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.

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.

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.

Littmus Lozenge Mother’s Day

Joy and Sorrow Mixed Together

I want to express that Mother’s Day is a day for mixed emotions—it is joy and sorrow mixed all into one—there is so much sweetness in painted handprints, ceramic planters made in STEM class, and descriptive All About My Mom worksheets, but for some—Mother’s Day brings a touch of sorrow.

This touch of sorrow is not a one size fits all—some have lost mothers, some long to be mothers and are in a season of waiting, some have lost children, some are estranged from their mothers, some mothers are estranged from their children, some are not the kind of mother they thought they would be, some are spiritual mothers who may have seen spiritual daughters go through a difficult season in their lives or walk away from the faith.

In the book, Because of Winn Dixie, Miss Franny Block is one of my favorite characters. This book is filled with many wonderful characters, Miss Franny Block is the town librarian. India Opal visits the library with her new dog Winn Dixie, and Miss Franny Block tells them elaborate stories.

One day, Miss Franny Block tells the story of the Littmus Lozenge. During the Civil War, her great-grandfather, Littmus W. Block, signed up to fight (even though he was only 14!). When the war was over, he returned home to find out that his home had been burned to the ground and his family had all died.

Littmus started walking, and eventually walked all the way to Florida. After experiencing such sorrow in his life, he decided he wanted to make something sweet. He invented a candy that he named the Littmus Lozenge, a special hard candy with a touch of sadness.

When you taste a Littmus Lozenge, you experience the sweet taste of strawberries and root beer, but then everyone tastes something that reminds them of sorrow in their life.

Littmus Lozenge Mother’s Day

For me, Mother’s Day is like a Littmus Lozenge. There is so much sweetness! I am in a sweet season of motherhood with my four school aged children, most days it is like the sweetness of strawberries and root beer—but because I lost my mother when I was fourteen, and we have lost two children to miscarriage, Mother’s Day always comes with a touch of sorrow.

Mother’s Day is joy and sorrow mixed all into one Littmus Lozenge—and I know I’m not alone in experiencing a Littmus Lozenge Mother’s Day—I know many feel both joy and sorrow on this second Sunday in May.

Transformed Joy and Sorrow

I believe faith in Christ transforms joy and sorrow—faith does not completely wipe out sorrow, but faith in Christ transforms sorrow. This transformation of sorrow is a slow process, but over time, faith sees joy and sorrow mixed together as a part of our journey on this side of heaven.

The faithful see sorrow as a reminder that life on this earth is just not the way it is supposed to be. This creates a longing for what is to come. Along the journey, there is pain, death, loss, and sorrow—but the faithful look not to what is seen, they long for what is unseen—eternal hope when all things will be renewed and restored. So we do not lose heart . . .  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 4:16,18).

The faithful draw closely to a God who can identify with sorrow and is near to those who are suffering. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering (Isaiah 53:4) The Lord is near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18). 

Jesus tells us we will have tribulations and experience sorrow, but on the cross, Jesus overcame the permanent sting of pain, the faithful know remaining in Christ transforms our sorrow, He is our peace. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

A Touch of Transformed Sorrow

There have been seasons when I let the sorrow of the Littmus Lozenge overshadow the sweet strawberry and root beer tastes in my life. It is important to feel sorrow, to weep, to grieve, and to mourn—but it is also important to not let sorrow overshadow joy. The Littmus Lozenge is filled with sweet and only has a touch of sorrow—and as a woman who has been changed by the gospel, that touch of sorrow should been seen rightly with the hope of God’s Greater Redemptive Story.

Touching on the sorrow keeps me wholehearted, reminding me of the love I had for my own mother. But touching on the sorrow should not steal away my joy. Both can exist together, but sorrow shouldn’t keep me from rejoicing in the love my own children will surround me with on Mother’s Day. I have experienced sorrow and that sorrow will forever linger, but I have received abundantly more than all I could ask for at the same time—which gives me great joy!

Mother’s Day is a Littmus Lozenge—sweet with a touch of transformed sorrow.

 

Threads of Grief

While my five-year old daughter sat over of a bowl of Lucky Charms,  I twisted her hair into pigtail buns and laced up her high-top sneakers for school. As I finished helping her, she asked me, “Mom, do you miss your mom?”

My mom will have been gone twenty-one years this week and my daughter’s simple and sweet words easily tugged on the threads of my grief. It was difficult for me to respond to her without feeling a heaviness in my chest and hot tears come to my eyes.

Part of me felt childish and emotionally weak to become so easily saddened over something that happened so long ago, I have lived more of my life without my mother than I lived with my mother. I felt the threads of lies in my story in that moment—threads of lies that whisper I have to grieve with a smile. Standing in front of my daughter over a bowl of Lucky Charms, I felt shame to express the brokenness I still felt in my heart.

“The memory of that moment is longer than the moment itself. Or perhaps, the memory of that moment has been stretched out and hangs onto everything about me. Each thread has been wrung out and revisited so many times like a stretched-out wool sweater left on a metal hanger to dry for much too long. That moment, less than a minute in time, and the memory, the pieces my brain has tucked and filed away, seem to have traveled around the world—through time and back again. The wrung-out and revisited threads stretch and weave into my story across years, seasons, places, and relationships.” —Slowly Unraveled

It amazes me how these lies are so easily tangled-up in my grief, the shame from my past so easily distorts my present state of Christ-confidence and shalom-peace.

Vows of self-protection as a young high school student still trickle into my present reactions as an adult. With intention, I have to discern when the threads of grief I feel in the present are tangled-up in my old patterns of fear, shame, and self-protection.

I all too easily forget the new freedom that is mine in the gospel. My threads of grief are being transformed by the Spirit that lives inside of me—behold, God makes all things new (Revelation 21:5).

In the gospel, when I mourn, I am comforted (Matthew 5:4). God is near to the broken-hearted and he binds up my wounds Psalm 147:3). Because of the new life I have in Christ, I am freed from the yoke of slavery of shame, fear, and self-protection. I can let the heaviness of my wounds, lies, and vows unravel away.

God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). There is power over fear and shame in the gospel.

This week as I fight to walk in the newness of life—a gospel that frees me from the lies that tangle-up my present threads of grief—I am fighting to remember that I am free to be childish and emotionally weak. I am free to be saddened when I feel the threads of grief.

As I little-by-little walk in transforming my grief, I desire to be intentional so I do not pass on a tangled-up gospel to my daughter. If I respond in the patterns I developed as a young high school student, I am still tangled-up in the old story.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).”

The gospel gives me a new story to pass on and in this new story, God doesn’t require me to have it all together all of the time.

“I have so many personal requirements for how I believe I should live as a wife, mother and Christian, so many expectations that aren’t grounded in what God requires of me at all. All God requires is that when I am weak, His power is perfectly displayed. As I bravely walk in vulnerability, owning brokenness, and rejoicing over healing tears, God is slowly unraveling how I used to define strength, and I am learning to live as God defines strength.”—Slowly Unraveled

When I feel threads of grief over the every day moments of Lucky Charms, pigtail buns, and lacing up high-top sneakers—I want to pass on emotions that are deeply woven in the gospel—I don’t want to pass on the woundedness of my old self, I want my pain to be transformed—I want to pass on the freedom of the gospel to my sweet children in the every day. God really is making all things new.