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).

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Sweet and Upright Words

I have a confession to make. As a 50-year old woman of two young adult children, I still struggle using the correct words to teach and train. Anybody with me?

Sad, ain’t it?

Despite my head knowledge that my children have arrived at the ripe old ages of 21 and 18, I find ugly words like “Don’t…” and “Stop…” creeping harshly into my disciplinary technique. Rather than exhorting and encouraging them to more thoughtful and adult actions, I find myself correcting them with that nasty ole “mom voice.”

Example of shame: Yesterday morning I noticed my daughter pouring hot water into her teacup with the pot positioned where it could easily dribble into the “xylitol” bowl. However, instead of using words of respect, I found this gem shooting out of my mouth: “Hey! Don’t pour that over the xylitol!” And, of course, said comment was made in front of her younger brother, who happened to simultaneously chuckle, which I’m certain made her feel about six.

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Oh, and don’t even get me started on the ugliness that finds its way into the corrective measures I take with my son! Somedays I simply feel like Paul when he penned, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). Though perhaps I should cry out, “Who will set me free from this tongue of death?”

I know that a host of mothers have gone before me in this transition of role; of going from mommy to mom to mother of adults. Many have done this beautifully, I am sure, while others like me have struggled, and others even have sadly failed. Sure, these children still live in our homes, but (and I need to truly understand this deep in my heart and mind!) we will lose relationships with them and respect from them if we cannot grant them the respect of a fellow adult. That does not mean that our teaching and mentoring days are over–they have merely changed shape.

God has granted us age and, hopefully with that, the wisdom of those years. Not only that, but He has freely given us the wisdom of the ages: His solid word. When we spend genuine time daily in the Bible, we find that it transforms our hearts and minds. Ultimately, then, we will find that since “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34), our words will begin to reflect the word we truly “have hidden in our hearts.”

Proverbs 18:21 states that “death and life are in the power of the tongue.” I have watched my words crush my children, but I have also witnessed God use my words to bring life and understanding into their hearts. Interestingly, the words that crushed came in a torrent; the words that brought life settled sweetly and succinctly like a seed well sown.

God used the words of Job to convict me this morning. And from that place of brokenness I pray for those of you who also find your words striking out hurtfully at the precious ones you love: may you spend genuine time before God in His word, may His word challenge and change you, and may He, in turn, use you to speak life into those around you.

“Teach me, and I will be silent; make me understand how I have gone astray. How forceful are upright words” (Job 6:24-25a).

The Heartbreak of Spiritual Warfare

I had to run an errand with my husband today. (If you remember that today is Professional Administrator’s Day, then you realize how critical this was!) Anyway, while my husband paused to take a call, I noticed a man from our church with his two children. Excited to see someone I knew, I went over to greet him. I couldn’t believe how big his little ones had become! It was so sweet to my heart!

But he looked at me, smiled politely but distantly, laid his hand on his older daughter’s shoulder, and quickly guided her away from me; all without saying a word.

Bemused, I returned to my husband’s side where, after he finished his call, he leaned close to my ear and gently explained.

“He and his wife got upset with us over [insert issue] and left the church.”

“Didn’t they even come and talk with you first?”

“No.”

“You mean they heard one side of the story, decided it was true, and just left??”

“Yes.”

“oh.”

As this only happened about an hour and a half ago and, never having had someone feel the need to pull their child away from me, I wanted to write while my feelings–as confusing as they are–pulse upon my heart, because I think the destructive lies of the enemy to the body of Christ need to be addressed.

Jesus clearly stated in John 13:35, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” It goes to reason, therefore, that the enemy enjoys wreaking havoc in this department within the body of Christ. He thrills to stir up gossip and dissension within a church, and he’s not afraid to do whatever it takes–he actually delights in it. Using pride to cause malcontent. Taking on another’s wounds to bind someone in bitterness. Encouraging a well-placed smear campaign against a pastor. All great tactics. And, sadly, they work.

In his epistle, Paul’s words serve to remind the church that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). We should stand upon these words as truth; this battle cry should reign in our mindset. Yet in spite of Biblical certitude, we continue to wrestle against our own brothers and sisters in our church family, rendering heartbreak along the way, and destroying our witness to the world.

As for today, I clearly can’t make someone listen to me who is determined to take a stance against me, but I can remember my first line of defense…and offense: prayer. I know from the depth of my being that by becoming entrapped in bitterness toward a brother in Christ, a man wounds himself more than he wounds the one he holds accountable for his bitterness. My heart aches for him and his wife, as it aches for each sweet brother or sister caught in these same shackles by the enemy. And my prayer won’t be against them, it will be for them–that God will set them free. That God would sweetly tend to their hearts so broken by the ugliness of this spiritual warfare.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting, so they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that HE may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:1-3).

Fueled by Grace

Last June my son checked in for summer football conditioning spry, agile, and ready to go, weighing in at all of 149 pounds. Although not a ton by any means, he still rocked the world of 95 opponents and brought home the Pride, Hustle, Desire Award at the end of the season. But an odd thing occurred en route. Around about October, he started complaining of running out of gas midway through practice. He just couldn’t finish hard. Didn’t know if he was getting sick. Wasn’t sure what was wrong. In due course, he also shared that he weighed-in at 146. My “aha” moment! Armed with the knowledge that he was losing weight, I understood that he didn’t have enough fuel in his tank. He could not give out what he did not have.

This premise holds true for all of us on so many levels, but today I want to talk about grace.

Grace serves as the foundation–the cornerstone–of the Christian faith. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). God lovingly and freely gives us His grace. No holds barred. Ours for the receiving. Done.

But then God turns right around and says, “Freely you received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). Oops. What a minute. What does that mean?

Let me put it to you in a real-life, how-you-live, kind of way. (I get things better when they are simple and straight to the point.) If you hold on to bitterness and forgiveness, you cannot dispense His grace.

When God shows you His grace, He demonstrates it through His forgiveness and lack of bitterness. He holds nothing against you. Then if you receive this loving grace, He expects you to express the same attitude toward others.

How do you know if it’s there? In your heart?

Easy self-check: Think for a few moments of the person whom you perceive has wounded you. What do you feel inside? Do you feel angered? A little knotted up? Like a wealth of ugly emotions wants to run amok in your heart and mind? Or do your feel compassion? Grieved by the pain he/she must live with?

If you feel compassion and mercy, then you truly are a dispenser of God’s richest gift. If, however, you feel anger or knotted up, then you simply cannot offer what you do not have. You cannot work that way. You can pretend to work that way, but, by God’s design, you do not. You can preach or minister, but without the fullness of God’s grace expressed lovingly through your own life, your words serve as “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (I Corinthians 13:1).

And then like begets like.

Let’s go back to my son for a moment. On his first day of practice, he could probably have worked it hard powered only by Twinkies and chocolate milk. Such is the joy of new beginnings. Likewise, when we first get saved we feel so much joy that we could forgive anyone of anything at that moment. As the season starts to get long though, that initial component of new joy wears thin and we find out what we’re really made of.

For my son, it meant recognizing the problem and making the necessary changes to accommodate the daily challenges football requires of a body. We started hammering him with food, and his body eagerly responded. He finished strong.

For the human soul, it means essentially the same thing. We have to acknowledge that we have issues with letting go of bitterness while extending grace. We don’t have enough grace to go down the hard road. Our spirits are underfed. Much like my son couldn’t survive on his weekly team dinner (monstrous as it was), neither can we if we rely merely on a weekly feeding at the neighborhood church. We need daily, meaty spiritual meals which nourish our souls and provide rich doses of grace upon grace.

Please understand that as I write this, my heart extends toward you. I treasure the joy I get from living unencumbered in God’s grace. I love the freedom of walking out from under the burden of bitterness and unforgiveness. Do I march on perfectly? No! But I beg you, if you struggle with this, please ask God for help. Confess these attitudes as the sins they are. Lay them down at His feet, and don’t allow yourself to pick them up again.

Remember, Christian, the greatest gift you possess to share with the world is grace. God’s grace. Lived out in you through forgiveness as a sweet aroma.

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place” (2 Corinthians 2:14).

PS. If you struggle with this, I would like to recommend “Why Grace Changes Everything” by Chuck Smith. -brenda-

Wrestle Not

When I was growing up, Iowa was a wrestling powerhouse. Dan Gable was reigning supreme over his dominant University of Iowa wrestling program, and boys from every nook and cranny across her sun-swept farmland fought wholeheartedly to earn the right to go to the State Tournament, which my brother did.

In my small town, wrestling meets packed the venue in a way which rivaled the all-American football game. And despising the role of cheerleader, I gained the coveted position of Mat Maid, which earned me access to all practices and meets, both at home and away. I saw many a match, and loved every one of them.

In spite of all the action I was able to witness, there were many a thing which I did not see. For example, I never saw a a wrestler in the 185 lb. division throw-down on a poor kid in the 98 lb. division. Everyone, to a man, grappled only his assigned opponent. In addition, I never saw a wrestling match take place off the mat. This competition was always conducted openly out on the mat. Finally, I never saw a match occur without a referee, who saw that both combatants, and their coaches, abided by each and every rule, wrestling fairly.

Not only that, but, with the exception of the occasional troublemaker, the spectators never encouraged behavior outside of that which was sanctioned.

That’s simply how the sport was honored…no bones about it.

Interestingly enough, the Bible uses wrestling as the sport to which we need to compare our behavior when we are at odds, or in “war mode.”

“Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:10-12

I cannot even begin to tell you the freedom these verses have brought me over the years!

First and foremost, verse 12 tells me the “who” and the “why” and everything else fills in the blanks. That little word “for” starts the whole explanation: I wrestle not against flesh and blood. I don’t wrestle other humans! My opponent is clearly defined: I wrestle against the dark forces of this world. I do not behave honorably in any way at all when I start taking out my aggression on any of God’s precious children.

You don’t know how many times the reminder of this verse has bailed out my bacon! Sister So-and-So says something that riles me wrong. Not my problem. She’s not my enemy. Brother So-and-So says things about me that aren’t accurate. Not my problem. He’s not my enemy. I have only ONE enemy, and a fellow brother or sister in Christ is not it. From the moment this verse reaches my recollection, my freedom comes sweeping through my heart, chasing all bitterness aside.

Furthermore, my struggle takes place in the heavenlies…not on an earthly realm. If I would put as much effort into my prayers as I do in my feelings, I would indeed be more than a conqueror. Sadly, I can’t even begin to tell you how often I have spent vain emotion on things and people rather than on combating my true enemy in the only way that will truly and eternally succeed: on my knees. And then, of course, my actions follow those emotions, and I behave in a way that brings dishonor to my Lord and Savior.  (Shame on me when I do that!)

Finally, it’s imperative that I acknowledge my need for the strength of the Lord–for the might that only comes from Him. I generally only do that when I recognize that my battle is not of this world and not with those of this world. When I think it is, I just go get it done myself. (Bad idea, by the way.) But when I stop and become aware of eternal spiritual truths, then I can rest in God’s covering and, ultimately, in His government of the whole affair. He will hold each person accountable for his actions–I don’t have to–and He will cover me as long as I walk in His truth and stop trying to beat up His other children, which He frowns on.

And as a bonus feature, let me tell you one last thing. If, in the process of working things out, you happen to mention your little pickle to someone who encourages you to behave in even the smallest way outside of the parameters set by God in His word (i.e. gossip, responding in kind, getting what you deserve regardless), then that person is one of those “occasional troublemakers” I mentioned earlier. They are not behaving as one of that “great crowd of witnesses,” they are acting as agents for the enemy. Kindly disregard their input and get out of their presence lickity-split. Take your thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ, and even tell yourself to “knock it off” if you have to. But, whatever you do, make sure you live and think in a way that is for Christ’s glory and not your own.

Living for Jesus in a way that brings Him glory is a battle. The question you have to ask yourself, though, is do you want to be an athlete training for a prize or the neighborhood thug? A ranked wrestler would never risk his goal by underhanded means. Fight your true opponent. Wrestle only in the arena. Trust God to stand as the Judge of all. Bring God glory.

“O give us help against the adversary, for deliverance by man is in vain. Through God we shall do valiantly, and it is He who will tread down our adversaries.” Psalm 60:11-12

I (Subject) Love (Verb) You (Direct Object)

Exactly six years and two weeks ago, my charming, seventeen-year-old nephew was instantaneously killed by a drunk driver. Jonathan Michael Baugh would have been 24 years old today. This blog is in homage to him.

My nephew, Jon. Isn’t he cute? 🙂

I’ll never forget that evening six years ago: October 17th. Our house phone rang around 10:30 at night. My brother was calling from the midwest. With the time change, I knew immediately something was wrong, but little was I prepared to hear such ragged pain so rawly expressed from his very first syllable.

The police and chaplain had just left, having borne to T and P the horrendous news every parent dreads, yet truly never expects to hear. A drunkard, speeding down the wrong side of a split freeway, had struck Jon head-on, causing his immediate entrance into the Eternal Kingdom. Through the coolness of the phone line, my heart longed to comfort my brother as he struggled to jaggedly articulate his agony. As T continued to give vent to his disconsolation, he uttered a statement that has forever altered the way I have chosen to express myself to the ones I love.

In the course of the conversation, as everyone often finds themselves doing, T relived for me his last few moments with his son. Jon was going out for the evening, and as they stood at the door together, T asked the typical father-like questions: “Where are you going? Who will you be with? When will you be home?” Then he said the usual okay-see-you-later type good-bye, little understanding that it would be his very last earthly good-bye to his son. With grief-stricken tones, T lamented, “I never told my son that I loved him!”

I had never heard the truth of pain given such a voice before, and his words reverberated deep within my heart long after the trip back for Jon’s funeral and memorial, and for ever so long after I had returned.

But what was I going to do with those sentiments? They could not resonate so deeply for no reason. And slowly, over the thoughtful path of several weeks, a plan began to formulate in my heart and mind. I had a choice to make. I determined to make sure the people that I loved know of those feelings I held just for them.

You have to understand what a big step this was for me. It was gigantic! Having grown up a little rough and unsettled, love was a priceless commodity–too priceless to be bandied about to just everyone like so much cheap Halloween candy. No! It was something to be sweetly savored  with only those most intimately connected to me. Yet as I contemplated my life–how God’s love had crossed the threshold of my barricaded heart, healed my tender wounds, and surrounded me daily with insurmountable grace and mercy–I grew to realize that God had invested so much love in me that my heart was overflowing!

I had never had a problem saying, “I love you” to my husband or children or brothers or other close-hearted friends and family members. I remember though, the first challenge I faced in my newfound mission came with a sweet little gal from our church, K. I had  stopped by the church office one day and wound up talking to her for quite a while. As I was leaving, I realized that I wanted to tell her that I loved her, but would I be able to gather up the courage? As I stood there contemplating whether I could make that ultimate choice, I felt myself become more and more determined in my commitment to her. After a I final deep breath, I simply said, “I love you.”

I (Subject) love (Verb) you (Direct Object). (That’s right. I’m a homeschool mom who can parse a sentence!) I, subject: the one who is choosing to take an predetermined action. Love, verb: the action implicitly chosen by the subject. You, direct object: the one who is the recipient of the prescribed action.  At that one moment in time, I knew that if I was going to choose to tell people that I loved them, I needed to wholly communicate to them the truth of my feelings. No shortcuts. No “love you,” or “love ya” would do. I had made a choice, and I was committed to truthfully express my choice, because if I truthfully loved someone, that person deserved to know it.

My son confronted me one day. “Mom! Why do you do that? Why do you always have to say, ‘I love you’ whenever I leave the house?” (My other new resolution was to make sure nobody left my home “un-loved.”) I shared with him the story of his uncle and cousin, and then I told him, “Son. God never tells us how many days we have. Should anything ever happen to you or I today, I want you to know that I have forever made the choice to love you.”

I (subject) love (verb) you (direct object). My whole commitment.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.” Jeremiah 31:3