3.27.2013

May I be found faithful!

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.  Ecclesiastes 7:2

On the anniversary of Matthew's delivery date, the older boys and I attended a funeral service for a woman who died suddenly from a brain aneurysm.  We did not know her personally, but the boys knew her daughter through choir.  And because music is such a huge part of their family, they asked if the Advanced Choir would sing at her service.  Micah and Luke, and 30 other choir members, stood in the front of the church in their tuxedos and dresses, lifting their voices to the Lord as they honored the life of this beloved woman, and praised Him for the joy that comes with entering the gates of heaven.

I do not remember the first song at all, but boy do I remember the second!  It seemed out of place at first due to it's upbeat and joyful tempo, but the words drew our thoughts immediately toward heaven, reminding us that it IS a better place - it is a joy to be in the presence of the Lord - and this earth pales in comparison with its sorrows and its cares.  It was a perfect song ... because even though those who loved her want her with them still, it is GOOD NEWS that she is with her Savior!

I got a crown up in'a that Kingdom
Ain'ta that'a good news
I got a crown up in'a that Kingdom
Ain'ta that'a good news
I'm gonna lay down this world
Gonna shoulder up my cross
Gonna take it home to my Jesus 
Ain'ta that'a good news!

(If you want to hear the joy that exudes from this song of praise - listen here:  Ain'-a That Good News!)

I have started a habit of taking notes at memorial services.  There are so many tender moments, sweet phrases, thoughtful looks, beautiful tributes, incredible legacies, fitting Scriptures ... and with the emotion that surrounds the service it is easy to forget all that happened.  Even as a complete stranger to this woman Susan, I left her service feeling like I was her friend.  And it was because of the things that were said - the photo collage - the testimonies of her life and walk with the Lord ... I want to remember them - and I want to "lay it to heart" as Ecclesiastes says.  Watching another person's entire life flash before your eyes in pictures and words is quite humbling - and challenging. What can I learn from her life?  What do I need to look at in my own?

These are the notes I took throughout the service.  They are not in any particular order - just what struck me as I sat in the back, observing everyone, and everything.

~ Flowers filled the stage .. in honor of Susan, but signifying the taste and personality of each of the givers.

~ A cross made out of white flowers with scarlet roses across it like a sash sat in the center of the stage.  Perfect place.  Gorgeous.  Powerful statement.  A reminder that it is ALL ABOUT HEAVEN!

~ Unsaved and unsure - do you know Him?  Do you want to?  You must choose.

Saved, children of God - are you LIVING for Him?  Walking in obedience?

~ 600+ people filled the church.  Though many were spouses/children, her life had an impact on hundreds of people!  Numbers do not equal worth or godliness by any means, but having that many people give up other choices/opportunities to come honor a life IS a testimony of a life well lived!

~ Photo collage.  Everyday moments - camping, pj's, Christmas, holding kids, swimming, all dolled up, without one stitch of makeup, good hair, bad hair, heavy, thin - it is HER!!!!!!!!
Every photo evoked emotion.
Women - GET IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA!!!  Your family wants to remember you, no matter how big your butt may be!  (Maybe they like your butt!)
Her family has all of these memories in photos because she was willing to be in them.  A precious gift for them - one they never knew they would need.

JOY comes through her eyes.  It radiates from her.
Do my eyes radiate joy?  Would people watch my life in photos and see a woman full of joy?  Passion?  Contentment?  I wonder.

~ Bible study leader, friend, and sister spoke about Susan.
Older daughter read a letter she had written.
Younger daughter clung to her father.  (Luke said it was hard to sing watching her weep in her father's arms.)

~ Her husband spoke.  (I love when the intimate family shares.  Remind Dennis that I want him to speak at mine!)
He read Proverbs 31
"Her life was a sermon to me every day."
He broke and cried.
Every woman in the room was crying.
"She worked and she prayed all the time."
He shared her final moments.  So intimate.  Beautiful.

Share the final moments publicly!  People want to hear, they need to hear ... it offers closure and peace.

~ Remind Dennis - my funeral plans say "NO BLACK!"  Rejoice for me because I am with the Lord!  This is a celebration of life EVERLASTING!

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.

~ It is BETTER to go to a house of mourning ... because it forces us to look at our own life - and ask questions.

- Would this many people be at my funeral?  Have I impacted the lives of others?  Especially for the sake of Christ?
- What would my children testify about me?  Would they talk about how I pour into them and show them Jesus every day?  Or would they talk about how strict I am and how much I nag them to do their chores the right way?  What would win - nurturing their hearts and loving them?  Or correct behavior?  Oh, Lord ...
- What would Dennis say?  Am I striving to be the Proverbs 31 model of a wife?  Do I serve him?  Respect him?  Honor him in the public square?
- Do I have a joy for the Lord that is evident?  Would people assume I am a Christian, or would they be surprised to find out?
- Would people in my life feel a loss if I died young?  Would I leave a hole?
- Am I giving to, and investing in, others?  Sacrificing self to serve?  Stirring others up for love and good deeds?  Encouraging them in the faith?

Thank You, Lord, for today.  It would never have crossed my mind to be at such an event on a day like this.  But YOU KNEW it was exactly what I needed.  Not only was I able to shed tears for my own heartache, but You drew my thoughts to the only place they ever need to be - HEAVEN!  It really is all about that isn't it, Lord? Eternity.  Heaven or hell.  Accepting Your free gift of salvation, or rejecting You forever.  It is indeed, all about heaven.  
Thank You for the life of Susan.  Sustain her husband and her daughters through these weeks and months ahead as they try desperately to trust You and rest in Your love - and Your plan for them.  Thank You for her life - a life of faithfulness and surrender to You - and her passion for loving others because You loved her first.  Let me take this day to heart, and use it to challenge me about how I am living/using my own life since I too will stand before You one day waiting with baited breath to hear the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant.  Enter in."  Oh, Lord - may I be found FAITHFUL!

3.24.2013

A rocky start. But a solid ending.

Dennis and I did not have a stellar start in our marriage.  We did not have accountability or spiritual encouragement in our dating life which caused us to make many mistakes, and kept us from pursuing what was most important - an intimate walk with the Lord as individuals and as a couple. Instead, we tripped and bumbled our way through two and a half years of dating, failing in many areas, and walked down the isle not understanding what an incredibly intense, challenging and difficult thing it is to give up self and serve another person day after day for the rest of your life.

Man, what we would give to redo our first two years of married life!  We have prayed many times asking the Lord to erase all memory of us from the minds of those who knew us then.  So embarrassing.  Petty disagreements in public, discontentment, bitterness, frustration ... and all because I did not understand my role as a wife and helpmeet, and Dennis did not grasp his role as a spiritual leader or how to love me as Christ does - unconditionally and with understanding.  Somehow we survived those first two years, neither of us truly loving or serving the other, until the Lord Himself intervened and got our attention.

An older couple took us out separately and asked what was going on.  They each asked one question: If you keep going at this rate, where will you be in five years?  We both answered:  Divorced.

At the time, I was a preschool teacher and Dennis was working 12 hour shifts in the ER.  We saw each other about three times per week, usually in between shifts.  Our communication was almost non existent.  Our desire and affection for one another was barely noticeable.  Mutual respect?  Adoration?  Submissiveness?  Forget it.  We were living parallel lives, and no one was encouraging us to do anything differently.  We were foolish, clueless, and ignorant - and we did not even know it.

Soon after the 'divorce question' the Lord saw fit to have Dennis break his ankle playing basketball with guys from church.  Due to the injury, he was not able to work for about three weeks, and was home ALL THE TIME.  As you can imagine, living separate lives doing pretty much our own thing, to all of a sudden being thrown together 24 hours a day did not a happy couple make.  He nit-picked about everything, I resented him questioning me, and we did not speak to each other gently or kindly.  We just tolerated one another.  And then, one afternoon while we both sat in our tiny apartment living room, we engaged in yet another heated discussion which ended with me throwing down the cross-stitch I was working on, screaming, "I HATE YOU!", and walking out the door.

I got in the car and sat there seething.  Blaming him for everything, taking zero responsibility for my own sinful actions, and wishing I could be anywhere else, and married to anyone else.  I had no idea where I was going to go because my pride was too great to admit to anyone how bad things really were between us.  (we were great at wearing the "happy mask" when it was called for)  I sat there feeling like an idiot when I heard a tap on the glass and found Dennis standing there, on crutches, saying, "You HATE me?  HATE?  You can't hate me - I'm  your husband!  Can we talk about this?"  I wrestled so hard with my pride at that moment ... if I get out, he wins ... but if I don't get out then I look like the bad, unwilling wife ... AAAHHH!  And then I remembered that we had agreed that divorce was not an option for us, and the only way to be faithful to that commitment was to work things out.  I got out of the car.

Fast forward almost 18 years later and you find us in February 2013.  Dennis has just returned from a two-week trip overseas, which was emotionally and spiritually draining.  We were in the middle of moving.  I was a single mother for those two weeks, packing and organizing the house, caring for our children, teaching school and dealing with all the other parts of life that take place on a daily basis. Upon his return he was swamped with work and deadlines and was beyond stressed. Throw in a couple of colds, financial burdens, defiant children, and well - you have a recipe for disaster.  It was the WORST six weeks of our marriage since those early days.

After the, let's see, 19th heated discussion/fight, I lost all restraint and uttered those same words again:  "I hate you!"  But this time, instead of running out of the room, we just stood there and stared at each other.  "Hate?  You HATE me?"  "Yes.  At this very moment, yes, yes I do."  His face contorted into one of shock and horror while my mind flew back to that warm day 18 years ago when I had screamed those very words at my groom for the first time.  We kept looking at each other until he asked, "Am I that bad?  Have I made this house so unbearable that you actually hate me?"  And that is when I knew.  We are no longer those sniveling, selfish, it's-all-about-me-and-what-I-want, foolish bride and groom.  We are stronger, wiser, more confident, and totally, 100% willing to confess our sins to one another, see where we have wronged the other person, and make it right.

We had a looong discussion that night.  And for the next few nights after that.  Both of us sharing our hurts and frustrations, asking forgiveness for harsh words spoken, apologizing for selfishness and pride ... there was nothing left unexplored, and all was resolved.

I have told my husband I hated him - twice.  And both times are emblazoned in my mind's eye because I knew I was wrong.  I knew how much it hurt him to hear those words.  I felt trapped and without any other recourse in both those moments ... and both times my flesh won ... sin abounded ... and I hurt the heart of my husband - and my God.  We are one flesh, me and Dennis, so to say I hate him is to say I hate myself.  And I did.  Both times.  Oh, how ashamed and embarrassed I was - even while the anger burned through me.

It was the Lord Himself who kept us together in those first years ... barely hanging on by a thread, but together nonetheless.  And it is the Lord who has continued to complete the work He began in our marriage so many years ago to show us how to love one another selflessly - how to let each other be who they are, even when irritating - how to overlook offenses - how to say 'I am sorry' and truly mean it - how to forgive, more than once - how to protect one another - how to encourage - when to rebuke - and how to give up our own wants to meets the needs of the other.

We did not have a stellar start to our marriage.  We have gone up hill and down hill many times throughout.  We cannot go back.  We cannot change the past or redo the ugliest parts.  But we can remember them, and praise God that He has restored the years the locusts have eaten!  I do not live with the man I married - and he does not live with the bride he took as his wife.  We are better, stronger, more faithful, less selfish, patient, long-suffering, accepting ... not perfect by any means ... but striving to finish well.  To finish strong.  To finish as two people who do not look like Dennis and Michelle ~ but like Christ.

Oh, Lord.  Thank You for our marriage.  It has not been easy or effortless by any means, and we have both had to go through much discomfort to grow and mature, but oh, how it was worth it!  I love my husband more now than I ever knew I could then - and I know he would die for me.  Thank You, Lord, for giving me a husband who can handle me ... who loves me ... who wants me.  It is only because of You that we are where we are today.  And I am, forever grateful.

3.20.2013

I know who I am.

I was recently accused of being shallow.  In all my life, even as a child, I have never been called shallow.  It was spoken by someone who does not know me personally, and was a stereotype of women in general, but it still caught me completely off guard.  And it really bothered me.

Some would say, 'consider the source', but truth be told ... every personal criticism should be investigated because there is often truth to it, even at the smallest level.  If there is no evidence to support it, great!  Move on in confidence.  But if something is discovered during the process, it needs to be addressed and resolved.  The Lord uses all kinds of conversations, writings, happenings, and people to show us what He needs us to see.  Even a 5-year-old child can be used to show us a chink in our armor.  It is not so much about the source ... it is about the statement.

I kept praying, asking the Lord to help me wrestle through my frustration and anger.  My gut instinct was to approach the person and say, "That is not who I am!"  I wanted to list my credentials and bring in people who know me to testify to who I really am.

But what is that?  P R I D E.  Pure and simple.

Someone in the world sees me as shallow, and I do not like it.  But really - does it matter?!?  One opinion of me (or hundreds) cannot distort the truth of what I know.

I am daughter of the King.
I am loved.
Redeemed.
Secure.
Forgiven.
I am chosen.
Accepted.
Protected.

I am a child of God.  And HIS opinion is the only one I need to concern myself with.  He knows me inside and out.  He knows my every strength, and my every weakness.  He knows when I am seeking my own desires and when I am focused on Him.  He knows what I am thinking ... my motives ... my insecurities ... He knows all of me.  And when He sees sin in my heart, He will drag me to the fire and let me get very hot and uncomfortable until He melts away all of the imperfections, all of the rough edges, and all of the ugliness.  And then, after He removes me from the fire and cleans me up, He will hold up a mirror, and hopefully - I will see less of myself, and more of Him.

And THAT needs to be my focus.  Worrying about how Sally, Bob, Jimbo, and Guinevere see me should never enter my thoughts.  My only thought should be ...

What does CHRIST see when He looks at me?

And the only answer should be:  Himself.

Flawed and distorted perhaps, since I will not be fully sanctified until I dwell in glory, but His face should be taking up more and more of the image, while my face continues to fade away.

Am I shallow?  I don't think so.  But I must spend every day looking into the face of Christ to make sure that the image I have of myself in my mind is accurate.  The enemy wants me to live in the flesh and consider myself acceptable in my sinful state.  But God commands me to take up my cross daily, die to self, and walk in the Spirit.  And the only way to do that is to know the difference between the two.

I do not know what everyone in the world thinks of me, and it doesn't matter.
I know Who I Am IN CHRIST.

And that -

is good enough for me!

3.14.2013

A day of memories ... and feeling His love.

Today we honor our son, Matthew Isaac.

The Lord had His own plans for how this day would go, and each piece was perfect ... encouraging, uplifting, thoughtful, and ~ peaceful.

From the time I woke up, the Lord showed me His love and care for me by giving me a day filled with these things ~

time in the Word and prayer with my children
a memorial service, which was moving and convicting and beautiful
notes in my inbox from friends telling me they are praying for me
beautiful flowers from my husband, who also misses our son
a walk in the sunshine with a young woman who needed encouragement
a conversation with a woman at my kitchen counter who just wanted to share her life
baking dozens of cookies
and, dinner and games - as a family

The family the Lord chose for us.
We are missing one.  
One little boy we will one day see face to face.
But there are six here.  Six who need me, and six who want me.
And that is where my strength came from today ... knowing that the Lord chose me for them.
Right now,
for such a time as this.
And I do not want to miss any of it.


Lord, thank You for today.  You kept my mind totally fixed on You, and You knew exactly what I needed.  I love my husband and I love my children ~ and I love the son I have never known.  Everything I have
everything I know
everything I can do
everything I understand ...
is because of You.
Thank You, Lord, for walking me through this day seven years ago - because I am not the same woman I was then, and I know You will not let me stay the woman I am now.  I am so glad you will continue Your work in me until You call me home.  I need You, Lord.  I need You.

3.11.2013

The "why."

I am not sure why I have never written about this before ~ Why I talk about miscarriage, and Matthew.

Maybe I thought it more fitting for the miscarriage website, or because I think people really don't want to hear about it.  Either way, I know now that I was mistaken.  Some things need to be discussed whether they pertain to our personal lives or not.  And the truth is, if a woman never suffers through a miscarriage herself, she will have a friend or family member who will suffer.  And haven't each of us been in a situation when we wish we had something to offer ... something to say ... something to share that would be helpful and encouraging?  But because we do not understand their pain, we sit feeling completely helpless and inept.  And it is uncomfortable.

I cannot speak for every woman - I can only share what I know.  My motives for being so open about my miscarriage are these:  1) I want to be a woman who praises God publicly when He does great and amazing things, and - when He allows hard things to happen.  2) I want to acknowledge our son Matthew just as I do every living child we have.  Matthew was real.  He was created in God's image just like Micah, Luke, Caleb, Josiah, Isaiah, and Ellie were.  I held him.  I saw his face.  He is our son.  He deserves a place in this family, and he deserves to be honored.  3) I want to comfort other women the way the Lord comforted me.  The number of women who walk through this trial alone is astounding.  Whether their husbands/friends refuse to support them, or make it appear so with their silence, they feel like there is absolutely no one else in the world who understands.  And that is not okay.  It just isn't.

And so - I talk about it.  I talk about Matthew like he is a member of the family - freely, without shame or embarrassment.  When people ask me how many children I have, I always say seven.
It is who I am - I want to use my life to let others see what God can do.  It took me a long time to be able to do so, and I have no intention of going back.

I talk about it because people ask me questions like the ones below.  And if they are asking me, they are asking other women.  Women who may not be as far in their healing.  Women who may be more sensitive than I am.  Women who may not know the Lord.  Women who are afraid to speak boldly and cry out, "It doesn't MATTER if you understand!  Just love me.  And if you don't know what to say, just be silent."

Why are you still talking about this?  It happened so long ago.

Do you really still cry about it?

Is it really that emotional and hard losing a baby?  It seems a little dramatic to keep bringing it up.

Don't you think it is awkward for other people to listen to you?

How do you know your baby even went to heaven?

And you know what?  All of these are fair questions.  They come from people who have never experienced the loss of an unborn baby, so they are trying to understand.  They come from men who will never fully know what it is to have the heart of a mother.  They come from people who are just trying to figure it out for themselves, and need answers.  They come from women who have experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth, but responded in a completely different manner, so the way someone else responds seems odd or outright ridiculous.

I talk about the loss of Matthew because before it happened I never heard ANYone talk about miscarriage.  And if it did come up, they either dismissed it like it was no big deal, or spoke of it with shame in hushed tones.  I do not want women to be ashamed to say, "I am hurting."  "I feel like I am never going to break through this fog."  "I am ANGRY!  I don't want to be angry, but I am!"  And because well-meaning people just don't know what to say or do, I want women who are aching for their babies to know that there is someone who understands and 'gets it.'

I remember being the one sitting on the couch looking into the eyes of a friend who had lost a baby, feeling awkward, afraid to speak for fear of saying the wrong thing, and wondering what in the world I could to do to help her.  I thought I was a good friend, but truthfully, I was bumbling and fumbling and more concerned about my own comfort than hers.  So I guess, there are two driving factors behind my motives to share my story ...

I hope I am able to help equip others to minister to a woman walking through the grief of a miscarriage or stillbirth.

And more importantly, I pray that every time I share my story, and the wonderful things God did through my loss, it will give another woman the strength to do the same.

We do not have to understand or agree with the way everyone handles trials, or how they deal with grief.  But as the body of Christ, we are called to be of one mind, unified, and to live at peace with everyone.  And sometimes that looks as simple as being present ~ and quiet ~ and letting the Lord do the rest.
Be still, and know that I am God.

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

3.10.2013

I have never been the same.

It has been seven years since I delivered our son Matthew ~ who had already gone home to be with the Lord.
Seven years since the shock of those unwanted words, "You have miscarried."
Seven years since Dennis and I held each other, sobbing, as we realized that our baby was no more - and there was nothing we could do to change it.
Seven years.
And still, every single year, the date sneaks up on me.

March 14th.

The memories and emotion do not flood my mind as they did in the past ... some years are harder than others.  Year five was the most difficult, stretching, humbling, and - the year I grew the most.  This one has been the easiest, the least emotional.  Until last week when a friend delivered a card inside a bag of returned items.  I opened it expecting a simple hello, and instead, found a card expressing her thoughts and prayers to me as the day of Matthew's delivery date approaches.  I was touched and moved, overwhelmed and - grateful.

Grateful because the Lord used her card to open up a heart that had been unknowingly running from the emotion of losing a son.  My son.  Matthew.

It has still been the easiest year, but these past few days the Lord has been pressing on me ... pushing me into a place of utter dependence on Him ... forcing me to share the deep places of my heart ~ with only Him.  I have a husband who loves me, and loves our son.  I have friends who will listen to me and let me cry if that is what I need to do.  But as I shared passionately with the young women who lined my couch last week, I need to run to Christ first.  HE has to be the One I seek when my heart is broken.  HE has to be the One I cry out to when I feel confused and overwhelmed.  And HE has to be the One I ask to dry my tears.

The Lord is the One who gave us a son.
The Lord is the One who took him away.

And the Lord is the One who has healed me.

The ache of missing our son will never completely go away, and I have asked the Lord that He would not let it.  I never want to forget.  I never want to lose the connection to the pain.  Because once I do, I will no longer be effective in ministering to other women who are siting where I once sat ... on a hospital bed, with empty arms, wondering what in the world just happened.

I remember every moment of that day.  The nurses coming in with that look of understanding and sadness.  The social worker hoping to explain the "why" but without ever mentioning the name of the Lord - the only One who ever knows the why to any of life's trials.  One of our dearest and oldest friends coming to dedicate Matthew to the Lord, a grown man, weeping, as he shared in our sorrow.  Dennis not knowing what to say or do for me.  And crying out to the Lord ... praying every second because I could think of nothing else to do.  "It has to be bigger than me losing a baby, Lord.  I am not the first woman, and I will not be the last.  There has to be more."  And five years later ... five years of sharing my story with other women ... five years of searching Scripture to understand this God who carried me through the hardest part of my life ... five years of trusting Him even when I did not understand ...

five years later - He created Joy Comes in the Morning.

And, oh my friends, how He has grown me and blessed me and continues to heal me through this ministry!  The women I have met, talked to, listened to, prayed with ... I would not trade one single moment with any of them.  The loss of a baby through miscarriage or stillbirth is a hard burden to bear ... sometimes rendering us unable to function for a time.  But through the trial, the heartache and the pain, God is at work!  In us, around us, and one day - if we will let Him - THROUGH US.

There is a wonderful song which shares this phrase:  If I lost it all, would my hands stay lifted, to the One who gives, and takes away?

I will admit, there were times that I had to ask others to help keep my hands raised to the heavens when I was too weak to do it myself.  But when I look back on that time, I can see the hand of the Lord so clearly, and how He prepared me for that moment.  He knew me better than I knew myself, and He knew that yes, even in the most difficult days of my life, I would still praise Him.

The day I delivered Matthew Isaac was the worst day of my life.
And the day I delivered Matthew Isaac was the best day of my life.

Because it was that day when I finally understood what full surrender to a holy God really meant ... and I have never, ever been the same.

I know, Lord, that Your laws are righteous,
and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.
May Your unfailing love be my comfort,
according to Your promise to Your servant.
Psalm 119

3.03.2013

He will make it work.

Today was a GREAT day!

I was able to go back to church and worship with the brethren after missing seven weeks of services due to illness and various traumas at home.  I was teased several times when asked if I would like to "fill out a visitor card."  HA!  What a joy it was to see so many wonderful faces, feel welcomed and wanted by others, sing together with hundreds of other voices ... it was WONDERFUL.

Today was also a hard day.  Within the body of Christ there are many needs.  Many hurts.  Many disappointments and trials.  And we are called to bear one another's burdens ... no matter if it is convenient, easy, pleasant, or what we want to do at the moment.  Our brothers and sisters need us, and when God calls us to minister to one another, we have to be ready to serve - ready to encourage - ready to admonish - ready to stand in the gap if they are too weak to fight - and ready to LOVE.  No matter what.  And loving others takes energy.  Time.  Effort.

Selflessness.

There has to be balance, of course.  Scripture does not support us neglecting our spouse and children for the sake of ministry.  Our calling is at home first, and then to others ... especially as women.  The Lord did not place 200 women, or a 60-member youth group, in our home for us to nurture, discipline, train, and disciple - He gave us a spouse and children.  Children who need our focused attention all.day.long.  The calling of marriage and family requires constant sacrifice and focus, and a continual dying to self - and neither can be entered into lightly.

But the Lord also gave us spiritual gifts to be used in the body of Christ.  If we have the gift of teaching, we must teach.  If we have the gift of mercy, we must encourage and support.  If we have the gift of administration, we must help the logistics of ministry run smoothly.  So the question is ... how can we be fully committed to our first calling as wives/mothers and serve the body of Christ? The trick is finding a way to be obedient to both callings without neglecting one - to serve the other.

It has taken me a long time to strike that balance, and sometimes I am still off kilter.  The Lord has had to show me, sometimes painfully, that I cannot serve on fourteen committees and still meet the needs of my family, no matter how organized I am, or how much I may want to.  I cannot be out of the house 2-3 nights a week meeting with women, no matter how great the need, because our family is then divided.  Dennis and I need to be home, together, with our children, ministering to them ... and, serving each other.  Which means, any ministry we are involved in must fit into our family life - not take priority  over it.  And the only way to find that balance is constant prayer, seeking the Lord's wisdom and making sure we are doing what HE is asking us to do ... serving where HE wants us to serve ... not just joining something because we want to and then asking Him to "bless it."  I have done both - thoughtful, careful, patient prayer about an activity or leadership position ... and rocketing into something because I find it interesting, fulfilling and challenging.  Guess which one ends up being a positive, growth-filled, spiritually maturing experience?

I will confess ... there are times that I do not want to serve others - including my own family. There are times when I hope that everyone I see at church will tell me life is fantastic, they are in the Word every day, their marriage is effervescent, their children are walking in truth, and they are praising God and thanking Him in all things.  Why?  Because that is EASY!  It takes zero effort to smile, hug someone, and tell them you are excited to hear that God is doing great things in their life.  But to stop walking and actually talk to someone when you just want to get to the bathroom ... to focus on her and actually hear what she is saying ... to give up our own agenda and let the Lord use us the way He wants to use us (regardless of how uncomfortable or awkward we feel) ... this takes an act of self-sacrifice.  It requires caring for others more than we care about ourselves.  It demands attention to detail - tone of voice, tear-filled eyes, anxious actions, and a heart that is breaking right in front of us.  Are we willing?  Are we willing to sacrifice an easy, enjoyable conversation with a dear friend in order to listen to a woman share her confusion and disappointment in her marriage?  Will we give up our coffee and donut so we can sit on a wall and listen to a woman share intense grief about the loss of her unborn child?

Will we give up SELF to serve others?

Will we start in the home, and give up our wants and desires to love and serve our husbands - and train and disciple our children as the Lord commands?

We can do both!  Scripture and history are filled with examples of men and women who did.  But - they all started with the key ingredient: loving the Lord with all of their heart, soul, mind and strength.  And only then were they able to find the perfect balance between obeying His command to be a help meet and a trainer of righteousness - AND - to fulfill the will of God by ministering to the church body with the specific gifts they had been given.

We have to love the Lord first.  We have to SEEK Him first.  Find where He is working - and join Him.  When you fill a jar with rice and try to cram in a handful of un-shelled walnuts, the lid will never close.  But when you put the walnuts in FIRST, all of the rice slips and slides through the cracks and the lid spins tightly onto the jar.

It is not always easy to be a wife - a mother - a sister in Christ.  Each requires constant attention, flexibility, effort, planning, time, energy, evaluation of expectations, and - commitment.  As women, our first calling must be to our husbands and children ... and then, when He calls us to minister to a brother or sister in Christ, HE will find a way to make the two worlds fit together in perfect unity.  He does not ask us to work out all of the details.  He simply asks us to OBEY - and to trust.  And He

will take care of the rest.