are women dangerous to pastors?

As a woman whose vocation is in the context of local church ministry, I have the honor of working alongside many pastors on a day to day basis. Which is why when there is a breaking headline in the Christian news world that a prominent pastor has resigned due to marital unfaithfulness, it always saddens me for many reasons.

First, the devastation on the family is massive. At the end of the day no matter how many people you lead, one thing I find humbling as a leader is the continual reminder that family serves as a reminder to us that it does not matter if you lead tens of thousands or if you lead a church of one hundred- to your children, you are simply a dad or a mom and to your spouse you are simply a wife or a father. To see our sin affect our children and spouse is gut wrenching. In times like this, my prayers primarily revolve around the suffering family.

Then there is the reality of the church family or the wider network of people that are influenced by a pastor which must bear the cost of their leader’s sin. We are all prone to filter the cost of our sin through a very individualistic lens. We see our sin as primarily impacting our own relationships with the Lord and maybe for very grievous sin, our immediate family as well, but times like this serve to remind leaders that there is always a cost to the family of God. Both our sanctification, as well as the consequences of our sin, benefit and cost the community we are embedded in. Times like this bring out both the beautiful aspects of the bride of Christ, as well as many insensitive comments that remind us (and the watching world) that we are still a spotted and wrinkled bride.

But specifically I want to write as a woman serving in ministry alongside many men. High profile pastor infidelity like this typically triggers a response of articles encouraging leaders not to meet one on one with women, even in public settings. Jokes are made about staying away from your assistant. Attitudes surface that imply all women are dangerous- “good pastors” protect themselves from them through instituting policies and practices that keep them from developing a friendship with a woman.

The practice of not having female friendships does not ultimately prevent adultery. Neither does the commitment to not meet, even in public settings like coffee shops, prevent pastors from committing adultury. If you have spent anytime in vocational ministry, then you know several pastors who have held to that rule for most of their ministry and still end up committing adultery. Leaders do not accidentally slip into an affair. Affairs start long before a one on one meeting, they begin in the mind and heart.

It begins with entertaining lustful thoughts about another, or catching yourself thinking about them when you are not together in ways that feed your pride- wondering what you can do or say to impress them or garner their attention. It starts with not deeply investing in your own marriage and entertaining an idea that someone else would treat you better (and feeding the kind of pride it takes to sustain the belief that you deserve something better then God’s already given you). In a church setting, pastors will interact with women and hopefully more and more are finding ways to bring women leaders into their circle of influence in order to disciple and encourage them to serve their churches through the gifts God has given them. If in this process, a female becomes a temptation, then there are two responses godly men can practice.

First, recognize there is more then one category of women the Bible gives us. If she is acting or begins to act like a Proverbs 5 women, then follow the biblical wisdom God gives us to guard your life. Keep to a path far from her and do not go near the door of her house (proverbs 5: 7-8). But if your interactions with this woman proves that she is more of a Proverbs 31 woman, then you do not need the same protection from that kind of woman that wisdom speaks to in Proverbs 5. A Proverbs 31 woman is one that postures herself in such a way that it is noticeable that her husband can have full confidence in her. She brings him good and never harm. A strong leader, a good pastor, should be able to discern between the two. (Proverbs 31:11-12)

Yet, it is still possible, given our fallen world, to be leading and still find yourself attracted to or drawn to the opposite sex. The answer is not to pull away from that particular person especially if they are a trustworthy colleague in ministry. The answer is to practice self-control while you take the time to pursue greater love for the woman (or man) who sin has morphed into an object that fills your imagination.

The answer is not a blanket legalistic rule that protects you from all womankind thereby dehumanizing and objectifying us as a people who godly men need to be “protected” from. But there are habits and disciplines that can be put in place that train ourselves to view the other gender through the biblical lens we have been given to view each other- as brothers and sister. Pulling away and drawing a boundary with someone who has been nothing but professional, respectful, and kind to you is unloving in the name of legalism. The real answer is to love that person with a deeper brotherly love.

The problem between men and women in the church is not infidelity. The problem is not cultivating this brother/ sister relationship with the church body. You may need to be alone in a hotel room to have sex with a woman who is not your spouse, but lust for approval, sex, or admiration can happen in the lobby on a Sunday between services. As I read articles about what pastors should do to “protect” themselves, I find myself wondering if the goal is to have a bare minimum standard that we don’t commit adultery or if the goal is that we learn to relate to each other as brothers and sisters participating together fully in God’s kingdom, free of the sin that prevents that.

The latter is much harder then the former to cultivate and it must start with realizing that it isn’t just having an affair with someone that is the sin to protect yourself from, because it actually isn’t just about you at all. Entertaining sexual thoughts about a man or woman who is not your spouse, trying to attract their attention or approval, finding your pride to be stirred by their respect, all of that is unloving to them, your spouse, and your church community. It isn’t really being the brother or sister you have been called to be and it both objectifies them and robs the body of Christ from the beautiful practice of brotherly love.

Think about your relationship with your biological siblings. Brothers and sisters are not “careful” around one another, they do not “guard” their conversations. They have a particular way in which they relate to one another that makes it obvious to all that they are siblings. A sister is not someone you are trying to draw the respect of to feed your ego, because a sister has seen the moments where you are a complete idiot and still loves you. Your siblings see your greatest faults and still love and care for you. You don’t care to project an image that attracts them, because as siblings you already have the deepest status of relationship possible and the only type of human relationship that we will carry with us into eternity.

Words cannot really describe what it feels like to be in settings where men feel they have to protect themselves from you. It’s dehumanizing. The pervasive struggle of leaders with sexual sin is not the fault of woman anymore then the pervasive racism in our midst is the fault of minorities having a different skin color. The struggle comes from being embedded in a culture that worships consumerism and sexuality. The pollution in our air is so thick that it then colors the lenses in which we view all relationships around us.

As a sister to many dear brothers whom I deeply love, I can do nothing about changing the fact that I’m female. If my very fact of being female makes me dangerous then the only way I can love them is through my absence. But as a leader who is female, I can be safe by constantly striving to be a better sister- not just in the times we meet, but in every thought, every attitude, and every action when we are apart. Where I fail to do that in even the smallest ways, basking in the gospel of grace and mercy deepens my love for God and simultaneously my brothers and sisters. It is a constant practicing of coming to the Lord to clean me from that pollution of consumerism and sexuality that colors the way I see everything and seeking to have the Lord’s eyes and his heart for the brothers around me. Similarly, had the pastors and men in my life not treated me like a sister, I would have never had opportunity to be nurtured, discipled, and developed by some of the greatest pastors, leaders, and thinkers to be positioned for leadership opportunity.

When my husband and I say our final goodbye on this earth, we will not meet in eternity as husband and wife, but as brother and sister. There is great richness in living in a deep community practicing this authentic brother-sister relationship that we will enjoy for all eternity, co-laboring together in his mission and serving one another in the deepest ways possible. Love protects the other from harm and from sin, but it does not protect the other from itself.

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The Rich Meal that is God’s Word

When you have feasted day after day on junk food, come home, plop on your couch and your greatest extent of daily exercise is picking up the remote control….you can easily pass up the delicious meal that is waiting in the kitchen. Is it a nice extra? Yes. Is it essential? No. Is it appealing an appetizing? Perhaps slightly.

But when you have been out all day fighting in a fierce battle or when you have spent a full day running a race with all that you have against strong winds under the heat of the harsh sun…when you walk in that door dirty, bruised, bloody, and completely alone…that is when you need something to sustain you. The aroma of the delicious meal that is filling the smell of your house is not just a nice treat, it is necessary to keep you from collapsing. Your mouth waters, your thoughts are consumed with eating that meal as soon as possible.

The American church doesn’t need less of the word of God, but we do need more of a hunger and dependence on it that can only come from faithfully obeying what God’s word has already told us to do. We need to engage in the Ephesians 6 battle that is happening all around us, we must run the race set before us.

Engaging in the work God has called his church to be busy about creates a necessity of dependence on God’s living word (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit. When we are engaged in this exhausting battle/race, then “keeping in step with the Spirit” or feasting on ”the daily bread” is not an option that comes to mind if we happen to get the munchies around midnight or if we are struggling with some indigestion that resulted in our earlier food choices. The word and the Holy Spirit become essential to getting up for the next day of hard, painful work. It becomes what allows us to push through sore muscles and broken bones to share with joy in the suffering’s of Christ.

Bible studies fill church calendars; conferences sell out, books print in mass…

Yet our cities do not reflect the justice, mercy, or care for the “least” that obedience to God’s word and the Spirit’s leading should produce. Where are the lost in our life hearing about Jesus from us? Where are the tears being shed and prayers being offered over the millions in our city who are not being reached with the gospel? Who among us are serving our enemies? Who is the family to the lonely? Who is visiting the incarcerated man? Who feels responsible for the dying gay man that was disowned by his family ? How many are losing sleep over our all white, all brown, all black churches and lack of representation that is of God’s kingdom? What are we really willing to do to spend ourself for the unborn at risk of abortion and at risk of a life of abuse, neglect, or poverty?

We do not need less of God’s word. The ability to do all of the above can only come in steeping our hearts, minds, and lives in God’s word. But a life steeped in God’s word should produce a Church, it should produce individuals who do what the gospel calls us to do. Out of obligation? No. Out of transformed hearts and lives that can’t help but want to follow Jesus in his steps? Yes. If we love Jesus, we want to be as near to him as possible….and the word shows us where he was: communing with his father while eating with and serving the broken, the vulnerable, the least, the abused, the abandoned.

I don’t ask that we want less of God’s word. I ask that we hunger, thirst, and depend on it for the survival of our souls. I want us so engaged in being light in the darkest of places that we realize without God’s word we will forget that our actions are not to earn merit with God, but to worship him for who he is and what he is doing. I want us so active in the race set before us that we realize without God’s word, we will grow cynical or drown in depression because the evil around us is that great.

I want us to stop attending conferences, bible studies, and reading books while comfortably sitting on our couch enjoying the extra dressing the Word is to our already too-high calorie diet. I want us to stop reaching for God’s word like it’s a bag of chips that never asks us to give up our addictions, privileges, safety, security, or comfort.

I want us to run to God’s word, to dream of the moment we get time to pray with one another, to long for deep fellowship with one another because we are so tired that without it we cannot sustain a joyful faith.

That is when God’s word becomes alive, sharper then a two edged sword, living and active, ready to divide

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“Doing Great Things for God”… as a mom

A few nights ago, I read this post called “when you want to do great things for God”….From one hope-to-be “warrior mom” to another…. I found much of this post encouraging and thought some of you may too. I love the idea of being a “warrior mom” in the Ephesians 6 type of way. We do not war against flesh and blood. What a joy it is to have littles in your home and watch God shape you and them as you love one another.

A few nuances I’ll add…because I think it’s important for “stay at home” moms and working moms to not consider our tasks too different from one another or to group together based on one or the other “label.” Some of the best parenting advice I got recently came from a gal with no kids who responded to my confession of falling short with a kiddo with the great advice that went something along the lines of, “yeah, I’m sure you are screwing up your kids. You’re not Jesus. They only need one Jesus. They just gotta see you be quick to run to him in worship for wisdom and grace.” #word

(Here are my thoughts on the original post to stay at home moms):

1) No matter where God has you & what gifts he’s given you: sweeping milk off the floor isn’t a distraction from that but an act of service to Jesus if done with a joyful heart. Its also not exclusive to motherhood (or even parenthood)…some of the dearest Jesus loving men I know with high pressure jobs sweep milk off the floor and cook dinner. Mundane service to others does not prevent mothers or fathers from using their gifts for the kingdom of God… These type of mundane things shape the gifts God’s given you to be used for his glory instead of your own.

2) A mom who works at home or a mom with a paid job…. Both of us need to find ways to use the gifts God’s given us: to serve him, our family, & the vulnerable. Don’t pursue greatness & don’t pursue dreams… Pursue faithfulness to Jesus. This looks differently for each of us… For some it’s starting and running a nonprofit, for others it’s being the homeroom mom. Neither one is “greater” then the other. The question for both of us is, do we do this with great love for the Lord and for the people around us (which includes our kids) or do we do this for man’s approval and accolades… That is how we will be judged.

Some moms are going to end up leading some ministry that serves hundreds and others are going to have their couch available during nap time for one hurting person to cry on and be loved on at a time. Each mother will be measured by her faithfulness to steward the talents God’s given her well.

The goal isn’t to be a “great” Christian leader OR even a “great” mom, but a faithful daughter of the King.

3) I’m convinced many of our “great” dreams are simply a desire to be famous/ heroic. It’s imparted almost from birth to us by a consumerist culture who thinks being a celebrity is the goal of human life or that bigger is somehow better.

If you could sit with these great Christians the author listed (like Amy Carmichael or Elizabeth Elliot)… They would probably tell you with great  humility that somehow their name became the one to represent a work or movement that was really made up by a group of dear friends and if they were connected to other cities and places…they would also add that God did similar things through multiple other groups of friend at the same time. Mother Theresa’s would tell you her greatness was actually much more about the many weak she loved and the group of nuns who surrounded her. Without them she would be unknown.

Great things are not done by one person…. They are done by many. The Spirit never moves on one person to accomplish God’s purposes.

So dear sister… Let’s be faithful to loving & serving Jesus. Lets not stand at arms length from each other (“I could never handle what she does…when does she sleep?” or “that woman has it easy, she’s only got 1 kid and no job”) lets embrace one another, knowing we have much in common…we are all trying to fight selfishness and live more in-step with the Spirit each day as we seek to fulfill the calling he has placed on each of us to love and faithfully serve Him, this hurting world, and the family he has placed us in.

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Somber Saturday

Saturday….. The day Jesus body laid dead & lifeless in the tomb.

Saturday… Creation held its breath. Was the hope of restoration gone?

Saturday…His gut-wrenched followers knew not what to do with their brokenness. Was there purpose to continue to relate together as family? Would the many wrongs of that previous night be too much to ever allow them to trust to one another again? Should they return to their previous family? Had the miraculous work among the poor and sick been for naught?

Saturday… The day your first name becomes “doubting”… The day you become known for denial of the greatest love of your life. Saturday is the day not just of broken dreams, but of lost hope. The kind of hopelessness that brings about the darkest thoughts and fears. Saturday…the day you hang yourself.

Saturday … The day given to us to remind us that the world is drowning in THE Saturday. We move so quickly to Sunday as though it were all about ourselves, we forget to sit and be WITH the ones around us stuck in Saturday….They have lost hope, all around them darkness closes in.

Saturday… The day the followers of Jesus remember that he came to save us so that we could be the hope, so that we could be the light that loudly proclaims in word and deed:

“Oh, but Sunday is coming…”

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Carrying the Suffering of the World

Take a few moments to sit and think about a time in life that you experienced bone aching, earth shattering grief.

Perhaps it was the night that you realized your marriage was empty and lonely, seemingly hopeless. Maybe it was those final weeks in the hospital watching a dear loved one pass away and the anguish of seeing someone you care about suffer.

Maybe it was the loss of a significant job or opportunity that you had poured yourself into.

Perhaps it was a crushing financial burden in which you were unsure how to work your way out of the situation.

These seasons of suffering in our life are accompanied by great grief. I’m talking about the grief that interrupts your sleep, the grief you literally feel aching in your bones. The heaviness of life that makes us wonder why we should get out of bed.

Our physical bodies take a toll to the emotional pain this world throws at us.

The sin of others: a betrayal, being cheated on, someone in power over you acting cruel or belittling you. All these things place burdens on us. Our muscles are tense, our head pounds. There is a heaviness.

Perhaps it is the consequences of your own sin: you sit with the guilt and shame of wounding someone you love, you feel overwhelmed by the constant self-indulging and self-gratifying behaviors you continually participate in. You carry shame and sorrow.

Then there is just the consequences of living in a fallen world. Our bodies can be consumed by cancer, our minds affected by the constant noise consumerism produces robbing all peace, the polluted air heightens our kid’s asthma and we spend weekends in the ER. We feel discouraged, annoyed… we grieve over the consequences to us and our loved ones that these random attacks have on our health that we have no control over.

This is part of the weight of sin. It is heavy. It is painful. This weight at times can be too much to bear and we suffer, we languish, we grieve.

On Good Friday, Christ bore that weight. Yes, he paid a penalty for the world’s sin (Isaiah 53:5) and the atonement is a beautiful thing to reflect on today, but he also bore the weight (1 Peter 2:24) of our sin. But even still, the weight he bore is much more than the examples I just described.

We navigate through life and feel the weight of our broken world because of our individual experience with pain and suffering. But Christ, in entering our humanity, bore the weight of the entire fallen world. Every individual along with all of creation. We hear our individual groanings that this is not the way it is supposed to be, but Christ heard, felt, and carried on his shoulders the groans of all creation.

Imagine for a moment that you didn’t only feel your own burdens and pain, but the weight of every other person sitting in your church. Imagine you felt the pain that lingers in your friend who experienced sexual abuse as a child as though it were your own, imagine the most grotesque and shameful sins represented among your network of friends…what would it be like to feel the weight of those sins as though you yourself had participated in every single act? Imagine that you could feel the grief that led to every tear that was shed by someone in your church from this last year over death, broken bodies, and failing health.

To carry the weight of others suffering is extremely challenging and painful. Imagine not just carrying it for those in your circle of friends, but for the entire world for all of human history.

That is what happened on Good Friday.

Christ carried the burden of the entire world’s suffering, pain, and shame. This was part of the anguish Jesus experienced as he prayed for God’s will to be done in the Garden.

Jesus didn’t just pay a penalty in the sense of being a prisoner for our sake…he actually bore the shame and stigma of being a prisoner. He felt the loneliness and hopelessness that presses down on prisoners.

Jesus didn’t just pay the penalty for adultery. He felt the shame, experienced the heartache of the victims, felt the grief of the wreckage caused by this.

Jesus didn’t just break the curse of death, allowing creation to get one step closer to being renewed. He saw the wreckage death has brought into the earth, he felt the pain, shame, and aloneness of the lepers. He endured the pain of a suffering mother whose child died too young from cancer. He carried the doubt of the blind. He knew the isolation of children with autism and what it felt like to be dismissed.

Jesus didn’t just spend a few hours on the cross in order to establish his kingdom. He experienced the full weight of oppression and the consequences of injustice that every single system, institution, and government brings down on all of the weak and all of the vulnerable.

Consider the following verses as being more than a substitutionary atonement. Paying a legal penalty for our sin IS a part of the cross, but it is more than that….consider the weight Jesus bore for our sake. Consider what it would have been like to hold the shame of all sin. Consider the experience of carrying the devastating consequences of all sin. Consider the beautiful, terrible cross….

“He himself bore our sins (think beyond individuals, think global/cosmic/all of human history) in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds (think in addition to physical wounds, the emotional weight and anguish) you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:24

“But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” –Isaiah 53:5

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” –Isaiah 53:4-5

These are weights be can barely handle carrying for ourselves, they are weights we try and fail to carry with our loved ones, they are weights we would never consider carrying for our enemies. But this is the good news, that while we were still God’s enemy…he entered our humanity and bore the weight of all suffering that sin produces in this world. Thank you Lord for Good Friday.

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on Ferguson, part two

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” Mark 9:42

Notice that Jesus uses the word “sin”…he does not say “it is okay, it wasn’t really their fault.” He judges the little one’s actions/thoughts as sin, regardless of whose fault it was. But he puts the greater blame and warning on the one who causes the sin.

I think this type of nuance is extremely difficult for Americans to wrap their minds around because we aren’t used to nuance and we do not like it. We prefer simple clear right vs. wrong. We want a clear “offender” and a specific “victim.” We want textbook scientific answers to respond to every news story, every public policy, every current event but the Scriptures give us a symphony, not a textbook.

Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech is historic, but there is much more to what he had to say then a few lines our kids memorize in third grade. Young people followed King because he was a “transformed nonconformist.” We talk about responding non-violently and throw out MLK quotes as though the alternative is to passively do nothing. The alternative for Dr. King to violence was sacrificing his body, his sleep, his money, his prestige, and the privileges he had in order to not conform to the evil and sin present in his community.

King challenges us to join him in giving up our privileges, comfort, safety, and security to engage in justice issues. Would he condone rioting? No. But he would understand it and would ask that instead of judging it you be willing to risk all that you have to do something about the plight of impoverished communities. He would warn you that the Jericho road is dangerous. Perhaps the person laying on the side of the road is faking it and just trying to rob you, perhaps robbers wait to ambush you, perhaps you have greater things to worry about, but he would join Christ in asking you to walk the dangerous journey.

Those who are feeling pain by Ferguson and empathizing with those who riot are not saying the rioting is okay. We are not saying it is not “sinful” to riot. Empathy is understanding not necessarily condoning. It is identifying with the one who is angry or lamenting at it all, not saying “please keep doing what you are doing.” Empathy is why Christ was able to weep with Mary and Martha, even though he knew he was about to resurrect Lazarus.

There is a larger narrative and the Michael Brown case is one small story in the midst of the long, tiring, wearisome road that is racial inequality and injustice. If you want to argue the facts of this specific case, then you are missing out on understanding first the larger narrative that makes discussing the details with someone who is angry right now similar to sitting down at a table with someone who speaks a different language. You will only speak past each other if you don’t first understand the two different grids in which these stories are being interpreted.

If you are sick of “talking” about this topic of race then stop talking and just listen. If we slow down long enough to listen to our neighbor, we would know that there is empathy being shared with Ferguson because of what Brown symbolizes, not a condonement of violence. Brown, regardless of this particular case, is symbolic of a much larger story at play in impoverished minority communities across our country.

A clean crisp environment with healthy soil, sunlight, and water promotes an environment for plants to thrive in. A polluted, dark, dry area creates sick plants. A culture of injustice and oppression creates an environment in which those experiencing oppression get sicker and weaker. Do they sin? Of course. Are they responsible for that sin? Yes. But our racial history, current apathy, and hatred of the poor contribute negatively to the environment in impoverished communities in such a way that it makes it easier for sin to fester. In the Mark 9 illustration, we who are middle class are not the “little one” but the one who would be better off having a millstone tied around our neck.

How is it that as Christians we can believe that our sin was so massive that Christ literally bled and died on the cross for our sin, yet sin cannot then be massive enough to contribute to any systemic, societal sins? Isn’t death itself the most obvious communal consequence of the results of sin? If the entire world can experience death through the sin of Adam, is it so hard to imagine then that justice systems, institutions, and opportunities within communities are not subject to the same communal consequences of sin that our own bodies must face? Is it so hard to wrap our mind around not being able to neatly draw lines between our heroes and villains? So even if an individual within a system is not acting sinfully, they may still be part of a system that breaks apart at the seams due to the long term systemic consequences of sin that are particular to our culture and time.

Isn’t that the beauty of the gospel that even if we have contributed to oppression in some way, there is good news for us? We never have to fear the danger of being seen as an oppressor versus a victim because the gospel tells us it is the very fact that we oppress that we need Jesus. We never need to fear having privileges because these privileges are given to use for the sake of those without.

We can stand back and judge the actions of those suffering from the sick environment that systemic sin produces. We can just look to individual sins and judge them, not considering the role that the environment plays to cultivate individual sin like bacteria stuck in a petri dish. Or we can ask what we must sacrifice, what we must suffer, how do we enter that world and be the loving neighbor Christ has called us to be?

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lessons in a segmented life

I am so thankful for the few Saturdays Roosevelt family came over to help get my grandparents moved in or help us dust/clean/scoop water out of our living room. It has been such a blessing.

The last six weeks have been extremely challenging. We had a few (that may be an understatement) things happen in the midst of renovating our home that led to ruined floors, wet drywall, damaged furniture…then on top of that we found ourselves in the ER multiple times for a fractured ankle of one child, flaired asthma of another, a baby with a respiratory infection. We had to move out of our home for a month and then moved back into our home while it was still in complete chaos and in the midst of all of this I kept telling myself, “this too shall pass.”

This has been an intense season for our family, yet I felt conflicted labeling these things as “struggles” considering how completely temporary they are. A messy home temporarily while we get a chance to live in a home more amazing then I could dream up? Sickness that God’s provision through medicine and science would allow to quickly go away? Being displaced from our home and having the blessing of extended family close by to stay with? Every challenge we have faced has felt minor in comparison to others we love who are suffering and in the midst of exhaustion and stress, we have seen God’s provision and grace in countless ways.

But even knowing that at an intellectual level, for the last 6 weeks, the moment I walk into my home I have felt an instant wave of discouragement and heavy burden about the work ahead. What then has unfolded daily is some of the most embarrassing, pitiful moments where every flaw and sinful tendency I have has been on full display for every member of our family to experience and see. So I laid in bed every night replaying how poorly the day went asking myself why these temporary, “meaningless” challenges were getting to me so much and falling asleep trying to rest in God’s grace to get us to the other side of this.

Now that we are finally coming out on the other end of it (although I would love to rush the process..I’m thinking it will be 2015 before we are fully back into our “normal” routines and habits), I have some time to sit and reflect and here are a few lessons I’m learning along the way….

1) I have this deep belief that I can handle almost anything and I have taken sinful pride in that. I’ve had some interesting/ intense living situations and always felt like I could handle stress well. This season has revealed pride that I didn’t know was there and opened my eyes to judgment I have then held to people who don’t “handle” stress well. I wonder how many times I have lacked empathy for someone who felt overwhelmed by something I didn’t think was that overwhelming. This experience is uncovering an entirely new layer to ways I could love others better.

2) I really minimize the impact of this physical/ material world on myself and segment it away from my emotional and spiritual life. I have no problem being real with my community when I am struggling through something that I put in a “spiritual” category or an “emotional” struggle, but sharing a that I’m burdened by physical exhaustion or 4 weeks straight of endless dusting? That feels silly to me and I have been surprised by how difficult it is to tell the same women I trust with more “serious” things, the fact that this experience has brought out the worst in me. The “segmented life” approach that is so prevalent in our culture played out in so many ways these last two months for me.

3) Environment matters. For weeks we had no table to eat dinner on as a family, no games or toys to sit down and play as a family, no access to the chairs we sit in to read our Bibles and drink our coffee in… Again, on surface: I’ve tended to lable these as silly, meaningless “physical”things. But what I’ve discovered along the way is that all these things really matter. My kids behaviors have been unlike anything I’ve seen and I’ve either reacted too harshly or ignored altogether and I know their behaviors and mine have been a consequence of our environment. I can feel the impatience, lack of kindness in speech and tone, frustration over small things and yet while aware of them: felt too tired to respond differently. Vermon and I could go to a coffee shop and have a logical enjoyable conversation, but in the midst of the mess of our home it felt like we were dumb and dumber.

Clearly, all sinful behaviors and attitudes I have had these past two months I am fully responsible for, but it is humbling to see that sanctification is all grace. It is easy in my independent; confident, “I can do it” spirit to think I can “make” myself be more kind, loving, etc. But to be in such a raw place, find myself noticing the words flying out of my mouth sound mean, yet truly feel incapable of responding differently was eye opening to me. I realized how deep down I do not depend on the spirit enough to sanctify me, how much more I need to depend on the Lord to stir my love for others. I can’t just “will” myself to be like Jesus… it must be a work of the spirit work (and I need time alone with the Lord for that work to happen).

And… now we are coming out on the other end of a challenging season… As of this past weekend I felt like we could breath in our home again (granted still a lot to do). Dinner back together as a family, kids laughing and playing together, family devotions, times snuggled on our couch reading, bubble baths… instantly our kids went back to “themselves”…I feel more sane. I am aware that without the 2 Saturdays of friends helping out, some meals, babysitting, and encouraging words along the way we would have probably had another month ahead of us of crazy…

Which all this leads me to think about two populations:

1) the foster child. In these last two months the few times we were visiting someone in their calm, peaceful home I found my heart literally beat slower. If this experience has brought out the ugliest parts of my heart—what do you expect when a 4, 9, or 15 year old has had to live in such chaos for so long? I think it will still be a few weeks before I feel fully back to myself. Why do we expect this to happen fast for children who are not just experiencing a stressful environment, but also have to grieve losses of relationships? Foster children get labeled so quickly when the reality is…the environment they are in just hasn’t provided them opportunity to really be themselves. The stress is toxic and brings out irrational, illogical behavior. Give them calm, nurturing, consistent, loving environment and over the years you will see beauty thats always been there blossom.

2) the poor. Many don’t just go through a stressful home environment for a few months, but for so many there are years, decades that their physical world is deeply impacted by the stress of poverty. Throw in domestic violence and that adds even more to the stress. When we sit in our comfortable homes fully in control of most of our life and criticize the poor, complain about them wanting “handouts,” get annoyed by behaviors we don’t relate to I think we fail to realize how much of our ability to finish college, have a good job, take care of our “things” is connected to the privileges we had growing up. And regardless of our childhoods, what we currently have allows us to think critically, explore, discover. Stressful environments make all these things difficult.

A desire for control is sinful when it becomes something we must have above all else, but some control over your environment is important for the health of our bodies, minds, and soul. A lack of control over all aspects of your environment feels like drowning. If we are privileged to be middle class, there is a Christian responsibility to love those who are poor by entering into their world and identifying with the struggles they experience. Try to understand and wrap your mind around having no control over anything in your life. It is easy to segment the spiritual from the physical when we are comfortably living in privilege. But if your physical environment is deeply impacted by chronic, on-going stress you understand that there is no division between physical suffering and spiritual challenges.

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