Survive ‘n’ Thrive Recap

Many of you are aware that I recently had the privilege of speaking at the Survive ‘n’ Thrive Single Mom Conference in Oklahoma City. I wanted to share a very brief recap of what I shared with the ladies. I should be recording my session soon, and it will be posted on the Arise Ministries website. I will post a link when it is available!

God bless!

 

Picking Up the Pieces

Recovering from Adultery and Divorce

 

Storms happen. In Oklahoma, we are very familiar with the devastating storms, tornadoes that rip houses from their foundations. They leave a trail of debris, piles of rubble. They forever alter the landscape.

And so is the storm of adultery. It sweeps into our lives, destroying everything we thought we knew. It leaves a trail of destruction and lies, a path that leaves us wondering if anything we ever believed was actually true. It strikes us at the core of our being, making us doubt everything about ourselves. We question our identity, our value, our ability to love or be loved.

So how do we overcome the storm? Where do we begin the process of clearing the debris and rebuilding our lives?

Before we begin rebuilding, we must first clear the debris.

  1. The moment of surrender. None of us wants the pain of adultery. We wonder why our prayers to save our marriage were not answered. We struggle with anger toward God. Perhaps in our stubbornness, we even begin to walk away from God, deciding to live our lives our own way. At some point, we must surrender to God. We may not want this journey, but we must trust that he is with us, that he is still in control. We must find a way to simply accept what is and trust him to make it so much more than we could ever imagine. (Galatians 2:20, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
  2. The decision to forgive. Forgiveness is a command. We must forgive the other woman. We must forgive the offending spouse. And, we must for give ourselves. Forgiveness is often more than we can do. But, God can allow his forgiveness to flow through us. If we are willing to be obedient, to take that step of doing what he has called us to do, his supernatural power will make all anger and bitterness fade away. By making the daily decision to walk in forgiveness, we will experience his perfect peace in our lives. (Matthew 6:14-15, Ephesians 4:31-32)
  3. The determination to thrive. Survival is not enough. God never called us to a life of mediocrity; instead he called us to live an abundant life, an extraordinary life. Our mindset must be one of knowing that we will make the most of our lives, that we will see God do far more than we could ever ask or imagine. (John 10:10, Job 8:5-7)

After clearing the debris, you are ready to begin the rebuilding process…a process that can result in things bigger and better than you ever imagined!

  1. Know your identity. Adultery robs you of every ounce of self-esteem, leaving you questioning your value. But, don’t let the enemy steal the truth from you! You are a child of the King of Kings, a chosen people, a royal priesthood. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, the apple of his eye. You are beautiful and greatly loved. You are a masterpiece created with a purpose! Dig into scripture, and let his words of love soothe your soul. Discover your inner beauty and value! (1 Peter 2:9, Psalm 139:14-18)
  2. Remember it’s not about you. If your situation was anything like mine, you may find that the offending spouse tries to convince you that you were the problem. You were a failure as a wife. You were too busy. It’s not about you! In my experience, affairs are the result of a person walking in the flesh, fulfilling the lusts of the flesh. Affairs are a result of addiction, pornography, self-centeredness. Adultery is the result of a person who is unhappy with his life, a person who has failed to learn the secret of contentment. So much more could be said, but please remember it is not about you! (Galatians 5:19-21, Philippians 4:12)
  3. Find your passion and purpose. Do you have a dream? Maybe you dreamed of being a writer. Or a singer. Or an artist. Maybe you dreamed of going on a mission trip. Maybe you dreamed of helping foster children or adopting. I don’t know what you passion is, but find out what it is! Take steps toward fulfilling your purpose on this earth! Follow your dreams! Become the best you you can be! (Ephesians 2:10)
  4. Trust him for a new future. One of the first verses that gave me encouragement is found in Isaiah 43: Forget the past! It is nothing compared to what I am about to do! How exciting is that? Whatever was in your past, your future is far greater! God has a way of taking all of the horrible, awful, ugly things of this life and making something beautiful out of them. That’s his specialty! (Isaiah 43:18-19, Zechariah 9:12)

Holly’s Story

I am blessed to call a sweet lady, Holly, friend. She found me on Facebook shortly after I started writing. Over the last two years, she has shared portions of her life with me, a life that has been marked by walking in the flesh, feeding the lusts of the flesh instead of walking in the spirit.

However, today she is a shining light for all the world to see! She is a life transformed by the grace of Christ. She is a beauty, seeking to find her purpose and passion in this life through her love for Christ.

I have so enjoyed seeing Holly point the world back to Christ! When she asked me about sharing her story, I was thrilled to have her guest post on my blog! So, without further introduction, here is Holly’s story:

******************

I regret my past and the decisions that I’ve made. I dated ruthlessly and carelessly. I’ve done things I am not proud of. I partook of college activities that you never deem yourself doing when you’re a 14 year old girl. I have lived shamelessly in my past. From the outside looking in, it would be easy to deem me as someone who is the girl you want to stay away from.

Now, I’m 28, newly single, and building my future with prayer and a whole lot of Jesus.

I’ve dated my fair share of guys in the church. None of the relationships lasted or worked out. Why? Because I was searching for something only Jesus can FREELY give me. A wholeness and newness, acceptance that I can only get from Him. I was looking for an acceptance that I was not able to get as a little girl. My father died at an early age, and I was raised by a single mom. I had a void in my heart.  A huge void. A void that I didn’t know was there…until after I made the decision to marry. That marriage was quickly followed by divorce.

It. Hurt.

I’m not perfect. But Jesus is. John 14:6 says that Jesus is the way, the Truth, and the Life, and no one comes to the Father except through him.

Jesus is Life.

He has given me a new life in Him. My Refuge is also in Jesus, (Psalm 34:22) and my Hope is in him (1 Peter 1:3). I am telling you, no matter the hurt you’ve experienced, you have a new life in Jesus. A new life that can’t be justified—because we do not deserve the blood that was shed for us at Calvary (Hebrews 9:12).

I have learned a lot. I am seeking Jesus daily for His direction and insight into my life. I hope one day to be happily married to a man who sees my past as redeemed and my sins washed clean; white as snow…because they are (Isaiah 1:18). I want you to know, whether you are a man or woman, single, newly single, God has a plan for you.

If you have been hurt and walked through a whole lot of mess, it’s okay. God’s got It! He’s going to use you, transform you, mold you, and make you into the Masterpiece He has created you to be (Ephesians 2:10)! Don’t lose hope. Stay focused. Remain in prayer. And surrender your entire heart to our precious Lord Jesus Christ.

And be ready for the adventure he is planning for you! He Loves You!

 

When You Feel Like Job

There once was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless—a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil….One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting at the oldest brother’s house, a messenger arrived at Job’s home with this news: “Your oxen were plowing, with the donkeys feeding beside them, when the Sabeans raided us. They stole all the animals and killed all the farmhands. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”

While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news: “The fire of God has fallen from heaven and burned up your sheep and all the shepherds. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”

While he was still speaking, a third messenger arrived with this news: “Three bands of Chaldean raiders have stolen your camels and killed your servants. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”

While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news: “Your sons and daughters were feasting in their oldest brother’s home. Suddenly, a powerful wind swept in from the wilderness and hit the house on all sides. The house collapsed, and all your children are dead. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”

Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship.
Job 1:1, 13-20

Have you ever felt like Job? At every turn, another tragedy hits your life. It’s as if you can’t catch a break, not even a moment to catch your breath. You feel as if you are treading water, and you are barely keeping your head above water. Life is simply overwhelming, more than you can handle.

Perhaps it’s an unwanted divorce, the pain of adultery, or unemployment. Maybe the bills are piling up and you can’t see how you will ever survive financially. Maybe you or someone you love has received the unwelcome diagnosis. Perhaps you’ve lost someone you love dearly.

Or maybe, just maybe, there’s been an avalanche of all of the above.

Let’s face it: Life. Is. Tough.

The Bible tells us that in this life we will have trouble. We can be certain that we will face dark days, days where we feel as if we might not make it. We will be tested and tried, tossed by the storms of this life.

We can often feel like Job.

So, when life is throwing wave after wave of pain and turmoil, how do we respond?

Then the Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.Job 1:8

Job could not be tested without permission from God. In fact, Job was chosen by God to be tested. Why? Because he was a man of complete integrity.

It almost seems like a cruel joke from God, to be chosen to lose everything because you’ve chosen to walk with integrity. But, let’s really stop and think about it.

As I look back over the last six or seven years, I am the first to admit that it has been tough. It’s still hard! But, I can also tell you that I have experienced so much spiritual growth, experienced God in such new and profound ways that I would never trade this experience for anything this world has to offer.

You see, God looked down from heaven and I truly believe that he saw something inside of me, something that told him that I would handle the adversities thrown my way. Even more, God saw something inside of me that told him I would use the trials thrown at me to point the world back to him. He had a purpose behind the pain that he was allowing into my life. That knowledge—the thought that God had chosen me to experience the pain of life—was a trigger that changed the way I thought about my trials. Being chosen by God helped me realize that he had a purpose for my pain.

If you are facing the painful trials of this world, be assured that God has a purpose. Be encouraged that he sees something inside of you that tells him you will allow these trials to do a work in you. Be assured that when he looks at you, he sees one who is willing to let the trials change you, mold you, more into his image so that he can do a profound work through you. Be assured that his plans are to use these devastating circumstances for your good and his glory.

Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship.
Job 1:20

Job’s immediate response to his trials was to fall to the ground and worship.

When I found out about my husband’s adultery, worship was most definitely not my first response. My first response was to yell, scream, run. I wanted to let God know how angry I was with him, that serving him was obviously overrated. I wanted to hang on to the bitterness that was building in my heart.

And yet, when I finally paused and surrendered… When I finally stopped throwing a pity party and told God that he could have his way… When I finally stopped wallowing in the pit and began to worship… That’s when life began to change. That’s when I began to see the Great I Am show up in my circumstances.

When three of Job’s friends heard of the tragedy he had suffered, they got together and traveled from their homes to comfort and console him. Job 2:11

Job was wise enough to surround himself with friends. His friends started out doing the right thing: comforting and consoling him, simply sitting with him because his pain was so great. No words were spoken.

When he and his friends did finally speak, there was a mix of good and bad spoken. Job had his pity party (Job 3). He cursed the day he was born, wondering aloud why he hadn’t just died. Surely that would have been better than the pain he was experiencing!

And that’s when his friends opened their mouths.

Job’s friends meant well, but they were often misguided. They told Job there must be sin in his life, that he simply needed to repent of his sins. But, they failed to realize that God had a plan and that the plan involved walking through pain. They failed to realize that God can do great work in the midst of painful trials.

If you will search eagerly for God, plead with the Almighty. If you are pure and do the right thing, then surely he will become active on your behalf and reward your innocent dwelling. Although your former state was ordinary, your future will be extraordinary (Job 8:5-7).

Eventually, the friends happened upon a truth: God always has a bright future! Bildad informed Job that if he would walk with God, he would have an extraordinary future!

Walking rightly before God does not guarantee us a painless life; but it does guarantee us a future of hope. When we focus our time and energy on knowing God, he is certain to reward us with blessings of his grace and mercy, his love and forgiveness, his peace and guidance. He promises that even though bad things will still happen, he has never and will never leave us nor forsake us. Instead, he will, in his sovereignty, somehow take and weave the ugly, painful trials into a beautiful picture of his redemptive power. He promises to make all things work together for our good.

When we walk through the trials of this life, our ordinary existence will give way to an extraordinary future!

I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. Job 42:5

Toward the end of the book of Job, God engages Job in conversation. He has some corrections for Job, some areas where Job has been at fault. You see, Job was a man of integrity, a man who fell in worship when his life fell apart. And yet, he was not perfect. He did not walk through the trials with perfection; however, he did walk through the trials with a pure heart, earnestly seeking to know God through the storm. And, God rewarded him for having a heart for God.

After walking through the painful days of devastation, Job was able to say that he had truly experienced God for the first time in his life. He went from a head knowledge of God to an intimate relationship with the God of the universe. His view of God, his relationship with God, was forever changed, solidified, made personal.

It was if he had not truly known God before. But, after walking through the trials of this life, Job knew the faithfulness of his God.

So the Lord blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning… Job 42:12

When our lives fall apart, when we experience extreme loss, it is never the end of the story when we are walking with God. Despite loss and devastation, we can find that the second half of our life is even more blessed than the first.

Because we serve a God who is in the business of redeeming everything we ever experience. Because we serve a God who has the ability to make beauty from ashes. Because we serve a God who can resurrect our lives from the dead.

 

Lessons Learned

The message popped up on my phone.

“I have a friend whose wife left him a few years back. He’s been reading your blog. Do you mind if I give him your phone number? He would like to talk to you.”

I responded in the affirmative. “Sure. Go ahead. I’d be more than happy to talk to him.”

A few days later, a call from an unknown number popped up on my phone. I began to visit with this gentleman. We talked about mutual friends. We talked about our past and current ministries. We talked about God.

We began to piece together where we our paths might have crossed in the past. Because he has been in ministry his entire adult life, he knows many of the ministers across the state. Because I went to Oklahoma Baptist University, I know many of the same ministers.

When I mentioned that my son was going to youth camp this week, he asked me which church he was going with. I told him that Blake was attending with the church where my ex-husband had been pastor and I told him the name of the church.

“Wow,” he began. “Our world just got a whole lot smaller. I spoke to the youth at that church. I met your ex-husband.”

Sure enough, he was able to describe my ex-husband. We had actually been in the same church at the same time.

As the conversation continued, he asked one final question: “What have you learned from walking through divorce?”

My mind began to spin. Oh, how much I have learned in the last six years! Where do I begin? How do I summarize the lessons I have learned? I could talk for hours about all I have learned. And, surprisingly, very little of it has to do with relationships.

I have written about many of these lessons over the last three years. But, I thought it might be a good time to summarize a few of my favorite lessons.

God is faithful…always. In the early days of separation, after enduring the excruciating pain of adultery and having my offer of forgiveness rejected, I really wanted nothing to do with God. I was angry. He had failed me. I had been obedient to him, and yet I received nothing but pain. Why should I follow him if the blessing I received was a shattered heart? I could have lived my way, and it could have turned out this well…or better.

But, God was unwilling to leave me in my sin. Even when I was faithless, he was faithful (2 Timothy 2:13). Never did he leave me. Never did he forsake me.

Which brings me to the next lesson.

God loves me…deeply. Despite being a Christian since the age of six, I don’t think I truly grasped the love my Father has for me. Sure, I knew it in a theological way. I could point to the scriptures that told me he loved me so much he gave his only son for me. But I had never truly understood his love in an experiential way.

As I ran from God, I found him pursuing me relentlessly. The harder I ran from him, the louder his voice became.

“Get your security from me,” he whispered day after day.

It was as if I was the only one on the face of the earth. I was the center of his attention, the one he was running after. He could have let me go.

But he didn’t.

He was not content to let me walk away from him because his love for me is far greater than I could ever imagine. He chased me. He fought for me. He pursued me relentlessly. All because he loves me.

I need his forgiveness…badly. I think sometimes when we have spent our entire lives seeking God, we fail to realize the true condition of our hearts. We become prideful. We think that Christ died for everyone else’s sins. We fail to recognize that we need his forgiveness.

In those months where I ran from God, I can honestly say that I don’t know who was inhabiting my body. I fell to sins that I thought I was immune from. And yet, as I look back, I now have a deeper appreciation for the gift of forgiveness that Christ lavished upon us. I realize that without God, I am weak and capable of falling to any sin. I realized that I am no less of a sinner than anyone else. I realized that it is only by the grace of God that I am who I am.

God has good plans for us…always. Life can often knock us down. We can feel as if our lives are over, that there is no future for us. We can believe that our ministry is over, that we no longer have any influence. We can sense that we have been disqualified from ministry, that we are no longer qualified for God’s work.

And yet, I now see that the very thing that I thought had disqualified me from ministry has become a springboard to a much greater ministry than I ever dreamed possible! Nothing that this life throws at us ends our life, our influence. God promises to make all things work for good to those who love him (Romans 8:28). If it’s not good, God’s not done.

God is able…to do anything. This journey has been a journey of faith. As I have seen my Great I Am provide for my every need just the right moment, I have seen my faith grow. My prayers are no longer for small things; instead, I am believing God for the impossible. I am begging God and believing God for power beyond my greatest imagination.

My God is able to do above and beyond all I could ever ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20-22). I have seen it. I believe it. And I am asking for more every day.

No pain is wasted…ever. I have seen my fair share of pain. No one can grasp the excruciating pain of adultery. No one can understand the pain of watching your children hurt. No one can completely know the fear of financial ruin. No one can feel the loneliness that sets in.

Rejection. Uncertainty. Anger. Unending conflict. Bitterness. I have felt every negative emotion known to the human experience.

And yet, I have also experienced the freedom of forgiveness. I’ve felt the comfort of the Father. I’ve known personally the provisions of my Father. I’ve seen my pain used for His glory and my good. I’ve experienced growth and spiritual maturity that I never dreamed possible.

And peace. That amazing peace that surpasses all understanding. His perfect peace that floods my life as I focus on him. That peace that keeps me grounded, protected as the world crashes around me.

I can truly say that for every pain I have experienced, he has repaid me with two blessings. And he’s not finished yet!

I could go on and on about the lessons I have learned. There’s no end! And, I know there are many more.

If you are walking through the pain of divorce, adultery, or any other trial, don’t despair! Our God is able and willing! He has great plans for you and will one day have you put together and on your feet for good (1 Peter 5:10)!

Praying God’s greatest blessings over you today!

*********

If you are looking for a way to grow, to learn some of these lessons personally, I encourage you to start with a daily Bible reading plan. Go to BibleGateway.com and choose a devotional that will meet you where you are. God’s Word will not return void…ever!

Hidden Bitterness

Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many. Hebrews 12:15

“Mom,” Cole began, “I have a new friend. His name is Luke Williams.”

I was somewhat surprised. Something inside of me jumped at the name. And it wasn’t a leap of joy.

“What’s his dad’s name?” I asked inquisitively.

“I don’t know. Why? Do you know him?” Cole asked.

Having lived in this area most of my life, my kids have grown accustomed to me knowing the parents of their friends. They have frequently remarked that I know more people at their activities than they do.

“Is his name Larry?” I asked.

“Maybe. Why?” he asked again.

I knew that I couldn’t keep the truth in about this revelation. Yes, I sensed that I had once met this new friend’s dad…

Over twenty years ago, I was a student at Oklahoma Baptist University. It was a Tuesday afternoon, and I had made the one hour drive home from Shawnee for a quick afternoon with family. About 4:00 pm, I began the drive back to school. I had commitments that evening.

It was rush hour on the two-lane highway leading away from my home. I knew that my dad would soon cross my path headed the opposite direction, and I was watching the cars carefully for his carpool.

I pulled up to County Line Road. There was a car waiting for a break in the traffic so he could turn left across the traffic. I came to a stop as I waited for the car to make the turn. I reached down to turn off my radio so that I could spend the drive praying.

Suddenly, I heard the sound of tires screeching. I glanced in my rear-view mirror just in time to see an orange and white truck careening toward me.

I remember the impact. I remember a spinning sensation. Then, everything went black.

As I regained consciousness, I was surrounded by tanned construction workers directing the traffic around my car. Somehow, I was facing the opposite direction from where I had been going. I tried to get out of my car, but the construction workers made me stay still for fear of a neck or back injury.

I turned around to look at the back of my car. What I saw left me shaking, anxious. The lid of my trunk was resting against the back of my driver’s seat. My back window was shattered and glass littered my car. The back end of my car was non-existent.

It was about this time that a west-bound car began to slow down as it approached the accident scene. Before the car stopped, my dad jumped out of the back seat. There was a look of sheer terror on his face as he ran to me, embraced me. To this day, I can’t think about that moment without the tears stinging my eyes.

In the days that followed, we learned that the 16 year old driver who hit me was named Larry Williams (not his real name). He had been speeding in a construction zone, far exceeding the posted 35 mph speed limit. He also had no insurance which meant that I would never see a dime for my totaled car. I was left to start over.

In the 20 years since that accident, I have suffered severe, debilitating headaches. I suffer from neck pain caused by the damage to my discs. Even as I type these words, I am having one of those days where I just want to take a muscle relaxer and go to bed, hoping that I can sleep off the pain. The damage done in that instant has caused a lasting impact on my day-to-day life. I will never be 100% again.

And now, my son is telling me that his new friend is the son of the man who is responsible for my pain.

I would like to say that this revelation was a non-issue for me. Although I verbalized to Cole that his friendship with this boy was fine, there has been tremendous turmoil in my heart and spirit. In the days since, I’ve found myself reliving those moments repeatedly. I have come to realize that forgiveness has not truly taken root in my heart; instead, there is a root of bitterness that has been allowed to grow for 20 years.

And it’s time for that root to be ripped out permanently.

Isn’t it amazing how God brings those things to light that are deeply buried, knowing that we have to completely purge ourselves of anger and bitterness? I would have never realized that this experience was still negatively impacting my spiritual life if God hadn’t brought it to light. But here I sit, facing the reality of my heart.

So, how do we get rid of anger and bitterness? How do we rip that root of bitterness away?

I forgave “the other woman” out of obedience to God. It was God’s love and forgiveness that flowed through me. The only thing I did was act in obedience. I can truly say it was a one-time forgiveness, a one-time choice to put the past behind me.

Forgiving my ex-husband has not been as easy. There are on-going insults and hurts. Forgiving him becomes a daily decision, a choice to not allow bitterness and anger to eat away at me. Some days are easier than others.

Some of the lessons I have learned about forgiveness come from the walk to forgive my ex-husband. I try to look at him as Christ does, through eyes of compassion. I try to remember that he, too, is a chosen child of God, loved and valued. I remember that when Christ washed the disciples’ feet, he also washed Judas’ feet. He knew Judas would soon betray him, and yet he served him anyway. Would I be willing to wash my ex-husband’s feet?

And recently, I began wondering about heaven. When I encounter these people who have hurt me deeply in heaven, how will I respond? Will the bitterness still be eating at me? I want to get rid of the anger since I will be with them in eternity.

And so, today I take these lessons I have learned over the years, and I must put them into practice with yet someone else. I am trying to remember that the 40 year old man who is the father of this boy is not the same irresponsible 16 year old who caused my hurt all those years ago. I am trying to remember that we all make mistakes, that we all do stupid things at some point. I am trying to look at this man with eyes of compassion.

I am choosing forgiveness over bitterness each and every day. Not only is my son now friends with his son, but my daughter is now friends with his daughter. I have met his wife. I have allowed my son to go to his house. I have yet to encounter him personally, but I am preparing myself for that day. Perhaps it will surprise me.

To keep the anger and bitterness away, I make it a point to pray blessings over this man. I pray that God has and will continue to work in his heart. I pray that God would pour out blessings over him. I pray that God would do a work in his life as he has done in my life.

Finally, I remember that God has forgiven me much. If I am not willing to forgive others the offenses against me, I am taking for granted the forgiveness that Christ has lavished on me.

May kindness color all of my actions toward others.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.  Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:31:32

 

******

In the irony of all ironies, I began writing this post last week. I’ve attempted to finish several times, but I’ve been interrupted. My plans were to come home from work yesterday, finish writing, and post. But instead, I was in a wreck. A lady pulled out of a parking lot, taking out the entire passenger side of my car. After an hour with the police and two hours at the emergency room, I didn’t get home until after 8:00 pm. I was tired, hurting, and unable to think clearly. So here I sit today, sore and fighting a headache. Now I have yet another person to forgive.

 

Hope Amid Devastation

I live in a small community in Oklahoma. My kids have fewer than 500 students in their high school, grades 9-12. There are several other districts nearby that are approximately the same size.

I grew up in this community. There are many, many people who have lived here their entire lives. My life has deep, intricate ties to each of the nearby small towns. I have known many of these families my entire life.

And it has been a difficult month around here. First, we had the tornadoes that struck in May. Many families have lost every material possession. They are working to pick up the pieces of their lives and start over. Others have endured flooding from the massive rains. They’ve experienced significant financial trials.

And now this…

Last Wednesday evening, a truck full of teenage boys were involved in a head-on wreck. The 16 year old driver was trapped in the vehicle when it caught on fire and exploded, killing the popular teenager. Fortunately, the other passengers were able to escape with relatively minor injuries.

As if the loss of one teenager was not enough for us to bear, the same evening there was another tragic situation. A family came home from their older son’s baseball game to find their younger son deceased in their home. This young boy was a classmate of my younger son.

There are no words to adequately express the sorrow that abounds in this community. I’ve spent my week trying to make sense of the senseless tragedies, to understand how God could allow these precious lives to be cut so short. I know that my kids are grasping to accept the reality of the situation, feeling as if it’s all just a dream.

On this side, there is no explanation. I cannot explain why God allows these painful circumstances. I cannot explain why children die young, why our community has to endure so much at one time. But I can turn to the scriptures to find hope.

Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. John 16:33

There are many promises in scripture, and unfortunately John 16:33 tells us that we will have trials and sorrows. They are a part of life, a difficult concept to grasp. But, we can be comforted that God promises his power is greater than all of the trials and sorrows this world throws our way.

In the days following the revelation of my husband’s affair, I remember sitting in a strange church where I knew no one. I had lost everything: my financial security, my ministry, my reputation, and my family. I was overwhelmed.

As the pastor began to preach, he said, “The Bible never promises that God won’t give us more than we can handle. The truth is, he does give us more than we can handle because he never intended for us to handle it. He wants us to give it to him!”

When you feel as if life is more than you can bear, take heart! God wants to carry that burden for you. He wants you to hand him all of the sorrow and the pain. He wants you to run to him, because he wants to overcome every trial you face.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

As we look at horrible losses such as those our community has faced this weekend, it is hard to imagine that God could possible bring any good out of these tragic situations. But, it is a promise from God. Somehow. Some way. In his sovereignty. As only he can. God can. And God will. He promises to bring something good out of every trial. He promises that he will use our pain, that it will not be wasted.

I never dreamed that God would bring an entire ministry out of the pain of adultery and divorce that I have faced. However, I am a living testimony of how God can use the trials of this life for our good and his glory. As Pastor Perry Noble always says, “If it’s not good, God’s not done.”

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all; Psalm 34:18-19

Our trials and tribulations are a set up for us to experience God in all his glory. It is in our pain, our brokenness, that we experience his fullness, his grace, his mercy like never before. When we are suffering, he promises to be near to us, to save us, to deliver us. What better promise than to know that God will never leave us in our pain and misery.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

When we are at our lowest point, when we are experiencing the frailty of our human condition, God promises that his power will rest on us. When we are weak, he is strong!

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16

Sometimes it takes us facing trials and heart aches before we are willing to humble ourselves and seek his face. When we reach that place, God promises that we can approach him boldly, with confidence. We can be certain that he sees our pain and hears our prayers. And, we can be confident that he will pour out an abundance of mercy and grace.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

When we face the trials of this life, we receive the blessing of being comforted by God. After we have been comforted, we can take the lessons we learned, the maturity that we gained to then turn and help others in similar situations.

When I was 20 years old, I lost a friend in a car accident. Through the pain and devastation, I saw his parents pull together and rest in their faith in God. When another family in our church lost their teenage daughter, this couple was the first at their door, offering words of comfort, grace, and empathy. They understood the pain as no one else could.

That is what God wants from the body of Christ.

The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good.  1 Peter 5:10

This scripture has gotten me through many, many dark and painful nights. The promise that the suffering won’t last forever. The promise that God has great plans for us, no matter how contrary to our circumstances that may seem. The promise that one day he will have us put together and on our feet for good.

I can’t read those words without being encouraged, without being reassured that God is in complete control even when life seems to be spiraling out of control. My heart overflows with gratitude to know that my God is working everything together so that it will somehow work to my benefit.

I don’t know what trial or tribulation you are facing today. Whatever it is, it didn’t take God by surprise. He is still in control. He is waiting to carry your burden. He is waiting to pour out his grace and mercy on you. He is waiting to use these trials to conform you to his image, to work out his plans for your life by using these trials for your good.

I know the times are hard—we are personally dealing with grief in ways we have never faced it before. But I cling to the promise that the sun will rise again, that there are beautiful days ahead.

Our community covets your prayers as we try to pick up the pieces of our broken hearts and move forward, as we attempt to come to grips with the pain that this world often brings our way. And, as you face your own trials and tribulations, know that you are in my prayers.

Our God is faithful…always.

 

All Alone

As a pastor’s family, we usually moved every three or four years. We never felt quite like we were home until we returned to the Oklahoma City area. Despite the emotions of having to disappoint people and leave relationships we had built, it was just a way of life for us.

However, when we had kids, things changed somewhat. I will never forget when we moved back to Oklahoma after ten years in Texas. My oldest had just turned three, and my younger son was only three months old. We were so excited to finally be moving home to the Promised Land where we had left our hearts! Our captivity in a foreign land (sorry, Texans!) had ended!

When we knew that the move was inevitable, I began to prepare my three year old. We visited our new home in Oklahoma, and I talked with excitement about his new house. I encouraged him to look at his new room and talked about how we could decorate it. We talked incessantly about his new church and his new school. With as much excitement as I could muster, I told him how excited we were about his new life.

Finally, moving day arrived. As everything was being loaded in trucks, I found my son sitting sullenly on the front porch. He finally came inside as the movers were packing up the master bedroom. Blake turned to me with an inquisitive look.

“You mean you are coming with me?” he asked.

That’s when it hit me. All of my attempts at building excitement in my precious child had failed miserably! While I talked non-stop about “his” new home, I never mentioned that his mom, dad, and baby brother were coming with him! I guess he thought that because we had a new baby, he was being replaced.  He was moving to this wonderful—but foreign to him—land to live on his own!

My heart broke as I realized how much pain and stress my son had been under. Of course, I wrapped him up in my arms reassuring him that we would never leave him alone, that we were a family moving together. I apologized profusely for putting him through so much anxiety.

I felt like such a miserable failure as a mother!

Fortunately, Blake survived my parenting blunder. Today, he is secure in his relationship with me. He knows that I love him more than life itself, and that I will always stand with him in support. I am so glad that our parenting mistakes don’t permanently scar our children!

As I reflected on this incident recently, I began to wonder how many of us are like Blake was during that time of our lives. We hear God telling us about the wonderful new adventure he has planned for us.  We know that he is the Good Father, and yet we can’t shake the fear that he is going to throw us out on this new adventure alone. We act as if he is sending us away to live on our own without his love and protection. Perhaps, like Blake, we feel as if he is replacing us with someone new.

Life is a constant adventure. We are sent to new places, new environments, new situations. Maybe it’s a new job. Maybe it’s a new city. Maybe it’s a new church. Maybe it’s a new ministry. Maybe it’s a new season of life because of death or divorce or whatever life may send our way. Our new adventures can be good starting points or difficult circumstances. They can lead to amazing growth or incredible pain. They can be anticipated and prepared for or take us completely by surprise.

But, we can always count on our Father to be with us.

Then he blessed Joseph and said, “May the God before whom my grandfather Abraham and my father, Isaac, walked—the God who has been my shepherd all my life, to this very day, the Angel who has redeemed me from all harm… Genesis 48:15-16

As Jacob (Israel) lay on his death bed, he reflected on God’s faithfulness. Through the nightmare with his brother Esau, God was with him. During the years of working for his Uncle Laban, God watched over him. God comforted him through the loss of his precious wife, Rachel. God sustained him through the loss of his son, Joseph. No matter what life threw at him, Jacob recognized that God had been with him.

Jacob recognized that God had shepherded him every single day. As a shepherd watches over his sheep, fighting off all dangers that might seek to harm those in his care, God was there. He was always ready to fight the battles for Jacob, protecting him from harm. And, as the sheep know the shepherd’s voice and follow him, Jacob learned to know his Father’s voice. He learned to follow him wherever he might lead.

And God redeemed him from all harm. When hardships and pain came his way, God used those trials. He didn’t let the trial go to waste; he changed Jacob. He changed his heart. He changed his outlook on life. He became personal and real, not just the God of his ancestors, but his loving, personal guide and protector in this life.

And, when his life came to an end, he brought redemption full circle. His son, whom he thought he had lost years before, was restored to him. He went to his grave not only with his son by his side, but also with his grandsons.

Isn’t that the way God is? He always walks with us through the painful trials of our lives. Even more, he always repays us for the pain we have experienced, giving us blessings that abound. He redeems every experience, using it for our good and his glory—if we let him.

Just like a loving parent would never send her child away to a new home alone, God will never leave us. He will lead us to new places, out of our comfort zone. He may allow testing and trials into our lives. He will stretch us, prune us, challenge us. But he will never send us away from his presence. Wherever life leads us, he will go before us, beside us, behind us.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39