Finding Strength in Motherhood


“God – He clothes me with strength and makes my way perfect.”

Psalm 18:32

When I was a young mom, I never liked reading books or articles that made me feel like a horrible parent. I already felt ill-equipped to fulfill this wonderful role God had given me. I would often beat myself down for every little or big mistake I made. Being a perfectionist by nature, this personal thrashing came pretty easy to me. Instead of writers who confirmed my defeats, I sought authors who would lift my spirits, give me hope for a better day.

The truth: parenting is hard work and you will make mistakes, but we serve a God who overcomes our failings, and His faithfulness can shine through our flaws.

Think of a cracked vase that is glued together. The cracks are never perfectly glued back together. Cracks are left here and there; but if you put a light in the cracked vessel, the brightness of the light will shine through the cracks giving it a beauty all its own.

You are that vase.

You may not be perfect, but you are unique, and with God’s light, you can be exactly what your child needs regardless of your many flaws.

I believe the truth that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). This includes our good and our bad traits – our successes and our mess ups.

I believe that the best gift we can give our children is not perfection; instead, we must clothe ourselves in strength – the kind of strength that overcomes the disappointments we have within ourselves. That strength is far more beautiful than perfection.

When your children see that you can overcome your weaknesses, you teach them that they can overcome theirs.

I love the example of the Proverbs 31 woman. She is not afraid for her household when the snowstorm hits or in our case when the downfall of self-criticism hits. Instead of falling prey to her setbacks, what does she do?

She clothes herself with strength.

She warms herself with the promises of Jesus.

She remembers that He is the One who leads her.

She knows that charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting. These only reveal the outward appearance; they tempt the perfectionist and create pits for her to fall in.

This woman chooses to be beautiful from within. She finds her praise in fearing the Lord.

In other words, she allows her cracks to be His window.

It is in this clothing a mother’s way is perfect.

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.

Ephesians 6:10

 

 

 

 

Overcoming the Roundabout with Worry


I have a son who loves to talk to me about his day, the happenings in his life, and his relationship with God. He is an open book; transparent to the core. When Nick has had a rough day for whatever reason, I hear about that too. He will often start with those things that are worrying him or frustrating him. At times, you would think that his world is coming to an end. Full of anxiety, he shares his hopeless view and the changes he needs to make to fix it.

He talks. I listen.

I will say a word or two that just might turn the tide a bit, hoping he rides the wave to better seas. As the conversation continues, he jumps on that positive wave and begins to see how God is working. How God can overcome. How God is the One he needs to look to. It’s quite a roundabout that we go through together as he processes the stuff in his life.

In all honesty, Nick reminds me of David, the man after God’s own heart. I can only imagine that David sat at the foot of His Father in heaven, having the same type of conversation. He lamented his troubles, “Lord, how long will You forget me? Forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long will I store up anxious concerns within me, agony in my mind every day? How long will my enemy dominate me?”

The waves of life seem to overtake David. If he stopped there in his Psalm, we would think that God was not faithful. That God was not there for him. That there was no hope for David to ever overcome.

What was David experiencing?

The stresses of this life can indeed overwhelm. It can obscure our view of God’s faithfulness. Some might tell us that we need to just think positive. Or we should never complain about life; or not give into the thought that life is bad. Instead, we should seek the good always.

Well in part that is true, but let’s be honest. Life is real and it is meant to be lived in the real. David didn’t neglect the reality of his hopeless situation. Nor should we. In many ways, I think it’s good to start there. It helps us see the magnitude of God’s incomparable power and hope. However, if we camp there too long, we may very well embrace the lie of the enemy and believe that God doesn’t really care for us. Thankfully this is not where David camped.

As we continue down David’s roundabout we discover that he followed the path of wisdom. Even though all of life at that moment in time was gloom and doom, David recapped who God is. He made the decision to turn the tide of his misery and find promise.

“But I have trusted in Your faithful love; my heart will rejoice in Your deliverance. I will sing to the Lord because He has treated me generously.”

Because my son follows the Lord with his whole heart and reads the word of God daily, the Spirit of God is able to remind him of God’s promise to be with him. The Spirit of God reminds Nick of God’s past faithfulness in his life.

The Spirit instructs. The Spirit retells. The Spirit encourages. The Spirit exalts. Oh, how the Spirit does so much for us!

Not only do my son and David resemble each other, their experiences resemble my own. Yours’s too.

Even when we feel like the enemy is succeeding at triumphing over us, or when we choose to dance a dirge with fear and doubt, let us come home. Let us end the dance with faith and trust in our God. End the roundabout with praise and rejoicing.

Let us never forget who God is and has been to us in our life. Let’s choose to remember that God has always treated us generously and He will never cease to continue.

I love the lyrics to “Cast Your Cares” by Finding Favor. These lyrics can give us great hope when we are in the battle. To me, this song is a modern day version of Psalm 13 sung by David. If we just simply cast our cares on Jesus and trust that He is not only fully capable of taking them all, He is also willing to help us ride the wave of victory.

When fear feels bigger than my faith

And struggles steal my breath away

When my back’s pressed up against the wall

With the weight of my worries stacked up tall

You’re strong enough to hold it all

I will cast my cares on You

You’re the anchor of my hope

The only one who’s in control

I will cast my cares on You

I’ll trade the troubles of this world

For Your peace inside my soul

This war’s not what I would’ve chosen

But You see the future no one knows yet

And there’s still good when I can’t

See the working of Your hands

You’re holding it all

I’m finding there’s freedom

When I lay it all on Your shoulders

When a Marriage Loses Its Intimacy


Intimacy in marriage is often thought of in terms of sexual relations between a husband and wife. While this may be true, I believe that intimacy is much deeper than this. Sexual relations are the result of a deep intimacy of the spirit, heart and soul that the two share.

Intimacy is a history that is created over time. It really knows the other person; it is one of the deepest levels of relationship that two people can experience on earth. That knowing is evident when one understands the other’s thoughts and mannerisms.  A husband and wife closely connected can be in a room, understand each other’s likes, dislikes, comforts, discomforts, needs, wants, and the like without a word spoken or a need requested. This type of connection grows over time; this is why when a separation plays a role, it is so painful.

Abandonment. Adultery. Divorce. Illness. Death.

All of these create a severing within that intimacy. It is so unbearable; it is like an amputation of the flesh. The hearts of the two rip apart and create an open wound that seems unrepairable at the time of parting.

In abandonment, adultery, and divorce – a trust is broken.

A trust that at one point the two thought would be forever. They both had opened their hearts completely to each other. An unveiling of strengths, faults, secrets, dreams and hopes were shared openly. They looked to each other for encouragement and support that would further who they were together. To repair this brokenness is hard. In some cases, it can be repaired, but in many, it breaks forever.

In illness, the relationship turns to dependent care.  

When illness comes to this union, there is still trust. The intimacy is still strong, maybe even stronger as the time and attention required is heightened.  A refocus surfaces: What is really important? The relationship between the two can be reinforced and empowered by a stronger closeness. Yet, there is a separation that occurs. In this divide, there is a pain to embrace. Let me explain.

A few years back my husband was on his death bed with acute pancreatitis. Even though the doctors were fighting for his life, they were also preparing me for his imminent death. While in ICU, my husband needed care in between the times the nurses cared for him. I would assume the role of the nurse and would help him with the most private and personal needs.

On his end, there was a bearing of total trust in my care. But on my part, there was a severing, a parting, and a separation from the strength that I had grown accustomed to in our marriage. He was weak. He was vulnerable. He was not able to comfort me. He was dependent. This was not something I knew from him. To see him so ill was very painful. To realize that this could all end in death was scary. But yet I don’t want to neglect the pain that also occurred in me: Not having his strong arms around me and he reassuring me, “babe, you will be okay, I’m going to take care of you” was selfishly heart wrenching.  On that day, my strong horse of a husband was a weak fragile foal.

In death, the pain of severance leaves the one left behind empty.

I cannot claim to know this as my husband did miraculously survive and heal from his illness. The comfort of his strong arms and the words of great reassurance have been restored to me. However, I have seen those who have lost their spouse; some way too early and others after a long well-lived life together. The knowledge of never having their spouse’s consolation, support, physical presence and visible connection has to be the most painful of all these that I have described – especially when this relationship was so intimate and strong.

You are probably wondering why I am writing this blog. You see I have been praying for three women and their spouse over this last year:

One who is going through a current separation and most likely divorce; another whose husband passed away after a battle with cancer; and another whose husband survived a miraculous healing after facing that very viable reality of possible death. I cannot quite describe in words the pain I feel in my heart for each one.

All three women in these relationships are and have experienced great anguish. For a separation of sorts has been their experience. While different in each case and more severe in some, their pain equally is still as heart-rending.

I was reading Matthew 3 the other day and came across the latter part of verse 11. It says, “He Himself (Jesus) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” The “and fire” stood out to me. Every spiritual growth spurt we experience in our walk with the Lord requires the move the Holy Spirit in our life. It also requires the refinement of fire – the testings of life – the sufferings of trials.

I have often thought that I would like to skip that second part. Can I get an amen? 

On the other hand, I know full well that these trials burn away the chaff of our previous simplified faith and renew a stronger more intimate trust in our Lord; they also remove any dependence on things we may have developed that are not of Him.

Yet these two are not the only things that happen.

There is one more that I think is probably the most important. It’s the one thing that actually kept me going when I was waiting on my husband’s healing. It’s the one thing that would have even given me great courage to carry on if indeed I had lost him in that season.

Some of you may not know who Elizabeth Elliott is. She was the wife of Jim Elliott; in 1956, her husband was one of four missionaries in Ecuador, who was killed maliciously by a dangerous and uncivilized Indian tribe known then as the Aucas. She lost her husband to brutality. She lost her faithful God-fearing husband while serving the Lord. She lost her companion in life and in ministry. Yet, her perspective on this situation is what gives us hope in our time of separation and sorrow.

She had the same perspective as Paul in Philippians 1:12, “what has happened to me has actually resulted in the advance of the gospel.” Elizabeth walked through the door to this lost tribe – the door that the death of her husband opened. She went to them, shared the gospel and she lived among them. This tribe found salvation in Jesus. And now a group of once lost people know Jesus and are living and sharing His good news to others. She honored her husband’s mission; in many ways, I think this kept her husband’s companionship alive in her life.

While my husband, Dan, suffered in the hospital, I had ample opportunities to share the gospel with others who were suffering, who were lost, and even those who needed to come back to Jesus. All of his sufferings proved the truth of Paul’s words, “what has happened to me has actually resulted in the advance of the gospel.”

I have seen a renewed faith in, dependence on the Lord in my friend who is suffering separation and possible divorce. This will end with her spreading the good news of our Lord; for the Lord will use all of her suffering to bring others who are hurting to Him.

I’m a believer!

I have seen an even greater opportunity for others to know the saving grace of our Lord through the death of this one woman’s husband; even in his death his message of the gospel still speaks to all; she continues to honor her husband’s desire; she still shares the love of Jesus with others regardless of her pain.

I’m amazed!

I have seen an increased faith of my friend whose husband was miraculously healed. She relentlessly thanked God for her husband’s healing even when her husband seemed too sick to heal. She shared the word of God boldly so that whoever was reading and hearing would know the power of our great God!

I’m overwhelmed!

These three women are amazing to me! They have learned and grown in faith; they have found value in the baptism of fire. While a physical separation of intimacy has occurred in each one’s life, some forever, others for a time, God has used and still uses it all to increase faith and open doors for others to the good news of Jesus, our Lord, and Savior.

Suffering used well is a sufferer’s useful tool.

Thank you, ladies, for changing me and for using your pain to further faith in others.

 

Become a Healing Balm in the Midst of Your Marital Battle


Twisting scripture is an easy thing to do if you’ve been a Christian for some time. If you have attended church and listened to countless sermons on certain passages, you might be tempted to think you know a passage so well that you don’t really need to read it again. The danger in this approach to scripture is that over time you will misinterpret the passage and you will miss the beauty of that passage’s real intention for your life.

One such passage that I have seen misused over and over is Matthew 7:1 -5. This is especially so when two people are in disagreement or in conflict. Let’s take a marriage conflict as our example. Two heated people are pointing out each other’s wrongs. With anger and self-righteous attitudes flying, they accuse each other imperfectly.

One might say, “You dare to look at my speck when you can’t even see the log in your own eye!”

The other retorts, “What log? You need to take a look at the boulder in your eye before I do anything!”

On and on they go never resolving the issue; they just keep heaping more specks and logs into the relationship.

The conflict becomes a war zone…each partner is ready for combat…both armed to annihilate.   

I have also seen in some cases where one spouse will point out the sins of another; and their response is, “Jesus said, ‘Do not judge!’” This only excuses the sin and keeps the concerned party silent.

No resolution is ever made in this scenario.

Are these the purposes in Matthew 7:1-5 that Jesus hoped for?

Does Jesus enjoy the merry-go-round marriage, the excuses for sin, and the silencing of concerned parties?

What did Jesus really mean?

Looking at this passage, section by section, we can see something quite different than what we may have assumed it to say.

Section One: (Verses 1-2)

 “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged.  For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  If we judge another without a humble look at ourselves, we only welcome the other party’s unrighteous judgement of us. In other words, we create a series of incorrect charges. Nothing is resolved. We just go around and around the merry-go-round. A solution is not the goal anymore; it’s who can spin the merry-go-round faster.

Understanding that we have our own faults can help us learn how to resolve a conflict with grace and humility. While our sins may not be the same, it’s good to understand that no one is sinless. In any conflict, both parties play a part. No one is without their own failings.

During my young married years, the arguments we had were unfair and without mercy. I judged my husband without humility; he did the same to me. Now judging in itself was not wrong; for sin is sin. However, it was our approach and an inflated view of our own self that was the problem.

Just because I am a Christian and didn’t commit some of the same sins that my husband did does not mean I didn’t have my own sin to resolve.  My comparison should not have been measured by my husband’s; it should have been measured by Jesus’ sinless character. As I mentioned earlier none of us are without our own failings. Paul says it well, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Jesus is not telling us not to judge; instead He is saying to do it with the right attitude and with a proper understanding of ourselves. We see this more clearly in the next section of this passage.

Section Two: (verse 3-4)

“Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a log in your eye?”   We need to judge righteously. One way to do that is to look at our own log first. This does not mean to ignore the other party’s speck. After all, Jesus did say in John 7:24, “…make a right judgment.” He also emphasized in this verse to “stop judging according to outward appearances.”

To ignore our log is to judge only by what we want to see. In marriage we may look at our spouse’s behavior, and not look at the cause of it. We see their sin and think, “I wouldn’t have done that” vs. considering how we may have aroused their sin or where have we been wrong in this situation.  We look at how they have harmed us instead of how we may have harmed them; we ignore our part in the conflict and just look at theirs. These judge by mere appearances…again only by what we want to see.

When we are angry, this is so easy to do! 

It’s time to cool off and really look at what Jesus’ process to resolve conflict in Matthew 7:1-5 actually is – it’s a process of right judgement; it’s not a command not to judge. He has said to first look at where we are wrong. Look at our failings in the conflict. Take a good humble look at how we have caused the problem. Once we can take this honest look at ourselves, then we can do what Jesus says to do in our next section.

Section Three (verse 5)

As you “…First take the log out of your eye…then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Notice what Jesus doesn’t say. He does not say in this verse, “First take the log out of your eye and never correct your brother’s speck.” No, He says to first consider your own sin.  Compare yourself to Jesus and His righteous judgement and then you are able, with clarity, to help your brother be free from their own failings.

It’s amazing how this process quenches the original fire that starts. Humility drops our weapons and keeps the conflict from turning into a war zone.

Mercy attained. Compassion regained.

Differences are dealt with according to God’s definition of love…it does not keep a record of wrongs…it seeks truth…it hopes…it does not act improperly…it is patient…it is not selfish…

With this approach and process that Jesus has given us when it comes to judgement, we can then be truly helpful to the one we are in disagreement. Without this humble approach, we are not helpful, we are damaging.

On the other hand, with meekness of heart, we become honey to the relationship…a soothing balm in the midst of battle. While we may have  begun ready to fight, we can end in the arms of our love.

Peace is restored, the devil is leveled, and Jesus’ purposes are exalted.

Some People Are Frustrating


I used to love gardening. I still do, but I don’t have much time for it. While, for the most part, I had a pretty green thumb, there is one plant that I just could not help grow. It was the Rhododendron. I have planted many and killed them all! I was determined to fix whatever I was doing wrong. I researched, asked questions, kept buying more, and I planted them in different types of soil. As it turns out, I was planting them too close to my house; therefore, the roots could not grow out the way they needed to. Their position was just as important as the soil in which they were planted.

Helping people grow spiritually can be just as frustrating. It’s no easy task. It can be wonderful and discouraging all at the same time. Jesus knew this full well. I think He wanted his disciples to understand that there was more to their determination and methods that they tried. It is true that helping a person grow close to Christ has much to do with the seed being sown and the soil it’s planted in; but even more, it is the positional perspective of a person that makes their soil fruitful or not.

On the Sabbath, Jesus taught in the synagogue where a man with a paralyzed hand was sitting. In the crowd were also the Pharisees. Jesus told the paralyzed man to stand before the congregation and He asked the people, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do what is good or to do what is evil, to save a life or to kill?”

By this question, Jesus was speaking truth into the hearts of the hearers. He was illustrating that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. To use the man for the Sabbath was evil. All in the synagogue were listening to this message. From what perspective did each receive this truth? Who received it with joy, humility, and adjustment? Who did not? One walks out changed; the others walk out, even more, hardened than when they first came.

After hearing this message, the Pharisees were silent.  Their silence revealed a hardening of their heart. Jesus looked at them with anger and sorrow.

Then he told the paralyzed man to stretch out his hand. As he stretched it out, his hand was restored. This man walked out changed. He and the Pharisees heard the same truth. They both were sitting in the presence of Jesus, the Savior of the world. But this man’s hand was restored and his heart of faith was most likely increased. However, nothing could have angered the Pharisees more.

Where was their anger rooted? It was in their wrong focus. Their focus was on the law of the Sabbath, not the purpose for the Sabbath.

Where were Jesus’s anger and sorrow rooted? It was in the lack of spiritual growth in these Pharisees. They were in the presence of Jesus – the Son of God – the Messiah…and they just couldn’t understand it. They were blinded by their positional perspective.

Many who had heard Jesus speak were astonished at the authority and power with which He taught. They were also quite amazed at the many miracles He had performed. Some had faith. Some were just curious. Some were changed. But some, such as the Pharisees, were not so amazed; and they certainly didn’t want to change. They were not focused on who Jesus was. Instead, they plotted to destroy Him. They were not interested in the truth. They were only interested in their way of thinking, their pride, and their interpretation of the truth.

While many were in the presence of the Lord that day; not all were responding well to the word of truth shared. Those resisting change angered and saddened our Lord. Some people are frustrating! Amen?

Jesus understands our frustrations and sadness with those in our life who just don’t respond positively to the truth given. Jesus desires for all to know Him. But not all want to know Him the way they need to.

Jesus told His twelve disciples that many may look and look, but not perceive; many will listen and listen, but never understand. These people are in the presence of truth; the place where the seed of God’s word is sown; they hear it, they listen, but it is their response and their perspective to the truth that makes it impossible for them to grow. In this case, it is not the seed that corrupts the growth; it’s not how it was delivered; it’s the distractions within the soil.

Let’s move to a modern-day example:

The preacher is giving a sermon – a sermon rich with truth. This truth reaches every ear sitting in the congregation.  .

The response by some is distorted by sin; the temptations that have taken hold of their heart have deafened them and confused their understanding.

The word was sown. They see. They listen.

But what was sown was not received. These walk out of that service unchanged…maybe, even more, hardened than when they first arrived.

Yet in the same setting, there are those who hear the word and are very excited. They find a fresh new strength to conquer their challenges in life.

The word was sown. They see. They listen.

But their response is short-lived. Once they get into their car, the pressures of life take over. They listened without the humility to change. The truth tickled their ears but did not take root in their heart. On the way home, they justify their situation. They stumble back to their destructive ways.

Then there are those sitting in this congregation who hear the word while their worries plague them.

The word was sown. They see. They listen.

Yet, they see and listen with a strangled heart. Their worries choke the truth. The wealth of this world and their flesh suffocate their growth. They leave this service unfruitful and ineffective. These people never change because their mind is set on earthly things.

Finally, there are the people of the good ground.

The word was sown. They see. They listen.

They respond with meekness of mind, heart, and soul. These people do three things differently than the others:

  1. They hear the word with great expectation. They perceive God’s word as a calling to change. They join Him where He is rather than asking Him to join them where they are.
  2. They welcome His truth. With courage, they adjust their life to His truth. They set their minds on things above and remember that the things of this world are only temporary.
  3. They advance the Kingdom of God. From their calling to their development they produce fruit – fruit that lasts. No matter the cost, they are sold out to God’s ways. They are Jesus’ brother, sister, and mother; they are people who do the will of God.

All are sitting in the midst of our churches. All experience pressures. All are tempted by the wealth and pleasures of this world. All are born of flesh and blood. All have sinned and still sin. All hear the same message spoken. But only one kind moves from exploring Christ to being Christ-centered. Only this one will advance the Kingdom of God. Only this one will adjust their lives to the seed’s calling. Only this one will hear “’Well done, good and faithful servant… Come and share in your master’s happiness!”  

I never did plant another Rhododendron. Thankfully gardening is not my calling.  On the other hand, making disciples is my calling. I have experienced many in my life who don’t respond to the truth of God’s word the way they need to. While I gave up on planting the Rhododendron, I have not given up on those who need the Lord.

But one thing I have learned – to change my response to those who do not change vs. those who do.

Those who receive, I walk with them and help them mature in Jesus. I enjoy seeing them develop. But those on the other side of the spectrum, I don’t walk with them. I pray for them. I don’t pray for their behaviors to change. Instead, I pray for humility of heart.  I also pray that what this world offers them breaks down. I pray they see the frailty of whatever it is they are trusting that is not Jesus. That seems harsh. But in order for them to see their great need for Jesus, they need to see this world as worthless compared to a relationship with Him.

I understand frustrations with those who see and listen yet never change. It’s as if the hardness of their heart is stronger than the grace of God. While God’s grace can overcome their hardness, it’s important to remember that it is their responsibility to position themselves for growth.

Related Readings: Mark 3:1-6; 3:31-35; Mark 4:1-20