Looking for Mr. Right

Abraham was now a very old man, and the Lord had blessed him in every way. One day Abraham said to his oldest servant, the man in charge of his household, “…Swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and earth, that you will not allow my son to marry one of these local Canaanite women. Go instead to my homeland, to my relatives, and find a wife there for my son Isaac.”

So the servant took an oath by putting his hand under the thigh of his master, Abraham. He swore to follow Abraham’s instructions…. and he traveled to distant Aram-naharaim.

“O Lord, God of my master, Abraham,” he prayed. “Please give me success today, and show unfailing love to my master, Abraham. See, I am standing here beside this spring, and the young women of the town are coming out to draw water. This is my request. I will ask one of them, ‘Please give me a drink from your jug.’ If she says, ‘Yes, have a drink, and I will water your camels, too!’—let her be the one you have selected as Isaac’s wife. This is how I will know that you have shown unfailing love to my master.”

Before he had finished praying, he saw a young woman named Rebekah coming out with her water jug on her shoulder. She was the daughter of Bethuel, who was the son of Abraham’s brother Nahor and his wife, Milcah. Rebekah was very beautiful and old enough to be married, but she was still a virgin. She went down to the spring, filled her jug, and came up again.

Running over to her, the servant said, “Please give me a little drink of water from your jug.”

“Yes, my lord,” she answered, “have a drink.” And she quickly lowered her jug from her shoulder and gave him a drink. When she had given him a drink, she said, “I’ll draw water for your camels, too, until they have had enough to drink.” So she quickly emptied her jug into the watering trough and ran back to the well to draw water for all his camels.

The servant watched her in silence, wondering whether or not the Lord had given him success in his mission. Genesis 24 (selected verses)

It is well known that we women love a good romance! God created us that way, with an innate drive to love and be loved. Perhaps that is why I have always loved the story of Isaac and Rebekah.

I remember as a little girl—maybe six years old—hearing this story in Sunday School. I was hooked! I wanted to read it over and over. My parents helped me find it in my Bible, and I began to dive in. I was amazed how interconnected familiar Bible stories were. I read about Isaac and Rebekah. Then, I continued with the stories of their children, Jacob and Esau. Suddenly, I was thrust into the story of Leah and Rachel.

And that is where my love for scripture began.

Over the last two years, I’ve read my Bible cover to cover about four times. As I started at Genesis again this year, I came to this beloved story. Again, my heart was captured by this beautiful story of God’s sovereignty bringing Isaac and Rebekah together.

As a single-again woman, I’ve written many times about how I long for God to bring that right man along. As of August, I will have been single for five years—and quite honestly, it’s getting really old. I am blessed with an amazing and full life, but there is still a longing for that special someone. It’s the little things I long for: sharing my hopes and dreams as we lie down at the end of a long day, the arm around my waist as we worship together at church, walking hand in hand, having someone to curl up next to as we settle in to watch a movie. I simply miss companionship, touch, tenderness.

I know that God has told me that He is preparing someone special for me, but after a while you begin to cry out, “How much longer, God?” I know that I don’t want to short-change His work in my life by jumping into a relationship before I am ready—or before he is ready. But, the days seem to grow longer and lonelier.

As I read through this familiar story once again, I was struck by some interesting aspects that I had not seen before.

Abraham had a plan. Abraham, as always, had a very clear view of what was important when it came to finding a wife for his son. He knew that Isaac was chosen by God, the son of a promise. For Isaac to fulfill all that God had planned for him, Abraham knew that he needed the right wife—one who would love and support Isaac and follow YHWH whole-heartedly. Abraham made the requirements clear: she must be from his homeland, not a Canaanite who would lead Isaac to worship false gods.

How does this requirement apply to us? As Christians, we should not be looking for a spouse among unbelievers. If we are serious about our walk with Christ, about living out God’s purpose to its fullest extent, we must make sure that we are focused on the spiritual aspect of our relationships. I have found that when I surround myself with people who are truly seeking to walk in all the fullness of Christ, they draw me closer to Him, strengthen my Christian walk. But, when I’m surrounded by those who are marginal or unbelievers altogether, they pull me down.

It is essential that your closest and most influential relationships must be those who will draw you closer to God—or they will pull you away. Committed to purity? You better make sure anyone you date has that same commitment or you will face a much stronger temptation. Committed to ministry? Make sure that anyone you date has the same passion for sharing Christ or he/she will not understand when you are on call 24/7. Simply longing to walk closer to God? If you are dating someone who is not at least equal with you spiritually, you will find yourself hiding that aspect of your life. You will create space between you and God to eliminate space between you and your date.

Bathe it in prayer. Abraham was firmly convinced that God would take care of finding the right woman for his son Isaac. Despite the fear on behalf of the servant, he remained in a state of prayer as he set out on his mission. Even as he was praying, Rebekah came along.

Over the last few years, I have come to realize just how powerful prayer is. I’m not sure I ever really believed in or truly grasped the power that is available to us until now. As I find myself in a perpetual state of prayer—whispering short prayers throughout my day—I am constantly amazed at how heaven and earth seem to move in response to my prayers.

From very early on in this journey, I committed to praying for my future spouse. I don’t just pray that God will bring him to me, but I pray extensively for every area of his life. I pray for his walk and his talk. I pray for his job and his finances. I pray for sexual purity and freedom from anything that keeps him in bondage. I pray that he would turn from sin and walk blamelessly before God. And I pray that God would direct his heart and steps toward me.

I have seen glimpses of how God is using my prayers to prepare me, to prepare him, to bring us together. Perhaps I will never see the full extent of what my prayers have done this side of heaven, but I am convinced that our marriage will be one that brings glory to God. It will be a marriage that was born in heaven from the prayers of one committed to walking in accordance with God’s plan.

Focus on God while you wait. I think what struck me most about this entire chapter was a simple little phrase in verse 63:

Meanwhile, Isaac, whose home was in the Negev, had returned from Beer-lahai-roi. One evening as he was walking and meditating in the fields, he looked up and saw the camels coming. And Isaac brought Rebekah into his mother Sarah’s tent, and she became his wife. He loved her deeply, and she was a special comfort to him after the death of his mother. Genesis 24:62-67

While Abraham and his servant were out looking for this amazing woman that God was preparing for Isaac, Isaac was simply going about his daily life. He wasn’t stressed about finding that special someone. He was just walking through the fields, doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing on any ordinary day. But, I love that he was meditating. His focus was not on his future. His focus was not on the cares of this world. His focus was on God.

Isaac was more concerned about walking according to God’s plan for his life than about finding a wife. He was focused on living his life according to the commands he had been given. He was consumed with filling his mind with God’s words to him and trusting God with the outcome.

Isn’t that what we should all be doing? Going about our daily lives, focusing on God’s call, and trusting Him for the outcome? Ultimately, it’s all in His hands. If we are doing what He calls us to do, don’t we trust Him enough to handle all the details?

I’ve gone through the days of looking at every man without a ring, wondering if he might be the one God has for me. I’ve been terrified to turn anyone down just in case he might be God’s gift to me. I’ve sacrificed my walk with God to go out with men who were not passionate about God and ministry just because I thought, “Perhaps with time he will fall in love with God.”

Honestly, I’m tired of being alone. But, I’ve come to a place of peace (most days) where I trust that God is working behind the scenes to do things I can’t see or comprehend. I’ve reached a place where I know that I must only be with someone who is passionate about God and ministry. I know that I have prayed extensively for years and that God has heard my pleas. Now, I must go about my daily business focusing all my attention on God—and trusting that He is in control.

Lord Jesus, You know that I am lonely. You know that I have spent the last five years, moving closer to you. You know that I am trying to daily walk in all the fullness of Christ, focusing my time and attention on you. I know that you have heard my prayers, that you see my loneliness. I know that you have said that it is not good for man to be alone. I know that you have given me a promise—a promise that there is a man who will love you fully and completely and love me as Christ loved the church. Give me strength to stay focused on you, to avoid those who would turn my attention away from you. Give me endurance to continue running this race, trusting you with the outcome. I am so thankful that you see my journey—my future—and you know the best path to get me there. Help me to rest in you as I travel into my future. In Christ’s name I pray, Amen.

DQ Dena

Several years ago, our church started a karate school. It’s an amazing ministry which seeks to bring people from the community in to learn karate, and in the process they are exposed to the gospel. I encourage you to look up ABKA Karate and Sensei Denny Holzbauer to learn more, but that’s not my purpose today.

I want to tell you the story of my personal karate experience.

You see, when the ABKA started at our church, my son wanted to take karate. However, because of his age at the time, he was required to have a parent take the class with him.

And that’s how I became a karate student.

I can hear your laughter now. If you are thinking that I don’t seem like the karate chopping, board breaking, kata performing type, YOU WOULD BE ABSOLUTELY, 100% CORRECT.

But, I am a child-loving, out-of-your-comfort-zone, follow your dreams kind of mama. So, I purchased my gi (that’s a white karate uniform for those of you wondering), tied on my white belt, and proceeded to learn the various kicks and punches with my kids.

Soon, a tournament presented itself. My kids wanted to participate, but they were scared. So, in an effort to set the example, I signed up for the tournament. That’s where I earned my first fighting name: P Cubed. In case you are wondering, I was the only participant with pink, pedicured toenails—thus I became P3 for the Pink Pedicured Princess. I am certain my name struck fear into the hearts of my competitors!

My plan to encourage my children did work, however. When the next tournament rolled around, my kids were ready to participate. We tied on our orange belts (impressed, eh?), loaded up the car, and made the trek across the state.

The rules were simple: if you land a kick or punch in the appropriate area of the body, you score a point. The highest point total at the end of the match would win and advance to the next round. However, the face is off-limits at the orange belt level.

I drew a bye for my first round, but soon it was my turn to spar. I stepped into the ring with my competitor, and the fight began. I threw a right punch to the head—but she moved, and I landed it square on her right eye (off-limits). The ref stopped the fight to issue me a warning. One more shot to the face, and I would be disqualified from the competition.

Again, we stepped into the ring. Again, I threw a punch. Again, she moved. Again, I landed it square on her right eye—giving her quite a shiner. And I was disqualified. A great big DQ went up next to my name.

And that is how I earned my new name: DQ Dena.

Although that competition ended my karate career, I still use my name to keep my kids in control. The threat of unleashing DQ Dena on them will usually snap them right into line. It’s true. DQ Dena strikes fear into the hearts of my children—fear of total and complete humiliation in front of their friends.

Whatever it takes…

While I love to laugh about my karate experience and my disqualification, there’s another area of life in which I have struggled with feelings of being disqualified. You see, when I was ten years old, I felt God calling me to full-time ministry. I surrendered in that moment, and I knew that my life was on a path to serving God. I didn’t know specifics, but I knew that God would reveal his plans to me.

As a freshman in college, I remember sitting in church one evening and having an overwhelming sense that I was supposed to be a pastor’s wife. It was a thought that simply wouldn’t go away. I prayed that God would either confirm what I was sensing or take it away. Again and again, God confirmed that His plan was for me to serve as a pastor’s wife.

After nearly 17 years as a pastor’s wife, my marriage fell apart. Suddenly, I had lost most everything of importance—including my ministry. You see, I was raised in a denomination where divorce disqualifies you from ministry—regardless of the reasons for your divorce. My usefulness to God was over.

I struggled with reconciling God’s call on my life with my divorce. Why would a divorce—especially as a result of adultery which was biblical grounds for divorce—disqualify me from being used by God? Had I been relegated to a second class Christian? No pastor would marry a divorced woman, so I could never be a pastor’s wife again. Where did I fit in the grand scheme of God’s kingdom? Did I have to settle for living the rest of my life as a single woman, never to marry again if I wanted to serve God?

And that’s when I ran across Romans 11:29:

For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn. Romans 11:29

Those words ran through my mind night and day. God’s will and His call are irrevocable. If that is true, there is still a calling on my life. But how do I reconcile Romans 11:29 with scriptures that indicate leaders must be the “husband of just one wife” (Titus 1:6, 1 Timothy 3:2, 12; )? Does that scripture apply to me? Does it only apply to those serving as leaders in the church? Why would God apply it only to men and not to women as well? So many questions, and yet so few answers.

I know there are people who will rise up against me and say that I have been disqualified from ministry because of my divorce, especially if I remarry one day. However, I am learning that what man may consider as a disqualification from ministry, God can actually use to qualify me for ministry.

How can God qualify someone through divorce? Or addiction? Or adultery? Or _(fill in the blank)_? God has used this time of pain to purify my heart. He has used it to wipe away the pride that caused me to believe I was better than others. He has cleansed me of my judgmental attitude toward those whose lives were not as “perfect” as mine. I have come to a place of understanding that even I need God’s forgiveness because—in  and of myself—I am capable of great sin. I have experienced the love of a God who pursues the one sheep who walks away, the God who is faithful even when I am faithless. I have been the prodigal son and the prideful older son. I have experienced the grace of God and no longer need to prove that I am worthy. I walked through the fire and found my faith strengthened and purified. I have met the Great I Am—the One who meets my every need exactly when I need it.

Today, I know my Savior personally, intimately, experientially. He has walked me through the painful trials and tribulations of life, and I can say with absolute certainty that He is faithful!

While I still can’t answer all of the questions, I know that God has again planted a seed of ministry in my heart. Dreams of writing and speaking that had been pushed deep down into my sub-conscious mind have been brought to the surface, the passion burning brighter than ever. Doors of ministry seem to be flying open at every turn—opportunities that I have in no way pursued through any means except prayer. With every heartbeat, my passion grows, my dreams seem larger and closer, and the vision grows clearer.

Has divorce disqualified me from ministry? Only God can call, and only God can qualify. And, perhaps it is through the trials and tribulations of this life that He qualifies those He calls.

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(Click here for some commentary on the phrase “husband of just one wife” from BibleGateway.com)

Renew Your Mind

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2 (NLT)

Some time ago, I had a conversation with a friend who was struggling in many areas of her life. Her finances were in ruins. She was struggling with health issues. Her health issues caused her to be unable to work a normal job. Her kids were struggling with issues, and she didn’t have the strength or energy to deal with them. And she found herself in a state of deep depression, unable to see a way out of the pit.

She was angry with God, and she was beating herself up. She felt as if she was failing God, that somehow if she could just do more, His favor would fall on her. As we talked, I shared with her the many scriptures that focus on training our minds to think biblically. She looked at me and said, “But what does it look like to be transformed by the renewing of our minds?”

Let me clarify here: I did not in any way tell my friend that by simply changing the way she thinks she could somehow change her circumstances, fully overcome the deep depression which had settled over her, heal herself of the daily pain. If you are in the type of depression in which she found herself, it may be absolutely necessary to get medical help. But, changing the way we think can give us confidence in God, enough hope to get through some of the darkest days we face. It will put a spring in our step that gives us strength and courage in the face of the Goliaths in our lives. It will give us faith to believe that our God is bigger than any “impossible” situation. It will transform us into the beautiful, encouraging souls that God created us to be. It will give us God’s all-surpassing, matchless peace to get us through the tough times.

So, what does it look like to be transformed by the renewing of our minds? Let me give you just a few thoughts on training our minds.

Flood your mind. I am a firm believer that our minds absorb a lot more than we consciously realize. I heard a study recently that everything we have ever seen, heard, or experienced is stored in our brains—like the hard drive of a computer. We may not be able to recall it, but it is stored there. What do you recall easily? Most likely, it’s the things you are exposed to frequently, the things that make an impact on you. I could probably describe in detail my home to you because I am exposed to it daily. I can tell you details about my kids that no one else knows because I know them intimately. I can quote lyrics to songs that have impacted me (just don’t ask me the name of the artist who sings it…) So, it stands to reason that the more we flood our minds with biblical messages, the more of those biblical messages we will recall.

And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:6-8

Focus your mind. As a college student, I conducted an experiment. I decided that every time I had an idle thought, I would replace it with a verse that I was trying to memorize. I remember driving down the road, and as my mind wandered I would take that thought captive and begin quoting scripture. Any time I had an ugly or negative thought, as soon as I recognized it I began quoting scripture (usually in my mind). I think that’s what God would have us do: focus our thoughts on Him, change our ugly or hopeless thinking to reflect the promises He has given us. It takes work, but the results—having the God of peace with you—are well worth it.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8-9

Protect your mind. While we flood our minds with the right things, a very strong argument can be made for protecting our mind from things contrary to God and His word. For example, I am very cautious about what movies I see. Is it a sin to see a rated R movie? No…that’s legalism. However, the closer I grow to God, the more entertaining myself with images of sexual promiscuity and listening to a barrage of foul language simply make my stomach churn. Honestly, any movie that has a theme of adultery is completely unappealing to me; there is nothing entertaining about that story line when you have lived it. I feel the same way about music. (I am not a musician, though. Those of you blessed with musical ability may argue this point—and you would win.) I don’t have a problem with “secular” music, but today’s music can be filled with explicit themes and language. Those songs do not glorify God in any way, and they certainly don’t help us draw closer to Him.

Turn my eyes from worthless things, and give me life through your word. Psalm 119:37.

Let me give you a brief run-down of my day. Here’s a caveat: what works for me may not necessarily work for you. God created us all as individuals with unique abilities. You simply have to find what works for you.

Before my feet ever hit the ground, I dedicate my day to God asking Him to live through me (I pray Galatians 2:20 daily). Then, I grab my phone and open a Bible app (try the Bible Gateway app). I read from the reading plan that I have selected. Personally, I like to read large sections of scripture. I think I’ve read through the entire Bible four times in the last 1 ½ years—but that’s what works for me. Some people prefer devotionals or just a very small section of scripture. Others love cross-referencing. Find what works for you.

Then, it’s time for my morning work-out. I usually run or walk, weather permitting. I subscribe to a number of church podcasts, and I listen to sermons while I run. I also have a nice selection of Christian music on my phone. Sometimes I find it easier to run to music during races. Either way, I am flooding my mind with biblical messages while I am working out.

After my run, I am home to get ready for work. I have my radio tuned permanently to KLOVE radio, and it plays in my home 24/7. I find that it just gives our home a soothing, encouraging atmosphere. I often find myself listening to stories of God’s promises, singing songs that praise Him. I can’t even start to tell you how many times I’ve been stopped in my tracks because of lyrics that God used to speak directly to my heart.

Then, it’s off to work. My job requires me to spend large amounts of time in my car. While I am driving from hospital to hospital, I listen either to my KLOVE radio, sermon podcasts, or even books on CD. Sometimes, I turn it all off and simply enjoy the silence and solitude of communing with God. I also keep prayer books in my car. At every stop, I grab my book(s) and use them to pray for my children, my future husband, or someone else that God lays on my heart.

It seems that wherever I am, I find the presence of God. As I flood my mind, fix my mind on Him, and protect my mind, I am able to distinguish God all around me. Whether it’s the whispers to my heart or His creation calling me to worship, I experience Him day and night.

Scripture encourages us repeatedly to draw near to God and He will draw near to us (James 4:8), to seek Him with all our whole heart because when we do we will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13). Sometimes it seems so daunting to change so much. I encourage you to take one small step toward God today. If you take a step toward Him, He will take a step toward you. He longs to fellowship with you, to have you right by His side. He longs to whisper to your heart about how much He loves you. He longs to wrap you in His arms and promise that He is in control even when it seems life is spiraling out of control. He longs to remind you that you can face those giants in your life because He is with you. He longs to give you His perfect peace to guide you each and every day.

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Isaiah 26:3

Leading My Children

Fifteen years ago today (July 8, 1999), I was eight months pregnant with my first child. I had been put on bedrest a few weeks earlier as the doctor watched my blood pressure go up and my blood counts go down.

Around noon, my doctor called me personally—never a good sign.

“I think I’m going to put you in the hospital until we deliver this baby,” he said.

As I began to pack my bags and get ready to leave, my mind rushed back to a year earlier. My nephew had been born just three weeks early—not as premature as I was looking at—and had spent three weeks in the NICU fighting for his life. My mind swirled with fears.

I checked into the hospital, and around 7:00 that night my doctor came by.

“I’ve spoken with the perinatologist, and we are delivering this baby,” he said.

The next thing I knew, I was being pumped with magnesium sulfate, designed to prevent seizures. The flurry of activity around me grew, and I was soon pushed into the operating room for an emergency c-section (yes, I’ve had three babies and NEVER experienced a labor pain). In a short amount of time, my son was delivered. After a very brief hello, he was taken to me and rushed to the nursery.

Even though he was a month early, my son entered this world as a 6 lb 12 oz preemie—complete with immature lungs and unable to breathe completely on his own. He was confined to the nursery on oxygen therapy with close monitoring while I was confined to bed recovering from surgery.

Around 3:00 am, I asked the nurse when I could see my baby. She said that she would see if they could bring him to me for a brief moment. Soon, two nurses came in carrying my precious newborn son.

“Hi, Punkin,” I said.

“Look!” one of the nurses exclaimed. “His breathing improved when he heard his mom’s voice. He’s not grunting any more!”

I have made myself calm and content     like a young child in its mother’s arms.     Deep down inside me, I am as content as a young child. Psalm 131:2

After a few days, Blake and I were able to go home. In those early days, I remember praying for him as I bathed him. As I washed his head and hair, I would pray that he would have the mind of Christ and that he would always be transformed by the renewing of his mind. As I washed his chest, I would pray that he would always wear the breastplate of righteousness. As I scrubbed his feet, I would pray that his feet would be shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. I prayed for purity of mind, body, and spirit. I prayed for everything I could think of. My child would be covered by my prayers.

As the years went by, I added two more children to my family. I was busy trying to stay afloat—with a husband, three young kids, a ministry, a home to care for. Honestly, my prayers became fewer and more sporadic. I was doing good just to keep all the balls in the air.

Eventually, life fell apart. I found myself a single mom struggling to stay above water. Life was so busy, and I was doing good to keep everything moving forward.

One day, I heard that voice that is all too familiar to me. “Focus on the spiritual growth of your children,” it whispered to my soul.

In an effort to be obedient, I began to buy and read books. I was suddenly faced with the reality that I had no idea how to be a spiritual leader to my children—that’s the husband’s job. I began to try every method I could find—daily Bible readings, family prayer nights, developing a family mission and vision. Every effort was short-lived.

I cried out to God, “Lord, I want to focus on the spiritual growth of my children, but I have no idea how!”

And then, I found a life-changing idea. I began to set alarms on my phone throughout my day, and with each alarm I paused to pray for my kids. The first evening my alarm continued to ring, my Blake looked at me and asked why I had all these alarms. When I explained that it was a reminder to pray for him, you could see the smile creep across his face, the joy of knowing that his mom was praying for him.

Today, I have changed my methodology some. I work from my car, traveling from hospital to hospital. Every time I get into or out of my car, I pick up Stormie O’Martian’s book The Power of a Praying Parent. I use one of her prayers to lift my children before the Father, using it as a springboard to pray for specifics in my children’s lives.

One of my biggest prayers for Blake in this last year has been that he would develop a hunger and thirst for God, for His word, for righteousness. I have prayed as he enters his teen years that he would see the importance of purity—in mind, body, and spirit. I have prayed that God would wrap him in His arms and lead him to be a world-changer for Christ.

And you know what? These prayers have brought about more changes than I ever dreamed possible. Blake has a habit of coming into my room late at night to talk—his favorite time of the day. He opens his heart to me and lets me in to the deepest recesses of his soul. He has shared with me areas where God is working, where he is struggling to obey, where he realizes he is pushing God out—always in direct connection with my prayers.

Last week, he asked me how many chapters were in the Bible. As we began to look it up, I realized his mind was trying to figure out how many chapters he needed to read each day to read through it in a year. My heart leapt with joy! I know God is hearing my prayers. I know He is moving in the lives of my kids. I know He has amazing plans for these precious kids He has entrusted to me.

My 6 lb 12 oz preemie now towers over me at 6’ 3” tall. I refer to him as my gentle giant—my 4 year-old niece simply calls him Adult. What a joy it has been to watch this baby grow into a young man with a heart for God!

Are you struggling with how to lead your children? Pray! Let God do all the work!

Are any of you in trouble? Then you should pray. Are any of you happy? Then sing songs of praise.

Are any of you sick? Then send for the elders of the church to pray over you. Ask them to anoint you with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer offered by those who have faith will make you well. The Lord will heal you. If you have sinned, you will be forgiven.

 So admit to one another that you have sinned. Pray for one another so that you might be healed. The prayer of a godly person is powerful. It makes things happen. James 5:13-16

 

Happy birthday, Blake!! I love you more than words can say!

When to Call it Quits

As I look back over the years of adultery and divorce, one of the most difficult things I had to do was to discern when to call it quits in my marriage. As a Christian, I was raised knowing that marriage is a sacred covenant between man and God, a commitment to love and cherish for as long as we both shall live. Divorce was never a word I allowed to enter into my vocabulary. I never dreamed that I would be a statistic.

After the revelation of my husband’s affair, I made the decision to fight for my marriage—to extend forgiveness and let God make our marriage better than ever. For about six months, I fought to regain trust, to forgive, to put bitterness behind me. But, I eventually realized that I was the only one fighting for the marriage.

My prayers began to change. “Lord, please show me if I need to hang in here and fight,” I would beg Him. The answer, in my mind, was silence. My friends who were close to me and the situation began to tell me that God was showing them it was time for me to walk away. But, I couldn’t hear God saying that. After all, have you ever heard a sermon where the pastor tells you to throw in the towel? Never…and I would never want to hear a pastor say that. God can heal every marriage, but He doesn’t always. Therein is the struggle of God’s sovereignty vs man’s free will.

I struggle with whether to even throw this out, and I am certain that there will be negative backlash to it. However, I do believe that God does give permission to walk away in the case of marital unfaithfulness. When you know that your spouse has been unfaithful, when you have the undeniable proof or admission of guilt, I encourage you to give God and forgiveness a chance. However, when you have done all you know to do, when you’ve prayed all you can pray, when your closest, most godly advisors are telling you to walk away, and yet you can’t hear God telling you that it is ok…then, consider the list below.

(I will use the pronoun “he” only for simplicity; I realize that for every man who cheats, there is a woman also involved.)

Has the unfaithful spouse admitted to his sins?  My gut reaction was to protect my husband, and I made the mistake of keeping his transgression private. I allowed him to hide from the truth of his actions, and, therefore, continue in a life of secrecy. But, confession of sins is vital to repentance. Depending upon the circumstances, it is not necessary for the unfaithful spouse to tell everyone you know. However, it is essential that he admits the truth to those closest to you—children (if age appropriate), parents, close family members. In my case, my ex-husband should have been willing to confess to the church because it was directly impacted by his actions.

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. James 5:16

Is your spouse allowing you to express your hurt? To process the betrayal, you must be able to talk about it. You must be able to express the multitude of emotions with which you are dealing. Keeping it all bottled up inside will damage both of you. For the first six weeks or so after my husband’s affair was discovered, he was fairly open to me talking about my emotions. However, I soon began to hear, “You are going to hold this over my head for the rest of our lives, aren’t you?” My response was to shut my mouth and bottle it up. The offending spouse, if truly repentant, will understand that he has done great damage to you and will be willing to hear your heart ache. He will realize that your pain is a consequence of his actions, and will be willing to endure for your sake. I am not saying that your spouse should be the only one you talk about these feelings with, and it most definitely should not be the only topic of discussion. But, there will be times when you will need to talk about it with the one who has caused the pain. He should be willing to listen and cry with you, understanding that he is responsible and accepting that responsibility.

Does the offending spouse allow you to check up on him? When a spouse has been unfaithful, trust has been completely shattered. You no longer trust anything your spouse says. You will find yourself checking on him to see if he really is with Dan. Is he really at the office? He said he was going to run by the bookstore; I wonder if he is really there? He said he was going to the gym, but I wonder if that was an excuse to see her? If your spouse is truly repentant, he will understand that you need to allay your fears by checking on him. He will gladly hand the phone to Dan so you will know he really is with Dan. He will allow you to drive over to meet him at the bookstore. If he is going to be late, he will gladly call you and let you know why he is late and how long it will be. He will do whatever is necessary to help you rebuild trust.

Is he willing to go and participate in individual and joint counseling? If your spouse had an affair, you need an impartial and experienced third party to help you navigate the murky waters. Perhaps it is a pastor at your church or your church may recommend a licensed counselor. Whatever qualified person you can find will be an essential step to your healing. The counselor can help you both see areas where you need to surrender to God and change your thinking. He will help you discuss touchy issues that you might otherwise find difficult to discuss. My husband and I found a godly couple who had successfully navigated the waters of adultery (he was a former pastor). Although I faithfully met with her, my husband refused to meet with him after he suggested that at some point my husband needed to apologize to the congregation he had been pastoring. I eventually sought out a licensed Christian counselor who told me it was time to divorce. At that point my husband forbade me to return. I knew the end was near.

Is your spouse sharing with you? Do you know your spouse’s passwords? Is his phone off-limits to you? Does he regularly try to keep his computer away from you? After several months of trying to keep things together, I found that my husband never had any incoming or out-going calls listed on his phone. He only used a work computer, and I did not have access to it. Caller ID was always blank. Although her husband and I communicated regularly, they had become very adept at hiding things from us. Phone calls did not register on the phone bill if they went to voicemail. A new business line was a convenient way to communicate. Rather than using a computer, he was using his cell phone and keeping the history wiped out. If there is anything suspicious, you need to confront. You need to express your concerns and consider if he is hiding something from you.

Is he spending time alone with God? God is the Healer. He is the one who can help your spouse change his ways. He is the One who sets the prisoner free. If your spouse is not making time alone with God a priority, if he is not taking the family to church, if he is not stepping into the role of spiritual leader (men only), then you need to wonder if he is seriously repentant. My husband actively took us to church as a family for about eight weeks after the revelation of his affair. He then suddenly lost all interest in church and even told me he did not miss it one bit. I now know that the timeline of quitting church corresponds with the exact time he began to communicate with her again.

Is he accusing you of the same sins he committed? I had an opportunity for an affair about nine months after his affair was revealed—and I found myself awfully close to the fire. However, I ultimately decided to walk away. Suddenly, I was the one sneaking around to see a man—any man that even said hello to me. If I went to the store, I was actually going to meet a man—even though I came home with a car full of groceries and a receipt to show where I had been. If I went out walking, I was just walking to the corner and then getting picked up by a man—just as he had done for several years. When I was working a night shift at the hospital, I was really with someone at their house. All of the things he had done were suddenly projected onto me. In my opinion, he was looking for a way to shift the blame from himself and onto me. He was unwilling to take responsibility for his actions.

Is he taking the lead on healing the marriage? About six months into our attempted reconciliation, I reached a place where I realized I was the only one putting any effort into healing the marriage. That was the moment I took off my wedding ring and vowed never to put it back on my finger until I saw him working at healing. The offending spouse—if truly repentant—will be willing to do whatever is necessary to keep the marriage together, to give you security. And there is no timeframe for when it ends; it ends when death separates you. After months of enduring, I gave one last chance: I told him I would go to counseling but he needed to take the lead and call the counselor. He could not comprehend why it was his responsibility to call the counselor and schedule the appointment. He refused to make an appointment, and that is when I made an appointment with a divorce attorney.

Is he willing to accept the consequences of his actions? All of the above illuminates this point, but I must re-iterate it. Please understand…you must be willing to love, respect, and forgive. You must not hold it over his head. You must be working to get closer to Christ and allow Him to show you the sin in your own heart. If you are doing all of that and he is unwilling to accept the consequences—broken trust, lack of security, emotional distress—then there is a problem. You must not allow this problem to be swept under the rug and not be dealt with. If you are going to endure the pain, then you want your marriage to go from good to great—as we all know God can do. Just because you forgive does not mean there are no consequences.

I know how difficult it is to hear God say that it is ok for you to walk away from your covenant marriage. I know the emotional distress as you strive to hear His voice telling you that He understands. I know how badly you want to hang in there, to fight, to not let go because you made a commitment. And, for some of you, God will tell you to hang in there a little longer—and He will resurrect your marriage from the dead.

However, there are others of you who have endured such tremendous pain and anguish. You’ve done everything you can do. You’ve prayed all you can pray. You are seeing the signs that your spouse is not truly repentant—perhaps, like my husband, continuing in his adulterous ways. God may just be telling you that it is ok for you to walk away. Some of you may find that by walking away, your spouse wakes up and is truly repentant. Others, like me, may end up divorced and five years down the road and still see no repentance. I’m not here to tell anyone to walk away—especially if you sense God is telling you to hang in there. But, for those of you who are struggling to make the decision, I hope that the above guidelines may help provide clarity in your decision.

(By the way, I know there will be those people who tell you that divorce is never appropriate for God’s holy, chosen people. While God says he hates divorce in Malachi, I believe it is because He hates the pain that His children must endure because of divorce. He also clearly says that divorce is wrong except in the case of marital unfaithfulness… Hold your heads high and know that He loves you no matter what! And, I love you too!!)

Life is a Marathon

Life is a marathon, not a sprint.

Although I am nowhere near ready to run another long-distance event right now, I have found myself reflecting frequently on my half-marathon last year. While I love the sense of accomplishment from training for and completing such a challenging event, I had no idea the impact it would have on my spiritual life.

As I was running last year, I remember feeling as if there were four distinct phases of the run. Phase 1 lasted for the first 2-3 miles. During this first phase, I found myself thinking about the daunting task of running 13.1 miles. I wondered what I had been thinking when I signed up for this ridiculous task, and I struggled to get into a groove.

During the second phase, I seemed to hit my stride and felt as if I could run forever. I enjoyed all of the sights. I was able to interact with the crowds gathered along the sides of the street, shouting words of encouragement. I marveled at how good it felt to be out there, running, without burden.

Around mile ten, I began to sense the stress that my body was under. And thus began phase 3. Every muscle in my body ached. I was tired. I was hungry. It was a struggle to keep going. But, as I looked at the mile markers, I knew that I had come so far! It would have been crazy to quit when I had made it this far! It was a matter of sheer grit and determination to keep pushing forward in spite of the pain. With every step, I kept thinking that the finish line had to be just around the corner.

Finally, I saw it! Blowing in the gentle breeze was a huge “Finish” banner, proclaiming that I had made it. There in the crowd I heard the shouts of my kids and my sister. With a final burst of energy—summoning every ounce of strength left in my body—I sprinted across the finish line and collected my medal. I had completed the race. I had fought the good fight.

I can’t even start to tell you how many times God has used that illustration—those stages of the race—to encourage me in this race called life. As I reflect over the last few years, I can clearly delineate the phases. The early days of adultery and divorce were daunting and hard. I struggled to get into a groove. Finally, in the summer of 2011, I sold everything “we” owned, moved, and started fresh with my kids. It was hard, but so cleansing and cathartic! I reached a place of peace, of trusting God to handle my future.

The next two years were relatively easy and enjoyable—and then I hit August of last year. I clearly remember calling out to God, begging to understand why things were getting so hard. God simply said, “You are in Phase 3.” On the one hand, I had an amazing sense of excitement that I was ten miles in—that the race was almost over. On the other hand, I knew that the hardest days were yet to come.

I am now well into phase 3. I want so badly to quit, to drop out of the race. The pain is unbelievable! I wake up each morning and drop to my knees in prayer, begging God to give me the strength and endurance to get through just one more day. I find myself collapsing in tears daily, curling into a fetal position. I am so over this race! And yet, I know that one day so very soon I will come around the corner to see the finish line.

Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

As I struggle through this phase of the race—as I wait for God to fulfill His promises to me—the days are hard. I often find myself collapsing in tears, struggling just to hold myself together at the most inopportune times.

There are days where I simply feel like quitting, giving up, dropping out of the race. I told a friend today that if I God had revealed the details of this race to me beforehand, I probably would have simply told Him, “Thanks, but no thanks. I’m not interested in running that race.”

The question becomes how do I endure the final mile of this race? How do I hang on to what seems an impossible dream? How do I push through the pain and allow God to continue doing an eternal work in my life?

I must start by focusing on the unseen, eternal purposes. Despite the pain and the fear and the exhaustion, there’s a sense of excitement for what God is doing. He has done so much work in me over the last few years! He has refined me by the fire of trials. He has purified my heart. He has created a compassion and empathy in me that I didn’t know before. Perhaps most importantly, I have come to know my Savior deeply and intimately, in ways I never could have imagined before. If He loves me enough to refine me by these fires, to build this type of enduring faith in me, He must have some pretty amazing plans for my future!

I know that God always has a purpose in the pain. I have offered myself to God as a living sacrifice, asking Him to mold me in whatever ways are necessary. I know this surrender is necessary if I want to eventually move out of phase 3, to find that finish line waiting for me just around the corner. Honestly, I asked for this race. I prayed that God would help my unbelief, that He would use me in ways that are above and beyond all I can ask or imagine. I chose to sign up for this race. Be careful what you pray!

I must focus on who God is. God is faithful. He is unchangeable. He is a Promise Keeper. He is unable to lie. He is the anchor for my soul, the foundation upon which my life is built. He has met my every need. He has walked faithfully beside me. He has guided me into healing and wholeness. He has proven Himself to me throughout my life.

As I look at scriptures to see who God is and I look at His track record in my life, I find that peace comes a little more quickly. I can read that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness (Galatians 3:6). I see that Joseph clung to the dream planted in his heart as a young child even as he was sold into slavery in a foreign land. I see that David held onto the promise that he would one day be king, even as he ran for his life from King Saul. Every promise God made was eventually fulfilled. It wasn’t easy. It was a battle. It was a time of refining, testing, trials. But, in each situation, God used the difficulties to prepare for the fulfillment of the promise.

I don’t understand why I am facing the current trials—why it has to hurt so badly in these final days before I see the fulfillment of the promise. However, I know my God. He loves me. He wants only what is best for me. He wants me to trust Him completely. His ways are higher than my ways. He sees all, knows all. He is all powerful. He promises to take everything—even the bad things—and use them for good in my life.

Because that’s who God is, I can trust Him even when it doesn’t make sense.

Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10). Over and over in the last few weeks, I’ve heard God calling out to me to be still and know that He is God. He has told me repeatedly that He will fight for me, and I only need to be still (Ex 14:14). My heart has been in turmoil as I try to understand why; God is calling me to simply be still, to trust Him, to let Him be God and do what only He can do.

As I take my eyes off the trials—off of the promise—and refocus on the Promise Maker, the Promise Keeper, my heart is stilled. His peace comes back to my heart and my life. I release my fear and trust my heart to the God who specializes in the impossible. I intentionally choose to stop asking God, and instead I choose to start thanking Him—praising Him for the victory He has promised even before I can see it in my humanity.

God is building my faith, and it is not a fun process. But, the author and perfecter of my faith knows what I need to mature me. He knows the circumstances that will bring Him the most glory. He knows what is best for me. I must simply trust Him.

Lord Jesus, I am worn out and weary from this race. I feel as if I can’t take another step. I know the finish line must be just around the corner. Still my heart as I focus on you, on the work you are doing in my life through this time. Help me to remember that you are the God who cannot lie, the One who always keeps His promises. Help me to remember the great cloud of witnesses who are standing along the course, cheering me on, those who have run this race before me and found you always faithful. Give me the strength and endurance to finish this race.

 

 

 

 

 

God of the Impossible

God is the God of the Impossible.

From where I stand today, it looks impossible that God’s promise to me can ever be fulfilled. As I’ve contemplated my situation, how this promise He made me faded into oblivion, I’ve come to realize that He is only setting the stage to do what He does best—show up and show off. Therefore, I am in the perfect position to see Him step in and do the impossible.

As my daughter and I were talking about this issue a few days ago, Cassie asked me, “Why is it OK for God to seek His glory but it’s not OK for us to seek glory for ourselves?”

“Because,” I began, “when God gets the glory, it points everyone to Him.”

I have asked God for years to let my life bring Him glory, to allow me to point the world back to Him in all I say and do. While I feel like my life is falling apart in some ways, I sense that God is telling me this is just a set-up for Him to step in and do amazing things that only He can do. He is setting me up to point the world back to Him.

We’ve all heard Luke 1:37 that says, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” But, let’s take a walk through scriptures and look at some biblical heroes.

Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. Genesis 21:1-2

God promised Abraham that He would be the Father of many nations. And yet, when he and his wife were well beyond child-bearing years, Sarah was still barren. Romans 4:19 puts it this way: “his body was as good as dead—and so was Sarah’s womb.” God made the promise, and yet He waited until it was humanly impossible before He stepped in and acted.

And God showed up, blessed Abraham and Sarah with a baby, and fulfilled His promise.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. Genesis 45:4-8

As a young boy, Joseph dreamed that one day his father and brothers would bow down to him. His brothers didn’t like his arrogance, so they decided to sell him into slavery and tell their father he was dead.

After years of bondage, false accusations, imprisonment, it appeared that Joseph’s promise was dead. The cup-bearer had forgotten him in prison. Then, in one day, he was called up from prison and elevated to second in command.

Joseph probably felt as if he would never see his father or brothers again—and may have even wondered if he wanted to see them. Then, when it seemed humanly impossible that his childhood dream would ever become a reality, there stood his brothers—bowing down to him.

And God showed up and brought about the fulfillment of the promise He made.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. They are to encamp by the sea, directly opposite Baal Zephon. Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” So the Israelites did this. Exodus 14:1-4

Moses was never supposed to live. An edict had been issued that all male babies should be killed, but by the grace of God his life was spared. Not only was it spared, but he was raised in Pharaoh’s household! He received the best education and all the finest things available as a child. He was in the perfect position for God to use Him—humanly speaking.

But God didn’t use him until he was banished to the wilderness and forced to become a lowly shepherd. Then, God came to him and revealed his plan—to use Moses in his lowly state to lead his people to freedom. God chose to use him when it was humanly impossible.

Then, consider this episode of Moses’s life: Pharaoh finally succumbed to the pressure and sent the Israelites with Moses. As they marched to freedom, you can feel the exhilaration! God has fulfilled His promise to His people.

Except for one problem: God led them directly to the Red Sea. With the water in front of them and the Egyptians behind them, their hope for a fulfilled promised was completely annihilated. They were doomed. They were faced with the impossible.

And God showed up and parted the Red Sea, fulfilling His promise.

So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”… So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.John 11:6-7, 14-15

When Jesus’s good friend, Lazarus, fell sick, his sisters called for Jesus. Scripture records that Jesus stayed where he was for two more days (John 11:6). When He finally decided to go to his friend, Lazarus had been dead for four days. Jesus waited until it was an impossible situation.

When Lazarus’s sister Martha complained, “If only you had come earlier, my brother wouldn’t be dead!” Jesus simply told her that this situation was for His glory.

And God showed up and raised Lazarus from the dead, forever pointing the world back to Him.

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.  Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. Matthew 14:22-25

After feeding 5000 men, Jesus sent the disciples ahead of him. He needed some time to be alone with His Father. While He prayed, his disciples were traveling by boat when a storm began brewing. Jesus could have stepped in and calmed the storm for the disciples, but instead he waited until just before dawn. Then, He walked out on the waters to the boat while it was buffeted by the waves.

And God showed up and stilled the storm after He showed Himself the God of the impossible by walking on water.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened. Luke 24:9-12

The disciples were sitting around, no doubt talking about the events of the weekend. I would love to hear the conversation!

“Can you believe,” Matthew said, “that we were so foolish to believe Him? How could we believe He was the fulfillment of the promise?”

“But,” Peter began, “how do we explain the feeding of the 5000? He healed the blind and the lame. And Lazarus! How do you explain that one? If He’s not the promised one, how did He make me walk on water?”

“I don’t know,” John says. “I’m just thoroughly confused. I really believed, but now He’s dead.”

Suddenly, the women burst through the door announcing that Jesus had risen from the dead!

And God showed up when the disciples thought their promise was dead and gone.

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I’m at a place where I feel as if my promise from God has vanished, could never be fulfilled, has become an impossibility. But, if we look at the pattern in scripture, God always waits until it is humanly impossible before He shows up! He wants to make sure that the fulfillment of a promise from Him is clearly from Him so that we have no choice but to point the world back to Him. Is it possible that impossible is simply a set up so that God can show up? Is it possible that impossible is simply the setting for a promise fulfilled? Is it possible that impossible is an indication that fulfillment is just around the corner?

I find myself struggling to cling to this promise that I know is from God. He has told me that the days of fulfillment are near, and yet He has somehow allowed the possibility to fade into oblivion. As I cling to God, trying to focus securely on Him, I am beginning to see how this circumstance is simply a set up for God to get the glory. I remain fairly peaceful—as long as I keep my eyes on Him. These are tough days, but I am being stretched, learning to trust Him, seeking to know His purpose in this pain.

Perhaps you are struggling to believe God can fulfill a promise He has made to you. If you know the promise is from God, keep clinging to Him, believing He can do what He has said He can do. Perhaps He is simply setting up the impossible so that He can show up!