Tuesday, September 28, 2010
As many times as I've heard, quoted, and sung that verse (there's a little tune to which I sing it almost every Sunday morning as I get Caleb ready to go worship), I don't think I've ever really thought about it quite as seriously (or wrestled with it quite as foolishly) as I have most days for the past week-and-a-half since my pastor's wife, Kelly Love, mentioned it at my baby shower.
(Leave it to God to find us a church for this "interim" period where the pastor and his wife went through such a time at basically the same stage in their family's life! Their oldest son, also named Caleb, was on his way when their time started, and their second son was on his way by the time they were settled again.)
Anyhow, she focussed her devotional and words of wisdom to me on the circumstances we have right now in life, and one thing she mentioned was that we're almost always at a point where we can focus on something that seems like "when life will really start," but that's really not how we ought to live. (Ladies around the room nodded in assent.)
E.B. White said it this way: "Life is always a rich and steady time when we are waiting for something to happen or hatch." (Here are some other neat pregnancy and baby quotes for you fellow mommies & scrappers out there!)
Anyhow, Kelly's words of experience and wisdom continued: "THIS is the day the Lord has made," she said, "THIS day--not just yesterday or tomorrow." I'm constantly reminding myself of that important truth I've so many times overlooked.
Sometimes it's easier to quote that verse or feel like it's true with the promise of the morning and all the hope it brings. But what about at the end of the day, when the hoped-for phone call, e-mail, or baby doesn't come? When the to-do list for the week has seen no progress? When seemingly reasonable expectations for yourself or others have clearly gone unmet?
For me, I have quite a list of things I'm waiting to "happen or hatch" right now. There's the baby, of course (due 4 days from now). And then waiting to hear from two churches with which Jonathan has had preliminary interviews 9 and 16 days ago, respectively. And there's Jonathan's current job that could possibly work into a direct-hire position within the next couple weeks; if that goes through, we're hoping it would mean a raise that could allow us to reasonably afford an apartment around here; otherwise, it will probably mean another job search starting up. Sigh.
On a much less world-rocking note, I'm also awaiting the re-release of Beauty and the Beast on DVD and the next heart-warming book by one of my favorite authors, Jan Karon (you can read the first chapter here)--both coming in October!
Even if I see no progress in those areas, will I "rejoice and be glad" in today? In THIS day? While the timing of so many things are beyond my control, the choice of gladness is mine to make. It's yours too. THIS is the day. Be glad.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Expecting is different from waiting. I feel like I waited for a while (longer than a lot of girls I know, anyway) to get married . . . at age 28. And to be a mommy . . . at age 31. In fact, I feel like I was even "waiting" to become a mommy well before I met the man I married. I "hoped" someday that would be the case. However, that "waiting" was not the same as "expecting" it to happen. My convictions about sexual purity made it impossible for me to anticipate or "expect" to become a mommy without having a husband. I hoped I would someday marry, but I did not know I would; I cannot say I truly "expected" to. And even once I was married, I did not know if my body would be able to provide me with biological children or, if it didn't, whether we would be able to adopt. I was waiting, not expecting.
I think you get the picture--our idea of "hoping" and "waiting" is very different than that of "expecting." But when we read our Bibles and think about God, we need to realize that the biblical words "hope" and "wait" really have a connotation more like the word "expect." Considering that, we can look at the Scriptural commands to "wait on the Lord" and the Psalmists' and others' ideas of their "hope in the Lord" differently than maybe we have before.
As I "wait" on the Lord's guidance (which He promises!) I'm not doing it like I "waited" and "hoped" to become a mom when I was 20. It's more like I'm "expecting" my baby now--any day, and I KNOW it's going to happen. "Haven't left one in there yet!" my OB/GYN assured me!
Isn't it the same God who created this world and our bodies and the dependable seasons and day/night cycles that promises guidance, provision, et. al.? I need to remind myself of this, as it seems more imminent that I deliver our second son than that God delivers on His promises to guide us to a more stable and permanent (I realize those things are relative as long as we're here on earth!) situation where Jonathan can fulfill his life's calling.
Jonathan has had two "conversations" with churches in the past 3 weeks, but he has not heard anything after either. Since Jonathan determined the necessity to resign from his former position in April, I have prayed (and asked others to pray) fervently that we'd be at more of a place to "expect" Him to lead us to a new ministry by the time of our baby's birth. I think my understanding and commitment to believing the Truth of the words of Scripture--and their meanings--will help determine my ability to resist panic and feel true peace and joy in this time of continued unknowns.
So this was kind of a "pep talk" to myself, but maybe some of the rest of you can benefit as well. Thanks for "listening" to me as I "talk to myself" about this. :)
Thursday, September 16, 2010
"Can he walk yet?" one asked.
"Yes, he can walk, but he's a little unsteady, especially on steps," I replied, amused.
A few more questions followed, and I was getting a little wary of their little game, but I played along, still a little bit amused.
"Does he cry?" another asked.
"Not as much as a new baby cries, but yes he cries," I told them.
"What makes him cry?"
At least they were thinking. And I had to think before I replied. "Well, pretty much when he's tired or hungry or hurt . . . or when he doesn't get his way."
Their next comment really hit me: "So pretty much the same reasons we cry."
I laughed at their perception. "Yeah, I guess so."
Throughout the next few days, I unwittingly found myself working a little more with my little guy when he would start to cry or whine because he simply wasn't getting his way. I know he can't understand explanations like this, but I'm trying to get into the habit of giving them anyway--at least as an accountability myself to have reasons for correcting him. "It'll be easier for you later if you learn now that you don't always get your way. You just have to accept it," I found myself saying. Was I talking to him, or to myself? Hmmm . . .
In the past couple months in which I have lacked things I have generally taken for granted, I have found myself crying at the most ridiculous times. Why? Because I'm not getting my way. Same as Caleb. Whom I correct. At the same time, I've been getting frustrated that specific prayers for moving on, getting settled, etc., are not being answered the way I would like, on the timetable I would like.
James 4:3 says this: "You ask and do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures." The previous verse connects such pleasure-seeking prayers with materialism, the following verse, with worldliness. Ouch.
I used to think I was far from being materialistic--I mean, how could I be? I prepared for and entered a service-minded career I knew would never make me rich, married a preacher (and not the mega-church kind!), and like to think of myself as selflessly hospitable in opening my home to others. I could go on. But take away my privacy, home of my own (not that we owned it--it was a parsonage), and general sense of comfort and control, and watch out! I've shed too many tears these last few months (years, decades!) simply because I'm not getting my way.
One time this really really came out was when Jonathan was digging through boxes in the garage to get out baby things and cold-weather things we were hoping we would not be unpacking here at my parents' house. My dad had re-arranged the boxes since we moved in, and some things were stacked quite precariously. When I caught a glimpse of a small box labelled "Tammy's Snow Globes--Fragile!" tottering at the top of a particularly unstable stack of boxes, I was in tears. Then Jonathan moved our dresser (a good-quality one I'd had since I was a toddler) and a drawer fell out onto the concrete floor. Before even seeing what damage had been done to the dresser or its contents, I ran into the house and sobbed for close to an hour.
It wasn't enough that we couldn't enjoy the nice things we did have, however few they were; I was convinced half of them, at least, would be broken by the time we finally moved. As I ran to the house in tears, I heard Jonathan saying, "They're just things." He was right.
I also like to think of myself as refraining from worldly behaviors. I mean, I don't do the bar thing or get immersed in entertainments of any kind. But what about the things that aren't God that bring me pleasure? I don't think I worship them until I lack them, then I spend way too much time and mental and emotional energy longing for them, analyzing how I can achieve them once again. Not long ago a friend of mine posted this question on FaceBook: "If all your prayers this week were answered, would it change the world, or just your world?" It's just so easy to get wrapped up in our own worlds, isn't it?
So let me ask you, do you cry? pray? What makes you cry and pray? What kind of heart does that reveal? I know mine needs to change--does yours?
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
While in some ways, the past year has held more hard times than any other year of my life, it has also held more clear direction and divine provision in such a short period of time than I have othewise enjoyed. As I write that, I am reminded that provision can be appreciated only when there is a lack, and direction when there is uncertainty. If you look back to Genesis, there is a pattern begun of a place for something and then a filling of it--land before animals, sky before the sun, water before fish. Just the same, there must be a void before fulfillment can be made. But I digress.
As far as direction goes, Proverbs says God's Word is a "lamp to our feet." How many times do we expect it to be a million candle-power shine, but that's not what He promises, is it? Let me give you one recent example. Instead of praying specifically for what I really wanted (!) I prayed instead for wisdom in deciding. It was early- to mid-August, and we had no good contacts with churches. I was convinced it would be easier to move big and preggo than with a small baby, but my husband is working through a temp agency and won't be potentially hired on directly until after the baby comes. Until then, his pay makes renting even a 2-bedroom apartment quite a stretch--or so we thought--never mind the idea of signing a lease agreement when we hope to be moving out of state before 6 or 12 months would be up.
But then I came across something on Craigslist that looked reasonable, and it could be even more reasonable if we were willing to take care of the property--no problem! Jonathan had an extra day off for Labor Day weekend, so we were hoping somehow we could move out of my parents' house by then.
I went to our church's Wednesday night prayer meeting and shared a general request for wisdom in making a decision regarding our living situation. But with the woman who prayed with me, I shared more detail. Thursday came, and I still had not received a response from the one who'd posted the apartment ad. I looked it up again, and noticed something I couldn't believe I'd overlooked before--the move-in date desired was October 1! (Our baby is due October 2, so I'm pretty sure that would not be a wise week to move.) The same day, we received a packet from a church saying they wanted it returned to them before August 31, as they would be reviewing potential candidates' information before then and making contact with their #1 pick on that day. Well, by August 31, it would be a bit late to be making a commitment to move Labor Day weekend. It seemed we had our answer. But there's more.
Even in my elation over such clear direction, I was a bit put off. Originally, we had decided Labor Day would be the last weekend we could possibly travel to visit a church before the baby is born. We were hopeful that we would be at that point, but no. Then we were hoping to move, but no. I privately asked God to give us something to anticipate that weekend, and He gave me two! We were asked to housesit for a couple in our church from Thursday through Monday (a whole house all to ourselves!), and some friends asked if we'd like to meet up with them in Madison on Labor Day--of course we would!
Other examples include the following--
- A friend's wedding being rescheduled from May to August, requiring us to change our plans to attend Family Camp from August to June--the week after God knew we'd be moving in with Mom and Dad and needing that spiritual refreshment (never mind Jonathan's not having to take off work at a new job)
- Being anonymously givin a good chunk of money last fall, which enabled us to update our technology--something that has proven invaluable in pursuing possible pastoral positions for Jonathan
- Having what was advertised as a 3-hour-per-week job turn out to be a 30-hour-per-week commitment for 4 months (something we would have never decided on my applying for if it had been made clear from the beginning), allowing us to save up the remaining amount needed to trade in our medium-sized sedan (that wouldn't fit two car seats in back with a tall Daddy and Mommy in front!) for a new-to-us minivan
All three of those things were provided before we knew we would be moving--but our God knew and provided even before we had an inkling of our need. What a mighty God we serve!
- Losing a spouse--not to death, but to divorce or separation
- Losing a young child--born or unborn
- Losing a home--through financial hardship
- Losing a close friend or family member--due to suicide
Evidently, losing a ministry as a pastor can be added to the list. All of these are truly difficult losses, but somehow they're more "taboo" than others. No one chides you for crying at a funeral if you lose your spouse to a heart attack, but if you grieve your loss through divorce, there is only shame, and no sympathy. I'm not saying sometimes people aren't at fault, or at least partially at fault, for their own difficulties, but shouldn't we be loving just the same? I'm not saying there isn't a time and place for advice and all of that, but even if it's needed, so is sympathy.
For my part, at one point this past spring, I desparately tried reaching out to two different groups of people--"older women" (See Titus 2) in the faith and in ministry and some close friends, none of which were geographically close at the time. From the first group, I was disappointed to have little response to my pathetic plea for empathy and advice. Silence was a painful response to receive. One, a fellow pastor's wife, responded with such lack of depth that it actually made me laugh: "I hope that you can find some Scripture to comfort and help you at this time." I appreciated her assumption that I could find some, but I surely hope she counsels others with a little more depth.
From the second group, there were many surprisingly hurtful comments, and I won't go into them, but I will say this--many failed to say,"I'm sorry you're going through this." Every major part of my life--my home, my church, my financial security, my job--were all being replaced with major uncertainty, and I knew that "someday this will be a good experience to look back on," but that's not really what I wanted--or needed--to hear.
Now before you think I'm just pulling this out to say "poor me," let me remind you of my last post about that ugly "B" word--Bitterness. Honestly, my heart is not tugging at me to become embittered as I write these things. Part of that is probably because I fully realize that I have been at fault for saying nothing or too much or any number of wrong kinds of things when friends have gone through hard things.
Aside from some true sympathetic and Scriptural encouragement from friends who had "been where I was," I think the most helpful thing was when a friend was just honest. She kind of laughed awkwardly when I told her, in brief, what had happened and said,"I don't know what to say except that I'm so sorry you have to go through this." Those simple, honest, awkward words were like healing balm to my heart. Oh, and I think she gave me some chocolate too. :)
Monday, September 13, 2010
As I re-read my first post from yesterday, I realized that I hadn't specified what I meant by "fighting." In short, I meant fighting for joy in the midst of a trial. Fighting against crumbling under pressure of hard times and--that ugly "B" word--bitterness.
A simple working definition of bitterness is "harbored hurt." (A more colorful description I've heard is "drinking poison, hoping that your enemy dies"!) A FB friend of mine from college has been blogging this year about a study she has been doing on prayer, particularly springing from the book A Praying Life (on my to-read list!); one of the thoughts she mentions is "confessional living," a concept clearly taught in James 5:16. To say you have been hurt is no admission of guilt--it's simply stating that something hurtful has been done to you. It's honest, but not "confessional." To admit a bitter response to that hurt is harder, even if that admission is to oneself. But let's be real, here.
I've been down that road, too many times. In some ways, I hesitate to give specifics because your hurts are probably different from mine, and my point in this blog is not just to air the details of my life but to be an encouragement to others. A little linguistic morsel from James 1 (as I read in the book by James MacDonald--see my "virtual bookshelf") is that in verse one, the same word translated "diverse" or "various" to describe trials is the same Greek word used in the Septuigant (Greek translation of the Old Testament, which was originally written in Hebrew) to describe Joseph's many-colored coat. Still, in the spirit of "confessional living" I will get a bit specific about my personal struggles with this ugly "B."
In her book Lies Women Believe, Nancy Leigh DeMoss traces the origin of sin back to the same basic process followed in the first sin back in the Garden with Eve: Listening to a lie, Dwelling on the lie, Believing the lie, and Acting on the basis of that lie. We might not have a beautiful creature whispering lies into our ears like she did, but often we listen to ourselves and "what is right in our own eyes" rather thank talking to ourselves with the Truth. Bitterness, it seems, really stems from the "dwelling" step.
I'm sad (and a bit embarrassed) to say that I've allowed some of the times that should have/could have been some of the happiest times of my life to be eclipsed by bitterness. Right now, I'm thinking of my engagement and early marriage. I was 27 when I met the love of my life. I'd never before had an official "boyfriend," and I'd never even kissed another man. I'd waited for my Jonathan in many ways. But we'd met on the INTERNET, of all things, and evidently in 2005 (at least in the conservative Chrsitian circles I was in) good girls did not meet future husbands on the INTERNET!--no more than they met guys by standing on street corners, from the way some people talked and acted toward me. (Ironically, we had attended the same Christian college for 3 1/2 years but had never met there.)
My future husband was a godly, likeminded Christ-follower--and a PASTOR to boot!--but that mattered little to most people. Their criticisms, assumptions, and words stung. And, as you might imagine, my decision to place weight on their opinions did nothing to bolster the confidence of my husband-to-be. In addition to how we met, many were critical of the fact that due to our impending wedding, I would not be fulfilling the teaching contract I'd already signed. But I'd applied biblical principles the best I knew how by following the advice of one God-given authority (my dad) to request to be released from my contract by another authority (my pastor, also my boss). I literally had colleagues who were also parents of former students of mine accuse me of going back on all I had "pretended to believe and teach." Ouch.
Then when the time of the wedding approached, there were more disappointments. Oh, I don't mean the loud speaker going off in the middle of the ceremony to page an employee or no one's saving us any of that yummy wedding cake (although I am still a little sore about that one! lol). But my bridal shower was the lowest attended one I'd ever been to at the church where I'd served faithfully for 5 1/2 years. And the church I had been attending with my parents for the months leading up to my wedding, teaching Sunday school and even writing and leading a children's Christmas program, had no shower for me but did have one the month of my wedding for a girl who'd grown up in the church but hadn't been there but maybe once in the seven months I'd been. Add to that several people I considered close failed to make time to come to the wedding, and others who were there didn't even give a card.
After celebrating others' weddings for years, at age 28, it was finally "my turn," and I felt like I was getting the "short end fo the stick." Selfish, sure. But even now I believe these were legitimate hurts, some of them intended as such. But I chose badly. I allowed myself to reply and re-hash those hurtful words and actions in my heart and mind. I was angry and felt "jipped" and in doing so defrauded myself from fully delighting in the good and perfect gift of marriage to a loving, reliable, wonderful husband.
Even as I wrote about the 5-year-old hurts above, my heart tugs at me to "harbor" them, as if failing to do so means admitting they weren't legit or something--what a devillish lie! All it would do for me to "go back there" would be hurtful to me, my family, and my walk with the Lord. Honestly, I can't even vaguely detail any of the horribly hurtful things I've heard and experienced in the past year or so, from people in the church my husband pastored. They're too fresh, and too tempting to "harbor," so I just can't go there right now.
I have had to fight hard against the easy but icky choice to dwell on hurts. I don't want to ignore them either, though (more on that some other time). Especially during this blessed time of having babies and little ones--everyone says it goes too fast anyway! At times I've felt bad about not getting to "nest" much for this baby I'm about to have (less than 3 weeks to go!) but then I've also realized that really, that nesting is more for me than for them. I obsessed, at least mentally, over how to arrange and decorate Caleb's nursery, feeding myself the lie that it's not materialistic if I'm buying second-hand stuff and painting inexpensive shelves myself. Yeah. And do you think Caleb really cared?
I must admit that all that time and effort I spent on his nursery was really to fulfil my own desires. I've told the baby in my belly that I've spent time feeling bad that I can't prepare for him like I did for his big brother--part of that being he mere fact that he's not the first, and I already have the "stuff" I need, and part of it being our present living quarters. Yesterday I tearfully said to my 17-month-old Caleb, as he giggled away while I pushed him on his swing, now hung from a tree in my parents' yard, that this "in-between time" wasn't bad for him--he had two more "big people" to snuggle him and share with him desserts, never mind an extra doggie to chase around--oh, to be so content!
Whatever ways you have been hurt, intentionally or unintentionally, let me encourage you, just don't go there--bitterness is ugly! Fight it!
Sunday, September 12, 2010
- My personal study of James 1 re: persevering through trials (started January)
- Jonathan's sermon series on Ephesians 6 re: the armor of God (May)
- My personal study of 1 Peter and recurring readings of Hebrews 11 (started June)
- Pastor Tim Jordan's sermon series on Hebrews 11-12 re: the life of faith and running the race at Northland Family Camp (June)
- Pastor Adam Love's sermon series on Ephesians 6 re: the armor of God (July)
- Pastor James MacDonald's book "When Life Is Hard" with a focus on James 1, Hebrews 12, and 1 Peter 4 (started August)
- Dana Marks' adult SS class on the topic of "Thriving in Stressful Times" with a focus on James 1 (started September)
Main events of my 2010 so far:
- Finding out I was expecting baby #2 (first week of February)
- Sending Jonathan off to Heart Conference at Northland, where he met and roomed with Pastor Adam Love (first week of February)
- Interviewing for and being offered a part-time job (first week of February)
- Seeing things start to get "icky" at the church where my husband was pastor (first week of February)
- Learning some people in church leadership wanted my husband to leave (first Sunday in March)
- Starting my first week on my own at my new job (first Monday of March)
- Having my husband resign from his position as pastor (Mother's Day)
- Going to my husband's first church for his last Sunday as pastor (Father's Day)
- Moving in with my parents (second to last week of June)
- Entering my third trimester with baby #2 (last week of June)
- Attending Family Campt at Northland, which was providentially changed due to a friend's wedding in August (last week of June)
- Seeing God provide a job for Jonathan here in Madison after only two days of looking (second week in July)
- Finding a likeminded, nurturing church home here in Madison where the pastor is Adam Love (early July)
- Standing up in a good friend's wedding and seeing many familiar faces (first week of August)
The church search so far:
- Jonathan registered with BJU Ministry Placement in mid-April and has had some personal connections but has otherwise been in contact with several churches through BJU, NIU, and MBBC--from Redwood City, CA, to Hampden, ME.
- To date, we have sent his initial info. packet--including his Cover Letter, Resume, Doctrinal Statement, and Philosophy of Ministry documents as well as video links to three sermons, two picture slideshows, and a personal introduction--to 43 churches.
- He has had about 60 "plays" total on sermon videos, about 70 on each of the picture slideshows, and 30 on the introduction.
- We have filled out about 10 individual church surveys, including one that took 14 pages to answer.
- He has had one Skype video call so far (following a completed lengthy survey), and that church fell through as a possibility the day after we moved in with my parents.
- He has another Skype video call scheduled for tomorrow (Sunday, September 12).
I am starting here, where I am, and I will be going back to recount some of the ways in which God has led us to this less-than-ideal place, not to complain about it but to show how He has clearly directed me, provided along the way, and is teaching me things about life that perhaps I could be learning no other way. I hope that doing so will be an encouragement to you in your walk of faith--"the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1).
Abraham "went out, not knowing where he was going" (v. 8) and, like the other positive examples of Hebrews 11, was able to have such faith only because he was living for another city, country, world. I've come to the conclusion that in order to do more than survive and "cope" with life's uncertainties and disappointments and truly even approach the idea of "considering it pure joy" when difficulties come (James 1) I too must nurture and truly embrace such a focus.
When I was in the middle of a previous trial that has led to my current situation (my husband was a pastor in a difficult church situation) I told a wise and dear friend of mine that I couldn't handle it. I was pregnant and tired and lonely and felt ultimately "stuck." She shared with me some of her personal struggles and encouraged me with hard words: "you need to put your armor on and get ready to fight." (I think she had Ephesians 6 in mind, and wouldn't you know that I would hear two sermon series on that topic in the coming months!)
I told her I didn't want to fight; I wanted to coast and just enjoy life with my babies (1 Thessalonians 4:11). I can't remember what she said to that, but I'm sure many of you can relate. Like my friend's words to me, I hope that learning about my current journey through my words on this blog, as I'm "in the middle of things" that I don't like, will be the same kind of encouragement to you when you're there too.