These past few years have been hard on our family. I see the Lord at work, and while this is an anchor of hope, I’d be lying if I said this head knowledge always translates to my heart. I struggle to believe He’s near while everything in me feels abandoned. We are a family of deep intense feelers, and we all process our feelings in different ways. My husband and I feel remarkably underqualified in communicating our own feelings in healthy ways, while at the same time trying to figure out how to teach our children to do the same. In moments of desperation, I ask God why so much has to exhaust us relationally, and why He allows marriage and parenting—even with all of the joys—to be so painful. Sometimes I even wonder if it’s worth it to keep my heart in the fight.
A Necessary Cutting
A few years ago, my father-in-law, a retired forester, cut our azalea bushes down almost to the main stem. It saddened me to agree to it because they were so green and full. Or at least I thought they were. Cutting them seemed counterintuitive, but I learned soon enough that outside appearances don’t always reveal what’s truly below the surface.
Even though I was afraid cutting them back would do irreparable damage, I agreed, trusting his expertise. When he was finished, I saw the true state of the health of our bushes. What was left was nothing but dry, brittle sticks. I wondered, “What if we’ve cut away all the beauty and all we’ll ever have now is dead twigs? At least there were flowers on the outside!”He then showed me the evidence of life inside the branches and explained that since all the foliage on the outside had been cut away, the bush can now get the light it needs to grow.
It was your typical Tuesday, except for the atypical text message from a church acquaintance—the husband of a woman I deeply admire:“You will like this morning’s Spurgeon excerpt. Many references to gardening are in there. Blessings upon you and David this day.”Wow. So cool. I immediately felt considered, remembered, and spurred toward the Lord.Unfortunately, this type of interaction is not too typical in our PCA circles, is it? We aren’t sure how to do exactly what my acquaintance-friend did: communicate care, thoughtfulness, and honor in a respectful and appropriate way across gender or even generation. But he did it—he did exactly that. And my heart was moved toward the Lord because of the small but thoughtful act of my brother.How did he/we get to this place? To a place of safety in authentically extending the hand of friendship across genders in an appropriate, God-honoring way, encouraging the edification of all involved? Especially in this current socio-political climate of each gender elbowing the other out of the way to assert their self-importance? In our case, I’m chalking it up to church wide devotional.A couple years back, our church body began this practice, and it’s now become a significant thread in the life of our congregation—so much so, in fact, that we now refer to it as a means of grace. The brain trust of one of our associate pastors, Greg Poole, church wide devotional was born out of pastoral realization that significant numbers of Oak Mountain PCA’s flock were not spending daily time with the Lord on a consistent basis. (And sssssh, come closer: some of those numbers even represented church staff.)We needed a plan, and we needed one fast. A devotional was selected, full participation was encouraged, and before long the numbers told the story—the members of our congregation reporting time spent in daily devotion to God increased so significantly that Greg and staff were already on the hunt for which devotional to use the following year…
The church I attend recently began a small-group discipleship ministry for our women. As part of getting to know each other better, the leader of my group asked us to share a little-known fact about ourselves. I decided to tell the group about living in Argentina in the early-1970’s. The usual questions regarding life in a foreign country followed, accompanied by my well-practiced answers. Being so far away from family and friends at a time when communication was limited to snail mail was decidedly difficult, but the opportunity to experience a different culture and learn a second language was priceless.We spent two years abroad because my dad accepted a temporary transfer to work for the Argentine subsidiary of his U.S. employer. Thus, part of the pre-move preparations involved my parents’ 2-week, company-paid attendance at a local Berlitz total-immersion language school. It was a stressful, morning-to-night grind, no English allowed.Unlike my beleaguered parents, I began my language studies once we landed in Argentina. I was enrolled in an American school where I had classes in English in the morning and classes in Spanish in the afternoon. That, plus daily interaction with native speakers in our community, provided an excellent learning environment. Nonetheless, my parents hired a tutor to help me with the intricacies of sentence structure and verb tenses.Community ImmersionJust as I benefitted greatly from learning Spanish in a Spanish-speaking country, Christians thrive best when we’re part of God’s visible church. Scripture is clear that each of us has an important, God-ordained place in His body (1Corinthians 12:12-30) and that we should not neglect meeting together (Hebrews 10:24-25). Furthermore, God’s family is composed of members of varying ages, abilities, and spiritual maturities, just like biological families. We are called to do life together in compassionate covenant communities, where we rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn and come alongside each other to teach, support, and encourage according to the gifts we’ve been given (Romans 12:3-21).
This is not a dieting success story. I’m not a weight-loss wiz-kid. I do have a “before” picture, but as of this writing I’m still 6.9 lbs. from a significant goal – and that one is probably far from “final.”
No, when it comes to weight loss, this is not the blog post I thought I’d write:
I’m slow. At age 55, I’ve been at this seriously for four and a half years. I get the Turtle Award.
I’m not here to promote a philosophy, method, author, or product. What worked for me may not work for you. No magic tricks here.
I’m not privy to The Bible’s Key to Your Weight Loss Secrets. Those were never revealed to me nor did the Lord lead me to write devotions on the beauty of Brussels sprouts.
In my version of my story I would be creating 4 star meals that are simple, healthy, and delicious. I would be the model of consistency and self-control. I would show up to the trendy exercise classes in neon-colored leggings with coordinated tank top and have defined upper arms that are the envy of, well, every woman who knows exactly what “flap” means. Since my version never happened, I guess God must have had something different in mind.
When God writes our story, it’s always far better than anything we could imagine.
Have you ever sat in a waiting room, your heart beating hard, walking through the many “What-if’s” of that space:
What if it’s cancer?
What if my loved one can never drive again, play tennis again, kiss me again?
What if…my loved one loses her job?
What if…my loved one has six months to live?
Whether you are the caregiver or the patient, the “what-if’s” of the waiting room can feel terrifying, and the wait can feel agonizing.
When our twenty-two-year-old son was diagnosed with a brain tumor while my eighty-one-year-old father was dying of cancer, I sat in many varied waiting rooms. During seemingly endless spells in such uncomfortable spaces, I began to wonder—what if—this space could make space for another, better kind of waiting?
SUE HARRIS|GUEST Years ago, I was in Kenya serving with an HIV/AIDS care ministry. The sick would come to the church and people in the church would feed them. Sometimes in this village, people who had contracted AIDS were cast aside since everyone knew that they were dying. Sadly, feeding the sick was considered a… Read More
ELLEN DYKAS|CONTRIBUTOR Really?! Seriously?! It’s popular to respond to disappointment with these words, spoken with a mock shock that communicates disapproval and sometimes, how dare you! Disappointment does often lead to hurt feelings, frustrations, and stress. Whether it’s a relationship struggle, missed opportunity, thwarted desire, or unmet expectations, disappointments are tough. Yet God uses these… Read More