My Quiet Place of Strength

In God’s hand, a yielded weakness has greater power than an unyielded strength.

Because of my daily struggle with ME/CFS, I often live out my life in baby steps. Take tonight’s taco dinner, for example. Yesterday I browned and spiced the meat. This afternoon I prepped the cauliflower to steam for my “rice”. Finally this evening, I will pull it all together to serve buffet-style as a tasty meal for my family. (And they will do the dishes. Bonus!)

Managing a lifestyle around a frequently debilitating health issue requires loads of thought and planning. Absolutely everything I do comes with a trade-off. If I do “A” I cannot count on doing “B”. My life gets plotted and lived out in segments of days rather than just today. What I hope to accomplish tomorrow must get accounted for in today’s activity as well as the day following.

Can you imagine how discouraging and small my life must seem at times?

I’ve thought about this several times lately as our home has become a bedlam of activity. First came the demanding renovations, followed this past week by the stop-everything-and-pick-up-the-house-and-quickly-vacate mode of open houses and private showings, all while tackling some packing.

Or rather…Brad tackles the packing.

I rest and regenerate between activities.

We’ve discussed this–my beloved and I.

God has given to each of us our strengths and weaknesses–and then He paired us with each other in the most wonderful and remarkable of ways. My husband, thankfully, just happens to have enough energy for the both of us–God’s gift to him (and me!).

The odd thing about strengths and weakness and human behavior is that we tend to do one of two things: 1) evaluate others on their strengths while we evaluate ourselves on our weaknesses, or 2) the other way around.

I tend to view my husband through his assets (probably best for the marriage that way!). I see the energy he brings into the required busyness of renovating, selling and packing a home. And then I see myself on my comfy brown couch. He hustles and bustles. I sit. He takes care of business. I lounge.

Quite the discouraging disparity, don’t you think?

Well, I suppose it would be if God didn’t have a say in the whole thing.

But His word speaks. And, boy!, did it encourage my heart this morning! “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning (repentance) and rest you shall be saved (delivered, set free!); in quietness and in trust shall be your strength‘” (Isaiah 30:15a).

God has greatly used ME/CFS to cause me to “walk humbly before my God.” I literally can place “no confidence in the flesh.” After years of striving against what was happening to my body, I have learned to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, follow Him in quiet trust and rest in His plan to set me free (either on earth or in heaven–she said with a grin!).

This is my “in the pocket” place.

This quiet nook of a restful, trusting heart is my strength–God’s gift to me.

“I will go in the strength of the Lord God; I will make mention of Your righteousness, of Yours only” (Psalm 71:16).

Pensive Ponderings of a Church-Planter’s Wife: His Helpmate Suitable

Several years ago, just before Brad went on staff at our church, I experienced an “oh.my.what.have.I.gotten.myself.into” moment. Also known as a moment of unexpected panic.

Prior to that instant, I had trotted along–simply content that the man I respected and honored would soon serve our church body as an associate pastor with the gifts God had given him. Content, that is, until that one moment in time when a dear man grinningly proclaimed, “So! You’re going to be a pastor’s wife!”

What?

I am?

I totally understood God’s call on Brad to become a pastor; after all, I knew how he lived. But, me? A pastor’s wife??

Goodness gracious! When did that happen??!!

With images of perfect women now running amok in my brain, I stuttered out a rather nebulous reply and wandered off to the lobby, where I gratefully ran into a sweet and no-nonsense older woman, who had stood with and supported her dear husband–another associate pastor on staff–for many a ministerial year. After explaining to her my confused state of mind, she offered me the lifeline of sage advice and joyful hope, all wrapped up in one short and practical conversation.

Me: “J. just said I’m going to be a pastor’s wife! I’m not sure I can do that! I understand Brad as a pastor! I just don’t think I’m a pastor’s wife!”

She: “Well, who did you marry?”

Me: “Brad.”

She: “Well, just keep being Brad’s wife! You didn’t walk down the aisle and say your vows to someone named “Pastor.” You said them to Brad. You just keep being Brad’s wife, and the rest will take care of itself.”

That fleeting yoke I had strapped on fell right off with those words. I only had to be Brad’s wife. Easy-peasy! I had been Brad’s wife for years, and simply loved my role.

Brad’s wife.

His “helpmate suitable.”

Let the joy of the journey resume!

As we embark on this new adventure, I couldn’t help but recall this conversation which brought such relief to my soul a decade ago. For in a vulnerable moment a couple of weeks back, another random comment caused all those feelings of inadequacy to rush forth and challenge my impending role as Senior Pastor’s Wife. With an “Oh, dear! How can I do all those ‘church planter’s wife’ kind of things?” and a “What if I can’t meet expectations?,” I felt my heart sink within me.

Cue the images of a pastor’s wife overseeing children’s ministries while trying to initiate a women’s ministries program. Not to mention making coffee and playing hostess at Bible studies.

Um…did God happen to remember that I’ve spent the past three years trying to figure out how to even get to church, let alone try to oversee or initiate any ministry?

And the answer is, “Yes.” God did indeed remember.

I had forgotten.

Through a brief conversation with my match-made-in-heaven, God reminded me that my primary role had never changed: I was still his “helpmate suitable.” Despite my health issues, I alone gave to Brad the three things he valued most in a wife:

  1. Someone who prayed intimately for him and our body.
  2. Someone who encouraged the call God had placed on his life.
  3. Someone who stood “all-in” with him.

God knows my shortcomings, just as He knows the shortcomings of every other single person in history whom He has chosen to use…including church planter’s wives.

And He has a plan. A plan that either includes a “strengthened” me or offers another dear child the opportunity to grow.

And He has abundant love for me. A love that remains mindful that I am “but dust,” and yet delights to show His glory through such a weak vessel.

You know what? I can hardly wait to see how my God gets the glory through my humble offerings. All I have to do is surrender myself to God and trust Him to do the work.

And joyfully remain Brad’s “helpmate suitable.”

“O Lord, you will ordain peace for us, for you have indeed done for us all our works” (Isaiah 26:12).

Pensive Ponderings of a Church-Planter’s Wife: Leaving People

As I curl up on my comfy brown couch this morning, I cannot help but reflect on how after over a year of praying, praying, and praying some more, my husband and I sit on a brink of change. With great diligence and extreme fortitude, Bradley has completed the renovations on our home of 22-years.

We will meet with the realtor this afternoon.

We will put our home on the market.

We will move forward.

What has felt so surreal for such a very long time now enters the birth pangs of intense reality. Much like an expectant mother “knows” she’s pregnant for months, so have I walked in this indefinite time of awareness: both she and I understand a great change is upon us, yet neither she nor I can fully comprehend the impending truth until…

…one day…

…the reality sets in.

That moment when a woman realizes that far sooner that she can accomplish her to-do list, her life will absolutely and irrevocably change.

And for me, this is my morning of reality.

Far greater to me than any to-do list, however, sits my people list: my precious list of the dear and sweet people who have supported my husband and me over the years–those who particularly have encouraged us during these past three years. My heart aches to spend time with them–each and every one–before we leave.

As well as managing social engagements and preparing to move…all with a vastly limited energy base.

And take care of my medical appointments.

And normal shopping and laundry and housework.

All while my list grows with each tender remembrance of kindness.

And as others realize that our days tick down, they also hope to spend time together.

And the list grows.

Until my heart grows…anxious.

What if I can’t accommodate everyone? What if, because of my health, I have to cancel on  someone–and I can’t reschedule? What if I hurt someone’s feelings?

Yet I cannot live in anxiety. Neither can I make right and just decisions when my heart and mind become enshrouded in apprehension.

I go to the One who treasures and cherishes each person on my list–the One who designed and is, therefore, intimately acquainted with each of their ways. I go to God.

In the sweetness of His presence, my soul finds rest. The grasp of anxiety loses its stranglehold on my heart as His truths settle across my spirit like a warm blanket.

Truth #1: I don’t have to meet with everyone on my list today. Whew! What a load off! One reason a list can feel overwhelming lies in that sensation that it all has to get done today. Sometimes a list does have to get conquered in a day and, although this list does have a timeframe, that timeframe is not today.

Truth #2: God won’t hold me responsible for what He doesn’t equip me to do. God will provide the energy and time I need to accomplish what He has planned for my days. If He does not provide the energy to meet with a full list of people, He will not be the one to condemn me.

Truth #3: My husband will cover and support me. After walking through the past fifteen years of ME/CFS with me, Bradley understands that my energy level can deplete quite rapidly. Although his priority for me during this season allows me to invest the best of my vitality in time with loved ones, he also will stand as a shield should my inadequacies not meet someone else’s expectation

Truth #4: Those who love me will truly understand. Over the past several years, I have had to cancel, reschedule, or simply not get scheduled many, many social engagements. I even have a history of trying to follow-through on an event, only to leave minutes after arrival. When those situations involved a true friend, each and every time the response was love and concern. And although we face what may now be our final good-byes, I know that those who love me most–that I love most–will walk through these next few weeks without condemnation.

Truth #5: God will guide me with His wisdom and surround me with His peace. As a daughter of God, I don’t have to walk through these weeks alone. Like every other aspect of my life, I get to lay out my plans before Him and merely follow in His steps. Many a time have I upheld my own plans and felt the dread of disappointment thrash my desires to the ground. Yet each time that I simply surrendered my desires I found a path of peace unfold before my very eyes. I could stroll through my day with the joyous comfort of accomplishing all that was on God’s heart. Therefore, each day before we leave I can live as just another of those wonderful, peace-filled days.

I love people. I love the ones who fill the nooks and crannies of my life. The ones who peak around all my corners. The ones who share their smiles in darkness and their pains in private. My heart longs to reach out and hold each and every one before we move away.

And I will. If only in my prayers.

“…always offering prayer with joy, in my every prayer for you all…” (Philippians 1:4).

A Valentine’s Day Letter to My Younger Self

Dear Brenda,

It’s me–a much older you. And today is Valentine’s Day.

Your beloved Bradley has spent the morning and some of the afternoon on this holiday of romance cleaning the pool, fixing some electrical boxes, and other odd jobs around the house.

And you’re okay with that.

As a matter of fact, you don’t feel slighted at all.

For after 28 years of marriage, you’ve learned a few things about true love.

I know that right now you feel a bit disappointed if he doesn’t make you “feel special” on certain holidays. (Remember that birthday when he had to work and you stayed home and did laundry–and cried because it didn’t “feel” very birthday-like at all?) You’re over that.

Today won’t have cards.

Or chocolate.

Or jewelry.

Or a romantic candlelit dinner for two.

Today–a Saturday–will have chores (you did laundry), perhaps a little relaxing conversation later (after he finishes preparing for a memorial service he’s officiating on Monday), followed by a Valentine’s Banquet at church. (I know you think those aren’t “very romantic” right now–but you’ll get over that, too.)

Besides, he did run out this morning to the market to pick up some coffee beans just for you!

Besides, he did run out this morning to the market to pick up some coffee beans just for you!

You and Bradley have walked through a lot in 28 years. As a matter of fact, you’ve covered the downside of the wedding vows.

“…for worse…”

“…for poorer…”

“…in sickness…”

You even walked victoriously in Christ through the temptation of “…forsaking all others…

And, boy, have you learned.

Well, first you have learned that you didn’t have a clue when you stood before God and witnesses and uttered those words. In vain, did you think that those times wouldn’t–couldn’t–enter such a love story as yours. Surely you thought your marriage would consist of all the betters and richers and in-healths that a true romance could hold! (By the way, you may want to focus on understanding the true love found in God’s Word more than watching the fake romances playing out in movies. Just a hint.)

But certainly you have learned that the richest part of your lives and marriage has come simply because you did walk through those rough times.

You’ve learned that “worse” is only as bad as an un-Christlike attitude.

You’ve learned that “poor” is only a condition relative to an ideal.

You’ve learned that “in sickness” allows God to humble you so that you can give as well as receive love with joy.

And you’ve learned that fidelity is a godly choice that you get to make–and that sin doesn’t lie in the temptation, but in the choosing of sin. (And you don’t.)

So don’t get discouraged or disappointed, dear one, if certain holidays don’t “feel special.” Or if Bradley happens to let you down in that area. (After all, he is an imperfect man, o imperfect woman.) Focus instead on learning to serve him with joy. Don’t examine too closely the things he does or doesn’t do. For in reality, the greatest joy in your married heart will result from spending your days (all of them, not just certain holidays) considering and acting on how to serve as a blessing to him–your very, very beloved Bradley. Your true love.

“Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant aroma and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).

Like a Two-Year Old Mastermind

During my precious morning time with God today, I couldn’t help but recall grocery shopping with my son when he was a precocious two years of age. Why? You’ll see. But first let me start with those dear recollections…

At two years of age, my son could carry on a full conversation and liked to offer his opinions about purchases on our shopping expeditions. In addition, he also liked to escape the confines of the cart and help push. Oh, he was mommy’s little helper for sure! Therefore, when I recounted my activities of the day to my handsome husband, I certainly described how Josh and I shopped together!

Together. He and I made a team.

Granted, at two he didn’t exactly have much to offer. Yet it was my joy to accept his help…and to tell his dad all about how he and I shopped together. As a unit. One fantastic grocery-shopping team!

Sweet, sweet memories.

Yet what if my son–at the advanced age of two–had decided that he was the mastermind behind the grocery shopping adventure. That he determined when we would shop. That he had the final say on purchases. That he, essentially, exercised ultimate control over when and how he shopped.

Oh…definitely more interesting…and not so sweet to recall.

I couldn’t help but ponder a bit over those thoughts when I read in Isaiah 5:21, “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” Woe to those who think their own brains possess such skill in judgement and discernment simply because they are so incredibly smart and gifted. All by themselves. Just good at it. Comes naturally, you might say.

[Total humility coming right about now.]

I also recollected how as I began to grow in my knowledge of God’s word, comprehension came easy to me. My mind could quickly understand a verse and then mentally pull up other verses that correlated for a fuller picture. If I had learned a verse, it stayed in my mind ready for immediate access. My women’s bible study lessons grew filled with side-notes of parallel verses and additional concepts that rounded out a fuller image and meaning in my mind. And although I never insisted on sharing those thoughts at our discussion table unless called upon (and thus thought of myself as humble), I in time grew proud.

“Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!”

I had become a two-year old mastermind of a shopping expedition.

Thankfully, God allowed me to get a huge dose of humbling. It came in the form of ME/CFS, which can make it quite difficult to string together a sentence, let alone deeper understanding of Scripture. God has so graciously taught me that HE is the source of any and all wisdom and discernment I possess or gain.

He made my brain. He wrote the Scripture I study. He causes the connections to form. He. His Spirit speaking into my spirit. The Great I AM breathing into His creation words of Life.

And then, like a gracious Father, He so often says, “Look what we did together.”

But I know the truth.

He did it all.

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in this world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).

A Wondrous Life

Ever have a morning when you wake up in a funk and, frankly, you don’t care if you snap out of it or not? Your pitiful thoughts resonate with discord and strife, generally fueled by exhaustion. And while your broodings may never quite lead you to wish you had never been born (aka George Bailey on a bridge), you can’t picture things improving…ever…and on that day, you really don’t care if they do.

It is what it is. Give me another cup of coffee or send me back to bed…or both.

Welcome to my day.

I generally don’t feel like this–especially around Christmas. I love preparing for Christmas! I love contemplating how to bless my family through my gifts and cooking, or how to bless others by opening my heart and home on Christmas Day. I love the activity of baking with my daughter or shopping with my husband or son. The concept of celebrating through sharing sweetly nudges me into action like no other. I love that we get to set aside this season to honor Jesus by not just His birth, but His lifestyle. Yay!!

The days preceding Christmas this year, however, find themselves stacked with–not Christmas preparation–but home renovation. While we have our tree up, our decorations are still in boxes, we have no lights on our home, and my thoughts drift to mandatory organization of our kitchen rather than my usual joyful organization of Christmas delights. In addition, the renovation has taken its toll on my ME/CFS, and the exhaustion, which had seemed to be waning previous to reno, has reasserted itself in a bossy, hey-look-at-me kind of way. [Not to mention perimenopause, which sort of makes my life feel like crossing the street and getting hit by TWO monster trucks instead of just the one.]

All these varying components converged upon my thoughts and led me to start a conversation with my handsome husband lamenting how un-Christmas-like everything felt (not that I could physically do anything about it)–all while the dear man tried to frame-out and seal the inside of our windows so we can have a cozy Christmas. [Note: men’s priorities v. women’s priorities–totally different!] Then, our wonderful painter, Gino, showed up, and I exiled myself to our bedroom, where I found myself firmly ensconced in Psalm 105.

This beautiful ode commemorates the history of Israel from God’s covenant with Abraham until He gave the land of promise to ole Abe’s descendants over 400 years later. While the psalm ends with joy and singing, the history itself has penetrating ruptures of deep pain and agony.

Yes, God made a covenant of promise to Abraham and, yes, the psalm shares many accounts of God’s presence and provision, yet we can also find times when I’m certain His people must have felt that their season was very un-Covenant-like. Frankly, I like the commonplaceness of this verse: “He had sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave” (v. 17). During his season of fetters binding his feet with his neck in a “collar of iron,” Joseph doubtless wondered where the true meaning of Covenant had gone. Or how about this little ditty: “He turned [the Egyptians’] hearts to hate his people, to deal craftily with his servants” (v. 25). Can’t you hear them singing their lonely hearts out with “I’ll be home for Covenant…if only in my dreams”?

Dreams. The ideals we build up in our hearts and minds this time of the year that frequently let us down. The hopes and emotions that don’t always align with a full scope of reality, which cause our hearts to fill with pain or at least the feeling of disconnection.

As children of God, we each get to live our lives as a journey to God’s promise–which He will fulfill, make no doubt about that. Despite the full scope of God’s entire plan working itself out in our lives, we may find ourselves with a season of fetters or people’s hearts turned against us; we may find ourselves in a very un-Christmas-like season. Like Joseph, though, can we embrace what we do have rather than lamenting what we don’t have? Can we avoid jumping off emotional bridges and focus on the wondrous works of God in our lives?

My reality: my decorations do remain in boxes; my baking has yet to commence (or even formulate!); and, my invitations have yet to get issued, Thus, my house “feels” very un-Christmas-like. In the whole scope of my life, however, this season will be a very small blip. A hardly worth mentioning type of thing. For overall, I do see the wondrous works of God in my life. I see the touch of His hand overspilling His wonders across each nook and cranny of my existence. I see a great and loving God writing a history spelling out His presence and provision and only lightly speckled with minute ruptures of pain. He has, indeed, given me a very wondrous life.

“Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon His name; make known His deeds among the people! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all His wondrous works! Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice! Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually! Remember the wondrous works he has done” (Psalm 105:1-5a).

Puttin’ On Some Attitude

I’m just going to come out and state it boldly: I can’t choose my health, but I CAN choose my attitude!

Now, I know people who are going to say, “Oh, yes, you can choose your health!” (I can hear you already!) So let me clarify: I can make choices about my health, but ultimately I cannot make myself well. If praying for God to heal my ME/CFS and making lifestyle choices would do it, I would have this thing nailed! I haven’t been able to accomplish this feat because God is the one who maintains ultimate control of this tool He is using to mold and modify my life and heart.

My attitude, however, is another story altogether! I can choose gratitude. I can choose love. I can choose joy. I can choose all kinds of wonderful things. I get that choice! On the other hand–should I prefer, I could choose entitlement, unforgiving, crankiness, or a whole host of not so pleasant attitudes. I still get that choice.

A tactic that the enemy of our souls likes to employ is to strip us of our choices. If he can rob us of our understanding of this, he can keep us spiritually depleted. If he can keep us depleted, he can keep us defeated. We will cease to walk in all who God is creating us to become…which He intends, by the way, to far surpass any current situation.

In light of this, what attitudes do I want to choose to put on then? While the ugly ones have a pesky way of sneaking into my life, I much prefer the attitudes that make me look like Jesus, of course!

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:12-15).