“This is not my life.”
“Those are not my children.”
“That is not my husband.”
Have you ever looked around at your life and thought any of these things? I mean, this isn’t what we signed up for, right? No one told us the day we walked down that isle or the day we graduated from school or the day we heard our child’s first cry that things would one day take us to the brink of despair.
That’s someone else’s life. That’s not mine.
But then one day it is. One day you wake up and all those women whose lives were battered by unfaithful spouses or lost children or sickness or death are suddenly not just remote prayer requests. No longer can you abstractly look at those sad and torn lives and feel sympathy. Now you are smack in the middle of empathy. You’re living it, and the only thing you can do is look around and wonder, “What happened?”
The truth is that if you’ve been an adult woman for longer than three minutes, you will have experienced these emotions, and you’ll experience them more than once. We were never promised a rose garden in this life, and for the most part, we realize that.
But sometimes it’s not just a weed-infested garden that we find ourselves in the middle of. It’s a pool of sticky, slimy toxic waste, and we think, “Nope. This is not my life.”
What are we to do in those moments? What does a Christian woman do when even getting out of bed seems abundantly out of the question?
I have recently experienced yet another of those seasons in my life as a woman, wife, and mother, and I was struck with these thoughts in rapid succession. Huddled in the corner of my bedroom, lights off, and curled up so tightly on the floor that my joints ached, the despair caught me almost off-guard. I wasn’t even crying correctly because I couldn’t breathe well enough to make a sound. I just rocked and gasped for air. And then my thoughts changed from “This is not my life” to “I have to fix this!”
Isn’t that the way we are? That’s how God created us women. We manage things. Paul referred to women as the “managers of the house” in Titus 2:5, and managers manage things. Consequently, our first instincts are to manage our situations.
It only took me a few minutes, however, to realize that I couldn’t manage anyone out of anything this time, and instead of moving from that realization toward Christian resolution, I moved toward anger with God.
“I know You think I’m this strong. I know You think I can handle this, and I know You said I wouldn’t be given anything more than I could handle, but I’m not this strong! This is too much!”
Of course, I didn’t actually yell these things out loud, although I have before. No, this time I screamed with boldness in my head. I really was confounded by God’s apparent misidentification of my supposed strength. I needed Him to reconsider.
Have you ever felt this way? Are you feeling it now?
I am ever amazed at our Father’s grace. I’m in awe of His constant and abiding love and patience toward us. He could have yelled back at me right then. He could have struck me down completely for my irreverence. That would have been warranted.
However, what He gently did was fill my head with these words:
Debbie, I do not ordain these things in your life to point you to your own strength. I ordain them to move you toward Mine.
You see, it will forever be our propensity to try and make things about us. It’s my knee-jerk reaction to bolster my own fortitude and figure things out, and then to be angry when I’m just not strong enough or smart enough or tolerant enough or when I feel forced to do things on my own. This is unfortunately an anger that when harbored will quickly turn into bitterness.
Indeed there are a lot of bitter women out there, and among them is no small number of bitter Christian women. Why? Because we simply aren’t strong enough, and truthfully, that was never God’s point.
Everything is about Him, and these times are meant to bring attention to Him, to His strength, His love, His mercy, His care, His tolerance, His grace, and His perfect plan.
What do we do as Christian women in moments of such complete despair that we can’t even breathe?
I was pouring out to a dear friend in the middle of this—which, by the way, I highly encourage you to do—and she reminded me of exactly what we are to do when we look at the life we now live and wonder how it all went so wrong so quickly. She reminded me of Psalm 121,
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
When you are on your bedroom floor and the pain is beyond your ability to bear, you do the only thing you can do, you do the only thing you should do, and you lift up your eyes.
Jesus told us in Matthew 11:28-30,
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
There are going to be moments in these lives as pilgrims in this foreign land when we are nothing less than confused by the things that happen. We can become downcast in our souls over the heartache inflicted on us by the ones we love the most, and we will gaze at our circumstances with a sadness that feels insurmountable.
What do we do?
We lift our tired, tear dimmed eyes toward heaven and unto our Father. We rest in His divine and loving purposes. After all, we have a hope that the world does not share, a hope and an assurance that we do not serve a God who is an “absentee Father.” Our Lord is fully involved in the lives of His children, and He has promised us that He has a plan, a plan that will not harm us but will bring us a hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11) He has promised us that all of our lives are purposed for our good and His glory. (Romans 8:28)
So, my sisters, lift up your eyes to the hills. From where does your help come? Your help comes from the Lord, the very Maker of the heavens and the earth.
When is the last time you so enjoyed spending time with others that you never looked at your watch, never checked your phone? Michael Hyatt, Don McMinn and Chet Weld taught me these life-changing principles. I dreaded group meetings, dinners and parties. Now I relish them! Here’s what I learned about the art of conversation:
Set the stage. Try to arrange a quiet, welcoming atmosphere where everyone can see and hear each other. Eliminate distractions and greet everyone warmly and personally. An “in the round” conversation space is great. Food is always a good idea! Hopefully, electronic devices can disappear for a little while….
Try the “one conversation rule.” One conversation means that everyone is talking about the same topic at the same time. Pose an engaging question to which everyone can relate. When you establish the one-conversation rule, everybody gets a chance to talk. You draw out the people who are not contributing or not speaking up, and you get a sense of what they have to say as well.
Listen attentively. Don’t rush to respond. Show by your body language that you care about them. Stop trying to formulate your response while they talk. Use feeling words to let them know you are not just responding with your head, but also with your heart. Be comforting. Be connected. Be curious.
Now, hold that moment. Don’t be afraid of silence. When you treasure what they say, you affirm who they are. You impart acceptance and value to them.
Empathize. A hurting person needs sympathy and comfort. Every person needs empathy. Webster defines empathy as “an understanding, awareness or sensitivity to someone else; even to vicariously experience those feelings with them.”
Often your presence is more powerful than your words.
Be aware of how much you are talking. Draw the introverts out. Good conversation is like tennis. Serve, return, serve, return. Every good conversation is a dialogue. Allow others to respond. If someone is overlooked, try to include them and kindly respond to their comments.
Ask follow-up questions. Be sure they are open-ended. This is not a book report! Open-ended questions prove that you’re engaged with your heart and your mind. “How did that make you feel?” “What have you learned?” “How has that circumstance or event changed you?”
Provide positive feedback. It lets the other person know that, yes, you’re engaged, but it also communicates a sense of safety. They can continue to talk and dialogue with you. Thank them for their contribution.
Conversation is an art. I want to be an artist, don’t you?
-And He is perfect. He perfectly lived and perfectly gave Himself as a sacrifice so that we might live forever. (Romans 3:21-26)
-Mary and Joseph believed the angel when he told them of what this pregnancy would mean. Aren’t you grateful that their faith began our path? (Matthew 2:18-25; Luke 1:26-38)
-What an amazing gift to be given so many witnesses of our Savior’s birth, even to three men who were also told about the coming of the great Messiah. (Matthew 2:1-12)
-When Jesus died, the soldiers divided His belongings up among themselves, one for each of the four soldiers. God used these Roman soldiers, who were unaware of Holy Scripture, to fulfill the prophecy in Psalm 22:18. (John 19:23-24)
-Jesus fed 5000 men, not counting women and children, with only five barley loaves and two fish. How much more can He do in our lives with what we may see as only a little? (John 6:1-13)
-Our Savior’s first miracle began with six jugs of water at a wedding feast. Jesus turned that water into wine, and this was His first recorded miracle, miracles that continue with our salvation today. (John 2:1-11)
7 On the seventh day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me, seventy times seven, six jugs of water, five thousand men, four pieces of clothing, three wise men, two trusted servants, and One Perfect Loving Savior.
-Jesus gave us the perfect example of forgiveness, but He also gave us practical advice. When Peter asked how many times we should forgive someone who wrongs us, Jesus said not only seven times, but seventy times seven. In other words, always. And do you know what is most wonderful about that? We all need unlimited forgiveness, and Jesus promises that we will get it! (Matthew 18:21-22)
8 On the eighth day of Christmas, my True Love gave tome, eight days to naming, seventy times seven, six jugs of water, five thousand men, four pieces of clothing, three wise men, two trusted servants, and One Perfect Loving Savior.
-Jesus kept the Law perfectly on our behalf, even in that he wasn’t officially named “Jesus” until eight days after His earthly birth, the time of purification according to the Law of Moses. He did for us what we could never do, and in that substitutionary sacrifice, we are now made perfect in Him. (Luke 2:22)
9 On the ninth day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me, ninety-nine left wandering, eight days to naming, seventy times seven, six jugs of water, five thousand men, four pieces of clothing, three wise men, two trusted servants, and One Perfect Loving Savior.
-In the Parable of the Lost Sheep, Jesus explains that just as the shepherd will leave the ninety-nine safe sheep and go after the one that is lost, so He will continually seek those of us who have lost our way. What a Savior!! (Matthew 18:10-14)
10 On the tenth day of Christmas, my True Love Gave to me, ten times the inheritance, ninety-nine left wondering, eight days to naming, seventy times seven, six jugs of water, five thousand men, four pieces of clothing, three wise men, two trusted servants, and One Perfect Loving Savior.
-Likewise, in the Parable of the Ten Minas, Jesus explains that those of us who use our gifts wisely to the advancement of His kingdom will receive ten times our inheritance. Though an earthly example, Jesus was assuring us that He will reward us in the hereafter, and His promises are sure! (Luke 19:11-18)
11 On the eleventh day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me, eleven apostles sent, ten times the inheritance, ninety-nine left wondering, eight days to naming, seventy times seven, six jugs of water, five thousand men, four pieces of clothing, three wise men, two trusted servants, and One Perfect Loving Savior.
-After rebuking their unbelief that He had indeed been resurrected, Jesus sent the eleven rejoicing apostles out into the world, telling them to proclaim the Gospel to every living person. Because of this commission, all of us who accept Him as our loving Savior will live in eternity with Him. Hallelujah! (Mark 16:14-16)
12 On the twelfth day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me, twelve obedient men, eleven apostles sent, ten times the inheritance, ninety-nine left wondering, eight days to naming, seventy times seven, six jugs of water, five thousand men, four pieces of clothing, three wise men, two trusted servants, and One Perfect Loving Savior.
-Jesus started with these twelve men, men of low standing and often even low character, men who would never have been chosen by human standards. But He chose them, just as He has chosen us, to be His and to work in His kingdom. Jesus began with these twelve men, and 2000+ years later, millions now join them. (Matthew 10:2)
On the twelfth day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me:
Twelve obedient men,
Eleven apostles sent,
Ten times the inheritance,
Ninety-nine left wondering,
Eight days to naming,
Seventy times seven,
Six jugs of water,
Five thousand men,
Four pieces of clothing,
Three wise men,
Two trusted servants,
And One Perfect Loving Savior!!
This morning I was reading the Book of Joshua, one of my favorite books in the Bible. I love the character of Joshua and how he handled such a difficult situation with grace and dignity. More than share about an idea I squeezed out of the text, I want to invite you into this story with me. It may seem silly, but that’s okay. For the next few moments, let your imagination run with it, in fact, let your imagination run wild. Imagine yourself in the story, see the plot through the lens of different characters. Maybe begin by reading through a passage as Joshua and then go back to see it from the perspective of those living in Jericho. Open yourself up to see this story from a new perspective and allow your eyes to see something that you hadn’t noticed before.
Are you ready? Okay, let’s begin.
Before we even begin to read the text, I want you to remember what you know about the people of Israel. They, as a people group, went from being slaves to being wanderers. For 40 years these people marched around the desert; they had to wait for the old generation to die off before entering into promise. How do you think these people felt? Maybe they were small children or teenagers when they came out of Egypt. They had heard all their lives about the signs and wonders of God and seen him perform miracles as he provided for them in the desert. Now was their time: they were entering into the promised land.
Imagine the excitement that flooded their hearts and minds. I probably would’ve felt scared or some trepidation because the thing so long awaited was finally here! I wonder if they continued to complain or if they exuded worship. Moses, their leader who they had been following their entire lives, had died and his apprentice was appointed their new leader. With excitement and determination the entire nation agreed to follow him in the same manner they had followed Moses. They exuberantly expressed their determination to follow God and all his precepts. They steadfastly promised to not depart from God or his law.
The nation moves closer to their promise. I wonder if, as they grew closer, selfishness began to make itself known. I wonder if people began to grow more concerned about getting enough for themselves and less about the good of nation. How would you have felt crossing the river and seeing different scenery than you had before? I wonder if anyone swooned or cried upon seeing the land flowing with milk and honey. Did anyone have a heart attack upon seeing the beauty of the land or the size of the inhabitants?
I wonder if their countenance fell when they saw the size of Jericho. Or did they remain full of faith and hope? Jericho was essentially a fortress, it was impregnable. If the people living there didn’t want you inside, there was no way you were getting in. I think that’s probably why the Lord picked Jericho first. Have you ever thought about the fact that the Lord could’ve directed them to start taking over the land in a different area? God could’ve eased them into this idea, defeating the smaller towns first, to build up their confidence, but he didn’t. God wanted to show himself strong when the people of Israel could do nothing to assist him.
So, the Lord speaks to Joshua and downloads what’s arguably the most absurd battle plan ever: walk silently. In my mind, I always pictured a group of 100-200 people marching around this rather large wall, but in reality that number was in the thousands. Joshua 4:13 says “About 40,000 ready for war passed over before the Lord for battle, to the pains of Jericho”. Can you even imagine what it would be like to walk around a wall silently with a group of 40,000 people? Imagine how loud their footsteps would be! They would be a thundering herd who never spoke a word. I wonder how the people living inside the wall felt, did they think it was an earthquake? Or did they look outside and taunt the Israelites for their foolishness?
The Israelites obeyed and stayed silent. I wonder if they prayed quietly to themselves as they walked. Did they come up with creative hand signals to communicate with each other or were they on-task? I know I would’ve had a hard time keeping my trap shut, but I suppose there was great motivation to obey.
For 6 days they repeated this long walk. The city of Jericho itself was about 6 acres, not including the large wall and moat that surrounded it. These people were getting their workout! I wonder if feelings of uselessness or frustration began to grow in them as the days marched on. After all, they had just been wandering aimlessly in the desert for 40 years.
But then the 7th day came. I’m sure the excitement was palpable. I’m surprised they were able to hold it together for that long! I wonder if the walk that day was at a quicker pace than normal; were they almost sprinting there at the end of their 7th lap? I would imagine, though their bodies probably ached from the distance they had walked, their spirits were lifted and adrenaline was pumping, fueling them to continue forward.
Then, the moment they had been waiting for came: it came time to shout.
Imagine that sound! 40,000 people with trumpets and pent up noise within them, shouting for victory. For 40 years they had been aimless, without victory, without a home, without anything other than the provision of God, and they were about to claim the first of many promises. I like to imagine that God was smiling from ear to ear, proud of his precious people for their obedience and faith. Then the walls came down. I wonder if, because of their noise, they didn’t realize that it was happening right away. I wonder if someone in the crowd excitedly began to point as a section of the wall began to crumble right before their eyes. Then, I imagine, the shout from the crowd grew louder as they saw God come through on his promise.
One of the most beautiful things about this story is the faithfulness of God. Rahab was a prostitute living in the wall of Jericho and her whole family was spared because God had honored his promise. She ended up living with the nation of Israel for the rest of her days and is an important figure in the lineage of Jesus.
God is faithful and his promises are true. This questioning and imagining that we just went through isn’t just limited to Bible stories, but can be used in our everyday lives. When someone’s telling you a story about their lives, ask questions, and put yourself into their shoes. Insert yourself into their story and try to see things the way they do. I believe God is honored when we take a little extra time to look deeper than the surface.
Thank you for imagining with me today!
Don’t laugh. If you live in America, then at one time or another you have walked through a Walmart near you and thought, “Who are these people?” I laughingly admitted to my husband and son the other night that I have to repent every single time I leave Walmart for the unkind and sinful thoughts that run rampant through my mind as I walk through the aisles. I truthfully don’t want to admit what these thoughts are, but the subject matter ranges from cart driving ability to attire choice while shopping for groceries.
The problem is that these thoughts often lead to anger, and just as often I leave my neighborhood Walmart having to deal with that anger. Not long ago, my son and I were shopping there and as we left I proclaimed, “I am not shopping here anymore! These people are Walmartians!!”
Consequently, the next week we went to what I thought was a less aggravating and more posh grocery store. My son and I were wandering through the aisles of this food paradise “ooh-ing” and “ahh-ing” over every little thing when we found ourselves standing in front of a vast array of different types of teas. After a few minutes of talking excitedly about all the many sorts of teas we saw, my son looked around him and saw other shoppers looking at us with the same kinds of looks I usually gave out while shopping at that “other place.” That’s when he pulled me aside and whispered, “Mom, we have to go. I think we are Walmartians!”
I giggled, then agreed, and then rather hurriedly left and went to Walmart.
Now, I could go to a lot of lessons from this terrible reflection into my heart, but as we round the corner on Thanksgiving, I can’t help thinking of my beautiful African friends in Malawi and Zimbabwe and Liberia and Kenya. They have no Walmart. The truth is, they often don’t have food at all. Mothers wander around villages that have been decimated by drought and floods and disease trying desperately to find food, any food, but they can’t. There are no food kitchens or welfare programs or even trash cans from which they can scavenge food for their little ones. There is no food. Period.
Priscilla Mgala, my precious friend from Malawi, tells the story of two widows in the village near her who were trying desperately to find food for their children. They went into the bush to try and find something they could cook. They found some roots that looked very much like cassava roots, so they pulled them out of the ground and took them back to the village. There they cooked these roots and served them to their children. Two of the little ones died before morning. Can you imagine the desperation it takes to give your children something that you don’t even recognize simply because you want to fill their sweet, hungry bellies? And then can you imagine the utter terror when you find them dead the next morning because of what you fed them?
When I think of the plight of women just like me, women whose only difference from me is that they were born in a poor country in Africa instead of this great land we call home, I cringe at my silly American attitude when I don’t like the kinds of people I see at Walmart. I’m ashamed that I think I have any right to be picky, especially when I am faced with the tremendous blessing God has given me of being born in America where food is literally everywhere.
And then, my friends, I am struck with what real thankfulness should be. Real thankfulness is looking beyond my over-privileged lifestyle and looking toward others who need what I take for granted. A real perspective on thankfulness is not disparaging this country because some of its leaders don’t lead exactly how I think they should. Real thankfulness doesn’t spit on our flag or protest in our streets or threaten to leave simply because I disagree with an election.
Real thankfulness looks upward, not outward, and says, “Thank you, Lord, for letting me be born in a country where I can go to Walmart. Thank you, Father, that I get to be a Walmartian.”
Finally, real thankfulness is exemplified in those who don’t scoff at the tremendous blessings they have received simply because God allowed them to be born in America. Real thankfulness is instead found in those who willingly and without measure share with those who weren’t so fortunate in the place of their birth. So, I urge you, sisters and brothers, look outside of your walls and even outside of your country and be thankful this year…truly thankful. Find somewhere to give to another. Stop lamenting about the people you don’t like here and thank God that He let you be born here!
This year, let Thanksgiving be about giving, not complaining.
And if you are a Walmartian, I’ll see you in the aisles!
***If you would like to give to women in need this year, especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas, please consider contributing to the Reap What You Sew Project, a tailoring school we at Love Everlasting Ministires are launching in Malawi, Africa in April of 2017. The school will give the training necessary so that widows and destitute women in that country can run their own businesses and finally be able to feed themselves and their children. To donate, visit LoveEverlastingMinistries.com now. We appreciate any support you can give. God bless you.
Our culture glorifies “hustle”. If you do a quick Google search you’ll find countless memes about this theme and how exactly to hustle well. According to Urban Dictionary “hustle” means: “Anything you need to do to make money… be it sellin’ cars, drugs, ya body. If you makin’ money, you hustlin.’” While I appreciate this rather informative definition, it grieves my heart that this what our society glorifies. To put this another way, we live in a “meritocracy”, a system where our position in life is wholly dependent on our ability and work.
So how does this cultural, Capitalism-driven concept match up with Christianity? How do “hustle” and the truths of the Bible compare? I could argue this one both ways. There are verses about working and there are verses about resting, so how do we balance these two concepts?
I’m a workaholic. I’m good at working and for many years I found my worth and my identity in my work. I thought that I was valuable because of what I could do, not who I am. I’ve always worked at churches and schools, places where the work is never done and you have to wear many hats and work constantly, feeding my need to be needed. For years and years and years I’ve lived in this place of constantly working, unnecessarily taking on the responsibility of others, rarely taking days off because there was always some other work to be done.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been learning to stop working when I had reached my hours for the week instead of electing to work overtime. This probably seems small but has been a huge step for me. The first time I tried out this “day off” concept, it was awkward to say the least. The first day was great, I ran errands, wrote for a little while, and met up with some friends; all in all it was a nice, relaxing day. Then the second day off came. I wrote a little bit and did a few creative things but I felt lost the entire day. I asked a friend what I should do and her response was “rest”, to which I automatically replied “I don’t know how to do that.”
I have spent so much of my life focused on working that I never properly learned the art of rest. More than that, I haven’t learned a healthy way to work. I’m in the process of learning how to work and rest well.
We tend to think of work as one thing and rest as the exact opposite of work. But does it have to be that way? Is there a way to move from an either/or mindset to an “and” way of thinking? God is rest and when our focus is on him, we can operate from a place of rest knowing our success depends on him and not on our actions.
What would it look like if you were to work from a place of rest instead of a place of striving? What does “working from a place of rest” mean to you? For me, it means being full of peace, knowing that everything doesn’t rest on my shoulders. It means that while I’m working I can be in tune and in conversation with God. There’s a freedom and a relaxation that comes when you realize that who you are isn’t based on what you do.
What does “working from a place of striving” mean to you? To me, it means working to fill a need in my life. I work harder because I need to define who I am or I need to please my boss or I have to be the best. Striving is a hurried, frantic, loud posture, where your heart is never satisfied or full or quiet.
This “rest” concept is nice to talk about in a theoretical discussion, but is a lot harder to actually put into practice. It’s easy, especially with deadlines and to-do lists and bosses and co-workers, to fall back into that “hustle” mindset. When I begin to fall back into that pattern of striving I have to step back, breathe, and ask God how to proceed. I’m learning that rest is vital in our lives, no matter how much we live like it’s not.
I whole-heartedly believe we could all use more rest in our lives. What is one change you could make it this week to make room in your life to practice resting? For me I had to start small by leaving work when I say I would, even though I knew there was a lot more work left to be done. For you, it could be as simple as spending a few extra moments with the Lord, or getting a pedicure or a massage once a month, or saying “no” to that extra social engagement, or reading your favorite book, or going on a date with your significant other. Though it can be difficult, I think you’ll be amazed to see what God can do when you give him those precious, sacred moments of rest.
Sarah was raised in Tucson, Arizona, but now lives in Dallas, Texas. Sarah currently work a 9-5 job, but in her spare time she loves to write, paint, draw, and sing. Sarah wants to help people receive hope when they feel like they have none.
Sarah: “I believe every number has a name, every name has a story, and every story is worthy of being shared.”