Change is for the better, it’s what they say to me.
Taking what I already have and making beauty that’s unseen.
Keep the sweetness of the day, the nights and in-betweens.
Nothing only what I know is golden in my dreams.
Laughter, tears, smiles and fears hold onto me today.
I’m almost there but I don’t know where to live and still be free.
Change is for the better, it’s what I’ve often heard.
Finding new ways to fill the days and believe in what I see.
Hold the feelings of my heart, the love and restless pain.
Where every beat is made to be the truth that lives in me.
Laughter, tears, smiles and fears hold onto me today.
I’m almost there but I don’t know where to live and still be free.
I’ve been quiet for awhile. Life has a way of winding and unwinding itself.
I wrote this a month back. I decided to post this because this situation is too common! It’s a story repeated over and over in the church. If you are in ministry, be careful. If you are a church member, be loving. Satan is alive and well and destroying the visible representation of Christ, The Church, from the inside out.
We have been in full-time ministry for almost 20 years. Without warning, after 11 years the Board reacted to financial problems by voting to release my husband as Sr. Pastor. No discussion, no notice, no prayer or seeking God’s wisdom, of which we were a part. Thankfully one elder suggested they move the weekly prayer time to someone’s home to tell my husband the news. Otherwise, he would have been given his notice at the local Starbucks.
Here’s the thing. It’s been three four months. In that time we have received letters and texts and phone calls that range from “we are so sorry” , “we don’t understand what happened” to “when are you going to get over your pity party?”. A three page letter came in the mail using personal information about my husband to justify him being let go and at the same time suggest that we had had some type of obligation to the new Sr. Pastor. (Whose wife, btw, was on the group that voted to oust my husband.) A group of ladies went to a Women’s Conference, Leading and Loving It, right after this all went down. They used the spot that I had paid for and took someone else. They could not understand why I didn’t want to go with them. They somehow feel justified in their own minds that because of our seemingly unchristian like response, we are at fault. (Our response being that we need to distance ourselves and move on with what God has for our lives)
If you are a pastor’s wife There is no figuring this stuff out. Only God knows. Take care of yourself emotionally, physically and spiritually. Don’t let ministry be the first priority of your family. It’s insidious how we think just one more event, bible study or dinner won’t make a difference and that we can handle it. That one more thing you think you should do really won’t matter in the end.
What matters is telling yourself that You are enough, just as you are, to God, your husband, and your family. God is not depending on you to do more than your mind, body and soul can withstand. Rest, still your soul, hug your kids, plan a date night, read a book, create something, talk to an old friend. Take time to remember the person that you are and that God is your biggest fan. He loves you. A.Men! Preaching to myself!
Are you doing anything special for Advent? Reading a book or devotional? Lighting candles? Opening those little doors on calendars? Here at our Home Sweet Home The Pastor and I are reading through Ann Voskamp’s devotional “The Greatest Gift”. I really wanted to buy this book last year and didn’t, so this year it was at the top of my list. If you are not acquainted with Ann and her writing, you’ll want to join her at aholyexperience.com. You wont be disappointed. So I thought for the next few weeks as I wait for Christmas, I would write a bit about what I’m reflecting on for Advent.
Advent is the idea of being focused on the something that is coming. The coming of Christ as the baby in the manger. The hope of something that has been waited for for so many years is finally happening! God entering the world as a human to be our Savior. As Ann says, “The Giver becoming the Gift”. The Gift of that baby has been the one relationship that has brought me through these many years. Maybe even more so, this Advent season.
My life has been filled with so many hopes over the years. But always first the hope that my life would be so woven into the fabric of those swaddling clothes, to be held and warmed by the closeness of that baby. That is the hope that is real and true in my life. Jesus is my one and only in ways that I never imagined.
My hopes for this season of my life reflect my need for my Savior to hold me close once again. I’m hoping for peace in relationships that are woven with disappointment, failure and unforgiveness. I’m hoping for inspiration and open doors that will lead to work to pay the bills. I’m hoping for relief and healing from diseases like cancer and depression.
You see however, the other side of hope is fear. Those hopes can manifest themselves as fears so subtly in my thoughts. I’m afraid of the loss of valued relationships with family and friends I love. I’m afraid of wandering too long in the wilderness waiting for an answer for work that will support The Pastor and me. I’m afraid of sickness that can steal a person’s identity and very future. Fear dismantles hope. It distracts from the blanket of the baby wrapped around my soul.
Fear leads me to see the dark side of my life. Masking hope by reminding me of unmet expectations, piles of bills, and hurts that accumulate like a pile of dried up leaves. I feel like I have to try harder and dig deeper to make the fear subside. To keep smiling and looking on the bright side. My fears unravel the warmth of that blanket of hope that was intended to cover me.
As I reflect this Advent on the coming of the Baby in that manger, one Christmas Carol is playing in my heart and mind.
O little town of Bethlehem, How still we see thee lie! Above your deep and dreamless sleep, The silent stars go by. Yet in thy dark streets shineth The everlasting Light. The hopes and fears of all the years Are met in thee tonight.
This reminds me that in the dark streets of my life there is a light that shines through. All of my energy, worry, and workings are not part of His equation for hope. God doesn’t need me to strain to seek Him. My straining will not make my fears dissipate.
What adds up to hope is the everlasting, eternal plan for darkness to be extinguished by His presence. My Hopes and My Fears go together and are met in Christ today, tonight and forever. The blanket does not unravel and light never dims.
Lot’s of things can rattle a girl’s cage. I’ve been rattled so much lately it seems I might need to be taken off the field for one of those concussion protocols that the NFL players go through after a blow to the head. The kind that can leave you dazed and confused and wondering which side of the field your bench is on. The doctors say it takes a long time to recover from all that rattling. I might be sidelined.
Anxiety from the build up of worries and fears can shake me until I feel like a rag doll. When the unexpected hits like a bullet train, I get flattened out. I beg for an out of body experience so I can get some relief. I want to see heaven like all those stories you hear about in books and movies. I’ve been begging for that lately.
Life rattles my cage like a relentless predator looking for a meal. We all call it stress. That everyday word that gets thrown around like a hot potato. I hold it, feel the warmth in my hand but soon it turns into a burn. So I quickly toss it right back at whatever I think is causing the pain. I can even start shaking my own cage in hopes of drowning out the relentless rattling. But no matter how I respond, inside me it is wrecking havoc to my mind, body, and soul.
I heard Dr. Henry Cloud speak at Catalyst, a conference for Pastors. He shared this study about stress.
One of my favorite studies was done years ago with monkeys, measuring the effects of relationships on cortisol levels in the brain. (Cortisol is a hormone associated with high levels of stress.) In this particular experiment, a monkey was put in a cage and exposed to a high level of psychological stress, including loud noises and flashing lights. They pretty much scared him to death.
When the monkey was totally terrified, the scientists took a baseline measure of stress hormone levels in the monkey’s brain as it was exposed to these stressors.
Next, the researchers introduced one change into the experiment: they opened the door and put a buddy, another monkey, into the cage. That was it. They exposed the monkeys to the same loud noises and flashing lights, and then took another measure of stress hormones. The Result? The level of stress hormones in the brain had dropped in half. The lone monkey was only half as good at handling stress as the pair was together.
So my question for you guys… who’s your monkey?!
Who’s my Monkey? After Dr. Cloud shared that study, I wanted to call him Henry and invite him into my cage! I was that lonely primate with climbing levels of cortisol and I needed a monkey. He made the point that no one can handle the challenges of life and ministry alone. But since Henry wasn’t available, I might have to open my rattling cage to some other monkeys.
I know I need people in my life. But honestly, it isn’t easy for me. I’ve had some less than desirable monkeys try to move in with me. In ministry and life, it is a challenge to find healthy boundaries in relationships. There is an underlying temporary nature to relationships particularly in ministry. Distinguishing between the pretenders and true friends hasn’t been easy. I’ve been burned by some real hot potatoes!
Nevertheless, I took took the advice to heart and began to pray for insight. I asked myself if I could try one more time to open the door of my life and heart to those I was called to minister with. I talked and prayed with The Pastor about being vulnerable once more. I knew it was risky business. We both did. With our cages rattling, we sensed God saying, “Just one more time.”
It’s been only a short six months from that step of faith. We obeyed God’s call for us to stay faithful to our commitment and let Him lead and work. In some ways those months have been like years. Struggles, weaknesses, and dreams laid out on the altar of trust. Vulnerability can make the shaking even more painful. And when the realization comes that some of those you invited in, have been out side the cage all along doing the shaking, it is devastating.
Who is my Monkey? I’m asking myself this question once again, but I know the answer. I’m not sidelined and I know whose bench I’m sitting on. I have my man, The Pastor. Once again we are seeking God’s direction and will for our lives. We are together on our knees vulnerable before our Savior. My dear daughters and their families. Nothing compares to the love and support they demonstrate in so many ways. My brother and his family throw out the life-line that I hold on to over any miles. A few friends that give comfort and understanding when the fire blazes.
But, just like those three that stepped into the fire and came out unharmed, it is the very presence of the Three-in-One that wraps the arms of love and protection around me.
The Holy Spirit is doing the triage by drying tears and giving comfort.
Jesus is empathizing with my weakness. He knows my shortcomings.
God is holding my hand. The Right hand of my Father has me in His Grip.
This world is relentless in rattling me with troubles, ministry or not. Thankfully the dizzying blows are only temporary. My God is faithful to do even more than I can ask or imagine. The very presence of the Good Shephard is leading me beside the still waters and restoring my soul.
There was this Women’s Retreat that I went to just a couple of weeks ago. “His Story: It’s All Joy” was the theme. All the ingredients had been prepared for God to be able to show-up. He did. Big time.
The early fall weather was perfect at a spirit-filled conference center in the small mountain town. Details like goodie bags, name tags and centerpieces were tended to. The worship team was practiced. The anticipation of how the Holy Spirit would move could be felt as prayers were lifted for the weekend to a start.
I’ve had my share of experiences with Women’s Retreats. Great times to get away from the daily grind and focus on spiritual growth. Time for being in community with friends and just having fun. I’ve cherished most of those times where the Holy Spirit drew me in and did some heart work.
This retreat didn’t disappoint. 30 women bonding together with songs, crafts, meals, and heart work. The speaker honed right in with how we can “count it all joy”. Familiar territory for this retreat veteran.
During that Friday night session, the speaker spoke of something she called ‘Biblical Imagination’. The type of meditation that helps us practice the presence of God in our lives. In Ephesians 1:18, Paul prays that ‘the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you”. Could the eyes of my heart be that biblical imagination that allows me to picture more of who God is and the hope I am called to?
I was curious and as she continued her thoughts, I was encouraged. She mentioned that Oswald Chambers, one of my life-long favorites, wrote about imagination. How it was dangerous for the believer not to use their imagination to practice the presence of God. “Is your imagination stayed or starved,” Chambers asks? I concluded that this girl who lives in the here and now of her five senses was probably a little malnourished! Time for the eyes of my heart to get a wake up call.
That evening as we sat around tables with fall pumpkins and our eyes closed, she read scripture verses. As the Word of God surrounded us, she asked us to focus on what the eyes of our heart might be seeing. How was the presence of the Holy Spirit renewing my mind’s eye? What was I seeing? What was I hearing?
For the past few months I had been feeling alone and disconnected from God. I know he is always with me, but I was experiencing a sort of wandering nevertheless. Some anxiety even, as I thought about the future. The uncertainties of health, income, and ministry had been weighing heavy on my heart. I had been asking God for a new perspective. One that focuses on His purpose and plan.
After a few minutes of praying and listening to God’s Word being read, my mind began to see something. I visualized a hand, the hand of God, reaching out to me. It was something to hold on to. I was reminded that I am not alone and with out purpose. As this picture of God’s hand came to my mind I heard a verse from Isaiah…
Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. Isaiah 41:10
My heart was filled with the Joy that comes from the work of the Spirit. I felt reassured that I was not alone. All I had to do was reach out my hand to God and He would be there.
But there was more…I had a deep sense that The Pastor was going through a strong spiritual attack. The word oppression even came to mind. I felt a heaviness in my spirit knowing that the man I love was in such a vulnerable place spiritually.
The song “How Sweet the Sound” played and I felt the wave of amazing grace wash over me. I held on to the righteous right had of God. I knew that He would strengthen and uphold me.
I talked with the speaker afterwards. The funny thing is she never read that verse. It wasn’t in her notes.
In my deepest need He is holding onto me. Taking care of the enemies who rage against me. My enemies might be worry, anxiety, or health.They might be those circumstances that are out of my control like suddenly losing your life’s work and experiencing the changes follow. Isaiah 41 continues…
“All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced; those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish. Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. Those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all. For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” Isaiah 41: 11-13
The oppression and spiritual attack that I sensed The Pastor experiencing is nothing when I am holding onto God’s right hand. I am not afraid. God is protecting me.
My Story is God’s Story. Redeemed. Preserved. Encouraged. Strengthened. Victorious.
This song has gotten me through many painful ministry situations. I am listening to it this Sunday morning knowing that even though I feel washed up and gasping for air, no storm will do me in. Deep waters only lead to amazing rescues by the one who saves. I will miss my Amethyst family this morning, all the while knowing that…Just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27 NIV)
The news was crushing like a weight dropped from the sky. It was the sucker punch that gets you in the gut and takes your breath away. Blindsided maybe, but then the word betrayal comes to mind. The door was closed. We were locked out of the ministry we have been called to for the past 10 years.
A few days ago, The Pastor had one of those early morning prayer meetings.
The kind he has been going to for years. You know, for accountability, honesty, and trust in relationships.
But this week was different. Last minute text messages late at night changed the location from the usual Starbucks to an Elder’s living room. The Board Chair would be coming. We both went to bed with an emptiness in our hearts. And as we put our heads down on the pillows we held hands, prayed and sought God for sleep.
In the morning, as The Pastor left for that meeting in the dark, I prayed for Him to stay strong. There are many battle scars after a 20 year stint in ministry. Most of them the kind that are hidden from view, the kind that are felt with the heart and soul. To be honest, I’ve been afraid of the mortal wound.
In an hour or so he makes it home and looks sheepishly at me and says, ” “They let me go”. We shed a few tears and look in each other’s eyes. We feel the sting of all those wounds. No one knows how the heart hurts. The battle scars that are unseen are the worst ones to heal. They don’t really scab over, they stay fresh. This moment seemed all too fresh. Turns out they are not mortal wounds.
They said it was because the finances were low. Couldn’t bear to keep us on without a paycheck. They said it was out of love and that there was no other way. Truth be told, they took away our life’s work, that should have added up to more than a paycheck. Don’t they know there is always another way? Christ is the Way. He makes a way where there isn’t one.
It’s God’s will for your life I was told. All for the best and we will see it in time. I believe with all my heart that God knows what is best for our life and ministry. But does a group of people make a life-changing decision without even including us in the process? No one prayed with us about this. Not one person. Aren’t we the Body of Christ with all members needed and valued? I feel like the arm that was cut off and is writhing around in pain thinking it’s still attached.
You can’t help wonder why it happened? Who decides these things as if they were in control of your life? Why do people cut you off without a hug or a handshake? How do you deal with your feelings of anger? Why do they text message you and tell you they love you? How do you get closure?
None of this feels like love.
God is love.
He is my portion.
A few people closed a door and locked us out this week. And even though I feel as if we’ve been betrayed I know the One who has tasted from that cup and endured. Christ unlocked the door for everyone including the ones that locked us out. I pray that they will be healed.
We have retreated and are battle scarred. But knowing that His power is made perfect in our weakness we will carry-on. Our eyes looking forward to the next open door.
Ever have one of those mornings where you justdon't know where to start? Yea, that's me this morning. It could be the kitchen, or maybe the laundry. How about the bathrooms and the dusting. Did I mention cooking? Well, there is always that little part time job that needs some attention or the 1000 projects that have been on the back burner? Oh yes, there are the ministry opportunities, too! What's a girl to do? Where should I begin?
This morning I feel like taking the Scarlet O'Hara approach and thinking about it all tomorrow. The problem with this approach is that when I wake up again tomorrow morning my bleary eyes will have to admit that I am in the same spot as I was the day before. Asking myself the same questions and looking at the same piles,of dishes, papers and laundry. Putting off till tomorrow didn't work for Scarlet, so it's doubtful it could really work for me.
Or how about the Samantha Stephens way? If only I was Bewitched with those special powers and could wiggle my nose and snap my fingers and it would all be just perfect. Unrealistic I know, but a girl can have dreams can't she?
There is also my imaginary friend from Proverbs 31. She is that up before the sun rises girl who takes an efficient hands on approach and gets things done. Her family is fed, clothed, and out singing her praises in the street corner. I think today's equivalent would be a Tweet or a Facebook post! Valor is her name. I've tried to be her and though she is inspiring, I just can't keep up with her.
Don't forget Mary Poppins, she is my personal favorite! “A job begun is a job half done,” after all. Her approach is spiffy. She knows the value of hard work, but adds that bit of fun and magic. I can turn that familiar song on in my head instantly and start singing, “For every job that must be done there is an element of fun, you find the fun and snap the jobs a game”. You know you can hear that song too! But, some how with out the magic, my motivation fades and I'd rather put that old favorite I the DVD player and make some tea!
Truth be told, there isn't a starring role to play. And my mind games won't be enough of a motivation to kick start me into action. As I sit on my couch with a cup of Chai tea, I think of all the hours spent in keeping up with that daily round of living. Solomon says, “Life’s a corkscrew that can’t be straightened, A minus that won’t add up.” (Ecclesiastes 1:15 MSG) He's right, the dailies have a way of subtracting from the day and not adding up to anything.
The Pastor is up now and from the other room I hear him in the kitchen. He is unloading the dishwasher, putting away the dishes and loading up the dirty ones. The dishwasher starts and it hums through its wash and rinse cycle, cleaning away the dried on yesterday. He walks into the room with his morning scruffiness and offers a good morning kiss. My heart hears an answer that is hard to put into words. Maybe it's the idea that two are better than one and how that the daily round is a ritual. A sweet kiss of a reminder that today is a gift.
“Oh, how sweet the light of day, And how wonderful to live in the sunshine! Even if you live a long time, don’t take a single day for granted. Take delight in each light-filled hour… (Ecclesiastes 11:7, 8a MSG)