April 21, 2012

Double Standard

I have been asked many times to share my story...and I will...just not yet. While I believe my open heart surgery is done, God is still sewing me up and I am in spiritual rehab. Not that I am waiting "to arrive" by any means...I just want to make sure my surgery cuts are scars so that they don't open back up and bleed. Make sense? Sorry if you get easily quesy. My blogs are not for the faint of heart (pun intended).

Speaking of healing...what I will say about my story is this quick blurb...after years of thinking I was the "it girl" of Christianity (I thought I had it all together and was on top of my game), God broke me into a million pieces. Depression, suicide, anxiety attacks, fear...those are just some of the emotions I battled with for more than a year. It was a dark time to say the least. What caused all of this? I asked myself that question over and over for months. Finally, I realized something...I was so immersed in legalism...trying to do everything right and to prove I was good enough...that I had grown angry with myself and the fact that I knew I couldn't measure up and absolutely ignorant of God's grace...I didn't understand the Gospel.

Are you shocked? I mean, of course I knew the Gospel, right? Well, in a way. I understood the Gospel in relation to Salvation...but not in relation to my everyday life. How do I know that? Because it wasn't until someone showed me that my past, present, and future where Jesus Christ's...in other words, when God looks at me, He sees perfection...He sees Jesus. When did someone point that out to me? When I was in my darkest time. When I was in the midst of an emotional breakdown that embarrasses me to even think about.

What about you? Do you understand the Gospel as it relates to everyday life?

Let me give you two scenarios...

1. Let's say you are a part of your church's counselling team. A woman approaches you after the service and explains that she does not know Jesus as her Savior and yet is in the middle of an adulterous relationship. She doesn't know what to do, but she knows she cannot continue living like she is. What do you tell her? I would assume you would wholeheartedly go into the Gospel...right? That is of upmost importance in this situation. After she has a personal relationship with Jesus, the adultery will take care of itself.

2. But what about this...what if that same woman approached you after the service but was saved. What would you do? Would you immediately begin to focus on her sin and her choices? Would you make her feel condemned, guilty, alone? You may not think so, but if you don't point her immediately to the Gospel, even though she is already saved, you will inevitably be preaching a double standard.

My heart is burdened because so many of my friends have been pushed away from Jesus because they were not given the Gospel in their darkest times, they were given a lecture. I know that some of you may be arguing with me in your heads, but have you ever had a converstaion with someone "living in sin"? He/she knows. He/she is completely aware as to what they have done. That is why so many Christians who have walked away from God feel aboslutely alienated from other believers.

I am not by any means saying you shouldn't confront sin. You absolutely should. However, are we confronting sin with the Gospel? Are we reminding people that no matter what decisions or choices they have made, that Jesus has already forgiven them and loves them and wants desperately to have a relationship with them? Are we telling them that? Or are we burdening them further with our lectures and our condemning body language? Is our fear of sin causing us to push people away from Jesus or toward Jesus? An understanding of His grace could cause people to take advantage of it...but a complete, full grasping of His grace keeps people far away from sin. How do I know? Read John 8. All Jesus had to tell the woman caught in adultery was to "Go, and sin no more." And I believe that's what happened. 

This is why now when I have a conversation with a friend who has walked away from Jesus (and I have a lot of them...good people who were treated poorly by Christians because those Christians were scared of their sin), I make sure they understand I love them. I don't agree with their choices, but I know that Jesus has already forgiven them and wants them. If I am to be like Jesus, then I need to pursue them and remind them that they aren't lost sheep, they are part of the family of God. And like Jesus, I will pursue that one out of the ninety-nine.

April 17, 2012

Weekend Widow

Similar to Jasmine’s introduction to a flying carpet in the Disney movie Aladdin, ministry can be “a whole new world” for those who have not grown up in it. On the other hand, I grew up in the ministry and being married to a pastor has still introduced me to a “new fantastic point of view”. And that’s just it…it is fantastic…but sometimes, it can also be exhausting, lonely, and absolutely not “crystal clear”. So how do we as ministry wives keep perspective? How do we figure out what our roles are so we truly are weekend widows and not weekend martyrs?

Keeping Perspective
First of all, you have to consistently remind yourself that God sovereignly called your husband and you to the ministry. How I am sure that you have also been called to the ministry? You are married to a man in the ministry. Done.

When Bryant and I first got married, I was so excited to be a Pastor’s Wife…well, most days. Honestly, I was 25, we had just gotten married, and our church was exploding. At that point in my life, I had also just discovered some deep emotional baggage I had been carrying for years…so I was in counseling. I was feeling a lot of pressure. Not from my husband…and I can honestly say that. From myself. Even though I was struggling internally, I felt like I had to hold it together and be the “Pastor’s Wife”. I had grown up in ministry…I thought I knew what I was supposed to do to be successful. I figured I needed to be pouring personally and deeply into every woman in the church (which at that point was somewhat more possible…albeit unhealthy). So, I made sure they all had my cell phone number. As you can imagine, I was constantly texting and/or answering phone calls. I was leading ladies Bible Study and was hearing stories that I couldn’t believe were real. I carried burdens I didn’t know what to do with. And, I was teaching 10th and 11th grade English full time. I was burning out. I didn’t realize it though. Somehow, my adrenaline kicked in and I felt that since I had a “following”, I was a successful “Pastor’s Wife”. However, internally I was crumbling and I am sure it will come as no surprise that my marriage was less than stellar.

That October, Bryant and I met with an incredible couple for a few days in a cabin in Georgia. I was in need of some serious spiritual resuscitation. I really wasn’t sure which end was up. It was there that God did some open heart surgery on me. He revealed that for years I had been searching for my identity in “the ministry”. The desire for a “following” had started in high school. See, I guess as a teenager I discovered that if you did the right things, people would see you as a role model and would praise and follow you…which would further confirm you were doing the right things. So, doing became my way to survive…and being praised was my way to thrive. All the while, I was deteriorating inside. I figured God loved me because I did stuff for Him. When I started struggling emotionally, I couldn’t do a whole lot for God…further breaking me down. It was while I was in Georgia that I began to wrap my mind around just being. Being who God called me to be and allowing Him to live His life through me. I realized I didn’t need to prove anything to anyone, let alone those who attended our church. I just needed to serve, live, and love the way Jesus did…with nothing to prove (or cover up).

To be honest, my life didn’t change over night. Understanding where my identity should be was my first step. God showed me my next step when I lost my teaching job a few months later. Now, my life was wide open. I was freed up to serve Him at the church 24/7. That’s awesome…isn’t it? You would have thought so. Except now, I was feeling less than stellar. I was no longer a career woman and I guess up until that point, I had not noticed how I put a lot of my identity in my career as well. So now, I am feeling lost and guilty. Lost because I am not sure what I am going to do with my free time and guilty because I was not as thrilled about being in full time ministry as I thought I should be. All the while, my husband’s ministry is growing and flourishing…and I feel like I am sitting on the sidelines. So, for a couple of months, I had to get honest with the Lord again. I had to open-handedly re-submit my life to Him and realize that I was not less of a woman because I did not have a full-time, respectable job. I was a woman who He was reshaping into a person He could use freely to do whatever He would like to do. I would spend time in prayer…wrestling through my feelings of boredom, frustration, and of just straight-up feeling left out. I asked God to do what He needed to do in my heart to make me fit for His ministry…not mine. And He started to work.

I had conversations with my husband (still do honestly) about what my “thumbprints” are…in other words, how God has gifted me. I also started looking for the needs at church. I began filling roles, learning what I enjoyed and didn’t enjoy. Every once in a while, though, I make sure to fill a role that maybe wouldn’t be my first choice…just to serve and to work on my attitude J.

Determining Our Roles
Centerpoint Church. That’s his calling. However, in order for him to be successful at this, I need to be successful in my calling, caring for Bryant’s needs. I know how he ticks. I know that lose ends at home drive him nuts. I know that he loves to be organized. I know that he likes philosophical discussions. I know that he thrives when I am serving side-by-side with him. So, here’s what I do…

1. I make sure our home is a safe place for him. I keep it clean and organized. I try to greet him when he comes home and just love on and serve him. (Honestly, I am working on the “selfless part” of serving…just keeping it real).

2. I volunteer in the office at church 2-3 days a week. I take care of some of the organizational stuff that otherwise gets overlooked. I also clean closets and do whatever else I can to make sure he feels comfortable and productive at the office.

3. When he has a speaking engagement somewhere, I go. When I can’t hear his talk cause I am in the nursery on Sundays, I listen to the podcast. I make sure he doesn’t feel alone when he is in one of the most lonely, vulnerable places on earth: the stage.

4. I try to read some of his favorite books so we can talk about them and I can challenge him (or more frequently, vice-versa).

I know what some of you are thinking…does my life revolve around him? In a way, yeah, it does. But that’s Biblical. God called Eve Adam’s “Help Meet”. You know what that means? God gave Eve a title that was usually only used for Himself. God was referred to as Israel’s “Help Meet” specifically in those times when there was no way out but through God Himself. Whoa. That’s humbling. I am Bryant’s “Way Out” his “Escape” when he doesn’t see any other way. That doesn’t mean I am a doormat. No, this is an awesome title. I get to do for him what no one else can do. I get to be his Engedi, or his place of rejuvenation. I empower him, along with the Holy Spirit obviously, to do what God has called him to do…and no one else can do that job. Only his Help Meet. Only me. So, that’s my role.

Honestly, all of my other roles are secondary and change as my life changes. I like to mentor and disciple ladies, so I am always looking for one or two to meet with regularly. I love to organize and run events, so I work closely with the Ladies Brunches we do at the church. I enjoy teaching Bible Studies, so when life allows, I teach one. I love working with teens and programming, so I volunteer at times in Velocity. And, when I know I need to do something out of my comfort zone, I do a rotation in Kid Zone (our nursery).

I think the key is (and honestly, I am still learning this) to ask myself this question: “Am I serving (and/or concerned about where I am serving) because I am trying to feel better about myself and prove myself?” OR, and more importantly, “Am I being a willing servant to fill the roles that God calls me to fill at any given time?” The answers to those two questions will reveal a lot about where your heart and your identity is in the ministry. It’s humbling and convicting…but, it will keep you from being a weekend martyr.