Uncle!!!!

I’m crying UNCLE on 2016!

Can I just say I’m over it? It seems I enter every year with great expectations, waiting for God to totally blow my mind with good things.

So far, I’m still waiting…

Let’s review the last six months. My oldest had surgery in December. A very painful surgery. My kids lost their dad unexpectedly in April. I was sick the entire month of May.

Last week, my kids watched as they rolled me away into surgery. I can’t imagine the fear they faced knowing they had just lost their dad. Yes, it was a routine surgery, but I am certain there was a huge amount of anxiety rushing through their minds.

(On the bright side, my surgery was just three days before Blake’s birthday. The first thing I said post-op was, “I need someone to get Blake a birthday cake Friday.” The boy had FOUR birthday cakes: ice cream cake, white cake, cookie cake, and cheesecake! He hit the jackpot!)

Friday morning, as I was still moving very slowly from surgery, Blake calls me to his sister’s room. I was in no hurry…wouldn’t really matter if I was since I can barely walk.

“Mom,” he said, “you need to hurry. I think she’s having a seizure or something.”

I got to my daughter’s room to find Cassie lying in bed, grunting and drooling everywhere. She was unresponsive to my voice and to my attempts to awaken her. She just kept grunting. Drooling. Rolling around in bed. Pupils fully dilated.

I sent my son after my parents. My phone was somewhere in the house, but not where I needed it. My mom and I knelt by her bed, praying and attempting to calm her while my dad called 911.

My background is that of neuro nurse. I’ve taken care of seizing patients before, but nothing compares to watching your own child in a full blown tonic-clonic seizure. Can I just say there is no fear like that of seeing your child ill, helpless? Wondering what is going to happen. Wondering if she will pull out of it. Wondering how your other children are going to handle yet another loss, another traumatic event. Wondering how you will pay yet ANOTHER $5000 deductible.

So many fears. So many worries. And yet the only thing that matters in the moment is that precious life in the bed before you, that precious life you brought into the world.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Cassie began to come around. With slurred speech, she began to ask about my sister-in-law. She asked why she was making that noise. With everyone gathered around her, she asked who was hurt, what was going on.

By the time the paramedics arrived, she was responding. She knew the date, where she was, everyone gathered around her. She was still struggling with her speech, but she was improving every moment.

We loaded her on the ambulance, and I rode beside her. Holding her hand. Comforting her. Explaining all the monitors. Helping her understand exactly what was happening. I sent out text messages to those I could think of, begging for prayers. Neighbors saw the ambulance and stopped to check on us.

After several hours in the emergency room, blood and urine tests, CT scan of the head, we found…nothing. She was back to normal.

But I’m not sure I will ever be back to normal.

It’s possible it could be a once in a lifetime seizure. Perhaps brought on by stress (we’ve had our share this year). Perhaps brought on by lack of sleep (she’s been playing hard this summer).

But how do you go to sleep at night after an event such as this one? What if it happens again? What if she’s in her room on one end of the house and I don’t hear her? What if she goes unresponsive again and can’t call for help? What if?

The questions and fears are unending. The visions, forever imprinted on our minds, haunt us. We struggle—once again—to return to a sense of normalcy, whatever that may look like.

 

You will keep in perfect peace
    all who trust in you,
all whose thoughts are fixed on you!
Isaiah 26:3

 

It seems every event in my life brings me right back to this truth: Keep my thoughts focused on Him.

The waves crash around me. The storm rages. The winds howl.

“Stay focused on me,” He calls.

My eyes wander to the pain and the loss, to the hurt and rejection. I wonder how I can ever lead my kids back to a place of healing, of wholeness. I worry about them, their future.

“Stop worrying. Seek my face. Focus on all of the blessings I’ve poured out on you,” He gently reminds me.

I worry about mounting medical bills. I struggle with the reality that every time I think I might get ahead, something happens and knocks me back down. With three teenagers and college only a few years away, I’m facing the most expensive years of raising kids and I bear the entire load of providing financially.

“I am your Jehovah Jireh. Remember how I carefully provided for your every need, every step of this journey?”

The burden is heavy, the future so uncertain. I wonder how I will stand up under the weight.

“Cast your cares on me because I care for you.”

Yes, this year (and a great number of recent years) has been tough! I’m finished…ready for a break. I find myself wondering how, when I will see the blessings of the Lord poured out, the answers to my prayers.

And yet, when I change my perspective, I realize how many incredible blessings are in my life. I see the hand of my Savior, guiding and protecting. I recognize His sovereignty that protected my precious daughter in her time of need. I know He somehow arranged every detail—my daughter was home instead of at a friend’s house as planned, my son was up early and heard her, and so many other details—to keep her safe and pull her out of it.

I know He has provided for me in the past, and I know He won’t stop now. He is trustworthy. He is faithful.

And when I remember His goodness and His grace and His character, when I focus on Him instead of the storm raging around me, He keeps me in perfect peace.

 

 

When A Pastor Falls

I like to listen to sermons.

When I drive. When I run. When I get ready for work. I often have a podcast playing, just to keep my mind focused.

I have several favorites on my playlist. I regularly listen to Mark Batterson at National Community Church, Andy Stanley at North Point Community Church, Craig Groeschel at Life.Church, and Perry Noble at New Spring Church.

Monday morning, I awakened to the news that Perry Noble has been removed from his position as pastor at New Spring, the church he founded years ago.

Noble is known for his weekly greeting of, “Howdy, y’all!” He tells of his difficult childhood, including losing his mother to cancer as young boy, his dad’s battle with alcohol, a period of homelessness in his teens. He also talks about his own struggles with pornography and debt, battles that by all appearances he has won. And he tells of his ongoing battle with depression and anxiety.

According to a statement by one of the executive pastors, Noble has been battling an alcohol addiction. He has been confronted by the executive team on multiple occasions, and the team made the decision to remove him from his position as pastor.

My heart breaks for Pastor Perry and the church. My heart aches for the executive team of the church who was forced to take such a difficult stand. And my heart absolutely breaks for his wife and his daughter.

I’ve been in that position. I’ve been the pastor’s wife whose husband was confronted for his choices. I’ve been the pastor’s wife who walked through her husband’s fall from grace. I’ve lived and watched the pain, seen the wake of destruction…in our family and in our church. I understand in ways very few can comprehend.

Sadly, it seems to be almost epidemic. If I could pull together every email received from pastors’ spouses, you would be astonished. Astonished at the lies. Astonished at the deception. Astonished at the secret lives. Astonished at the pain.

And when a pastor falls to any sin—alcohol, drugs, infidelity, pornography—there are additional struggles that a lay person might not experience.

Loss of job/finances. Long before my husband’s infidelity was uncovered, I suspected something was wrong. However, I knew if my suspicions were correct, we were out on the street—literally. I had been a stay-at-home mom for a number of years, focusing solely on my family and the ministry. I had no income, and my skills were outdated. We would lose our only source of income, and we were not in a financial position to stay afloat.

Glass house effect. It’s often been said that pastors and their families live in a glass house. Every move is scrutinized. Every decision is judged. And, when a pastor falls, everyone knows. Depending upon the size of the church, the media spotlight shines. The church and family become the subjects of much gossip. It’s as if because of the position, your secret pain is everyone’s business.

Loss of identity. For those of us who knew we were destined for the ministry from an early age, we don’t know how to operate outside our title. We struggle with the disqualification from the ministry. We struggle with a loss of our reputation. We struggle with a sense of identity. God created our hearts for ministry, and we simply don’t know who we are outside that calling.

Loss of future. When we lose our ministry and find ourselves disqualified, we also lose our future. We must completely start over, often returning to school to find a new career. Starting over in mid-life. Wondering how we will ever get our lives back together and have a promising future.

Despite the pain and fear, if we cling to God, He restores. He restores us financially. He restores our identity. He gives us a vision for a new future. He binds up our wounds and heals our broken hearts. He gives us a brand new life. He is faithful…forever and always!

And, along the way, He changes us. Transforms us. Gives us a new understanding of what it is to experience the love of the Savior. We gain a deeper vision of His unconditional love and immense depth of His forgiveness. He gives us a new heart, a new life. He is the Resurrection and the Life!

It is a long, painful journey, but it is one filled with more blessings than you can ever imagine.

Perhaps you are not the minister’s family. Perhaps you are a devastated member of the congregation. Perhaps you are a Christian wondering how to love and support the fallen pastor and/or his family. Perhaps you are looking in, wondering how you can step up and be the hands and feet of Christ.

Ministry of Presence. Be there. Words are not even necessary. Let them know you care, you are available. Stop by with a meal or a snack. Offer a hug, a listening ear, or a shoulder to cry on. Even a simple card that says you care, you are praying.

Pray, pray, and pray some more. Don’t just say you will pray. Do it! Send a prayer text. Call and pray with them over the phone. Send a card with a written prayer. Stop by and take them by the hand and pray. We cannot comprehend the power of prayer.

Extend grace. Don’t participate in gossip. For the spouse who is often blind-sided, she is ashamed and humiliated. She is hiding in embarrassment, wondering who is blaming her. She feels as if her entire life was a lie, a sham, and she is trying to reconcile the man she married with the man beside her. Simply be gracious. And remember that it is only by the grace of God that you are not in the same position.

Offer acceptance. As Christians, it seems we are really, really good at throwing stones, at taking an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. We would much rather line up to condemn than we would line up to love and accept a minister caught in adultery or any other sin. And yet, we must remember that just because a pastor sins differently, just because his sins are paraded in front of the public, does not mean his sins are any worse than ours. As a matter of fact, the sins of pride and arrogance are often well hidden, and yet no less hated by God (Proverbs 6:16-19).

Remind the spouse and family they are not at fault for the decisions of their loved one. Most ministry spouses are fiercely faithful and long to love and support. And they often bear the burden for their spouse’s choices. I somehow felt complicit in my husband’s affair, even though I had repeatedly warned him about some of the choices he was making. I wondered if everyone in the church held me just as accountable as he was. It took me years to overcome the guilt and shame and to recognize that I was in no way responsible for my husband’s choices. Reassure the family you understand a pastor’s sins are not a reflection of who they are.

My heart aches for Perry, his wife and daughter, and New Spring Church. I pray that we, as a body of believers, surround them and love and support them through this time.

Lord Jesus, I lift Pastor P and his family to you today. We all know that we are only a sin away from the same battle he is fighting. I pray for his healing, that he would get the help he needs while in the rehab facility. I pray for his precious family, that you would strengthen and comfort them in this difficult time. I pray that during this storm you would do an amazing work in all of them so you can do an amazing work through them. Use this experience to point the world back to you, to show the world that you truly are our Resurrection and Life.

Sucker-Punched

I opened my computer with plans to write a blog about our thoughts.

But before I could even start, my thoughts captured me and took me in a completely different direction.

As soon as my computer booted up, the screen hit me like a punch in the stomach, temporarily knocking the breath out of me.

In the top right corner, my computer gave me a simple reminder of the brokenness this life has.

July 3, 2016

The date sucker-punched me, reminding me of all the hurt and pain and sadness that has punctuated my life for the last decade. Even as I pound out these words, not even knowing where I am going, the tears sting my eyes just before they roll down my cheeks. I am overwhelmed with so much emotion.

Joy. Grief. Maybe a touch of guilt. Sadness. Gratitude.

The roller coaster of emotion is running at full speed right now, even as I try to process everything rushing through my brain and my heart.

You see, at this exact moment 23 years ago, I was at the salon, having my hair and nails done.

Excitement in the air. Nerves getting the best of me. Ready for the day every girl dreams of. The first day of the rest of my life.

Family and friends gathered in the church, even as I slipped into the beautiful white gown. I placed my grandmother’s pearls around my neck. The elegant veil placed atop my head. My dad by my side.

We walked down the aisle where my best friend was waiting.

We laughed and cried throughout the ceremony. We made a solemn pledge before family and friends and before God to love, honor, cherish, in sickness and in health, for richer and poorer, for better and worse, until death do we part.

And we walked back down the aisle, hand in hand, ready to face the world…together.

So much has happened in 23 years. Happiness. Sadness. Fights. Making up. Deaths. Births. Ministry. Laughter. Tears. Betrayal. Heart ache. Despair. Anger. Bitterness. Forgiveness. Moving forward. Building a new life. Raising kids. Growing. Changing. Seeing God.

Three years ago, on what would have been my 20th wedding anniversary, I had my first article published. I remember the tears, again a mixture of joy and sadness. Reflecting on what should have been versus the new life God was building for me. The pain and sadness compared to the overwhelming faithfulness I experienced at the hand of my Savior.

Today, I sit and weep. Weep over what should have been. Weep over loss. Weep over a life cut short. Weep over the pain my children are experiencing. Weep for unknown reasons.

And I find myself wondering how to reconcile my expectations with reality.

Years ago when my oldest was only a few months old, we served on staff at a large church. In our short tenure there, we discovered undeniable evidence that the senior pastor had an affair. We confronted him and were assured that he had repented and was surrounding himself with men who would hold him accountable.

As we walked away from the situation, we carried a strong reminder from God: If you choose not to abide in me daily, it could be you one day. Sadly, the warning we received early in ministry was not enough to prevent our own collision course with adultery.

What would our lives have looked like if we had both remained in the vine, abiding daily? What kind of ministry would we have? Where would we be living? What kind of joys and sorrows would we have faced?

It’s so easy to get caught up in the what ifs and the what could have beens. It’s easy to lose our focus, to turn our attention away from what we have.

It’s easy to become discontent by missing the many blessings we have right in front of us.

So on this day, I’m trying to refocus my attention.

I’m recounting my blessings.

Three amazing kids who touch the lives of everyone they come into contact with.

An incredible family that has stood by us and loved us and supported us every step of the way.

A former church that still loves us and embraces us as if we never left.

A beautiful ministry where I get to share from my heart how to overcome the brokenness and build a beautiful life.

So many amazing friends—many of whom I’ve never met—that walk this journey alongside me.

And, above all, the opportunity to experience the Great I Am, to find Him faithful in every situation. To know Him deeply and intimately as He guides my every step of this crazy journey called life. To find that He is trustworthy…forever and always.

The last decade has been quite an adventure, one I never dreamed and certainly never wanted. And yet, here I am today. The more I walk with my Savior, the more I long for the adventure only He can give.

He is calling you and me to step out of the boat and walk on water toward His outstretched hand. It’s a daunting thought to take that first step, to lift that leg up and over the edge of the boat. But you can be certain that He is there waiting.

Your journey may not look anything like you expected. The storms may be raging, winds howling and thunder crashing and lightning flashing. You might fear drowning.

Forget the storm and the waves crashing all around you. Focus only on Him. Reach out for that outstretched hand. Notice the nail marks, reminders of One who loved you enough to give His life for you. Let Him pull you from your comfort zone, from your ordinary expectations of this life.

And let Him lead you on the adventure of a lifetime…no matter how different it may be from the life you signed up for.

 

Love Your Enemies

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48

Sometimes following God just…sucks.

Have you ever felt that way? I have a group of people rising up against me, making my life very difficult right now. I want so badly to hold onto anger and bitterness. I want to shout my innocence to the world. I want to unleash every ounce of pent up anger.

And yet I hear the gentle voice of God say, “Love. Love your enemies. Love them well. Do it my way.”

Sometimes I simply don’t want to do it His way.

When I started writing, I quickly learned that criticism went hand-in-hand with being in the public eye. Because I write so often on divorce, I frequently have those who are holier than me who like to make sure I know I am a false teacher, purporting a doctrine that will destroy me and those to whom I write. I frequently have to remind myself that these people are clinging to a human interpretation of scripture…which means a fallible interpretation. Truth be told, none of us knows the exact interpretation this side of heaven. We simply have to take the Bible, study it carefully, seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and use the greater context of scripture to determine the interpretation.

And the greater context of scripture is that of a loving, gracious God who forgives every sin, who sets captives free, who came to give us abundant life.

Yes, God hates sin. He hates divorce. He also hates greed. He hates arrogance. He hates lust. He hates every sexual sin. He hates unforgiveness. He hates gluttony. And He hates pride.

Why does He hate these things so much? Because they separate us from Him, a holy God who cannot look on sin. Because they cause so much devastation and destruction to His children, and His Father heart breaks when we hurt because of our own stupidity.

But in His grace, He looks down and scoops us up into His arms and restores us. Gives us new life. Helps us see that His way is the best way. He takes even our most horrible, miserable failures and uses them to mold us into His image. He takes our messes and gives us a ministry.

And I am so thankful for His grace.

But the enemies I fight today are not strangers who are accusing me of being a false teacher. They aren’t names lurking behind a computer screen, searching the internet for people like me proclaiming a different interpretation of scripture.

They are people I know. People I love. People I gave so much of my life to.

People who now believe lies about me.

I’ve spent many hours crying over the bitter attacks, struggling to understand why they would turn against me. My heart breaks over the hatred, the venomous attacks. I’m so tired and weary from the battle.

And I want to lash out.

I want to return evil for evil. I want to shout my innocence from the mountaintop. I want to fiercely defend my reputation, my good name.

Yet I look at the greater context of scripture to realize my responsibility is to love. To love those who seek to harm me. To love those who lash out at me. To love those I’d rather hate right now.

I seek to look beyond the words and actions and see the reasons behhind their actions. Yes, I know they are fighting their own battles. I know they have been told lies about me. I know they are hurting in their own right.

And I know that their words and actions flow from the anger and bitterness pent up inside their own hearts.

A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart. Luke 6:45

I don’t want to have the ugliness and bitterness corrupt my heart. I don’t want my actions and words to flow from an ugly heart.

I want my life to be characterized by the grace of God, by His unconditional love. I want my life to be a testimony of the goodness of my Father who has poured out His mercy upon me. I want my life to be an example of a life transformed by the God of the universe.

The God who sent His son to earth to die for my sins so I could receive His forgiveness.

The God who is faithful to me even when I am faithless.

The God who came and lived a perfect life for me to imitate.

The God who showed His love for me even while I was lost in my own sin.

As much as I sometimes want to handle situations such as these in my own way, ultimately I know His way is best. Therefore, I will strive to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me…even when I don’t want to.

Lord Jesus, my flesh wants nothing more than to lash out at those who hate me, those who want to destroy me. But I pray your blessings over them. I pray today that you, Lord, will bless my enemies and protect them.  May you, Lord, smile on them and be gracious to them. May you, Lord, show them your favor and give them your peace. In Jesus name I pray, amen.

The “Pendulum Swing” of Female Sexuality

 shannon ethridge

I’m so excited to have a very special guest post this week! Shannon Ethridge is the best selling author of The Every Woman series and the Completely His series. I’m currently enrolled in her BLAST mentoring program as I seek to follow God on this crazy journey of writing and speaking. Please take some time to learn more about Shannon and her heart for women and sexual intimacy. God bless!

*****************

Guest Post by Shannon Ethridge, M.A.

Imagine 8-10 women of all ages, from all walks of life, gathering together over a 4-day span with one goal – to sift through their sexual and emotional baggage. Why in the world would they want to do such a thing?

Because they’re serious about making sexual integrity and healthy

sexual intimacy a priority in their life once again.

 

Some women come to my Women at the Well 4-day Intensive Workshops because they’ve acted out sexually and are desperately trying to break free from their first affair… or their fourth or fifth. Others have shut down sexually, avoiding their husband’s sexual advances for years… or decades. Childhood sexual abuse, body image issues, pre-marital promiscuity, emotional disconnection, or legalistic upbringings can make it seem too painful to “go there,” even in marriage. Or such trauma can actually make “going there” via an inappropriate relationship seem absolutely irresistible, as we seek to medicate our emotional pain rather than feeling and healing it.

I often describe female sexuality as a “pendulum swing.” Some swing too far to the left, crossing boundary lines they never thought they’d cross. Others swing too far to the right, isolating and insulating themselves from the very connection they once craved. Most women will swing back and forth to some degree throughout her lifetime – feeling like a “hot mama” on some days, and like a “cold clam” on others. Hormone levels and flirty feelings fluctuate as unpredictably as flashflood waters running through a dry creek bed. It can be rather scary, not just for the woman experiencing these peaks and valleys and pendulum swings, but also for the husband who has no idea whether she’s running hot or cold from one season to the next.

I speak from experience on these issues, having graduated magna cum laude from The School of Hard Knocks. After years of pre-marital promiscuity, I honestly thought putting a wedding band on my finger would stop the sexual madness in my own life and give me an escape route off of the “crazy train.” And it did. In fact, the wedding band was my permission slip to shut down sexually altogether after we’d had children, which of course didn’t suit my husband at all.

However, with the help of a professional counselor, I invested six months sifting through the sexual and emotional baggage that had weighed down my life and marriage. It was by far the best investment of money, time, and energy I’ve ever made. And as I write this, my husband’s head is nodding furiously in agreement, flashing his best Cheshire-cat grin.

My emotional healing and restored sexual confidence has not only meant a stronger marriage, but also a stronger ministry, as cheering women on in their own healing journey has become one of my absolute greatest joys!

Has sexual and emotional baggage weighed down your life and marriage?

To help you determine the answer, here are a few questions to consider:

  • Do you feel like “damaged goods” because of your sexual past?
  • Is it hard to resist the attentions of another man who finds you attractive, even if you know that man isn’t good for you?
  • Do you often wish that your husband would be content with just holding hands or talking, rather than expecting sex?
  • Are you comfortable and confident in your own skin, or do you feel the need to hide your body from your husband’s eyes?
  • Would your husband say he got a “bait and switch” deal – that you seemed amiable to physical intimacy in the early years, but not nearly as much so now?
  • Can you enjoy sex with your husband without guilt, shame, or inhibition?
  • Do you often fantasize about being sexually or emotionally intimate with a different man than the one you married?

If you recognize that your sexual pendulum has swung too far to the left, or too far to the right, know that you are not alone. Over the past 20 years of speaking, countless women have declared to me, “Wow! Your story is just like my story!” If this storyline resonates with you as well, perhaps it’s time to carefully consider what may be keeping YOU from enjoying a vibrant, healthy sex life within your (current or future) marriage.

If you need someone to help you craft a happy ending to your sexual and emotional story, connect with a counselor, coach, or mentor. Or consider entering through the Women at the Well Workshop door yourself! What will you find inside? Acceptance. Love. Mercy. Grace. Wisdom. Insight. Inspiration. Peace. Confidence. Hope. All through relationships with other women on a similar journey. Because when we’ve been deeply wounded in relationships, we experience deep healing the same way – in relationship with others.

*****

Shannon Ethridge, M.A. is a Certified Life Coach, International Speaker, Co-Host of Sexy Marriage Radio, and Author of 22 books including the million-copy best-selling Every Woman’s Battle series, The Sexually Confident Wife, and The Passion Principles. Learn more about her books, coaching, and workshops at www.shannonethridge.com.

 

To the Fatherless Child on Father’s Day

A decade ago, I was a happy pastor’s wife staying home to raise my three children. We were the picture of the perfect family.

Then, my perfect life was ripped to shreds. Lies. Infidelity. Betrayal. Immeasurable pain. And suddenly, I was a single mom struggling to raise my three precious children on my own.

Without a father in the home, my boys stepped up to the plate, expressing their need to be the man of the house…all while I insisted they were still children and God was the man of the house. My daughter latched onto the men in the family…all while I watched helplessly wondering if she would always try to fill the void with men.

Many years have passed as we have found our way in this world without a man—a human man—to lead our home. While our lives are not perfect and certainly not without struggles, we have found a way to thrive in the face of daunting obstacles. We have chosen to look to our heavenly Father to bind up our wounds and heal our broken hearts. We have found that He is a far better provider than any human could ever be. And we have learned the joy of being completely dependent on Him.

But my children have always had a father, even if he was not present in our home. They have always had a human being to call, “Dad,” here on this earth. They have always had someone to celebrate, to honor, on days like Father’s Day.

Was their relationship with their father perfect? No. Did he attend all of their activities? No. Did he celebrate their accomplishments? No. They often felt as if they were fatherless. But they could always feel and touch the man whose DNA runs through their veins.

Two months ago, my children truly became fatherless when their dad passed away suddenly. No warning. No explanation. Just gone.

The two younger children had plans to see him the next night. Plans that never came to fruition.

When he passed, hopes died. Hope that one day they would have the relationship with him they longed for. Hope that one day he would understand the pain they had suffered over the years. Hope that one day they would no longer feel fatherless as he stepped into his God-ordained role.

My heart aches as I see the grief my children bear. I see the tears trickle down their faces as Father’s Day approaches. I hear the anguish as they talk about what they always hoped would be.

The “Daddy-hole” that was already in their lives has been ripped wide open, exposing hurts buried deep within for many years. Grief complicated by guilt. Hopes ripped to shreds. They are left wondering why: Why would God take their daddy so soon? Why were their prayers ignored? Why does life have to be so hard even when we try to follow God as He calls?

As Father’s Day approaches, I see grief intensifying as reality begins to set in. I struggle with how to help my kids walk through these difficult days, to reconcile their pain with the hope to which they’ve clung for the last decade.

And here’s what I want my kids to know.

God is still good. I know it may not seem like it right now, but God is still good. I know it seems like He does the exact opposite of what you pray, of what you hope for. We may not see it today…or tomorrow…or next week…or next year. But if we trust Him, He will show you that He is still good.

I can’t even start to tell you what that good will look like, but I have lived long enough in this life to see Him take the ugliness, the pain, the heart ache and use it for good. He somehow weaves the seemingly unrelated events of our lives together and makes a beautiful mosaic. He uses the sickness and death to point the world back to Him, to give us a testimony of how He can make all things beautiful in His time.

Please, my precious children, cling to your heavenly Father. Trust Him, even when it seems He cannot be trusted. He can see from beginning to end, and He will show you His goodness and grace in His time.

 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. Romans 8:28

God is strong in our weakness. We have walked this path together for over seven years now. And God has been with us every step of the way. When I was too dazed and confused to be a mom, He was with us. When I was too exhausted to keep going, He strengthened us. When I had no idea how to raise a warrior son, He gave us wisdom.

I’ve watched as you have grown in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. I can’t take any credit for the amazing young people you are, because I gave up on parenting many years ago. I simply surrendered…surrendered to Him and asked Him to do the parenting through me. And what an amazing job He has done with you!

And just because your dad is no longer physically here on this earth does not mean that He has given up on you. To the contrary, God is even bigger! You see, He promises to be perfect in our weakness. That hole in your heart? He is big enough to fill it. The powerlessness you feel about your future, about learning to become the man you are supposed to be? He is strong enough to overcome.

Please. Simply run to Him and let Him be everything you seem to be lacking.

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

God is near the broken-hearted. You hear it all the time, but maybe you have yet to sense it. Maybe it seems as if God is a million miles away, concerned with everyone and everything except the pain overwhelming your life.

But if you seek Him, you will find Him. In the quiet of the morning when the tears stream down your face. In the comforting words of the friend who calls at just the right moment. In the perfect peace that sweeps over just when you think you can’t keep going.

You were there in my darkest days, in the days when I thought the pain would overwhelm me and sweep me away. You watched as our Savior reached down and transformed me, as He rescued me from the grave. You have listened as I gushed about the goodness of my Father, even when my life appeared broken to the outside world. You have seen His mercy poured out in my life, the joy of the Savior overflowing through our pain.

And now it is your turn. It is your turn to see His healing power…because now you have been afflicted. It is your turn to let Him bandage your wounds…because you have a gaping injury. It is your turn to experience His tender loving care…because you hurt so deeply. It is your turn to see that he is near…because you are the broken-hearted.

Please don’t waste this opportunity. Take time to sit in His presence, to soak up His grace. You will never regret letting Him lavish you with His love.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. Psalm 34:18

God is enough. You may be wondering how you will make it through life without an earthly father. You may be wondering who will teach you all those things a dad is supposed to teach you. You, my precious angel, may be wondering who will walk you down the aisle and give you away on your wedding day. You, my sons, may be wondering who to model your life after as you cross into manhood.

God is enough. He is more than enough. He can give you, my boys, the heart of a warrior. He can teach you to be a great husband and a father. He can make your life so rich, so full that you never have to doubt who you are…whose you are.

He is your provider. He is your friend. He is your comforter. He is your teacher. He is your completer. He is your mentor, your counselor, your guide in this life. He will lead you into your future, give you a life far greater than you could ever ask hope or imagine. He will never leave you nor forsake you. He is your Great I Am…exactly what you need, exactly when you need it.

Never doubt that He sees you, your pain, and that He hears your prayers. He is everything you could ever need…and so much more.

“I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” Hebrews 13:5

I know that Father’s Day is going to be painful this weekend…and every year for the rest of your life. Just remember that you are not alone. God has been with us every painful step of this journey, and He’s not about to leave us now.

As a matter of fact, He’s just waiting to celebrate the special relationship He has with you! He is your Father, my precious, children! You are not fatherless, but instead you have the perfect father!

A Call to Radical Extremism

For the last two months, my life has been moving at warp speed. Every waking moment seems to be spent watching my children, looking for signs that their grief is overwhelming them. I haven’t taken the time to watch the news, and have in many ways withdrawn from the world in which I live.

Today, that changed.

I heard a few blurbs about a shooting in Orlando yesterday, but I did not understand the magnitude of the situation.

It wasn’t until I found myself captive in a doctor’s office with my daughter this morning that I began to hear the harrowing accounts of a madman entering a club and senselessly killing 50 people. My heart began to ache. I began to read a number of articles about the shooting. My anger raged even as the tears streamed down my face.

Before the death toll was even tallied, the rallying cries began. Support gun control. Ban all Muslims. Finger-pointing commenced: Donald Trump spews hatred. President Obama refuses to say, “Islamic Terrorist.”

And as I began to examine the issue, my mind went straight to one word: Extremism.

There are extremists in every sect of our society. There are Muslims who are extremists, those who are bent on destroying anyone whose beliefs contradict their own. There are Christians who are extremists, those who spew hatred in the name of the God I love. There are heterosexuals who believe it is their job to eliminate anyone who supports the LGBT agenda.

Let’s go even further than this attack. There are black extremists who are bent on killing law enforcement officers simply because they wear the uniform. There are white extremists who seek to destroy others for the color of their skin. There are Democrats who seek to demonize their opponents. And there are Republicans who will stop at nothing in their effort to destroy the Democrats.

My heart aches as I look at the division in our country, as I grapple with the hatred for anyone whose opinions might differ from our own. Many times the cry of “tolerance” seems to fall from the mouths of those who seem so intolerant of anyone different from themselves.

I want to end extremism.

Until I suddenly remember the most radical extremist of all time, Jesus Christ.

Yes, my Lord and Savior, the One I have pledged to love and serve with all my heart, was the most radical extremist of all time. He came to this earth and turned it upside down with His radical teachings and counter-cultural way of thinking.

And I can’t help but wonder what this world would look like if we could all follow His radical way of living.

I see at least three areas in which He was radical.

Jesus was radical about God. Jesus Christ entered this world at a time when the Pharisees had hi-jacked God’s people and heaped a ton of rules and regulations upon people. The Pharisees made it so difficult to walk with God, making decisions about what was acceptable and what was not. They had the final judgmental say in all religious matters.

But, when Jesus entered this world, He shook it up. He turned the tables on the Pharisees, pointing out that while their actions might make them appear righteous, their hearts were actually far from God (Matthew 23:27). His harshest words were aimed at the self-righteous leaders of the day, as He sought to turn the religious establishment on its head.

Instead, Jesus said it was all about God, all about loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Matthew 22:37). He gave us an example to follow by always making time to get away and spend time with the Father (Matthew 26). He made sure that He was doing only what He saw the Father doing (John 5:19).

Jesus had a single-minded devotion to a relationship with the Father, and the Father never led Him astray. If only we as Christians could follow His example.

Jesus was radical about people. When Jesus walked this earth, He was radical about people. He was radical about the outcasts of society. He was radical about the orphans and widows. He was radical about the poor and the down-trodden. He was radical about the helpless. He was radical about sinners.

Instead of an eye for an eye, Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek. Instead of stoning the adulterer, He set free the woman caught in adultery. Instead of turning His back on tax collectors like Zaccheus and Matthew, He called them to join Him. Instead of condemning the woman at the well who had five husbands, He offered her living water.

Jesus was radical about His love for people. He was radical about pouring out mercy and grace. He didn’t tell them to change their ways so He could love them; He loved them just as they were (Romans 5:8). His extravagant love was poured out on those who needed compassion and acceptance long before He pointed out their sins.

As Christians, it can be tough to balance the calls to love and truth. I stumble as I try to figure out how to hold tightly to my Christian beliefs while loving those in a different camp. One thing I always try to remember is that truth is foolishness to those who do not believe and therefore I cannot expect a non-Christian to adhere to my values (1 Corinthians 1:18). I cannot expect anyone to conform to my way of life unless I show them the radical love demonstrated by my Savior. And, after they experience His radical love, I can trust that He will transform them to His image as they seek to know Him better. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict of sin, not mine.

Jesus was radical about purpose. Today, we hear so much about ISIS being radically committed to converting the world to Islam and eliminating anything contrary to its belief system. As much as we hate the ways, you have to admit that followers are committed to their purpose.

Jesus was also radically committed to His purpose. He came with His mind set on saving humanity, on bridging the gap between a Holy God and a sinful people. He came to show us that it is possible to live in communion with the Father, to live a life that points the world back to Him. He came to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). And absolutely nothing could deter Him from His purpose.

What would this world look like if we, as Christians, could join together and be just as radically committed to our purpose of loving others into the family of God? What if we put aside all political allegiances, prejudices, and preconceived notions and chose to be radically committed to winning others to Christ, to furthering the Kingdom of God? What if we had a single-minded devotion to living our lives in such a way that pointed the world back to Christ at all costs? What if we simply reached across the aisle and joined hands with those who ultimately want the same thing we do? What if…

I am certain that if we were as radically committed to our purpose as what Christ was that we would see this world transformed by the God we serve.

Radicalism is alive and well in so many segments of society. Perhaps it’s time for us as Christians to recognize that we are called to a radical love and commitment to our God. Perhaps it is time we let Him do a radical transformation in us and through us. Perhaps it is time we, too, become the most radical extremists this world has ever seen.

 

 

In the Silence

Silence.

As a single mom of three teenagers, the thought of a few moments of silence is only a dream. Cries of, “Mom, what’s for dinner?” “Mom, can we leave yet?” “Mom, can my friend come over?” “Mom, where are you?” seem to permeate every moment of every day.

What I would do to have just a few minutes of silence…

But when the silence is from God?

It is deafening. Painful. Overwhelming. I cry out for Him, to hear His voice, to experience His presence. I struggle and strive against the silence, craving His sweet whispers to get me through my day. I can’t understand why I can’t hear His voice in the midst of this journey, a journey that has taken so many twists and turns that just when I think I am going to make it, there’s another slap in the face.

Yes, that’s the story of my life right now.

This journey started over eight years ago with God calling me to step out of my comfort zone, telling me He was with me and wanted to build a great faith in me. That moment has given me strength and confidence to move forward, to constantly strive to hold his outstretched hand.

And He has been so faithful. Through divorce and death and sickness and poverty. Through loss and infidelity and rebellion. He has been my constant.

I have experienced the incredible high of hearing my Savior’s sweet whispers day by day, leading me into a deeper faith. I’ve seen him take my pain, my misery, and create a ministry greater than anything I could ever imagine. I’ve had such an amazing, intimate experience with my Savior.

Until He went silent.

O God, do not be silent! Do not be deaf.  Do not be quiet, O God. Psalm 83:1

I can’t even start to explain God’s ways. I do not grasp why He chooses to act in certain ways. I do not understand why sometimes we have to experience His silence.

What I do know is that even in the silence we must learn to trust Him. We must trust that He is still at work, somewhere preparing our future. We must trust that even when we can’t sense His presence, He still has not left us nor forsaken us.

Sometimes God is silent because there is sin in our lives. Throughout scripture, we see that our sin separates us from God, from His holiness. We know that our prayers can be hindered, that we can limit the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And that is why we must strive to live lives of holiness, why we must regularly confess our sins and repent. We do not want God to be silent because we are clinging to sin in our lives.

But, I also believe sometimes we experience the silence of God to test us, to see if we will continue to walk forward in faith when it seems that our prayers are falling on deaf ears. Is our faith strong enough to sustain us in the silence? Can we cling to the God we met in the times of intimacy? Will we trust Him even when He is silent?

That’s where I have found myself for the last two years. Living on the faith that was built in the days of His intimacy. Struggling to move forward even when I felt abandoned. Reaching to grasp His hand even when it seemed to be a moving target. Crying out to Him, begging to hear His voice.

And yet, through this silence, I have found an even greater depth to my faith. I’ve continued to move forward, following the last command He gave me. I’ve seen Him provide little nuggets, just enough for me to know what to do next. It’s been a day by day provision of manna.

The silence has been painful.

But, this weekend I began to get a glimpse of the amazing work God has been doing during this period of silence. It was as if a veil was rolled back, and I suddenly began to see clearly. I am beginning to grasp the most amazing vision of what God has been doing in the silence.

And it is good. Very good.

For two years, He has been silent. For two years. He has been working to answer my prayers. For two years, He has been preparing my future. For two years, He has been behind the scenes working circumstances for my good and His glory.

That’s my encouragement to you. I believe I am on the edge of the end of the silence. I believe I am about to break through and see the work God has been doing in the silence. I believe I am about to experience an outpouring of His goodness and grace. I believe I am embarking on a new journey of intimacy with the Father.

But I had to walk through the silence to get there.

Maybe that’s where you are. Maybe you are crying out to God, struggling to understand why He seems silent. Maybe you are wondering what sin is keeping Him from you.

Perhaps this is just a holy pause in your life, one designed to see if you will continue to trust Him and obey Him even when it seems He has abandoned you. Maybe it is actually an opportunity to experience an increased faith in Him. Maybe it is simply a time where He is working silently in the background to prepare the future He has for you.

He will eventually roll away the veil and open your eyes. You will experience His goodness and His grace in abundant measure. Just keep reaching for that outstretched hand.

Honor Your Father

Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do. “Honor your father and mother.” This is the first commandment with a promise: If you honor your father and mother, “things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth.” Ephesians 6:1-3

Sometimes it’s really hard to lead your kids to obey scripture.

Over the last seven years, I have constantly encouraged my kids to honor their father, a direct command from scripture. In most areas, I am pretty good about taking the lead, about modeling obedience.

But when the father of your children has hurt you deeply, rejected you, caused you untold pain, it’s often hard to model to your children how to honor him.

I really have tried hard to walk the very fine line between honoring him and making sure they knew what behaviors were not acceptable (adultery). I’ve tried not to talk negatively, to make him out to be a bad person. We have prayed together for him, for his relationship with them.

And, I’ve done what I can to help the kids honor him. I always made sure my kids had opportunity and money to buy him a gift for every special occasion: Father’s Day, birthday, Christmas. Even when I wanted to be angry that my efforts were not only never acknowledged but also never reciprocated, I chose to keep my mouth shut.

My children had freedom to talk to their dad and see him any time they wanted, even if it wasn’t “his” time according to the visitation schedule. I can only think of one time when my kids wanted to stay an extra day, and I chose to make them come home (with good reason).

But now he’s gone.

My kids don’t have any more opportunities to honor their father here on earth. They only have their memories, the mementos from their brief years with him.

And so, on this Memorial Day weekend, I wanted to help them have a special time of remembering him, of his service to our country.

My ex-husband was buried with full United States Military honors. The flag. The honor guard. Taps.

Cole, my younger son, is a military/police fanatic. He’s all about love of country, right after love of God and family. And I knew the military aspect of the funeral would be overwhelming to my kids. And I knew the flag would be a treasure. A treasure that was presented to the kids’ grandmother.

The thought was born on that very day, at the very moment when I realized there would be a military burial: I knew I needed to get three flags, one for each of my children. I had no idea how. I had no idea when. But I knew I needed to honor their dad’s memory.

Through the help of a small army of friends, my dream became a reality.

4778Thursday evening, I planned family pictures. What the kids didn’t know is that I had a full honor guard waiting for them. We approached these five uniformed Airmen, standing at attention, ceremonially still and silent. As the kids lined up, the honor guard went through the ceremonial folding of the flags. They then solemnly presented each child with a flag, one at a time, sharing heartfelt condolences and words of appreciation on behalf of a grateful country. Then, they silently and ceremonially walked away. 4795

The final precious moment was when Captain Joshua Villalobos approached the kids and the four of them bowed in prayer together. What an amazing end to an amazing tribute.

Why do I tell you all of this?

If you have walked through a painful divorce, do what you can to honor your child’s other parent. It’s hard. It’s painful. It’s the last thing you want to do when you’ve been deeply hurt.

But, your actions will go a long way to helping your kids grow and heal. They will see you put aside self for their greater good. They will know that you possess character and integrity in abundance. They will know you value obedience to God over anything else.4802

Some of the most memorable moments are often because we choose to put others before ourselves.

Don’t be hesitant to ask for help. My dear friend, Roy, was responsible for getting the flags. My friend, Aimee, helped me find Captain Villalobos. He lined up the honor guard. My friend, Sarah, took time out of her life as a newlywed to take pictures. My family dropped everything to watch, to support my kids. I’ve been told that we pulled off a feat that is nearly impossible outside a funeral service. I say we had divine intervention.

I could have never made it through this journey without the love and support of friends and family. Never underestimate the importance of surrounding yourselves with the right people.

For those of you have live in the United States, thank a veteran today. Sometimes it’s easy to become desensitized to the sacrifices of our military. They give selflessly, without regard for their own safety. When they are called upon, they are ready and willing to serve, wherever and whenever.

These amazing members of the United States Air Force had never met me, my children, or my ex-husband. And yet, they jumped in, embraced the vision, and made an evening my children will treasure forever.

My kids no longer have their father on this earth. They can never again hear his voice or embrace him. They have nothing left but the handful of pictures and gifts that he gave them.

But they now have a memory, forever etched in photographs, an evening they will never forget. The flags are safely tucked away in shadow boxes, and they will carry them throughout their lifetimes.

It’s certainly the least I could do to honor the man who gave me my three most treasured gifts.

Useless…

Then this message came to me from the LORD: “Son of man, how does a grapevine compare to a tree? Is a vine’s wood as useful as the wood of a tree? Can its wood be used for making things, like pegs to hang up pots and pans? No, it can only be used for fuel, and even as fuel, it burns too quickly. Vines are useless both before and after being put into the fire! Ezekiel 15:1-5

Last weekend, the kids went to the lake with my brother and his family. I drove down later to join them for a weekend of boating and camping and skiing.

It’s nearly a three hour drive, so I used the time to pray and listen to the Bible. I’ve been reading through the Bible, and I just happened to be in Ezekiel. It’s easy to get lost in some of the prophetic readings…especially if your mind tends to wander WHEN you aren’t looking at the words.

 But these words captured my attention:

“Vines are useless…”

I’ve read this passage many times as I read through the Bible, but I had never really read this passage. I found myself captivated. Stopped in my tracks. It has been a ponder that thought long and hard kind of moment.

What made those words jump out at me?

I am also going through the Experiencing God Bible study. I completed it years ago, but I’m in the BLAST mentoring program with Shannon Ethridge right now and it is one of our assignments.

And I am again being reminded just how God works.

How we can do nothing by ourselves.

How God is always at work around us.

How God reveals what He wants to do to His followers.

How we are called to do only what the Father tells us to do.

How He pursues an intimate love relationship with us.

How we face a crisis of belief when God calls us to something.

How we must adjust our lives to join Him in His work.

How we experience God as we walk in obedience.

And how we can do absolutely nothing without Him.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. John 15:5-6

There it is again. Have you ever wondered why God didn’t say He was the tree trunk and we were the branches?

Because, according to Ezekiel 15, the branches of a tree can be used for something. Is a vine’s wood as useful as the wood of a tree? Can its wood be used for making things, like pegs to hang up pots and pans? (vv 2-3).

Last weekend at the lake, I had two of the girls back at the campsite while the boys continued to play in the boat. The girls and I gathered up wood to use for a fire so we could roast hot dogs. I’m not very good at starting a fire, but I knew I needed some small branches for kindling. I would get them set on fire, but I couldn’t get the fire to spread to the larger logs. The kindling simply burned up too quickly.

And that’s what scripture teaches us about vines. They burn up too quickly to be useful for fire. It isn’t strong enough to make anything useful. It is completely useless.

So why did God choose to use the analogy of a vine in John 5?

Because just like in Ezekiel, we are useless.

We cannot do anything on our own.

Anything we try to do will burn up and be blown away like chaff.

Our best efforts are not worth anything in the greater picture of the Kingdom.

No matter what we attempt, it will be worth nothing.

The only way our efforts will amount to anything is if we are directly connected to the Master Vine. Abiding in Him. Seeking to walk in an intimate love relationship with Him. Finding out where He is working. Not trying to get God to bless our efforts, but joining Him where He is already at work. Adjusting our lives to His plan. Trusting Him even when we have a crisis of belief.

I don’t know where you are on this journey, but I know the first step is one of surrender. Surrender your will. Surrender your heart. Admit you don’t know where God is going, but you will follow no matter where He leads. Ask Him to take whatever it is you are facing and use it for your good and His glory.

Admit to Him that you are useless without Him.