I can almost say for certain that there is someone in your life that is abrasive, irritating, competitive, judgemental, controlling, annoying or just plain mean. Yeah, you know the one I’m talking about. You cringe at the thought of just being in their presence.
It might be a colleague, a family member, the parent of a student at your child’s school, maybe someone at the gym or all of the above. Wherever you are, inevitably there they are.
No matter how hard you try to avoid them, you round the corner and THERE THEY ARE! Alarms are going off inside your head! You try desperately to contain your panic, but it’s hard when you instinctively want to turn and run! Instead, you awkwardly manage to expel a series of words that don’t quite sound the same way you thought they would in your head. You feel like a babbling idiot and by the expression on their face they are in agreement.
A sad truth in all of this, is that it isn’t just the colleague, the family member, the parent of a student at your child’s school or even the person at the gym. It’s us… Christian women at church on Sunday morning, at our bible study, in our small group, even at our children’s youth group functions.
Why is this? One reason… Satan! He wants nothing more than for us to focus on his deception and by this creating a division within us; distracting us from the opportunity to see the beauty of Christ in others and in ourselves. Whether we are the cause or the effect of the irritation we focus on the negative in either scenario. We fail to understand the purpose of the irritation and discomfort. If somehow we could just learn to respond in grace, truth, love and total acceptance of one another we would find peace.
As I ponder this, I am reminded of one of God’s amazing creatures the oyster, and the beautiful pearl that He designed for it to create. By definition, pearls form out of the oyster’s natural reaction to protect itself from the irritant. As the sand or parasite works it’s way into the oyster, it’s defense is to coat the irritant with a substance called nacre (the brilliant substance that gives pearls their beauty, luster, strength and resilience). This nacre is deposited layer upon layer as a protective barrier until a lustrous pearl is formed.
It is only in Jesus that we will find this natural beauty within us.
It cannot be cultured or imitated. The process takes time but understanding the value of what it will produce helps us to look to Jesus. Remember that:
In all things the greatest of these is love.
What Satan intends for evil, God intends for good… and it is miraculously happening at the same time. Hold tight to this, believe it and trust in Him.
We have the choice to respond in defense and avoidance of the irritation of others or embrace and accept the opportunity to see the beautiful pearl that can only be produced when we allow the Holy Spirit to be our protective barrier that not only coats and protects us but transforms our irritation into a strong, brilliantly beautiful pearl that is genuine and unique.Complete with the capacity to respond in grace, truth and love; and gives us the ability to find
the peace and acceptance that each of us so badly longs for.
Easter. Let’s put all those controversies aside about whether or not we should hunt eggs or have a bunny or whatever else people want to argue about and talk about how lonely those hunts can be. The kiddos might be hunting wildly for those multi-colored eggs, but look around when that’s happening. What you will invariably see are men and women standing alone or even in little bunches, smiling as if they are enjoying the afternoon, but what they are really doing is wishing that someone…anyone…would notice how utterly miserable they truly are. Of course, some are having fun, but some absolutely are not. The kicker is that pretty much no one notices whether they are or not, and they certainly aren’t telling.
Why is that?
It’s kind of funny that we live in such a streamlined society where everybody is connected to everybody, and yet for the most part, we are utterly and completely alone. Even conversations at tables in restaurants these days are neglected in favor of checking your Facebook status or email or texts or Twitter. I’ve sat and watched two people sit together for dinner and never even look at one another, their attentions fully given to whatever handheld device they own at the time. It’s never been more hazardous than now to walk down the street for fear of any number of passersby running right into you because they’re looking down at their phone instead of where they are walking.
This plague, though commonplace in mainstream society, has unfortunately permeated our Christian lives, as well. Some of us may live in extremely populated areas, but for some reason we feel nothing but loneliness and isolation from those around us who share the most amazing gift of all time—Jesus!
I have often traveled to Harare, Zimbabwe, this time of year so that I can speak at Easter conferences, and I am always overwhelmed with the words so many of the women there speak to me. Had they not been speaking Shona, the native language of most of Zimbabwe, the words they were saying would have been exactly the same words I’ve heard over and over again here in America: “I’m so lonely.”
It’s not that they are alone. Few of us are ever alone, but the pain of loneliness is rampant among Christians.
How very sad that is.
So I began to ask myself why that is the case. Why are members of an eternal family, truly those who are now the bride of Christ, suffering from such a condition? I mean, I can almost understand how unbelievers might feel lonely. After all, what do they share with others but a constant desire to figure out how to be happy or content or joyful? We, however, have been given the key to such things, and we share that key with millions of other people, many of whom live right in our neighborhoods. If not there, at least there are those with whom we attend church or bible study.
Why are so many of us, all over the world, still so lonely?
I’m convinced that it’s not loneliness that has plagued our existences, but isolation. Most of us have a tendency to isolate ourselves, either in our sadness or our sin. We might reveal some things, but for the most part, we live under the misapprehension that our suffering or our sin is somehow more extreme or more dire than anyone else’s. Either that or we delude ourselves into thinking that we don’t want to burden anyone else with our problems, so we keep them to ourselves, simmering just beneath the surface of the smiles we paste on in public.
Consequently, many of us who have reason for the most joy experience pain that is both unnecessary and unwarranted, which is just the way Satan wants it. If he can convince us of this lie, then what we should be presenting to the unsaved world—peace and joy that surpasses all understanding—is buried beneath a mountain of misery that lives inside of our heads.
This is precisely why we are to be who God intended His children to be, and that is relational. We are to belong to a body of believers, not so that we fill a square in the account journal of our sanctification, but so that we can build one another up, hold one another accountable, and fellowship together. We need our brothers and sisters and we need to seek them out. Living inside of our own heads is exactly what Satan wants because there is no relationship there.
My heart hurt for the women of Zimbabwe, just like my heart hurts for every man and woman I meet who suffers from this plague. It hurt so much that the focus of my work has streamlined to one of building discipleship and relational connection between believers all over the world. This is a plague that should not be, and all of us must do what we can to extinguish it however we can.
What can you do to either break out of this isolation or help others to do so? I pray that all of us seriously consider the ramifications of a body of believers who segregate themselves from every other part of the body in horrible isolation. Move toward relationship with your brothers and sisters. After all, heaven isn’t going to be a lonely place. God meant for us to seek relationship with each other and the beauty that comes with that while we are here on earth.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony….Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:12-16)
March 1, 2015 11:35 am
Message from my friend, Daniel:
“Joy, call me ASAP.”
I tried. No answer. I tried again, and still no answer.
I knew in an instant something had happened to my husband, Brent, or else he would have been the one calling me. I was praying my son, Blake, was safe.
The few minutes that went by seemed like hours, but finally I was able to talk to Daniel. There had been an accident at the Imperial Sand Dunes where they had gone camping for the long weekend. A bunch of them, including my husband and son, had gone, and five of them were in our sand car. My husband was driving, my son in the passenger seat and our friend, Daniel, and two other adults were in the back seats. They had been going up and down Test Hill.
If you have driven to San Diego on I-8 about 20 miles west of Yuma, you’ve seen it. It is the big sand hill just north of the interstate with the American Canal running along the base. Trips up and down the hill had been done hundreds of times throughout past trips. This trip, the third time down the hill and as they were making a U-turn to go back up, they lost control. The front wheel of the car caught in the sand and sent them flipping up into the air and over a large berm. They crashed down hard and rolled into the canal at the bottom of the hill. The water was about 20 feet deep.
Daniel said everyone in the car was able to get out, except my husband. They had tried to swim back down to the car, but the current was too swift, and they were not able to reach the car. I was praying he was able to get out of his seat belts and had just been washed down the canal in the strong current and was holding on to the edge somewhere.
I was in a panic on the phone. My daughter watched me. She was frightened and confused. I had to get there as soon as possible. It was a three and a half hour drive. I was ready to go, but I wasn’t in the position to drive myself and my daughter. I was able to contact friends to take me, and my daughter was able to stay with my best friend. It was a very long drive. I got a call about half way there that they had pulled the car out of the water, and my husband was still strapped in his seat. He had drowned.
I was numb. My only goal now was to be there for my son. Just as we were nearing the turnoff, I saw the severely mangled car on a trailer on the highway going the opposite direction.
Finally I was able to be with my son, and thankfully he was physically uninjured with the exception of a few bruises. They didn’t want him to see the car being pulled out of the water so they had taken him away from the crash site. He was in the RV. As I walked in, he ran to me. He was crying and scared. I held him, and I had to tell him his daddy was dead. His fear turned to anger. How could God let this happen? He threw his bible down. I told him it was okay to be angry. God has big shoulders and could take it.
“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Deuteronomy 31:8
The ride home was even longer and extremely painful. We arrived home and I now had to tell my daughter her daddy was dead. The only peace I had during this was knowing that Brent knew Jesus and he was in heaven.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
Brent was kind and loving. He was a good father. My children’s earthly father was gone, but their Heavenly Father, has been, and will continue to be there for them.
Up until the morning of March 1, 2015, my story consisted of being a wife and a mom to an 8-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter. I was a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a pharmacist. The list goes on, but just like that, in an instant, “wife” was swapped out for “widow.” I was a widow?!
We all have a story and this was NOT how MY story was supposed to go! Instantaneously and violently the pages of the story I had written had been ripped out and replaced. My story, as I believed at that point in time, was rewritten as a horror story, a horror story filled with body-trembling fear, chest-crushing anxiety, disbelief by the minute, extreme anger and any other terrible emotion imaginable.
Several days after the accident my son and I were talking. I asked him what he remembered. Did he remember being in the water and how he got out? It was just assumed that my husband had helped him, but if my husband were able to help Blake, I believe he would have gotten out also. Blake said he remembers the wheel breaking off, the car flipping and landing in the water. Then he said he tried to lean forward and wasn’t able to move. The car has five point harnesses which aren’t necessarily easy to get out of in a calm situation, let alone under water after a crash. He said he just wanted to go to sleep. He looked up and could see the sun shining down through the water. He said he prayed for God to help him get out of the seat belt. He leaned forward again and was able to get free and swim to the surface. He was wearing shoes and a heavy jacket so that made it difficult to swim. God immediately answered his prayer for help to get out of that car.
As I look at the original message from Daniel, for only the second time since it was sent, I am now two years into the pages of my “new” story. But is it really a “new” story? Perhaps to me it is, but as far as God is concerned, it isn’t. My story was already written specifically for me by Him. He knew exactly what was going to happen that March morning, every day before and every day after. We all have a story given to us by God and He trusts us with those stories.
God allowed the accident to happen. My faith and trust in God was great before the accident, but they have grown exponentially since. Looking back on it, I can recall specific situations before the accident where God was preparing me for this part of my story. People say, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” I believe this statement is true as long as you allow Him in so that He can help you handle it. I could not have survived any of this on my own.
This journey has been anything but easy. There has been extensive pain throughout, both seen and unseen, but with His presence there has been unexplainable peace, answered prayers, major growth, multiple lessons and blessings experienced. He has a plan for my story, and I will continue to trust His plan with all my heart.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
“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?
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.