Sunday, January 15, 2012

Kicked in the Teeth

Well, I did what every blogger hopes not to do. I started writing, stuck with it for a while and then disappeared. Unfortunately, mine is a common tale. With all best intentions, I wanted to share my stories, experiences and life lessons and then, guess what? Another future “story” or “life lesson” kicks me in the teeth. How many of us have had this experience? We are going along in life, trying to grow and learn and minister in the way that God is calling us to.  Then, sometimes out of the blue we get knocked down, derailed or just sidetracked.  Then we have a choice.
We can choose disappointment and anger at God and the self pity that tends to accompany those feelings. Or, we can step back and take some time to process events so that they can be turned into a “life lesson” when we feel less bloodied. I know that retrospect is a great vantage point. I never think that what I am experiencing may have future value for someone else. At the time, it just feels bad.
I had a really great year and a really rough year. Both those things happened at the same time. I had a great year because I felt like God was opening up some new opportunities for me to minister. I was excited about maybe teaching at my church or developing relationships with other women and writing blog posts (!) I made some changes in my schedule that would allow for these things and I knew that God was clearly leading. I had great expectations.
That was the really great year part. The really rough year part was realizing that there were some big real-life problems that were going to derail my plans. Like finances, family health issues, relationship quandaries and, well, you know… life. So, I took a step back. I felt kicked in the teeth. And…I adjusted my expectations.

My expectations and God’s plans for me seem to rarely be the same. I usually get them wrong. See, here I go on a life lesson.  Just because I get derailed or things don’t go as I am planning and expecting doesn’t mean I am not continuing to grow, learn and minister. Rarely am I able to put into action a plan for myself that will insure the optimum in spiritual growth, learning and ministry. But, God knows what I need. He knows what roadblocks will make me press into Him harder, and when to give me a breather. He knows what I can and can’t handle and when I am resilient or not. I can trust that His plans for me are probably more productive than mine, even if they are not what I expected.

So, all of us can step back and take a moment to process and talk to Him about what is or isn’t happening the way we expected. We can trust His plan and see him turn it into a “life lesson” for us and maybe even for someone else. And then we can keep growing, learning and ministering from that place of trust. As for me, I am going to try to keep writing on my blog.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pondering, Worrying...or just Thinking

I was thinking about how often I wonder about the things of God…how He moves, how He works and how little I really understand of His ways. I happened to be reading Psalm 77 and saw the writer himself talking about “pondering” the works of the Lord and how he “muses” on the deeds of God. The context in this Psalm is of a wailing, doubting, worrying follower who fears that God has forgotten him.

Sometimes I feel like that too, especially if I have been doing a lot of “pondering”, i.e. "worrying". What is so great about this Psalm is how the writer does a complete 180 in one song. He starts with suggesting that God has changed His character, forgotten His grace and withdrawn His compassion. But then…he ponders some more. He reminds himself of the wonders of God, the works of God and the faithfulness of God.

Sometimes I feel badly that I do so much wondering. I think I should just be able to trust without thinking, to rest in God without worrying.
I am wrong about this. God doesn’t mind that we ponder…in fact it would probably be good for us to ponder more than we do. How often do we allow ourselves to let our minds wander around and about God? We may start with worry…but if it can become a time of thinking, reminding ourselves of truth. Then it becomes a great time of thinking!

I get intimidated sometimes by the concepts of meditation or contemplation. Those terms can sound hyper spiritual or daunting. But they’re not. They are just longer words that mean “to think” and to let yourself be absorbed in thinking. Thinking can be a long, wandering time of thoughts rolling around in your head, of arguing with yourself and then coming to conclusions. God can use that time of thinking…He likes us to think.
I am always trying to bully my thoughts into submission and not let myself worry or doubt God. Yet, I wonder if it is healthier to let our anxious thoughts wander along and then let God gently guide our ponderings into truth? Can we trust the Holy Spirit to guide our thoughts? I think so. Just look at Psalm 77. Here he is, worrying, afraid to think that God has maybe changed or forgotten him, or even that God is mad at him. And then, he turns it around. He thinks some more and then he remembers what is true.

“Your way, O God, is holy; what god is great like our God?” vs. 13.
I’m going to try to stop worrying about “over thinking” things and instead try to calmly “ponder”.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Protecting the Pastor's Children

I had a wonderful experience this last week. One of my adult children shared some spiritual truth with me that I had forgotten.  In this case, it was a good exhortation (code for “kick in the pants”). Now, this adult child regularly brings joy to my heart for a variety of reasons but there was something so wonderful  about hearing spiritual truth from a person that used to be my baby child. What a small and yet majestic thing it was to be encouraged in my faith by my child.  And it could easily have never happened. Just growing up in a Christian family doesn’t  guarantee authentic relationship with Christ. We all want our children to become faithful, mature adults. However, growing up as a “pastor’s kid” can make this extra hard.
There are many who see their children become casualties of the ministry. These children watch and hear as their mothers and fathers get hurt by the same adults who are their beloved Sunday school teachers, worship leaders and trusted adult friends. I have known children who struggle and kick against the church for years because of the difficult times their families have gone through. I have tried to teach my children not to blame God for the mistakes that we as His children make towards each other. It is a hard lesson for all of us to learn and unfortunately, many pastor’s kids see too much bad behavior in Christian adults.

For those who are raising children while also pastoring and leading imperfect people, there are some dangers.  And not just from the people who attend our church. Sure, they might expect too much from your child. They might say something unkind about the church (or the pastor)that your child hears . However, what if we are the ones exhibiting the bad behavior? Maybe we are always talking negatively about the church around our children. Talking about church usually becomes talking about people. Isn’t this still gossip? They are listening to the frustration and anger we express.

We are constantly making choices that our children see and internalize. I know there were times when my children felt “the church” was more important to their parents than they were. This was never intentional of course, but we made choices that communicated this to our children.  At the time, it seemed so important to meet with a new couple in the church instead of having dinner with the kids. Or, it was crucial that the elders meeting take place on the same night as a school function. I know I was sometimes unaware of these subtle choices and what priorities they conveyed to my children. We didn’t always choose wisely.
We can’t protect our children from everything, but we can protect them from a lot of things. We can choose not to talk negatively about those whom we pastor. We can try to  order our times and schedules to reflect all our priorities. We can speak love and forgiveness to them about the hurtful things that happen in church life. We can help them process the grief they feel when their best “church friend’s” family leaves. We can show them that God is enough for us when things are rough and therefore, He is enough for them too. Our own authenticity and faith will be a sign for them.

They may go through a faith crisis. They may go through a “church” crisis. (Those are two different things) And although there are no guarantees, they may end up exhorting you with wonderful truths about God that you forgot. I pray for the latter.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

When You Don't Have Anything to Give

Sometimes people need more from us than we have to give. I am mainly thinking of times when I start to depend on myself to meet others spiritual needs and I cannot do it. For example, there have been times when I have felt spiritually tired, dry or worn out.  Then someone needs to talk, or needs prayer, or counsel or just anything. Often my first thought can be: “How do I tell them I don’t have anything to give them?”

Fortunately, I usually don’t want to admit my weakness to them so I confidently say “Sure, let’s talk”, or “What can I pray for you about?”

Why “fortunately”?  Because then, as I am praying for them, listening to them or asking questions, the Holy Spirit gives me a gentle kick of reminder that I am not the one who needs to meet their needs, He is.
I learned long ago that God was not dependent on my spiritual state in order to bring truth, healing or insight to one of his children. I still forget.

And yet, God is faithful to me in these times, just as He is to the person seeking my help. I have found that in difficult times or times of doubt or dryness in my own soul, the words that God will share with someone through my prayer or conversation with them end up building my own faith and reminding me of truths I have temporarily forgotten.

I once spent some time talking and praying with an acquaintance that was unsure of God’s love for her. She was struggling to grasp how she could be special to God, separate and distinct from all the millions of other people in the world.  It was important to her to feel known, understood and valuable as an individual. I don’t remember what I said, what I prayed or much about the actual encounter at all except I knew that what was coming out of my mouth was not anything I could have thought of at the moment. I also knew that it was just as much for me as it was for her.  She left our time feeling that God had given her something to hold onto and treasure about her “specialness” to Him, and I left vowing to never depend on my own wisdom and sense of maturity again.

I also began learning the gift of being empty of great ideas, wise insights and spiritual hyperbole for others.  The more I was able to approach those kinds of situations knowing how empty handed I was, the more God was able to touch that person Himself.  He didn’t have to shout at them over the din of my ideas and solutions for them, but He could speak quietly to both of us. I think I often gain more in these times than those I pray for or counsel.

It can be scary to be with people if you think you have to pull something out of your spiritual hat for them. It is actually less scary to just ask God to take over. Then, if nothing awesome happens, it is His fault, not yours. He is the responsible party anyway.  You and I can’t fix anybody. But we can get out of the way and let God do what He wants to do.  

Have you found yourself in this situation too? How did you handle it? You can write me at  I’d love to hear your stories too.

Friday, July 29, 2011

It's Hard When Friends Leave

I never knew what happened. Somewhere in the transition from being friends planting a church together to me being the pastor’s wife, our friendship was lost.

We had started off with a church planting team full of close friends. It was exciting and God was doing good things. This was wonderful, having team members who already cared about us and our family, who loved us and supported us in prayer.  And then, down the road, after ministering together, praying together and growing together, some friends left.  It may have been because the church didn’t look like they thought it would. It may have been a difference of opinion in how a church should function or maybe just the romance of church planting had worn off. It may have been something we did that caused hurt or offense. I don’t understand why this happens, but it seems to be a common story. Has this ever happened to you?

Maybe you have never planted a church, but if you pastor a church, you know what I mean and you probably have a story or two yourself. Friends leave.  They may have good reasons for leaving and they may have terrible reasons for leaving. They may leave for a reason that you will never even know, but it will still result in the loss of a friendship.

At that point, it is not really about the church anymore. I mean, we all know that people will leave. None of us is so naive as to think that everyone who attends our church will stay forever. Close friends are different though, and it hurts, especially if it is a bad breakup. Whether the reason for leaving is bad or good, it leaves a wound behind.

So what do we do? I think we mourn for a while, perhaps a long while if needed. We ask God to dress our wound. We process, we pray, and time goes by.
And you know what we don’t do? We don’t write that person off. We don’t forget all the good that existed in that friendship. We don’t subconsciously (or consciously) vow to never open ourselves up to people again.

I have been guilty of this. When my friends left a wake of pain behind them in their leaving, I could not think of anything but that pain. I forgot their support during the church plant, their faithful serving, their prayers and love and the fun times. Don’t do this. It is too easy a pit to fall into and too hard to climb out of. No matter how hurt, how betrayed, how disappointed you feel, do not link that person forever with the pain they caused you. They are more than a cause of pain to you; they are one whom God loves, as much as he loves you. And don’t decide to never have a friend again, because you fear they might hurt you too. Easy for me to say, hmm?
No, not easy, but true. And I want to live in truth, don’t you?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Hey, I need a pastor too.

So, who is my pastor? If you have ever been a pastors’ wife, or a pastor yourself you have probably asked this question.  Maybe you didn’t ask it out loud, maybe you only thought it, but you probably have at least wondered about it.
I think most Christians assume that pastors have some kind of person or group of people that they can go to for personal counsel and advice (This in itself is rarely true, but that is another story). But what about the pastors’ wife?  Should she expect pastoral care from her husband? Is he the best person to pastor her?  

I am not saying that your spouse can’t teach, minister to, pray for and lead you as your pastor. My husband is still my favorite speaker and I have heard him a gazillion times. He still speaks wonderful truth to my soul. He is wise, deep and a great source of spiritual knowledge for me. However, I can remember times when I felt I needed a pastor, but I didn’t want to talk to my husband.  I’m sure many of you have experienced this as well. I wanted  a completely objective person who I didn’t have to live with afterwards.  Maybe your spouse can put aside the fact that he is married to you when you come to him for, well, pastoral advice.  And maybe he can’t.  Or maybe, like me, you just want a different pastor for those times; one you aren’t married to. It can get tricky…
Every ministry couple has their own style of relating to each other and working together within the context of their marriage and church. Some rely on each other for every aspect of their spiritual development and some don’t.  Some pray together daily and some don’t. Some feel that they can talk to each other about anything, and some don’t. There is nothing wrong with needing a person other than your spouse for some kinds of pastoral care.

We need people who can listen well, pray with and for you and then point us to Jesus. We need the care and concern of a friend and sometimes we need practical advice. This can be a hard role for our spouses to fill objectively.  And for many of us, these kinds of people are not plentiful.
If you have one good spiritually mature friend, you are fortunate. If you also have friends who are pastors in other churches, you are even more fortunate.  Nurture these friendships so that you both have someone to talk to when your spouse just isn’t the best choice for the situation.  Making time for these kinds of relationships can easily get put on the back burner. It doesn’t feel as pressing and urgent as so many of the other things we do…until we need that friend, that counsel and support. You are not an island, and you and your spouse together cannot be an island either, even when it may feel like “you and me against the world”. You both need more than just each other.  

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

It's Tender Underneath

I remember a time when I felt like a tree. Not in a good way, really. I felt as if I were a tree being stripped of my bark with nothing but tender growth underneath. Let me give a little background to this story.
I had been experiencing a wonderful time of closeness and renewal with God. I was feeling His presence, it seemed He was answering my prayers, my husband and children were well and the church was growing and happy. Everything was sweet.  And in that time of sweetness, I asked Jesus to make me more like Him, to change me and refine me and make me into who He really wanted me to be. I prayed that a lot, especially because it was such a sweet time, and I felt so lovey-dovey towards Him.

The sweet time continued for a while and then He decided to really answer my prayer. This is where the tree part comes in. In His gentle but insistent way, He began to reveal my sin to me. Sins like selfishness, pride, self reliance and ingratitude. Not only did He show me these sins, He wanted me to see them, turn from them and to stop doing them.  So much of what He wanted me to get rid of felt like it was a part of who I was. I wasn’t sure I could separate me from my sin. It felt like bark being slowly stripped away from a tree. Layers of my identity, tough and dry, were being peeled back and the tender new growth underneath felt very vulnerable. It didn’t feel very good and I felt a little double-crossed. I had forgotten that I had prayed for personal growth, for His likeness to be formed in me. He was being faithful and I was feeling ill used.  I felt like He had used all the closeness to soften me up so He could tear away parts of me.  I was kind of right.

However, the pain and injury of this process drew me to Him. It could have easily gone the other way. I could have chosen to hold onto my protective bark, or grown more back.  I don’t always cooperate with what He is doing, but that time I did. I told Him “okay”. I struggled a lot. I prayed a lot. I cried and complained and felt sorry for myself at times. And I remembered that really, what He was doing was what I wanted Him to do. That there was nothing more valuable to me than becoming more like Him. Even when it was difficult and made me feel very vulnerable.  And the really surprising thing about that time of stripping and tenderness? It was the sweetest of all.
Let's learn to be honest with each other about the pain and sweetness of this process.  If my story sounds familiar to you, let me know. Tell me about your experience.