5 Things I learned from a year of Pastoral Burnout

Burnout. Breakdown. Ministry overload. Mercy fatigue. I have heard it called a lot of things but studies have shown that 45% of pastors work themselves into physical, psychological and emotional turmoil at some point in their ministry career. Sometimes it’s the burdens placed on them by their congregation or the nature of their role. Sometimes its pressures of balancing family and ministry, both demand so much of one man. I read that on a monthly average 1500 North American Pastors never return to the ministry field in a vocational capacity. And what’s really stupid, I never thought we would experience it.

Isn’t that ridiculous? I thought we were gonna have a free pass through the landmines. That the crisis that burns so many good men to the ground would somehow pass over us. Not on my account mind you, and certainly not because I figured we were invincible. But I just never saw it in the plan I had for our lives. And even when it was knocking on our door, creeping itself in, I didn’t see the warning signs. Looking back on family photos taken in the weeks leading up to my husband’s breakdown I can see a change in the man I love. At the time it was incredibly frustrating, his lack of clarity and ability to focus. His forgetfulness. His exhaustion regardless of sleep. A vacancy in his eyes and a blank expression on his face.

I certainly learned that we are not immune. And I won’t begin to pretend I have all the answers now and can pass on my great wisdom with ministry wives everywhere. But I have learned. And what I have gleaned has changed our perspective and has redirected our efforts to shore up our family for times of ministry and life storms. And if what we have gone through can help anyone in vocational or lay leadership then I hope it can spread.

Healing doesn’t move in a straight line.

Some days it felt like victory was just around the corner. And other days I was ready to throw in the towel on ministry all together. My husband was hurting deeply. He couldn’t focus to read the Word much less study it. It took him weeks to read through an average sized book. Months to be able to focus well enough to be left alone with his children. But then there would be a breakthrough. Even small ones made me cling to hope that we were finally moving forward with predictable momentum. And then the inevitable two steps back. I have always known that God does not operate on my timeline. And in retrospect, when I see even the last 6 months that we have had, I can see God’s hand using Mike’s time off to not only restore him but our whole family.

Not your will but HIS.

Don’t just pray but firmly commit your prayer life as an integral part of the healing journey. I found myself praying, asking God for wisdom. Was this a sign that our family was not meant for ministry? Was this an indication that we needed to leave our current church for another kind of ministry opportunity or at least live in a city where the financial burden isn’t quite so onerous? As I continued to search for God’s leading hand I felt Him say, with undeserved patience, “Stop looking for ways to run from the clear calling I have put on you. Instead, ask me to carry you when you feel defeated, to correct you in ways that will shape your ministry where I have appointed you. Ask me to reveal myself to you, not so you can understand the reason behind your trial but so you can know Me, more intimately than ever before, and trust me as you have never had to before.” It was convicting.

True Colors

You will learn what your church is made of. I don’t mean that in an ominous way but a realistic one. I have heard horror stories about churches in my own community who seem more concerned with hours put in and program growth than the health and well being of their pastor. By the grace of God this is not our story. Once again our church has come alongside us and built into us, offering everything from meals to get through hard days and weeks when I couldn’t leave my four young children home alone with their dad to giving us five months off to heal. They did those things because there is a genuine love for us and a deep commitment to love God and serve others. And they know that begins in their own backyard. For some, their church’s reaction to it and their support during any kind of ministry burnout may show the cracks in the foundation. True colors come out under pressure in us all.

It’s not just about the Pastor.

Ministry life is unique. It’s not that lay families don’t suffer through burnout, especially those that tirelessly serve in a lay capacity on top of their careers and families. It’s a distinct role with often trying responsibilities that bleed into the family itself instead of just the man. It was a few months after Mike’s breakdown before I really grasped that it wasn’t just him that was in need of healing. We all did. Our entire family, right down to the twin toddlers, needed to work towards wellness in every area. What affects one affects all. It may not be obvious at first but it isn’t just about the patient. A good friend of mine, and a fellow wife in ministry, lovingly cautioned me to care for my husband and take over the responsibilities he needed a break from wearing for as long as I needed to but to be careful not to lose myself in the process. To guard my own spiritual journey, distinct from my husband’s, and strive towards healing a family of six and not just a man of one.

The enemy loves darkness

Never have I felt the presence of the evil one as much as I did when my husband began preparing to go back to work. It felt like he was celebrating that he sidelined us for a while and we went off his radar but planning to go back kicked the demons into high gear. I have always understood there is a battle going on around us but I rarely feel like I am in it. It’s a scary place to be, if I am honest. I would like to run away, pack up my kids and my man and go somewhere safe. So, in a sense, we did. But that somewhere safe wasn’t Nunavut, as I originally suggested to Mike, but rather the loving arms of a conquering King. Through words of encouragement from those that have heard his story and have appreciated his transparency since this began, we have seen the hand of God at work. He has caused my husband a limp. And it took me some time but I finally can see that it was for God’s glory. When Mike shared himself in his most fragile state, with our church family and our friends, he brought depression and anxiety, fatigue and exhaustion into the light. And if I know my Sunday school lessons, what does darkness HAVE to do when there is light??? It doesn’t mean the enemy isn’t gonna battle. It just means we don’t give him any foothold.

So those are five things I have learned. And I am sure there are more and will continue to be more. For the Glory of God.

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He makes me lie down

How do I begin. How do I tell the world of our struggles in a way that doesn’t give the enemy unnecessary air time but instead points to the maker of heaven and earth. How do I bring to light things that are often hidden in the shadows of shame and publicly declare that our strength is found only in our great Redeemer and King? Ministry life often involves lines and appropriate boundaries but here, in a genuine effort for transparency, we will let the world in on the latest with our family in the hopes that it will help someone who is hurting and will bring glory to the only One who can heal.

In November of 2014, my pastor husband, my very best friend, had a nervous breakdown.

If you know anything about our life for the past few years, its not that unexpected. Four children in 40 months. Each child admitted to the hospital for weeks at a time for different medical issues. A very difficult twin pregnancy with mommy in the hospital for weeks with a placental abruption and preterm labor. Premature twin newborns, vacation time used to go to and from home and the NICU and, as one can imagine, very little sleep. Financial resources strained to provide for all the needs of a young family and 3 little’s in diapers. Postpartum anxiety disorder. A  necessary move. A devastating flood causing a temporary relocation. Uncooperative landlords. Another move. A ministry change. Changing the structure and leadership of our church. I could go on….

We have been in survival mode and everyone has a breaking point. For my darling energetic and happy husband, this was his.

After his breakdown he began to unravel the tapestry of anxiety and depression he had been struggling with. He sought prayer support and medical help. Both have been instrumental in his healing to this point. But he has a long way to go. So at the end of January our church did the most loving thing they could do for him, they made him take a leave of absence so he could get himself well. This is something his natural instincts would have not allowed him to do. They know him well and they care deeply about his health and spiritual well being. So they insisted. And we feel incredibly supported and loved. Hear me world – The church does get it wrong with pastors. But they can also get it so right!

So we began a journey towards wellness with no end date in mind. Counselling, prayer support and medical intervention have all been utilized. Rest. A vacation. Studying of the word. And time spent in quiet before the throne are all part of our plan. We have been so blessed by our elders, our fellow pastors, ministry and support staff and our congregation. Love has been heaped on us and we covet the intercession and prayers for healing, peace, restoration and joy.

My husband is a gifted preacher with a passion to bring the word of God to his audience in accessible language with a strong focus on exegesis. Preaching the word of God brings him joy. And the enemy is salivating at the chance to sideline someone who God has so immensely gifted at sharing the gospel. But where there is light, transparency and honesty there is nowhere for darkness to hide. So there is no need for our friends and family to wonder. No need for idle gossip, speculation and even well intended curiosity.

We are not jumping ship. We are not reevaluating our place of ministry or a life given to ministry. There is no interpersonal conflict. In fact we are so humbled to be carried to the foot of the cross by servant hearted leaders who have sat with us, cried with us and prayed for us. People who I have called when I needed help and literally dropped everything for me and my family. God is humbling me as a ministry wife. I am willing to wash the feet of the saints but how I arrogantly struggle to let them wash mine.

But here, in these days of hardship I have had no choice. God has made me lie down. He has made me rest. He has forced my husband and I to take a break and refocus on our love for Him alone. And He wants me to lie down in green pastures. He wants me to rest in goodness, in lush green grass. In a place of abundance and blessing. In a place of health and restoration. He knows I am incapable of choosing what is good.

So he makes me. He leads me to where I will find rest and healing. He bends my knees and draws me to Himself.

Psalm 23

A Psalm of David.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

No such thing as an ‘oops.’

***This blog entry was saved to my folder, ready to be published when I was announcing our third pregnancy. For whatever reason I was too exhausted to edit it and make sure it was ready to go. The irony is that a few weeks after writing this we learned that we were expecting baby #3 AND #4. I thought it was time to share what was going on in my mind the few days and week before we knew we were expecting our twins. And the obvious reason why I haven’t blogged in a while.

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Have you ever heard parents talking about their kids and refer to their third or fourth child as an ‘oops?’

“This is my son, the soccer star and my darling daughter the spelling bee champ. And *sigh* here is baby Henry. *whispers* He was an ‘oops.’ I told my husband it was time to make the appointment to finalize things but he didn’t listen….”

I don’t normally pay this sort of thing much attention. After all, these parents clearly love their children and are by no means intending to be malicious. Calling their baby an oops is just a cute way of saying that this was an unintended or unplanned pregnancy, right? Well it just took one conversation with a mom whose child had been called the ‘o’ word by others to learn otherwise. I won’t name her in this blog to respect her privacy but she did give me permission to use her story. I will call her Monica.

Much like myself, Monica struggled to conceive. But after years of miscarriages she was blessed with two daughters very close in age and a son about 4 years later. Though she had been given much she continued to prayerfully ask God that He would again bless her with a child if it was His will. She was getting older and she knew that with her history, this was medically at least, not likely. But she knew all things were possible with God and she trusted His will would be done. 4 years after the birth of her son she had another baby. Her friends chuckled when she told them she was expecting. “Hope the valentines day was worth it because you are going to be up to your elbows in diapers, AGAIN!” and from her family “you do know how you get that way, right?” She was shocked. These were fellow believers, those who know that children are a blessing from God, a cherished creation from a loving creator King. She was hurt but she kept it inside. That is until an older lady from her church noticed her struggling to wrangle all of her kids into her minivan one Sunday after service. Her ample baby bump was obvious and not at all intending to be cruel, the older lady said, “my, my! You should have been more careful. I got through my ‘oops,’ you will too.” Horrified and hormonal, Monica unloaded every hurt feeling she had. She knows her reaction was wrong and she has since apologized to the older lady.

But this story really made me think. It’s such a casual thing, to call a baby an ‘oops.’ If the kids are really close in age, we assume it wasn’t planned or wanted by the parents because who would choose that? Or when we see a significant age gap, the youngest must have been unintended, a night away from their preteens with a bottle of Merlot. So we call it an ‘oops,’ a kinder, gentler way of calling the child a mistake or an accident. We don’t mean any harm when we make the comment about ourselves or about someone else. But I think there is harm. I think we rob our creator of His deserving credit. Babies don’t just happen by chance. I learned the hard way that no matter how badly one wants a child, it’s not in our hands. Only God can give and take life and if we believe that, we believe that He is sovereign over all things then we have to trust that, even if the pregnancy was not in your plans, it was in Gods plans before the world began.

Our culture doesn’t revere children and parenthood the way scripture does. So the world is often hostile to children. Restaurants don’t want them, people on airplanes complain about them and you can rid yourself of your pregnancy if it’s not something you think fits into your plans. So I think the ‘oops’ terminology is a quiet creeping in of our societies disdain for what God created and called good. Very good. And I think that, as Christians, we should gouge out this way of thinking and refocus on Him.

So, why blog about this topic now? What spurred on this subject in my heart? Well, I am pretty sure it’s because I am announcing my pregnancy. When this baby is born, Lord willing, my oldest will be 3 and my middle child will be 20 months. And I will have a newborn. I am well aware that I will be busy (FYI, I am busy NOW!) and I know that my life will be a vaguely managed chaos. And though this pregnancy was unplanned by us, it was known by God from the beginning of time. And it has been the most incredible surprise and I am so excited. So this is fair warning, I don’t think it’s a good idea to call my baby an ‘oops.’ My God is sovereign over all things!!!

Roasted Tomato & Basil Soup

ingredientsI don’t often share recipes. Its not that I am hoarding my kitchen secrets – its that I don’t often make the same meal twice so putting on paper what I actually made is a challenge for me. But this particular kitchen gem is a healthy, hearty soup that I make a version of once or twice a year in a BIG batch to freeze. I like having homemade meals on hand for my family but I also like having nutritious and delicious meals I can bring to friends and family if they are in need. With all the tomatoes and carrots in this soup, it’s exploding with vitamin C so I often bring it to those nursing a cold or flu. Nothing says I love you like home cooking!

You can use fresh ripe roma tomatoes for this recipe but I find that cost prohibitive for my family. Instead I used two 2.89kg cans of whole, peeled roma tomatoes. I found them at Costco for $1.98 a can. Drain the can but reserve that beautiful red liquid to later add to your soup. Place the whole tomatoes on a foil lined baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and season ingredients3liberally with salt and pepper. Add a few leaves of fresh basil to roast with the tomatoes. Roast for about 45 minutes at 400 degrees. You will know its done by the smell, its a sweet tomato aroma in the air. You will also see the tomatoes caramelizing slightly. You can cut the tomatoes lengthwise to help the process but it’s a step I skip. Be careful of the steam when you open your oven, those little tomatoes hold a lot of liquid and it has to go somewhere! For this very large batch I used 2 of these giant cans and roasted 2 pans simultaneously, rotating once half way through the cooking process.

ingredients2While roasting, heat a few tablespoons of butter in a large stock pot and sweat out 4 large sweet onions, coarsely chopped. Add about 6 large and slightly crushed cloves of garlic and let them get to know the onions for about 2 minutes. Add salt and pepper and wait until the onions are clear and lovely but do not caramelize. Add in your chicken stock (you can use veggie if that’s your preference). I make my own stock and freeze it. By using leftover chicken or turkey bones and by freezing onion, celery and carrot scraps I can make stock for literally nothing. I can control salt and eliminate preservatives. But if this isn’t your thing, stock from a carton works just fine. I used about 3 litres of stock. Bring stock and onions to a boil and reduce heat to medium. Add in your carrots. I used two 1lb bags ($0.98 each). I cut off the ends (added that to my frozen scraps bag for the next time I make stock) and coarsely chopped. I washed them very well and did not peel them but you certainly can. I think I am getting lazy in my old age 😉

Add 4 large bay leaves and simmer over medium heat. Once your tomatoes are beautifully roasted they can be added to your pot. Simmer for about a half an hour, remove bay leaves, add the liquid from your canned tomatoes and add a robust handful of fresh, coarsely chopped basil. Simmer for an hour or so, it really isn’t an exact science. Next introduce your immersion blender to your simmering concoction. Show it no mercy as you blend all the coarse pieces into soupy submission. The texture is really up to you. I prefer a rustic texture but ingredients4others want it silky smooth so blend according to your preference. Add salt and pepper to taste. This time around I wasn’t as happy with the overall sweetness of the soup, perhaps the carrots were not in prime season when picked. I added a bit more sugar then I have in the past, it was about 6 tbsp. I also added a few tbsp of chilli flakes for some discreet heat. If using store bought stock you may want to add some poultry seasoning and maybe some thyme for a more robust flavor. Keep tasting until you are happy with it. Then add about 2 cups of milk. I had whole on hand so that’s what I used but again, it’s not an exact science.

I made about 7 meals large enough to feed 4 adults. If you are making a batch this size you will also need at least a 14litre stock pot, a few tbsp of butter, olive oil, salt and pepper, a few tbsp of sugar depending on the freshness, quality and season of your produce. You will also need an immersion blender.ingredients5

As you can see, it cost me about $1.37 to feed four adults a meal portion of this soup. We added some fresh garlic bread and we were all very full. You could easily have this with a salad or grilled cheese and be very full or you could use it as a side dish or an appetizer. Since my in-laws were coming over (don’t kid yourself, I wouldn’t have made this soup today if my kids weren’t with their grandparents!) I garnished the soup with a sprinkle of feta and parmesan cheese topped with a fresh basil leaf. It was delish!

Though its more work to make then a boxed macaroni and cheese, which is about the same price, it is so much tastier and much healthier. And once its in your freezer, you have no excuse!

Canned Tomatoes $1.98 each x 2 = $3.96
1lb bag of Carrots $0.98 x 2 = $1.96
Garlic (half a head) Approximately $0.17
Chicken Stock (free if homemade) Approximately $4.00
Fresh Basil $2.78
4 large onions $0.75
$9.62 with homemade stock or$13.62 with purchased stock
7 Meals for 4 adults $1.37 per meal or $0.34 per portion(With homemade stock)or$1.95 per meal or $0.49 per portion(With purchased stock)

Priority in Prayer

IMG-20120210-WA0003_Sophia_Cornered

Photo of our sweet son taken by my darling hubby!

I don’t believe in New Years resolutions. Study after study concludes that they are an ineffective way to set achievable goals and they often work against us, giving us a benchmark for the date of our repeated failures. So when the ball dropped on 2013, my husband and I had no goals set above what we already work towards on a daily basis.

A few days after we welcomed (or perhaps slept through) the New Year I was fortunate enough to go on a date with the man I have been blessed to share my life with. If you don’t know me personally, you just have to believe me when I say I have the most incredible husband!

We do not ‘date’ nearly as often as we want to or should. We are fortunate to have willing babysitters in the form of beloved grandparents but we seem to use those opportunities to serve together in ministry or participate together in something church related instead of pouring into each other. Now I am not saying it isn’t important to serve side by side but I think the date we had prior to our January encounter was early September – like I have said before, we are far from perfect.

While we were at dinner, ironically the same table at the same restaurant as our September rendezvous, we had a wonderful discussion about how we could spur each other on spiritually, what things we wanted to change in our home to make it more Christ-centered and how we could pray for each other better. The night before our date my husband was at work late and I sent him a link to an article I had read for husbands on how best to pray for their wives. As we discussed it over dinner I realized in a lightening bolt moment that this list was intended not for my husband, but for me.

Everything on the list was something I needed to be praying for myself. Of course I know these things are something I should be asking of my Lord, and my husband should be praying as well, but I do not often come with such boldness, such arrow-focused intensity.

Here is the list as found on Desiring God:

  1. God, be her God — her all-satisfying treasure and all. Make her jealous for your exclusive supremacy over all her affections (Psalm 73:24–25).
  2. Increase her faith — give her a rock-solid confidence that your incomparable power is only always wielded for her absolute good in Christ (Romans 8:28–30).
  3. Intensify her joy — a joy in you that abandons all to the riches of your grace in Jesus and that says firmly, clearly, gladly: “I’ll go anywhere and do anything if you are there” (Exodus 33:14–15).
  4. Soften her heart — rescue her from cynicism and make her tender to your presence in the most complicated details of dirty diapers and a multitude of other needs you’ve called her to meet (Hebrews 1:3).
  5. Make her cherish your church — build relationships into her life that challenge and encourage her to walk in step with the truth of the gospel, and cause her to love corporate gatherings, the Lord’s Table, and the everyday life of the body (Mark 3:35).
  6. Give her wisdom — make her see dimensions of reality that I would overlook and accompany her vision with a gentle, quiet spirit that feels safe and celebrated (1 Peter 3:4).
  7. Sustain her health — continue to speak your gift of health and keep us from presumption; it is by blood-bought grace (Psalm 139:14).
  8. Multiply her influence — encourage and deepen the impact she has on our children. Give her sweet glimpses of it. Pour her out in love for our neighbors and spark creative ways to engage them for Jesus’ sake (John 12:24).
  9. Make her hear your voice — to read the Bible and accept it as it really is, your word… your very word to her where she lives, full of grace and power and everything she needs pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).
  10. Overcome her with Jesus — that she is united to him, that she is a new creature in him, that she is your daughter in him. . . No longer in Adam and dead to sin; now in Christ and alive to you, forever (Romans 6:11).

By changing the personal pronoun on this list from which it was originally intended I saw hollowness in my current relationship with Christ that I longed to change. I am not saying this has been resolution. But it is a reminder and one that I have kept in my mind since the year began. In fact it was a tool of conviction that my prayer life had been more mundane and self focused instead of passionately Christ focused.

He Knows

EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

The day before my 16th birthday two students, armed with weapons and vengeful hearts entered their school intending to kill as many of their peers as possible before turning the guns on themselves. That day the world changed. My world changed.

I was hundreds of miles away from the massacre but I won’t ever forget watching the live footage in our history classroom with Ms. Hansen. All of us shocked at what we were seeing. Most of us tearful for those that had been slain and shocked at the evil a young person, like us, was capable of.

I sat in the same kind of chair with the same kind of desk as the students whose blood was now spilled upon them. I took the same kinds of classes and was the same age and had the same concerns as those that would be buried and mourned by their families and community. It would be a stretch to say that I had survivor’s guilt but I can say that never before this had I really considered my own mortality, the brevity of life and the evil that permeates humanity without the love of Jesus.

Sadly, this act of unspeakable evil would not be the last that would bring me to tears and force me to my knees.

This time, instead of being a student I am a parent.

Once again I am hundred of miles away from the horror. But my heart is breaking. I know the joy those parents felt when they first brought their baby home from the hospital. I know the endless games of patty-cake and twinkle twinkle. First birthdays and trips to the zoo, the wonderment of a snowy day, the fear of a thunderstorm. And if just the thought of my child being among the fallen brings my to a puddle of tears then I really cannot imagine the pain those parents are feeling.

I tried but I could not shield my children from my tears. On Friday we built towers like we normally do and our usual dance party went on as it always does. But mommy’s face was wet. I just couldn’t help it. We smiled and laughed but the stream would not slow. Kai said “mommy sad.” And I said “yes mommy is sad and I need to spend some time with Jesus.” So, like it had been rehearsed, he climbed in my lap and he read through his storybook bible and I read in my grownup bible. It didn’t last long but the act was tender and made me so very grateful that I have another day to store up Gods truth in their hearts.

This tragedy has not touched my life, my family or my community but it has touched my heart and it has stirred up the best in me and the worst. I have held my children more closely, smelt their hair and thanked God for another day I have been blessed with them. I have also been so angry I have wanted to pound my fist against the earth until it cracks beneath my fury.

But that wont help the families of those who were senselessly and violently taken. That wont help those that witnessed the blood and the bullets and the horrors of that day and help them sleep at night. And that wont help a global community who is looking for truth in the madness, light in the darkness, a community who desperately needs the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

But I can weep with Newtown, as they weep. And I can mourn with them as they mourn. I can silently, from hundreds of miles away, pray for them and ask that God bring them comfort and peace and can somehow draw them closer to Him in this time of unspeakable sadness.

And I can remember that I worship a God whose own son was violently killed before His eyes. He knows the pain of those parents more intimately then I could ever understand.

He knows.

And when I feel overwhelmed by sadness I will remember that He knows and trust that what the enemy intended for evil, God will use for good. I don’t know how. But He does.

He knows.

Never Good Enough

Sunset in snowy Spruce Forest

Is there someone in your life that always makes you feel like you can never measure up? That no matter what you do or how hard you try you will never be good enough for them? Or is it a perfectionist voice in your own head that will not be satisfied? I know that this is not a syndrome exclusive to those in vocational ministry. Most people I have talked to about this have someone in their lives, even themselves, that they either strive to impress or have given up trying to be accepted by. I have some of those relationships too and I will be honest in saying that I perform a delicate dance between trying to earn acceptance and giving up the fight for it.

Talking to my hubby about this helped me put my frustrations and hurt feelings into a more healthy and biblical perspective. Don’t get me wrong, he let me have a good cry before diving into theology.

He said darling, you are not good enough. For the only thing that matters, you simply do not measure up. You were made in the image of God but you are stained. There is nothing that you can do to earn that away. It is by grace alone. And because you have been given grace you must extend it. Even when people treat you badly or when they hurt your feelings or when they make you feel like you aren’t good enough. Extend the grace that you didn’t deserve but were freely given.

Sound theological advice and counsel, given with love. But sooooo hard to put into practice! Not only do I have to extend grace when I self-righteously feel justified in withholding it but I have to find my peace, contentment and acceptance in Christ alone. Its counter-cultural and a battle of the flesh to achieve.

I didn’t think I could get this through my thick, sin permeated skull even though I knew it to be true. So I took some time to read the word and this is what I discovered:

  • Zephaniah 3:17, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness.”
  • Psalm 147:11, “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.”
  • 1 Peter 1:6-7, “In this [salvation] you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
  • Romans 2:29, “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.”
  • 1 Corinthians 4:5, “Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.”

The truth is that the Lord delights in me. ME! Sin stained, imperfect and never good enough me. Not because of who I am, what I have done or am capable of doing but because I find my delight in Him. I won’t ever be perfect but because I was adopted into the family of God by what Christ did on the cross I can rejoice. Not rejoicing in myself but in the God who chose me. Who loves me. Who knows I am not good enough but wants to know me anyways. Who loves me even though I constantly fall short of His standards.

And on days that you feel like you don’t measure up or when you are done trying to earn worldly acceptance, rejoice in the Lord. “May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you! May those who love your salvation say evermore, ‘God is great!’” Psalm 70:4

Amish Envy

Admiring Niagara

They wear old-fashioned handmade clothes and they don’t use electricity. Owning cars is considered sinful and they opt for a horse and buggy because it is somehow more biblical. They are devout in their beliefs but do not spread the message of His great love to the world of ‘English’ outsiders around them. They seem secretive and are most certainly separate.

And I am intrigued by them.

The idea of abandoning my smart phone, permanently disconnecting my computer and moving away from the drama of our world seems idyllic. Like the families from the movie The Village, I think many of us long for a simpler time.

But what is most enviable about the Amish lifestyle is their sense of community – they seem to have succeeded in a way that the typical evangelical church has not. When tragedy strikes, the community shores up those afflicted in a way I have never seen or experienced. No questions, no strings and without being asked they come in droves. If someone is gravely ill they band together to cover medical expenses. If a home is consumed in a fire they rebuild it – together. While a family is in mourning, their farm and the funeral preparations are taken care of. They don’t pat themselves on the back for their selflessness. It is so ingrained in their culture that it is considered common place, it’s just what they do.

This is the part of the blog you would think I would complain about areas my church has failed me in my times of affliction or ways that I think the body could/should do a better job or won’t/can’t for this reason or that one. Instead I am going to confess that I need to do a better job of being a disciple in community. I need to do a better job and shoring up the afflicted and caring for those in crisis, regardless of the personal cost. When I stand before my maker I won’t be saying the church should have done this or they should have done that. It comes down to me and me alone.

It would be wonderful if the world simply slow and we could go back to an era of playing outside and porch swings. A slower, simpler life. Less consumption and more community. Fewer things and more people. But alas, I cannot control the world. But I can control me. I do have a role to play in how my kids grow up and how we do community. I won’t be making our clothes any time soon but I can slow our world a bit more. I can find ways to protect their innocence a little longer without isolating my children from society. I can be more mindful of which media enters our home and our children’s minds and hearts without abandoning all forms of technology. I can take a drive and show them God’s creation, celebrating our ability to reach it in safe convenience without doing away with motorized transportation. I can unplug for a while and teach them to appreciate silence, encourage our family to be content with stillness, something I struggle with myself.

And Mike and I can model community. Even at our children’s young age they can see us feed and clothe those in need. They can hear us share the gospel with our words and see us share it with our hands and feet. We can do better. I can do better.

But I don’t have to do it by candle light 😉

Trick or Treat? The question of Halloween

Pumpkin Patch 2

 

I know this post is coming a bit late but with a cold/flu making the rounds in my home, yet again, I know you will forgive me!

How do you feel about Halloween?

I get asked this question a lot by friends and fellow parents and even by parents of the kids in our youth group. It’s a difficult question because of the polarized opinions. If people ask the question it usually means they feel strongly about it, for or against Christian family’s participation of anything Halloweenie.

Remember, I am not a scholar or a historian. Nor am I a noted theologian or pastor. I am a mom who lives life in ministry with my husband and we are doing our best to be Christ-like in our home and in ministry.

I grew up participating in Halloween. Cute costumes as a child, trick or treating and pumpkin carving. As I got older I went to high school events and the costumes were a little less cute and a little more flirtatious for the girls and a little more disgusting and gruesome for the boys. Then when costumes were deemed lame we just saw Halloween as a license to roam the streets while the boys did stupid things with eggs and firecrackers. We flirted, they ignored us. They flirted and we ignored them. Such is the life of the average 13-15 year old.

As my opposite in every way, my husband never dressed up and did not give out candy to cute kids dressed as pumpkins and princesses. He occasionally went to the church harvest party but doesn’t remember dressing up. But his parents never lectured about the occult or the dangers of a seemingly innocent pumpkin day.

Now as parents we are trying to define how we will handle such events in our life and for our kids. It’s a big decision that every family has to make for themselves and we do not condemn someone else who has prayerfully discerned a different path for their family.

I get the history of Halloween and its intrinsic roots in paganism and the occult. I don’t want to be a naïve parent and say that it’s just a cutesy hallmark-created occasion. I know that its roots are very dark and yet we choose participate in our own way.

I don’t ignore Halloween because of its history and original intention. If I did that, I wouldn’t celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25 (not the day of Christ’s birth rather the day of the pagan winter solstice) nor would we put up a Christmas tree (another pagan ritual). We use our discernment and best judgment and take what could be negative and use it for the glory of God.

We participate in our churches autumn event and hundreds of non-church families from our community come in costume, play and laugh together. My husband does a big event for his youth as well. We celebrate that our kids invited their non-churched friends to an event (a very big deal for a kid in grade 6 or 7) and this year we know of 24 kids that indicated their response to the gospel message for the first time.

My wee ones dress up in sweet costumes but they are both too young to trick or treat so we haven’t made a decision on future participation. I don’t like the blood, the demons and the grotesque and it will have no place in our home. Although I think that’s inappropriate for all ages, I am especially sensitive to exposing my very young children to that world. I wish stores would get the message on that one and make sure there displays are G rated. But that’s a blog for another day….

Please hear me clearly: If you feel convicted about participating in anything to do with Halloween, then by all means don’t participate. That’s between you and the Spirit of Truth and no one can judge that. But also be careful not to judge those who choose utilize opportunities within our culture to bring light into the darkness. Instead, pray that God would move in a mighty way and that many would come to know Christ this Halloween.

Rejoice in Gods Inability

When my 7 month old son was admitted to the hospital with a mysterious skin condition that left his skin scabbed, bleeding and blistering like he had been burned over 80% of his body, I cried out for God to heal him. My husband didn’t, instead he reminded me to rejoice in Gods inability.

When my 9 week old daughter was admitted to children’s hospital with what we were told was impending emergency surgery, I pleaded with God to keep her in my arms where I could ensure her safety. My husband didn’t. He trusted in Gods inability.

I know that sounds crazy but let me explain it to you in his words. This is part of a devotional he wrote:

There is comfort and security in all that we know God can do. Just take a look through the Old Testament and feel the joy of being an Israelite: miracles like the 10 plagues, walking between walls of water in the Red Sea, shouting as walls crumble, giants defeated, food from the sky, water from rocks and salvation from all kinds of disasters. We celebrate because we know our God is the creator of the miraculous.

As a new pastor, perhaps God was testing me to see how I would react or encourage others in a frightening hospital setting. It was my first experience of this kind of crisis and my baby was the patient. Courtney was obviously distraught and I began to think of ways to comfort her. I could have told her things that she already knew and had been thinking: God can do anything, He is a God of miracles, God knows how we feel. The problem was that I know that she knows those things, so what was left to say? I needed to get her attention and encourage her that while she was petitioning the Lord for the health of our child it had to come from a place of trust rather than fear. I told her that we should be rejoicing in God’s inability, what he CANNOT do!

She looked at me like I was crazy. She had not left our child’s bedside for anything but bathroom breaks. She had tried to sleep curled up in a chair but the worry and exhaustion was written all over her face. I could tell she was overwhelmed and afraid that the child we had prayed so long to have could be slipping away from us.

I reminded her of Malachi 3.6

 ‘I the Lord do not change’.

He won’t because he can’t. And this is worth rejoicing in.

We can rejoice in his inability to betray.

He gives good and perfect gifts and that won’t change like shadows move throughout the day.

                James 1.17

He will change the earth and the heavens like clothing but he remains the same.

                Psalm 102.25-27

We can rejoice in his inability to break a promise.

Politicians have a bad reputation but the Lord is not a man that he should lie or change his mind. Does he promise and not fulfill?

                Numbers 23.19

 I’ve known people who believe in and love our good and sovereign God until they’re shaken from their comfortable life and faced with a crisis. Perhaps it’s a prolonged safe and comfortable environment that begins to settle in our minds that easy is what God wants for us. The clay loves to submit to the potter until it finds out its being made into a dog dish or a leg for the back of the couch, or a shovel on the farm.

So it may have felt as though we were at the mercy of the doctors, waiting days to find out results. But ultimately we are at the mercy of our unchanging God – regardless of good news or bad. And this is what we clung to. It’s because God cannot change that we can completely trust him 100% no matter the situation. Even when we are faithless, he is faithful.

In crisis, my vulnerable faith was shaken. I had tried to build my house on a solid rock so that it would be anchored when the storm came. I learned that while my husband and I kept this house on the solid rock of our savior, I had kept a tree house in the backyard, and it was on sinking sand.

It wasn’t easy. In fact, surrendering my illusion of control was physically painful. And after many many sleepless days and nights I was battling for my sanity, exhaustion and concern overwhelming my body till it shook. But I had to rest in the peace that I worship a God who is good, all of the time. Even when it hurts. Even when I feel ill-equipped for his plans. Even when I want to run He will pursue me until I yield onto His loving path.

“I am the LORD, and I do not change. That is why you descendants of Jacob are not already destroyed.”

I rejoice in Gods inability.