be restored.

THE SCHOOL OF SOVEREIGNTY: HEART PREPARATION FOR AN UNCERTAIN SCHOOL YEAR

Today, I am over at the enCourage Blog, sharing about how I am preparing my heart for this back to school year. 

Honestly, when I was asked to write this post, the first thought that came to mind was, “I am an unlikely person to write an encouraging article about going back to school.”

I prefer the predictable. I am quite uncomfortable in the unknown. I still order chicken nuggets with a coke “no ice” at restaurants because chicken nuggets with a coke “no ice” was what I ordered at fast food restaurants as a child. I seldom swim in oceans, lakes, or rivers because I am not exactly certain which creatures may be swimming near my feet. I struggle when I cannot see every nook and cranny of the waters in which I am swimming.

So, now you know my secrets and why I am an unlikely author for this post. I would rather live everyday like it was Groundhog Day—again. When it comes to uncertainty in my life, there is a gospel gap between my theology and the way I live in the unknown.

Read the rest HERE.

Serving in Weakness

I currently serve as a Regional Advisor to Women’s Ministries on our denomination’s National Women’s Ministry Team.

I was approved by my local session and our denomination’s National Discipleship Committee in the Fall of 2018 to serve in this volunteer way.

In my eighteen months of serving in this increased capacity, I have faced two of my most difficult seasons.

First, I received a medical recommendation to have a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy one week after my local session approved me for to serve in this denominational way. This season of physical suffering challenged me: it pulled on the threads of my story, drove me to a place of weakness, taught me to rely on others, and caused me to rest in a strength that was not my own.

Now, my clinically diagnosed anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder is being triggered by the current pandemic.

I am pretty high functioning when it comes to my mental illness—but the Lord has grown me into this because I have been intentional to seek His ways and not my own. Left up to my own self, I would close all the curtains and pull the covers over my head.

Facing both a preventative double mastectomy (physical health) and coping with my depression and anxiety (mental health) have both been equally paralyzing.

I keep coming back to one simple question: Why has God called me to lead others through two of the most difficult seasons I have recently experienced? 

I don’t feel like {I personally} have anything to give. I don’t have the right words. I am mentally crippled, broken, and limited by human condition.

In times of struggle and uncertainty my heart is prone to wander back to what I have to give, instead of remembering all He has given to me.

I am serving from a place of weakness, I have been serving from a place of weakness, and I predict I will continue to serve others from a place of weakness.

It is good news that Christians can serve others from places of weakness. Christians don’t rely on themselves but on the power of God—the power that lives in the hearts of all who believe.

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;  always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4: 1, 7-18)

Weary hearts in ministry are not unique or new. I fail to remember that I am not alone when I struggle and battle against the challenges of living in the now and the not yet. Weary hearts in ministry have existed long before Covid-19 and long before my short thirty-six year existence on earth.

In my life, I get so myopically focused and fail to see the story is BIGGER than my right here and right now. I fail to look up and remember that God’s redemptive story is much more grand than my tiny corner of the world.

Christians are not to lose heart because they don’t rely on human condition! Christians rely on the power of the Spirit, the power of Christ in them, the hope of glory (Col 1:27). This empowers believers to not lose heart in times of affliction or suffering. Christians have the privilege to keep leaning into the power of Christ.

Paul wrote that we have this treasure in jars of clay. The jars Paul wrote about were nothing more than Gladware containers—these containers were not valuable and easily replaced.

What is remarkable about Christians is not the the container but instead, what the container holds— the POWER of God—His power shines through flimsy,  frail, and replaceable containers.

Paul wrote these things to bring the hope of resurrecting life to the Corinthians because the Corinthians needed to trust God amidst trying times. The same is true for us in this present time. We are not unique or alone when we serve from a place of weakness or in a moment of affliction.

Paul’s ultimate hope was future transformation in the new heavens and the new earth. This future hope determined the way he lived his every day life.

Our present reality is that our current sufferings and afflictions help us grow out of our old-selves and grow up into our heavenly-selves. Our outer self is wasting away, but our inner self is being renewed, day by day as we learn how to rest in His power. Our actions in our present reality should reflect an ultimate hope in a future reality. God is making all things new and one day believers will dwell with Him in the heavenly places.

In this season, it is freeing to remember, there is rest for the weary who are serving from a place of weakness.

It is not us, our strengths, our gifts, or our capacities.

It is Him, His power, His strengths, His gifts, and His capacity.

He is able to do far more abundantly than all we can ask or think according to His power that is at work with in us (Ephesians 3:20).

It’s not us, but Him.

Currently my old self feels like {I personally} don’t have anything to give, but as I am learning to come out from under the covers, open up the curtains, and be intentional to grow up into my heavenly-self.

God is teaching me and stretching me as I learn to rest in the power inside this jar of clay. May it never be me, but always Him.

A Simple Thing We All Can Do

This is a strange time for me—and for all of us!

Just ten days ago, I flew home from a speaking engagement through Philadelphia—not knowing this would be the last time I would work for (quite possibly) months.

Five days ago, I cried on my way home from the grocery store because the shelves were bare—I was making dinner for another family and was unable to find enough chicken for my own. (We found what we needed and all is well now, but initially, this was a shock for me and I cried overwhelming tears from shock and uncertainty.)

Today, I am investigating how to do remote learning alongside my four elementary-aged children and managing my pandemic-induced agoraphobia and obsessive compulsive disorder.

I am doing the best I can.

Because I know I am doing my best to manage all of the uncertainty in my life, this leads me to compassion—my compassion allows me to see: you are doing the best you can too!

In this time of social distancing, we need to show up for people in new ways.

We can write letters—a lost art I long to grow in!

We can make phone calls.

We can engage in someone’s social media post instead of scrolling past it—as if we didn’t see it.

We can like someone’s video or attempt at doing the best they can with balancing work and school from home.

We can comment—great article, good job, or I am here—when we see people we know doing the best they can.

We can encourage.

The simplest thing we can do at this time is redeem social media and be kind to one another.

In this strange time of social distancing, social media will become a main source of connection for many.

Be kind.

You never know the battles, fears, and uncertainties people are dealing with.

Like more, comment more, engage more.

Watch someone’s at home workout video and comment, “Great job, thank you for teaching me.”

You never know who in your feed may need some encouragement at the exact moment you see their post.

Being kind on social media is a simple thing we all can do to show love and be intentional about pursuing connections during this strange time.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).