Being the “NEW” girl

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We just moved into a new house. This was our 3rd move in 3 years, 2 of which were across the country. I’ve been the “new girl” in at least ten different church bodies in the last three years. I’ve had five kids in tow and a deep longing in my heart – a longing for deep Bible study, relational community, and authentic acceptance. My lonely, tired heart yearned for a hug and the proclamation, “You are welcome here.” If there’s one blessing from these past 3 years of moving and attending different churches, it’s that I have a “new” perspective.

I would never have chosen to be the “new girl”. I am a relationally wounded introvert. I like deep friendships that take me years to build. I liked the set of friends I had before we moved. We had been at that church for 10 years and I had some incredible relationships. Friends that felt comfortable. Friends I could depend on. I see now though that I had become too comfortable. Those friends had become like my favorite pair of yoga pants. I love putting them on at the end of the day and breathing the deep sigh of “being with you is so comfortable and easy.” But if I’m not careful, I’ll wear those yoga pants for so long that I become completely unmotivated to exercise, put on make-up, or even take a shower. We can become so content in our relationships that we forget that there are those God is calling us to welcome. This is often subtle, just like the pull to stay in those yoga pants a tad longer than I probably should. I see now that I might need to get a bit uncomfortable in order to love well.

I hate to admit it, but in those “comfortable friendship” years, it never occurred to me to reach out to new people. I was so busy trying to keep my head above water with my brood of littles that I never noticed those around me who were going under. To all the “new girls” that I never reached out to, I’m so very sorry. I know now what it is like to be on the outside of community looking in. I’m sorry for not being willing to get out of my own head, for not being willing to risk rejection, and for letting fear rule over love. If I met you today, I would hold your hand and smile and say in heartfelt honesty, “I’m glad you are here.”

So how do you survive as the new girl? I don’t have any magic formula or a ten step plan to build your best friendships ever. I just have a few thoughts…

1. It is going to be hard

I’m guessing you probably didn’t want to hear that. I’m guessing you are pretty tired. I get it! Did you catch the moving 3 times in 3 years? Getting 5 kids dressed, out the door, and into a brand new place each week was SO hard. Week after week of searching for a church is draining. Then once you have decided to make a church your home, it still requires work.

I used to get discouraged by how hard it was to connect. Now, I expect it to be hard – kinda like running a half marathon hard. I’ve braced myself for the bad run days and the days I don’t want to get up at 6 AM and the days it just feels too lonely and the days it hurts. I know that’s part of race training and I know it’s part of the relationship journey as well.

2. Create what you are seeking

It would be lovely if the first time you walked into a church door, everyone came up to you and said, “Welcome! You seem like such a totally amazing person! We would love to get to know you and bless you and be your BFF for life. What do you like to do? Coffee? Let’s go. Painting? I’m taking you to a class next week. Yoga? I know a great gym. Cooking? I’ll send you my favorite recipe.”

If that ever happens to you, don’t ever leave that church!!!!

Since that probably isn’t going to be the experience for most of us, how do we find what we are seeking? Remember point #1, it’s going to be hard? Yep. You will have to roll up your sleeves and get dirty. Be the initiator – make the playdate, ask someone you just met for coffee, roll into that Bible study where you don’t know a soul, sign up to serve in the nursery. Don’t wait for opportunities for fellowship to fall in your lap. Invite women you meet into YOUR home. Be the one to show hospitality first.

Just this week I invited 5 women for coffee. I’ve invited women into my home for an IF table gathering. Find your sweet spot and start there! What do you like to do? Ask another woman to join you. Or better yet, get out of those yoga pants and try something new that makes you uncomfortable.

3. Don’t give up

Oh friend, I want you to know how many times I’ve wanted to give up. Someone didn’t take me up on my invitation to get together. The playdate was a disaster. I went to the women’s night and no one talked to me. I felt unwelcomed on the retreat. The email was never returned. I was left out of a get-together. There has been more than one occasion where I threw up my hands and said, “That’s it! This is too hard. I’m not going to meet anyone. It’s got to be easier just to be alone.”

But I know that it’s worth it. I’ve had those deep friendships and I know they are more valuable than gold. I know that this life is much too hard to survive without the Body of Christ.

Ephesians 3:17-19

“so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Emphasis mine.

We become strengthened, become grounded in love, and grow in the fullness of God WITH ALL THE SAINTS.

Transformation takes place in the context of community. It is worth fighting for!

community

If you are struggling, keep praying! Pour out your heart to God – your frustrations, fears, resentment, longings. He longs to draw close to you in this time. He created you for community and understands the desires of your heart,

Maybe you aren’t the new girl. Maybe you work in women’s ministry at your church or maybe you have been attending your current church for a substantial amount of time and already have a strong community. I challenge you with this question: Are you reaching out the hand of fellowship? Have your “yoga pants” friends become so comfortable that you forget to reach out beyond that circle?

Does your church have a team or a contact person that welcomes new women? Is there a plan, or do women fall through the cracks under the well-intentioned notion that surely someone in the congregation will notice the new girl and welcome her?

Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. ~Romans 12:13

Hospitality doesn’t have to be elaborate. From one of the churches we visited, a sweet lady in her seventies drove all the way across town the next week to bring me a freshly baked loaf of bread. I wept when I read the note that said, “We offer you the bread of fellowship. Thank you for visiting our church.” We had been visiting churches for six months and this was the first time someone even noticed or cared enough to show love to this desperate heart. We started attending that little church the very next week.

If bread baking ain’t your thing (it’s not mine either) maybe a phone call would be easier. Something simple like, “Hey, thanks for visiting our church. I’d love to connect you with some of the women in our body. Tell me more about yourself.” Man, a phone call like that would have been so life-giving.

I don’t have all the answers. Gosh, I have way more questions than answers. But maybe it’s time – time for the sisters in the Body of Christ to ask each other how we are doing in building community. Of course asking questions requires listening, which means we may have to slow down and spend time together. Let’s start the conversation.

Who wants to go get coffee? My treat!

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“The first service one owes to others in a community involves listening to them. Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, the beginning of love for others is learning to listen to them. God’s love for us is shown by the fact that God not only gives God’s Word, but also lends us God’s ear. We do God’s work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them. So often Christians, especially preachers, think that their only service is always to have to ‘offer’ something when they are together with other people.

They forget that listening can be a greater service…Christians who can no longer listen to one another will soon no longer be listening to God either.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

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The Gift of Grief

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I remember that morning like it was yesterday, the image and feeling permanently burned into my heart and mind. Just coming out of the new mother fog into a whole different way of life, I was beginning to adjust to my dizzying new reality. The constant fatigue from lack of sleep, the non-stop feedings and care of an infant, the joy of holding and kissing and loving this amazing gift of life and the fumbling to find the rhythm and routine with a precious little boy now in our care. And there he was in the back seat. This happy, joyful, laughing baby. His eyes caught mine in the rear view mirror as the sun poured in… Smiling right at me! My heart was overwhelmed with love and gratitude for our first-born son, having no idea this moment was a gracious parting gift goodbye.

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Everything can change in an instant. If it hasn’t happened yet, it will.  That moment when the bottom drops out. When everything you knew no longer is. 

“There’s been an accident.”

“I’m having an affair.”

“You’re fired.”

“It’s stage IV cancer.”

“He’s not breathing…” Those three words changed my life forever. And I knew it the first moment they registered in my brain… my world would never be the same. On that same sunny day, our 4 ½ month old child stopped breathing during a nap and could not be revived. Our world was turned upside down.

Many psychologists say there is no pain so deep as the loss of a child. It is excruciating. Some moments it physically felt like I could not breathe. There were times I begged to never take another breath of air again. And still there are days when the wave of grief crashes over me out of nowhere and I crumble beneath it’s weight. How does a mother continue to live when her child is gone? 

As devastating as the death of our son has been, there are other losses I’ve experienced which, while different, have been almost as brutal and life-altering in their intensity of pain. Rejection and betrayal are particularly overwhelming griefs to bear. I’ve come to believe that the depth of our grief is in direct proportion to the depth of our love and connection. Simply, the more we love, the greater the loss.

Grief is defined as a keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret. The longer I live, the more I experience it and see it in the lives of those around me. Everywhere I turn, there is profound loss. The loss of dreams, of health, of relationships, of loved ones.

In this world you will have trouble” John 16:33.

For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” Matthew 5:45.

I used to believe it was Jesus’ plan to fix our broken hearts. That His intention in the lives of His children was to fit each piece of our shattered hearts back together, good as new. And one day God dashed my dreams of wholeness and gave me a new vision for His mission in my life and in the world. As I cried out to God to heal these broken places and make me whole again, He whispered, “That’s not how it works at all. My mission is not to fix what’s been broken as if it never happened.”

Behold, I am doing a new thing” Isaiah 43:19. A deeper work. Because in the kingdom of God, healing doesn’t mean fixed, healing means changed.

“I don’t put the pieces back together as if your heart had never been shattered.  I fill in the broken places with Myself.”

I have never in my life felt the presence of God more powerfully than in my moments of deepest grief. In fact, this is one of the greatest proofs of the existence of God to me. That in my moments of utter despair, I can testify with certainty that these promises are true…  

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Isaiah 43:1-2

For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle; In the secret place of His tent He will hide me; He will lift me up on a rock.” Psalm 27:5

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4

The GIFT of grief is the PRESENCE of God.

There is a sacred space in the agonizing prayers of God’s beloved where He meets us with His divine presence. Because there is no loss, no grief, “no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still” (Corrie Ten Boom). It is more REAL than anything we’ve ever felt. Not only does He flood our souls with peace that passes understanding, but He gives us a glimpse of the magnitude of His love for us. That He willingly entered into the agonizing pain of this world and endured grief beyond description on our behalf.

In one of the most moving accounts of His humanity, Jesus shows us how He deeply identifies with the pain of His children. As Mary and Martha grieved the death of their brother Lazarus, so did Jesus. When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled” John 11:33. Jesus wept vs. 35.

What a baffling reaction. Why was Jesus so troubled? Why did he cry and mourn along with his beloved friends? Jesus knew not only the eternal ending of this story, but even the earthly miracle He was about to perform that would take away their sorrow in an instant, yet, He stopped to grieve.

Christ has put on our feelings along with our flesh,” writes John Calvin. While Jesus experienced joy and love and friendship and peace, He also felt the deepest pains of rejection, betrayal, loneliness, and loss.  He was truly “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” Isaiah 53:3. We suffer no pain He was unwilling to endure Himself. Our own grief then leads us to the reality and power of the gospel. That the Creator drew near. He entered in. Immanuel, God with us. He not only paid the penalty for our sins, but He bore the weight of our griefs and afflictions. As God in the flesh, He actually experienced our sorrows. As God the Father, He is intimately acquainted with the loss of a child, His only Son. 

He has promised a time will come when He will wipe the tears from our eyes forever, when joyous reunions will leave the past as distant memories. When “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” Revelation 21:4.

Until that day, what do we do when our hearts are shattered by loss?

Where do we go for comfort?

Who can understand the depth of our pain?

“Even the glories of Christ afford no such consolation to afflicted spirits as the sufferings of Christ. Christ is in all attitudes the consolation of Israel, but He is most so as the man of sorrows. Troubled spirits turn not so much to Bethlehem as to Calvary; they prefer Gethsemane to Nazareth. The afflicted do not so much look for comfort in Christ as He will come a second time in splendor of state, as to Christ as He came the first time, a weary Man, and full of woes. The passion flower yields us the best perfume; the tree of the cross bleeds the most healing balm. Like in this case cures like, for there is no remedy for sorrow beneath the sun like the sorrows of Immanuel…

Let us go, then, without reluctance to the house of mourning, and commune with “The Chief Mourner,” who above all others could say, “I am the man that has seen affliction.” Charles Spurgeon

What a friend we have in Jesus, bearing not only our sin but also our grief. 

Held by Him,

Leslie

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Unexpected Blessings

http://calledforsuchatime.com

 

God works in mysterious ways. He is healing me in areas I didn’t even know were broken. He is so in love with me. And with you. I want to share a little of how He has shown up for me and poured His love out on me.

I am a forty-two year old mother of five. Five very active and busy children. Ages three to twelve. Years of homeschooling, private schooling, pre-schooling, parenting, and just plain ole mothering!  ADD, ADHD, LD…. you name it! Exhausting in and of itself.

Most Sunday mornings, I’m overwhelmed at the sheer effort it takes to get all five fed, dressed, ready and out the door – and then I realize I am still in my ROBE. Oh Joy!

Jesus says, “Come as you are,” and yet I can’t bring myself to show up in my pajamas. Yet.

I’m trying not to let the mornings get the best of me anymore. God is continually renewing my spirit and reminding me of what really matters. He has changed me from the inside out, in a NEW way. And I am living more freely today than I was yesterday.  He has given me NEW LIFE!

Let me tell you how He led me to this place.

The pace of taking care of a house and children, in addition to relational difficulty and life in general, led me to believe that my constant fatigue and headaches weren’t out of the ordinary. For years, I had been to doctors and specialists that tried to help, but inevitably all of them joked that my fatigue and pain seemed proportionate to my life stressors.

“You have FIVE kids,” the doctors would say, “No WONDER you’re tired.”

After watching me wrestle a kid into a stroller and my numerous whispered threats in the mean mommy voice, I’d hear, “I’d have a headache, too, if I had to do that all day.”

And with a chuckle and a suggestion for more sleep and perhaps a vitamin supplement, they’d be out the door.

So, I was alone. And overwhelmed. And sick. With no answers and no path forward.

This past fall I caught everything the kids had. Strep, Flu A, Flu B. Sickness upon sickness and I never got better. Lingering sickness for months and months that left me debilitated. I couldn’t lift my head. Something was wrong.

And then it came. Some answers. An unexpected blow.

“Abnormal cells in your bone marrow.  Highly probable that you will need treatment for Multiple Myeloma.”

“You will be contacted by Duke Cancer Center later today.”

And my life began to unravel before my eyes. 

I was listening. Or was I?  Did the doctor just say what I think he said? In a calm, soothing voice he’s asking me what kind of support system I have.  Who do I live with?  Who can take care of me?  Where do my parents live?  Do they live far away?  Do I have people who can help with my kids and make us meals?  Do I have a church family?  Do I have any questions?

DO I HAVE ANY QUESTIONS?

I thought I would explode. All I wanted to do was run out of there and collapse in tears. I could barely hold it in.  I ran to the parking lot and broke down sobbing before I could even get my car door open.

DO I HAVE ANY QUESTIONS? 

I felt like God was so far away in those first moments.  I couldn’t feel His presence or His hand on my life.  I felt unloved and abandoned.  I felt punished.  I felt completely broken.  Tired.  Alone.

Before my trip to Duke, I spent time researching the possible scenarios the doctor might present to me.  I researched treatment and prognosis options, and quickly realized that once I started chemotherapy, my life would look much different.  And the clock would begin ticking.  You see, Myeloma isn’t a curable disease.  It’s a chronic and fatal condition.  Once the cancer cells reach a certain percentage, treatment begins and you never go back.

When I began to think of how I may spend my last 10 years, walking through chemo, medications, surgeries, and stem-cell transplants, I was crushed at the realization that 10 years is not nearly enough.  Mary Kate will be 13 in 10 years. My oldest won’t be married yet. 10 years is not NEARLY enough Lord.  Please Lord, I begged, give me more than 10 years.

I had some extremely emotional and rough weeks following the initial diagnosis and subsequent visit to Duke.  PET Scan, CT’s, MRI’s, painful biopsies and bloodwork.  I really struggled with understanding God’s plan for my life and His reasons for allowing me to be sick.  I was angry with Him.  I was grieving the loss of health, but praising Him for answers.  I cried out to Him constantly for strength, for hope, for peace, and for joy.  And I buried my head in my pillow to avoid intimacy when it all became too much.  As it often did.

And I want to tell you this: God never left me.  My anger didn’t cause Him to remove His hand from me.  My questioning didn’t sever our relationship.

It cemented our relationship.

And it provided an opportunity for God to give me one of the greatest blessings He’s ever given me.

Perspective.

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Crisis brings perspective to what really matters in life.

When I was diagnosed, nothing in my life immediately changed externally.

But everything inside of me was altered forever.

In that moment, I realized how precious and important time is, and my entire perspective changed.

I wanted to live more than anything else in the world!  Real relationships became all that really mattered.  Being present for those in my life.  Being real with my friends and my family.  Knowing and loving God in a deeper way.  Every day began to matter.  Every breath and every day is a gift I had taken for granted.

In a supernatural way, God awakened me!  A diagnosis of cancer cells plaguing my bone marrow didn’t bury me, it awakened me.

I have been awakened to the reality that I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I do have TODAY!

For instance, God has been working on me for years in the area of SURRENDER.  This past year, He has been inviting me to trust Him in the area of provision. I used to lay awake at night and ruminate on how in the world I would ever be debt-free. And “what-if” one day I couldn’t afford my house? Or car repairs. Or activities for the kids.  My mind would run in circles and I would find myself afraid and anxious.  I have spent plenty of time worrying about so many things, and instead of living life, I was just trying to make it through the day.  Wasting precious time and energy.

God is not inviting me to worry and waste the days He has blessed me with!

He is inviting me to live life.

He came to give me life. Abundant life!

Today, I rock my baby longer, linger over dessert and coffee with friends, and look for Him in the ordinary and everyday monotony. But it’s really not monotony to me anymore. Now that I can’t escape the fact that my time here on earth is a blink of an eye. This is not my home.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10

I have been awakened to the fact that I must live in the present. Appreciate what I have. Seek His face above all else.  Satan would love to steal my joy and mar my witness, but God put me here right now for a reason. He is writing my story. He has trusted me with this story. What an honor and a privilege.

 

http://calledforsuchatime.com

After a life-altering diagnosis: how am I doing?

1) I feel more alive!

In Psalm 39:4 David says:

“Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days.  Let me know how fleeting is my life.”

God reminded me of what is important! He reminded me how fleeting my life is so that I can appreciate each day and live each day to the fullest!

Psalm 89:47

“Remember how fleeting is my life.  For what futility you have created all men.”

Psalm 39:5

“Behold you have made my days a few handbreadths, and the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath.”

James 4:14

“Why you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”

2) I have more joy!

I had been living without God’s measure of joy!  I had been overwhelmed by my marital difficulties and my limitations and my kids’ imperfections, while missing out on the fullness of life that God blessed me with.  He gives all of His children the same blessing.  The gift of Himself.

Psalm 5: 11-12

“But let all who take refuge in You rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread Your protection over them, that those who love Your name may exult in You. For you bless the righteous, O Lord; You cover him with favor as with a shield.”

Psalm 63: 5-8

“My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise You with joyful lips, when I remember You upon my bed, and meditate on You in the watches of the night; for You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.”

Psalm 30: 11-12

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy. That my heart may sing to you and not be silent, O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.”

3) I am more thankful!

“We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts.” ~Bonhoeffer

Just a month earlier, I had repented for my lack of joy and thankfulness. For my failure to go to God and have Him fill me with His presence.  And all of a sudden, a month after devastating news, I am so incredibly thankful!

I am most thankful for His presence. His goodness and faithfulness right now. In this lifetime.

Psalm 27:13

“I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”

4) I have more hope!

Another gift from God as I studied the Psalms recently:

Psalm 39:6-7

“Man is but a mere phantom as he goes to and fro

He bustles about, but only in vain

He heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it.

But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in You.”

“Illness increases our awareness of life’s limits…. so we turn to God for renewed hope.” (NIV Commentary)

On April 9, 2015, my life changed forever. But it was no surprise to God. There was no emergency meeting of the Trinity to be called.

This disease does not decide when my time on earth is over.  God is, and always has been, in control of my life.  My life will not end one second sooner than He has ordained.

I am secure in His hands and I trust in His love for me.

“Suffering is unbearable if you aren’t certain that God is for you and with you.”- Timothy Keller

My prayer is that He would bring health to my body and heal me, all the way down to my bone marrow.  In both Proverbs 3:8 and Hebrews 4:12, God referenced the importance of bone marrow.  The health of our bone marrow will contribute to our overall health.  God so lovingly placed that in His Word – just for me!

God is healing me.  He is healing me spiritually and emotionally.  I even have renewed strength and energy right now, and I petition Him to heal me physically and completely.  He is able and I go to His throne and ask for healing.  Like David in Psalm 27, I repeat to myself who God is and what He promises.  And that confidence in Him empowers my prayers.

In God’s grace and mercy, the specialists at Duke say that right now I need no treatment.  The abnormal cells aren’t at a critical number.  As the matter of fact, the specialist, an expert in her field both in the United States and abroad, said these words to me, “Go live your life.”

And I will. I will live it abundantly and faithfully.

Dear Lord,

Thank You, precious Father, for reminding me of how to spend my days.  My time on earth is limited.  This is no new revelation to me.  I knew I would one day die, but You have given me the gift of perspective.  I wouldn’t have gained that perspective without a wake-up call; Your severe mercy.  Like a rainbow in front of a dark cloud, I see your beauty more magnificently and clearly.  Thank You for healing the broken places in me I didn’t even know were broken.  My ability to see what was important was distorted.  The fruits of the Spirit in my life were muted, and I didn’t realize the extent of that damage.  My body is broken.  And only You can heal me.  Thank You for carrying me through it all. And loving me in my weakness, woundedness, and despair.  I love you, Lord.  You are my all.

In His Grace,

Lisa

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