Two a.m. Soul Cry: Finding Release Valves for the New Year, and Your Current Season

img_5269I didn’t write a Christmas letter or send out Christmas cards in 2019. I found that, at the end of the fall 2019 semester, I was too emotionally exhausted to do much of anything but cry. All semester I went to school/work to be a student/teacher, and I came straight home to be a mom/wife. That was my semester. Everything else got put to the side. This week, our family is decompressing and ringing in the New Year in a cabin in Arkansas. I am still trying to unwind from that crazy semester, as well as the crazy Christmas season. As well as just, well, life as we’ve known it for the past couple years.

I still don’t have words to express all the feelings I have about my personal life right now–except perhaps what I could only get out in some free verse in October. One night after coming home late from a night class, I couldn’t sleep, and a poem spilled across my notebook pages at 2 a.m. (This was unusual at this stage of life. My readers know I’m not a poet.) Perhaps what comes through in the poem is that I don’t know how to tend to some important relationships right now while also trying to stay mentally sound myself. I feel like, for the past few years, every six months or so we have had a huge life upheaval: two job losses, moving to a new state, a mom-dad role switch, the death of a parent, a parent added to the household, two new jobs, re-entry into graduate school…what have I missed? Anyway. stressful times.

My dad has a tradition of sending out an annual Christmas poem, and since I didn’t write any Christmas communications, I’ll dedicate my October poem to my dad, and to my mom, and to my brothers, Kyle and Caleb. All of these dear ones live at least a thousand miles away, and I have seen none of them for at least a year and a half. I also dedicate the poem to my good-humored husband, Buc. One needs a sense of humor at times like these. During stressful seasons we humans need some release valves like crying, talking with friends, writing poetry, or doing whatever leaves us with a little more peace. May you take your human and/or artistic license in 2020 and do whatever emotionally uplifting, nonviolent, non-destructive-to-relationships, and legal things you need to do to weather whatever season you’re going through. God bless you, Friends, and Happy New Year.


Showing Up
10/20/19

Sometimes life is about showing up
being present
hugging a screaming, inconsolable child
saying I love you or
praying with you
when, really, that’s all I can do.
I can’t fly over the ocean to you
or even across five states for you.
I can’t take my family, your grandsons,
to visit you.
I have nothing to give.
Nothing but wishes and prayers and a
heart full of emotions I can’t express.
Life just doesn’t cooperate.

The house is a mess.
And I have to go to work.
And I could work my life away,
forgetting to stop and sit with you.
Neglecting to sit and eat with you.
Not bothering to look you in the eye.
Just giving up trying to connect…
because connecting seems so hard.

Where do we go when we run out of
answers?
When Mom, Dad, Husband, Wife, and “Higher Education”
cease to fill us, delight us, comfort us?
And when, after a lifetime of reading and
school and straight A’s, we can’t learn
what we need to know, no matter how
much we study?
Only here. Crumpled in a chair at 2 a.m.,
heart racing, praying, knowing I don’t
know much of anything. But it’s okay.
He knows.
You know, God.
You know it’s going to be okay.
The world doesn’t rest on my shoulders–
it rests on yours.

And so.
I can breathe. I can sit. I can put
work away. I can leave that dust.
I can give up so many expectations
that never did anything for me
but strangle me.
What if Mom is not all put together?
(And I mean she, and I mean me.)
I’ll speak for myself and say
I’m a mess. Emotionally.
I can clean all day–clean my life away–
but what will that do if I alienate you?
I’m sorry, Family.

I see me now, or I’m starting to.
It’s not totally my fault. I didn’t make
this mess (completely). But neither did you.
It’s a long legacy, passed down to us from
our first mother, our first father.
We’re just the latest installation in a
forever-back line.
We were gifted the curse at birth.
And so we grow up nasty and defiant,
a collective screaming child. Rude, disrespectful,
selfish, self-centered “I’s.”
Our parents wounded us, though it’s the
last thing they wanted to do.
We grew up to do it, too.
We’re messy people, producing more messy people.
Heaven help us–Jesus help me.
For on my own, I can do no better than
live out this human legacy.
Human nature tells me to leave–
don’t stay the course–do what’s easy.
Emotions go cold–play mind games.
Get angry, bitter, blame him, blame her.
Don’t take responsibility.

But.
You came to change the story,
Jesus. You came here, by me–right
beside me, and us, in this mess.
You flowered in the fray–
a tender shoot from dry ground.
Unsupported, despised, rejected.
Unfairly treated, betrayed, and abandoned.
Abused, misused, and unfairly accused.
If anyone had the right to be angry,
it was you.

But what did you do?

You showed up.
You prayed, You pled, You loved, and You bled.
You cried and You prayed, even while betrayed.
You kept Your eyes on the skies and on
better days (One day
you will see me coming in the clouds,
You said.)
Still–You prayed and You pled, and You
loved, and You bled.
You didn’t turn cold or deny the pain–
You uttered this refrain:
God, if it is possible, take this cup from
Me. But if it’s not possible, Thy will
be done.
And God didn’t take the cup away, because
this suffering was Your mission.

And when they beat You and hit You,
kicked and spit at You–tore off
Your clothes and dressed You in robes,
nailed Your body to a tree,
You prayed,
Father, forgive them for they know not what
they do.

Oh, what those eyes could see.
Me. (And I mean you.)
How could I be so stupid?
Life wasn’t supposed to be like this.
Forgive me. I didn’t know what I was doing.
And I still don’t know what I’m doing, Lord.
And I don’t know how to fix it–
this pain in me and this pain around me–
And the pain inflicted on me, and the pain
I inflict on others.

But praise God.
I don’t have to know.
Because it’s not my job to know.
And it’s not my job to fix it.
You know, and it’s Your job.
That’s why You came and lived
and prayed, and pled, and loved, and bled,
and suffered, and died,
and rose again.

It’s 2 a.m. and the night is almost gone.
Day will rise, hope will rise, again.

And sometimes, like today,
life is just about showing up.
Being present.
Hugging a screaming, but consolable, child.
Saying I love you to my husband.
Sending I love you’s to my mom, my dad, and my brothers
(thousands of miles away).
Praying with a friend who’s with me now.
That’s all I can do.
And that’s all I have to do.


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Finding Inspiration in the Negative

woods-690415_1280I’m an inspirational writer. I’m also a pessimist. Sounds weird, right? It does from a human perspective. But guess what? The God I serve is in the business of bringing to life what is dead, and bringing into being things that are not (Rom. 4:17). Through God’s lenses, I can see the glass half full; I can even inspire others. But I’ll be honest: usually my inspiration begins with negativity. So, how do I find inspiration in the negative? And how can you, when your world feels dark?

Sometimes we Christians get the idea that we are not supposed to struggle mentally or emotionally in life. Jesus is Life and Light and Living Water and all those great symbols of abundance and hope and happiness. So if we’re struggling to feel happy, positive, hopeful, we feel like failures. We feel ashamed. I know I do, when the only prayer I can pray begins with the words, “Lord, I’m such a mess!”

I recently suffered a Mom Funk where I found it hard to say anything positive. Now I am climbing out of the funk, doing the things I know I need to do to function well, but you know what? My mornings can still feel a lot like those of a physically disabled mom whose story I read once in Parents magazine. Her day began with a long warmup of massaging stiff, sore muscles before she could even coax her body out of bed–before she could tend to children’s needs.

Though I don’t equate my parenting or life difficulties with hers, I can identify with a long warmup of preparing (mental) muscles before I am ready to get out of bed and tackle the day’s challenges.

Though they may be different, we all have struggles. And it’s no wonder. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble…” It was a promise.

Parenting and positivity are my struggles right now. (See my Mother’s Day post for exhibit A.) And the positivity has been a lifetime struggle. Combine the two in an environment with limited sleep or time to pray, and you have some hard days.

Can I say anything positive about this? Jesus, after saying, “In this world you will have trouble…” added these words: “but take heart! I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33).

Take heart, Lindsey.

Take heart, readers.

Jesus has overcome my struggles, and He has overcome yours. For the perplexed parents out there, He is the Perfect Parent, to both our kids and ourselves. We can do all things through Him who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13). For the pessimists out there, remember: Everything He creates is good–so there must be a lot of good in the world…including you and me. We were “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14) …even when nothing about us feels wonderful.

We Christians know the promises, don’t we? But sometimes, in the midst of struggles, it’s so hard to remember them. How, then, can we find our way back to inspiration in dark times?

Well, here’s how I do it.

I put my pen to paper.

I start where I am.

I pray, “Dear God, I’m a mess,” and…praise God…

He answers: I’ve got a big broom. 

He redirects me.

And somehow, through voicing the negative, through writing the negative, I find my way to God’s truth, I find positivity, once again.

Can I tell you a secret? A lot of times in this Young Mom Stage of Life, I feel I’m just hanging on by a thread–one small thread of faith. And my positivity? (Assuming I have any on a given day?) It takes hard work. Painful, stiff, sore muscle work. It takes cracking open my gratitude journal to write three good things at the end of the day when I just want to crumple into bed and cry. But maybe that’s why God has called me to write. I write to show you that my faith is the thread that saves me, day after day after day–and it can save you, too.

Next time you are struggling through a depression, a funk, or just a dark day, I encourage you to tell God and, perhaps, someone else about your struggles because…

When we bring our frazzled threads of faith into the open with an intent toward healing and growing (not just complaining) at least two positive things can result:

  • One: we allow others to carry some of the burden. We make room for friends, loved ones, and maybe even professionals to help us…according to the severity of our need. (Think closing scenes of Disney’s Inside Out.)
  • Two: we encourage–we actually give courage to–each other. Maybe our stories are not pretty. Maybe we are just hanging on. But we are still here. We still have that thread. And if we keep hanging on, even though we might unravel sometimes, we will look back one day and see that it was enough.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (1 Pet. 5:10, NIV)

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” (Rev. 21:3-5)

Reconnecting with God as a Young Mom

IMG_2139It’s 5:30 a.m., and I lie in my “new bedroom,” the downstairs basement guest room, where I have finally found sanctuary from my kids’ night and early mornings wakings—where I have finally found rest. Buc is handling the kids for the next hour, should they wake or come into our bed (if not already there)—which means I have finally found the time. It’s time to reconnect with God.

But I lie there like a stone, debating. How to reconnect?

For three years, since my first was born, I have tried to reconnect with God. But most of my efforts have ended up incomplete, interrupted, and finally put aside when discouragement kicked in…or sleep deprivation.

I’m finally making up for lost sleep with our new arrangement…me sequestered away from the family between the hours of roughly 9:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. (I explained this in my last post.) But with my wits about me, I’ve identified other areas besides my spiritual life that need attention:

  • In the mornings, I almost never have breakfast ready, and I’m almost never dressed and ready myself. So we get off on a bad foot.
  • For the rest of the day, I haven’t planned enough activities to keep my kids out of trouble. Meaning, much of the day is stressful.
  • In short, I haven’t yet created a routine that works.

I’ve been addressing the morning readiness problem with my new living arrangement—getting my own sleep and beating the family out of bed—but I am still trying to fill a knowledge deficit in how to parent, or simply, how to do my job as a mom.

I am still trying to fill a knowledge deficit in how to parent, or simply, how to do my job as a mom.

With more sleep, I’ve been able to step back and realize every day doesn’t have to be so hard. There are resources out there. I can become a prepared and put-together mom (to a certain extent—there are always variables with little children). But it will take sacrifice. It will take preparation. It will take time and intention.

Anyway, all that to say, when I wake well-rested at 5:30 a.m. now (having gone to bed at roughly 9:30), it’s hard to connect with God. With one hour before I’m “on” as a mom, my mind is already spinning. More than likely, I don’t yet have a plan for the day to keep the kids engaged and to keep my home running smoothly. I wake with the immediate burden to get up and prepare activities and food for my children. (I didn’t do this the night prior because I was too busy getting a shower or finishing my dishes…you know, all the stuff that has to get done in a day.) But I know how dicey days can get when I don’t have something planned for the kids, and I want to prevent that.

Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you (Matthew 6:33). I know the principle of putting God first. I know that when I do that, the day tends to go better. But I can’t focus. I can’t even decide where to open my Bible, which devotional book to read. It feels like I don’t have time. And even though I know I do, now, it’s so hard for me to focus on the Good Book, because it’s such a Big Book. I know the principle of eating an elephant one bite at a time; I know a lot can be accomplished in small chunks. But in this season, the words on the page swim.

Lord, this is creating so much anxiety. I fear opening your Word because I don’t know if I’ll find the right passage in the few minutes before “mom duty” kicks in…will it leave me empty? Will I be able to remember it through the day? This just isn’t working.

I used to write Scriptures on note cards, and I’ve tried that as a mom, but man, I just keep misplacing them. The cards are always in another spot where I can’t get to them; or I forget to look at them. That approach is just not working right now. Life is different now, with my kids. Lord, help me. I need you to simplify this for me.

 I know God doesn’t want me to feel anxiety over connecting with him. Yet I know He still wants to connect. And I know I need it.

It feels like these approaches I’ve tried need a break, and that’s something I’m figuring out with three-year-old Sam: sometimes when something isn’t working, or when something is making him too upset, I just need to get away from it. Give it a break. Try a completely different tack.

So, I do that. I am in a huge learning curve in my life, and I need my God time to be simple.

I am in a huge learning curve in my life, and I need my God time to be simple.

God, give me something simple, where I can still reconnect with you.

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As I make my morning coffee, look around my kitchen and living areas for an idea, He gives me something: Bible story books. I have three different sets of Bible storybooks sitting on our shelves that were given to us for Sam’s birth. We have tried reading them to him from time to time, but so far, they are still a little too advanced to keep his attention. They go back on the shelf until he’s a little older. One day I think he will really enjoy the pictures and stories.

But they’re not too advanced for me. I could read them for my God time. Yes!

 I need the Bible, but right now, I need fewer words, more pictures, simpler stories. I need something my spinning mind can easily attach to.

bedtime-storiesFor bedtime, we have been reading Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories to Sam, and Buc was amazed the other night when one story brought tears to my eyes. A children’s story made me cry! Why? It’s a little embarrassing. But I identified with the little girl in the story, Margaret, who had said very naughty things to her mother (I have said not-so-nice things to my family in my recent Mom Funk), and who then tearfully said a prayer of repentance with her big brother’s help.

Could children’s Bible stories speak to my heart? They already had. I put a hand on one of the series on the shelf and pulled out the first book in the set. It would only take a few minutes to read one story, maybe two. I could do that. I grabbed my coffee, opened the storybook, and settled in. With my new, doable reading goal, I would have plenty of time to reconnect with God before the rest of the family awoke…and maybe even get breakfast on the table, too.

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Mommy Is Angry (Thank God for Forgiveness!)

Sorry
Photo from Creative Commons

A common occurrence in my household recently has been me verbally exploding on my three-year-old and, shortly thereafter, asking his forgiveness. “Mommy is angry,” I explain, “because you hit your brother/didn’t obey me/yelled at me [fill in the blank]. But I should not have yelled like I did. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” Praise God that Sam always forgives me, and so does God.

Thank God for forgiveness!

Not until I became a parent did I realize quite how sinful I am—and how in need of forgiveness I am—from my family and from God. Now that I’m here, where I am squeezed all day long (no naps for Sam, sadly), I regularly lose my temper, act unlovingly, and do things I don’t want to do. I know exactly what the Apostle Paul talks about in Romans 7. Unless I maintain a proactive connection with God, praying through the day and asking Jesus’ words and attitudes to replace my own, I’m in danger of exploding, nagging, criticizing—sinning—all the time. And every day, I do sin. Every day, I fail. I’m learning much more about God’s grace than I really wanted to know, because I am just so darn sinful. Thus, there’s no other way for me to function—to move past my guilt, to repair my relationships, to regain my peace—than to beg God’s, and my family’s, forgiveness.

Thank God for forgiveness!

I’m learning, begrudgingly, that all of my really close and important relationships—spouse, kids, God, parents—hinge on forgiveness. My forgiveness to them, and their forgiveness to me. That’s because we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We are not perfect, and we are all going to screw up, especially when we live together . Ever notice how the closest relationships are the ones that hurt the most? They are also the relationships that make life worth living. If we have any hope of salvaging them, we have to forgive (and pray to be forgiven).

As I work out my relationships with spouse and children at this stressful, “squeezing” stage of life, I am finally beginning to understand the gift of God’s forgiveness towards me. Where I once despaired in my relationship with God because I couldn’t get it right for even one day, I can now rejoice. You know why? It’s because of the forgiveness I have seen demonstrated in my own family.

I have now seen in flesh in blood, through my three-year-old, and through my husband of twelve years, that my relationships can grow despite daily screw-ups…as long as confession, forgiveness, and the intention toward improvement remain in operation. I can sin day after day, I can nag, criticize, and explode at these precious people—and yet, when I humble myself, confess my sins to them (and God), and communicate my intentions to do better, they forgive me, like God forgives me (1 John 1:9). They accept me, and they love me. Our relationships grow.

My family’s sweet forgiveness, like God’s forgiveness to the repentant sinner, makes me want to change. And I am changing. Slowly. It’s a journey. Changes in my relational life, like changes in the life of a new Christian, come in response to grace we’ve received. Forgiveness is not permission and license to keep sinning willfully. It is a free gift, undeserved, that should soften our hearts. The proper response for the well-intentioned Christian, the well-intentioned mother or spouse or brother, is to accept the gift and do better out of gratitude, and out of a desire to continue growing the relationship.

Unfortunately, because we are sinners living in a sinful world, we won’t always behave nicely (my kids or myself). But what we can do, when sin invades our lives, is to ask forgiveness, extend forgiveness, and start again. Again and again. And as parents, we can model this process for our children. As we extend forgiveness to our children and ask them to do the same for us, we will be teaching them the power of God’s love to redeem sinners and restore relationships. And we can show them that relationships still grow, even when we screw up. (Perhaps this is when they grow the most.)

Thank God for forgiveness, and thank God for growth!

If I Were a Single Mother

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Buc is out of town this week, which has given Sam and me extra bonding time. It has also made me wonder: What would this journey of motherhood look like without the support of a husband?

Pondering this question makes me sad. I have friends who are making this journey, some of them in silence. But I know there must be pain. Any time a baby comes into the world under questionable circumstances, there is the feeling of rejection, non-acceptance, loneliness, abandonment. I grew up in a home where a baby was born under such circumstances.

This event—or more accurately, the negative roots, or bad emotions and feelings (and the misguided marriage), that led up to my baby brother–led to my family members eventually turning against one another and the five of us living far apart, both emotionally and physically. Today we have reconciled to a great extent. Forgiveness, understanding, and grace have been extended, and we have made up for lost time by creating new happy memories. But not all can be restored.

When families come apart, there is un-restorable loss. I have my husband today, and I have Sam, and God has healed much of the childhood wound, but there is still a hole.

Anytime we lose a family member, or a family structure, we have holes. And while God can soothe them, and partially refill them, they will remain until we are restored to our heavenly image and the heavenly blueprint for families. Single parents, and kids with divorced parents, and kids who don’t know their parents, and kids who do not get to see their parents, was not God’s plan for the family. No matter how much family members may bother us at times, we are not complete without them. We miss them when they’re gone.

And yet, sometimes during the daily grind, I have thoughts about my husband like:

  • If he weren’t here, I could actually keep this house clean.
  • If I didn’t have to cook and clean for him, I could have more time to myself.
  • I would eat healthier without him around.

Terrible, right? But it gets worse. I’ve had similar thoughts about my baby. (Oh come on moms, you’ve had them, too.) Christian writer/speaker Lysa Terkuerst admitted to wishing her kids were older so she could finally get something done. A friend of mine has admitted that she often wants her husband out of the house so he will stop messing it up. These are just the kinds of thoughts we have, aren’t they? We are so quick to dismiss the blessings God has given us.

But as I look back at my childhood family, I don’t care about the little inconveniences we caused each other, such as my brother’s pranks on me, Dad’s boring cooking, Mom’s “too helpful” comments on my homework. I don’t much remember them, honestly. I just regret losing the support of a two-parent family, and family unity and harmony. I regret the hurtful words that flew between us and the barriers we erected.

If I were a single mother, I would have cleaner house, sure. I would have a better diet, I think. And I would have more free time to write and do my “own thing.” But these things are poor consolation prizes for what I would lose.

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I would lose the joy of seeing Buc make our baby belly laugh. I would lose a warm body to cuddle with at night. I would miss good conversation over dinner (when we are lucky enough to eat dinner together and in quiet). I would miss feeling loved and needed. I would miss relationship.

God created us to exist within relationships, and no matter how full our lives are in other ways, the lack of close, familial relationships leaves us feeling empty at the end of the day. I know. I’ve lived that way. And living that way left me not wanting to live.

I’m glad I’ve gotten these days away from my husband to remember how much I love and need him. This time alone has reminded me to keep the main thing the main thing. If my home is not in order, then it must get my priority attention. There is nothing else more important.

I’m also grateful to remember how Jesus cared so much for me that he addressed my holes…by taking them into his own body and soul. A year ago I was Christmas shopping and came across beautiful poem by Anne Peterson called “I Have These Holes,” framed as wall art. I cried right there in the store as I read it, because it rang so true for me. And I bought two copies. One I gave as a Christmas gift (which I think got forgotten by the owner), but the other hangs just to the left of my writing desk.

Here is the poem.

I have these holes

(Find more from the author at AnnePeterson.com)

This poem still makes me cry because it reminds me how Jesus brought me through the loss of a mother for some of my crucial growing-up years, the loss of a father for a couple more of those years, and the loss of a two-parent family. I can’t say the holes are gone, but they don’t ache like they used to. And they have largely been refilled. And one day they will be completely filled.

If I were a single mother, I would have different holes. But in that case, Jesus would offer different ways to fill me up, to ease the ache, to provide support.

Today, if you are a single mother or dealing with the loss of any family member, Jesus understands. And he has ways to fill you up of which you can’t even dream right now. Just hold on.

Attaching

IMG_1260Last week my sister-in-law babysat Sam (as she is doing now), and I surprised myself by feeling a little sad when he left. I don’t remember feeling this way last spring.

I think I’m finally attaching to Sam because he is attaching to me. We’ve had time to get to know one another, and now he interacts. He registers all kinds of positive emotions in response to my voice, my presence, my touch—joy, delight, contentment. And best of all, he says “mom-mom.” If ever there was a way to melt a mom’s heart, it’s her baby saying her name.

He woke me one night last week in the 1 a.m. region, not really hungry, but just wanting to cuddle. So I held him and I rocked him, and in his sweet little voice he said “mom-mom,” “mom-mom,” against my chest. I wasn’t angry about getting up that night.

A week ago Sunday he stayed with my husband at my in-laws’ for a couple of hours while I did other things. After two hours, Buc texted to say Sam was being “awful,” and they couldn’t figure out what was wrong. But after I got there, Sam was fine. He hardly fussed the rest of the day.

We chalked it up to separation anxiety, and I’ve been thinking about this phenomenon ever since. While separation anxiety makes my job as a mom harder, seeing evidence that he actually needs me, and me specifically, is changing my heart.

I’m starting to feel more of the “mom” feelings I’ve read about, such as that fierce love that puts baby above all else, and that righteous indignation at the thought that someone could ever mistreat or abuse him. I understand better the verse that says “It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble” (Luke 17:2, NIV).

A God who understands parental love, who created parents and children, and who is a parent himself, authored that. How much he loves us.

I consider that my love for Sam, though it is growing, is still imperfect. I can’t fathom being as loving, giving, and self-sacrificing as Jesus was when he came to this earth, walked with us, suffered like us and for us, and died for us. But with Sam, I begin to see why and how a God could do that. It’s because he is a Father.

The amazing thing is that often we, unlike an eight-month-old baby, ignore our Father, hardly speak his name, and act like we don’t need him. Could I be so giving to my son if he treated me so indifferently? I hope so, but I’m not sure. Would I feel attached to him right now if he hadn’t recently attached to me? But God demonstrated his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

I’m so glad God’s love doesn’t depend on my actions—as it seems my love for Sam (sometimes) depends on his. Incidentally, Sam gave me another tough night last night (fewer “moms,” more tears), and today I wasn’t nearly so sad to leave him. I am praying for more of Christ’s love for Sam: namely, an attachment to him that would make me willing to suffer and die for him, if need be.

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.

For My Thirtieth…an Attitude Adjustment

IMG_1580For my thirtieth birthday, I got a makeover…of my attitude. I haven’t blogged for two months because I took time off, intending, in fact, to come back a “new woman.” But when I said “Goodbye for July” (and August, as it turns out), I only intended to revamp my website and my writer persona—not my whole person. God had other ideas.

The makeover God wanted to give me was not primarily professional. It was more, shall we say, domestic? He wanted to make me into a loving, attentive mother. Self-sacrificing, patient, and wise, like Jesus was as he dealt with his children. This is not the woman I was focused on becoming as I signed off for July—at least, not the woman I wanted to be full-time.

I wanted to have this separate space in my life for the writer persona that has emerged through this blog and my other projects in the past two years.

On my new (but hardly dazzling) website, I have branded myself thus: “Lindsey Gendke: Writing True Stories for His Glory.” I wrote that tagline for potential memoir publishers, and maybe even clients one day (and because it describes my recently published works). I also wrote a lovely bio to characterize this blog and direct my future writings: “I am a happy writer, wife, teacher, and mom who doesn’t mind sharing that she used to be depressed,” et cetera, et cetera.

But after I signed off for my break in July (and after life got really busy, and Sam got really mobile), I couldn’t find time to write. I became unhappy, and I didn’t  want to share that with this audience. Ironic, huh?

It didn’t even matter that my first book, The Hidden Half of the Gospel, was published during those weeks (more in my next post). I still felt rotten.

Suddenly I became hard to live with because all I could do was complain about the lack of time I had to write. I found myself repeatedly apologizing to my husband for my nagging and hurtful words, and vowing to do better the next day. But the next day I only repeated my word crimes again.

Confession: sometimes when I’m stressed, I swear, and these negative months were no exception. Buc told me I better get my sporadic swearing outbursts under control before Sam was old enough to know what I was saying. But I knew I needed to get more than my words under control. I looked around at my life—beautiful baby, loving husband, nice house, good friends, PUBLISHED BOOK!—and I could not understand all the negative words flying out of my mouth.

I tried to write this post a few times…but found the words coming out so negative that I just couldn’t publish them, not in their totality. Here is one paragraph of clarity that slapped me in the face, though:

“I am disturbed sometimes by my lack of patience for Sam, my annoyance at how he disrupts my plans. I hate the wrong attitude I see in myself. Where is that love that conquers all? The love that doesn’t mind beginning the day at 4:20 because your sick baby is ready to get up? The love that is happy to put someone else’s needs before your wants? Sometimes I hate what motherhood shows me about myself. I hate how selfish it tells me I am.”

Yikes.

There it was, in plain black and white: I needed an attitude adjustment. That’s when I started doing everything I could think of to redirect, and correct, my thinking, flooding my mind with positive influences such as Christian radio programs, Scripture, books on mothering, and encouragement from my mommy friends.

I did not feel an instant change. Over a period of weeks, I had good moments and bad. But little by little, God spoke to me, until finally one day, He gave me a breakthrough.

As I tried to write this blog post one last time, and as I looked at the negative words I had previously penned, a switch tripped in my brain.

Wow, I thought to myself. Why am I complaining so much?

Suddenly, God brought to mind all the prayers he had recently answered.

  • I asked him for a book published by age thirty—he gave me one.
  • I asked for a baby—he gave me one.
  • I asked for a calling to touch hearts—and I believe he gave me one through the writing of my memoir.

With the realization of these answered prayers came instant repentance, a prayer of thanks, and my much-needed attitude change. Really, just like that.

I suddenly understood that it was time to rest from writing—at least in the professional sense. I understood now that writing more books might happen during later seasons of life, but right now is not one of those seasons.

I also suddenly remembered telling Buc, before we conceived, that I wanted my thirties to be a decade of relaxing from work and enjoying family. Now, I felt absolutely convicted that my first duty was to my family, and I regretted that I’d brought so much negativity and resentment to that sphere, treating my home duties as burdens rather than my calling. I understood that I had entered a new season of life—family, motherhood—and while I might find a moment here or there to write, writing could not be my primary focus right now. Not when my baby needed me, and not when my husband needed me.

It felt so freeing to hear God speak to me that way, and I’ve felt peaceful ever since. Over a week has gone by, in which time I didn’t do any writing, but I was okay with that, because I was taking care of my family—my primary job.

So, now that I have undergone my attitude adjustment, what happens with this blog?

I have decided to keep the “Writing True Stories for His Glory” tagline, because it describes the professional work I have completed, and one purpose of this site is to promote that work.

IMG_1647But as far as future posts? Right now I am a mother at home with my baby, trying to work out my faith through the trials of everyday life, and hoping to find a little writing time on the side. In a way, I guess my blogging counts as a story for His glory, because humans need to see faith worked out in the mundaneness of everyday life—otherwise, what good is faith?

God is doing something beautiful in my life, and it doesn’t exclude writing. It just means writing is not the end goal of my days right now—not for this season. That said, I hope this blog will be a witness to God’s continuing transformation in my heart and my mind. Specifically, I want to become more Christlike through my role as a mother, and I think that’s a story worth telling.

 

 

My Ugly, Messy Rebirth Story: Conclusion

After giving my life to God, I was always on the lookout for tools to share my faith. I didn’t feel I was particularly good at this part of the Christian life, and I thought it was because I hadn’t yet found the right method. Enter Paul Coneff and The Hidden Half of the Gospel.

Paul  conducted a week of prayer at my church in the spring of 2012, and after just the first night, I knew his message was special: I sensed it might even be the missing link in my life and ministry, this “hidden half” of Jesus’ story. So, what was it? And how, if I’d been in church almost my entire life, had I missed it?

Lindsey HH Cover MasterThe Hidden Half of the Gospel

Paul began his presentation with a question: “What did Jesus do more of while on this earth: Teaching or healing?”

Healing was the obvious answer. Then Paul asked, “Why have we [churches and Christians] reversed Jesus’ model of ministry? Why do we do more teaching than healing, when he did more healing than teaching?”

He continued, “Now let’s say that I am sitting in my office and I am studying for a sermon. Some church member comes in and says, ‘I have been struggling with guilt and shame from an abortion.’ Is it easier to turn to that messiness and brokenness of her life, or is it easier to do a Bible study on the character of God? Give her some scriptures on forgiveness and say, ‘You know God has forgiven you,’ pray with her a thirty-second prayer, and walk away. Which is easier?”

His point? Many churches, and Christians, don’t know how to handle messy problems like this one (other common examples being pornography addiction, abuse, eating disorders, infidelity, and cutting ), so we don’t–meaning we don’t offer the help so many people need. He went on to prove his point with a concept he calls the “cycle of sin-and-forgiveness.” Many Christians come into the church and get forgiveness for their sins, only to fall back into their patterns of sin. Then they ask for forgiveness, but continue to sin, again and again and again. (In my own experience of praying with women, I’ve also seen a pattern of wallowing in guilt over past sins that the person is no longer committing.) Paul continued. “Why is it that so many Christians who have accepted the ‘good news’ of Christ still are not free?”

family-fighting
Photo Credit: Peacefulparenting.com

I was riveted. Exactly! I said to myself, remembering how my parents had been wooed into the church with lots of good information and had gotten baptized, only to leave our family scattered and scarred by an affair and divorce (see parts 1, 2, and 3).

For the first time, I saw my problems standing stark naked in church, and I was desperate to know: How can the church address these issues?

The Hidden Half of the Gospel is how Paul addressed them. This is a message I would come to know well when Paul later asked me to cowrite his book of the same title.

Two Pillars

There are two pillars to The Hidden Half:

lies
Here is a worksheet that can help you identify the lies Satan may be planting in your mind. I was able to recognize which lies applied to me because they were “thoughts” that ran through my head on a regular basis.

1. The root of our sin and suffering is Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44). This concept of roots is huge in Paul’s ministry. As Paul explained, all our negative behaviors and patterns are merely fruits of deep-seeded roots, or lies, planted by Satan. We cannot fix the fruits unless we first attack the roots. Thus, healing begins by identifying the Satanic lies driving our behavior. Once we know the roots, or the lies, we can take those to Jesus and let him deal with them, which leads to pillar 2.

2. The root of our healing and freedom is Jesus, our Suffering Messiah (Luke 9:22; Rev. 5:5; Col. 2:15; Isa. 53). The suffering of Jesus is the crux of The Hidden Half of the Gospel, and the key to our healing.

As Paul explained, many churches have overlooked this crucial aspect of Jesus’ gospel, instead choosing to focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection. The death and resurrection take care of forgiveness of sins, but often merely believing in and accepting these concepts doesn’t resolve suffering, or the cycle of sin-and-forgiveness. Putting “suffering” back into the definition of the gospel, as Jesus explained it to his disciples (see Luke 9:22), offers hope to those of us stuck in suffering—depression, abuse, addiction, etc.—because it means Jesus didn’t just nail our sins to the cross, but he also nailed our suffering there, as well. The Bible tells us Jesus “suffered and was tempted in every way” that we are tempted, to offer us help when we suffer and are tempted (Heb. 2:17-18; 4:14-16).

Why Jesus Had to Suffer

Photo from http://trutheran.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-burdens-of-sin-and-suffering.html
Photo from http://trutheran.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-burdens-of-sin-and-suffering.html

“Have you ever thought about why Jesus’ story had to be so gory?” Paul asked the audience.

I really hadn’t.

“Well, think about it.” Paul continued. “Jesus was abandoned; betrayed; physically violated; shamed and humiliated; and verbally, mentally, emotionally, and physically abused. Now, do you think He understands the pain that abuse victims feel? Does He understand when a parent abandons a child? Was He ever tempted to numb His pain?

“He suffered all these things and more so He could identify with us. So that he could understand every way we are sinned against, and every form of self-protection we develop in order to numb our pain.

Here is a list of some of the experiences Jesus went through (from the prayer card used during Straight 2 the Heart prayer sessions).
Here is a list of some of the experiences Jesus went through (from the prayer card used during Straight 2 the Heart prayer sessions).

“What’s more, he suffered these temptations  and triumphed over them, which means that when we take time to connect our stories with Jesus, to pray and meditate on what it means that he suffered for us, and became sin for us, we can experience his victory.”

By this time, I was hooked. I wanted this in my life. I wanted a ministry that was relevant to the suffering I’d experienced, and that which I saw all around me.

So I signed on for Paul’s seven-phase, thirteen-week discipleship program. That’s right. A thirteen-week program. This wasn’t any “quick fix.” It was going to be an intense period of praying on a consistent basis, first for myself (to get more healing in my own life before I was expected to pass it on–a requirement of Straight 2 the Heart Ministries) and then for others. I was going to learn at the feet of Jesus (and the seat of Paul Coneff) for an extended period of time, sort of like the first disciples, before I set out to make more disciples.

Discipleship, Small-Group Style

Paul (right) training Mary to lead Charles through prayer.
Paul Coneff (right) training Mary to lead Charles through prayer.

Paul spent the next four months with five of us, discipling us—praying with us, and training us to pray with others. And not quick, clean, thirty-second prayers. These were deep, messy prayer sessions that first asked Jesus to identify our negative roots, and then helped us connect our stories to Jesus’ story. It didn’t end there. We delved deeper, praying, “Lord, what else do you want me to know about these roots in my life? What blessings or barriers are there in these areas?” The prayers were recursive, connecting our stories to Jesus, then having us stop and listen to the Holy Spirit so he could take us one layer deeper into our negative roots. Always, by the end of the prayer sessions, which dredged up long-buried hurts and often tears, Jesus revealed blessings, too. He always brought to mind His promises to combat the negative roots our praying was churning up.

Our training ended, with the goal being that we would start more small groups in our church, beginning with a few men and women, hopefully to grow as disciples multiplied.

My Gateway to New Life at Home, at Work, and in Ministry

My life intersected with Paul Coneff’s message and ministry, Straight 2 the Heart, when I was at a crossroads in my life. I was coming up against the age of thirty, and was finding that pursuing my “chosen” path, graduate school to become a professor, was leaving me feeling empty. Here’s a summary of how God has since rerouted my plans through this life-changing prayer ministry.

Facing Remaining Negative Roots

tree roots
Photo Credit: “Exposed Tree Roots” by Colin Brough

First, Straight 2 the Heart has helped me to be honest about areas in my life that weren’t all healed yet (some of which are still in progress) such as:

  • Anger at the premature loss of my childhood family and, well, my childhood.
  • Resentment at my husband’s happy family (and any happy family).
  • Disillusionment with my church and religion because it “did not help me” in my time of crisis. Straight 2 the Heart helped me to see that my church didn’t help me because it didn’t know how—also, because I didn’t let them know I needed help in the first place. (It also provided the answer for how churches can help, when they have the right tools.)
  • My pattern of trying to control my life in my own strength so it would never get out of control again (or my attempts to never repeat my past depression, suicide attempts, broken family, etc., through over-planning, becoming over-busy, and more).
  • My avoidance of having kids out of the above need to maintain control.

Gaining Deeper Healing 

Second, Straight 2 the Heart has led to more healing for those negative roots in these ways:

  • The decision to let go of the “safe,” but wrong career path of academia.
  • The decision to finally pursue the identity God has for me, which has translated into sharing my story through writing and even teaching. This blog, my memoir-in-progress, and Paul’s and my forthcoming book, The Hidden Half of the Gospel, are all examples of me sharing my story for God’s glory.
  • The decision to have a baby.DSC_7783
  • The decision to be honest with other women, to reach out and accept relationships I had avoided but desperately needed (See my post “Friends in High Places”)
  • I am gaining more appreciation for my church as I look past its flaws (every church has flaws) and see the human beings there. Since deciding to be vulnerable with my own story, I’ve connected with many of these dear people in meaningful ways.  I am getting the authentic “fellowship of believers” experience I missed as a child, when my family was intent on covering up its problems.

Taking the Next Step in Ministry

S2Hlogo
Photo Credit: Cristina Coneff

Third, Straight 2 the Heart has helped me learn how to have a really relevant ministry, or how to help others who are stuck in negative places and patterns like those I’ve suffered. (It is through making Jesus’ gospel relevant to the everyday struggles of life—boldly connecting our messiness to Jesus Christ’s suffering and his full gospel to “heal the brokenhearted and set the captives free.”)

  • My partner in prayer ministry, Amanda, and I, prayed two new young women (now dear friends) through the thirteen-week prayer process, which helped lead them to lots of healing—and baptisms in our church!
  • Amanda and I also trained women at a neighboring church to facilitate the same thirteen-week prayer and discipleship process in their congregation.
  • With the help of Amanda and Mary, our other cohort from our initial 13-week training, I facilitated a third prayer group, consisting of around ten ladies, in my home for several months last fall. This group resulted in amazing healing for many of these women (for marital, parental, and other common problems) as well as facilitating much needed connection between these lovely, but often isolated church ladies.
  • Now I am working on rendering the miracles we saw in these women willing to be honest with one another and with God into the closing scenes for my memoir. I want my story to testify to how one changed life can ripple out to other lives, and still more lives from there. This is what discipleship is all about.

Now, what I’ve left out of my rebirth story (and there’s lots I’ve left out), I am working on telling in my memoir. Why did I call this my “ugly, messy” rebirth story? If you consider a real birth (and I’ve been considering it a lot lately), it’s a messy process. It’s no small thing when a new physical life is created—and the same is true for a new spiritual life. The creation of a life, and the re-creation of a life, are not simple or easy processes. At times they are painful, ugly, and messy—but to get to the birth, or the rebirth, they are necessary. That’s why I have unapologetically included the ugliness and messiness in my story—along with its beauty. Without either, my story would be incomplete.

 Read part 1      Read part 2      Read part 3     Read part 4      Read Part 5    Read Part 6

To read more about The Hidden Half of the Gospel, see the following articles Paul and I wrote on the subject:

“The Fruit and Root of Freedom from Addictions” Part 1

“The Fruit and Root of Freedom from Addictions” Part 2

To schedule Paul to speak at your church or to facilitate a discipleship group, contact him at www.straight2theheart.com.

And if you want to get a copy of our book, The Hidden Half of the Gospel: How His Suffering Can Heal Yours, follow this blog to be notified later this spring when the book is published!

Leaders, Followers, and The Mob Mentality: Part 1

mob
Photo Credi: “Crowds 2” by 2heads_Advertising

Mobs form for all kinds of purposes and on all kinds of platforms—a group of “Twerds” (Twilight Nerds) standing in line to see the new release of the movie, some gamers getting together to join a virtual world, a group of Christians gathering to worship—but the two things they all have in common are leaders and followers. So, I’ll put two questions to you:

Are you a leader or a follower?

As a teacher and church officer, I’ve observed that most people are followers—and even though I’ve always preferred to see myself as a leader, I’m undoubtedly a follower of certain things/people/movements, too. In my next post I will talk more about leadership, but let’s camp on the follower aspect for now, since everyone can claim to be a follower of something. To get to my second question:

Who (or What) is it that you follow?

To my (at times) chagrin, I often find myself scoffing at popular movements that create mob followings: the Twilight series, Duck Dynasty, Facebook, iphones and whatever else everyone seems to be doing. I’ve gotten into this bad habit of automatically rejecting certain things just because they’re popular, because, I figure, “If everyone’s doing it, it must be wrong.” I think this approach stems equally from my being as Christian (you know, “The path to hell is wide” and all that), as well as from my desire to be a leader (if I want to lead others, I can’t be just like them).

But is that the right attitude to have? After all, as a self-professed Christian, I have to admit I have a lot of fellow “Christ followers” sitting in the same boat. And obviously I don’t think I’m wrong.

A better approach as a Christian and prospective leader, I’ve decided, is not to automatically reject something because “everyone is doing it.” Rather, I must go back to my source of truth and test whatever is being followed, to see if it is noble, worthy, true, and worthwhile (Phil. 4:4). Isaiah says, “To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (8:20).

I’m not going to get onto my anti-technology platform (especially since I just got my first iphone) or my anti-Twilight platform, or my anti-whatever-else platform right now, except to say it saddens me to see so many people (and I’ll pick on Christians especially), flinging away their self-control, their dignity, their morals, to “follow” people, things, or movements that counter their so-called “convictions” or, at the very least, add little benefit to their lives. I know fellow believers who will wait for hours in line to see a midnight opening of a movie, but who can’t get out of bed to go to church. I know fellow believers who will whoop and yell at sporting events and listen with rapture at concerts, but who will barely look up from their iphones (sorry, that slipped in) during a sermon. I ask you: Who or what is it that you follow—truly follow?

Feel free to follow who or what you want, but please, call it what it is. Jesus said you can’t have two masters. You will love one and hate the other. He also said He’d rather a person be hot or cold than lukewarm.

Who do you follow?

I’d like to think I’m in the Jesus camp—that the one thing that would excite me enough to stand in line for hours, to go hungry for hours, to wake up ravenous (metaphorically speaking), is God and God’s word. I’d like to picture myself as one of the disciples sitting on the hillside at Jesus’ feet, unable to wait for his next “new release”—the next words He wants to speak to me. Right now I know I’m not always there. But that’s my desire: to be a “Jerd” (Jesus Nerd). That’s one mob I definitely approve of.

So, who or what are you waiting in line for? And does the person/thing/group at the front of the line confirm you are who you say you are?

Lest I sound too high and mighty for my britches here, in Part 2, I talk about some of my personal challenges in trying to be a Christian leader.