February 27, 2014

Jehovah El Roi: The God Who Sees

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.
God saw the people of Israel—and God knew. 
Do you feel like the walls are caving in and God's just watching? Like, He doesn't really see you? Do you wish He'd move in faster and rescue you? Do you think He doesn't know the pain you are feeling? Do you feel utterly and completely abandoned and ignored by God Himself?
I truly believe abandonment is the worst, most hopeless feeling ever. And Satan will do whatever he can to get you there. Because if he can get you to believe that God isn't really for you or even likes you, then Satan's got you. He can destroy your life. And he will.

I can't help but think of the story of Hagar. Sarah was not getting pregnant, after being promised by God that she would, and grew impatient and I believe even more ashamed than she already was. I mean...really think about this: We (well us women) either have experienced this or know someone who has. We've tried and tried and tried some more to get pregnant. We use charts, graphs, sticks, and everything else. Our friend tries once and BOOM. And she didn't even want to get pregnant. It's tough. It's infuriating. It's embarrassing. It's humiliating.

Now couple those emotions with the fact that Sarah had probably come to terms with the fact that she was barren. Then God promises children...thousands and thousands of children. I'm sure Sarah told everyone. And if she didn't, she kept it to herself but couldn't wait to get her dignity back. But it didn't happen right away. In fact it didn't happen for years. And years.

So, she rushed the hand of God and gave Hagar to Abraham in hopes that she would give him a son. As you can imagine, this didn't go well for Hagar when she did in fact bare a son...after one "try". Sarah, who was already marginalized, defeated, depressed, and discarded by her society, cannot handle it. And she takes out her hurt and anger on Hagar by abusing her. So Hagar flees.

That's when God met Hagar. He found her alone, pregnant, scared, insecure, and helpless. He spoke His promises over her life. And she was never the same.
She answered God by name, praying to the God who spoke to her,
“You’re the God who sees me!
“Yes! He saw me; and then I saw him!”

My heart is breaking because I know people need to hear this...God sees YOU. And He knows. He knows the pain you are feeling. He sees what's been done. He sees. He knows.

And He's coming for you. Just wait. Your Rescuer is on His way.

The passages of Scripture are taking from Exodus 2 and Genesis 16.

February 6, 2014

Just a Season

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven."

- Ecclesiastes 3:1

Just a season. This too shall pass.

I am going to tell you, some days I cling to those 7 powerful words. Don't you? Some seasons in our lives just suck. There's no other way to put it.

  • You are struggling with grades, friends, identity, you name it - in high school. Yeah. Those four years are rough. Awful sometimes. It's a season. Hang in there. I promise, the best is yet to come. Dig your roots down deep in your youth group. If you don't have one, find one. Probably some of the most influential people in my life were my mentors in high school. They don't know it, but I think of them often and remember that during that time, they were my lifelines.
  • You are 21 and still single. Seems like a lifetime, doesn't it? Been there. In fact, I was 23 when I met Bryant (or 24...I can't remember and I am terrible at simple math). When I graduated from college, I had only had one official boyfriend (a few "going steadies" in between) and most of my friends were already married with a child and number two on the way. No lie. I felt like the Apostle Paul: I had the gift of celibacy. When I moved to Florida, I was so lonely at times. I second guessed my personality, looks, you name it. And what's funny? I was only 23. If you are in this boat, I am not patronizing you. I get it. But it's a season. Just a season. Fill your single years with as much as you can. Start pursuing your dreams. Take a chance. I moved down to Florida from New York and took a job at a respectable school when I was only 22 and after a pretty severe breakup. I was scared to death. Best decision I made. Cause then I met Bryant...on a blind date...and the rest is history :)
  • You are recently married and facing marital trouble. Been there. Our first year was no picnic. And don't roll your eyes at me! When we actually start telling our story, you will probably be shocked. It was awful. But it was a season. We sought counselling, experienced real healing, and I'm going to be honest, I understood the ramifications of the Gospel during that season more than any other time in my life. It was the most sanctifying, healing, horrifying, exhilarating time in our lives. And our marriage is strong and healthy now as a result. A season.
  • You were diagnosed with clinical depression or some sort of personality disorder and/or anxiety disorder. Been there. I was diagnosed with clinical depression shortly after we got married (hence some of our difficulties). That's when I jumped head first into counselling. Yes, I was embarrassed by the label. I hated it. But it forced me - I mean absolutely demanded - into the grace, love, and unconditional forgiveness of Christ. My depression still beats me up. But it's just a season. I know during those times to reach out to my closest friends for prayer. I speak honestly with Bryant. And I schedule a counseling appointment. Yes, even after four years, I still see my counselor. It's a season.
  • You have a newborn. Need I say more? Listen, it's a season. Now he/she is a toddler. It's a season. I so appreciate Instagram right now. You know why? I have some honest mommy friends who share their real stories of frustration, pain, exhaustion, excitement, and happiness through pictures. I don't feel so alone. And we can be praying for each other and encouraging each other that this is just a season. One day, when we are 50 and empty-nesters, we are going to miss these days. Sometimes I don't believe that, but I take the word of my more "seasoned" friends :). Hang in there mommy and daddy. Soak in those precious moments. Laugh at the aggravating ones. It's a season.
  • You are divorced or have faced (are facing) some sort of loss. My dear, dear brother or sister...It's a season. Please do not think for a moment that God has abandoned you. That's what Satan wants you to think. He wants to destroy your life and the fastest way to do that is to isolate you from your Heavenly Father who probably doesn't seem that loving right now. This is cliche, but grasp a hold of His promises from the Word of God: His mercies are new every morning. He's never going to leave or forsake you. He wants to give you abundant life. Find some friends who can have faith for you during this time. Hurt. Bleed. But then cling. Cling to Him. It's just a season.

You were diagnosed with cancer. You've just moved for the hundredth time. You have trouble making and keeping friends. You have to pull away from a person who is doing you and your family some harm. You lost your job. You quit your job. You can't make ends meet. You are making more than you ever have. Seasons. These are all seasons. I have friends in almost every one of these categories. Dear friends. Friends that I hate seeing hurt. Friends that feel so alone. And all I can say, dear one, is that God is with you. He knows. 

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Exodus 2:25. The Israelites were experiencing brutal slavery and felt like God was no where to be found. But this verse says so eloquently:

God saw what was going on with Israel.
God understood.

So I leave you with this...not a theological argument for God's presence, not a ton of Scripture for you to memorize, not another Bible study or list of things to do. Just this: God sees. God knows. God understands. God's with you. It's just a season. Hang in there dear friend.

"There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity
under heaven:
A time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal, 
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a t time to search and a a time to give up,
at time to keep and time to throw away,
at time to tear and time to mend,
at time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a t time to war and a a time for peace."
- Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

February 4, 2014

Carpe Diem

Bryant is doing a series right now entitled Carpe Diem...and it has been awesome!!! His talk yesterday was on Sabbath rest. And I just thought I would take a few minutes to share some practical things we do as a family to practice Sabbath rest.

Disclaimer: I am not tooting my own horn here. Nor are we perfect at this all of the time. It takes practice. Compromise. Tweaking. It depends on the season of life you are in. Soul searching. And prayer. So before you keep reading this, hit the link above and listen to Part 3. Then come on back :)

1. A few months ago, Bryant and I both removed the Facebook app from our phones. And wow. The difference that has made. We still keep Twitter and Instagram on our phones because honestly, they don't stress us out as much. You have to know yourself. And speaking for myself here, I know that I am much too nosy and too easily carry other people's burdens that access to Facebook 24/7 just doesn't work for me. I also have a hard time turning off my brain at night and Facebook is another form of email for me. So it was consuming my life. We have seriously noticed a difference in our own peaceful existences since we removed Facebook.

2. We say no. A lot. We are a family of three with one on the way. And we determined before we ever started having children that our marriage and our kids would be our two greatest investments into Eternity. Consequently, the only evening meeting either Bryant or I have is our staff meeting Monday night. Other than that, Bryant is home every evening by dinner time. We also made the commitment that I would be a stay-at-home mom. So, we have learned to live on less. And it works! Bryant keeps a tight budget where we give, save, and live off of the rest and I am so appreciative (and yes, believe it or not, a budget does contribute to Sabbath rest)!!! And finally, since I became the Children's Ministry Director at Centerpoint, I have designated two Sabbath days for myself: Friday with Bryant and Brooke and Monday with Brooke. And, I don't feel guilty about it. I work my butt off from Tuesday to Thursday cleaning, doing laundry, taking care of Brooke, working from home on the ministry, cooking, taking care of Bryant, and so on. And I work. Hard. So on Monday, I lay on the couch and read and/or write every time Brooke is taking a nap and usually don't change out of my pjs until 3pm. I put no pressure on myself to get anything done. On Friday, Bryant, Brooke and I spend the whole day together with no responsibilities.

Bryant decided a few months ago to start taking Friday off. He feels much more alive and relaxed come Friday than he did taking Monday off. So Friday we just hang. I turn my phone off. Bryant puts his on silent and keeps it in the bedroom the majority of the day. We don't get on Facebook or really any social media. And it is awesome! I am going to tell you, for us, taking a Sabbath day off is sometimes hard work and a major trust issue. But we know that God mandated this and we have so experienced the benefits of it that we make Sabbath rest an HUGE priority. Our family, church, and personal lives benefit and are the proof of what God does when we follow in obedience to this command. It is a chance for us to declare our dependence on God and to remind ourselves that He is ultimately in charge and responsible for whatever He has called us to. It is our way to surrender.

Bryant and I do make time for friends, but we probably wouldn't be considered social butterflies. We realize this season with Brooke and baby on the way is one of the most crucial and so our social lives are mainly consumed with our family, our community group, and a few close friends. That hasn't always been the most popular decision, but it has paid off for our marriage and our little family.

We also try to have regular date nights. And if we don't get out, we spend every evening together just relaxing after Brooke goes to bed. It is delightful!!! I am working on turning my phone off after 6:30pm and leaving it off. Bryant is much better at that than me.

3. We make time to get spiritually refreshed. We both spend time reading and try to keep each other accountable with that. We also love attending conferences together and sharing podcasts. Yes, we are nerds. But we also realize the importance of staying above the waters spiritually. And so we make that a priority. For me personally, that means that I have to cut back on the amount of time I exercise now that my time is limited with a little one. That was hard at first, but my investment into my spiritual life is way more vital than my investment into my physical life. I still make time to exercise, but my physical muscles may not be as cut as my spiritual muscles, and that's the way it should be. Bryant is a master at this. I always see him reading the Word, listening to worship music, getting fed on podcasts or books, and constant in prayer. He has such an intimate relationship with Jesus, it's inspiring.

4. We limit our schedules. I am a wife and a mom. Whatever time I have left, I schedule wisely remembering my best has to go to my family. So, I have openings for about two meetings/get-togethers a week and sometimes I don't even do two. Right now I serve as Children's Ministry Director, which is a pretty big job. So, that is where most of my excess time and energy goes. That's it. I have said no to other engagements, outings, and hobbies. It's not always easy, but I know it's best. And I know it's just a season (for more on this, see Just Say No). I remember that Brooke is my greatest contribution to Eternity. I realize that by caring for my husband and making home a safe place, I energize him to reach others with the Gospel. And that is enough for me.

Bryant has already scheduled time off for this year. He does this in advance so it happens on purpose and doesn't get overlooked. He also makes sure he communicates with his assistants his openings for the week. He doesn't counsel everyone (notice I didn't say anyone). He doesn't answer every phone call, text and email he gets at night after he gets home. In fact, he doesn't even get work emails to his phone. He guards his days off. And that is why he is such a good husband, father, and Pastor. He is not a frazzled, drained mess. He is rested both physically and spiritually so he can care for the family and Church God has entrusted him with. And I know a couple hundred people who are extremely grateful. Something he does do that I just think is awesome is after he preaches on Sunday, he hangs in the worship center so he can meet and talk with people. He also sits in the back during worship before he preaches. I have seen so many grown men walk past him and give him the biggest bear hug ever. We also have a swing and some toys in his office so before and after service, he gets time with Brooke.

So, those are just a few things. I could add more to the list: Like we both have certain routines at night to help us unplug and unwind, we make everyday errands an adventure, and we constantly try to stay thankful. But the biggest thing I think you need to come away with is this is a lifestyle that will enable you to worship God more consistently and effectively. By saying yes to the right things and no to the excess things, you are actually going to further your influence. So take some time to figure out what the big rocks in your life are. And minimize the smaller rocks (if you are confused by "rocks", listen to the podcast). If you are a parent, remember your kids are watching. Their lives are being shaped by the decisions you are making. That's sobering.

Remember, Sabbath Rest is a trust issue. Are you brave enough to do something about it?