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).

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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).

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).

Different Does Not Mean Wrong

Don’t you love how sometimes God will push the recall button of an old memory to teach a new lesson? Of course, then I have that whole “Hey, wait a second…” moment as I realize that obviously He has walked me down this path before. On the other hand, sometimes those wonderful old lessons can yield a brand new crop of results.

Scenario #1: Shortly after marrying my perfect dreamboat of a man, I slowly began to comprehend that he had some slight, hardly worth mentioning…um, flaws. From toothpaste tubes to toilet paper, from dirty socks to dirty dishes, would you believe he handled all those things incorrectly? Surely he must have noticed that each time he picked up the toothpaste it had (yet again) been left neatly and perfectly squeezed from the bottom! TP flap: over the top. Socks: right side out and NOT in balls. Dishes: rinsed as a minimum standard.

Ahhh. *sigh* The sweet saga of that first year of marriage.

As the weeks and months went on, he grasped the “proper” way of tackling all these little odds and ends correctly. (And, much to my delight, my bare bottom never touched cold ceramic in the middle of the night again!) In the due course of time our little married life became a family life; and as much as I would have contented myself with “correcting” any and all little shortcomings, I found my hands filled to the brim with a newborn who thought sleep was overrated. Thus, this groggy woman gratefully accepted any small assistance my wonderful soulmate offered.

One sunny morning, as I emptied the dishwasher, I happened to notice that–in spite of getting loaded “incorrectly”–all of the dishes came out…clean!!! Each one just as clean as the next, and all just as clean as if I had loaded and ran the dishwasher myself!

At that moment, God’s truth shot across my mind and my heart: different does not mean wrong.

Uh oh. My mind suddenly raced hither and thither gathering up all the details and instances of judging my husband through the lens of right v. wrong instead of allowing him the respect of simply doing something differently. And the repentance of my heart transformed into a new freedom in my marriage as my happy soul sang out, “The love of my life isn’t wrong–he’s different!!!” Of course, once I truly, whole-heartedly embraced that fact, I began to appreciate his differences in the most delightful of ways. (Although–and I gotta hang on to this–leaving dirty socks inside-out and in a little ball can never be right!)

Scenario #2: As many a parent before me has noted, the years flew by. The baby boy I once cherished in my arms has transformed into a man leaving for college. The lessons I spent years teaching him have taken hold in his heart. He no longer throws rocks in the pool just to watch the splash, nor does he ride his roller blades down the hall. No Legos litter the floors of our home, nor does he simply out-n-out disobey my words. He treasures me. He honors me. He frustrates me.

While praying for my two children this morning, my mind stumbled over a disparity within my heart as I prayed that they would each cherish God’s wisdom as they chose and set priorities for their lives. My prayer for my daughter came easy as I imagined her sticking to her guns and walking in discipline in all that God called her to do. My prayer for my son, however, seemed to stick a little. Why was that? What caused this inconsistency within my heart over two young people who each love and long to serve the Lord Jesus Christ?

Well, like any smart person should do, I asked the One who created me. And guess what? An old, beautiful refrain came leaping across my mind: different does not mean wrong!

My darling daughter, who seems to prioritize in a way which is comfortable and easy for me to understand–for it aligns familiarly to my own, makes praying for her regarding her choices and preferences come more naturally. (That’s not to say she’s not unique; her style’s just more…well, similar.) My son, on the other hand, zooms through life with his own methods and priorities, which varies so distinctly from anything I could dream up. (This probably makes him very much like that guy I married!) Because his actions and agendas leave me puzzled, however, does not make his wrong and mine right: it merely makes them different from each other.

What do you know? God made my son unique!

I tell you this in faith that the same Lord who taught me to appreciate the beautiful differences in my husband–which transformed my marriage!–will employ His Spirit to work His sweet changes in how I respect, pray for, and cherish that singular persona known as my son. May God alone continue to mold him and shape him in HIS image. And I’ll stand in the background and pray with the love only his mother can have…a love that already knows that God’s molding comes with pain, but a love that he can trust will forever hold a soothing balm.

“For we are His workmanship, created for good works in Christ, that He prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Choose Mercy

I have been married twenty-seven years. You know what that means, don’t you? I have had ample time to realize that Prince Charming has imperfections.

He makes mistakes.

Not only that, but he can make the same mistake a whole slew of times.

Twenty-seven years has also given me enough time to realize that I have periods of embracing “pet” mistakes. What I mean is that during a certain phase of our marriage I might have one mistake that I deem a “cardinal” sin against me.

You never knew I had such a brutal side, did you?

The current cardinal sin–one which I am certain has had prominence before–happens when my darling husband makes a plan that affects me…but he doesn’t communicate it to me. This certain breakdown in dialogue impacts me so strongly at this point in time–I am sure–because the debilitation from my relapse of ME/CFS allows me so few choices. Thus, when a small decision is “stripped” from me, I hurt.

Take today for example.

I awakened with hopes of spending some much needed time with my husband. I’ve been point-blank exhausted for two weeks straight, hitting some pretty low lows. However, I had noticed that I’ve had some moments of clarity shortly after I get up, and today I had anticipated sharing those with my beloved. Unfortunately, he had another game plan for his day of which I remained unaware…until he popped into our bedroom to say good-bye…an hour and a half before expected.

Sure, I knew about his need to serve at our church’s Ladies’ Spring Tea, but I had no idea that he intended to go to our son’s track meet beforehand. I understood he would spend his afternoon away from me, but I entertained no conception that he would likewise spend those imagined, dearly-held moments away from me as well.

Oh, the places my mind and heart wanted to travel!

“Does he not remember me?”

“Does he think I don’t need his time, too?”

“Doesn’t he remember how we talked about my need for his communication?”

“Sigh.”

Then the most ludicrous image popped into my mind: my husband and my son tip-toeing across the floor, trying to sneak out, and, with smirks smeared across their faces, whispering to each other, “Don’t tell mom!”

For, truthfully–and my mind fully knew this to be so–that would have to be how the scenario unrolled itself for my husband to have intentionally neglected my feelings and input, and chose instead to make plans with his son. Plans which affected me, but did not include me.

As I sank into my “morning chair” where I usually share my heart with my Lord, and allow Him to share His with me, I whispered, “Please help me choose mercy.”

At that instant I immediately recognized God’s truth: “My hope is in the Lord, not in my husband.”

My hope in in the Lord–not in my husband!

His truths continued to swirl around my heart and mind. Everyone makes a mistake. Everyone makes the same mistake over and over again. Everyone needs forgiveness. I have received forgiveness over and over again. I can offer forgiveness over and over again.

My heart filled with praise to my One True Hope.

Moments later, when the magnitude of this “cardinal sin” had been reduced to its rightful place of “honest mistake,” my husband phoned. I embraced his call with joy rather than the need to share my hurt. Not even one single word.

Guess what happened next? The track meet was running behind, so he came home.

My God knew.

My God tended to the needs and hearts of each of us.

His mercy flowed…both to us and through us.

“Let not mercy and truth forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart” (Proverbs 3:3).

Lavish Love

This past week we celebrated a highlight of the homeschool year: Teacher Appreciation Day. Yep. True. My son just waits and waits to honor me on this day. Okay. Maybe not.

In spite of my mild delusions about its significance, my husband and son did want to do a little something to make me feel special, and to show me that they are grateful for the extended time and painstaking effort I put into educating the heir of the patriarchal throne. Therefore, after a mild brainstorming session, they alighted upon two simple and sweet gifts to make my day and melt my heart: coffee and a potted plant.

Thus, in the middle of the afternoon, my beloved unexpectedly arrives, winsome smile upon his handsome face and delightful gifts cradled in his strong hands. A newly-roasted bag of some delectable beans, accompanied by a freshly brewed pour-over, along with a lovely light-pink argyranthemum plant in a gorgeous sage-green glazed pot. (Not an indoor plant, which I kill with quite regularity, but an outdoor plant which he will tend for me!)

A pot of lavish love

A pot of lavish love

After he left, I lay back in bed fathoming once again just how “spoiled” I am. My husband knows how to bless me with the simple things in life. After all, how can the aroma of a freshly brewed cup of coffee or the gentle smile of a daisy not light the heart of this simple former-farmgirl? In that moment, I realized how much I want my daughter to marry a man who makes her feel “spoiled.” Not spoiled as in indulging her fleshly nature, but rather lavishly and extravagantly loved–for that’s the nature of Christ.

The love of Jesus knows no bounds. It reaches into the inner part of a woman’s heart and woos her with the sweet things that meet the needs of her unique personality. He loves with truth and integrity, not allowing her to bluff her way through with Him or with herself. He’s unexpected and delightful. He calls out of a woman the deepest and richest of her inner treasures. And He sprinkles her life with radiant moonbeams and starlight whispers of joy. In Jesus, a woman will find the fullness of her life.

In like fashion, a man who truly loves and honors God will find himself embodying that fullness of life for his beloved bride. He will learn her inner secrets–and treasure them. He will–to the extent of his finances–pour out lavish riches upon his wife (or future wife) simply to demonstrate how greatly he cherishes the mere thought of her. He will “spoil” her with all the extravagant love of Jesus in his heart.

This is what I want for my daughter. And for all my darling “adopted” daughters.

If you choose, my sweets, a man with lavish love, you will never fail to see the beauty of Christ’s love in your marriage. God’s ability to use this singular man as a conduit to open your heart will allow blessing upon blessing to flow out of the deepest reservoirs of your being into the lives of those around you.

Marry a man who “spoils” you.

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy” (Zephaniah 3:17).

A Helpmate Suitable

For years I struggled with my ability to uphold the image of the “perfect wife.” Childhood abuse, the death of my mother, and my dad kicking me out at seventeen had all led me to stagger under the load of seeking perfection. Unattainable though it may have been, I could not relent on that inner desire to achieve this idealistic vision of myself. So I did what any other red-blooded, American woman would do; I bought magazines.

There on those fanciful, glossy pages I found tips to improve everything! Better organizing skills. Better decorating plans. Better housework tips. Better me. Which all boiled down to one thing: I obviously needed improvement. So I tried harder. Failed bigger. Despaired greater.

Stop.

Gasp for air.

Repeat cycle.

One day, though, God sent me the most lovely gift, wrapped up in Scripture, and simply waiting for me to open its life-giving freedom: the story of God’s creation of woman:

I love the Old King James' wording best: "a helpmate suitable."

I love this phrasing best: “a helpmate suitable.”

I love picturing those precious Bible stories, watching as the details come alive in my mind. In this story, I can absolutely “see” Adam spending wonderful time with His Creator and God. Their playful interchange as Adam views an ostrich or camel for the first time, or perhaps Adam’s awe when he meets a lion or elephant face to face. Possibly a dejected look crosses his face as he realizes that God had created each animal both male and female, yet for him…no, he had not female. He was simply man. Alone.

Then I see my God, already understanding that Adam desperately would need his female–his “like,” gaze lovingly and thoughtfully into Adam’s eyes, reassuring him that this need had not gone unnoticed. Out of all creation, God had already conceived in His mind how He would fashion a “helpmate suitable” just for Adam.

“A helpmate suitable.”

Just for Adam.

The loving reality of this idea struck out across my brain and penetrated deeply into my heart. God loved my husband as dearly as He loved Adam. In His love, God had given me to Bradley as assuredly as He had given Eve to Adam. All I had to be–ever again–was “a helpmate suitable” for my beloved! His match. His completion. His wife.

Breathing new life into my hungry, wifely soul, this truth rumbled straight across my being, leaving its freedom positively dancing across the landscape of my life. No more did I need to strive to be the perfect wife for every man; I only needed to be the perfect wife for MY man! The helpmate suitable for his needs, his personality, his design.

Out went the overexertion and despair. In came the joy and freedom.

Bradley’s wife. His companion. His “helpmate suitable.”

“And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free,” (John 8:32).