Rejoice in my suffering

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the holy spirit who has been given to us.

Romans 5:1-5

Well, I don’t know about you, but I have never said, that I ‘rejoice in my suffering.’  That does not make sense, does it?  Why would I celebrate financial struggle?  Why would I be glad for physical pain?  Why would I be happy about interpersonal conflict? It just doesn’t make sense.

I was texting with a friend this morning who was crying out in the struggle. This is hard.  I don’t think I can stand it.  When will it end? 

And since I’m such a compassionate person I said something like, “God is using all these tough things to condition you for what’s up the road.”

My friend said, “That’s not super comforting.”

Ok, so maybe it wasn’t my most compassionate moment. But, guys, haven’t we all lived it?  Maybe since I’m drawing close to fifty, I am beginning to be a little reflective.  If my parents had not divorced, I wouldn’t have known how to be compassionate to my step-son when he was little and missed his mommy. If I had never had an argument with my husband, or a time when I wondered why I married him in the first place, I wouldn’t be able to understand a friend when she says she just doesn’t know if their marriage is going to make it. If our children had never pushed back, or made horrible decisions, or been hurting inconsolably, I wouldn’t be able to offer a shoulder to cry on to another hurting mom.  If I hadn’t spent so many years soldiering on, refusing to accept God’s grace and provision, I wouldn’t understand the loneliness and heartache that that can cause.

But, guys, I have.

I have endured struggles of many kinds.  So have you.  And we are still standing. We have endured heartache, pain, death, abandonment, betrayal, loneliness, addiction, selfishness, illness, and every other kind of struggle.  And we are not finished.

The crap is going to keep flying in our direction.  But the more crap we have endured, the more easily we are able to wipe it off and keep stepping.  That’s endurance.

The more we endure, the more we realize what we are made of.  We realize that we have survived before and we will survive again.  More importantly, we realize why we have survived.  We have survived because we have been supported, provided for, and carried.  That realization? That’s character.

That character, that acknowledgement of our weakness in the face of struggle and our need for a Savior to support, provide for, and carry us, gives us hope. We have hope because we know we are not alone.  We know that the One who has allowed us to survive all the layers of crap that have flown at us will continue to provide a way for us to get through the next layer. That is His character.

And that hope, that hope in the One who consistently shows up in the midst of our struggle, whether we acknowledge his presence or not, that hope does not disappoint.

So, ok, for that reason I will rejoice in my suffering. Period.

Repent. Rest. Re-set. Repeat.

I just opened my Bible study.  I was hoping to spend about thirty to forty-five minutes preparing for my Wednesday meeting with the battalion, but I only got to the end of the first page when I read these questions:

What is the biggest transition you’re going through right now?

Does it feel like you’re moving from captivity to freedom,

or does your transition seem to be leading you to a more confining place?

Now would you look at that?  Seems like a pretty benign question, doesn’t it?  But you know, it cut right through some baggage I’ve been carrying around and provided a moment of clarity. And I haven’t event opened my Bible yet!

The battalion and I met for the first time after our summer break about ten days ago to start our journey through Lisa Harper’s study called Malachi: a love that never lets go. Harper paints a picture of the Israelites at the time that Malachi wrote as similar to Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind — not ball-ready Scarlett, but Scarlett returning from Atlanta to find Tara a hot mess in the wake of the Civil War.  Harper says that, like Scarlett, the Israelites are raising their fists to God in anger and indignation, “How could you let this happen?”

Well, I am certainly not there.  Oh, I have been.  Trust me.  If this is not your first time reading this blog, you know my history of raising my fist to God and even turning my back on Him.  But, folks, I am — thankfully — not in that place at the moment.

In fact, this whole blog has been about my journey past that time of soldiering self-righteousness into a season of resting in His provision, His goodness, His faithfulness.  I’ve gone on  and on about our little house by the river, sitting on the couch, working fewer hours, spending time with my husband, going to the gym, swimming in the warm salt water pool.  You have to be getting sick of hearing about this time of refreshing!

Well, I’ve got a confession to make.  I’ve been having a hard time sleeping.  I’m worrying.  I’m not resting.

Ok, I am resting.  I am enjoying a much lighter work schedule.  I am experiencing a slight improvement in my health thanks to the lessened stress and some new medical interventions.  The nest is empty again.  We are enjoying ourselves.

But I lie awake at night stewing and fussing.

Why? Well, to avoid over-sharing let me just say — finances.  Leaving my full-time position and enduring a constant stream of medical charges has caused a change in our financial situation — at least from my perspective.  I get myself pretty charged up about how we are going to recover financially — I lie awake shifting this account and that account; I picture paying off this bill and that bill.  I get myself convinced again that it is job my to resolve this situation.

I am going to pause here to let you shake your head for a few moments.

You finished?

Those few little questions at the bottom of Lisa Harper’s page jolted me.  Do I feel like I am moving from captivity to freedom? Or do I like the feeling of captivity so much that I want to keep picturing myself there? Just when I have been freed from my doing and soldiering and butt-kicking to rest in my little house by the river, I want to find some other battle to fight.  My last blog post was about repenting, resting, and re-setting for goodness’ sake.

Last Saturday I stood in the front of a classroom and showed a group of ladies how I had been walking in one direction and God had physically picked me up and turned me around to go in a different one.  I shared the relief and the new opportunities that this turning has given me, but I was not acknowledging that in the wee hours of the night I have been looking over my shoulder trying to see if that other way is actually the answer.

Go ahead, shake your head some more.  I am.

So, let me put it in print so that I don’t forget.  God brought us to this place.  He will provide for all of our needs.  He always has; He always will. It might not make sense on paper. I might not have all the answers.  However, our God who created the earth, who clothes the lilies of the field, who numbers the hairs on our heads, does have all the answers.  He has worked out our finances.  He has said to me, “Be still, Kristin, I’ve got this.” I feel like He has to say it over, and over, and over again.

But this morning, I hear Him.  So, I’ll just be over here chilling in my little house by the river.

Matthew 6: 30-31

 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’

Walking in Confidence

It seems only fair that since I put you through the preliminary thinking for the workshop I taught at today, I would also share with you the final product.  In retrospect, I feel that God used this opportunity, including the fact that my husband, who originally agreed to co-present with me, was called out of town, to allow me a chance to look in the rearview mirror to see what he has been doing within me for the past year or so.  It was really quite amazing to see the broader view and to then share that view with the ladies who joined me today.

The keynote shared some words of wisdom she had learned years ago, “you don’t have to step on every landmine that I have.” In that spirit, I share my presentation from today.

Walking in Confidence

This sectional is supposed to be about walking in confidence in ministry.  After 25 years of ministry with my husband, I can say it is really quite simple; just follow these instructions:

Proverbs 3 1-6

My daughter, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments,
for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you.

Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good success [a in the sight of God and man.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

That’s it. Ok, go home and do that and you will be walking in confidence in ministry.

Wait, you say you can’t do that? What’s so hard about keeping commandments, binding love and faithfulness around your neck and writing them on your heart? You simply have to trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. Simple. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.

No? Can’t do it? Me either. I keep failing. Over and over again.

I thought I was doing pretty well, way back in 2004. My husband was the Minister to Families at a local congregation. Our children were being raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. I was finishing my Master’s degree, substitute teaching, and writing for a National Lutheran publication. My husband felt the call of the Lord, so we packed our bags and moved to St. Louis to enter the Seminary. That should be an easy place to keep God’s commandments, bind love and faithfulness around my neck, write them on the tablet of my heart, and trust completely in God, right?

You’d think so.

But a lot of change happened very quickly. We not only got a new address, our kids got new schools, I got three new jobs in the first six months, my husband dove into studies, we lived in a small community of other families that were going through all the changes that we were, and, I’m gonna be honest – it was too much.

I went into survival mode.

I was the primary breadwinner – neither my children nor I were familiar with that. I was also still primarily responsible for all the things of the home—groceries, laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc. Yes, my husband helped with all of these things, but I still wore the responsibility for making them happen.

My position went from part-time to full time to full-time plus in just one year. I was a Lutheran educator wearing a variety of hats while still wearing the hat of mom and wife.

I abandoned all my good habits of Bible study, prayer, and fellowship – I forgot about God’s love and faithfulness, I decided to lean on my own understanding. I held myself responsible for making it all happen at Seminary. I put all my confidence in me.

Been there? If you have, you know that it got pretty messy.

God allows us to get there. He allows us to try out our own way. He allows us to have confidence in ourselves and our own strength. He allows it to get pretty messy.

Family relationships suffered. Friendships suffered. Finally my health suffered.

Yeah, my own strength wasn’t working out that great.

Over a period of time, God intervened. He drew me close enough to Him that I could hear His voice saying, “Come on, Kristin, it’s not working. Turn to me. Repent.

I didn’t want to hear that, because I am a stubborn old gal. If I turned to Him, I would have to admit that I had been walking the wrong way,…for quite a long time. I pride myself in doing the right thing. Yeah, pride. That, too.

But He kept drawing me closer, kept repeating His message – “this is not working. You are suffering. The people around you are suffering.” I knew He was right, but I really didn’t want to change.

So, He did what any parent would do – He intervened. He relocated us and gave me a six-month opportunity to refresh. And during those six months he placed just the right people at just the right junctures. He placed me among women who invited me into conversations that helped me turn. They gave me a reason to do regular Bible study. They surrounded me with prayer. They encouraged me on my journey. They helped me re-set.  They helped me remember to put my confidence in Christ instead of putting it in myself.

This year has taught me a lot. It has taught me that God is a God of forgiveness and renewal. I want to invite you into that.

Repent – The word ‘repent’ carries a lot of baggage with it. We associate weeping and gnashing of teeth, sackcloth and ashes, and all other kinds of misery with repentance, but at it’s heart, it’s a turning.  It’s a turning from heading in the wrong direction to following in the right direction.  I know I tried to avoid being repentant, which in retrospect was rather foolish.  After all, God only wanted me to turn because He loves me.  Hear Him in this:

Proverbs 3:11-12

My daughter, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
or be weary of his reproof,
12 for the Lord reproves those he loves,
as a father the daughter in whom he delights.

Isaiah 30: 15

“In repentance and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

Take a moment to acknowledge any ways that you have ‘forgotten God’s teachings and disregarded his commands’. In what areas have you ‘leaned on your own understanding’?

Rest – The word ‘rest’ seems laden with laziness and irresponsibility rather than it’s true intention — restoration, recovery, and healing.  Many of us push through difficult times rather than allowing ourselves to rest.  Hear God on this:

Psalm 61:3-5 (Message)

You’ve always given me breathing room,
a place to get away from it all,
A lifetime pass to your safe-house,
an open invitation as your guest.
You’ve always taken me seriously, God,
made me welcome among those who know and love you.

Isaiah 40:29-31

He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30 Even wives shall faint and be weary,
and mothers shall fall exhausted;
31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.

Matthew 11:28

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

God desires for us to rest from our weariness.  He did create the Sabbath, didn’t He? Rest should not come merely in moments of desperation; it should be part of the rhythm of our lives  — daily rest, weekly rest, and seasonal rest.  It’s ok to schedule this in — to plan time each day, each week, and throughout the year to be still, be quiet, and to recover.  It is only when we take the time rest that we can be refueled for service.  It is only when we are quiet that we can hear God’s voice telling us to re-set.

Re-set –When you are resting, after you have had a chance to catch your breath, think about how you can re-set.

Ask yourself, what are my priorities? Then, does the way I spend my time reflect my priorities? How can it?  Am I putting my confidence in Christ?  Or am I putting my confidence in myself.

It’s not a magic cure.  I imagine I will be reliving this cycle over and over again in my life.  I know I will be tempted to take control, to rely on my own strength, and to go charging in my own direction.  However, I am confident of this — God will continue to beckon me back to Him, He will continue to welcome me back into His safe house, He will continue to set me again on His path.

May He do so for all of us.

Repent. Refresh. Reset.

So, as usual, my writing has sharpened my thinking.  I always tell my students this.  You don’t always know what you think until you start writing — so just write something.  You, my dear reader, may think that I write this blog to share my life with you, and indeed that is a nice bonus. But actually, I write this blog to figure out what I am thinking.  Knowing I have you as an audience is an additional check on my honesty.

Yesterday I shared that I will be speaking next weekend on the topic — ‘confidence in Christ’, specifically, how have I kept my confidence in Christ through the seasons of ministry.  Writing what I did yesterday got me to the place of acknowledging that it’s ok if I haven’t consistently had confidence in Christ, or more specifically, haven’t behaved as though I had confidence in Christ.  After all, it’s probably safe to say that all people falter in their faith.  In fact, women who come to a Saturday conference on having confidence in Christ have most assuredly had their moments of doubt.

And, from the comments I received from you, I think that at least some of these women will find it refreshing to hear that others have had a similar struggle.  One of you said that I should be ‘brutally honest’. Another said ‘bring the noise’!  Thanks guys, because you know me well enough to know that that is likely going to happen, whether I plan for it or not.  I am who I am.

One friend reminded me of a conversation that a few of us had last winter.  She simply said ‘Repent. Refresh. Reset.’ And I heard the song of my heart.  I love that those words don’t focus on the sin, as I am wont to do.  Rather, these three words focus on the remedy.  They remind me that in His story, God knew in advance that I would falter.  He knew that I could not remain consistently confident in Christ.  So, he provided a plan.  He said, Come to me all of you who are tired of soldiering, tired of kicking butts and taking names. He said, I will provide rest for your souls. He said, I don’t desire for you to die fighting; I desire for you turn to me, to try my pattern of living, and to realize that my way is much easier (Rathje Revised Version, all). 

So perhaps that is what will fill fifty-five minutes, stories of repentance, refreshing, and resetting.

That’s what this blog is, really. It’s the tale of me repenting of my self-sufficiency, of realizing in my weakness that He provides me with strength, of recognizing that a new way is needed, and beneficial, and blessed.

So, I share a few of my stories, and allow the ladies to share a few of theirs? We devise a way to keep sharing the stories of God’s faithfulness in our faithlessness? We commit to being brutally honest with one another?

Can you imagine the strength and encouragement that could come from such sharing? So many of you shared with me yesterday that you will be praying for me as I prepare for this Saturday.  Thank you!  Would you also pray for the ladies who will join me?  And pray for our time together? Please pray that our confidence in Christ would be renewed.

Acts 3:19

 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,

Faithful to the Faithless

Last spring, my husband and I were contacted about presenting at a women’s conference next weekend.  Would we be willing to speak about our experiences in ministry and how we have maintained our confidence in Christ through the different seasons.  We looked at each other and said, “Sure, how hard could that be?”  Well, next weekend is now next weekend and one small detail has changed — my husband is going to be out of town, so I’m flying solo.

Still, I say to myself, “Come on, how many fifty-five minute sessions have you led in your life? This should be a piece of cake!”  And, really, it should.  A little while ago, I opened up a new Word document to begin preparing and I had to face the harsh reality. I haven’t maintained my confidence in Christ through all the different seasons.  In fact, I have openly admitted on this blog that I had a specific period of time during which I was not on speaking terms with God.  Now, does that necessarily mean that I had lost confidence in Him.  No, not really.  I still knew He was acting on my behalf, and yes, even carrying me, but I was extremely committed to my soldiering ways and my “I can do it myself” attitude.  Really committed.

I’ve also already confessed on this blog that I am a compulsive truth-teller.  I can’t stand in front of a roomful of women next Saturday and say something like, “Yes, we have faced our trials, but through it all I have remained confident in God’s goodness, faithfulness, and mercy.”  That would be less-than-true. However, I’m pretty sure the organizers of this event weren’t banking on me saying something like, “You know, there were some rough years when I didn’t pray much; I relied on my own strength.”  But, I know, if I’m being honest with myself, that I might actually say something like that.

Now, of course, I would likely follow that statement with something like, “and, as you can guess, that didn’t work out very well.” Which, of course, it didn’t.  My self-sufficient attitude got in the way of my relationships — not only with God, but with my husband, my children, my friends, and some of my coworkers.  Now, I am happy to say that God is very gracious and welcomed me with open arms when I admitted that I needed Him was ready to put down my battle gear.  He also placed people in my life who have been more than gracious in allowing me the room to transform away from my butt-kicking/name-taking self into something that resembles a more well-adjusted human. And perhaps that is what I need to share, right?

No one is perfect.  Not even people in ministry.  Not even  — gasp — pastors.  But, we belong to a perfect God — a perfectly gracious God who allows us experience after experience crafted to draw us back to Him, designed to reflect His image to others, orchestrated to tell His story over and over again.  The story? God is the Creator of the universe.  He created us to reflect Him in the world.  We get confused and think that He made us to be the center of the universe rather than reflectors of Him in the universe.  He knew we would do that. He knew we would stomp and fuss and demand our own way, even though His way was, is, and will always be perfect.  He lets us stomp and fuss and demand.  And, like a perfect parent, when we are worn out and come crawling to Him for mercy, He gathers us in His arms, allows us to heal, and reminds us of our purpose.

Usually we repeat this cycle over and over again.  I know I have.  And actually, that is why I have confidence in Christ — because over and over again He has been faithful, even when I have been faithless.

Now, how do I share that in fifty-five minutes?

2 Timothy 2:13

if we are faithless, He remains faithful — for He cannot deny Himself

Empty Nest, Take 2

About a year ago, I was waving my daughters goodbye as one headed to college and one headed to a year-long internship.  Our sons were already out on their own, one married and living in Cincinnati, the other in the Army stationed in North Carolina. I blogged about our empty nest here in our little house by the river.  I soaked in the quiet and took a season of rest.  I watched Netflix, went to the gym, slept, read, and took care of myself for about two and a half months.  Then the nest started filling up again.

I won’t tell their stories, but I will say that each of the girls were home with us for about six months, with about three of those months overlapping.  I don’t think any of us would say they were easy months, but they were good months.  Those months gave us a chance to say some things that needed saying, to shout some things that needed shouting, to sit together, to cry together, and to laugh together. I am very thankful for those months with our girls.

So thankful, in fact, that this past weekend after we had the privilege of helping them set up their first apartment together in Boston, I wept as we drove away.  I love those girls.  They know me and care for me more deeply than anyone else, with the possible exception of my husband. They somehow see into me and sense things that I do not say out loud.  They are attentive and caring.  They are tender.  They are loving.

It does my heart so much good to know that they are starting their next chapters together — that they will have the support and love that only sisters can give.  And at the same time, I am feeling just a little bit lonely today.

Yes, I am in my empty nest in my house by the river.  It is truly beautiful and peaceful.  My doggy is sleeping by my feet.  I am finishing my tea as I type.  I am back where I started one year ago.  It is a good season, this one that I am re-entering.  But, it is bittersweet.

The girls must sense, even from twelve hours away, that I am a little melancholy this morning.  Both of them have already texted me and asked how I am doing. In fact, since we pulled away from their new digs on Saturday, I have talked to each of them each day.  They are settling in to their next chapter while I am reacquainting myself with mine.

I hear us encouraging each other over and over, “You’re doing great!” “I’m proud of you!” “You’ve got this!” “I love you!” “I miss you!” They are teaching me that these things need to be said out loud over and over again.  They have been teaching me their whole lives.

Psalm 127:3-4

Don’t you see that children are God’s best gift?
    the fruit of the womb his generous legacy?
Like a warrior’s fistful of arrows
    are the children of a vigorous youth.
Oh, how blessed are you parents,
    with your quivers full of children!

Hope for Healing

About a month ago I read a book given to me by a pastor friend.  I mentioned it in the post, “Praying for Healing.” I was wrestling with the conflict between believing that God can heal me and being content with my current state.  I still am, but some shift has happened.

First, I have begun to pray more consistently for my healing.  In those prayers, I have imagined what it might look like if I were fully restored to the health that I had just over three years ago.  It would be amazing.

Second, I went to my rheumatologist who has declared that my malady is not psoriatic arthritis, but fibromyalgia.  She has been saying this for a year, but this time she was more insistent.  In fact, her recommendation is that I go to a primary care physician who can prescribe medication to manage my pain.  She doesn’t need to see me any more; I just need to accept this diagnosis. Period.

Third, I consulted with my primary care physician, who specializes in integrative medicine.  She believes that I can feel better than I do. She believes that I will one day have a regular schedule again.

So, as any rational person would do, I decided to ignore the rheumatologist. I am not going to see her any more. Instead, I am stepping up the treatments suggested by my PCP.  And, oh yeah, I’ve been praying.  For improved health.  For complete healing of my body, mind, and spirit.  For an understanding of the pace that will work for me.

For the past month or so, my integrative medicine doc has been prescribing some homeopathic interventions.  They are weird. Small tiny pellets that look like the interior of a vintage bean bag come in a small brown bottle.  You put 3-5 of these pellets under your tongue, as directed.  That’s all.  Oh, and you can’t drink coffee.  Tea is fine, but something in the coffee renders the homeopathic remedies ineffective.

And here’s the thing about homeopathic remedies — sometimes they cause a mild flare before they improve health.  And, guess what.  They did.  I was on one of the remedies for just a few days when I had a recurrence of the ocular herpes that I contracted about a year ago.  It was miserable.  I had to see my ophthalmologist and get an antiviral to get it under control. Also, I have had a slow simmer of psoriasis for most of the time that I have been on these treatments.

However, here’s the good news.  I am noticing an increase in energy.  Now, granted, I did just change jobs, so I might be flying on adrenaline.  I did just reduce my hours, so I might not be as exhausted.  But, I am pretty sure this is legit improvement.  I mean, anyone with chronic illness will tell you that the overwhelming fatigue you feel on a daily basis is not something that can just be disguised by excitement or adrenaline.  I have been so exhausted for the past three years that I have been barely able to see to drive home at night.  I have had difficulty forming complete thoughts or sentences after dinner.  I have hardly been able to walk into the house at the end of the day.  But guys, this week I have started a new position.  I have met new students and remembered their names.  I have helped my daughter load up all her belongings for a cross country move.  I have hosted dinner guests.  And, I have stayed up late at night to blog, to read, and to manage family details.

It’s something.  I’m hopeful.  And for even this small improvement, I am thankful.

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,

Psalm 108: 1-4