Motherhood: A Desperate Life

I’ve become accustomed to hearing one side of weighty phone calls. Being married to a pastor means having to wait while curiosity and dread build.  Last week was no different.

“Oh, no. That’s just awful. How in the world are they doing?” Benny responded. “I just can’t imagine….Thanks for calling; we’ll be sure to reach out to them soon.”

None of the scenarios I could have considered would have landed on what I heard when Benny ended his phone call. Just hours earlier, a dear and precious young couple with three little boys had given birth to a lifeless baby girl. Later that day I visited her in the hospital. It was one of the hardest visits I have ever made.

I saw the desperation of motherhood like I have rarely seen.

Over the coming days I want to talk about desperate motherhood. I’ll share from my own heart and life, and also from the lives of others. I also want to invite a couple of mothers to communicate their desperate moments, too.

Why? Because all mothers live desperate lives. You may have never lost a child, but if anyone calls you Mom you’ve likely experienced dark nights of your soul when you wondered if they would be okay. If you were doing a good enough job. If their symptoms meant something serious was going on. If hard things that mothers with older kids are walking through would come to your family. If you’ll hear from them when they’re older that your anger or selfish demands or irritability was harder on them that it now seems.

As you read this, you may be thinking whatever challenges you’re facing as a mom pale in comparison to losing a child. While the suffering of others can help us to more wisely manage our own comparatively light trials, please don’t minimize the impact of your own motherly challenges. Perhaps you have a special needs child who requires more of you that you could have ever imagined. Maybe the fatigue of working and trying to be a good mom leaves you wondering if your child is getting enough of you each day. Do you sometimes miss the toddler-turned-teen that keeps you awake at night churning over their lack of heart for God? Or are there times when you think you just can’t take the bickering and selfishness between your kids and feel trapped by unfulfilled dreams about what Christian family life is supposed to look like?

Desperate mothers aren’t just those who have endured tragedy beyond comprehension. While such moms are certainly objects of the tender compassion of God reserved for the sorrowing and broken hearted, your struggles are hard, too.

I’ve never held a dead baby and I can only pray I would have responded with half the trust in God that my friend has. But I’ve cried many tears over tantrum-throwing toddlers; spiritually wayward kids; sinful choices made that tempted me to fear; tension between Benny and me due to differences in how to handle things with young adults; fretful nights when the only thing that brought sleep was listening to worship music; and gut wrenching pleas to the only One who could “cause all things to work together for good.”

The desperation of motherhood comes in many colors. But each of us have something amazing in common: we serve a powerful and sovereign God. No fear or sin or grief or heartache is beyond His strength, compassion and grace. Nothing that has happened or will happen to you or your children can separate you from His love (Romans 8:28).

Whether you are expecting your first baby or are watching your children now give birth to their own, the sacrifices of motherhood last a lifetime.

But so does grace.

Saturday Cartoons and a Ceiling Fan

Last Saturday I was typing this post while sitting in my family room. Here’s my story:

Today I’m remembering busy Saturdays when my day started with young ones rising early looking for food and cartoons. I grew up cleaning on Saturday mornings, and promised myself I wouldn’t deprive my kids of the Road Runner or Bugs Bunny like Mom did. My kids would get to cuddle on the couch with blankets, eat Pop Tarts and watch hours of cartoons like all my friends did growing up.

However, a couple of years after becoming a mom, “Saturday cleaning” somehow snuck into my heart and life. Homeschooling and full evenings serving the people in our church (my husband is a pastor) made Saturdays the perfect (and sometimes only!) time for weekly cleaning. Well, except once basketball seasons with weekly Saturday games often required adjusting our Friday school schedule to get chores done a day early.

The house doesn’t take long to clean anymore. Five of our seven are married with homes of their own to clean. My messy kid is in Law School at the University of Florida and only trashes his room when he’s home for the weekend. Our tidiest child is still at home and chips in to keep things clean.  Saturday chores don’t take very long anymore, unless the grandkids were over later in the week…so here I sit with vacuum lines on my carpets and the delicious smell of Pine Sol wafting through the house.

I used to look forward to these days. Now at times I find myself wishing music was blaring and I could hear kids yelling from room to room asking who used the Pledge last. This morning I almost looked for cartoons to watch.

I used to like change more than I do now. Getting something new for the house, finding a new favorite restaurant or trying a new dish on a holiday was fun. As I age, though, I’m finding myself clinging to the familiar.

I’ll tell you a secret. When we were meeting with our realtor last month about putting our house on the market I told him I didn’t want the ceiling fan in our bedroom to convey. He was understandably surprised. All the other ceiling fans could stay; just not the one over our bed. What I didn’t tell him is how much that ceiling fan helped me adjust to our current home when we moved from the one we lived in for our first decade in Florida.  Because the first thing I typically see in the morning is my three-paddle dark wood ceiling fan, it came with me to this house. Now it has to go with me to our new home in Lake Nona.

Seasons change. Children grow up and get married. Moves happen. Friends depart. Much of what changes in our lives is providentially out of our control. How kind of God to give the control of some things to us. The important thing is to make sure those things that should and must remain in His hands alone are free from the clutches of our sometimes nearsighted craving for autonomy.

Lord willing, my ceiling fan will soon be mounted above our bed in another house we’ll make our home. I’m glad that obeying God and moving to a new place (albeit only thirty minutes away) isn’t requiring that I leave all that’s familiar behind.

An old hymn I sang growing up said, “Where He leads me I will follow. I’ll go with Him all the way.”

With my ceiling fan.

P.S.  This post is the beginning of a series called, “When Obedience is Costly.” I hope you’ll join me.

Looking For a New Home

Benny and I are starting to look at houses in the area where Redeemer Church was planted early this year. While we live only about thirty minutes away, we want to be in the community to reach out, serve, build relationships and have people into our home.

The home I've come to love (it's not as big as it looks; the right side is a

The home I’ve come to love (it’s not as big as it looks; the right side is a garage…smile.)

The problem is this: we just purchased the house we’re in less than 2 years ago.

It was quite the process. I wanted a yard that happened to have an older house on it. I’m one of those people that loves multi-year remodeling. I like having and managing projects, and making a home “mine” by doing things like knocking out walls to make the space more open and maintaining a wish list of household projects to save for. I love taking something old with character and turning into a cozy, warm place where family and friends feel welcomed. I also have eleven grandchildren and a lab for backyard romping.

Joey reading a book written by my grandchildren and illustrated by my daughter, Julia. A prized recent birthday gift.

My Benny wanted a pretty house that had a decent yard that wouldn’t take too long to mow. While he has graciously endured my “projects” over the years (including adding a cute little apartment onto our Virginia home for Mom) he hoped for a home where the walls would remain in their place and maintenance would be minimal.

When we first saw the home we are in I was unimpressed. It was too “nice.” And it was painted a perky peach color. I walked around inside trying to picture which walls could be removed but I couldn’t find any. In fact, the only thing I could see that needed to be changed involved paint. (Which, by the picture above, you can see was taken care of first thing!) After numerous visits to yards that happened to have houses on them we made a low offer on the pretty house and it was accepted.

Our family room was the first place Redeemer Church met.

Nearly two years later that house has become home. We’ve celebrated holidays and birthdays here. Because we didn’t have walls to remove our big family can actually all sit down to eat because there’s room to add several folding tables. We’ve laughed and prayed and worshiped and made memories in this house that I didn’t like or want. Now I love it. As I sit here in the family room typing there are tears brimming in my eyes.

Getting ready for granddaughter Amelia’s first birthday party.

Have you ever felt a little “tricked” by God? Have you made a decision or entered into a relationship or accepted a job that wouldn’t have been your preference simply because it seemed like the right thing to do? You see, Benny got the pretty house and I got the yard big enough for all eleven grandchildren and the dog — all for what we could afford! And I got to enjoy a few projects that included painting kitchen cabinets and lime sherbet colored walls and the peachy exterior.

Now I actually like the house and don’t want to move.

Family worship times in our family room are among my fondest memories.

In my mind I know God didn’t trick me into moving into a home I didn’t really like only to make me love it just in time to move again. When we purchased this home He knew that a year later providence would lead us to plant a new church, requiring us to leave.

His sovereign plan is always accompanied by His tender care. Remembering how He moved my heart to love this home is comforting. But what is helping me most today is reminding myself that no place will truly be home until He welcomes me to the place He is preparing for me. What my heart is longing for has not been nor will it ever be found in my lifetime.

I’m longing for a place I won’t find in Florida.

I was made for another place. A place from which I will never move. Never pack boxes. Never cry over leaving. Until then, my life is not my own. I must continue to prize His plans over my preferences and fight for joy in the midst of unwanted change. I’m struggling to fully embrace His will and am asking for strength to once again say, “Yes, Lord.” With a good attitude.

Backyard races with Papa.

His past faithfulness assures me of present and future grace. After nearly 20 years in the same Virginia house where our children were mostly raised (not counting those I spent there with my parents when I was younger) I have moved 3 times in the past 12 years. Each time we’ve made memories and I moved reluctantly.

Maybe there’s a yard in Lake Nona, Florida with a house on it just waiting for someone to knock down its walls. Or a pretty one that Benny will like as soon as we walk in. Maybe I’ll live there long enough to come to love it.

Mostly, I want to love God’s will — whatever that is. What joy to know that “soon and very soon” I’ll see the home He is preparing for me. I won’t care about where the walls are or the size of the yard. Anything He is planning for me will be perfect.

Benny and I will be out again soon looking for a new home…but the search is reminding me that it will once again only be a temporary one.

I’m smiling. Just knowing that makes me a little bit more okay above moving.


When change comes yet again while my heart craves stability and the false security of things remaining the same, I surrender.

As the ground beneath me shifts and I can’t seem to get my footing, I surrender.

When life takes turns I didn’t plan; when I’m disoriented and perplexed and can’t find my bearings, I surrender.

Amid the swirling emotions that cause my heart to faint, my faith to waiver and my lean on Him to increase, I surrender.

When tears come without warning and I find myself longing to transport myself to a familiar past I cherish, I surrender.

As unbelief seeks to choke my heart and find treasonous rest in a bed of uncertainty about embracing God’s sovereignty, I surrender.

When storm clouds gather and I fear pelting rains will destroy embers of childlike faith in my heart, I surrender.

When disappointment looms, courage fails, fear erupts, pride charges, strength weakens and Satan accuses, I surrender.

A life of surrender beckons me to find hope in God’s unchanging character when changes come at every turn and I can’t find immediate relief. Surrendering is risky only when the one requiring it is not safe; trustworthy; wise; loving. Surrender is the response of the lesser to the one with greater strength and power; and the surrender that is required of me is to The One who also holds earth’s vast oceans in the palm of His hand.

Surrender brings peace when He is the object of my trust. And peace quiets my tempting quest to wrestle control from a benevolent Father who knows what is best.

The One who has tenderly led and cared for me thus far will see me through. Through storms and trials of various kinds He has been strong. Invincible. Tender. Faithful. Able. Near. Compassionate. Good.

And He has proven Himself as One to be trusted through it all.

I surrender again. And I will continue to surrender over and over because my life is not my own. I have been bought with a dear price. A price that warrants my full trust…trust that can only happen because the One who deserves it also empowers me to grant it.

He both requires and deserves my surrender. And He will help me once again. He always has and always will. In the end, I love His will because it has always proven His wisdom.

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73: 25-26)

Scared of the Dread Cloud

Before I was even fully awake yesterday morning it was there. A feeling of dread. In the midst of a season full of God’s blessings there are some hard things going on in my life.

“Why are these things bothering me so much?” I regularly ask myself. “It’s not like I or anyone in my family has a brain tumor or doesn’t have a job or is destitute. What’s wrong with me?”

The Dread Cloud isn’t unfamiliar to me. It’s been there before. It was there at sixteen when I learned my brother Randy broke his neck in a swimming accident and would be a quadriplegic for the rest of his life, which ended up being just seven years. There when the principle called me to his office to say Dad had a heart attack and Mom was on her way to pick me up. There when both Dad and Randy died within an 8-month period. There when people I love made sinful choices that broke my heart. There when Mom was diagnosed with cancer days before we moved to Florida and remained for the 2-week period until she died. Then there for a really long time of grief and homesickness.

Dread is understandable with life hits you hard in the gut. When suffering comes from death, disease or life-altering sinful choices by those we love, dread is expected.

But what about when normal life stuff happens? Common patterns of sin in yourself and family members continue when you long for it all to stop? People don’t consistently express appreciation for your sacrifices and servanthood? A birthday makes you feel old and like life is whizzing by? A friend battling cancer is not improving as many hoped and prayed? A child is leaving for college? Ongoing health challenges leave you weary and battling discouragement? You’re facing a unexpected move that could include caring for an aging in-law? Another friend is going through weighty family issues and you’re too far away to do much to help? Concerns about the spiritual state of someone you love brings fretful temptations about what the future might hold? Changes in friendships leave you feeling lonely at times, wishing for the old days?

The paragraph you just read is what fills my Dread Cloud. But then I battle guilt that these things affect me the way they do because there’s nothing really hard going on and I have so much for which to be grateful!

The fact is life happens. As a friend told me once, “Whether our hard thing is a tumor or toddler temper tantrums, we both need God’s help.” While it’s helpful to look around and see that my trials are small compared to those of others, what isn’t helpful is to brush them off as trivial.

An author once taught me that in the heart there can be both joy and sorrow; faith and unbelief; love and bitterness…at the same time! So I can be both excited and full of gratitude that God has provided for my son to go to law school and deeply sad that he’s leaving. I can experience both intense love and gratitude for my husband and battle discouragement at things he still does that hurt me. And I can genuinely thank God for my relative health and resent that an aching foot is now added to my list of ailments.

Where our difficulties fall on a scale of bad to worse isn’t the issue. Suffering does come in degrees but every sufferer has something in common: we all need God’s help.  When He says he is “near to be broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps 34:18) He doesn’t define what causes those things. He simply says He is near and He saves.

What helped me yesterday morning was listening over and over to the timeless hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness. Being reminded that new mercies are available every single morning and rehearsing the truth of God’s endless care lifted the dread.

Then the Lord brought to mind these words, quoted by A.W. Pink in a book I love:

“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace,
Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.
Ye fearful saints fresh courage take, The clouds ye so much dread,
Are rich with mercy, and shall break in blessing o’er your head.”

How kind of God to use the Dread Cloud to take me back to these faith-filled words written by someone long gone.

Has the Dread Cloud visited you, too? Are there circumstances and relationships in your life that are tempting you to wake up anxious, sad, discouraged, or uncertain about the future?

Let’s trust God that the smiling face of God, though hidden for now, will produce showers of hope and blessing in our lives because of the dreadful clouds that now loom. Without the clouds there would be no coming rain.

Wow. That means we can actually thank Him for the clouds. Even though they’re dark and scary.

I live in Florida where dark clouds gather in the late afternoon on most summer days. I’ve learned to welcome those clouds because a beautiful lightning show is about to come and needed rain is about to fall. Without the afternoon storms the fire alerts climb and our yard looks pretty sad.

We, too, need the rain. We often just don’t like the clouds. Unless God changes our perspective on the clouds. When we see them bringing refreshing blessings we’re good. But we can only have that perspective with His help.

Lord, help us to view the Dread Clouds from Your perspective. Because of the cross, we are dearly loved by a benevolent, faithful God who grants the courage to trust that the clouds over us bring good and not harm.

Let the rains of blessing come, Lord.  Until then, thank you for patiently enduring and convicting me of my unbelief. How kind You are.

P.S. You can read an article by A.W. Pink that encouraged my heart yesterday on the faithfulness of God here.

The Importance of Pointing

I’ve been thinking recently about the importance of pointing. And not just pointing, but pointing in the right direction. Let me explain…

In the past few weeks Benny and I have sat with several people who are going through really rough times. In our interactions, it’s been our joy to point them to the One who will not only get them through this hard season but will also be faithful to allow them to experience the good He promises to those who endure trials.

I’m still making my way through the Book of Exodus. Over the years I’ve learned from smart people that the Old Testament is just as much about the Savior as the New Testament. They were right! My heart has been freshly touched by how often these ancient words point to a coming Messiah. Just over the past few days two examples of how God was pointing to Another have nearly jumped off the pages to me:

  • The song of Exodus 15 is strikingly similar to Mary’s song found in Luke 2:46-55.
  • Exodus 15:16 speaks of “people by whom you have purchased” (the Hebrew word here means ‘created, redeemed, bought back’). Here is a loud echo of a coming Savior Who would redeem His chosen!

Thousands of years before Jesus would come to earth to die for us God whispered about His coming and then made His plan clear in prophetic declarations and strong hints.  (Just for fun look at Duet 18:17-19; Ps 22; Is 7:14; Is 53; Jer 31:31-34; Dan 7:13-14; Micah 5:2; Zech 9:9…and so many others!)

What does this have to do with my hurting friends?

Sufferers need to be pointed to God. From the very beginning of humanity and immediately after the fall God’s redemptive love has been on display. Genesis 3:15 points to the One to come who would bring a fatal blow to the tempter that had just invaded the garden of Eden. God’s loving and powerful intent to bring good out of bad is right there at the very beginning.

And it continues. Every book in the Old Testament points to Him. Page after glorious page says to the despairing, the stubborn, the broken and the hopeless: “Look ahead. Help is coming. I am with you and my good plan will be evident to you someday. It’s dark now but the light will come. You will see more clearly. I promise.”

The same God who had a plan for redeeming fallen and sinful people in the garden and in the desert; in Joseph’s pit and Daniel’s lions den; in the caves with lonely David and in discussions with Job and his friends…has a good and redemptive plan for your hard times. Our eternal God is eternally wise and good. As someone I can’t remember once said, “All of God does all that God does.”

I had to say that to myself over and over when I first heard it.

All of God — His wisdom, love, mercy, tenderness, goodness, sovereignty, kindness, power, grace — is meticulously involved in every single thing He does. He’s not loving but lacking power or gracious but not wise. Something that happened to you or me years ago wasn’t an act of kindness while what’s going on in our lives right now is because He’s sovereign and does what He wants.

No. Everything He does is done by all of Him. I can read in Exodus about Moses being the deliverer and know that he was pointing to the Deliverer to come because I’m on this side of the cross. This kind of hindsight also helps me look back to past trials and see the good that came out of them because…well…because the good actually came and I can see it!

But when we’re in the middle of trials and disappointments we aren’t there yet. Things are still dark, perplexing and disorienting. We’re tempted to wonder if God really does love us, and wish that His control would bring our spinning heart and world to a stop.

Reading Exodus is reminding me that God has always made a way for His people. His solution wasn’t always what they thought should happen. I can understand because even the good God has brought to my life as the result of past suffering still wouldn’t have always been my choice if He had asked me. I’m on this side of the cross but not yet on that side of heaven. Only when I get there will it all make sense.

The God who parted the Red Sea is still stretching forth His hand to protect and provide for His people. But imagine being an Israelite who crossed through the sea with huge, threatening, drowning waves looming nearby. I’m thinking many of them (including me!) would have much preferred a bridge over the water rather than a path through it. The God who spoke the world into being could have said “let there be a bridge.” But He didn’t.

God’s plans to get us through our difficulties can be scary at times, too. But when I’m afraid it helps me to know that all of God does all that God does. His eternal nature and unchanging character still motivate Him. History has seen the devastation of power without love. But love without power is just as frightening. Aren’t you glad our God is both — and more?

I’m grateful that the One who is parting my seas is all of God.

But like I told my friend this past weekend, I can see this now because I’m not currently in the middle of a storm. When I am I will need someone to point me to Him again.

Covered Wagons and Bumps in the Road

Google image Image ID: 403795

My post on my retirement from home schooling yesterday stirred some wonderful memories and sweet contact from people. I was intrigued by a question someone asked me about why some home schooling moms today seem to lack the joy of teaching their children at home that they remembered in their own home growing up. (If it came from one of my kids, they certainly would have been sporting a selective memory!)

When those of us in what is referred to as the first generation of modern home schoolers started down this road in the late 70’s and early 80’s, a part of the fuel that energized us was that we were pioneers. We had all been educated in public schools and were looking for an alternative for our children. (Again, please know that I am not criticizing readers who have chosen this route for your own children…it could be the right choice for your family!)

Pioneering isn’t for everyone. During westward expansion, I’m sure there were lots of really wise women who chose not to hop in covered wagons to set out to an unknown territory to face dangers about which they had only heard. In fact, remaining in the comfort of their homes was probably the envy of all who chose otherwise!

When we decided to home school “for one year” in 1983, we had two curriculum choices; regularly reminded our kids how to graciously respond to eyebrow-raised questions about why they were at the grocery store with Mommy rather than in school; worked hard to convince friends and relatives that I could actually teach them to read and add; and prayed that we wouldn’t be have “what in the world were we thinking???” regrets someday when our kids couldn’t get into college or support our grandchildren. Now, educating children at home is the fastest growing education choice in the country, according to the National Center for Education Studies, with a whopping 2 million children being taught at home.

Our home school covered wagon had it’s share of scary situations along the way. The first year of Josh’s standardized testing was when I realized that I — not he — was actually the one being evaluated. Then there was the money wasted on colorful looking workbooks we never got to and curriculum that didn’t work out. And I can still remember the day about 3 years into our journey when baby number five was on the way and Benny came home to a crying wife saying, “I cannot and will not do this anymore!” I was ready to pack up the wagon and head back east!

Then something happened.

Too often our love of ease and comfort tempts us to too quickly give up when obstacles line our path. A toddler throws a puzzle piece across the room when they can’t get it to fit on the first try. A new reader feels “stupid” because he can’t read as well as his older sister overnight. A teen walks away from a longtime friendship rather than take the risk of trying to work things out. A dad quits another job because of relational conflicts with a boss.

Or a home schooling mom gives up when the weariness or ingratitude or jealousy of watching friends who have more flexible schedules set in.

The crying wife Benny came home to that day was all of those and more. Weary. Feeling unappreciated. Jealous. But I was also facing the normal obstacles that line every path of every life in every season. Babies fall but get back up and try to walk again. Kids keep trying until they can finally ride their two-wheeler. High school students apply to college after college until an acceptance letter comes. Devoted spouses choose to overlook yet again, rather than camp on the road of bitterness and withdrawal. You and everyone you know is facing challenging situations that need grace and wisdom.

I don’t remember specifically how I worked through my “I can’t home school anymore” crisis. Should God have led us to put our children into a structured school, it would have been fine for me to stop then. But I knew in my heart that God was leading our family through my husband to persevere. He didn’t “make” me. I am blessed to have a husband who takes my thoughts and counsel seriously, and he certainly wouldn’t have wanted me to be miserable in our covered wagon.

What I do remember is experiencing the grace of God to follow my husband. It was his idea to start homeschooling in the first place. (I’ve laughed with other home school moms about how the guys who leave home every day have such faith for us to be at home teaching their kids!) And it was his desire for us to continue heading west. He didn’t communicate it strongly or in a way that obligated me. But I knew.

My biblical paradigm informed my conscience that unless my husband was asking or expecting me to sin I needed to trust in God’s loving and sovereign plan. He chose Benny and me to be married. He knew we would have a bunch of kids close together. He ordained my life and had brought me to a place of desperation, weakness and the normal weariness of life with small children.

Joy came when I looked up. God was at work. He was in charge! And the path to which He had called me came with a promise of strength and grace. I had been created and called to orient my life to the man He had given me and to have faith that my obedience would be met with His every promise of help.

Obstacles are meant to be overcome. Imagine the consequences of women not having the courage and perseverance to get back into their wagons when disease, delays or discouragement tempted them to turn back.

Charles Spurgeon said, “Many men owe the grandeur of their lives to their tremendous difficulties.” Amen. I owe the privilege of home schooling my kids to the power God provided to persevere through the daily challenges our education choice brought.

They use to sit around the dining room table doing school. Now they’re adults who are all taller than me! (Pictured here at Janelle’s wedding in May 2011.)

My prayer is that young moms who are considering or who are already on the road of home schooling will find joy there. Joy in being the one to teach your toddler to sound out his first sentence or watch the look on his face when it clicks that 2 plus 4 is always 6. Joy in having your oldest offer to do a math lesson with her younger sibling because it makes her feel smart and needed. Joy in getting those standardized scores back and knowing you did a really good job this school year. And joy…lots of joy…when they finally get old enough to come back and say, “Thanks, Mom.”

I was a pioneer. You can be, too. Having joy in whatever season we find ourselves in is taking the road less traveled. I think joyful home schooling in the midst of all the challenges could be the road west for today’s home schooling moms.

A friend asked me recently what my life will look like now after decades of home schooling.  I’m not sure. But I’m thinking it will involve another covered wagon.

I still want to be a pioneer.

Hill Climbing is Good for the Heart

In my devotions this morning I read this quote:

‎”The land is full of hills and valleys. It is not all smooth nor all downhill. The hills collect the rain for a hundred fruitful valleys. Ah, so it is with us! It is the hill difficulty that drives us to the throne of grace and brings down the showers of blessing.” (N.L. Zindendorf)

After posting this on my facebook, a friend from up north mentioned there being no hills or valleys in Florida. Smile. But the ups and downs are alive and well in my heart!

Over the months I’ve definitely felt like I’ve been doing some serious hill climbing. The combination of health issues, family happenings (both fun and challenging) and changing circumstances (including starting a new church and anticipating our second move in 18 months) have found my mind and heart swirling. Throw my sin into the mix and…well…the hills and valleys have been on display!

In the midst of my ups and downs — which can swing back and forth from day to day — I have found the unchanging truths of God’s word and His uninterrupted nearness to be my strength.

Life changes.

Jobs get lost or transfers come.

Unplanned things that cost money happen.

Sin erupts.

Hormones fluctuate.

Kids make messes…in your home and in your heart.

Sickness strikes.

Friends disappoint.

Fears stalk.

Children grow up and leave home.

Sleep evades.

In the midst of all the changes, fluctuations, drift, eruptions, disappointments, unplanned happenings and disorienting shifts of life there is One who never changes. He who is the same “yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8) is sitting down on His throne.  He is not pacing; fretful; concerned. He is still. In control. At peace. Ever watchful yet unruffled.

Yesterday I slipped from my hill climbing into a valley of worry and anger. Today the truth about Who God is — His unchanging character and sovereign control — is lifting me back onto the path.

I hate climbing hills. When I use the treadmill I keep the levels flat. I know it’s not as good for my heart as the incline upward, but I congratulate myself that I’m at least on it. Plus, I know I’m out of shape so I figure I’ll work up to a more vigorous routine.

In some areas I’m also out of spiritual shape. We are all a work in progress. We are weak. Needy. Frail. But God is strong and mighty to save. The ups and downs of life tempt me to be discouraged and weary. But remembering God’s unchanging, always faithful, forever present, unmoving strength governs my changing heart and life.

I hope these verses encourage you today as they have me:

“Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,and rthe heavens are the work of your hands.They will perish, but tyou will remain;they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end” (Ps 102:25-27).

“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6).

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).

He is the same. He does not change. He never varies.

When “all other ground is sinking sand” it’s comforting to know He is the solid rock on which we stand.

Finding Goodness in Disappointment


Last week I talked about the drift the Lord has been helping me with. It’s been meaningful to get my thoughts onto paper and to share them with others. I’ve been touched by the comments, facebook messages and interactions with readers who said you were comforted by the fact that someone shared and understood your struggles. Person after person said, “It was as if you were describing my struggles!” There is sometimes a sweet relief that comes with knowing we’re not alone. One woman said that reading the posts helped her to realize she was battling anger toward God for her discouragement and drift…until she realized the battles she was facing were shared.

Another common theme I’m hearing and experiencing revolves around disappointment. As Christians, we work hard not to have expectations but to entrust our lives to God’s sovereign control and care.

When you were single you really didn’t expect to find the “perfect” spouse, yet soon after (or even before) the honeymoon you start getting irritated and discouraged over how quickly romantic love has been tainted by “where did those gooey feelings go?”

The new job you rejoiced over as God’s provision just a year ago has become a source of frustration and you find yourself looking online for a new position.  What happened?

The baby you longed for has finally arrived, yet you realize you’re exhausted. Why didn’t anyone tell you babies cried all the time and you would never get more than an hour of sleep at a time?

Disappointment. It’s a powerful influence in our lives that we don’t want to admit. Why? Because it sounds whiney. Ungrateful. Childish. So we remain silent and don’t reach out for help.

The truth is that sometimes my disappointment is an evidence of my ungrateful, me-centered heart. But additionally, I’m finding that a real cause of disappointment is unmet expectations.  And sometimes I don’t even realize i had expectations until they’re unmet. Can you relate?

Yesterday I mentioned having lunch with a friend recently. We realized we’ve been experiencing some of the same difficulties, temptations, drift and blah-ness. As we talked, our conversation turned to the common feeling that this season in our lives just doesn’t look like we thought it would. In some ways life is amazing and meaningful. Yet in other ways we are finding ourselves confused and disoriented. We surmised together that this means we were expecting something different than what’s  happening.

But it’s not just our season of life as older women that’s different than we thought.

A young mom I talked with recently really felt called to homeschool her kids, but is battling disappointment over their standardized test scores and is feeling like a failure as a teacher.

A single friend who just turned 30 is feeling perplexed and disappointed that she isn’t the wife and mother of “a bunch of kids” by this age.

A 40-something man is disappointed that he hasn’t made more progress in his career compared to other guys his age.

Parents of three young adults are struggling with disappointment over the lack of spiritual hunger in two of their sons.

Disappointment is common and is often times preventable. But the simple truth is this: people who are struggling with this kind of sadness and perplexity need the comfort of the gospel. Even when selfish or unrealistic expectations are the source of our disappointment, we all need to be reminded of the love and goodness of God.

That’s what my friend and I ended with at lunch last week. We know that our sinful hearts are at work in our disappointments. And our faithful God will surely help us to see where sin in alive, then give us grace to repent and turn from it. But I found peace in the reminders we shared with one another that God is still near and God is still good.

Sometimes God’s goodness is veiled when disappointment strikes.  If you’re like me, while I know better than to overtly blame God for stuff that happens around me that I don’t like, there is a subtle shift in my thinking from “God is good” to “God is sovereign.” Does that sound strange to you? I know that God’s goodness and sovereignty are linked and not in opposition to each other! Yet during times of disappointment I can drift from the glorious truth that God’s goodness and sovereignty are forever melted together in His nature. My sinful heart and the enemy’s whispering lies say: “Yes, God is sovereign so obviously these circumstances are a part of His plan to grow me. But is He really good? Does He really care about what I’m going through?” Doubting God’s love and goodness is the common temptation of the discouraged or suffering Christian.

These words by author and pastor, John Piper, have been food for my soul:

“God will not turn away from doing you good. He will keep on doing good. He doesn’t do good to His children sometimes and bad to them other times. He keeps on doing good and He never will stop doing good for ten thousand ages of ages. When things are going bad that does not mean God has stopped doing good. It means He is shifting things around to get them in place for more good, if you will go on loving Him.”

Are you disappointed in how your life is unfolding? Do you have relationships that were once a source of joy but are now hard and confusing? Did you have a picture of your life that isn’t what you hoped for years ago?

Join me in remembering that no matter what is going on; however your life is different than you expected;  whatever relationships are tearing at your heart; or whatever ways you are tempted with disappointment…God loves you and He is good.

John Piper would tell you and I that God is “shifting things around to get them in place for more good, if you will go on loving Him.”

We will go on loving Him because those who belong to Him will never NOT belong to Him. When we became His we became forever His. Even when we drift and let go of Him, He never lets go of us. Even when we fail and sin He stands eager to forgive and restore.

Lately I’ve been rehearsing a little song in my mind: “Jesus loves me, this I know for the Bible tells me so.”

The God of the universe loves me and promises to withhold no good thing from me. Always.

If you’re a believer, this is your promise, too.  If you’re not a Christian and have come across this blog or had a friend send it to you, my good God is pursuing you. I pray you will find great comfort in knowing you are loved by Him even though you don’t yet love Him back.

That’s good news.

We Were Dreamers

I’m taking a quick break from the weighty posts I’ve been doing to share a fun update on our family.

Josh doing sound on the church’s first Sunday.

PJ helps with administration and heavy lifting. 🙂

When our children who now range from almost 18 to 33 were young, Benny and I dreamed and prayed regularly about the day when they would be adults who loved God and served alongside us in the church. Like most parents of young children, we assumed our kids would always live nearby and that we would spend decades together up in Fairfax, Virginia serving side by side. Over the years that dream has been disregarded when moves separated us and when we walked through hardships and sin that tested my faith. We struggled through, and came to a place of peace that the best and most biblical thing we can do for our adult children is to release them to love and follow God’s will — even and especially if that means living in a different city or being part of a different church than Dad and Mom.

Love the greetings from the Little People!

Before I proceed, I want to first express my heartfelt compassion for anyone reading this with a child who is not walking with the Lord or grandchildren you rarely see. The heartache of a spiritually wayward or rebellious child is one of the hardest things a godly mother can face. And being a grandmother whose little ones live far away is a challenge I’ve experienced but am not currently facing. My heart truly goes out to you. I hope my story sparks faith in your heart that God is good. His goodness may not look the same in my life and yours, and you may be in a dark and tempting time in your life, but He remains good and your story isn’t over. I hope my story doesn’t tempt you…but that it encourages you. Our family has walked through some really hard things and challenges remain. Some people look and think we have an “ideal” family. Yet those who know us well know that is certainly not true. We are sinners who have walked through our share of painful situations. But God has been faithful and has done a miracle by keeping us loving and serving together.

The kids enjoy our little children’s ministry.

Janelle enjoys her longtime desire to participate on a worship team.

Before Benny started Redeemer Church in January, we met with all our children to solicit their counsel and tell them what God was doing. At that time Benny communicated to our five married children and their spouses that they were under no obligation to join us on this crazy adventure. He reminded them of what they have heard from us numerous times before: we were available to ask questions and provide counsel at their invitation, but it was important that they spend time talking and praying as a couple, and pursuing the input of others.

To our complete joy, they came to us one by one over several months to say they had decided as a couple that God was calling them to be a part of Redeemer Church. While this was meaningful to me as a mom, it was especially humbling as a mother-in-law. My three daughters-in-law have dear friendships at  and warm affection for the church that was sending us out.  Two of them, in fact, had grown up in the church and had decades of fond memories with the people there. We made sure in each case that they hadn’t felt pressure from us to make this decision and were grateful to hear they each felt the Lord had spoken to them personally. What amazing young women.

Our church has several passionate worship leaders. So grateful!

The night the last of the couples announced to us that they would be coming, Benny and I laid in bed and cried. God doesn’t call all married children to do something like this. But story after story from our kids convinced us that God had moved their hearts and confirmed His will through their own subjective impressions, coupled with prayer and discussion.

We were especially moved when the parents said a big draw for them was giving their children the opportunity to be on a church plant. They wanted them to experience the joy and sacrifice of seeing God grow a church…with their help!

Wyatt here and JJ (below) are pitching in to serve.

Through every trial and storm, through all the years of doubting God’s faithfulness, and through numerous sinful choices that tempted us to believe our prayers long ago were just the sentimental desires of loving parents to want to do life with their kids, God was there. He knew what we didn’t: that Benny would plant a new church in his late 50’s that would include every one of our children and grandchildren.

There are numerous others who are making Redeemer Church possible — we couldn’t do it without them! And I don’t know how long the Lord will allow us as a family to do life and church together. But for now, I’m savoring every moment.

Every moment of watching my grandsons usher or lug equipment or learn to tear down drums with daddy — like he did many years ago with Papa.

Every moment of watching my little people walk up to visiting children to say hi and ask if they want to walk to children’s ministry with them.

Jesse preached for the first time at Redeemer last Sunday.

Every moment of watching my men lead worship; unload equipment; brainstorm with others about how to make things run more smoothly; preach; greet; or load equipment on the truck.

Every moment of hearing my ladies prophecy, head out to help with children’s ministry, invite someone new to lunch or walk up to pray for another woman during a ministry time.

Every moment of watching my Benny setting up chairs or greeting a guest or positioning himself at the podium to preach or grinning over how God provided all the funds needed last month.

Josh leading worship.

Last week I had a wonderful time of fellowship with a dear friend. One of the things we talked about (and that I’ve been blogging about) is how perplexing life is right now. We agreed that in many ways things just haven’t “turned out” like we expected. Another friend and I were chucking about this just yesterday. It’s not that we had a list of expectations in our minds, but obviously we were expecting something and whatever that was isn’t what life looks like right now!

But there’s an exception for me.

Benny doing what he loves!

I prayed and dreamed and hoped and…yeah, expected…that my kids would grow up to love the Lord and His church. I longed for my grandchildren to have the opportunity to be a part of a church where, like their parents, they were trained to serve and sacrifice because every single hand was needed to get the job done. (Which is true in every church — old or new; small or large!) I wanted to watch my Benny spend his latter years alongside his sons working to see the gospel preached through the local church. I prayed that I would have the kind of relationship with my adult daughters and (at the time) future daughters-in-law where we could enjoy biblical fellowship and pass biblical womanhood on to a new generation of little girls.

Our favorite (well, and only) bass player.

So much of my life is different than I hoped and thought. But when Redeemer Church was born and my amazing, humble children and their spouses started signing on to help, I became “like one who dreamed.”

Lauren on her first worship team.

Benny and I dreamed. Talked. Hoped. Prayed. Cried. Battled discouragement and unbelief. Let go. Found peace.

But God heard. Answered. Kept. Sustained. Patiently worked. And then surprised us.

He. Is. Faithful.