Settled in the Unsettled

I want to say the last few days have been a struggle, but sometimes when I get dark about it, it seems like the struggle has been going strong for a few months or even years.  Friday night I succumbed to an old habit that I have been free of completely for nearly three years.  At first I want to say I don’t know why I fell back into this pit of self-loathing, but that would be a half-truth.  I don’t understand completely why I continue to take steps back, when I have progressed so much in the last few years.

A lot has happened the last year-I ended a year long relationship that was both fulfilling and also sadly codependent at times; I moved twice; I’ve changed jobs; I’ve totaled my car; I’ve changed churches; and, I’m in the process of moving back in with my mother to save money (at age 27).   Not all of that is bad, in fact depending on my viewpoint a lot of it is good.  The relationship taught me both compassion and that I’m capable of making a very difficult decision to not settle.  My new job, while frustrating at times, has also inspired me to live on mission for my clients and encouraged me to make changes to my work place.  I’ve led a bible study, and by doing, have reconnected with old friends and made some wonderful new friends.  And, while the idea of moving back in with my mother at 27 years old seems like a major regression, I see it as an opportunity to make the most out of the closing years that we have left together.

I can see both sides of the coin, but despite the good, I’m struggling with loneliness and depression, which is manifesting itself as lust and greed.  In turn when I fall into those old habits of mine, I perpetuate the cycle of self-loathing and just not being good enough.  I know these feelings and thoughts are lies, but it doesn’t change the fact I’m currently experiencing them.  I’m unsettled, despite my greatest desire to be settled.  I want to make Conway my permanent home.  I want to invest my time, energy, and money in my community, my church, my friends, and my family.  I want to have a home where I don’t have to worry about moving again for at least a few years.  I want to fill that home with kids.  And, if I’m going to be honest I know my biggest desire right now is to do all the above with a life companion—a husband—something that I don’t see in the horizon at all.  I also recognize that in all those desires above, not once do I say that I desire to be God’s.  My intentions line up with his intentions for his people, but my heart right now doesn’t seem to belong to him.

Today a few things were spoke into my heart.  At the first church service, the pastor went through the story of Ruth, asking us to highlight verse 5 in chapter 2, where Boaz asks of Ruth, “Whose young woman is this?”  Whose young woman am I?  Am I the mysterious woman behind the screen of chatrooms?  Am I the woman who had an affair with a married man?  Am I the spoiled goods of whoever may ask me to marry them in the future? Or, am I the redeemed woman of Jesus, who has made me flawless in the eyes of his father?  I know the right answer, but most of the time the other ones are more prominent.

At my mom’s church, the pastor spoke from Numbers 9:15-23 (who would have thought to preach out of Numbers for Mother’s Day).  During this time the Israelites were uprooted from the only home they’ve ever known and being led to an unknown, sounds too good to be true, promised land.  While living in the wilderness, they didn’t know from one day to the next, when they would be directed to get up and follow God closer to their promised inheritance.  They were unsettled.  The pastor said sometimes God prefers us to be unsettled, so that we lean in closer to him and trust in his faithfulness.

Right now, I’m doubting in the woman that God has designed me to be, and I’m doubting in his meticulously laid out plan that is far greater than I could ever dream.  Right now, I just pray that I become settled in the unsettled.

Magnify the Lord with Me

 

pastorjohnsretirement

Only in a Southern Baptist church will you find a pastor holding a hunting rifle as his gift for his service to the church.

“O magnify the LORD with me, And let us exalt His name together.” ~Psalm 34:3

Today was such a bittersweet moment to be witness to.  After 32 years of pastoring Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, Pastor John Greer has retired.  Since his announcement a couple months ago, personal memories have flooded through my mind.

It was nearly 11 years ago that my parents and I walked through the doors of Pleasant Grove, entering heartbroken and afraid that this church would disappoint us like our last one.  We had literally just been witness to the third split of the church that I had been attending since the first week of moving to Arkansas in 1999; this time we were one of the families that walked out the doors.  Pleasant Grove was recommended to us by our then pastor, so we went the following Sunday, intending on trying a few other churches in town during the weeks to come.  Every Sunday morning though, we woke up and we drove to the corner of Country Club and Prince Street where the small Southern Baptist church of Pleasant Grove sat.  We never could bring ourselves to enter the doors of another church, and eventually transferred our membership to Pleasant Grove.

I was 16 when we joined this church and many major life events and transitions have been shared with the family that resides there, and included in that family is Pastor John Greer who has witnessed mine and my family’s growth in Christ.  Never was I judged for my independence and questions, my mom wasn’t criticized (not too much at least) for her nonconventional use of language, and my dad was never limited to his mental illness when we entered those doors each week.  Pastor John was one of the first people to enter my house after my dad was arrested for domestic threats and violence to my mom and I.  He made sure we were safe and comforted us in our fear and the hard decisions that had to be made later.  He also maintained a relationship with my father despite my parents’ separation; and, when my dad became sick and had to be hospitalized he visited him regularly.  I watched Pastor John mentor my mother over the years, cultivating a desire for learning and humility and hospitality.  And, I will always appreciate the fact that a few years ago I entered Pastor John’s office and told him about my deepest shame, and not once did he ever condemn me for it.  Instead, he taught me the most valuable lesson of my life and faith—faith is not about feelings or emotions, which are fleeting, but faith is about the stable facts that can only be sought and found in the Word of God.

The relationship with this man wasn’t always about him giving to others, though he gave probably much more than he received.  We, as a church shared in his joy of watching his son and daughter-in-law adopt his granddaughter from China, and later watched the same son have an unexpected miracle son and adopting another young girl from the Philippines just a year ago.  We shared in his grief and doubt, as he struggled to understand why his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and we later rejoiced with them when she went in remission.  I watched him as he tired with each sermon, but preserved because it was his responsibility to lead his flock to Christ.

It was through the leadership of Pastor John that I could make one of the hardest decisions to leave Pleasant Grove and join City Church.  I left Pleasant Grove not because I wasn’t getting what I needed or wanted.  I left Pleasant Grove because, I knew my stronghold in faith was not determined by the church that I went to, but by the God that I followed.  It was the reliance on Gospel in Pastor John’s sermons that allowed me to listen to a sermon at City Church and know that they were Gospel driven just as Pastor John and Pleasant Grove were Gospel driven.  The courage that I witnessed through Pastor John each morning as he stood at a pulpit and preached, is the same courage I had as I joined a church that I knew would challenge me and make me uncomfortable at times, but also make my faith and my relationships stronger.

While much of this may seem like flattery and elevation of a mere man, I recognize that Pastor John would never been able to influence my life and the life of so many others, if it wasn’t for the grace of God poured over him, providing him with the wisdom and discipline that it takes to lead a church for 32 years and be in ministry for 46 years.  It is bittersweet that a man of such integrity is retiring from a church that has been a cornerstone in Conway since 1894.  It is through the faithfulness of God in providing a man like Pastor John 32 years ago, that I know that God’s faithfulness to this church and community is and will be present in the coming days.

When I initially started to write this, I wanted to title this “Pray with me,” but after listening to Pastor John’s and Daniel Tyler’s sermons today, that title is not enough.  Yes, please pray with me, asking God to provide Pleasant Grove with the wisdom and graciousness as they move forward in their search for a new pastor; but, don’t just pray with me, also magnify the LORD with me because his plan for Pleasant Grove, this community, and the collective church is far greater then we can ever comprehend.

The Dark (bright) side of the stories

I can’t help but laugh at the thought of sitting in Sunday School or VBS and teaching children the story of Rahab and the spies.  I’m just going to assume that the children’s VBS curriculum does not say, “and the spies entered the house of a prostitute.” Joshua 2:1  (I would not want to be the teacher that sparked that conversation with a five or six year old’s parent).

There are a lot of bible stories that are watered down for children, and understandably so.  For example, Noah and the flood.  A lot of people will use that as a the design for a baby’s nursery.  But, if we were to paint the flood in the true fashion of the story, wouldn’t we have the bodies of dead animals and people floating in the water around the ark?  Or, my personal favorite bible story-Samson and Delilah.  That was the first sermon as a child (around seven) in which I paid some attention.  I obviously wasn’t completely attentive because I totally missed the part where Samson was a greedy, misogynistic jerk most of the time.  All I cared about as a young girl was that Samson was a great and mighty warrior that fought for God and that Delilah was a beautiful woman that caught the eye of this hunk (I don’t know that hunk was part of my vocabulary at this time, but you understand).

I digress from point though…it’s not until we get older, as we start to have more life experience.  When we start to desire that which we cannot or should not have, that we really start to see the harsh reality of many of our favorite bible stories.  I think, especially over the last 10 years, the dark and tragic aspects of the bible have always been there in the back of my mind, scraping at my heart, making me uncomfortable and sometimes even offending me.  Samson and Delilah is still my favorite old testament bible story, but not for the same reasons anymore.  Over the last few years I see my reflection mirrored in both of those characters-angry, lustful, seductress-I could keep on going.

Rahab was a prostitute that housed the spies that eventually assisted in the Israelites capturing Jericho.  She also is the first woman named in Jesus’ genealogy (Matthew 1:5).  Hebrews 11:31 says, “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.” We do not have to teach our young children that Rahab was a prostitute because that is not the focus of the story.  The focus is that Rahab had faith in a Great God to save her and her family, and even greater then that is that God wanted to use a broken woman to not just save a emerging people group, but all of humanity.
Maybe when something in the bible offends us, we should ask two things:
What wall is God having us climb down from? How has he used this for his glory and our salvation?

Hard Realities

November 16, 2016

I love how the story of Moses and the edict of death to all male Hebrew babies foreshadows the story of Jesus and a similar edict and the salvation that is to come.  But, I also can’t help but think about all the innocent babies that did die and the grieving parents in the process.  But the quote below also resonates strongly in my heart:

“Isn’t it exquisite to trace the hand of God in history? We praise God for what we can see He has done, but we often struggle to praise Him for what we can’t see while it’s being done.”

He sees me!

November 10, 2016 (Genesis 29:31)

I have a story I have to share with you all.  This morning I had a client come in with her five children.  She was very sweet and all her children very well behaved and respectful.  Her marriage is going through a rough time and there is a lot of unknown and that’s why she was requesting services.  As we were talking she said she saw my bible sitting on top of my printer and wanted to know if I was a believer.  I said I was, and she smiled and said that was wonderful and she was grateful that God gave me as her caseworker. I thanked her and then started talking to her about my devotional I did this morning.

Today I read the story about Rachel, Leah, and Jacob.  How Jacob wanted to marry Rachel, but Rachel and Leah’s father tricked Jacob into marrying Leah (she wasn’t as pretty and the older sister).  Despite Leah feeling unwanted by both her father and her husband, God saw Leah and blessed her through her sons.

It wasn’t until after I said all that to my client, that I actually realized the story was also applicable to her current situation.  My client smirked and said that she too had just studied that story and thought it was awesome that God blessed Leah so much so that he had the Messianic line come from her.

It was such a blessing today to have this woman and her children enter my office.  The last two weeks have been rough for me.  I’ve been sick and have felt underappreciated at work; and, at times I have felt like I haven’t been much of a help to my clients these last two weeks.  This client showed me that God saw me today, not exactly like Leah, but in my own way I was also in need of love and appreciation.

Please praise God with me and pray for my client and her family!

Sodom and Gomorrah

“But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” Genesis 19:26

“Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.” Luke 17:32-33

What is my Sodom and Gomorrah?  What do I keep looking back to, turning me into a pillar of salt, useless and dead?

Patiently Waiting

1 Peter 3:20 which says, “…God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.”

It took about 120 years for the ark to be built, while God watched all the debauchery around Noah and his family continue.

God PATIENTLY waited 120 years to save the lives and souls of just eight people.  How patient is our Lord with us, waiting for us to turn to him?