I Am Persuaded

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My grandmother lived what many would consider a tragic life. Born in the early days of the Great Depression, she grew up poor, hungry, neglected, and abused by a step mother who was given charge of her after her mother’s death when she was only four. She had to work hard for every thing she had-and she didn’t have much. By the time of her death, she had been preceded by 2 of her children-a stillborn baby boy and a wayward son who suffered a seizure in his mid 20’s and died alone.

Her life was not to be envied. But she was greatly admired by those who knew her. She kept the faith and coated the family Bible in tears until her backslid husband and rebellious children found their way to this Jesus whom she loved.

My grandfather died in his early 60’s leaving my “nanny” behind. As was common for many growing up when she did, nanny didn’t have much of an education. She became a very adult learner and started studying to receive her GED. Those plans were halted one day when her daughter walked in to find her talking like a baby and crying for her “mama”. Her descent into Alzheimer’s was rapid.

It wasn’t long after that she slipped into a lengthy coma. She woke up three times, and each time she said the same five words, “God’s been good to me.”

What event in her life warranted such a declaration? Her life was full of death and sorrow and struggle, yet those were the words so deep in her spirit that not even the depths of a coma could suppress.

I thought about my nanny this week as I taught my youth group from the book of Romans. We reached the passage my Bible labels, “The Believer’s Triumph”.

Romans 8:38-39 proclaims,

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I always thought that to mean nothing I do can separate me from God’s love, but I’m now seeing it in a broader view-that God’s love is an ever-present force, no matter the circumstance I’m experiencing. Hardship is NOT a result of the absence of His presence or love.

He was good to her because He was always with her.

He was with her at four years old when her mama died.

He was with her when she was punished for filling her empty belly with mustard in the middle of the night because her step mother had starved her.

He was with her when her newborn didn’t cry.

He was with her when her children were lost in wild living.

He was with her when she heard of the discovery of her son’s lifeless body.

He was with her when her mind had left.

And He was with her in her deep slumber from which she would not recover.

He was always walking with her…and now she can walk with Him.

NOTHING separated her from His love.

She never lost the faith because like the Apostle Paul, she was persuaded that nothing could separate her from the love of God because nothing had separated her from the love of God.

Oh that this would be our testimony. I pray that we would remember that His love has never and will never leave us. I pray that we would see that God has been good to us, because He has never left us.

 

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Dead Dreams

At the age of 31, it’s an understatement to say things haven’t all turned out the way I planned. Most of the plans I made never came to fruition. Now some of those dreams came and went easier than others. As an adult, I can now understand that my goal of being an actress/singer/princess may have been an overreach and reality necessitates I move on. No problem. But then there are other goals that I genuinely strove for only to find they would always be beyond my reach.

That hurts.

You want to think that if you want something bad enough and work hard enough, it’ll all work out. But life isn’t always like that. In particular, the life sold out to God and in submission to His Plan probably won’t end with all of your dreams being fulfilled.

That’s where I landed a couple of weeks ago. I wish not to share the details because I want you to see how applicable the Lord’s words to me are to many who feel lost.

Suffice it to say I had a dream/goal/plan that I wanted more than just about anything. For the better part of a decade I had been fixated on this thing. “I’m gonna make this happen” I told myself. Every time I came up against a locked door, I backed up and tried to figure out another way in. If it didn’t open with a turn of the knob, I’d find a key. If I couldn’t find a key, I’d use a battering ram. I was getting in this door. Because I just had to.

Why was it so important? Because when I looked at those I wished to be like, they had all gone through this door. When I compared myself to them, I always came up short. Whatever was beyond that door, I had to get there, because that’s where my heroes were.

But the battering ram didn’t work. The door was sealed off for me. I would never be like those I admired so.

I realized this was it. I didn’t have the strength to keep forcing my way to a dead end, and to be honest, I wasn’t so sure I wanted in anymore.

So I did what I had to do to hammer the final nails into the coffin of my now-dead dream. And with the last swing, the Lord spoke as clearly as He ever has to me. While I wish to keep some of His Word for myself, I believe this part is for many of us.

He said: “Stop comparing yourself to everyone else. You don’t need what they have because you aren’t going where they are going.”

In that instant, peace washed over me and I was finally calm. God wasn’t keeping the door shut because He didn’t hear me, He was doing it because I belong somewhere else. Not somewhere less than, but somewhere only I can go.

I don’t know where you are at right now. But if you find yourself where I was, unable to hear God speaking over the sound of shattered dreams, I believe that word is for you too.

Stop comparing yourself.

God had every one of your days mapped out before you lived the first one (Psalm 139). As a matter of fact, He had them written before those you compare yourself to lived a day as well. His plan for you is not contingent on what anyone else on this planet has done or will do.

It’s okay to take a different path. It’s okay to not live up to the standard you’ve set in your mind. Don’t mourn the death of a dream. Celebrate the chance for something new to be birthed in you.

 

 

You’ll Miss the Best Part

Have you ever tried to share a movie you absolutely love with a friend? The expectations are high that they’ll think it’s as great as you do. But then something happens. The plot twists. A new character is introduced or the action shifts in a way they didn’t expect. Suddenly, the movie isn’t as exciting or romantic as they had expected. Or maybe things turn scary or uncertain. Your friend decides you were out of your mind to recommend the film and they stand up to leave. You, knowing the spectacular resolution that’s coming begin to plead, “but you’ll miss the best part if you leave now!”

I’ve been married just a few days shy of four years. Obviously, I’m no expert. But in that short time I’ve seen the marriages of several of my young friends end. Of course, there are times when abuse or adultery leave no other viable option, but too often I’m hearing that they made the decision because they are just “too young” to waste their time in bad marriage. Over and over I hear something to the effect of one or both parties deciding if this is the best there is, then they’ll pack up and start over while they are still young enough to find their fairy tale elsewhere.

We’ve bought into this manufactured fallacy that the “honeymoon period” is where you find the deepest love and if you can’t make it work there, you’re hopeless.

I didn’t have that honeymoon period. I’ve often joked that the devil threw us a “welcome home” party when we returned from our Jamaican honeymoon. We had to learn how to become one person and let me tell you, that’s painful. I had to learn how to be a homemaker and he had to now provide for 2 people on a salary that barely supported 1. Those little idiosyncrasies that were so cute when we were dating were now being added to a list of “irreconcilable differences.”

We came very close to buying into the lies I was speaking of earlier. In those moments of not being able to agree on anything, of bending to the point of almost breaking, my mind absolutely told  me to cut my loses and start over.

But something happened… a glimmer of hope shone through. When I let the ice walls I built begin to melt, I could hear his laughter again that made me fall for him. Suddenly, I could see how hard he was trying. I could understand why this adjustment was much harder for him than for me. And I remembered what a great team we could be. No longer did I envision our future in a divorce court, but rather together, in our home, surrounded by family.

So back to that movie. That’s what it feels like when I hear newlyweds wanting to throw in the towel. I want to scream “BUT YOU’LL MISS THE BEST PART!” If you walk away because the beginning was too slow or not what you expected, you’ll never get to the good part. That “better or worse” thing wasn’t just talk. The longer you stick around, the more clearly you see that you need to go through both and everything in between to have the kind of meaningful, fulfilling relationship you really need.

Don’t buy the lie that the first few months are the height of love. The best is yet to come. Don’t walk out before the best part.

The best part is walking through:

Life

Death

Promotions

Unemployment

Fulfillment

Emptiness

but walking through it together.

Clean Out Your Freezer

I want to lose weight, really, I do. I know it would be best for me to drop a few pounds. It would make me healthier in my body, but my mind and emotions would benefit as well. Yep, everyday I wake up resolved to make this change.

But I have a problem… a cold, half-gallon problem.

I like chocolate ice cream. Sometimes I think I love it. I like the comfort it brings. If I have a rough day I know I can rely on its sugary goodness to make me feel better…at least for a while. Yeah, I like ice cream…but I hate what it does to me.

Being an emotional eater is a strange thing. It’s almost like an out of body experience. As you go through the motions involved to remove the carton from the freezer, scoop it into a bowl, and consume the treat your mind is saying “stop”, but your body overrules it. Almost the instant it’s gone, you realize the mistake you’ve made. It didn’t make you feel as good as you thought it would. The day was still bad. Your heart was still broken. The questions still linger. But now you can add the pain of a brain freeze and fear of the scale in the morning.

I write this full of resolve in my heart, yet again. I’m giving up this stuff. I’m going to turn my back on sugar. I’m going to lose this weight because I have to for my own good. Yes, I mean it this time. But there’s a problem…

I keep a carton of ice cream in my freezer at all times.

For emergencies.

It’s bad for me. Time has proven it to be so. My head understands this, but I need that contingency plan. I keep it on standby just in case. The last bridge I want to burn is the one with ice cream on it. But as long as it’s an option, I will keep running to it.

It occurs to me that this was the same pattern I carried in the relationships of my youth. I knew certain people were bad for me. I ran to them for comfort, but the comfort was fleeting. Soon enough I’d realize how bad they were for me. I’d resolve to leave them. But they were always in my “freezer”. I kept them close enough in case I had a bad day. Maybe next time would be different. Maybe next time they wouldn’t play games that left my head and heart aching. But the next time was always like the last time.

If you were serious about a diet, you’d throw out the sweets. If you were serious about being sober, you’d pour the liquor down the sink. If I had been serious about moving on to healthy relationships I’d make sure the bad ones weren’t being kept on ice.

The day finally came when I realized the pattern I was in. All the good intentions in the world didn’t matter if the bad relationships were still close enough to be an option.

When food addicts throw out food they tend to make a total mess of it so they won’t be tempted to go back into the trash and retrieve it-yes, their addiction is so bad they’d go into the garbage to get the food they were trying to discard. So they can’t just put the cookies in the trash can. They’ll put other garbage on top, or maybe smother it with mustard to make it totally unappealing.

Disgusting, right. That’s the picture I want in your mind next time you run back to that person or thing that has you trapped. You are digging in the garbage-and darling, you are much too good for that.

I’ve heard it said that the thing you run to for comfort is your idol. Think: What or who do you run to for comfort? Have they taken the place of God in your life? When they are done “comforting” you, are you better off? Are you a better person when you are with them? Are you more like the man or woman God intended you to be when you are with them?

If this relationship (whether romantic or friendly) is hurting you, physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually, it’s time to throw it out, cover it in garbage, and walk it to the garbage truck yourself to make sure it can’t be an option tomorrow or next week or next year.

You deserve better, and you can have better, but only if you clean out your freezer.

Refuge for the Ragamuffins

Perhaps the greatest kindness God bestowed upon me in ministry thus far was sending me where no one else wanted to go.

My first youth pastorate was in a church nestled in an impoverished community. It came with no youth and no salary or hope of one.

Standing at the pulpit you could see out to a halfway house. A quick search of predators in the neighborhood surrounding the church house would leave your computer lit up like a Christmas tree. Evidence of gang activity abounded and drug deals were carried out in broad daylight.

At the end of the street were a couple of apartment buildings. If tenants called the cops on the dangers around them, they were evicted. If they didn’t make the ridiculously high rent the day it was due, chains were placed on their doors and all they had was gone.

I spent some time in one of these apartments with a single mom of two special needs kids. The entire apartment was smaller than most people’s living rooms. There she lived with her children and her parents. This mom found her way to our church after two other churches said they couldn’t handle her kids and asked her to leave. The myopic view of those churches was our good fortune as we gained this sweet family and heaven recorded a new soul when this struggling mama gave her heart to Jesus on her first Sunday with the words “I need a bath” (translation: I need Jesus to cleanse my sins.)

It was on a visit to this family that I heard the saddest thing in my personal recollection. The little girl, maybe 3 years old, unable to walk well, tried to chase after my husband when we left calling out “DADDY” because she had no concept of what a daddy was. This was the heartbreaking reality of this community.

Nobody wanted them.

Nobody was fighting me for the title of youth pastor here.

A lot of people wondered what I was doing there.

I sometimes wondered what I was doing there.

These were not the kind of young people I was accustomed to. Theirs were not the problems I knew how to give counsel on. I was raised in good schools, with two ever-present parents who loved me. And those were the kind of kids I spent most of my time talking with.

It’s funny, the kids like me spend a lot of time praying for direction on their future. That’s the number one thing I hear. They just can’t seem to get settled on where they will study or which career will fulfill them most.

These kids never prayed like that. I don’t think they saw a future for themselves at all.

Eventually, we started feeding the neighborhood. We went outside every Wednesday in the summer and played soccer and ate $5 pizzas and did the shortest devotion possible, trying to get a little Word in before the fights started breaking out.

I remembered complaints I used to hear in those “good churches” with the “good young people” back when I was younger. Members in those churches used to comment during outreach that those kids only come for free food. Those kids who track mud on the carpet and don’t know how to dress for church should know better. Those kids who only come if there’s a camp or trip coming up are detracting from the attention our kids deserve.

I thought about that attitude during one of these Wednesday night outreaches whenI realized why God sent me there.

I listened to some of the young people who had shown up “just for the free food” talking. They were comparing dads. The kids in churches I grew up in on the nice part of town did that, too. Except when we compared dads it was about their occupation, when these kids did it they compared their location-as in, which jail are they located in or do we know their location at all?

After the conversation was over and the pizza was gone, we packed up to head home, but these kids wanted to stay…in the dark parking lot…next to the halfway house…across the street from drug dealers. Where were their parents? Oh…that’s right. They were locked up…or maybe they were purchasers at the drug house…or maybe they were out trying to earn a decent living, but forced to leave their kids to fend for themselves in the meantime.

In waves, all those snarky comments I had heard, and at times, may have even said, about these ragamuffin types smacked me in the face.

Yes, they only came for the food…because they were hungry with no one to feed them.

Yes, they track mud in the church…because no one was home and they’ve been out in the elements for hours.

Yes, they show up for special trips and camp…because they want a family vacation, but they have no family.

Yes, they act out for attention…because they want a dad and mom and the only way they know to get adult attention is by acting out.

We were the refuge for the ragamuffins.

I thought I was really doing them a favor. I couldn’t have known the kindness God was showing me by sending me to them. He was breaking me of my pre-conceived notions of what ministry is. He was showing me the “least of these”. He was simultaneously showing me how blessed I am and how I’m no better than anyone else.

I’m begging you, don’t write off those kids or those teens or those adults. Even if you think they are taking advantage of you. Take them in. Teach them. And in the process, I assure you, they will teach you.

The Chicken Heart

My mom makes the most fantastic chicken soup on the planet. When I got married, I wanted to master this recipe because 1.) I wanted to show my husband I could cook like her and 2.) I figured it was impossible to mess up soup. I was wrong about that second one.

I called mom for the recipe and the first thing she says is, “you buy a whole chicken”. I had never cooked a “whole” anything. The closest I had gotten was a whole pizza (newlywed tip: always keep a frozen pizza around in case of dinner disasters. It’s a nice insurance policy). I get the chicken home before realizing I don’t know what to do with this thing next. So I call mom back. She proceeds to tell me there’s stuff inside it I have to get out. Say what???? I wasn’t looking for all this intimacy with my poultry. I may as well have gone out and rung its neck and plucked the feathers myself.

Gross.

So I did what she said, and a traumatizing 30 minutes and a few more ingredients later, I had my masterpiece.

Yeah, he better enjoy this after what I went through.

Needless to say, it was terrible and most certainly not like my mom made it. But, Andy chose to be kind. He said it was great and even insisted on seconds while I had personally moved on to “cook” that insurance policy pizza for myself.

Not only did he eat the awful soup when it was hot, he took more to eat the next day for lunch. It was so sweet. I knew he was going the extra mile to build my confidence.

After lunch, he called me to tell me a “funny” story. “Do you know what I found in the soup?” he asked. Not the question a new cook wants to hear. “What?” I asked with trembling voice. “THE HEART!” Yep. During that stomach turning sweep of the chicken’s cavity I left something behind. I was devastated, but he laughed and said he didn’t care. In hindsight, I guess it’s a good thing we had an extra heart around, since mine was broken. I wanted so badly to be what I envisioned as the perfect wife, and there was no way around being a great cook to fulfill that fantasy.

As I’ve gotten older and more experienced, I’ve learned that the idea of the “perfect wife” was a fallacy, but this dinner disaster showed me what real love is.

Love thinks about others before self. Love put my husband’s desire for a good meal before my desire to not disassemble the chicken. Love put my need to feel successful above Andy’s desire to push away the bowl. Love put that heart in the soup to show me that Andy didn’t love the idea of a perfect wife, he loved the imperfect wife he had.

I needed this experience to shatter the fear that I had to live up to stereotypes. I’m the woman God created me to be and my husband wants me to be. Nothing else matters.

P.S. After this debacle, mom informed me you could just use pre-packaged chicken breasts, thanks for the late info.

 

 

Stop Running Down My Wife

I’m a problem sometimes. I’m loud. I’m awkward. I’m probably annoying to many. Yet, through all this, my husband loves me. He knows everything about me and still chooses to spend his life with me.  When Andy and I married, he lost a few relationships because of me. He started finding that I was not welcome around some of the people he used to hang out with. Once we said our “I dos”, we became one, which means if I’m not welcome than neither is he. While he knows I’m far from perfect, he won’t allow anyone to “run me down” in conversation. If they do, it puts a wall between him and the other person.

This would also be the case if the situation were reversed, although, he’s pretty lovable and I’m almost always the problem!

When you run down a man’s wife, you are running him down. Eventually, your friend will realize that if you don’t have room for his wife in your life, then you don’t have room for him either.

And so it is with Jesus.

When we get into our little circles and bash EVERY. LITTLE. THING. about our churches, we aren’t just putting distance between us and the local church, we are putting distance between us and the Church’s Groom, Jesus. And before you say, “Lindsey the ‘Church’ referenced as His Bride isn’t the group, it’s the people who make it up”, I want to point out that these conversations we have are about THE PEOPLE in the Church.

We are flawed. We are at times unfocused. We sometimes get off course, but we are still HIS.

It’s popular to comment on how we want to be the “New Testament” church, but folks, they were a mess, too. The letters to the churches in the New Testament show us a group of people who were flawed, at times unfocused, sometimes off course, but still HIS.

Christ loved the Church so much, He died to make it holy. In fact, the Bible directs men to follow this example of the love Jesus has towards the Church in their relationships to their wife.

So what is so bad in your church that it’s worth making Christ feel, by extension, unwanted in your life? The music? The preaching? The teaching? We can’t really love Jesus if we don’t show love for His Bride.

You want to draw nearer to Christ? Stop running down his wife.