Bring on the Dead Flowers

I was gifted these flowers today by a child who was not happy about the consequences of the choices they made. I get my share of hate mail, but these are my first dead flowers.

This might have upset me or even caused tears to well up in my eyes a few years ago, but my skin has grown thicker and thicker the longer I have lived the parent life. It’s more typical for parents to encounter this behavior in the teen years, but we have a child who started much earlier. I never considered myself tough. Words of encouragement is my love language, and I’m an Enneagram 2, so words really impact me to my core. I still remember things that were said to me years and years ago. Once when I was in a had a falling out with friend in my 20s, I saw an email from her in my inbox at work. I grabbed a friend and asked her to delete it all the way so I was not tempted to read those words. I knew they would stick with me for a long time, so I chose not to read them.

In my earliest years of challenging parenting, I asked God why exactly He chose me for this job. It was exhausting me on a daily basis. I struggled to see the good in it. I felt defeated and discouraged all day long. Then one day as I folded laundry and prayed, God told me that He gave me this job because He knew I wouldn’t give up. He knew I would know where to turn when it became more than I could handle.

I didn’t always make the right choice. For a while, I sought things that satisfied me for a moment but never filled the void that was growing in me. I didn’t feel strong in any way. Post-partum depression combined with life circumstances tried to take me down, and I was tempted to let it. But I never got away from the fact that He is my only true hope.

There is no easy road in parenting. Or in life. We may take what seems like the easy way out early on, but we will pay for it later. If we choose the hard road now, we will reap the rewards of those choices in years to come. Sowing and reaping is a biblical principle that cannot be avoided.

I wanted to write this because I saw a glimmer of hope last night. This child experienced some unwanted consequences from me and from Dad, and usually this situation would result in at least a day or two of pouting before they could get over it. This time, within a couple of hours I received a sincere apology. I see that as a sign of growth, even if today still has its difficulties.

I challenge you to look for the glimmer of hope in your situation. If you struggle to find one, just remember that God loves you, and He is for you. And I’m always hear with a listening ear.

I have a hard time writing and not including a song that is filling me up right now. Today, it’s this one. I hope it encourages you, too.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=pXqrF1vTzjY

Strength in Waiting

This is my view on a regular basis during the summer season. Last year, I ended up taking over most of the mowing duties since I was home and the kids were old enough to play outside while I mow.

I would prefer not to mow, but I try to use the time to listen to podcasts or pray. Last week as I rode across the bumpy lawn, I was praying about our future, our desire to move to a new home, and the challenges we face in getting there. I was (maybe) trying to rush God because the market is good for selling.

Then God said, “Do you think I care about the housing market situation?”

And I sheepishly answered, “No.”

I was looking through human lenses, and God reminded me that He works outside of time and the constraints we assume will be challenging for our situation.

Are you looking for a house in a market where they get snatched up before they are listed? Are you frustrated in your relationship with someone who stubbornly refuses to change? Are you devastated that your arms remain empty even as you pray and beg God for a child?

When I feel like I’ve been waiting far too long, I remember Joseph who spent two years in prison without knowing how God was working and if he would ever be released. The Israelites wandering in the wilderness for decades waiting for the last generation to die out so they could enter the Promised Land (our pastor illustrates this so well a few weeks ago). David waiting years to be crowned king.

Waiting is never an accident in God’s plans. My path from full-time ministry to years of volunteer ministry doesn’t make sense to me. But all along the way, I have seen His hand working. I have felt the peace that I am doing what He wants me to do. I have seen the necessity of certain seasons even as I simultaneously begged for them to end.

God knows your situation, too. He loves you and He loves to work things so beautifully that we have no doubt He made it happen. This is one of my favorite songs right now. Don’t waste the wait. Seek Him.

“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭40:31‬ ‭ESV‬‬

https://www.bible.com/59/isa.40.31.esv

The Return of Reading

I was the girl with the flashlight under my comforter, reading as much as I could as far back as I can remember. Becoming a mother changed my reading habit, and I have read more sporadically over the past ten years or so. At the beginning of 2020, I decided I wanted to get back to reading. I didn’t set a specific goal, but I took a trip without kids in January and got off to a good start. I ended up reading 31 books this year (and a few partials). I am very happy with my progress, and I look forward to reading more in 2021!

These 6 books were my favorites of what I read this year. I read more fiction than non-fiction, but the non-fiction I chose really impacted me. Our small group at church also read one portion of the Immerse Bible, and it was so memorable to read and discuss with my dear friends.

Did you read in 2020? I love to talk about books! Let me know what you read that impacted you. I am always looking to add more to my list!

Be a Friend, Get a Friend

2020, right? It has been a crazy year for the world, for our country and our city and in our home as well. I prefer to be real in these posts, not covering up the mess with a colorful wrapping paper and a shiny bow. But even as I often share the mess, there is so much beauty to behold in seeing God work in ways we didn’t expect. Today I want to share two things that God did this year that brought joy in the midst of the many struggles.

I have had my ministerial license through Open Bible Churches since 2002. Through the course of life and ministry, our family ended up at Crosspoint Church in Waverly, an Assemblies of God church. I attended an Assemblies of God Bible college and worked at the A/G Headquarters when I lived in Springfield, so the A/G isn’t new to me. When our amazing pastor asked me if I wanted to change my credentials last year, I decided to go for it. I took my test a year ago, and my interview was in January. Then came COVID, and I was forced to wait months for the actual approval. I received my credentials this summer, although I still have not participated the ceremony yet.

Throughout the process of getting credentialed with a new organization, the best part was the support and encouragement I received from everyone at our current church, from friends and colleagues who wrote references for me, and from our pastor who is incredible if I haven’t mentioned it before. We love Crosspoint Church so much, and I am honored to serve alongside the ministers here and arm-in-arm with so many of my college friends who are doing amazing things around the country and the world. I know this was the right step at the right time in my ministry, and I am so humbled at the way God moves in spite of my failures and weaknesses.

The week prior to Thanksgiving, I had my yearly mammogram, followed by an ultrasound and then a biopsy. The doctors were pretty confident that the mass they were seeing was benign, but we chose to have the biopsy to find out now rather than wait and see what happened.

Once again, through the process of testing and praying, wondering and trusting, what stood out the most to me was the love of my friends and family, the relationships that have helped me survive 2020. My mom came up and sat in the waiting room while I had my biopsy. A dear friend brought us dinner that night. A number of friends prayed as we waited for results. The mass is benign, no cancer was found, praise God. I am so grateful for the results and for the people who were with us in the waiting.

God is good. He keeps His promises, and I am reminded today that, no matter what we face, He is with us and that the relationships we invest in are the ones that will hold us up when we need it. Even as we have faced other challenges I have not shared here, my closest friends have been a source of comfort and strength throughout this year. I hope you can say the same, and if not, seek out those relationships that will build you up in Christ. And seek to be that friend for others as well!

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭27:17‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.”
‭‭Ecclesiastes‬ ‭4:9-10‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Lilacs in September

Today is September 25. It is officially autumn, and I have a lilac bush in bloom. In a row of brown, lifeless bushes, one stands out with lavender blossoms and green leaves.

I am not a master gardener or anything close to it, but I know that lilacs bloom for a very short time in May (at least in Iowa, maybe it differs in other climates?). As I mowed the lawn yesterday, I was amazed at this lilac bush daring to bloom when everything around it has been dormant for months.

I contemplated this fall-blooming lilac bush for a while during and after my lawn mowing, and I was reminded of God’s ability to bring life where there was none. We see examples of physical resurrection in the Bible in I Kings 17, Luke 8, John 11, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The examples are endless of spiritual resurrection, of a spirit and soul that was dead being resurrected and infused with new life.

The challenges of this year have brought many of us to our knees. The world around us seems to spin in chaos and madness. For some of us, the madness has presented itself inside our homes as well. Things have occurred inside our four walls that no one else knows, but the Heavenly Father sees. I know He is making a way for you where there seems to be absolutely no way. That blooming lilac bush? I never would have imagined it would spring back to life in September. And God has a funny way of working things for our good in a time and a way that are beyond our understanding and not at all what we expected.

Let me encourage you today to keep believing, keep trusting in Him to come through for you. He is faithful, and He has never let us enter into a situation where He didn’t have the resources to get us out of that situation. If you don’t trust in Him, I would love to talk to you about the many ways He has been faithful to me.

I read Romans chapter 8 in my Bible a LOT. This is one of the many verses that has helped me through countless dark nights:

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:31-32, 38-39‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Unexpected

I didn’t expect it. We decided sort of last minute to send our youngest to preschool in September of 2019. Our older kids did 2 mornings of preschool a week. We signed Evangeline up for a 4 afternoon a week program. Suddenly, I had time. For a few hours four days a week, I was alone.

My husband quickly signed me up to help him at his office, but I still was without kids on a regular basis. I could listen to my music loudly without constant talking. I could run a quick errand ALONE without arranging for someone else to watch the kids. I could think. I have been a work from home or stay at home mother for ten years now, and I have really missed these freedoms that I previously took for granted. I really love my kids, but I also love my freedom and independence. I had not experienced regularly scheduled time with no kids in ten years.

It. Was. Amazing. I relished those moments. My parched, weary soul was being rehydrated little bit by little bit.

Then the lockdown. With so little warning, I lost it all. I thought I would have time to mentally prepare for summer and the craziness that it is. I had no time. It was all the kids, all the time. No dropping the kids off with grandma to run a quick errand. Nothing.

After a few weeks passed, I asked my husband if I could run to get a Starbucks on a Saturday. A couple weeks later, I did it again. And I ate lunch alone in my car. And I picked up a few essentials (and a few non-essentials) at Target. Those couple of hours refreshed my soul more than I expected.

I don’t know what the next months hold. I know the unexpected can be challenging and devastating. It can also be beautiful and amazing. I know that He gives and takes away, and I trust that what He plans to give and take away is for my good and His glory. A lot has been taken away from us in the past few months. Much has also been given to us if we look closely and see clearly.

If you are struggling in this season, please don’t hesitate to email me here. I will be there for you.

Quarantinaversary

Today is our 14 year anniversary. We will happily postpone our celebration until we can do something special, i.e. without children. How special it will be to celebrate after this quarantine is over!

I watched the wedding of a girl I used to baby-sit a few weeks ago on Facebook Live. They were unable to have the wedding they had planned due to the virus, but she had moved her wedding date up so her dad could walk her down the aisle. He has been in treatment for stage 4 colon cancer. He was a youth pastor in Springfield, and I worked for him for a few months during and after college. As I watched him walk her down the aisle and then perform the ceremony, it was such an emotional moment.

I listened closely to the wedding message as his marriage to his beautiful wife and my friend is one I have admired for two decades now. He talked to the newlyweds about how to relate to each other when life gets hard, and it will get hard. He talked about being grateful, and as I listened I thought about how God has been teaching me that very lesson for the length of my marriage as well.

I thought I was in good shape getting married at 28. I figured I knew a lot more than the kids who get married at 20, 21, 22. But as they say, you don’t know what you don’t know. I had an expectation that because I had made some great choices and had followed God’s plan for my life as a single, I thought that I would be rewarded with a perfect(ish) marriage. I forgot we were both human. Sinners. People with flaws joining their lives together is a recipe for some conflict. I didn’t talk about this expectation nor was it at the forefront of my mind. It lingered around the edges, tempting me with unhappiness and frustration at every turn. God used a lot of unpleasant, frustrating, devastating circumstances to strip away the fluff and show me the truth: I didn’t deserve anything. Marriage isn’t easy for anyone, and as I let God reshape me personally, I saw my perception of marriage change as well. Is it about what I can get? Or what I can give? Is it about who is doing their part? Or is it about doing everything I can no matter what he does?

The more I grew, the more I saw all I have to be grateful for in life and in marriage. I am not the woman I was 14 years ago. I could wish away the struggles, the hard years and the time I spent clinging to what I wanted instead of letting go and taking what God wanted to give me. But I don’t wish it away because every bit of it has brought me to today, to being able to be grateful for 14 years and 3 kids and life doesn’t look like what I planned or dreamed 14 years ago. It is much better than I could have put together, because the One who knows us best put it all together. He is still fitting the pieces in place, but I am so grateful I can rest in knowing that He loves me, He is for me and my husband and my marriage and my family.

Happy 14 years, Matt. The best is yet to come. I know it is. ❤️ I love you.

Joy in the Sorrow

Chronic illness, miscarriage, death, cancer, infertility, broken families, addiction. This earthly life is full of suffering, and this book is a soothing balm for a hurting soul. I don’t know that I really had a theology of suffering until I was forced to acknowledge its existence in my own life. As I read through each story in Joy in the Sorrow: How a Thriving Church (and Its Pastor) Learned to Suffer Well, each life marked by struggles and grief, I thought of so many lives that touch mine who are are experiencing these sorrows. Some are learning more about the goodness of God in what we would deem “not good” circumstances. Here are a couple of my favorite quotes from this deeply beautiful book.

“We think God waits for us on the other side of hard things, and we’re always looking for and celebrating the happy ending in this life. The stories we tell are usually finished stories. They have a bow on them. It’s a rare thing for us to tell the story, right in the middle of doubt and anger and fear and confusion.” {Joy in the Sorrow, page 22, Matt Chandler}

“When he writes pain into our stories, He also reveals himself as the main character. Sure, he’s been there all along in our joys and delights, but suffering is unique in its power to tune our souls to His presence.” {Joy in the Sorrow, page 34, Jeanne Damoff}

“We have tremendous friends, enjoy our work, and delight in our children. And yet, the most profound encounter we have ever had with the Lord came as a result of suffering. The thing I was desperate to escape was also my gateway to irrefutable joy.” {Joy in the Sorrow, page 82, Kyle Porter}

“Could God still be good and therefore do good by withholding one blessing (children) and in its place giving another, stranger and unsought, blessing (childlessness)?…The nearness of children or the promise of them were not my good. The nearness of God was my only good, and I was learning that however his nearness comes – in silence, in greatness, in provision, in lack, in fullness, or in meagerness – it is enough.” {Joy in the Sorrow, page 197, Lore Ferguson Wilbert}

I highly recommend this book and will be referring to it often. Let me know if you read it. I love book discussions!

He First Loved Us

I hated Valentine’s Day when I was single. Seriously hated it. I still don’t like it that much. I think the world puts expectations on it, and I prefer to celebrate birthdays and annniversaries which are all pretty close to Valentine’s Day.

This morning when I woke up, I had a verse in my mind.

“We love because he first loved us. ” I John 4:19 ESV

If you follow Jesus, you don’t love because he/she sends you flowers and a card. You don’t wait to love until you see what they got for you. You love because HE loves. His love came first and always will. And if you don’t expect a Valentine today or wish you had someone with whom to celebrate, you can still choose to love others out of the overflow of His love for you. Focus on the one who loves you more than any human ever has or ever could or ever will. Receive His love and you will always have love to give others no matter what day it is on the calendar.

Bought and Paid For

A few weeks ago, our pastor preached a great message in a series on generosity. He read from a passage in Exodus, and I spent some time pondering its meaning.

“When the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as he swore to you and your fathers, and shall give it to you, you shall set apart to the Lord all the first that opens the womb. All the firstborn of your animals that are males shall be the Lord’s. Every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. Every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem.” {Exodus 13:11-13 ESV}

He continued by explaining that the donkey was unclean, and it must be redeemed by a lamb, which was considered clean. The unclean was redeemed by the clean. I was somewhat dumbfounded as this thought rolled around in my head. Why would you take something clean, unblemished, in good condition and kill it to redeem the thing that is unclean, dirty, worthless? This is backwards. It doesn’t make sense.

It doesn’t make sense to our human thought process. But the unclean thing is not worthy to pay the price that is owed. The price must be paid by an unblemished, worthy sacrifice. It is no sacrifice to kill the unworthy animal. It is a true sacrifice to take the one who has value and worth and sacrifice it to God.

So it is with our Savior. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. His perfect, sinless, beautiful life was sacrificed to redeem our sinful, unworthy souls. We certainly don’t deserve it. We could never earn it. We will never be able to repay it. He knew all those things, yet He willingly gave His life away.

I don’t think about this enough, the unbelievable price He paid to buy eternal life for my wretched soul. It is a staggeringly beautiful reminder that I owe Him everything.

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” {Romans 5:6-8 ESV}