What does it mean that God protects us?

This morning Darcy and I were reading a devotional from “The Advent Jesse Tree: Devotions for Children and Adults to prepare for the coming of the CHRIST CHILD at CHRISTMAS.”

“The Lord is our Shepherd,” it read, “Always watching over us and protecting us.”

I began to read the line and then purposefully skipped over the words “and protecting us.”

I wasn’t exactly sure why I skipped it, and if I had two bodies, ONE of me would have put her hands on her hips and turned her head to look at the other me in confusion. I kissed Darcy on her forehead and she ran out the door to the bus stop. I sat in silence for a couple of minutes, unsure of things.

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Maybe it was the violent murder of my friend earlier this year. Maybe it was my newsfeed reminding me of the Sandy Hook Massacre last year. Maybe it was the reality of life under this sun.

If it’s true that God protects us, what could that possibly mean? I took advantage of the silence and spent the next few minutes of the morning looking for answers. Through Scripture and this old article from Christianity Today, my understanding of protection became clearer.

“The fact is, God cares more about our spiritual health than our physical health. Our bodies are going to die. Our souls are going to live forever. And God’s ability to protect our souls from eternal judgment and eternal death is more significant than his ability to protect our bodies from disease or death.”

If you’ve found yourself, like me, cynical when reading verses like, “The LORD will protect you from all harm; He will protect your life,” (Psalms 121:7), it would do your soul some good to read the linked article. I hope it clarifies things in your heart as it did mine this morning.

The Imperfect Pastor

Today I called my friend who just happens to be a pastor’s wife.

“How are ya?” I ask casually.

“Not good,” she says, not trying to pretend in the least.

My ears perk up and I can feel myself getting excited by her rawness.

“Okay, so what’s going on?” I dig a little until I run into some roots.

“We’re just having trouble this week… I don’t feel very loved by him…”

After several minutes of conversation, we come to the source of their primary struggle: she was frustrated that her husband didn’t respond perfectly to her meager attempts of apologizing. “It’s just that…he’s a pastor. He shouldn’t treat me this way,” she says.

 Wow…How had she found and read my journal entry from last month? I am standing at the window now, wiping dust off the sill as I think out loud.

“Yeah, he’s a pastor….but that doesn’t mean he’s perfect,” I say with such ease that I’m kind of surprised. The moment the words leave my mouth, I put my hands on my hips at God who I picture getting a good laugh at my advice.

Clearly my heart is thristy for these words first and foremost.

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I continue to work out my thoughts out loud. “I mean, in one sense, you’re right. He’s a pastor, therefore, he’s held to a higher standard…” I look up at the sky as I talk, an epiphany beginning to occur in my heart and mind. “He IS expected to be self-controlled, sober minded and above reproach. The qualifications of an elder are kind of steep. But, that’s why he needs you. He needs your love and your support because he DOES have more pressure on him.”

Long after we hung up the phone, I continued chewing on the insights that had left my mouth. Our husbands have been called to do something unique and supernatural.

Yes, we ALL are called to live supernatural lives that can only be accomplished through dependence on the Holy Spirit, but at the same time we have to recognize the unique pressures of our husband’s roles. There is a burden that they are bearing up under constantly, and it’s easy to be resentful about that instead of helpful.  

We get to see the pastor of the church when he’s worn out, frustrated, overwhelmed, discouraged and short tempered. Everyone else sees him when he’s slightly shinier. Instead of being critical of that, we need to be understanding. James 3:2 says, “For we ALL stumble in many ways, and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.”

The temptation is to hold over our husband’s head harsh reminders of their shortcomings. First, we should recognize that temptation. Second, we must confront ourselves first and foremost, remembering that “We ALL stumble in many ways.”  

 Pretty sure that ‘all’ includes US.

 

“I Have a Dream…”

Just yesterday I gathered my children around me to share how God had been working in my heart.

“I have a dream…” I began. I didn’t even get to my fifth word and my eight-year-old barged in, sharing her dream from the previous night. And then my four-year-old. And then my two-year-old.

After somehow managing to get back control, I showed them the map titled “Global Status of Evangelical Christianity” that I have been watching evolve for the past decade.

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After explaining what each color meant, I was on to my next activity. “Do you know what a refugee is?”

Their blue eyes were big as I defined this new term and explained that many refugees were coming to America. From where? was their next question. It was a perfect lead-in. I got out a chart I had recently been introduced to through the IMB.

2012

Refugee U.S. Arrivals by Country of Nationality

Bhutan 15,070

Burma 14,160

Iraq 12,163

Somalia 4,911

Cuba 1,948

Congo, Democratic Republic 1,863

Iran 1,758

Eritrea 1,346

Sudan 1,077

Ethiopia 620

All other countries, including

Unknown 3,263

Total 58,179

 

I was hoping they were connecting the dots, but just in case they weren’t, I went on to explain. “Where are most of the refugees coming from?” I asked. “Which region of the world?” They are coming from the RED PART of the map. The part of the world that is mostly unreached and unengaged with the gospel.

“…So, maybe they’ll hear the gospel in America…” My eight-year-old was starting to get it. “…and go back and share it in THEIR countries…” The lightbulb was going on for Darcy and I had a front row seat to watch.

“Yes, Darcy! Exactly! That’s exactly what I’m talking about!”

“Not only are there refugees in our county, but there are also many internationals….people who weren’t born here. So, my dream…My dream is that we could offer English classes to the refugees and the internationals who are living in our city. English classes that use the BIBLE as our curriculum. English classes that teach them about their Creator and their Savior…What do you guys think about that?”

I think they liked the idea, although for the next thirty minutes the conversation derailed to various dreams about spelling bees, swimming pools, and ponies.

This idea of starting an ESL ministry at our church in Northern Virginia is one that I’ve been thinking about for the past three years. After spending some time at the first annual Global Think Tank at the IMB headquarters, I feel more compelled than ever by the mission of God. This is God’s mission and He has sent us, the church, to accomplish this.

Please pray that God will send help as I try to launch an ESL ministry at our church.  I’m praying for 30 people to get involved loving on internationals in our town.  We will be starting a Preschool ESL ministry and a ministry to the international students at our local community college (NOVA Woodbridge).

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;  therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Matthew 9:37-38

How I Learned to Make Adult Friendships

College dorm life was a dream come true for an extrovert like me. Coming from a small family with only one brother, I loved having seventy girls on my hall to hang out with at any hour of the day. Not only that, but each of my roommates became my new soul sister. It felt like glorified, year-round Bible camp.

In 2001, I left dorm 19-2 of Liberty University, got married, and moved to Northern Virginia. Although being married to my best friend was amazing, it was still an adjustment. Our new church didn’t have many young girls my age and life suddenly got busy with a full time job and ministry. My life went from busting with friends to a barrenness of friends.

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One year the women of my church and I went to a women’s conference and one of the sessions was on developing close friendships. I can remember feeling awful and actually leaving the room to sit in the hallway for some reflection. It was bad enough that I didn’t have close friendships with anyone where we lived, but now I was being told that I really should. I mean, that’s what I longed for, so why were intimate friendships so elusive?

I went home and wept in my husband’s arms, emoting about how hard it was to make friends. Every relationship in my new life was so shallow and I longed for more.

After he patiently listened and explored my distress, he finally said the most profound thing. “You’re too concerned about HAVING friends and not concerned enough about BEING a friend.”

Woah.

He single-handledly, in one sentence, turned everything I’d thought about the subject on its head.

“You’re making this too hard. Just be a friend to the women in your life, and don’t worry so much about what you get back.”

Huh? Focus less on myself and more on others? That sounded familiar. Philippians 2:3. “In humility, count others as more significant than yourselves.”

Why had I thought this subject was an exception to this principle? For me, I was very focused on having heart-to-heart conversations and felt frustrated when my new friends were not meeting this “need.”

Colby continued. “Every friendship is different, and you can’t expect to connect with EVERYONE on a heart level like you did with your college roommates.”

This conversation was something I would chew on and wrestle with and explore for the next decade.

In the last ten years of living in the transient, urban congestion of Northern Virginia, I have learned a lot about friendships.

They are precious.

They are a gift from God.

They are each unique, just as each person is unique.

They are designed to sharpen us.

They are made to mold us more into the image of our Creator.

Relationships are more important than anything else in this life. We know this, but do our schedules reflect this? Do we leave margins in our lives for relationships? Are we willing to drop our tasks at a moment’s notice for a significant conversation or a friend who is in need?

Let’s not make this subject more complicated than it needs to be. Be a friend to the people God places in your life. Nurture relationships with time, kindness and trust. Some relationships will be deeper than others. But all of them contribute to a beautiful mosaic that makes life richer.

The Night I Asked For Prayer instead of Chocolate

 

Recently I called two friends and asked if we could get together for prayer and accountability. I knew it wasn’t going to be much fun. I mean, I would have much rather asked them to go to Applebees for a Triple Chocolate Meltdown, but I knew I needed this. I needed to reach out and admit that I wasn’t doing okay and that I needed prayer. It was the last thing on earth that I wanted to do–be vulnerable and share my sin struggles. It’s a lot easier to put on like I’m strong and have things together. It’s a lot easier to pretend like marriage is easy and never a struggle.

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My friends counseled me late into the night, much later than stay-at-home moms should stay up. They gave me tools for my toolbox, truths to chew on, and verses to savor (at one point I even asked for a pen and paper so I could take notes). They listened. They led me like a groping blind person who just needed to find her way.

 Some of my notes that night included:

      1. God is a great recycler.God doesn’t waste our marriage struggles. He uses them    to expose our sin, humble us, and make us cling to Him like never before.

  1. You can either be miserable or LET THINGS GO (!!). Choose wisely.
  1. Focus on loving instead of being loved. The question, “How can I make HIS life happy and peaceful?” should be on the forefront of your mind. (P.S. The flesh will HATE this activity and kick and scream like a toddler who has just had a toy stolen)
  1. Put it in perspective. Your husband loves you, but is also a depraved sinner. You are too, by the way.
  1. Trust God and respond lovingly when you feel you are being wronged. Look to Jesus for this example.
  1. When you lean entirely on your husband to meet your need for attention, affection, affirmation, encouragement, you will most surely fall. He is not God.
  1. You need to practice saying the words, “Yes. You are right. I AM that sinful.”
  1. You have equal opportunity in the relationship to set the tone/mood/thermostat. If he is headed down, you have the power to help him. And, by the way, helping him is the better choice than throwing a temper tantrum.
  1. Sometimes we lose our way and need to ask for prayer. We need to be strong enough to admit weakness (I’m pretty sure Beth Moore came up with that quote and not me). It doesn’t help anyone when you pretend you have it together.

I’m thankful that I reached out for prayer and counsel when I felt the sting of relational stress recently.

What about you? Do you reach out to a trusted friend or do you try to cope alone? I understand both sides of this argument, but I would encourage you to find someone you can trust when marital stress or life in general begins to rub you raw. Ask God to help you have wisdom to know who to talk to and when.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to GOD and not to us.” (2 Corinithians 4:7).

When You Forget the Most Important Thing

Well, it happened.

I’ve heard of it happening to others, but never imagined it would happen to me.

Everything was packed and ready for our missions trip to Iceland. I was taking a team from our church to Reykjavik to run an English camp for Icelandic children. I had the lesson plans, construction paper, multi-leveled books, writing paper, stickers, small prizes, and had even remembered to bring extra staples in case we ran out.

My list had all been checked off and I was feeling pretty proud of myself.

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My husband and four kids dropped me off at Dulles airport and we had a long, emotional good-bye. I pushed my smart cart up to the ticket counter and smiled at the IcelandAir representative. While I was rummaging around in my purse for my wallet, she said casually, “Can I just see your passport?”

I screamed so loud that the people in line at Luftstansa looked over, alarmed. My hands just covered my mouth and I kept saying, “Oh, Dear God, have mercy!” After a few rounds of screams and hyperventilated “Lord have mercy”s, I burst into tears and walked a few steps away, unable to process if this was actually happening in reality or a dream.

She looked confused.

“Do you want to at least check your bags?” she asked as people waited patiently behind me in line.

My crying increased in intensity and despair.

“No, I absolutely do not have it. It didn’t even CROSS MY MIND to pack it.” The IcelandAir workers looked at each other as they tried to fathom such a thing.

“Can you go home and get it?”

“No…no, we live too far away.”

There was no exception to this rule of needing a passport to travel internationally (Yes, I asked), so my husband got a phone call before he made it five miles down the road.

My children looked confused as I climbed back into the car and announced sheepishly, “Mommy’s home!”

Once a phone call was made and a flight was secured for the next night, my husband relaxed and the ride home was not as bad as one would think.

STAPLES…I remembered STAPLES!” I kept reminding my husband as though that awarded me some amount of points.

staplesh

He assured me that this experience would not be a waste and that many sermon illustrations would come out of it. Oh, goody.

So here I sit, one week later, at the Icelandic airport waiting for my flight back home. I’m reflecting on this costly mistake and trying to squeeze as many lessons out of it as I can.

The main one that I keep coming back to is this: It doesn’t matter what we remember IF WE FORGET LOVE.

Isn’t that the most important thing that we shouldn’t forget? There were 613 Old Testament laws and Jesus said, Just forget about those…I ONLY have ONE THING for you to remember. Love God and love others (Matt 22:37-40).

Today I’m praying that this one makes it to the top of the to-do list. Not only that, but gets etched so deeply onto the to-do list that it carves into the table I’m writing on (are you following me?).

I’m praying that this one doesn’t get left behind in a forgotten suitcase when it’s the only one that matters.

Okay, my flight is boarding, and you know my husband won’t be as forgiving if I miss THIS flight… People, learn from my mistake…

Don’t remember the staples but forget the passport.

Conflicted

Tonight I decide to sit and just watch Penelope.

She’s digging through her Color Wonder tub mumbling, “Ellow…” and I decide instead of reading or cooking or organizing or cleaning, I would just watch her.

After all, she won’t be 21 months and 27 days ever again.

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She starts to dump the entire tub over, but I become aware enough to screech a sound that brings her to a halt. We make eye contact.

She continues digging for a marker until she eventually just dumps everything out. This time I’m not quick enough.

Before I rush to clean it up, I just watch. She’s on to the broom now…oh, I see…she’s trying to sweep up the pile of markers and sheets of color wonder paper. It lasts a few seconds before she moves the broom to the carpeted living room. My mind wanders for a second.  It’s relaxing to just watch instead of try to control (key word: TRY).

My daydream is cut short by a thud, a crash and simultaneous scream coming from the stairwell. I follow a trail of strewn baby wipes to the scene of the crime where I see the broom (that she had apparently tried to FLY down the stairs), glass, and a busted picture frame on the floor where Penelope is lying.

Oh, this season! In the last four minutes that it’s taken me to type the above paragraph, she has gone through the living room taking every last thing out of it’s place with a mischievous smile.

This age is unbelievable.

I have been thinking lately about how conflicting this season of life is.

Everywhere I turn, there is fresh inspiration to write about something. I will mentally document our day, describe the details and tell the stories that we find, but by the time I put the kids to bed and actually have time to PHYSICALLY write down my thoughts, they’re gone.

I wish I didn’t have a desire to write during this season of life. It would make things easier..

Less conflicted.

I wish I could have a desire to write at a time when I COULD actually write.

Like in 10 years.

Yes, I know the right answers.  I know that this season is to be enjoyed.  But, it also is to be captured.  Writing for me is a way to immortalize the moment…how I wish the moments didn’t slip through the fingers so fast.

It all comes down to choices, I realize.  To choose to stay home with my kids right now is to sacrifice time to myself.  Right now I’m choosing to put my kid’s needs above my wants.  Sometimes I’m bitter about that. Sometimes I get it right and I find joy in that.

Most of the time, I’m caught in the tension between the two.

BRMCWC 2014

Last week I was able to attend the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer’s Conference. What a week!  It’s hard to sum up exactly everything that happened or what I gleaned, but here are some highlights:

  • Meeting agents, publishers, and editors who are committed to creating excellent Christian content
  • Sitting with the Hollywood screenwriter Brian Bird at breakfast and hearing about his latest projects and screenplays
  • Finding other bloggers and writers who have a passion to share the message of Christ
  • Pitching my book idea to different people in the writing industry and getting feedback
  • Learning from others how publishing works
  • Genre night where I dressed like a disheveled mother of four girls:

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  • Realizing just how technologically illiterate I am and that I really need help in this area (No, I could NOT figure out how to rotate the above picture!)
  • Attending workshops and classes where we worked on our writing/blogging skills
  • Hearing multiple God-stories and seeing future authors work to get these stories documented

I was honored to be around so many amazing writers, literary agents, and publishers at this conference. There are multiple stories to be told, and I’m more inspired than ever to record the ones I see unfolding around me every day.

There are many other things THAT JESUS DID

which if they were written

ONE BY ONE

I suppose not even the world itself

could contain THE BOOKS that would be WRITTEN.”  

John 21:25 HCSB

Fluorescent Urine

I’m curling my hair upstairs, getting ready to meet our new Ethiopian church planters when I hear a scream–two screams, actually–so convincing that I’m sure someone’s life is about to end.

I sprint downstairs, banging into the wall on my way down, only to find a stark-naked Gracie standing in a puddle of bright yellow urine.

“I couldn’t hode it ANY LONGERW…and the toilet was bwo-ken!”

I sigh and walk over to the toilet which is dismantled, but in the 3.47 seconds that I’m away, Penelope slips and falls into the pee-pee puddle.  Now she is screaming and her outfit is soaked and we are supposed to be LEAVING.  Not only that, but I realize that in the process of the fall, she has broken the closet door.

I’m trying not to miss the journey, but honestly I feel lightheaded.  A  bowl of Cheerios for breakfast apparently isn’t enough for this marathon that I’m on.  For the past two hours I have been simply trying to feed us and clothe us and clean us up, but unfortunately that is enough to make me feel WINDED.

The urine is still on the floor–fluorescent yellow because Gracie apparently just had a multi-vitamin–and I’m up here writing all this down because that’s what I was told to do in this season of insanity.

Laugh and take notes.

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I met someone at a BBQ on Monday who was telling me about her job.  “I love it,” she said and she truly exuded it.  She stared up at the sky as she talked about her work and how it fits her personality and giftedness so well.

So, right now I’m practicing saying, “I love it,” because I know someone will ask what I do and I know I need to cultivate contentment in all things.

I’m practicing smiling, even when Penelope is looking down the back of my yoga pants with a flashlight while I stand at the kitchen counter (Yes, that is happening as we speak).

I’m practicing contentment, choosing to be grateful for what this season gives.

I’m practicing joy, refusing to swallow the spirit of the age, which my Pastor-husband says is personal fulfillment and entitlement.

I’m practicing perspective.

I’m practicing…being in this moment…because I’ve heard it passes pretty quickly.

Now, on to that puddle…

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To My Mom on Mother’s Day

Our backyard is freshly mowed, and I lay out blankets on the grass like a child playing picnic.  Only, I’m not a child and my hip is shooting pain, my canker sore is throbbing, my wisdom teeth are FINALLY coming in with much pain, and I’m really out here to take a nap. But, the Virginia afternoon is perfect and I don’t want to miss a minute of it.

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I get out an old journal so I can write down my blessings.

1. A quiet backyard that births azaleas, fiery pink.

2. Adamant birds that flatter me with their whistle.

3. Wind chimes (my Mother’s Day gift) whose high pitch reminds me of a child’s noisy play…and of my sweet girls.

4. Penelope Raine and her stubborn/angry/whiny/needy/difficult ways that I’m hoping are SOMEHOW growing me into the image of Christ.

I pause.

My neighbor comes out and begins to cut azaleas from her side of the bush.  I startle her by saying, “Happy Mother’s Day.”

We talk about the weather, then she says, “I’m just cutting these to put on my mother’s grave.”  I smile sadly and tell her how much her azalea bush blesses our yard.  “My mom would love that,”  she says.

She leaves and I think about something.

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Why wait until someone’s funeral to say how much they mean to you?

So many people have passed lately, leaving so much regret. Funerals are full of kind words for the deceased, but how sad that they’re not there to hear it. 

I want to take some time over the next months (years?) to use my words to bless others. To tell them how their life has impacted mine and thank them for their footprints through it.

Today there is an obvious person to start with:

Dear Mom,

How did you do it?! Motherhood seemed to come so easy for you. When I think of my childhood, I think of sunshine flooding in through the windows and your voice, animated as though you were performing for a crowd of hundreds, reading a story to me. I can still smell the pages of “Snip, Snap, and Snur,” and feel the heat coming in through the register.

I didn’t realize then, but I realize now.

You sacrificed sleep, comfort, quiet meals, adventure, money, and a clean house to take care of me. I had no idea. I guess I just took it for granted all those years…thought that’s what a mom is SUPPOSED to do.  Now, I see that a mom doesn’t HAVE to be sacrificial but chooses to be sacrificial. 

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You were patient because you recognized I was just a child. You made edible peanut butter play-dough for me and cleaned up after me. For years.  You were there at all my track meets, wearing a button of me the size of a small wheel.

You were everything that a little girl could ask for in a mom: nice, loyal, helpful, patient.

But, you didn’t settle for that…You were so much more: excited, energetic, a picture of good health, positive, always taking classes and learning, hard-working, and just plain FUN (everyone who knows you agrees).

Now, as an adult, your qualities are still blessing me. But, the gift multiplies.  Now my girls get to enjoy you too.

So, today, as the azaleas bloom bright and loud, I want to speak just as clearly.  Thank you, Mom, for being just the best. I’m so thankful that God gave me a mom with such God-honoring qualities. I’m so thankful that you gave me a childhood full of laughter and joy. I’m so thankful for your sacrifices that have molded me into the person I am today.

I’m so thankful God gave you to me. 

Love,

Your Annie B.

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