Next Stop…the Middle of Nowhere

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I attended Bible college for four years, where the biggest joke was that women chose the school to earn their “MRS” degree. And…that may have been an expected side effect for many of us. It didn’t happen for me, though. I am not sure I had one official date during my four years. I would say that the unmet expectation of getting married in Bible college (or even having a prospect or two) was disappointing as graduation came and went. I knew some churches would hire a single woman, but I had not majored in pastoral ministry or youth ministry or even children’s or music ministry.

I majored in Administration of Christian Education.

I wanted to be practical, to have a major in educating Christians (also known as discipleship) seemed to be something that would apply in a variety of situations and could be useful if married to a senior pastor or a youth pastor. Which I was not. Married to one, that is.

I minored in music, but I did not have the confidence to major in music. Being ever so practical, I did not want that to be my only option for employment, either. So there I was. Stuck with an education that, in my mind, was kind of useless for a single woman. But God disagreed.

I earned some interesting experience working at the Assemblies of God headquarters in the National Youth Ministry. I loved it. Organizing events, planning travel, scheduling, these are all things I loved, and they had a great eternal purpose. I was thrilled. After three years, however, my friends were moving away and on to other things, and I started to feel the desire to do the same. I called my youth pastor and left him a message asking what type of job he might have for me if I wanted to come there. We had talked a few times since my graduation, and he always mentioned that he wanted me to come whenever I was ready. I remember where I was when I made the call. I am even pretty sure it was New Year’s Eve 2001.

I have to admit, my expectations were LOW for this particular move. Oh, I was very excited to work for my youth pastor and his wife. Over the moon about it. I could hardly think of a man I respected more who invested more in my life and future during my pretty unstable teenage years. But as a 24 year old single woman, it made little sense to move from Springfield, MO – a place filled with young Christians and people who were and wanted to be in ministry – to Waverly, IA. I had visited Waverly one time. I was sure it was a place “filled” with farmers and very few places to exercise my right to shop. (This is before online shopping, at least, before I was doing any online shopping.) Also, I had only lived in Des Moines, IA, and Springfield, MO, which I considered to be decent-sized towns. The idea that you could count the number of gas stations and grocery stores on one hand COMBINED was absurd to me. I was not meant to live in a place like that.

How exactly did it make sense to reduce my prospects for dating/marriage by such a large number? Once I moved to Waverly, I soon discovered that 93.8% of people that attend high school in a small town also get married within 2.5 months of high school graduation. (I promise I could find a study to back that up.) For my analytical brain that loves a good pros/cons list, this was a terrible decision. My assumption was that I would “sacrifice” a year or two because I really wanted to work with my youth pastor. After spending that time in small town purgatory, I would be released to live somewhere awesome forever and ever amen.

The interesting thing about low expectations is that something or someone will rarely rise above the level you expect. I had my own ideas and very low expectations for Waverly, and for a couple of years, that was exactly what I got. When I finally (FINALLY) surrendered my plans and let God have His way, my heart and mind changed in a hurry. I had a few dates (seriously!), and in the meantime I was learning so much about ministry, I had earned my ministerial license, and I was developing a lot of other amazing relationships.

I was really narrow-minded when I moved to Waverly. I assumed I was leaving all the good people in Springfield, and there could not be much left for little old Waverly.

I was dead wrong. I am regularly overwhelmed by the deep relationships I have encountered here. I can think of a dozen friends who have the spiritual depth, godliness and knowledge of the Bible coupled with a love for others that could easily earn them the same ministerial license I have. They live their “regular” lives with the passion of a full-time minister of the gospel, and they love others with a grace and joy that often challenges me.

High expectations. Low expectations. They are both so dangerous to our ability to experience God and allow Him to meet us right where we are. Do you know a terrible place to put your hope? Things that are seen. Don’t put your hope in anything you can see. People (including family), possessions, money, position…we want to hope in these things so badly. But they will fail you. One hundred percent of the time, they will not meet your every need and supply you with all joy and happiness. Never. Ever.

Where do we place our hope? Jesus Christ.

“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 and 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 4:16-18)

These are my life verses. They came to me at my time of greatest desperation, and they have spoken to me countless times since that moment. I am a realist, hopefully not all the way to a pessimist. I have a real tendency to lose heart. I love the regular loving reminder that these verses are to me.

I will talk about meeting my husband later. I don’t want to dilute the fact that changing my expectations by focusing on God and not myself was the key to experiencing full, rich life in Waverly. It was not finding a boyfriend or a husband, although I am grateful for that bonus. 🙂

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The Art of Throwing a Fit

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It can be a challenge to get a smile out of Isabella during photo sessions.

Isabella became very skilled at throwing fits at an early age. I distinctly remember a moment right after she turned three in which she was potty training, and she chose to throw a fit that moved from room to room and lasted about an hour. Matt and I considered the fact that she might be possessed.

Now that she is nearly 5, she does not throw a lot of fits. (Jack has been willing to take over but to a much more manageable degree.) Her current repertoire has advanced to include a sassy mouth, running away, slamming doors, threats, and more sassiness thrown in for good measure.She had a particularly challenging day a couple of weeks ago. Challenging as in mommy goes to her own room to cry her eyes out, collapses in daddy’s arms, and questions what in the world God was thinking by giving her this child to raise. Yes, I threw a tantrum for God. Oh, I was upset. I wanted to be a mother, to experience pregnancy and childbirth and breastfeeding and a tiny baby all my own. I wanted a sweet girl who would cuddle with me, hug me, listen to me, and love to shop with me. (That last one – bingo. She fits the bill almost every time.)

But the epic screaming fits? The sassy mouth that gets sassy juice multiple times a day and still has no intention of quitting? The massive attitude that never knows when to stop? I didn’t see that one coming. I have seen difficult children, I have cared for them for a few hours at a time. But every day…with barely a break in the stress and pressure? The constant questioning of my discipline – is it too much? Not enough? Does she need new consequences? Stick with the same ones? I feel like a mommy zombie as these questions roll around in my head every day.

“Why did you give her to me? I didn’t ask for this, I didn’t have any choice in the matter. I don’t get any say at all? Do you care about how I feel in this situation?” Yeah. I am sassy, too. I know very well that I am the mom God chose for Isabella. He could have given me any child, and He picked her. But it wasn’t just for her good. It was for mine, too. How much praying, crying, trusting, learning, sacrificing has happened in my life over the past 5 years? A lot. Crazy amounts, really. I have learned some hard lessons about trusting God with the heart and soul of my child that I would not have had to learn if Jack was my only child. Parenting Jack is a completely different experience, one for which I am very grateful. I begged for an easier temperament when I was pregnant with Jack, and I am thankful every day He saw fit to grant my request. But it would be far easier to attribute Jack’s personality and good behavior to my parenting if I didn’t have another one ready to fight me and rip away that “awesome mom” award.

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians‬ ‭6‬:‭9‬ ESV) I believe that we will reap a great harvest because of our investment in Isabella. However, I have many days where my hope is based on nothing I can see. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews‬ ‭11‬:‭1‬ ESV) I cling to this with great desperation. My soul needs this hope. I need to know that my faith is placed in something much greater than myself, my parenting abilities, my daughter, her ability to obey the rules, or anything else I can see and measure. God is the one who will save her soul, change her heart, and do all the work that I long to see in her life.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm‬ ‭73‬:‭26‬ ESV)

“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (‭Ezekiel‬ ‭36‬:‭26-27‬ ESV)

Who will put a new spirit within them and remove their heart of stone? God!!

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I’m writing to myself today, trust me. I hope God can encourage you as well to place your hope in Him for every overwhelming and confusing circumstance you face.

And just maybe this will come to mind the next time I gear up to throw a big fit.

Thirteen Years

February 14. Of course, I have many thoughts about this day, but this year I am particularly reminded of February 14, 2002. My dad helped me pack up every last belonging in my little apartment, and we drove from Springfield, MO, to Waverly, IA. A few men from the church met us at my new apartment and helped unload my stuff (thank God, because my dad’s back was hurting, which is in no way related to my stockpiling tendencies or the two flights of stairs down which every possession of mine were carried).

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My last day in the Springfield apartment! February 14, 2002

I cannot begin to recall every emotion of leaving a place I had grown to call home for 7 years, of leaving two amazing sisters and friends I loved dearly and venturing to a small town in which I knew 3 people. Not even a handful. I simply adored my youth pastors Jim and Sharon Brewer (still do), and when the door opened to work with him at his church in Waverly, I knew that was my next step. I expected to live here for a couple of years and then move on to something “cooler,” or at least a bigger city with better shopping.

Fast forward thirteen years. I am still here. I am married (I was pretty certain THAT would never happen in this tiny town). I have two little ones and one on the way. It boggles my mind to think of the steps that occurred to get me from miserable, lonely single woman searching for something better to overwhelmed, exhausted wife and mother who can barely remember the days of singleness even when they were the bane of my existence. It’s true. I didn’t believe my friends who said, “You won’t remember what it was like to NOT have kids.” Seriously? I won’t remember our fun days of traveling and doing whatever we wanted at any time of the day? Okay, I do remember them faintly. But they barely seem possible in light of my current reality.

What happened in thirteen years? I think what didn’t happen would be easier to list here. I have felt heights of joy I never knew possible. I have experienced soul-crushing heartbreak that literally took my breath away. I have felt used by God in the greatness of ministry and relationships. I have felt completely alone and wondered if God had a clue what I was going through in my misery. I have made friends with deeper connections than I ever thought possible, friends who held me and loved me when no one else knew my pain. I have said good-byes that ripped out my heart and every hope and dream I thought mattered.

Who am I after thirteen years? The changes are both minuscule, tiny little differences that others might never notice, and at the same time they are huge shifts in the way I live, love, and relate to those around me. I understood so little about grace and God’s great love thirteen years ago. I have much more to learn, so very much. I am so grateful for how far He has brought me in this faith journey. I look forward to sharing the big and small ways in which God has opened my eyes to see Him more clearly. He has never let me go. He has made a way where there seemed to be no way.

Today as I thought about the past thirteen years, I smiled to think of the next thirteen years. It is a different season right now, different than I have ever been in and different than I ever thought it would be. Marriage, motherhood, raising children as my life right now…even if someone told me the “real” story about this life, this season, I would never have believed it. I have so many dreams, thoughts, ideas, and even plans for the next thirteen years. They are tucked away in my heart, many days they are not brought out at all. Other days, the longing for dreams to come true is physically painful. God knows them all, just as He knew everything that was in my heart thirteen years ago on this day. My heart soars to think of all the next thirteen years could contain. I know the dark days will come as well, but I also know the God who walks through each of them with me.

With that, I start my new blog! I would love for you to join me as I look forward to writing about marriage, motherhood, faith, ministry, and all the mess and beauty they contain.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)

I sang this in church on Sunday morning, and it seems fitting for this day and this post of reflection.