The Summer of Light

This week has been tough, with tears pressing behind my eyes and an almost constant headache because of the battle with the voices in my head. And sharing about it is scary. But I believe in the power of vulnerability, in the power of the “me too” moment when one person connects with another. So despite the panic when sharing and what Brene Brown so brilliantly calls “The vulnerability hangover” afterward, I, with a deep breath and a prayer that the Lord will redeem this moment for good, want to open up.

In Texas, where we live, this is the last week of school. Starting on Friday, all of our littles will be home for sun, fun, and relaxation. And all over Facebook I see moms rejoicing in that fact, excitedly planning sun-kissed adventures. But for us, in our home, we have a child who requires structure, who pushes boundaries, and who has been, in utmost vulnerability, challenging to parent for manymonths. So I look to the end of this week with dread. I battle fear. “What if she acts out and the nanny quits? What if she gets worse over the summer? What if we can never get this under control? What if? What if? What if?”

And all of you moms can predict how this goes. The immediate next feeling, after the dread and fear, is an overwhelming sense of guilt. “How can a mother think this way?”  A feeling of failure at this one job you want to do well, more than any other. First I feel like I failed her that she is even having these struggles, then I feel failure for the fear about the ways we handle it. “What  if we are making this worse? What if there is something wrong and she really can’t help all of these behaviors? What if something we did is causing this?”

My thoughts are a mess. It feels like I am a mess. It feels like our home is a mess.

But I know that isn’t the whole story. I know that we are not a mess. I know that the Lord has a plan for our family, for our little girl, for me as a mom. I know that the circumstances we face now are not the defining circumstances of our life. And I know that my little girl has a huge heart that loves and seeks Jesus, and because of Him she has hope.

So I write this for a few reasons. First, there may be moms like me, with children who require special parenting, who are fearful this week and drowning in isolation and guilt. For you I say. “me too,” and I believe that the Lord has good plans for us and our special kiddos. I believe that he can take this summer, with the lack of structure, and do something beautiful. Second, I write this because I can’t get past it until I do write it, as an act of confession, and trust the Lord to do in me what He needs to do through this circumstance so far out of my control. Third, I have developed, through the years, this amazing support system of people who pray for us. We are seeking help for our child and for our family to try and make life better and restore peace in our home, and we have a very important appointment this week leading us hopefully in the direction of some solutions. Would you pray with us that we find that peace and have the wisdom we need?

This will not be the summer of fear, or of dread. This will be the summer of light, and of knowing the grace of God in a new and powerful way. I do believe it and I pray it for your home and mine.

The Powerful Woman

“Your husband is a brooder. And brooders brood.” – Bates (Downton Abbey)

powerFor years I have been working through what I believe about women and power (I call it processing, but really, like Bates, it’s brooding). Because there are two extremes in our culture, and I disagree with both. There is the world’s definition of female power, distorted by our enemy until somehow women choose to do things that are absolutely terrible for us to demonstrate we have the right, and then the church’s definition of female power, which in many places is no power at all, or worse, no voice (although certainly not everywhere). Both extremes make me very uncomfortable.

I’ve not always thought about women and power in a righteous way – in fact most often probably the opposite. The rebellious contrarian nature in me (that aged my parents like my rebellious contrarian child ages me) rises up when someone addresses this issue, and I struggle to understand and work through what I believe about rights, submission, surrender, and the power that is mine as a child of the King. I’ll search the Bible for answers, and feel my spirit lift and fall as I read things that encourage or confuse me when it comes to women and power. Paul, for example, writes some pretty strict limitations on women’s leadership, but shortly after praises a female apostle and writes greetings to several women leaders in the early church, and after that says there is no male and female in the Kingdom. It is confusing, and anyone who tells you it isn’t apparently possesses some secret Bible decoder ring that I’d love to borrow for a month or two or forever. And again I’m a contrarian, so I want to know the truth, but I won’t believe something just because you say it is true.

I’ve always been this way. As a child, in my Christian school, I submitted a science fair project on my attempt to determine the point where life begins, studying it both in the Bible and from a scientific viewpoint, trying to work through what I believed. And let me tell you – the entire project didn’t go over well in the school I attended, despite my genuinely pro-life viewpoint (I think I got a 72). Sometimes questions, even asked innocently, make people uncomfortable.

And that discomfort certainly exists when you start discussing women and power in today’s church. We all have a point of view, often shaped by our experiences. For years I served in churches where women on staff were the absolute minority and relegated to non-ministerial “director” roles. On one staff, I was the only woman on the executive staff (terrifying, right?), and I felt like I had to represent all women at a table full of men, all of the time. It exhausted me. So I left ministry, aside from serving beside my minister husband, because I couldn’t figure out how to be me in those environments.

But in the meantime, I kept being drawn to these women who were both powerful and righteous – and I loved watching them be all God had made them to be. I longed to see more of that from the Church that I love.

So this position comes up at Community of Faith for me to serve full-time on a church staff again.  Honestly, I’ve never cried or agonized over a decision more in my life. I actually said no several times. And then I visited here and saw that this church is defined by so many things that move my heart: mission, Prayer, restoring the broken, redeeming the lost. This place is real and simple and powerful. There is freedom here. Beauty. Vulnerability. God’s presence so thick you can feel it. Prayer like I’ve never experienced. I wanted to be here but I was not sold on my role on the staff until I met a woman who demonstrated quiet graceful strength. She is our Pastor’s wife – but we also call her our Pastor. She doesn’t claim that title or call herself that as if it were her right – but she started COF with her husband and her wisdom saturates this place and she completely fills that role in the right way, so that is what we call her, because we honor her. On the drive back to Dallas, after seeing the church and meeting the Shooks, Justin and I talked and wrestled and prayed and processed like our life was on the line – because it was. During that talk, I cried when I told him that meeting her, I finally saw myself here. I knew if I came on staff I would never have to represent all women, because they are very beautifully represented in the women on staff here already. But more than that, I felt like I had seen the right kind of power displayed and honored, and it felt like coming home.

(There are some who will shut down as you read the last paragraph, and I get it. I  hope my heart is coming across correctly, but I also know we all have entirely too much baggage when it comes to the issue of women and the church. We have seen abuses and been taught rules and boundaries quite forcefully, so I get the complexity and discomfort).

So we decide to move here after the Lord confirms our decision about eleven different ways, and I return to full-time ministry. We are at this church, this church of our dreams, serving with people who are fully alive to the world of the Spirit and fully on-mission to reach the world. Last weekend I filmed sixteen people as they were baptized, and our Pastor stood at the top of the steps of the baptistry and said “I’m proud of you” to each one as they timidly stepped into the water and into the new life of obedience to Christ. This place is not perfect, I know, but it is special and the Lord’s hand is here and we are moved by it week after week after week. So many times since we moved here Justin and I have said to each other, “This is worth giving up our lives.”

But even still, it hasn’t been easy for me. I brood. I feel unsettled. Awkward. Striving. Inadequate. Insecure. Too tall. Too loud. Too much. Not enough. I am fighting to process all of this because it is all so new. This new culture. This new paradigm. Even the new roles Justin and I are filling at home and my role at work. In every area of our life there are massive changes, and I am stuck in my head working through them. Most of all, I’m working through how to walk through this door the Lord so clearly opened for our family. Because it’s amazing and refreshing to meet a woman walking in the right kind of power, but it’s hard to be a woman walking in the right kind of power. I feel a little bit like I’m learning to walk again, wobbling between extremes, trying to find my way. Too fearful one moment, too bold the next. Too confident in my own wisdom, then plagued with self-doubt, all the time not relying enough on the wisdom of my Father. My feelings are all over the map, and although rationally I know my feelings aren’t truth – still I feel so many feelings and it makes me uncomfortable.

Finally I come to tonight – and the reason I am writing. There has been some serious violence in our new area in the past months, and the women on our staff were invited to a prayer meeting to stand together against the forces of evil in our town. So I go with some female staff members and staff wives, and we walk into a room with about 16 people total, where we are led in prayer. And it was powerful. All-caps POWERFUL. We are praying in unison, quiet at first, but with more and more boldness as we go. We are humbling ourselves, begging the Lord to intercede and move and change hearts and rescue. We have been afraid, but we aren’t going to live in fear anymore. Instead we are laying down our requests before the God who controls armies of angels. We are also stepping into the power that is ours to fight against the enemy. The leader of the prayer time says,  “We don’t have to take this – we don’t have to be subject to this violence and the schemes of the enemy. We have power in Christ to push back this darkness” and my spirit felt free to walk in that power. It was glorious… and I’m not a person who uses the word “glorious.” We are women, praying in power, as if we have the right to claim this victory and take back this land for the glory of the Lord. Because we do. And I just kept thinking as I left – this is the right kind of power. This is the undefinable thing that moves me about this place.

(As a sidenote, in that room praying with us was one of the most powerful and influential women in the entire Christian world – a name every single one of you would know without question, crying out to the Lord alongside us, revealing the Source of her very formidable strength. When the Lord shows me something, He often has to repeat Himself until even I can’t miss the lesson).

Tonight these conflicted ideas stopped being conflicted for me. The power is not in me, and yet is in me. I am a simple girl. A mess more often than I admit. I know better than anyone how utterly unqualified I am on my own strength to lead anyone or represent the Lord in ministry to a hurting world. And yet I am a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, so His power is in me. He uses me despite my weakness. He empowers me with His strength. And when I walk in that power, there are no limits to what I can or should do for the Lord and His Kingdom. The difference between power out-of-control and beautiful righteous power is the Spirit in which I am walking. Am I walking in surrender to Christ, filled with the Spirit? Then I am powerful and I have no reason to fear or limit myself.

Pray for me, sweet friends, and I’ll pray for you, that we will walk in the power of Christ in the way we were intended, without fear and without a desire to glorify ourselves. And may we progress from infants struggling to walk in this power to daughters dancing and running, pushing back the darkness and bringing glory to the God who created us male and female, for His glory.

For consider your calling, brothers (and sisters): not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the 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. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God,righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” I Cor 1:26 – 31.

I think this is appropriate given the subject matter. 🙂

All Things New

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?…

For the past several years, Justin has been the Worship Pastor at Southlake Baptist Church and we have lived in the DFW area. We have loved our ministry time there, and are grateful to the church, staff, and our friends. We grew as people, parents, and ministers, and made lifelong friends. We thank God for SBC.

But Justin and I have waited with bated breath for a chance to to “go public” with some pretty big news. We will be moving over Christmas to the Northwest Houston area to join the staff of Community of Faith church. We will both be joining the staff, he as a member of the Worship team and I on the Communications Staff. This opportunity came out of nowhere, and as it has unfolded it has become clear to us that the Lord is moving mountains to get us there. For example:

Justin playing with the Worship Team at COF

Justin playing with the Worship Team at COF on his interview trip.

  • Within weeks of talking to one of us about a job, a position for the other one opened up.
  • Our house, in the first 12 hours on the market, received 2 offers. (Shout out to Christy Horne for her help – having her as our real estate agent is one of the wisest decisions we have ever made).
  • COF was the answer to prayers we prayed quietly about the kind of church we wanted to serve at in ways we never imagined.
  • Some of our closest friends serve at this church, ready to provide a support system for us.

We are incredibly excited. Let me share a few things about this church that match our hearts and passion. First of all, the Pastor and his wife are former missionaries, and the church was actually planted to fund ministry and missions around the world. When you walk in the door there are huge prints of pictures of the people they are partnering with around the world, and almost every leader in the church has traveled with the church and has a global perspective on ministry. Second, the staff considers themselves missionaries serving NW Houston and the world, and it is a value of the church to involve staff children in ministry at every level. Our children will grow up with the idea that international missions are completely normal and necessary to the local church. Third, the church has a laser-focused vision and refuses to spend time or money on anything that does not support that vision. Fourth, the Pastor and his wife are some of the most authentic, visionary people we have ever met and we love the idea of following the Lord with them.

Jen shooting Mark and Laura for Christmas TV commercial.

Jen shooting Pastor Mark and Laura Shook for Christmas TV commercial.

This will be, by far, the biggest leap of faith our family has ever taken in our journey of following Christ, and we appreciate all the prayers you can think to lift on our behalf. We truly feel this is the Lord’s leading, and we feel peace and a sense of excitement about what He is doing in our lives. We look forward to continuing our relationship with all the people in our world, possibly from a larger distance, but from hearts near to the Lord and to each other. We wanted to tell our church in person, but because of the weather and the timing of our announcement, we won’t be able to share it as we had planned. So we wanted to write this letter to spread the word from our heart to yours so you will hear what the Lord is doing.

It is a new day for us, and we have many emotions. Some sadness about leaving the people and places we love, some anxiety about new roles and transition, and much excitement about what is next.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:3-11

There is a Time

Today one of my best friends has the fun sonogram where you find out the sex of your baby. It’s my favorite one. My heart is full of joy for her. I even dreamed about it I’m so excited. At almost the same time, my other best friend will be planning the memorial service for her beautiful mother who went home to be with Jesus yesterday. I can’t believe her mom is gone. My heart is broken for her.

And yet it is also so appropriate I would feel this amazing joy today. My friend’s mom was full of life. She loved to laugh and dance and sing. Her house was one of my favorite places in the world. She loved babies – she was a pediatric nurse her entire adult life. She’s one of the people who inspired me to return to school. She would be rejoicing alongside me today.

So I dwell with both emotions – grateful for the gifts we have on earth and grateful for the hope of heaven when we face these weighty sorrows.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

I love you Mama P. I will dance with you in heaven again. 

Olympics, Unity, and Joy

The Olympics demonstrated for me what I love about social media. I loved watching gymnastics with my computer in my lap, laughing at tweets from people I love about an athlete’s strange wardrobe decisions and cheering on the team that in overtime just needs to score a stinking goal. I loved watching what is trending worldwide to see what was happening live in London, imagining being in that beautiful city to witness history firsthand. When I realized that I couldn’t access online content because we no longer have cable and NBC was requiring subscriber information for access, I went to Twitter to voice my frustration and joined joyfully in the #NBCfail snark. When Matt and Meredith insulted the entire world with completely inane and potentially racist commentary during the Opening Ceremony, I was interacting with old friends on Facebook who joined me in laughing disbelief and horror. During the games, I followed athletes and loved seeing their photographs and reading their joy firsthand. It made the Olympics fun and interactive. I felt like a part of it, and it removed the roadblock that NBC had placed between me and the Olympics that limited my viewing choices to what they handpicked to air between commercials to generate the most revenue.

Image

Courtesy USMagazine

It made the Olympics feel like an event that I was watching on a giant sofa with people I love, like the Lost Finale we watched with our closest island-adoring friends.

I loved it.

We were joined together, rooting for these athletes who have spent years training for this one moment. We were hopeful and joyful and cheering them on. It was unity in action, the entire world celebrating life and health and hard work.

It is what I love the most about social media. Simple joy and the crossing of divides.

And it is the exact opposite of what we are entering into next. The same reason I loved social media during the Olympics is why I dread it in the politically-charged fall. Because it is the opposite of unity – it is division and tearing each other down and flinging soundbites at each other from across the divide. Politics makes social media miserable, and I truly dread it.

I want to cling to the Olympic unity this Fall. Unless we are uniting in our mutual disgust with Matt Lauer, I  want to avoid the mudslinging. I want to share light and love on social media regardless of who wins and loses in November.

Because, here’s the deal, whatever happens, we are not the enemy we are supposed to fight (see Ephesians 6:12), and really, who ever changed their mind because of a tense and charged Facebook decision? It’s pointless and divisive and we all have better things to do with our time.

Lovely and grace-filled view of suffering.

Marie-Ellen

So, you still believe in a merciful God?”  Some of the comments online are genuinely inquisitive, others are contemptuous in nature. Regardless of the motive behind the question, I will respond the same way.

Yes.

Yes, I do indeed.

Absolutely, positively, unequivocally.

Let’s get something straight: the theater shooting was an evil, horrendous act done by a man controlled by evil.  God did not take a gun and pull the trigger in a crowded theater. He didn’t even suggest it. A man did.

In His sovereignty, God made man in His image with the ability to choose good and evil.

Unfortunately, sometimes man chooses evil.

I was there in theater 9 at midnight, straining to make out the words and trying to figure out the story line as The Dark NightRises began. I’m not a big movie-goer. The HH and I prefer to watch movies in the comfort…

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Mercy for Today

I have talked to a bunch of moms this week and this seems to be the theme.

“I’m having a tough time with my kids.”

“My kids seem to be throwing a ton of fits right now.”

“This is just hard right now.”

“I have lost my cool this week and I feel so guilty.”

I have heard these things over and over, and every woman shared it with me carefully, afraid I would think less of her.

Can I just say, moms, that I don’t think less of you? That we are all with you? Summer is tough, for all of us. Routines are interrupted, kids are home more than usual, it’s too hot to be outside like they normally are. Tempers can flare and chaos can creep in.

Don’t let yourself be discouraged. Don’t let the enemy isolate you. Don’t be bogged down with guilt. If you have lost your cool, talk to your kids. Apologize, pray together, ask the Lord to help you both do better. Even if they are little, it’ll teach them how to be humble and show them how to correct when they sin.

ImageAnd give yourself grace. None of us were parented by perfect parents, but by God’s grace we’re here, (relatively) normal. 🙂 Go to the Lord, ask Him for more patience and love and ask Him to grant peace to your home. Curl up in your bed and imagine yourself curled up next to him. Know that He looks at you with love – not condemnation. He is pleased with you.

We are all – kids and adults – working out our salvation with fear and trembling. We are all in need of mercy. And we all have a God who specializes in saving and in pouring mercy on us.

If this week has been tough – you are not alone. And you are not a bad mom. What God calls us to do (motherhood), he equips us to accomplish. In you, because of Christ, is all you need to do well as a mom to your kids.

Breathe. Relax. Feel His grace. His mercies are new every day – and there is mercy for you today no matter what yesterday looked like. He loves you.

Giving Grace

As most of you know, my oldest daughter’s name is Grace. It completely fits her, actually. She has singlehandedly taught me more about grace than anything I’ve ever experienced.

The other day we were listening to Christmas music and she heard the line “He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove, the glories of His righteousness and wonders of his love…”

She asked me, quietly, “Mommy, why is my name in this song?”

Suddenly I had to try to explain the concept of grace to a 4 year-old. All the Sunday school answers I’ve ever learned ran through my head – unmerited favor (no), sanctification because of His righteousness, not ours (no).  All true but far too complicated.

I said “Gracie – this is talking about how God rules the world with truth and absolute love.” I think that was a pretty accurate answer – I was grateful the Lord gave it to me.

God rules the world with truth and absolute love.

There has been some serious tension and strife in my extended family this past year. Like the historic kind that divides families and tears each other apart until people miss funerals because of it. It’s bad. It’s been really difficult to experience and hurtful on all sides.

And it’s human nature in strife like this to believe the ABSOLUTE worst about the other person, while believing the best of ourselves. We’ve seen that on all sides of this argument. We stop communicating, stop working towards peace. We start presenting the best version of our side to the people on “our team” while demonizing the other side. Suddenly small differences that were before simply topics to avoid become vast valleys that separate and divide us because grace is gone.

But God rules the world with truth and absolute love.

What I think the Holy Spirit is teaching me is that to live out Christ in me, I have to live in truth and grace. I must love.

When I am offended? Realize as a Believer in Christ who is told to forgive, I don’t have the right to live offended. I must love.

When I am hurt? Realize I am constantly, unknowingly, hurting those around me. I must love.

When I am tempted to demonize? Realize I am but a miserable selfish sinner saved by grace who doesn’t deserve an ounce of the grace given to me by Christ. I must love.

My sweet Grace is aptly named, and again she teaches me about grace just by her very existence.

He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes (ME, a sinner saved by grace) prove, the glories of His righteousness and wonders of his love…

We can show the world, and our families, the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love when we choose to live as Christ.

The best way I can show my daughter the precious concept that her name represents is to prove His righteousness and his wonderful love as I give grace in my relationships with others. God help me. That’s so hard sometimes!

God forgive me for my part in the disunity in our family. Help me to be better – to prove your glory, righteousness, and love better than I have this year. Please work and move and heal and restore. We need You.

These are a few of my favorite things…

I have decided to start microblogging a bit more… and so I am going to try to, a couple of times a week, write a small blog about the things in life, the small things, that give me joy.

First of all – if the title of this blog has you singing The Sound of Music – that’s awesome.  Me too.  When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling sad… I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don’t feeeeeeel sooooooooo bad.

#1 – Bath and Body Works Semi-Annual Sale.

I love me some B & BW (and so does my husband).  And twice a year they clean out their stock to make room for new formulas, and everything goes massively hugely on sale.  It happens in January and JUNE – so guess what?  Next week it is on.  It begins June 11 – so mark your calendars.

Bath bubbles, lotions, lip balms, and even stuff for our husbands that smells manly and amazing – all terribly cheap (much too cheap to pass up, in my opinion).  It is one of Justin’s and my few vices.  The orange ginger aromatherapy line is my absolute favorite.

So mark your calendar and be sure to shop it!  Every week the selection and sales change – so go back and back and back.  But don’t say I didn’t warn you – you could spend a bit of cash.  It’s just all so wonderfully cheap you may lose your head!