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).

The Beautiful Surrender

Today I am on the enCourage Blog—my first as a regular contributor. Here is a small part of the piece, but head on over to enCourage and check out the rest. 

I witnessed a beautiful surrender one afternoon while waiting for the bus to come up the road. In the center of our front yard stands a large October Glory maple tree. This tree is the last to change colors every fall, but once the leaves do change color, the tree is the brightest and most beautiful fall tree on our street.

As I waited for the bus, I watched the beautiful surrender of one of those tiny orange leaves. The wind came and that little leaf could not hold on any longer. The wind carried the leaf off the branch and gently swirled the leaf to the ground. The leaf did what it was made to do—and the tree would continue to survive even after the surrendering of this leaf. The October Glory will be dormant for a season, but soon it would bear new blossoms and leaves in the spring.

Read the rest over on the enCourage Blog.

Unraveled Parenting

As a mom, I am prone to wander over to the dark-side of performance-based parenting.

One of the deeply woven threads in my story is— in the past I have found my identity in and based my worthiness on how well I can perform or accomplish a task. This is a very dangerous way to live and in conflict with the assurance of a gospel-rooted identity—an identity that rests in Jesus and bears gospel fruit of union with Him.

Performance-based parenting keeps me tangled-up in my personal sin,  curved-in on myself (incurvatus in se), and constantly returning to ultimate joy-sucker: comparison. When I am tangled-up in performance-based parenting, I find myself concerned about how well my children are measuring up to everyone else—comparing, competing, perfecting, achieving.

This curved-in way of living focuses my eyes on people and averts my eyes from my Savior.

The gospel has the power to unravel and free us from performance-based living. If you are exhausted by performance-based living and comparison, I would encourage you to investigate Christ and who He says He is by reading His word. Start here: Life Issues Books

When identity is securely rooted in Christ, parenting is transformed. Gospel-based parenting turns our gaze to Jesus, freeing us from the sin that so easily entangles. When our eyes are focused on Christ, comparison and the pressures of performance-based living unravel away.

We model and pass on to our children a legacy of security in our earthy performance record or a legacy of resting in Christ’s performance and trusting Him on the journey of gospel transformation.

The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

It is quite upside-down and inside-out for me to look past the outward and fight to get to the heart. I lived many years operating by measuring up myself and others based on their outward performance—drinking from the unsatisfying cistern called performance and comparison. I have recognized my idolatry of performance and comparison impact the way I come alongside my children, causing my sin to pass on a tangled-up gospel.

Unraveling my old patterns of performance-based living tangled- up in sin and embracing my new identity—Christ in me, the hope of glory—transforms what I thought I knew about raising children and renews my mind to plead with the Lord, “Jesus, make my focus in parenting my children not be on outward behaviors. Help me fight to get to the heart.”

The Lord cares about what lies beneath the surface and I desire to model Christlikeness by obediently cultivating a new pattern to do the same.

Holiness is not a condition we drift into. We are not passive spectators of a sanctification God works in us. On the contrary, we have to intentionally ‘put off’ from us all conduct that is incompatible with our new life in Christ, and ‘put on’ a new life compatible with it.”—John Stott

Change beneath the surface takes time and we wait to see gospel fruit expectantly . . . by faith. My curved inwardness desires change to happen as fast as I like my internet speed, but gospel change bears fruit at a dial up pace.

Focusing on the big gospel story reorients my mind and as I lean into Christ, this is where I find assurance and rest.

All four of my children are sinners. They stumble. I have experienced their wandering hearts, even as elementary and preschool students. But God, He moves me to breathe deeply on the journey of being alongside my children in their childhood imperfections—at a dial up pace while I wait expectantly to see glimpses of gospel fruit.

In parenting, unraveled from my tangled-up desire to perform well and measure myself up to others, the gospel gives me perspective to see my stumbling children as God sees them: precious, uniquely knit together, and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:13-14). The gospel reminds me that— I too, am on this journey with them,  a sinner, saved by nothing but God’s grace.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

This moves me to compassion and freedom. Compassion in all of our stumblings and freedom from the snares of performance and comparison. God is a sovereign creator and powerful possessor of His covenant people. I am simply an alongside cultivator: modeling, praying, and living by faith that God will work in the hearts of my children, the same way He has worked in mine—at a dial up pace.

In unraveled parenting, I can be assured by the truth: God pursues, redeems, and transforms hearts—from generation to generation. I need to return to this gospel truth daily—for my own heart and for the integrity of the gospel I am passing on to my children.

Unraveled from my old pattern of performance-based parenting allows me to turn my inward gaze upward. I am truly free from rising and falling based on my performance record and my children are truly free from measuring up to current cultural and moral standards—for me and my children, the gospel is not about us—it is about Him. I want to be moved from the dark-side of performance-based parenting and rest in the marvelous light of this truth.

The Imprint Fall Leaves

As I child, I loved collecting fall leaves. When my own children were toddlers, I remember collecting leaves with my children and then using the leaves to make leaf rubbings with unwrapped, naked crayons and computer paper around our kitchen table.

Now that my children are school aged, they are enjoying making and jumping in leaf piles, and I am sweeping up tracked-through-my-house leaf remnants and removing the imprints fall leaves all over their clothes and hair.

It is a simple joy to watch the imprint fall leaves all over our family and a privilege to kiss my children’s rosy cheeks after they come in from fully immersing themselves in the evidence of a new season. I feel gratitude in the simpleness of watching my husband mow fall leaves and burn dead tree branches in the fire pit—tangible reminders to me of God’s faithfulness and a new season.

Last fall, our family endured a challenging season. I had a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy on November 5, 2018. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was seven and passed away when I was fourteen. Through genetic testing, I have learned I carry the PALBgene mutation—and I have now learned, my mother carried this same gene mutation—the mutation and my family history together initiating the recommendation for a preventive double mastectomy.

I remember my doctor saying to me, “Rach, this is no longer a matter of if you will get breast cancer, now this is a matter of when you will get breast cancer.”

At the time I was thirty-five with four children between the ages of four and nine, a pastor’s wife, women’s ministry leader, I had just been approved by the session of my church and CDM to serve as Regional Advisor to Women’s Ministries in Mid America, and my first book was going to the formatter—the final stage of the publishing process.

I did not want to have a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy last fall.

Walking through a season of suffering, weakness, and neediness was not in my long-term plan!

My plan was to come alongside others, not need others to come alongside me. I  struggle when it comes to needing others. Independence and self-sufficiency are deeply woven in my story—humbling myself to need others is a new pattern I am learning as God is growing me in dependence upon Him.

As I prayed and sought council from trusted godly women, even though I did not want to have a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy,  three things kept coming to my mind.

One: if my mother would have had this opportunity to prevent what happened to her, I think she would have taken this option no matter the cost.

Two: as a child who grew up watching my mother suffer, I still have mental images that can easily blanket my eyes with tears, I considered the opportunity to protect my children from walking through a childhood story similar to my own—and I wanted to protect them from the pain, wounds, and burdens I have carried into adulthood.

Three: my husband is a rockstar and able to care for me and compensate for my weaknesses while I recovered from surgery.

With Christ-centered courage and faith, my husband and I decided on going through with a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy.

Four weeks before my surgery,  I received a call from my husband at 6:00 in the morning. He had gone to the gym early to play basketball with a friend, my husband fell, and tore the Lisfranc ligament in his right foot—almost a complete tear. This required immediate surgery, two screws in his foot, a 12-week non-weight bearing prescription, and no driving for at least three months.

My main man, rockstar supporter was now unable to walk, drive, wear two shoes, carry a plate, do a load of laundry, nor rake up the imprint fall was leaving all over our yard.

At first I felt anger. My husband has never broken a bone—in all of his thirty-six years—why was this God’s timing for his first broken bone? Then I went through the stages of grief because I lost my plan for recovery which included an able-bodied husband, not needy one.

But God’s plans are not our plans—and He promises He is good.

So I humbled myself and asked for help—which is inside-out and upside-down from how I normally operate, but I was at the end of myself and I needed others to come alongside my family.

After all, I couldn’t use my arms and my husband couldn’t use his legs—and we had four children under the age of ten.

As I watched, I saw it was the church who showed up for us when we were needy. Our grass was mowed, our children were transported to ballet, soccer, and birthday parties, our leaves were raked, our garden beds were mulched, our meal schedule was filled (with fifty meals within the first day), our Thanksgiving table was set,  our home was cleaned, Michael and I were driven to pre-op and post-op appointments,  the church showed up to help us with childcare when we needed it, sat with Michael during my nine hour surgery, and helped me get Michael from the car to the bedroom upstairs after his.

We had neighbors, friends, and family show up too—but mostly, in the long weeks of our recovery, we saw the church be the church and it was a beautiful picture of when we are weak, Christ’s power is perfectly displayed—and He uses His people and His church.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Just like the imprinted leaf rubbings I used to make with my young children with unwrapped, naked crayons and computer paper around my kitchen table, last fall has pressed in and left an imprint on my heart.

This imprint is a reminder of God’s faithfulness in the unknown, the Christ-like courage to humble myself to ask for help, and the beautiful picture of the church being the church to our family when we were weak and needy.

It is a simple joy to watch my family in a new season, but also a joy to look back and remember the imprint that fall leaves on my heart. I don’t remember the pain, stress, or suffering as much as I remember the selfless love we were shown by so many—and I know this is because of God’s power, His grace, His mercy, and His transforming power at work in my heart.

Breast cancer was once was a constant reminder of pain, stress, woundedness, and a powerful trigger for anxiety and fear—but after my bilateral prophylactic mastectomy and last fall pressing in and leaving an imprint on my heart—I see God redeeming the breast cancer thread in my story.

The imprint fall leaves is a reminder that God is working, and He has the power to redeem even the darkest, hardest, and most fractured pieces of my heart. Where I once felt broken and alone, I now feel healed, held up, and surrounded by many.

As I reflect on the last year, I am grateful for the imprint fall leaves—I am grateful God’s plans are far better than my plans.

He is faithful and good—and He is making all things new.