Why People Need Plans

ID-10016416
“Future” by graur razvan ionut

I believe humans thrive on patterns and plans, because we were created for them. When we don’t plan how to spend our time, we open a door for Satan to run amuck in our lives. Like when I went off to college, failed to implement a study schedule, and found myself floundering in all areas of life. (More on that in a minute.)

The Bible says God is not a God of disorder, but of peace (1 Cor. 14:33).

He created a six-day workweek and commanded us to rest on the seventh day (Gen. 2:2, 3; Ex. 20:8-11). Through the example of Jesus, God showed us that it is good to start our day with solitude and prayer (Mark 1:35). Proverbs gives us many principles about using our time wisely, including these:

“Work brings profit, but mere talk leads to poverty”  (14:23, NLT).

[A wife of noble character] “works with eager hands,” “gets up while it is still night,” “provides food for her family,” “sets about her work vigorously,” and “does not eat the bread of idleness” (31:15, NIV).

Indeed, one of the most important lessons we can learn in life, and teach our children, is to use our time wisely.

“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12).

Here’s a personal example that shows the dire effects of not having a plan in place.

College Flop

For years before I got to college my home life was falling apart, yet I was able to hold myself together enough to maintain straight A’s and participate in sports, music, and drama. The rhythm of high school and a part-time job and scheduled activities gave me predictability, a pattern to follow. They gave me something to count on when everything else was up in the air.

But when I was loosed on the college scene, with huge chunks of free time gaping at me each day, I fell apart. I needed to set up a study routine, and times to practice my music each day (I was pursuing piano at the time), but instead I found myself sleeping away my afternoons. It didn’t help that I was recently off depression meds.

Before three months of my freshman year had elapsed, I dropped out, suicidal. Now, having routines and schedules may not have fixed my depression, but I think they could have kept me from the drastic actions I took.

The Need for Routines

flylady“Fly Lady” and organizational expert Marla Cilley maintains that routines are lifelines. Before she got super organized, she suffered depression and rock bottom self-esteem.

Now she encourages other women to get up and put on shoes every morning, get dressed, and put makeup on or whatever you do to get ready. Doing these simple actions start your day with intention. Then she gives ideas for routines to houseclean a little every day until it becomes second nature. One of her readers gave a testimonial to this effect (I’m paraphrasing to the best of my memory, as I’ve returned Cilley’s book to my friend):

After my hubby died I wouldn’t have known what to do with myself if I hadn’t had my cleaning routines in place. They gave me something to do. They gave me purpose in my day.

Purpose is key. Setting routines forces us to define a purpose–no matter how lofty or low. It’s possible to have “routines” that don’t buoy us in the long run—TV time, drinking—but those are addictions, not routines, because they control us, we don’t control them.

College Comeback

Flash forward a few years to my third try at college. I was married now, and we lived in married student housing, and my hubby worked nights. I was still covertly battling depression, but the stability of being married to a working man who very much likes his routines finally helped me implement some routines of my own.

My days had structure once again. When I was not in class, I was at work, cashiering or stocking shelves at a nutrition center. In the evenings Buc was gone, so I studied. I had little time for much else. To be sure, I didn’t really have hobbies at that time, and I didn’t really want them. I didn’t enjoy my life then, but I was feeling some stability. And that stability is largely what kept me from self-harm.

This was a better way to live, but still not a good way to live. With those routines during that period, I can truthfully say my purpose was to keep so busy I wouldn’t have time to be actively depressed, or rather, to act on my depression.

The Need for Purpose

Routines with a dismal purpose like this can only last so long. Humans need a better ultimate purpose than “to stay alive because I’m supposed to.” That purpose is to give glory to God.

But it takes time to get there. My journey to this point was slow and painful. It wouldn’t be until two years after completing my college degree that I would actually claim the purpose of glorifying God in my life. And then I would actually take joy in my days. My purpose would become not just to survive the day, but to thrive so that others might see something in me that pointed them to God.

As I wrote my memoir in 2012 and 2013, I had the insight that God gave me stability in my early twenties so I could learn to trust him again. Through the writing of that project, I realized that sometimes it takes having your physical needs met, and perhaps one person you are safe with (for me, my hubby), to free your mind of some temporal concerns so you can seek God.

When we come to that point, or when God enters our lives in a significant way, it’s time to set new routines: routines that are even more life-giving than basic routines that merely keep us moving.

I’ll write more about that in my next post.

Learning to Wait on the Lord

Lady and Clock
Photo Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Here are two big lessons my first year of motherhood taught me: Number one: I am impatient. Number two: if I wait on the Lord, asking for his help where I am weak, he will answer.

No Rest for Mommy

Nowhere was my impatience more evident than when I was waiting for Sam to sleep through the night. Throughout Sam’s first year, I was not the loving, adoring mother so often pictured in movies. No. I was resentful, frustrated, anxious, and impatient. But not just impatient with Sam and his erratic sleeping. I was impatient with God.

Night after night of interrupted sleep, and day after day of droopy eyes, I moped; I complained; I acted like God wouldn’t ever work this out. I said things to friends and family, like, “Oh, Sam’ll eventually get there,” and “God is helping me.” But more often, I grumbled. I spoke words of despair. I acted like I didn’t really trust God.

Finally, Sam’s sleep improved, and I got some rest. And, surprise surprise, that’s when I looked back at the past nine months and realized that God had heard my prayers—slow to answer though he seemed.

I learned something then: that even when we feel weak and helpless in our prayers, and even when we keep repeating ourselves with no apparent results, we are doing an important thing. It’s the only thing we can do sometimes, and it’s a thing God commands us to do. We are “waiting on him” (Isa. 40:31). Eventually, he will renew our strength.

But boy, the waiting can be hard. Especially when we are waiting against our wills.

Three Stages of Waiting

In hindsight, I see three levels of waiting I did concerning Sam’s sleep.

First, I waited unwillingly, without peace. This level of waiting happens when you don’t agree to wait, but circumstances force you to. This happened for so many days and nights when I pleaded, bleary-eyed and bedraggled, “God, just let him sleep!” but Sam didn’t sleep (or not when or for as long as I wanted him to).

Second, I waited willingly, but not yet with peace. This level of waiting happens when you give up your plans and choose to trust God on faith, even while results tarry.

At this stage I changed my prayers from “Lord, help him sleep” to “Lord, give me the grace to deal with whatever this night brings.”

During this stage, improvements in Sam’s sleep came; but we had also started the distasteful process of sleep training. (We chose the Ferber method, which had us checking on Sam at ten-minute intervals while he cried–after we had tended to all his known needs, of course.) This stage of waiting was necessary, but it sure wasn’t comfortable, or very peaceful.

During those nights of “Ferberizing,” I had to get on my knees so I wouldn’t go into Sam’s room while he cried. I had to pray for strength to do not what felt right to me (soothing him at the first whimper), but to do what was right for Sam (letting him learn to soothe himself). I cried as Sam cried. It took every ounce of strength in me not to go in to him before ten minutes was up. It was HARD. But improvements came.

And then the third stage of waiting came—the stage where the situation wasn’t quite sewn up yet, but I could see God working—and I could feel his peace.

One evening during this stage, I realized I had come to a place of calm about the whole sleep situation. I remember putting down a fussy and crying Sam (a now fairly uncommon state at bedtime), and then calmly walking to the kitchen to begin my nightly cleanup routine.

“Lord, please help him to settle down,” I prayed, hands submerged in soapsuds. “But thank you that you are here to help me even if he doesn’t settle quickly. I know that eventually he will sleep, and I will survive. Even if I have to get up with him in the night.”

As we went through our sleep training program, Sam progressed from going down peacefully for naps, to crying less in the night, to consistently sleeping through the night—hallelujah! And as I saw God working, slowly moving Sam to more consistent sleep patterns, I found more and more peace. Now, on the occasional nights when he woke, I could handle the situation with thanksgiving.

If I were write a memoir of my first year of motherhood, this milestone would be the turning point in the book—the climax, the major lesson. Not a lesson on surviving a baby’s erratic sleep, but a lesson about waiting on the Lord. A lesson about how, if we get on our knees and petition him, and surrender our wills, and ask for his to be done, and ask for his help where we are weak (like I was weak in carrying out a consistent sleep routine), he will answer. Maybe not as quickly or in the way we want him to, but he will answer.

Here We Go Again

As a funny coda (funny only in hindsight), Sam’s sleep derailed once again after our move to St. Louis; and I, sleep deprived and stressed from the move, derailed again, too…for a few days. But then I started the stages of waiting again…and Sam started sleeping better again…and I found some peace again. Sam’s sleep is not quite back to where it was before the move, but I am at the waiting stage where I believe we will get there.

It helps to realize that this cycle of waiting on the Lord repeats itself. Though it’s hard passing through the first two stages, it’s a relief to realize stage three will eventually come. And so we head into the next year, the next stage, the next growth opportunity.

But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint. (Isa. 40:31)

Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord! (Ps. 27:14)

Truly my soul silently waits for God; From Him comes my salvation. (Ps. 62:1)

My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning— Yes, more than those who watch for the morning. (Ps. 130:6) (How appropriate for new moms!)

The Work in Progress Blog Tour—Take a Peek!

Here’s something a little fun and different. Fellow blogger and author Luanne Castle nominated me to participate in the Work in Progress Blog Tour, so today I have an excuse to give you a preview of my memoir.

The rules of the blog tour are:

  1. Link back to the nominating writer
  2. Post the first few lines of the first three chapters of the work in progress (I included my prologue, as well)
  3. Nominate a few other writers to do the same

Luanne began her blog, writersite.org, a few months before I began blogging in January 2013, and we have been following each other’s blogs for about that long. Not only does she blog, but she has a PhD and an MFA and has taught writing for fifteen years. Most recently, she published her first book, Doll God, which is a book of poetry. Luanne has been a delightful blogging colleague, and I look forward to one day reading her current work in progress, a memoir called Scrap.

My Work in Progress: All Things New: My Journey to Rebirth, Recovery, and a Relevant Faith

As for my own memoir, or work in progress, I have been resting from it since last August, when I queried a publisher who immediately asked to see the entire manuscript. In January, that publisher emailed to tell me they were still evaluating the work, and that “no news is good news in this case.” So I am hopefully awaiting more news!

Synopsis

From a young age, I decided that for faith to make sense, it had to make a difference in my life—a good difference. But when my childhood home gave way to an affair and other family secrets, our Christian beliefs had little to offer me. I fled to college desperate to shed my sad, secretive self. Unfortunately, at college my sadness only intensified; my thoughts turned suicidal. A college dropout, failed suicide attempt, and forty days in a mental hospital were my devastating launch pads into adulthood. They were also the beginnings of a decade-long search for a relevant God. Beginning with a blind date in Texas with a “nice Adventist boy,” a new family, and a secondary teaching job, and culminating with a life-changing prayer ministry, I finally found a Savior who suffered in every way I did, and then I shared him with other women who desperately needed a relevant faith, too.

Prologue

I can never tell, I thought from the back pew of a Texas church. What would they think of me if they knew what I was really like? A few months ago, I was the mysterious Minnesota girl who had showed up on Buc’s arm one Sabbath. Next, I became “Buc’s wife” and “Pastor Gendke’s daughter-in-law.” Buc and I had married in the quiet of my in-laws’ living room, with his father, the retired pastor of my new church, officiating. But we had not invited anyone. I had no wedding shower. There were no formal introductions.

Chapter 1

Playing the Game

1991

Bass notes, synthesizers, and Amy Grant’s alto voice drifted through the sheet that covered my doorway. I winced, pulled my blankets over my head, and rolled over. It was starting again. This was how every Saturday morning started. Just like light after complete blackness hurts the eyes, the drums from the cassette tape hurt my ears, drove me deeper beneath the four-deep pile of covers that substituted for central heating. Dad’s Sabbath music.

I smelled coffee, turkey bacon, and waffles. Dad’s cooking.

Suddenly I remembered: Mom was gone.

 Chapter 2

Home Life

1994

Mom’s bare feet made a sucking sound as she peeled them, one after the other, off the blood-red linoleum, muffin pan in hand. That morning she wore her gray cargo pants and Dad’s blue flannel coat as she served breakfast. We thought the paint would be dry this morning, but it hadn’t dried over night.

Chapter 3

Bombshell

1998

I had big dreams the year my life crumbled. Days before I turned fourteen, my family moved into a newer, nicer house just outside of town. I thought life could only get better from here.

I Nominate…

C.C. Yager–a fellow blogger and author who recently published a novel, Perceval’s Secret, the first installment in a developing series. Cinda has been a great online writing “colleague,” faithfully following and commenting on my blog and posting quality articles on the craft, process, and business of writing.

Trish Ryan–a favorite memoirist whom I hired as my book consultant and who helped me through two drafts of my project. I first discovered Trish and her memoir, He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, in my local library. Hers was one of the first quality Christian memoirs I had read, and her book and her feedback proved invaluable to me as I revised my manuscript.

Addie Zierman–another memoirist who has challenged Christians to overcome the many cliches we cling to. An MFA graduate and fellow Minnesotan, Addie has just finished her first draft of her  second memoir, which follows up her debut When We Were on FireI read her memoir to get another example of a Christian memoir, and I have continued to read her blog for her beautiful prose, bare honesty, and unique perspective.

Good luck to these writers, and all of you, who have a work in progress! 

Memoir and Melancholy: A Perfect Pair

despair, hope

We memoirists might look like gluttons for punishment, because writing about real life hurts, and no one makes us write but ourselves. But for many of us, writing about real life is just an extension of our “Perfect Melancholy” personalities; we write about our lives because we have to do something with all that self-analysis happening in our heads.

I’ve been reading Personality Plus by Florence Littauer, and the author’s description of my Melancholy personality hits home more than other personality tests or training I’ve taken. Other tests labeled my personality in less negative terms— Analyzer or Empathizer, for instance. But Melancholy cuts right to the chase. It describes me to an M.

The evidence is overwhelming—I am introspective, moody, artistic, and depression prone—and the personality test was indisputable. I am Melancholy through and through. True to Littauer’s description, I have been saddened by a small thing to which other personalities wouldn’t give a thought (the label of my personality); and more introspection is the result. I want another personality. I don’t want to have to work so hard to be happy. I don’t want to be Melancholy.

People who study personalities have long observed that artists and writers are commonly Melancholies, as opposed to Sanguines, Cholerics, or Phlegmatics, and this could be good or bad, depending on where you stand.

If you’re the one consuming the art, Perfect Melancholy is great: its existence enriches our culture by providing life-enriching and thought-provoking art.

If you’re the one providing the art, or struggling with “genius” tendencies (Littauer’s word, not mine) that you have trouble harnessing, Perfect Melancholy can be excruciating. Littauer notes that while Melancholies have the highest potential for achievement, they also experience the “highest highs and the lowest lows.” To my Melancholy-colored glasses, this data forces me into a dilemma that’s definitely false, but that seems so real: Would I rather be a “genius” (in writing), or be happy?

The Misery of Memoir

For much of my life, pursuing my art meant misery. All I could write about was my life; and my life, for a good chunk, was sad. Why didn’t I pick another topic, a happier topic, to write about? I go back to the personalities. Melancholy couldn’t get its mind off itself. I was trying to process hard things in my life, and as a writer, I naturally processed through writing.

Because it didn’t yet feel safe to talk about some of those sad things, I especially needed writing as an outlet. I had a strange relationship with writing, though. On the one hand, I felt like I needed to write to survive. On the other hand, what came out of my pen felt like it might kill me.

For almost ten years I would waffle on writing my story—I mean writing it for an audience as opposed to venting in journals. Typically here’s how it would go: I get the desire to write, I pull out old journals for inspiration, I spend a few hours working with the material, and I end up in a pool of tears because it hurts so much, followed by a crumpled heap in my husband’s arms because I am not ready to confront all the emotions these memories bring up. Then, I stuff the emotions, the memories, and my writing aspirations for another few months or years, only to repeat the process again and again.

Melancholies Can Write Happy Endings Too

This blog has borne witness to some of the healing process that finally got me writing again…and writing not only with sadness, but with gladness. God gave my story a happy ending. He not only redirected some of my worst circumstances, but he redirected my mind.

Now, even when more bad circumstances arise—which they inevitably do from time to time—I don’t have to give in to Melancholy. I don’t have to collapse in despair because “that’s just the way things are, and that’s just the way I am.”

God’s Word gives me a more accurate measure of how things really are, and how I really am. You might say he gives me a better personality test, or the ultimate Truth meter:

Though outwardly I am wasting away, yet inwardly I am being renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16).

The sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in me (Rom. 8:18).

If I wait on the Lord, he will strengthen me (Ps. 27:14); Isa. 40:31).

I can learn to be content in whatever state I’m in, knowing that God will supply all my needs according to his riches in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:11, 19).

He will keep me in perfect peace if my mind is fixed on him (Isa. 26:3).

I can remember that weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning (Ps. 30:5).

And I can be confident that, even when progress seems slow, he who began a good work in me will keep working on me until Jesus comes back (Phil. 1:6).

Yes, this world is sad and often hard to navigate—especially, I think, for us over-analytical Melancholies. But this world is not the end, it is temporary and passing away, and that is life-giving knowledge I can cling to.

Yes, I am sinful and fallible and moody and depression prone. But Jesus didn’t come to this world to suffer and die to leave me that way. He came to pull me out of the pits, physical and mental; to retrain my mind on him; and to change me, from glory glory to glory, as I behold him.

And so the story continues. Many mornings I wake feeling unhappy by default. My Melancholy personality (and Satan) doesn’t want me to be happy. But as I make the choice, day by day, to seek God’s face, he gives me strength for what’s in front of me. So I keep praying through it, keep writing through it, and keep moving forward, little by little. A lot of my days end better than they start, because throughout the day I exercise my faith and allow God to smooth out the bumps. These are small rewards, little happy endings, that point me on to the day when Jesus comes to take me home, and give me my ultimate happy ending.

 

 

 

New Mom? New Home? New Year? Resolutions.

Photo Credit: “Two Thousand Fifteen On Balloons Shows Year 2015” by Stuart Miles
Photo Credit: Stuart Miles

Three things. That’s all. I asked God what he wanted me to focus on this new year, and this week I distinctly felt impressed with three things.

1. Focus on my Family.

2. Make healthy choices for myself and make healthy food for my family.

3. Get pregnant in 2015 with my second, and final, child (God willing).

The first seems easy, the second harder, and the third, terrifying.

Part of the Journey

As you can read in my archives, I’ve been on a journey to embracing motherhood, and the life of self-sacrifice it requires. But this is not an easy journey. I go back and forth in my resolve. I still ask God every day to give me his love and spirit of sacrifice to serve my husband and son in the ways they need me.

It’s discouraging to me that I could want kids and family so much, yet still wish for days of single childlessness. Part of the problem is my selfish nature. But the other part is an attack.

The enemy buffets me with fear about possible ways my family could disintegrate. Investing time in people doesn’t feel as safe as investing time in self-advancement, or career-advancement. I’ve blogged about this before.

But God is helping me to face these fears and combat my selfishness; this year, through three resolutions:

  1. Make my family my mission field.

God is teaching me it is honorable to devote my life (for a season) to raising children, and raising them in the fear of God. He tells me he knows my selfish heart, and teaches me that what the world honors is not what he honors (Luke 16:15). And he assures me that even if something happened to my family, this time of self-sacrifice would not be wasted. Through marriage and parenthood, God is refining my character, teaching me to serve his children (that includes my own, and humanity in general), and helping me develop vital life skills. Like cooking.

  1. Cook healthier food for my family.

I don’t have much patience for cooking. I’m a simple girl who likes a simple life–some blank pages, a pen, and a good book–so I’m glad God has shown me what’s vital and what’s not. Being a Pinterest mom is not vital (though the world might say so). My family can do without scrapbooking. They can do without elaborate home decorating. But they can’t do without good food, because food begets life and health. So, this year, although I don’t feel the need or want for any new hobbies (you should see my stack of unread books), cooking is my new “hobby.” No matter whether I always have family around me or not, I’ll always need to eat, right? But as for having family around me, I really would prefer it, and that’s where resolution 3 comes in.

  1. Get pregnant in 2015.

When we finally decided to have kids eight years into our marriage, we decided on the number two. We didn’t want an only child, and two seemed like plenty: one for each parent to corral. As it turns out, I’d prefer to have the kid/teen/young adult periods without the baby stages. What can I say? I just don’t resonate with the woman who wrote: “I’m afraid to stop having babies.” With that the case, I figure it’s best to get on with the baby-making show, get past these tough years, and then enjoy my children who, as a side benefit, will be close enough in age to play together. This is all God willing, of course. In my limited understanding, this two-kid plan seems best for my family and our situation, but I realize it’s totally up to God whether or not we will conceive again. All we can do is try, wait, and see! (Hold on! We are not trying quite yet. There is a lot of 2015 left to go.)

So there we are. Three things in 2015. The first seems easy, the second harder, and the third, terrifying. Good thing God has recently reminded me of this promise:

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think (Eph. 3:20).

I claimed this promise yesterday, while clutching an”impossible” to-do list. But as the day wore on, I checked off thing after thing–phone calls to pediatricians and pharmacies, phone calls to friends, a batch of healthy cookies, minestrone soup, some writing time, a trip to the grocery store, and clean dishes. God delivered on his promise! And I know he will again.

I Prayed a Prayer in Texas . . . and Wound Up in Missouri

missouri welcomes you
Photo Credit: jodyandjanie.blogspot.com

Several months ago I prayed: “Something about our lives and our home feels broken; we need a change.” I haven’t posted for the last month because, in that time, my husband got a job in St. Louis that we could not at first make public; and we have been busy moving. Now that we are here (as of one week), I finally have some room to exhale, rejoice, and explain how this move answered my prayer.

When I prayed my prayer a few months ago, our lives looked pretty perfect. Buc had a good job; we had a nice house, a good church family, and a beautiful baby; and I got to stay home with that baby. But there was definitely a problem: Our family of three wasn’t “gelling” like I knew we should. We weren’t bonding and creating traditions and just “being a family” like I knew God intended.

Details like Buc’s early commute, Sam’s erratic sleep patterns, and Buc’s arrival home around Sam’s bedtime made Daddy-and-Baby time nearly impossible on weekdays. These facts also made it hard for us to eat meals together or have family outings. And for those months when Sam was waking through the night, and waking at 4 and 5 and 6 a.m. for the day, I was plumb exhausted. I had nothing left to give.

As I looked around our home, saw our neglected dogs, overgrown flowerbeds, unused backyard, and the garden Buc had failed to plant, I realized Buc had little left to give either. We were just “getting by.” We didn’t have energy to really enjoy life, and enjoy our baby, together.

You might say there was nothing deeply wrong with our setup; they were just logistical things keeping us from family time. But I would be careful about saying that. A lot of wise people have observed that it’s the little things in life—the daily patterns and routines—that make up the whole life. If we’re not careful about those little patterns that are just a degree or two off target, we will soon find ourselves far from where we originally intended to be.

Originally, we decided to have a baby because we wanted to grow our family; we wanted to create new traditions and spend time together and just be a unit. So the fact that I was doing most of this baby stage by myself, without my husband, was sort of devastating. I found myself growing resentful of my baby and even my husband, and I didn’t want to resent them. So, in addition to complaining at home a whole lot (sorry honey), I prayed.

As I prayed about our brokenness at home, Buc felt things breaking work. Situations pushed him to seek employment with another company. And he started praying too. He set forth a number of conditions that God would have to answer in order for him to move his family over 600 miles from home. Guess what? God answered every single one.

So while our church and Texas family members scratched their heads over why we were leaving such a nice life, I sighed with relief. No more breakfasts alone. No more days of waiting until 6 p.m. to talk to my husband. Perhaps some lunches together (we now live within ten minutes of Buc’s work). Perhaps some suppers out with the baby. No more yard upkeep, at least while we remain in the townhome we’ve rented. No more dogs to take care of, for now (two kind families at our Texas church adopted Bill and Ted). A much needed break from church positions that were gobbling up precious weeknights. Just…a much needed retreat from a life that had grown too busy and clumsy to facilitate a new family learning to “be a family.”

No, I’m not happy to have left all the wonderful family, church members, and friends I’ve gained in Texas over ten years, but I know this is God’s plan for us, for now. And for that, I give thanks. For me, the New Year ushers in an exciting period of growth and change, and hopefully a well maintained blog so I can document what God is doing in our little family of three, and stay connected with my friends and extended family. Happy New Year, dear readers!

Embracing Imperfection

"Hands4" by TACLUDA
“Hands4” by TACLUDA

“I don’t watch TV and don’t feel like I waste my time. So why don’t I always have time for God? What can I cut out of my day to spend more time with Him?”

I asked my husband this question last weekend during a heart to heart about putting God back at the center of our lives. Buc admitted he needed to cut down on media use, but I couldn’t put my finger on any “time-wasters” in my day; everything I did seemed useful, even needful.

“I know what your problem is.” Buc answered. “You’re a perfectionist. You might do all good things, but it takes you three times as long as most people. So you do everything well, but you don’t get much done.”

Ugh. He’s told me this before. And I guess  I haven’t truly listened. But I’m finally starting to, because God has stepped in to send the message home. Over the last few weeks (during which I haven’t posted because I didn’t have time to write a “good enough” post) God has been teaching me that his idea of perfection is not the same as mine.

My idea of perfection looks something like this:

  • I should have morning worship every day
  • I should be a good and responsive mother to Sam (whatever that means while he is without language and can’t tell me what he wants/needs)
  • I should exercise vigorously every day
  • I should get to eat at least one meal with my husband (two would be better)
  • Those meals should be mostly healthy
  • I should get 8 hours of sleep every night
  • I should be writing every day
  • I should be blogging regularly
  • I should be involved at church
  • I should be preparing personalized Christmas gifts on Shutterfly (or similar sites) for my family
  • I should keep in touch with all my friends on a regular basis
  • I should keep my house clean–or, at the very least, should be able to get the dishes done at the end of every day
  • I should have clean hair every day

My daily reality is far from my daily “wish list.” And understandably; it’s an impossible list. Over and over in the past weeks God has been talking to me about my impossible standards, trying to redirect them to his standard. He says his “yoke is easy” and his “burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30). That sounds better than the crushing yoke I’ve created for myself.

So what is God’s definition of perfection? I’m working on piecing together an imperfect definition, based on some verses he has directed me to lately:

“It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect.” (Ps. 18:32, NIV)

“…count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4, NKJV)

 “…from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the (wo)man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Tim. 3:15-17, KJV)

From these verses, I know there is nothing I can do to be “perfect”; it is only through God and his Word that I can aspire to “perfection.” And what is godly perfection? From James I am starting to understand that I can’t measure my “perfection” by my outward appearance; it has to do with my heart and my state of mind. Also, James tells me the road to becoming “perfect” is messy, paved with trials; and Timothy tells me that it may take some “reproof” and “correction” before I get there.

As I ponder and pray over these lessons from God and his Word, I am becoming more okay with days that don’t live up to my expectations. Good rest and good hygiene and healthy meals and quality time with my husband and robust writing production and everything else on my list would be really nice, but we live in an imperfect world–so these things won’t happen every day. So I have to become okay with that; I have to learn to embrace “imperfection” according to how I define imperfection (my shallow, outward definition), and embrace the “process of perfection” God has designed.

My house might be a mess, my hair might be a bit greasy, and it may be a month or more between blog posts…but that’s okay…as long as my connection with God is still intact.

In my imperfect world, maybe all I can do is a five-minute Bible study, or fifty distracted prayers throughout the day while chasing down a runway baby. Maybe I get blessed with an hour of “free” time in which to crack open my Bible commentaries. Maybe I only get to read a few scriptures on my index cards before motherhood calls.

The important thing is to not let the possibility of an “imperfect” Bible study or prayer session keep me from having that Bible study or prayer session. God has told me this recently. He told me, “Lindsey, ALL scripture is profitable for you…so even if you only get five minutes, take them.” And through a new favorite author, Lysa Terkeurst, he has also told me, “Your job is obedience; my job is results” (from Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions).

Okay, God. I will embrace imperfection, as long as you keep helping me (and I know you will). As long you keep “perfecting” me according to your will, I will keep loosening my grip on my own imperfect ideas of perfection.

Messy house, greasy hair, and hasty blog post, here I come! This is my day, and that’s okay.

My Near Brush with Scrapbooking

20140926-083917.jpgDo you ever fall into the trap, like I do, of feeling you must use something just because you have it? Last year I received some lovely scrapbooking supplies for my baby shower, and those supplies sat unused in a drawer for the first eight months of Sam’s life, taunting me, making me feel like a bad mother…until his ninth month, when I counted the cost of what scrapbooking would mean to my already busy life.

Already I was having trouble fitting into my day the things I loved (apart from Sam), and some things I didn’t really love, but really needed to do. I was not finding regular time to blog, read, or keep up with friends. I could not always find time to make healthy meals for my family. And I had committed to an exercise program that required just twenty-five minutes a day—but after completing the day’s demands, sometimes I literally could not find the time (or energy) to keep that commitment to my health. I realized again a lesson my people-pleasing personality needs over and over: I can’t do it all, at least not all at the same time; in life, I have to choose.

best yesHappily, just as I was trying to decide what to do with my scrapbooking supplies, I read Lysa Terkeurst’s book, The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands—and I knew what to do. The thesis of the book is that God has “best yeses” for us, or things we are definitely meant to do in life; but we have to be intentional about our decisions, always checking them against God’s word and spiritual discernment, or we will trade our best yeses for things we are not meant to do. The two most important words we can wield, says Terkeurst, are “yes” and “no.” She helps readers determine when to say no. She helped me decide that scrapbooking, for me, was a “no.”

Along with Terkeurst’s wisdom, here are some questions I asked myself to determine whether something really deserves my time–along with how I applied it to my scrapbooking dilemma:

  • Will this thing matter in the end to others who matter to me? I decided it was important to preserve some pictures of Sam and some milestones and thoughts, but it didn’t really matter how. In other words, keeping a baby book and a regular photo album is just as good as keeping a scrapbook. Sam will feel loved from these simpler memory makers, so why not go easy on myself?20140926-083931.jpg
  • Will this thing matter in the end to me? In ten years, twenty years, or even tomorrow, I decided I don’t care if I have a scrapbook sitting on my shelf or not. In fact, I’m trying to de-clutter my home, so why would I add another baby book? It would be nice to have, but it’s just not for me.
  • What would I, or could I, do with my time instead? The things I am constantly craving more of right now are reading good books, writing, and time with God and family. These things refresh me, and when I am refreshed, I am a better, more pleasant person.
  • Is doing this thing helping fulfill God’s plan for me, detracting from it, or neutral? In the case of scrapbooking (big deal, right?), maybe the answer is neutral. But between the other two choices, I’d say it’s detracting from God’s plans. It would take time away from my real gift, which my hubby recently said (and I agree) is communicating–talking, listening, and writing to others. On a side note, the recent project I’ve been doing for my church is collecting, writing up, and disseminating info on all our ministries/activities–and I have thoroughly enjoyed doing this, and I feel good about it. The accompanying bulletin board my assistant and I have planned excites me far less (huh, bulletin-boarding kind of resembles scrapbooking), so I am thankful for a communications assistant who is enthusiastic about the board.

At the end of the day, the decision to scrap the scrapbooking was a great victory for me. “Redeem the time, for the days are evil,” the Bible says. Deciding not to scrapbook helped me crystallize what’s really important, and what’s really not–and it has helped me to redeem my time. Take the past twenty-five minutes, for instance. I could’ve been scrapbooking, but instead I got to record these thoughts. I feel better already.

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What things tempt you to trade your best yeses?

Is There Such Thing as Too Honest?

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Most people agree that “Honesty is the best policy.” But as a writer and ministry leader who has made honesty her central message and MO, I wonder if it’s possible to sometimes be “too honest.” Not a few times as I’ve posted unflattering, embarrassing, content, I’ve wondered: am I hurting my influence by being so raw and real? After people read this, will they still look up to me?

I’ve found that honesty, at the level I go, can be hard to find in Christian writers, teachers, and leaders. Many I’ve observed in this group like to use honest illustrations and anecdotes…of other people’s struggles. Or, if the stories are first-person, they tend to remain on a safe, surface level. I once read an article by a Christian who used the analogy of scrubbing her floor to illustrate the filthiness in her heart. But she made no mention of what, exactly, was in her heart. “Scrubbing my dirty floor made me think of how God has to scrub my heart clean of sin. I thought, how much better if I kept it clean daily, instead of letting it all pile up?”

Illustrations of the gospel like this one don’t resonate with me. It’s not that they’re bad or untrue, it’s just that they’re so general, so vague so b-o-o-o-o-ring. Worst of all, illustrations like these are generally unhelpful when it comes to making real changes to behavior.

At the risk of assuming other humans think like I do, I would submit that humans long for authenticity. Especially when we’re talking about faith. If our sources of inspiration don’t hit close to home, addressing real issues we battle daily, they will be perceived as impotent, laughable, and even painful (because they minimize our struggles)—and they will be quickly abandoned.

That’s why I chose to be vulnerable in the memoir I wrote about discovering my new life in Christ.

It’s why I choose to be vulnerable almost every time I post on this blog.

I believe people are hungry for other people to relate to them—to say “I’ve been there, too. Look how screwed up I used to be, and how I still struggle sometimes. And yet, look what God was able to do with that mess!” I believe messages like this bring hope.

But what if I’m wrong? What if messages like this do the opposite? What if brutal honesty breeds distrust in God and disaffection for his “honest, messed-up followers?”

When leaders decide to be honest, this is a very real risk we take—the risk of our followers unsubscribing because we are not perfect.

I am willing to take this risk, not only for the reasons I listed above, but because a genuine Christian faith should not hinge on the words and deeds of any human being. (In other words, no one’s faith should hinge on me.) It should hinge on the person and words of Christ.

When Leaders Disappoint

A few years ago I was deeply disappointed when I learned that one of my spiritual heroes, Leo Schreven, committed suicide. Honestly, I felt betrayed and somewhat deceived by this man who previously appeared to “have it all together.” But I was able to weather this bad news by clinging to the truth that God is not, and never will be, totally represented by those claiming to be his followers. When we see good in Christians, that is from God. But when we see bad, that is from the enemy. We can’t lay every quality at Christ’s doorstep, because not every quality is from him.

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I had the privilege of meeting Leo Schreven in 2010 when he conducted a seminar at my church. My husband (left) had met him many years before and introduced me to Leo’s preaching through a set of seminar tapes that made me eager to meet him.

One quality I do believe is of God is the quality of honestly engaging our struggles as we seek His healing. I think I would have still respected my deceased spiritual hero if, in life, he had openly admitted his struggles. Perhaps I would have respected him even more for choosing bravery, rather than bravado—even though his brave sharing would have painted him as a fallible, sinful, wounded human being.

I have to add something here, to be fair. A family member of Leo Schreven’s contacted me after reading my blog post about Leo’s suicide, to tell me that my “hero” had struggled with psychological problems the public knew nothing about. This family member wanted me to have a fair, truthful view of Leo. The truth included mental illness, and as a former sufferer of mental illness, I empathized with that. I understood that I had put Leo on a pedestal. I also understood that his mental state may have precluded him from the type of honesty to which I am calling spiritual leaders.

Given the state of Leo’s mental health, it’s actually amazing that he enjoyed the long and successful career as evangelist and motivational speaker that he did. I have had similar thoughts, of course, about the late Robin Williams. Leo and Robin show us that there are exceptions to the standard of honesty I am putting forth. The exception applies to those who are not able to help themselves, or not able to let God help them, because of mental illness, or a genuine medical problem. Maybe they keep up the façade for the public for awhile, but in the end, we find out they are not the leaders we wished them to be. But then again, no one in whom we place our trust is immune to struggles, and to sin.

The Bible says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, so we know every person, Christian or non, ministry leader or not, has a mix of good and bad.

No matter what we know to be true about our leaders, hopefully we can sift the good from the bad, and remember and respect them for their good qualities. Hopefully we can go on learning from them, no matter what their lives reveal. Sometimes we may observe the right course, other times the non-example. As long as we are looking up to human beings, we should expect both. And if we are the ones being looked up to, we must trust Christ to be the one shining example our audiences need; we must be okay with being imperfect representations of him.

That said, I believe that we in positions of trust—ministry leaders, Christian writers, etc.—should do our best to represent Christ, and this includes being honest about how God is working in our lives and transforming our sinful patterns. We should also be honest about “wilderness” times,  times when we struggle with our faith…but we should do it wisely.

Guidelines for Christian Leaders

Here are two guidelines I’ve found helpful in my own writing and ministry that can help Christian leaders determine when, where, and how much to share.

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1) First, we should consider timing. You can read various sins and struggles of mine on this blog that occurred at various stages in my life. I blog about problems long past and problems of last week.

The safer type of post is the one about problems past. These problems are ones I have likely had victory over. They are problems that have yielded personal lessons I can use to teach others. These types of posts, and this type of sharing, should be an absolute “yes” for all ministry leaders. Why wouldn’t we use our stories of redemption as teaching tools? What better examples of the gospel could we present than the ones that have played out in our own lives?

The murky area is problems of the present. How much should Christian leaders share about present problems? Here, we have to be wise about audience.

2) Audience is the second consideration. Consider who will be reading or hearing your message. If you are a preacher and it is your job to inspire hope, then it may not be the best time to insert a struggle that you do not have victory over, or at least cannot yet talk about in a positive way.

Sure, there are times when you are on the upside of a struggle—you can see the end in sight, and you are pressing through for victory. That might be material for an inspiring message, and if you are comfortable exposing that yet-unresolved pain, go ahead.

But other times, pain and sin is too raw to project to a large, or public, audience. That’s when you need a small, confidential audience. I’m talking a few trusted friends or advisors who can help talk and pray you through your problems. When you have worked through those problems, then they may become appropriate large-group material. But don’t rush it. Getting outside voices mixed up in your current personal problems could hurt the healing process, and you need to get healthy first so you can go back to being your motivational self.

One caveat for leaders working through personal problems: if your challenge handicaps your ability to do ministry, whether because the emotions involved take too much energy, or because a sin you are fighting “disqualifies” you to be a role model at the time, then it’s probably the right time to step out of ministry, at least for awhile. In the case of Leo Schreven, I would have much preferred hearing the news that he had stepped out of leadership for awhile to tackle some personal problems to hearing that he had committed suicide. We are ultimately the most helpful to others when we get the help we need, first.

On This Blog, What You See Is What You Get

To apply my guidelines to myself, I routinely post about my current struggles, but many times I have chosen to remain silent until I have prayed over them and exposed them to Scripture and the wisdom and counsel of a few trusted others. By the time I post on an issue, I want it to be, if not totally resolved, at least on the path to resolution. I want others to look up to me, yes, but I am happy to admit that sometimes the best example I can give is: “Look, I’m broken here, but I’m looking to Christ. And if you feel the same way, you need to do the same.”

By posting my struggles, past or present, I risk losing my readers’ respect, but I also keep myself accountable to Christ for resolution. I put a problem out there (such as my sleep-deprived, desperate, witchy state), and I say, “Okay, this is the mess this sinful world, or sinful me, has created today. But now, how am I going to find Christ in the middle of it?” My mission is to find out how Christ will come through for me, and then to share my victory with my readers.

Indeed, if “Superwoman Christian” is the role model you want, look somewhere else. Because on this blog you’ll just encounter a broken girl trying to depend on Christ, and trying to work out her faith, in all things big and little. After all, as so many examples in the Bible show (Kind David and the 51st Psalm come right to mind), a Christian leader worth listening to is not someone who claims to be above sins and struggles, but someone who fully admits their weaknesses; has learned how to let Christ lead in the hard times; and can discern which, of all their life experiences, will be helpful for lifting others up.

When the Gospel Isn’t Enough

IMG_1702The Hidden Half of the Gospel is now in print, which means it’s time for me to sound promotion bells; but how about I just use a recent, personal example, to tell you why so many people (and maybe you) desperately need this message?

The other day I was listening to a radio show hosted by one of my favorite pastors. People call in with Bible questions, and this pastor answers them, usually with lots of scripture and high caller satisfaction. But one caller on the show did not receive a satisfactory answer.

Essentially, this caller wanted to know how he could get free from his past. He was fifty-two, had been abused as a child, and was still living “in bondage,” even though he went to church and prayed for the peace of the Holy Spirit. How, he wanted to know, could he experience the “new life” Christ promised, and the changes he read about when a person gets the Holy Spirit?

My heart broke for the man as the pastor proceeded to give pat answers that blatantly sidestepped the man’s apparent pain. “Let me ask you a question. Have you ever been to a funeral where the deceased sat up and complained about his past?”

“No.”

“Well, we can’t focus on the past. It’s done. As we drive through life, we can’t keep looking in the rearview mirror. We have to focus on what matters for eternity. We need to give the past to Jesus and then look to the future with him. Our pasts won’t matter in heaven. We need to believe that Jesus forgives us of our past sins and our guilt.”

Here I thought to myself, He totally didn’t address the man’s question: “How do you help someone who is trying, but is not experiencing, the Holy Spirit?” I wished I could contact this man and offer Paul’s and my book, The Hidden Half of the Gospel: How His Suffering Can Heal Yours. I wished I could talk to that pastor and give him our book, too, so next time he got a call like that, he could offer some real help: a complete picture of the gospel that not only addresses healing sin, but also healing suffering.

The Traditional Gospel Doesn’t Help Everyone

Sadly, this pastor was merely presenting the “status quo” gospel that so many Christian pastors, and Christians, promote. That is, “Christ died for our sins and rose again to forgive us and give us a new life.” Sounds nice. It is nice. This gospel has changed millions of lives. But what about those people who have already tried this gospel, who go to church and pray regularly, and who have even accepted Jesus’ forgiveness, and still live in bondage?

Today Christians and non-Christians alike live in bondage to things like divorce, abuse, addiction, depression, and cutting/self-harm (to name a few). More tragically, many Christians live in bondage to the negative thoughts and lies Satan slams us with in the aftermath and in the midst of these problems. Which means we end up living out false identities long after the initial pain of, say, childhood abuse.

I was one of those desperate people only a few years ago (see my seven-part series “My Ugly, Messy Rebirth Story“). But then God taught me what it really means to live a new life. Over a period of several years, I learned about Satan’s lies and how they take root in our minds and handicap our lives.

It’s insulting, and discouraging, when pastors or Christians tell us we should be “over it” just like that. It doesn’t work. And that’s why we need a better gospel, a complete gospel—the gospel that Paul Coneff unearthed as a young pastor in his search to minister to hurting individuals like that fifty-two-year-old Christian caller.

Jesus Preached a Better Gospel

When Jesus said He came to heal the brokenhearted and set the captives free, He didn’t just mean He would heal us when He came back again at His second coming, or set us free from our prisons of darkness when we get to heaven. His promise was for here and now. And that means it includes more than the gospel of forgiveness of sins. It has something for those of us who have been sinned against.

Our book, The Hidden Half of the Gospel, starts right where you are: in the midst of your misery. It doesn’t ask you to deny it or forget it, because that’s stupid; it’s impossible. Correction: by ourselves it’s impossible, but with God all things are possible. Specifically, for those of us who are suffering, healing begins with Jesus Christ’s life of suffering, and the promise that “He suffered in every way we did” so He could offer us his mercy and grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 2:17-18; 4:14-16). In our book, Paul and I flesh out the implications of these promises through stories of real individuals (like myself) who needed a Savior in the midst of suffering, and who found one who understands our pain exactly, because He has been through it.

Jesus was abandoned, betrayed, and abused; He was unfairly tried, convicted, and crucified; and in the midst of all this, he felt forsaken by his Father. As a “man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief,” He knows that we need time to heal, and He doesn’t expect us to do it overnight. He only asks that we look to Him and the victory He accomplished at the cross. As we look to Jesus and allow Him to tell us about the lies and wounds in our hearts, He can uproot them and replace them with a new identity. If this sounds like a message you could use, or one that you’d like to share with others, please visit hiddenhalf.org. There, you can read sample chapters, and if you like what you see, you can order the book. Happy reading!

Get a Discount on the book: When you click “buy the book,” the next page offers a discount box. Type in “HIS-story” to receive a 20% discount through October 31.