Being a Woman ~ A Guest Post

This spring, the Called for Such a Time team was honored to join Northeast Presbyterian Church’s Women’s Ministry Spring Retreat entitled “Lift Up Your Eyes”. Together we worshiped, studied, prayed, cried (of course), and were deeply encouraged by one another and our Heavenly Father. Goodness, these ladies blessed us with their passion for walking in Christ, and their desire for community! Maggie McKenna was a part of that day, and she shared with us some of her reflections following the retreat. We’d like to share with you some of what Maggie wrote as so much of it highlights the deep convictions God has laid on our hearts as a ministry team. Enjoy and be encouraged! Thank you Maggie!

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I love being a woman. I am a mother to three daughters, have two sisters, three sisters-in-law, and a 90-year-old mother. My life is surrounded with women. I even have a husband that I cajole into watching “Pride and Prejudice” which, he claims, is turning him into a woman!

I know that God has a mission for women…we, the life-givers. To embody Christ daily as we self-sacrifice for our husbands, children, and, frequently, aging parents. God’s grace enables me, as a nurse, to be a part of women’s health issues. I know that just as physical health is progressive, spiritual health also requires constant attention. God wants us to be healthy physically and spiritually to fulfill this mission. Self-care helps us to be refreshed to fulfill our mission better!

I love women’s ministries. Women’s bible studies, retreats, prayer sessions, and Christian community has helped sustain me and grow my faith as we frequently uprooted and moved our family all over the country and world as my husband completed a career as a Navy pilot.
Women’s ministries helps me be a better wife and mother.

I recently participated in a women’s retreat with my 28-year-old daughter. The retreat was led by a ministry group named Called for Such a Time. One take-away from the retreat is that the community of Christian women needs to support each other during hard times, sad times, and happy times. Additionally, we must teach and learn from each other to love our husbands and raise our children in a Christ-centered home. I cherished the opportunity to share the lessons with my daughter. Christ’s example of servant-leader is the example we, as women of the church, all need to follow.

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I encourage all women to find a place in the community of a scripture-based women’s ministry. It will deepen your faith and prepare you to be a better woman of God. We need the women’s community for support to press in and hold us up. To help us. To encourage us. We need each other! Mary, in Luke 1:46 (ESV) prayed, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” We, as women, want to magnify the Lord. We desire future generations to call us blessed. That is a job well-done.

Maggie McKenna is a wife of 35 years, a mother of 3 adult daughters and a grandmother of 3 baby boys! She is also a nurse working in Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and a women’s heart program at Providence Hospital in Columbia, SC. 

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Teach Me To Listen

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*Reposted from 2015

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak;
courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”— Winston Churchill

For the fifth year in a row, on January 1, I’ve chosen a word on which to focus for the upcoming year. A word to study and ask God to work into my life. I usually spend a few days at the end of December reflecting on the past year, examining where God has been at work, and processing where He seems to be leading. But this time was a little different. Just seconds after the prayer came out of my mouth, “Lord, what word would you have me choose this year?” There it was…

“LISTEN”

Of course it is. No need for consideration or follow-up questions or second guesses. Because, I’ll be honest, being a good listener has never come naturally to me. I am a communicator, a verbal processor, and I come from a long line of “talkers”. When my extrovert husband, then boyfriend, first started hanging out with my family, they commented on how quiet he was. When I mentioned it, he replied emphatically, “That’s because I can’t get a word in! Y’all don’t even take a breath between sentences.” It’s true. And once when my group of girlfriends decided to walk/run (90% walk) a half-marathon which takes well over 3 hours, someone asked, “Are you bringing Ipods?” One of my friends replied, “Nah, we’re bringing Leslie. We just throw out topics and she talks about them.”

I’d like to think I’ve become a little better at listening more and talking less over the years. My husband says I have; thank goodness for sanctification! But evidently, and obviously, there’s still room for growth. I’ve come to realize that there is much more to listening than simply hearing all the words. I am convinced that an inability or unwillingness to really listen in relationships is a primary cause of conflict, misunderstanding, and pain. It can be a major obstacle to mature, deep relationships. In marriage, friendships, families, the workplace and the body of Christ. I believe we miss even more in our relationship with God when we do all the talking, thinking, figuring and decision-making without stopping to listen for His voice.

So for 2015, in all my relationships, it is my hopeful prayer that God teach me how to LISTEN.

Listen for UNDERSTANDING
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”–Stephen R. Covey

God, I long to develop healthy, meaningful relationships that honor You. Help me listen for understanding as I seek reconciliation with others. Teach me to pause and seek to hear, not just to be heard. To remember that “to answer before listening is folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13). Help me recognize when words or phrases trigger old wounds. Instead of making assumptions in the heat of the moment, remind me to ask questions and listen carefully so that I can respond and not react, speaking the truth in love. By the power of Your Spirit, help me be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).

Listen for CONNECTION
“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”–Peter Drucker

Father, we all carry deep hurt and woundedness from living in a sinful world. Yet so many of us are unable to wrap words around our pain. Give me ears to hear the hurt lying underneath the words. I ask for a heart that chooses to enter into the hard stuff with those in desperate need of connection. Help me set aside my own agenda to be present with those in pain. Give me “sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (Peter 3:8).

Listen for WISDOM
“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.”–Doug Larson

God, forgive me for thinking I know what is best. For doing most of the talking and very little listening. You alone are the author and keeper of wisdom. Your wisdom is not of this world and Your ways are higher than mine. Teach me to ask for wisdom every day in every situation, claiming the promise that You will give generously to all who ask. Lead me as a wife, a parent, a friend and a neighbor. Help me make wise decisions, for “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).

Listen for DIRECTION
“Don’t bother to give God instructions. Just report for duty.” –Corrie Ten Boom

Jesus, I confess my tendency to make my own plans, to go my own way, to follow my own dreams. You alone know the way I should take, the path of my life that will bring You the most glory. You are my good Shepherd. Give me discernment to hear Your voice above all others, especially my own. Help me not to automatically assume that what I want is in Your will, but to hold my dreams and desires with open hands. Not my will, not my way. You lead and I will follow. “For You are my rock and my fortress; For Your name’s sake You will lead me and guide me.” (Psalms 31:3).

Listen for TRUTH
“Truth is not a principle. Truth is a person: Jesus Christ.” –Rick Warren

Finally, I ask you Father to help me discern Your voice of truth from the father of lies. Drown out the voice that condemns and destroys and leads astray. Teach me to listen to Your voice that heals and loves and leads to eternal life. You have promised that “whoever is of God hears the words of God” (John 8:47). I want to devour your true and perfect Word. To hear it with my ears, meditate on it in my mind, treasure it in my heart and apply it to my life. Thank you for the gift of your Spirit, that guides me “into all the truth” (John 16:13).

In the name of Jesus, who is faithful to complete the work He began, teaching even me to LISTEN. Amen.

Held by Him,

Leslie

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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!

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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 Game Changers

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I know very little about football. When I say very little, I mean I honestly have no idea what my husband is talking about when he uses terms like safety, blitz and line of scrimmage. But one thing I do know is the goal of the game. Get the ball into the end zone more than the opposing team and you are the winner… right? It’s a game with many confusing rules (at least to me), but one clear objective, to win. Kind of like marriage. More specifically, conflict in marriage. Figure out the rules, then do whatever it takes to get the win. We each receive our training in vastly different arenas, with a wide variety of instructional techniques. Some of us learn the subtle strategies of manipulation to get what we want. Some know nothing but full blown free-for-all brawls, where the last man standing wins. Still others have found that the only safe thing to do is avoid conflict at any cost and opt out of the game altogether. 

I’ve always been one to jump right in the game; I’m not much of an avoider. Partly personality (I kind of like to win) and partly just survival (my family dynamic was less than supportive). Of course, my husband comes from a completely different kind of family. Mostly avoiders, unless the conflict grew to mammoth proportions and one particular person finally exploded. Two entirely different backgrounds, two entirely different set of rules. So, yeah, that’s been fun. 

Surprisingly, we never fought during our 3 1/2 year dating relationship. But from day 1 of marriage, the gloves came off. And we spent 11 years getting pretty much nowhere, feeling like no matter who won the argument, we both just lost the game. How could two educated, semi-mature, mentally stable people who cared about each other be so horrible at conflict resolution? Why did we seem to go round and round and finally just give up in frustration, building up more and more resentment? We loved each other deeply, but we were positioned as opponents on this playing field. And neither side was winning. One day, we finally had enough. We decided it was time to recruit some professional coaching. This “coach” (i.e., highly qualified therapist) gave us three key rules for fighting fair. Over time, we realized these weren’t simply new rules, these were game changers. They revolutionized our fights and our marriage. They taught us how we could both win the game/argument every single time. 

RULE #1 USE THE INVALUABLE TOOL OF A CRITICAL PAUSE

A Critical Pause is basically just a grown-up Time Out. Time to calm down, allow for some space and gain some clarity. I’ll be honest, this one was really hard for me at first. I couldn’t stand unsolved problems. I needed resolution to be okay. And that was a big part of the problem. My co-dependence drove me time and time again to push closure on an issue before one or both of us were ready. My own insecurity brought feelings of panic when conflict arose. I was afraid of what it meant for our marriage when we had major disagreements. Was it over?  Would he leave me? Would we never resolve the issue? What we realized, however, is that when emotions are high and tempers volatile, conversations are usually less than productive. In fact, this is often when the most hurtful, careless words are spoken. And once they’re out there, they can’t be unspoken. Which creates a whole new set of problems. 

The Critical Pause is a tool that has helped us learn to process our thoughts and feelings so we can respond in maturity and not react in anger. We’ve learned to pay attention to where there’s “heat” in our communication. When our voices start to rise, when we start feeling defensive and angry, one of us can call a Critical Pause. We use this time to process our own feelings through prayer, journaling, or with a friend. Once we both feel ready, we come back and revisit the issue. In the beginning, we sometimes needed several Critical Pauses for the same argument!  But it has been amazing to see the difference in our ability to communicate and work through issues when we use this invaluable tool. 

RULE #2 ACKNOWLEDGE THAT AN ARGUMENT IS ALMOST NEVER WHAT IT SEEMS TO BE ABOUT

When used correctly, a Critical Pause usually reveals that the heated feelings are almost never about the issue at hand. Instead, we often realize the issue has triggered far deeper feelings beneath the surface. These heated arguments can be opportunities to process and work through unresolved pain, anger, fear, trauma, etc. Maybe there are serious trust issues that need to be worked on. Maybe we feel unappreciated in general and haven’t known how to communicate that to our spouse. Maybe we are depressed or in a spiritual crisis. 

Taking time apart often reveals that the issue at hand is really not that big of a deal to us after all… maybe we realize we are just completely exhausted or hungry or upset about something that has absolutely nothing at all to do with our spouse. It can be very scary and painful to dive beneath the surface and get down to what’s really going on. Sometimes we must acknowledge root feelings of rejection and unworthiness and allow God to heal the woundedness that occurred long before our spouse came along.

RULE #3 REMEMBER THAT THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS HOW YOU TREAT EACH OTHER IN THE PROCESS

This rule flipped everything completely upside down. Our whole lives, we’d been trained to believe that the most important thing is the outcome. Getting our way. Being right. That was certainly the case in my family of origin. But maybe it’s not the most important thing after all. Maybe, in our most treasured human relationship with the person we have committed to love, honor and cherish ’til death do us part, the most important thing is not getting our way, but how we treat each other in the process. Talk about a game changer! The outcome might be important, but it’s not what’s most important. This one truth is the very definition of what it looks like to LOVE. And putting it into practice has transformed our relationship into something really beautiful.  

The power of these rules is that they create a win/win for both people. The drawback is, it takes a LOT of practice and a great deal of failure to get good at keeping them. Five years in, I’m still really not that great at it. I am, however, light years from where I was. I still have these out of body experiences as I see myself slipping back into old patterns and hear myself communicating in old, unhealthy ways. Let me be clear, however, that since the first time my husband and I put these three rules into practice, we have never, not once, come to a stand still on making a decision or working through conflict. When we use critical pauses to process through heated feelings, acknowledge and work through underlying resentments and unresolved issues, and treat each other with kindness through the process, we always come to a mutual agreement. Everything changed when we realized we could be on the same team, with the same goal. And then we both win. 

Held by Him,

Leslie

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Celebrate Good Times (Like a Zambian)

Amy BardiFriends, you are in for a treat!  I met Amy Bardi back in 2011.  I was home on furlough from Zambia, and I heard about this amazing chick who, while studying Fashion and Merchandising at the University of SC, had been given a vision for reaching and changing the lives of vulnerable women in Zambia.  That same year she had founded Clothed in Hope, an organization whose mission is to empower women in Zambia through education and economic opportunity.  I highly encourage you to jump over here and read her story.  In July of 2012, after graduating from college, Amy moved to Zambia all by herself, and, with a little divine intervention and a heck-of-a-lot of perseverance, saw her vision become reality!  Amy and her sweet, still newly-wed husband, Wyatt, have just transitioned back to the States where they will live and continue to run Clothed in Hope.  I know you will love her heart and her perspective as she shares with us today.  Enjoy!  ~Kerri

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On September 12th of this year, we held our fourth graduation ceremony in Lusaka, Zambia, for eight brave women who successfully completed our Clothed in Hope skills-training course.

In the middle of a dusty compound in the urban capital of Zambia sits our Chikondi Community Center, our Home of HOPE for vulnerable women in the area. We offer free skills-training classes in sewing and entrepreneurship to empower and alleviate poverty in a dignifying, sustainable way. Women in our program have suffered the death of their husbands at 40 years old due to highly preventable diseases. Their babies have been murdered in the hospital due to corruption. They have been poisoned because they have AIDS and are “taking up bed space” at the clinic. They endure daily domestic abuse. They face hunger, uncertainty, harassment from landlords, and the list could go on and on. These are women IN our program, currently working through what will be and what is a life-changing path for them and their families (more info: clothedinhope.org).

I won’t even go into the situation of women who aren’t in our program, because the need is overwhelmingly devastating. Just imagine a mom selling her body nightly because her 6 babies are very hungry and she can’t pay rent from month to month. Not because she wants to, but because to her it seems there is absolutely no other option (…until she finds out about Clothed in Hope, praise Jesus).

This reality can seem a world away to those of us not in Zambia, even to me at times, especially now that I’m based back in the US to provide administrative and financial support to our amazing (diva-status) in-country staff.

But that Graduation Day in September struck a chord within me and started a burning in my heart, and not just one for the Zambian women facing seemingly impossible situations (since that fire’s been burnin’ for quite some time now).

As I sat at the front of our Chikondi Community Center yard under our Ceremony Tent (don’t ask, just roll with the Zambian cultural differences), I peered out over the 60+ women who have graduated from, are gradating from, or are currently enrolled in our skills training program that began as a dream in my college apartment in 2010.

The dance breaks were so fun. The skits presented were powerful yet hilarious (I love how much they love acting like “Mama Amy” with her accent and over-usage of “awesome”). But the real magic started happening toward the end of the ceremony.

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In the middle of our dusty compound sat 8 women who have achieved much, and were dressed to the nines full of confidence and beauty. Nothing outside the walls mattered except the accomplishments of these women. Women recognized for the first time in their entire lives.

I called each woman to the Ceremony Tent to receive her diploma, a giant hug (a big deal since I’m not a hugger, but I couldn’t miss out on these hugs y’all), and a few goodies from our In-Country Staff. The reaction was contagious.

One woman, Stella, rockin’ a custom made African print dress that fit her impeccably, rose from her chair when she was called. Her hands lifted high in the air in praise to Jesus. She just froze in a moment of intimate adoration, and we were all so honored to experience that moment with her. Then as quickly as hands were raised, Stella busted a move all the way up to the tent (also cultural, but also awesome). She danced, she cheered, she laughed, she rejoiced. And when she arrived at the tent, she fell to her knees before Jesus thanking Him for what He’s done in and through her life over the past 12 months of this program, and her entire life leading up to this moment. When she rose, she threw her arms around my entire body for what could be up there for one of the best hugs of my entire life (sorry hubs).

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All that, so magical. So beautiful. But the true, awe-inspiring, challenging-to-my-soul beauty began when Stella turned away from the tent to return to her seat. The entire crowd of 60+ people cheered! They shouted! They danced! They raised their hands in praise! They ran up to her and hugged her so tightly. They celebrated her with the most selfless love.

They didn’t celebrate because they knew their celebration was coming later. Some have already graduated with much smaller graduation ceremonies. Some may never graduate due to life situations calling them elsewhere. They celebrated Stella simply because they love her. When she wins, we all win. When her life is changed, we all rejoice in that.

I’m not a huge (public) crier, but tears of joy welled up multiple times that afternoon. The sheer joy these women had in the ability to celebrate each other was just breathtaking and heart-bursting.

Maybe we can write it off as another cultural thing. Everyone knows Africans (Zambians) take care of their own and are huge on community, right? Maybe it’s just how they are. But what if we look past culture to see our commonality of humanity?

That perhaps this response is Jesus-rooted instead of culturally-rooted.

I left that ceremony almost a month ago, but it hasn’t left my mind ever since.

What would it look like for me to celebrate Jesus working in and through my friends’ lives like my friends in Zambia do for each other? What would it look like for me to truly celebrate others without a tinge of jealousy or expectation or comparison?

When my best friend launches a College Women’s Connect as the women’s ministry pioneer at her church and witnesses over 40 women attend on Thursday nights, my heart cheers, but can’t my body and my voice too?! YES! PRAISE JESUS! YOU GO GIRL! I AM SO PROUD OF YOU! YOU ARE SO BRAVE FOR STEPPING OUT AND I LOVE WITNESSING JESUS WORK THROUGH YOU!

When my friend returns home from a third-world country after a really rough time adopting her two beautiful girls, I can send her a nice Facebook message, showing that I care but keeping my true celebration at a distance. Or I can scour the aisles of Target for an hour in search of the perfect presents for her and her two girls to send across the country to let her know that they’re not forgotten. That they’re loved. That though the transition is hard, I am cheering for her. Jesus is cheering for her.

How did community/friendship become such that we dial down our celebrations and over-the-top reactions for each other? Maybe we’re getting older and balloons aren’t age appropriate anymore (but they totally are). Maybe social media tricks us into believing we’re connecting with someone. Or maybe social media introduces us to these nasty things called comparison and jealousy, and we don’t celebrate each other because we haven’t received that celebration ourselves. She didn’t celebrate me, so why would I celebrate her?

We could go through every scenario and probably come up with a reason as to why we don’t celebrate each other like we could. But what Jesus has been revealing to my soul over and over since that Graduation Ceremony, is that there’s simply no good reason to not celebrate accomplishments and traits in my friends and strangers. Because He celebrates over me daily. He sings and dances over my identity, apart from any progress I do or don’t make with my personal struggles. He cheers me on as His daughter, no strings attached, simply because I am His daughter and He is so proud of me as a person, apart from CiH or anything I do. His price for me invites the most glorious celebration.

Because He celebrates over me, I will celebrate over others. Maybe even in the Zambian way because that seems to be more fun.

I will hug when I don’t feel inclined to because I know the story that a stranger just told me took a lot of bravery for her to share. I will send my friend excessive emojis and too many words in all caps when she beasts a job interview. I will tell the barista that I really love her ring, because I do, and because she deserves to be celebrated.

When I open my eyes and start looking around this world, sure there’s a lot of pain. I absolutely get that. My past year and a half has been filled with more pain that I ever thought I could endure.

But I also see so much celebration and potential for celebration. So many parties, so many hugs, so many dances, so many affirming words. We, as daughters of the King, have the opportunity to be Jesus to each other with the Holy Spirit alive within us. Why not let the celebration we feel within just explode, raining glitter on all who we come in contact with? We all know that glitter is pretty dang hard to get out of much of anything. And I would be totally fine knowing that each person carries the glitter of Jesus’ celebration with them every day, no matter the challenges ahead. No matter if it’s hunger and abuse they face, or a broken relationship, or a tough financial situation, or just a bad hair day.

Let’s learn a thing or two from our dear sisters in Zambia. Enough is enough for these subtle gestures of support. Let’s go big, go bright, go loud, and go glittery in celebration of people of the world.

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Click on the picture to visit Clothed in Hope.  Check out the mission, the pictures, the stories, and browse the store for some fabulous pieces designed and made by CiH’s courageous women!

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Nearness and Light

Nearness and Light copy

When I was in high school I heard a boy say this:

distance and darkness are a girl’s best friends.

I think that we are quick to believe it. If I want people to think the best of me, I’d better not let them get too close, or see me too clearly. If they do, they might not like what they see and they might reject me.

Like most people, I did deal with that mindset while I was growing up and finding my way. But this way of thinking really set in with me as an adult, as a Christian, as a missionary!

In 2009, I faced a very serious health issue – a stroke. In His mercy, God healed my brain in miraculous ways! I will always stand in awe. We had come home from Zambia during this time and we were so thankful to be cleared to go back to the work God had called us to there! As we returned to Zambia and began to settle into life again, fear and anxiety began to settle deep into the corners of me. I became utterly crippled by the fear of death.

And I never told anyone.

Not even my husband. In my mind, anxiety and fear were not things that a “godly woman” should be struggling with. I didn’t want to be weak. I didn’t think anyone would understand. I kept it all inside. I didn’t sleep. Every time I had a headache or felt any twinge of tingling, I panicked. I was afraid. And I was afraid to admit I was afraid. Sadly, I was part of a very close group of friends who would have prayed for me and walked with me through it, but I felt too self-conscious to share my need with them. I didn’t want the attention. I didn’t want to be needy.

I always say Isolation is the devil’s playground.    

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If he can keep us shut up in our own minds about things and convince us that we are the ONLY ones, or that there is SHAME involved in telling the truth, he can keep us stagnant in our growth, ineffective in our relationships, and destroy us from the inside out. This, I believe, is one of Satan’s primary tactics for disabling God’s children. If he can get us to believe things that aren’t true about God, ourselves, and other people, and keep us isolated in those beliefs, he can begin to control the rudder of our lives through those lies.

He is a thief and he comes to steal, kill, and destroy. 

But Jesus came to bring us life, and life to the fullest!

When we come into faith in Christ, we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of Light. Yet, while we live in the Kingdom of Light and our position and righteousness are secure in Christ, our relentless enemy will continue to try to infiltrate our lives with darkness. In fact, if he can only lure us into a dark place and make sure we convince ourselves that it’s easier and safer to just stay there, his work is done!

I read a story once of a horse that had been rescued from an abusive situation. It’s front legs had been so tightly shackled for so many years that it had learned to walk by hobbling. Immediately upon its rescue, the shackles were removed from the horse’s legs, but it continued to hobble as though the shackles remained. It was the same for me in a spiritual sense. Even though I was free, I was living shackled. Even though I was transferred into light, I was living in the dark. Until intervention came.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6

Our God cares for us. He never leaves us. He never takes His eyes or His hand off of us. And at the right time He intervenes. God initiates the light through His Son and by the power of His Spirit. My shift from darkness to the light did not occur because I stopped doing wrong things and started doing right things. It was never about my actions. It was only about surrender to the One who intervened by His grace and took my anxieties on Himself. 

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. John 8:12

I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. John 14:6

Change began to come and darkness to flee because THE LIGHT shined in. THE TRUTH was revealed. This is a person. Jesus.

The night before Peter was to be placed on trial, he was asleep, fastened with two chains between two soldiers. Others stood guard at the prison gate.

Suddenly, there was a bright light in the cell, and an angel of the Lord stood before Peter. The angel struck him on the side to awaken him and said, “Quick! Get up!” And the chains fell off his wrists.

Then the angel told him, “Get dressed and put on your sandals.” And he did. “Now put on your coat and follow me,” the angel ordered.

So Peter left the cell, following the angel. But all the time he thought it was a vision. He didn’t realize it was actually happening.

They passed the first and second guard posts and came to the iron gate leading to the city, and this opened for them all by itself. So they passed through and started walking down the street, and then the angel suddenly left him.

Acts 12:6-10 (NLT)

The angel of God came into the prison and walked Peter out. In the same way, Jesus met me in my prison of darkness and walked me out! When HE comes, chains fall off. Iron gates open.

As He began to walk me out of fear, I began to set my mind on the Truth of Jesus, His words, and His finished work on my behalf. He began to diffuse the lie. He began to teach me how to walk forward in truth and how to fight the enemy.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36

One evening, almost a year after the stroke, I finally got the courage to tell my husband about my struggle. Even letting it come out of my mouth felt like healing! I was met by his deep compassion and wondered why I had ever been so afraid to share with him. I shared with my small group who came around me without hesitation and prayed over me fervently. They fed me with truth and encouragement and love. There was NO shame.

From that day, not only did the physical headaches and sleepless nights stop, but the power of the lie began to fade. The lie did not instantly leave, but it’s power over me had changed because it was no longer in the darkness.

For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life. Psalm 56:13

This, friends, is a call is to come close, and to step into the full light of the Sun of Righteousness. Then, will you dare to draw near to other people in true community?

We live in the shelter of the perfect love of God. Perfect love casts out ALL fear. Fear of death and fear of man. And the fear of being known.

Community is one of God’s gifts to us. I know it’s scary. I know that it can seem easier to deal with life on our own rather than to risk compounding our struggles by adding the pain of being hurt by the people we confide in. I’ve been there.

“Real community is being fully known, and fully delighted in.” ~Jeff Shipman

I LOVE that definition.  It seems impossible that anyone could know me as I really am and still fully delight in me!  Yet, God has used His children to wrap me up in His perfect love as I’ve opened myself up to them. 

You may be thinking, “yea, but you have no idea what my darkness is.”  I emplore you to know that NO darkness is too dark for our God and you are NEVER the only one! We have all been hurt by people. I get that. And I urge you with everything in me to keep trying. Ask God to help you find a safe community. He WILL lead you to someone who will be that for you. His heart is not for us to do life alone.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

Tim Keller said this: “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

Even in my mess, even when I’m getting it wrong, even when I’m still dealing with the shackles of darkness, my community is a place where I am safe in the struggle, where my companions don’t try to convict me or fix me, but where they speak truth to me in love, encourage and exhort me, and walk with me as I journey into freedom.  And that has given me strength and courage I have never known before.

I wish I could go back and talk to my high school self! I would love to look her in the eyes and say, “NO! Distance and darkness are not your best friends. They are there to imprison you! Run toward nearness and light! They are the things that set you free!”

Live free. Live loved.

~Kerri

 

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Created for Community


In the beginning there was God.  The Father, the Son, and the Spirit.  Three in one.  Three in perfect community.  “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image’.”  Made for love.  Made in the image of perfect community.  And God walked with man and woman in the garden and they experienced this perfection.  Complete love.  Complete transparency.  But man and woman traded this community for the hope of something greater.  And community was broken.  And what man and woman learned was to hide from God’s presence.  To hide themselves and their sin among the trees and to pretend that everything was fine.

But God had a plan to restore this community.  So God the Son put on flesh and dwelt among us.  And He showed us the heart of the Father  and the possibility of perfect unity.  And He died to reconcile us back to God.  Sin defeated.  Community restored.

Old habits die hard, so they say.  And we still prefer to hide.  We stuff our sin behind some trees and cover ourselves with leaves and come out pretending everything is fine.  We are terrified to be transparent with other people about what’s hidden there.  We even think we can hide it from God, as if He doesn’t already know the depths of our hearts.  If we have accepted this gift of reconciliation to God, and share in a relationship with Him, why do we still have such trouble living in true, honest community with each other?

I’ve always said isolation is the devil’s playground.  Our adversary is quick to convince us we are right to keep things hidden.  “If they really knew what you’ve done, they wouldn’t want anything to do with you,” or “None of these people have to deal with this issue you’re dealing with,” or “real Christians shouldn’t have these problems”.  The deceiver will do anything to keep us here.  Locked up in our own heads.  Convinced that no one will understand.  Convinced that we have to look like we have it all together.  Walking in the dark.

But this is not the heart of God, dear friends.  He created us to live in community with Him AND He gave us the Church, His Body, to live with in community as well.  Koinonia is the Greek word first used in Acts 2 to describe the community of believers who “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the communion, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need…They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.

Wikipedia describes Koinonia: “translated into English, the meaning of koinonia holds the idea of joint participation in something with someone, such as in a community, or team or an alliance or joint venture. Those who have studied the word find there is always an implication of action included in its meaning.”

I believe we are called to joint participation in this life.  We join with the triune God and with our fellow brothers and sisters as we all take action to walk this life together as a team, to help each other, to carry each other’s burdens and to rejoice in each other’s triumphs.  I wish I could tell you some of the thousands of ways my life has been enriched, my burdens have been lifted, my needs have been met, my heart has been held by the communities of believers I’ve been apart of in my life.  Yes, people are imperfect, and sometimes they will let you down.  But it’s worth the risk to be free and live a life of transparent vulnerability!

Now, I’m not saying you need to stand up in the pulpit and display all your junk for the whole Body to see.  But I am saying it’s time to come out from behind those trees, bring your sins and struggles with you, and work through them with at least one other believer who is safe and is sharing equally in your koinonia relationship.  (Leslie wrote an amazing set of guidelines for being a great friend here.  Definitely check that out if you haven’t.)

Those of you who are hiding in isolation, don’t believe the lies of the deceiver.  It’s never better in the dark.  No one has it all together, despite appearances, and it’s ok to admit you’re struggling. If you don’t think there is anyone in your life who can fill this role, ask God to bring someone.  I guarantee He will.  He longs for us to be in fellowship with Him and also with each other.  Just like He is in relationship with Himself and with us!  He created us for this, in His image, for our good.  So let us walk in the light!

“But if we walk in the light, God himself being the light,

we also experience a shared life with one another,

as the sacrificed blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purges all our sin

(1 John 1:6-7 The Message).”

 Live Free. Live Loved.

~Kerri

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Rainy Season Reflections

Rainy Season Muddy Road 2

Here in Zambia we have three seasons: cold season, hot season and rainy season.  Right now we are in the back half of rainy season, which lasts from November to about March.  There are some really wonderful aspects of the season.  The earth explodes with blooms and greens that have waited patiently through the 8 months of rainlessness to emerge.  Everything is lush and beautiful.  However, with all the beauty also come some unlovely aspects.  In the cities, flooding kills and displaces many.  Children drown in potholes.  Cholera breaks out as latrines flood excrement into the streets.  Everything is covered in mud.  We have lived through that. 

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Now we live out in the bush, far away from the yuck of the city.  And while people still have struggles with the general wetness of the season, the biggest concern here is always getting enough rain for the crops to produce a strong harvest each year.   This is when the farmers, both commercial and subsistence, grow maize, which is the staple food for the nation.  The rural farmers need these rains for their families and communities to survive.  Therefore, no matter how annoyed I get with mud in my kitchen or rugs that smell like feet, I cannot complain about a good rainy season. 

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One of the learning experiences for this city girl has been learning to drive in the bush on muddy dirt roads during rainy season.  I still become quite anxious when it comes to slip-sliding away in the mud to go anywhere.  Even driving to our closest neighbors can be a mission.  Thankfully we have friends who, having lived here their whole lives, are ready to offer advice for surviving rainy season roads.  As I thought about it, some of these same pieces of advice for driving can also serve as great spiritual encouragement.  A stretch?  Maybe so….

Better to drive in the rain than to wait for it to stop.

I’ve learned that while it seems to make sense to wait out the rain, it is actually better to drive while the rain is coming down.  The rain will keep my tires clean and prevent slipping.  If I drive after the rain has stopped, the tires quickly become caked with mud, I lose traction, and slip all over the place. 

Spiritually speaking, don’t we always want to just hunker down and wait out the rainy times in our lives?  We prefer to wait until the skies clear up before we move forward, when in fact, most often it’s the rains, the hard things, the trials in our lives that serve to keep the mud cleaned off our wheels.  The trials purify us and actually keep us moving forward.  In contrast, if we see the trial coming, and then refuse to move through it, we usually find that afterward it will be easier for us to slide off into a ditch because our hearts have become caked with the mud of our sin and flesh.  Trials have their purpose and we mustn’t be afraid to move forward through them.  He has promised to be with us.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4 

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.

Psalm 23:4

When you come to a muddy patch, or water over the road, point your wheels where you want to go and keep your momentum.  Never slam on brakes! 

As I driven in the mud I’ve discovered that my natural tendency is to slow to a crawl when coming to a difficult section of road.  Whereas it’s never a good idea to go too fast, I’ve also learned I must never lose momentum altogether.  That will get me stuck for sure!  And slamming on brakes = complete disconnect with the road.  I’ve found that as unnerving as it may be, if I fix my eyes on the other side where I want to go, and press on through the water or mud, I will come out just fine. 

In our lives it is much the same.  When we come to trials and difficult times on our journey of life, we can be tempted to let ourselves get bogged down in the mess of it all.  We can shift our focus onto the “mud” so much that we lose sight of the road.  Or we can slam on brakes by shutting down emotionally or relationally.  Either of these approaches can leave us stuck and unable to move forward.  The key as we work through hard times and circumstances is to keep our focus on the God who has promised, not only to be with us in trials, but to give us His strength to keep up our momentum.  In fact, his strength is perfected in our weakness.   

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

Hebrews 12:1-2a

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me…For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Stay in the ruts.

Another important piece of slippery road driving advice is to stay in the ruts that have been made by vehicles going through before me.  Usually, even though I bump and slam against the sides, if I can stay in the ruts you’ll stay on the road. 

Now, this illustration is not meant to say it’s good to be “stuck in a rut”.  What I’m saying is that finding the narrow path God has laid before us is the best way to keep straight and stay out of the ditch.  God’s path, His plan, has been well-tested.  Though it may not be the easiest path, and we may be unsure and bump against the sides, staying “in the ruts” will bring us safely to our destination. His Word is the headlight to illuminate the path He has for us.   

 Make me walk along the path of your commands, for that is where my happiness is found.

Psalm 119:35

 You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Psalm 16:11

 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

Psalm 119:105

Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.  Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.

Proverbs 4:26-27

If you get stuck, a friend is always nearby to pull you out.

One constant reassurance is that no matter where I am, if I get stuck, there is always someone I can call to come and pull me out.  I’ve had to do it.  There’s no shame in it because, no matter how skilled and experienced the driver, everybody gets stuck once in a while.  Isn’t it so true in life as well?  We all slide off into a ditch or get stuck in the mud on occasion.  And there’s no shame or condemnation in asking for help.  We need each other.  It’s only pride that keeps us from reaching out for help, or reaching out to give help.  Community is something I’m passionate about (see Created for Community here), and I believe we have so much to gain when we share in this life together.  

Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.

Galatians 6:1-2 (NLT)

It is necessary to persevere through the rains and driving in the slippery mud to gain a bountiful harvest of crops.  In the same way it is necessary for us to persevere through the rains and muddy roads of life.  God is with us, He is strong for us, He will show us our path, He is our goal, and He has given us His body to help us get there.  The end result is eternal glory.  So as hard and slippery as it may be, let us press on!

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!  So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (NLT)

Live Free.  Live Loved.

~Kerri

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When I Just Want To Make It All Better

                                                                                             support

I recently read about a gal who had experienced both a bout with cancer and a 2 1/2 year nurse anesthesia program. When asked if she was forced to endure one of the two again, her choice was clear. She would chose cancer. The sentiment is both terrifying and oddly comforting as my husband is in month 10 of a 27 month crna program. So we aren’t total weaklings who just can’t hack it. It is stinkin’ hard. And in one student’s opinion, harder than cancer.

In addition to the fact that my husband is the ripe old age of 41, married with 3 children, and attending a school three states away from our support system of 20+ years, the program requirements themselves are monumental. It is, without a doubt, one of the most difficult challenges he has ever faced. And I am pretty much just a spectator of the roller coaster ride from “you know where” that is crna school. Day after day, I witness the physical, emotional, mental and, yes, spiritual battles my husband endures. The truth is, we were warned about how difficult it would be and we still chose this battle. And the other truth is, it’s still worse than bad. I hurt deeply watching my husband’s struggle. And I just want to make it all better.

A few weeks into this third semester, my husband came home from a particularly awful day in the OR. He had, once again, been berated in front of the entire staff, his first exam was coming up in a few days, and he needed to spend hours preparing for upcoming cases the following day. I could almost see the weight of the world sitting there on his shoulders as he slumped down on the couch with his head in his hands. He was reaching a breaking point. In 14 years of marriage, I had never seen him like that. And it terrified me. Immediately, I did what I do best… I started talking.

I reminded him of all the good things that were happening, the progress he had made, every positive I could think of. Then I listed all the “at leasts”. I told him how bad it could be but wasn’t, perhaps implying that he should be feeling grateful instead of defeated. Finally, I optimistically reminded him that he only had a few months in this, the worst semester, and that the time would fly by. He just sat there as I rattled on and on. His posture didn’t change and he said nothing. Then, from out of nowhere, I heard a voice loud and clear in my head. “Stop talking.” Huh? “Just be quiet.” What? How could that possibly be helpful?

Whatever I was doing didn’t seem to be working, so I might as well give it a try. (It was harder than I thought.) But I did it. I bit my lip and I shut up. Then I moved over closer, put my hand on his knee and just sat there. Instead of my help, I gave him my presence. And in those next few moments together, we had one of the most bonding experiences of our marriage. It was a moment of deep connection to each other and to God.

It turns out that the last thing my husband needed was for me to make it all better. He didn’t need my list of positives vs. negatives or words of encouragement or calendar countdowns to the end of the trial. What my husband needed was for me to just sit with him in the hard stuff, in the struggle, in the sadness. What I didn’t realize is that he needed to feel the weight of his burden and the enormity of the task ahead. Because it was in his helplessness and despair that God met him. In his weakness, he realized his deep need for God’s strength. He was then able to surrender that which he could not control and cry out to God for strength to continue.

This little scenario has made a profound impact on my idea of what it means to come alongside and support those I love. I recognize that my need to talk my husband out of his fear and pain has a lot more to do with my own unease than it does with actually helping him. I am starting to see that I often need him to be okay so that I can be okay. Because his pain makes me uncomfortable. And that, my friends, is classic codependence. 

I now realize that while I so desperately want to make it all better for my husband, my children, and my friends, that may not be what they need at all. Maybe God is actually leading them into the valley where they will hear the voice of their Shepherd and a deep work of the Spirit will move them forward on their sanctification journey. And maybe instead of trying to minimize and move them past their pain, God is calling me to courageously enter into the valley with them. I am learning that what they need most from me is a listening ear, compassion, and most of all, my presence. They need to know they aren’t alone in their struggle. And I need to learn to stop trying to rescue them from their struggle, which might just be exactly where God wants them.

Held by Him,

Leslie

 

 

 

 

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Perfect for Me

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I love my husband.  I have to say.  By God’s grace I have been blessed with a husband who truly is my best friend, who loves the Lord, and who has always been so good to me.  Perfect?  Not even close.  Perfect for me?  Absolutely. 

If I think back to before I was married and to the “perfect man” I dreamed of, he looks much different from the man God gave me. 

An out-going social butterfly, at ease in any situation, on whose arm I could happily float around a room?  No, my husband is quite content to sit in a corner alone and watch the action happening around him.  He loves people, but not crowds. 

A charmer who would make everyone he meets love him?  No, he is not interested in making people think anything of him.  He just is who he is. 

A music lover who would make me mix tapes that declared his love for me, could play his guitar and sing me into a love-struck stupor?  No, my husband only really loves country music, doesn’t play any instruments (ok, he played the trumpet in middle school and can play a few songs on the guitar), and can’t sing the right words to songs to save his life. 

A hopeless romantic who would marvel at the perfection of our intertwined hands, lovingly brush my hair away from my face and look deeply into my eyes before kissing me passionately each and every day?  Well, I will give him props for being romantic in some ways.  He is great at planning romantic surprises or special events for me.  But in the area of everyday romantic, affectionate gestures – oblivious!

Our culture of romanticism draws us into our happily ever after dreams of what relationship and marriage is “supposed” to be.  We hear it from the time we are kids.  My girls are Frozen crazy these days and we are listening to the music constantly.  Now I realize this is not supposed to be reality, it IS a fairytale, but read these lyrics:

“Say goodbye to the pain of the past. We don’t have to feel it any more. 
Love is an open door. 
Life can be so much more. With you, Love is an open door.”

I really think this is what most of us think when we say “I do.”  No more pain, my life is complete.  Everything will be better now.  But one only has to be married 5 minutes to know that this is just not true.  In fact, usually the pain of the past reveals itself more strongly and with greater consequences in marriage.  At least 50% of couples just walk away rather than having to feel it or plunge through it anymore, saying, “It was not ‘supposed’ to be this way.  I am not happy anymore.” 

Marriage is not easy.  It simply is not always happy.  We may even have days when we truly dislike the person we have vowed to love and cherish.  “We can run from the challenges of marriage…or we can admit that every marriage presents these challenges and asks us to address them head-on.  If we find that the same kinds of challenges face every marriage, we might assume that God designed a purpose in this challenge that transcends something as illusory as happiness (Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas).”

I believe that each one of us is on a journey, specifically designed by our Creator God, to achieve the greatest level of intimacy with Him, glory for Him, and good for us.  For one that journey may mean singleness, for another marriage, for some childlessness, for others lots of kids, for yet another adoption.  Wherever we live, work, or serve, all our joys and successes, and all our loss, suffering and pain is part of the journey.  All of it meant ultimately for our good and God’s glory. 

Do you know why my husband is actually perfect for me?  Because in every way that my husband has not fulfilled my “dreams”, he has caused me to draw closer to the only One who was ever meant to fulfill my dreams.   What if, indeed, the purpose of marriage is not to make me happy, but to make me holy (as Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas suggests)?

 So, my husband is shy and introverted.  His character has shown me the value of deep friendships.  I don’t need to flit around crowded rooms making friends with everyone.  He has shown me the great value of investing in people one-on-one. 

 So, my husband doesn’t value making great impressions on people.  His character has served to expose the fake in me.  The need to keep up appearances.  The need to be liked and approved of.  There is nothing superficial about him and I have come to appreciate that very much. In fact, one of the reasons I loved him in the first place was that he was real.  He was deeply caring in a way that didn’t need grandiose demonstrations.

 

 So, he doesn’t pull out the old guitar and woo me or lovingly gaze into my eyes each and every day.  But now I realize that much of my need for woo-ing and affection stemmed from a deep need that I should have been turning to Jesus alone to fulfill.  The healthiest marriages happen when two people are individually complete in Christ – not looking to the other person to complete them – so that they come together with the single goal of serving one another.  When I look to Jesus to fill all the holes in me, validate me, and give me my identity, then I am free to love and serve my husband without the desperate need to receive from him.  And the good news is, when he does the same he will also be able to serve me from a place of completeness in Christ. 

Of course we should always work as couples to learn one another, to grow in intimacy, to improve our communication and conflict resolution skills.  It is a grand partnership, worth cherishing and fighting for.  And I thank God for giving me a partner who is perfect for me.   For better or worse, for richer for poorer, in good times and bad, forsaking all others, we will press on to help one another know Him more.

Live Free. Lived Loved.

~Kerri

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