Tagged: Jesus

If You Want to Love Your Kids

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Everywhere we go, we’re given messages of what mothers should do or ought to do to prove her love for her kids. We’re covertly told that a mother’s love is based on her works, that every decision she makes is a statement about how much she cares for her child. Natural birth or medicated. Breastmilk or formula. Working or staying at home. Vaccines or none. Public or homeschool. Positive parenting or spanking. Crafts or TV. Processed or organic.

I am guilty of believing the lie, of putting certain things up on a pedestal. I wouldn’t dare claim that any of these things make or break a mother’s love, but I like to cling to my “camps”, the moms who are doing it just like me. Sometimes I fool myself into thinking that I’m “doing it right” and I need to do the world a favor by showing them what’s best.

But the Lord is in the business of kicking legalism to a curb. He finds ways to remind me that I have nothing and can do nothing to earn the approval I so desperately crave. He’s humbling me as I allow him to guide me closer to his heart for motherhood. And I realize now that his motto is not “breast is best” and his priority is not to put every mother into the home. I notice that he doesn’t favor the moms who only feeds her kids organic and he doesn’t punish the ones who send their kids off to public school. I see that he equips parents to love on their kids in unique, individualized ways and that he is found in many different kinds of parenting and discipline.

I know now that the biggest favor I can do for any mom isn’t to go on and on about why they should choose a certain style of mothering or why they should follow my example. The biggest favor I can do for any mom is to point them to Jesus. Why?

Because that “love” we’re putting all our hope and boasting in? The love that’s merely a collection of our good deeds based on our society’s ever-changing standards? The love that’s equated with what we put in our babies’ mouths, how many shots they’ve had, and who’s watching them? Well, it can’t hold a candle to the love of Jesus, the love that led him to the Cross. The love that defeated death for the undeserving. The love that throws shame to the curb. The love that promises fullness of life, both now and for eternity.

The love that he wants to shower you with so you can stop the useless striving and comparing and live in freedom instead. The love he wants to use through you to bring his kingdom near.

You want to leave a legacy? To love your kids in such a way that it stands out, transforms your family from the inside out, and doesn’t leave you exhausted or empty in the process?

Then love your kids as a mom changed and led by the Gospel.

Love your kids as a mom who’s freed from the pressure to attain perfection, who allows herself and others to be the messy, amazing people they were made to be.

Love your kids not as a mom who’s enslaved to her circumstances or emotions, but as one who’s dancing in the grace freely offered from heaven and rejoicing in her redemption.

Love your kids as a mom whose eyes are fixed upward on the Giver of all good gifts and whose hands are raised in praise to the only One worthy of glory.

Love your kids as a mom who’s not moved by the pressures of this world or seeking to outdo the moms next to her, but is rather chasing after God’s best for herself and her family.

Your heart’s attitude and the perspective with which you view motherhood changes when you realize that you need Jesus and his die-to-self, unrelenting love just as much as the next mom. When you embrace this sort of love, you no longer care about how you compare to the moms next to you or who’s “doing it right” and who’s not. You’ll be too busy living out your calling of motherhood with the One who called you to it.

Can you imagine it?

Every day I am amazed at how much the Lord has left to teach me about love. As long as I’m trying to prove my love for my baby through every little thing I do, I know I still haven’t gotten it quite right. As long as I’m secretly comparing and competing, I know I still haven’t the faintest idea of what love is really all about. I mean, forget trying to learn how he wants me to love my kids! I still haven’t figured out how to be loved myself! But I want to.

Because one of the best and most freeing parts of his love is that it doesn’t depend on my perfection. It solely rests on his.

And if I can get this and embrace this with what little time I have on this earth, what can stop me from raising a family of planet-shakers? If the Lord is for me and I actually believe it, who can be against me? Is there anything quite so powerful as a mother on a mission, equipped with the truth that the world so desperately needs?

I’m daring to find out.

Our Marriage After Baby

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I knew my marriage would change after having a baby. I had heard rumors of sleep-deprived parents just passing each other like ships in the night and sexless couples who hadn’t been on a date in ages. Two people so consumed with parenthood that there is little energy or time to devote to one another. A wife and husband resembling roommates more than spouses.

I am happy to report that those things aren’t all that true for us, but Grant and I have still had our own fair share of challenges and did change in many ways after becoming parents to our sweet baby girl just six months ago. We’ve come a long way since coming home from the hospital, but we’re still finding our way back to each other. Regaining what was lost as we gained this precious new family member. Uncovering a slightly different version of ourselves and discovering how they fit together.

The first few months were an adjustment period filled with tears and screaming and laughing and bonding. My hormones did a lot of good when it came to my relationship with my baby. But my relationship with my husband? Not so much. Postpartum rage was very real for me, as is the prolactin coursing through my body from breastfeeding that has basically brought my desire for intimacy to an all-time low.

For a while I just didn’t care. My whole world had shifted from being about me and our marriage to being about her. It felt as though I had blissfully, freely given my whole being — my heart, body, mind, and soul — to my baby. My husband just got the leftovers.

I used to always want to serve him, to be his “helper.” I would make breakfast every morning and dinner every night, keeping the house clean and making sure everything was in proper order. I listened to all of his work stories and encouraged him daily, telling him how handsome and hardworking I thought he was. I would sit and think of ways I could ease his burdens and make him smile. I used to surprise him in the bedroom.

As soon as I had a baby, I no longer cared about serving my husband. All I wanted was to be served by him. I let him do all the cooking and all the cleaning. If I was sitting on the couch and there was something I needed, he’d get it for me. If there was something I wanted done, he’d do it for me. It wasn’t a big deal at first. I literally had just squeezed an eight pound baby out of my body and was now a twenty-four hour milk machine. It was time for me to put my feet up and let Grant run the house for a change. And he loved taking on those burdens in the early days. He’s always had a servant’s heart. If his body could produce milk, I know he’d take on the task of breastfeeding in a heartbeat just so he could share in that burden, as well.

But if there was an appropriate length of time that I was allowed to be a little selfish as a new mom, I had long past it. And if there was an appropriate amount of responsibilities I was allowed to shirk or amount of meanness I was allowed to dish out, I definitely crossed the line. Things got ugly when he would start talking to me about work and I’d simply tell him that I didn’t care. It became exceedingly difficult for him when he’d tell me I’m beautiful or try to make a move and I would just turn away. For months on end, it seemed as though I only cared about my needs and Tessa’s needs. And if Grant had his own needs, I certainly didn’t want to hear them.

Until I began to realize that I hadn’t touched a stove in five months and that almost all of my sentences began with “can you…” Until I scrolled through our text messages and saw that he never stopped sending me sweet words of encouragement whereas I never returned any back. Until he brought to my attention that it hurts him when I turn him away, that there were beginning to be emotional ramifications to the lack of touch and closeness between us. Physical touch is Grant’s top love language. Unfortunately, it is my lowest one. See the problem?

I told myself for a while that because so much of my behavior could be explained by my change in hormones, there was nothing wrong with me or with us. Things were just different and there was nothing I could do about it. But I know better and I’m choosing every day to do something about it now. What does this look like? A lot of asking for forgiveness. Self-reflection. Tons and tons of prayer. But most of all, it has looked like intentionality — intentional decisions to love and serve. Even when my heart’s just not in it. Especially when my heart’s not in it. And most of the time, it’s not. Almost nothing between Grant and I feels natural anymore. What once came naturally requires intentionality. There’s just no way around it.

I still ask Grant for a lot of help around the house, probably way more than I ought to ask a man who works full time on the night shift. But I’m trying to change this. Even though every part of me would rather be spaced out in front of the television by the end of the day, I’m force myself to put some effort into cooking again. To be the first to tend to the crying baby instead of the last. Instead of piling things onto Grant’s plate just because I’d like to see them done, I’m now intentionally mulling over each item on my to-do list, determining whether I can do it myself or if it even needs to be done at all. Usually it doesn’t.

We’re both relieved that I’m starting to crave intimacy a little more these days, but four out of five times that he pursues me, he still gets turned away. If I’m not careful, I can let weeks go by without so much as a passionate kiss. The problem is that I’m waiting to magically want to be close and physical the same way I did before, and it’s just not happening. So now I’m starting to have to make those small, intentional choices. To greet him with a hug and kiss instead of the usual distracted hello. To hold his hand or sit next to him even when I’d rather have my space. To respond to his pursuit despite my lack of desire. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received on this subject is to say yes first and let the desire come later. More often than not, the desire does come.

In order to spend quality time together, we often have to remove ourselves from the house. We go on day trips together, listen to podcasts in the car, and take walks around the park. We tow the baby along in the stroller, letting her be engaged with the sights and sounds as we attempt to reengage with one another again. We’re realizing it’s not the fancy date nights or the spending of money that nurtures our friendship. It’s the small, simple things — a sermon we both enjoyed, cooking or pulling weeds side by side, going through the one year Bible reading plan together, and eating breakfast at the kitchen table as a family every morning.

When life gets busy and distracting, it’s easy to let these small, simple things be the first to go. So we have to be intentional to hold onto them. Sometimes that means saying no to invitations from friends or limiting time with family. The things that once were a priority get put on the back burner for now. We don’t mean to be shut-ins or let people down, but this is how we fight for our marriage. Reclaiming the space, time, and effort we once tried to freely give to everyone and everything.

I think one of the best parts about our marriage after having a baby is getting to see each other shine in our new roles of mommy and daddy. Watching Grant laugh and play with Tessa makes my heart burst with gratitude that the same man who makes such an amazing husband is just as amazing of a father. I love my husband and the life we now have together. I don’t want to end this post without making that clear.

It’s not easy being parents and it’s not all that easy on our marriage. But the Lord knew when he brought us together that he would also bring us a baby girl and that she would change us, challenge us, and make us even better than we were before. I did enjoy the days when it was just Grant and I. But nothing can compare to the joy we have now. And these challenges we’re having to navigate are necessary and good, provided that we allow them to make us into the wife/mom and husband/dad we’re meant to be. This is our sanctification.

I’m sharing all of these things because I want to remind every struggling wife out there that she does have a say in the direction of her marriage. We get to choose to be the loving mom and the loving wife. And we do not, or rather we cannot, do this alone. God in his great mercy hears our prayers and our soul’s longing to be united with our husbands again, to have our marriage be all that it can be and even more. He picks us up in our weakness and carries us closer to the finish line. He takes our desperate “Lord, I need you” and runs with it, renewing the things we thought were long dead. Fixing the pieces of our hearts and marriages that we believed were broken. I know it to be true because I’ve seen it happen for me, my sisters.

I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power (1 Corinthians 2:3-5).

If nothing else, my prayer is that in sharing these things, God might use my weakness and brokenness to show off his great love and power. Looking back on these past six months, I feel all kinds of weak and broken. But if there is glory or praise to be given to him from what Grant and I have been experiencing, let it be. I will be the first to lift my hands and shout, “Hallelujah!”

 

When Motherhood Means You Need to Change

 

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I’ve been asked numerous times what has been the most difficult or challenging thing about being a new mother and my answer is always the same: Nothing in my life has ever required so much selflessness.

I feel as though I am continually being refined, having the selfish, lazy parts of me brought to the surface so they can finally be dealt with and put to death. This sanctification process is so wonderful, but it does not occur without pain. Worse than labor and birth pains, it’s a cold slap to the face day after day as you realize you are nothing, have nothing, and can do nothing — NOTHING — without the grace of God.

And I’m only five months in.

Although I am helplessly wrapped around this little baby’s finger, I still find that I get wrapped up in my own life and resort back to my old ways. I try to figure out how to fit Tessa into the mold of what my life once was and I fight the process of necessary growth and change.

Being a mother is challenging because it all comes down to letting go of control. In order to be the mother that God designed me to be, I have to surrender. I have to give up and give in. Let him take over. Let grace carry me through the day.

She’s not the one who needs to change; I am.

She’s not the one who needs to change when she wakes up from her nap as I attempt to lay her down in her crib. I am the one who is in a hurry, wanting to “put her away” so I can keep my routine and resume my life. I forget to give her time to soak in her mama, basking in warm arms.

She’s not the one who needs to change when she’s waking up every other hour throughout the night because she’s a hungry, growing girl or has a little gas to let out. I am. I am the one who needs to remember that this season of constant night feedings won’t last forever. There will come a day when she will sleep soundly in her crib by herself instead of share a warm space with me in bed, and I will yearn for co-sleeping again.

She’s not the one who needs to change when she’s crying the whole ride home because I knew she was hungry but told myself she could wait ten minutes. I am. I am expecting her to be rational and understand that milk will fill her belly soon if she would only wait.

She’s not the one who needs to change when she’s squirming at the breast and not enjoying her feeding because of gas or teething. I am. I am the one who is embarrassed in public by her fussiness, wanting to make breastfeeding look like a beautiful, peaceful moment instead of the tricky game it sometimes is.

Looking back, I realize that my best days with Tessa have been the days when I let go of my agenda and just embraced each moment as it came. On those days, I was willing to hold her longer, able to comfort her better, and found myself loving motherhood even more.

But days like that do not come easily, especially when you have a lot going on besides the baby and you’re still battling that “me, me, me” mentality from the days before you were called mama. It’s even harder when you’re in the early days  of motherhood and you WISH you could have more going on besides the baby, but she’s practically dominating every minute of every hour.

So if you’re like me and are struggling to remember that it is YOU who needs to seek a better way and change rather than expect your little one to do the changing, here are some things that have helped and are still helping me to this day. Through A LOT of trial and error, I’ve found some new ways to do things that make both of our lives a little better and keep that mother-baby connection strong.

Ask the Lord each day to increase your love for your baby and show you something new through your baby each day.

Every morning as I nurse and rock Tessa back to sleep for her morning nap, I take some time to pray over my day. I used to put her down first and THEN go downstairs to pray, but sometimes she’d wake up sooner than expected and my prayer time would be interrupted. This led to a lot of frustration, but this is yet another example of how it is up to ME to do the changing, not her. So now I don’t wait until I can get away to pray; I make it part of our time together.

One of the first things I pray for is an increased love for my daughter. A mother’s love is naturally strong, but even a strong bond like that can be made stronger. I remember telling my husband when she was about a month old that I’m not sure if I would be willing to die for her. I liked to think I would, but I just wasn’t sure if I was there yet because being a mom was so new and so were my feelings for her. In fact, about a month later there was a day when I thought our house was being broken into and instead of grabbing the baby to bring her upstairs with me, I headed to the stairs without her and had to turn back around to get her!

Not every mother has a delay in these sort of instincts, but I certainly did and probably still do in some regard, so when I pray, I ask God to increase the measure of love I have for her in my heart. I think about 1 Corinthians 13 and say, “Lord, I want to be more patient and kind towards my baby. I don’t want to be self-seeking or easily angered. Give me the kind of love that always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.” I also ask God to show me something new through her each day, whether that means I discover a new exciting ability she has, something about my attitude towards her that needs a correction, or something about the Lord himself and his great love for us. Even though most days are not smooth sailing as a result of these prayers, I have felt a difference in my heart over time. Praying these prayers aligns my heart with God’s and helps me be open to any challenges or growth I may face as I care for Tessa that day.

When something just isn’t working for you or your baby, be creative in finding a solution and get excited when you do find one.

Motherhood requires an immense amount of creativity. I realize that now as I have faced many dilemmas that I have needed to think and talk through. One of my new favorite things to do when I am feeling overwhelmed and am beginning to lash out at either my child or husband is make a list of stressors or problems I have faced in the past week and then come up with a few solutions to them, no matter how crazy those solutions may seem. Sometimes the solutions I come up with are not really things I WANT to do, but I realize would help me A TON if I would just be willing to compromise and try it out. And other times some of my solutions end up being some of my best decisions! A perfect example of this is my decision to bed-share with Tessa.

Right after Tessa came home from the hospital, we hardly slept (no surprise there). After a late night feeding, I would attempt to put her down in the bassinet, but she would instantly wake up. This was fine for the first two weeks, but the sleepless nights eventually wore on me to the point of screaming — yes, SCREAMING — at my sweet, innocent newborn. It didn’t help that my husband had to go back to work on the night shift. I was seriously losing my mind. Finally I threw up my hands, said “screw the AAP standards!”, pulled that baby into the bed with me, and nursed her to sleep as we laid side by side. For the first time, we slept through the night (with quick, quiet feedings every few hours), and we have slept soundly ever since. Being willing to change my position on bed sharing was a game changer for me, and I still believe to this day that it saved my relationship with my baby.

It is up to us to be willing to admit when something just isn’t working for you or the baby. I have had to make plenty of changes I haven’t wanted to make, such as delegating ALL of the cooking to my husband (five months in and I can still only count on one hand how many times I have made dinner), but in the end, it’s always turned out alright. We have to save our sanity and protect our relationship with our little one, even if the things we choose don’t make sense to others or it involves a compromise on our end.

Recreate a sacred moment for you and your baby.

When I feel as though I’ve been losing touch with my baby or getting annoyed at the fact that being a mom isn’t a 9-to-5 job, I find that what helps restore my joy in motherhood is recreating a sacred moment between her and I.

Usually this means I dim the lights, sit in the rocking chair or climb into bed with her, put the phone away, and offer to nurse. Even if she isn’t all that hungry, she usually accepts the milk for a time, allowing me to enjoy this special moment that only her and I get to share. I play with her hands and stroke her hair as I watch her nurse. Sometimes we even lock eyes and she’ll give me the sweetest smile if I talk to her during her meal. I like to tell her about how much I enjoy being her mom and getting to provide her with the comfort and milk she needs. I’m telling you, there is a renewal that takes place as I do this. Even if I feel like I failed as a mother that day because I was on Instagram too much or made her wait for a feeding until she cried or selfishly set her in front of the TV because I just wanted to be left alone, I feel my guilt being replaced with peace as I cherish the sweet gift of motherhood once again.

Being selfless and able to change really comes down to one simple thing — slow down every once in a while. The season you’re in will soon be over, for better or for worse. Nursing won’t always be painful or inconvenient and you’ll get a full night of sleep once again. Teething doesn’t last forever and there will come a day when you will change that baby’s diaper for the very last time. So slow down. The dishes can wait, half of your to-do list can be tossed to the side, and there’s nothing interesting on Facebook anyway. If you need an attitude change or change of heart, stop fighting it and let it come. Slow down long enough and it’ll catch up to you. That is the beauty of grace. Sitting at Jesus’ feet to receive all he has to offer.

Becoming a selfless, die-to-self mother does not happen overnight. It is a process that looks like battle, hurts like hell, but is rewarded with the most honorable medal at the end. Knowing this, I suppose I’d have to say that the most difficult part of being a mother is also one of the best ones, too. It’s bittersweet and so worth it.   The Lord entrusted this baby girl to me and I know that “he who began a good work in [me] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). So be it. Amen.

When You Become a Submissive Wife

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Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything (Ephesians 5:22-24).

I’ve heard a lot of opinions on the passage in Ephesians 5 about being a submissive wife. I’ve heard it described as outdated and sexist. Many women protest the idea of having to submit themselves to any man, even their husband. Some point out that submission should be completely mutual, that Paul was implying that husbands and wives ought to be subservient to each other. On the other hand, I have also heard that it’s a beautiful, even essential component of marriage and it’s a specific calling for wives.

I’m writing this post to share what I have learned over the past year and specifically these past few months on what it means for a wife to submit to her husband. I’m not sharing this to point fingers or make women feel like they’re doing a bad job at fulfilling Ephesians 5. I’m also not sharing this so that my definition of submission can be fully adopted by others. What I desire is an honest dialogue on the struggle of figuring out what submission means in the twenty-first century, particularly when every marriage looks so different and every woman is unique.

But I suppose I have to start by sharing how I began to figure out what submission looks like for me.

. . . . .

This past summer my husband crashed and totaled his car. It was his fault. And shortly before this happened, he had changed his car insurance to where he was no longer covered like he should be for incidences such as these. So as a result, he had to spend thousands of dollars, the money that him and I had been saving for us to have after we got married, on a new car. A clunky, dirty Ford Taurus. I hate the Taurus.

And for that week that we hunted for a new car, I almost hated Grant. Because here I was, having to drive him to dealership after dealership to help him find a car. Here I was, having to say goodbye to the money that we had put aside for OUR future just so we could pay for HIS mistake. I remember complaining about Grant and his irresponsibility to all of my friends and family. I could not believe that he allowed this to happen. I was so, so angry and let down.

And then we bought that Ford Taurus. And we were fine again. Life went back to normal. Except Grant didn’t go back to normal.

I saw guilt slowly eating away at him. The harsh words I had spoken were still piercing his heart. He felt like he had lost his dignity and my trust. To this day, when we speak of that car crash, I see the fallen look on his face and the regret in his eyes. He carries that time with him, and as a result, so do I.

I now know that the men in our lives will always do stupid things. But we are often guilty of doing stupid things in response to them, too.

Beating him up for this, along with all the other mistakes that he had made over the years, always seemed like the right thing to do at the time. There should be consequences for his actions, right? Why should he be let off the hook? Why should I show him the same amount of love and respect and trust after he makes these irresponsible, immature decisions? He needs to learn his lesson, I always reasoned with myself.

But my punishments for him always ended up being punishments for myself, too. Because I was turning into a woman that no man should want to marry. My efforts to control the situation only made me feel more out-of-control. I couldn’t stop my anger from being unleashed. I couldn’t hold back my tongue from swearing and yelling and saying things I didn’t mean. And that’s a pretty bad place to be in.

How did I let myself break all of my promises to not become the monster I once was? It was always a joke among my friends in high school that I was the meanest, most demanding girlfriend, but it all of a sudden wasn’t funny anymore. Not when this man who was so good to me was carrying around so much guilt that he wasn’t even capable of forgiving himself.

My efforts to be in control, my desire to punish and yell at Grant for his actions, are what I consider to be the stupidest things I have done. And it’s these stupid things that I myself carry around with me. And when it comes up in conversation, it’s what makes my face fall and my eyes fill with regret. We both have felt deep shame of our pasts, of the things we’ve done that have affected and hurt one another.

And it was only when I finally saw this damage inflicted on our hearts did I realize that maybe showing him some respect, regardless of whether it’s well-deserved, could do a lot more for us than being in control.

And that was what I was always after, really: control.

Isn’t that part of the reason for why the idea of submission sounds so horrifying to some? Women, especially the ones who have grand dreams for their future and perhaps have been hardened by their past, just want some sense of control in their life. And if that means controlling their man, so be it. Anything to keep the attention and affection on them. Anything to have those large holes in their heart filled. Like the wicked queen from Once Upon a Time, we destroy anyone and anything in our path to what we think will finally make us happy. But happiness never comes.

I’m so thankful that I was finally able to open my eyes to just how little reward there is for gaining or maintaining control. There has been no gain to justify the hurt and anger that accompanies it. Respect between Grant and I, on the other hand, has gone a long way over time. It has even begun repairing some of the damage from that car wreck.

And the way I show respect to Grant is by submitting to him — small, daily acts of surrender. And God has used my small, daily acts of surrender to transform me into a woman who not only is able to submit to her husband, but is actually joyful to do it.

My small, daily acts of surrender may not look like much from the outside, but I know they mean a lot to Grant. They have meant a lot to our marriage. Submission has not always been convenient or easy for me, but it has been worth it.

I submit to Grant by bringing our household responsibilities before him and laying them at his feet. I maintain some control by handling most, if not all, of the budget, the groceries, the errands, and the housework (yes, I am that housewife), but I still give him a voice. I show respect for him by asking for his input on our finances and delegating responsibilities to him that I could just as easily do on my own. I trust him to provide for us instead of constantly pointing out where our money is falling short. I thank him for the things he does around the house, regardless of whether the tasks were completed in my desired time-table. Believe it or not, I even trust him to handle the insurance. Grant has given me the power to do all things for our household on our own. But out of respect and honor for him, I allow us to share the power.

I submit to Grant by holding back from making decisions without first asking him. All questions such as whether I’ll look for another job after graduation or if I’ll focus on my writing or if we’ll stay in our one-bedroom apartment or if we’ll save money for a vacation are answered through a dialogue between my husband and I. It sounds silly to bring all of these decisions to him when I could so easily make them myself. After all, wouldn’t he want me to be happy? Of course, he will encourage me to chase after my dreams and be wise with our finances. But that’s not the point. The point of bringing these things to Grant is not so that I’ll gain his approval of them, but rather so that he knows his opinions matter.

I submit to Grant by putting him first, like when I wake up at 4:00 AM on the weekend, on the mornings that I could otherwise spend sleeping in, to help him get ready for work and make him breakfast. I learned this from my mother, who does the same for my dad, and I remember many friends not understanding why my mom willingly does this. Now those same friends don’t understand why I do, too. Even Grant questions why we like to subject ourselves to cold, dark mornings for the sake of our husbands. He feels selfish for letting me cook him eggs and toast when I could still be in bed, but he lets me do it because I tell him that it fulfills something in me that was never fulfilled before.

My heart was so self-centered for so long that I felt empty and unloved the moment that Grant chose himself over me. But now that I’ve allowed myself to be more husband-centered instead, I feel whole and loved the moment that I choose Grant over myself. 

In a way, I am using the control that I have to relinquish control to Grant. And this, to me, is submission. 

I think that submission sounds like a dirty word to some women because they think that it implies a lack of power. Like women are weaklings who are only designed to serve their men in whatever capacity their men see fit.

But what I have experienced is that submission IS power. It gives me the power to let go of the meaningless things that I clung to for security and happiness. It gives me the power to become a woman who is modeled after Christ in the way she loves and serves. It gives me the power to choose a calling — the calling of a wife as a helper and family-builder — that is greater than my selfish ambitions.

The more I give to Grant, the more free I become — free from selfishness, greed, laziness, unwholesome thoughts, bitterness, and anger.

I remember when I always expected Grant to cater to me. Before we were married, I would complain when he’d leave for work because I knew that it meant I’d be alone. I would expect him to always be on his A game, planning the loveliest dates and surprising me with thoughtful actions. I made him feel immature and foolish for the way he spent his money and his time. I scolded him and yelled at him for decisions he made without consulting me. I put burdens on his shoulders that he shouldn’t have had to carry. I was not willing to relinquish control by any means. And all of this was just my way of seeking fulfillment and happiness, which never worked.

Submission, instead of control, is how I now pursue my fulfillment. And it does fulfill me. Because I get to watch my husband feel loved and respected. I get to play a part in the restoration of his dignity. And in return, I also reap the benefits of a fulfilled husband, one who is free to respond with love for me, just like the vision of the husband and wife I had always read of in Ephesians 5.

When I submit to my husband, I am sending him the message that he is capable and smart, that his thoughts and opinions do matter, that his mistakes are not unforgivable. And I realize through this that my mistakes can be forgiven, as well.

I am not perfect. I am no saint. But I am a woman who is committed to loving and respecting my husband, even when that means relinquishing parts of my life that my flesh would rather keep under my control or use for selfish purposes. I am a woman who, though she might fail to choose love and surrender in the moment, is willing to eventually put down her pride and guilt and try again.

Our marriage counselor once asked Grant and I, “What hill are you willing to die on?” And I remember realizing in that moment that I pick a lot of foolish hills to camp out on, fully prepared to give up what is most valuable for something that is hardly worth it.

I now know that I shouldn’t be picking battles with my husband. I should be picking battles with satan, the real enemy. And I bet that he hates what I’m now doing to Grant: letting him come first, letting his voice matter, letting him feel loved, letting our marriage honor God.

I have a piece of paper taped to our bathroom mirror that I look at and read every day. At first, I was embarrassed to tape it there because I knew that many people would see it and would perhaps question it or judge it. It’s a glimpse into our personal struggles, the things that many wives, including myself, would probably want people to think are under control and totally fine in their marriage. Regardless of the fear I felt, I taped it up anyway. And I’ve allowed it to encourage me on a daily basis to be the woman I know God has ordained for me to be.

It reads as follows:

I am on my husband’s/wife’s team and he/she is on mine.

I will fight for my husband/wife every day of our lives together.

I will pursue peace with my husband/wife.

I will protect my husband’s/wife’s dignity.

I will bear my husband’s/wife’s burdens.

I submit myself to my husband/wife.

I will release all anger and bitterness toward my husband/wife.

I will believe in my husband/wife.

This is my personal motto and vision for our marriage. I don’t live by it all the time, but I so badly want to. And maybe you want to live by it, too. Maybe you, like me, are tired of seeing your husband’s fallen face and feeling your own regret. Maybe you have experienced enough “control” to know that it does nothing but cause hurt in relationships. Maybe you want to be the woman that submits to her husband, even if you aren’t fully sure of what that means just yet.

Submission will probably look differently for a lot of wives, but I believe that is one of the reasons for why it is so beautiful. It is a personal, intimate act between husband and wife that will mean something special and unique to the both of you. It doesn’t have to be explained or meet others’ expectations. It just has to do its job of forging love within your marriage. And it will.

My call to other wives, and even women who are not yet wives, is to pursue what submission means for you. How can you lay down your life for your husband or your future husband? How can you relinquish some of the control that you have fought to hold onto? How can you choose service over selfishness, love over laziness, and purposeful submission over power?

It will not always be an easy decision. There will be choices that don’t seem quite so black-and-white. But I challenge you to bring even those choices to your husband and let him join you on this journey. We don’t have to fend for ourselves or be left to our own devices when it comes to figuring out how to be the wife God wants us to be. We can lift each other up — husbands and wives, women and friends, mentors and mentees — as we pursue both our personal and universal callings.

Submission matters. I needed a car wreck to open my eyes to this truth, but you don’t.

When You’re Married and Want More

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As many of you know, I’ve been married for almost a month. I now live with a man who I so dearly love (and our sweet puppy). And let me tell you, there are both blessings and challenges from this.

First, I adore sleeping next to my husband, but I’ve discovered that snuggling and spooning lasts for less than an hour because we are both so desperate to get a good night’s sleep when we have to wake up in the early hours of the morning. Also, he sometimes sweats profusely when he gets too hot and I insist on using my own blanket so we don’t fight for covers when I get too cold. Bedtime is almost like a game. We have to run through a list of questions: Should we keep the AC on? Whose phone are we setting the wake-up alarms on? Which side of the bed is Buddy sleeping on? By the way, it’s a horrible thing to realize that your dog would rather sleep next to this guy he’s known for like two years versus sleeping next to you who he’s known ALL HIS LIFE. It’s just not fair and I pout about this regularly.

Second, I love spending time with my husband, but I’ve realized that this can quickly turn into suffocation. HE’S ALWAYS THERE. Yes, he does have work and I do have class, but for the most part, he never leaves my side. There are days when him and I are not separated for longer than an hour. And that’s probably not healthy, but it’s the way things are right now. Especially since it seems as though friends are avoiding us like the plague, thinking the newlyweds need tons of space and time for adjustment. Just so you know, I MISS MY FRIENDS. AND I SO DESPERATELY NEED A PLACE TO ESCAPE TO. SAVE ME. There’s only so long I can hint to Grant that he should make plans with somebody or go to the gym before I violently kick him out of the house so I can watch Grey’s Anatomy.

Third, I highly enjoy being served by my husband, but I’ve noticed how my independence and self-sufficiency is slowly dwindling. When he doesn’t have work in the morning, he gives me a ride to class. He makes me breakfast almost every day. He makes my coffee before I even get a chance to think about it (just wait, there’s more). He gets me out of bed when I’m feeling lazy. He sets alarms for me when I need to wake up. He always minces the garlic (which explains why I didn’t know how to peel the cloves for the longest time). He cleans my makeup brushes while I get ready in the morning (yes, ladies, keep swooning). When we run errands, he always drives. I know acts of service is his love language, but is this normal? To be served this much?? I may actually be forgetting how to drive myself places. It’s nice to be doted on, but I’m eventually going to need it to stop. And right now, he’s giving me a shoulder massage. I just can’t.

Lastly, I feel highly fulfilled as I live life with my husband, but there is a deep longing for more. And what I mean by that is that we both have a vision for our marriage that far exceeds where we are right now. We’ve only been married for a very short amount of time, yet we are already dreaming of houses and babies and promotions and new opportunities. And this makes it hard to stay put. We want what’s next. Grant and I are struggling to find contentment — not with each other, but with this place that we are in. And we wonder if other newlyweds experience this, too. The good news is that Grant’s old, homebody soul matches mine real well, which means that this deep desire for a home, family, and stability is not an isolating experience for either of us. God knew what he was doing when he placed us together. And he knows what he’s doing by bringing us through the simple steps before we reach the big, difficult ones. Even still, we long for answers to our soul’s cries for more.

My prayer is that we find a way to hold onto contentment and peace right now even amidst these strong dreams and desires for our future. I also am praying that God gives us discernment through the Spirit as we decide the right opportunities to accept and the right changes to embrace. We’re slowly finding our place in this world — both individually and as a unit — but there’s still so much left to unearth and discover.

This post is personal and maybe not the most relevant to everybody who is reading it. However, I wanted to share these things because I believe it is important to talk from reality instead of wishful thinking. I don’t want to put up a front that gives people the idea of us having a perfect marriage and a grand old time. I want people to know that the initial stages of marriage are both fun and difficult for us for various reasons. I want people to know that even though Grant and I are thrilled to be each other’s husband and wife, we are still ignorant on how to balance our time together, we still have fights and issues, and we still don’t fully know what a God-glorifying marriage means for us.

Most of all, I want people to know that we, just like everybody else, are not entirely content. There are beautiful parts to this marriage, but there are also many areas we wish to improve and grow. Our prayers of desperation reflect that regularly. We just got married and it seems as though this should be the greatest and most joyous time of our lives, yet there is still a lot of junk and confusion we are both dealing with. We have a structured routine and it is pretty great, but stability on the outside doesn’t necessarily mean our minds and hearts are in stable places. Him and I are still learning how to battle the real enemy while continuing to mistakenly battle each other. And this doesn’t take me by surprise because I learned long ago that Hollywood and social media tells us a lot of lies about the way our marriage and our lives should look. I knew the journey to the altar would be a hard one and the road after it wouldn’t be any easier.

The last thing I want is for my marriage to do to others what Hollywood and social media has done to me. I know the way those lies have harmed me — making me loathe myself for wasteful purchases because I thought I was supposed to be a coupon-savvy wife, making me beat Grant and I up for forgetting to have our time with God because I wanted to be the perfect spiritual couple, making me buy new clothes and get a new haircut because I thought I needed to play the part of “sophisticated housewife.” I want to be absolutely done with believing lies about the way my marriage should look. They have done nothing but place unnecessary pressure and guilt on us. And I definitely don’t want to allow myself to be a conduit of these lies either.

For this reason, I am striving to not give off a perception of perfection. I think I may have failed at this many times over the years, and I am sorry. I want to make it my goal to continue sharing truth and reality with people, even if I have to write less eloquent blog posts, share uglier photos on Instagram, and admit to having a fight with Grant before walking into a friend’s house or Bible study. I don’t believe it is wise to broadcast all of our deep struggles and issues to the world, but I want to be a person who is willing to talk about hard things, especially when other women are asking the same questions as me or other couples are dealing with the same issues. Today’s post was only a snapshot of a few things on my mind. I promise there’s a lot more underneath it all, but there’s a time and place for such discussion.

I also want to ask you to take some time to pray for Grant and I — for our everyday battles and the long, arduous road to contentment that we are still trekking on. It might sound selfish and vain to ask that of you, but I know it’s not. This is the way God designed us to be — lovingly truthful and vulnerable. It is out of love for my husband that I ask for other prayer warriors to pray for our marriage. It is out of love for God that I admit our failings and desperate need for his strength and peace in our lives. And it is out of love for you that I’d rather give you an honest picture of our marriage and our need for prayer than let you think for one minute that we have it all together. And in return, I want to bear your burdens and lift up your prayers, too. There’s no reason for us to walk through life alone.

Grant and I are so, so new to this whole marriage thing, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have encouragement or some wisdom to give. We have found that there is value in listening to honest novices, just as there is value in listening to the experienced. Both of these acts open our hearts to each other and give us more opportunities to learn, relate, and love. I am not ashamed to admit that much of the wisdom I feel as though I have on the subject of relationships and marriage has just been passed down to me from my amazing parents and grandparents. Some conclusions I have come to on my own, but I have always welcomed help and advice from those who have come before me. I am a better woman and wife for it. You would be a better woman and wife for it, too. Find those people who will be honest with you and provide you real pictures of marriage and life. It will help you battle the lies that we all end up having to face.

I love getting to share my life with my husband, but I also love getting to share my life with other women. Thank you for allowing me to do so and for also extending grace when I am not doing so well. In a way, I get the best of both worlds — a man who has come alongside me and women to encourage me to stay there (all laughs aside, this statement rings quite true). Don’t be a stranger, my friends. We could all use some friendship these days, including this one newlywed right here.

How Therapy Saved My Relationship

Photo by Yoel Ben-Avraham via Flickr (https://flic.kr/p/gvoEfH)

Photo by Yoel Ben-Avraham via Flickr (https://flic.kr/p/gvoEfH)

I first want to preface this post by explaining that I am a firm believer that God is the one who truly transforms hearts. No amount of therapy could compare to the life-changing work that my Savior has done in my life. Even still, I know that God has blessed me through my willingness to undergo weekly therapy for the past ten months.

Prior to seeing Tanya, my amazing counselor who I refer to throughout this post, I did not believe that counseling could be effective in my case. I believed that what I was battling — sadness, hopelessness, apathy, anger at others — were solely versions of spiritual attack. I believed that resorting to seeing a therapist was synonymous with not believing in God’s ability to heal me and fight for me. To some, this belief is understandable. To others, it sounds silly. Regardless of which party you fall into, I want you to know that I did not want to begin therapy when I did. I was doubtful of its ability to help me and I only went because my mom asked me to (and I now thank God that she did). I hope this piece of knowledge helps shed even more light on what I’m about to share about the effect therapy has had on my life and my relationship with Grant over the past year.

I also want to note that I interchange the word therapy for counseling quite frequently because they are one and the same. One word sounds more clinical while the other sounds more comfortable. I use both because I want to express how therapy is both clinical and comfortable at the same time. It’s not cold and frightening, but it’s also not solely filled with warm, fuzzy feelings. It’s a place where a professional can help you see the effects of the things going on inside your mind (such as emotions, fears, and memories) while also providing guidance and counsel on how to work through and even thrive with them.

How Therapy Saved My Relationship

Rewind to November 2014. My first counseling session. I was intimidated and afraid of judgment while also slightly excited. I didn’t want to be labeled as sick or depressed, yet I still had hope that this woman might have the answers that God seemed to be withholding from me. If prayer wasn’t working, maybe pills would, I told myself.

Of course, I was very mistaken in my perception of therapy. Just because you go to a professional doesn’t mean you should expect to be diagnosed with an illness and thus prescribed some medication. I ended up finding healing without medication. God used therapy to heal my soul so that my body and mind could be made well, too. This does not mean that I am better than those who do take medication. It simply means that God can now use me to bring hope to those afraid of counseling just as he uses others to bring hope to those afraid of medication. We all have different journeys of healing, thus we all have different roles to play.

After my first few sessions with Tanya, I was diagnosed with DSM-IV 309.28, which is a fancy way of saying I had “Adjustment Disorder with Mixed Anxiety and Depressed Mood.” I was later re-diagnosed as having DSM-IV 300.02, which is “Generalized Anxiety Disorder.” Long story short, the focus of many of my sessions with Tanya have centered around the role that anxiety has played in my life. After becoming engaged to Grant in December 2014, we began to zero in on the role that anxiety has played and would continue to play in my relationship with Grant.

At the time of getting engaged, Grant and I were fighting all the time. That’s not something most people expect or want to hear. As I have assumed about others, people most likely assumed that Grant and I got engaged because we were so head over heels in love and terribly happy. The being in love part was true, but the being terribly happy part was not. We had been together for a year and we had reached a point where all our cards were laid out on the table. Our cards were not the hand we would have liked to be dealt. While my cards consisted of control issues, bitterness, and fear, his consisted of passivity and carelessness.

I want to say this once and for all for everyone who has even just one of these cards in their own hand: YOU are NOT your card. You have what many like to call “baggage” or “issues.” But they are not the true you, the person you were designed to be. You may think otherwise because these things are coming out of you, but these are things that have most likely been thrust upon you and nurtured in you from some past experience, maybe as far back as your early childhood.

You have baggage, my dear friend. But you are not defined by it. You are just lugging it around and need some help unloading it all.

What Tanya did for me was help me unload my baggage. It was a long and hard process. And I will tell you that for the first few months, I did not see much change in my life. She would remind me of the progress that I was making at every session, but I felt too defeated too many times to even believe her. This, of course, led to frustration and even more hopelessness as Grant and I continued to move closer to our wedding date with little resolution in sight. If this sounds terrifying to you, let me tell you that it most definitely was. And with every decision about the wedding that was made came more anxiety as I began to feel increasingly trapped. No one wants to be the runaway bride, but neither does anyone want to be the unhappy wife.

What’s a girl to do when she’s accepted a proposal with hope and excitement only to be hit with the reality of just how hard having a successful marriage really is? Some would say to give up and run away. In fact, I will not deny that there were friends who warned me somewhere along this journey that I did not seem to be ready for this commitment I was making. They asked me to consider delaying the wedding so that I could be absolutely certain that Grant and I should be moving forward. I will also add to this disclosure that I fortunately have had an extremely supportive family who have been able to speak truth into my life, as well. If it weren’t for them, I might actually have listened to those few friends and would not be getting ready to marry the love of my life less than two months from now.

Just a word of advice: if your twenty-year-old unmarried friends are saying something different than your forty-year-old married parents and sixty-year old married grandparents, you might want to consider what wise counsel in this situation really means. Just think about it.

Some of the things that Tanya and I discovered about myself in our sessions together shed a huge light on what was causing so many of the fights and unhappiness between Grant and I. However, when those things were first uncovered, I was not mature enough to actually implement any resolution. This, I realize now, is normal. With any major wounds, healing takes time and also continual treatment. You don’t just identify it, slap on a bandage, and expect it to go away. You have to change out the bandages and continue applying the right ointments. Otherwise, it might never properly heal. Likewise, you can’t expect your baggage to go away just because you can now identify it and want to slap a bandage on it. You have to continue to work towards healing and resolution. This is why I believe that if you go to a therapist for a couple of months and don’t think that you’re any better, I suggest that you consider sticking with it unless there is a compatibility issue between you and the therapist.

I now am at the point where I am implementing resolutions and seeing real results in both my personal life and my relationship with Grant. If I had given up on therapy this past spring because it had been six months since my first session and I was still at Grant’s throat, I would have been an absolute idiot.

I would have missed out on one of the greatest gifts God has ever given me: actual healing and transformation, true happiness and peace with my soon-to-be-husband.

. . . . .

For eight months, I saw Tanya every week. Now I see her every other week. This is because Grant and I are also seeing a professional marriage counselor together. I was skeptical when we first began seeing Jason, our marriage counselor, because I was so used to being with Tanya. In fact, I cried the entire car ride home after our first session with Jason because it was just so difficult to imagine him actually helping us. What could this man possibly do for Grant and I? I’m already knee-deep in therapy with Tanya. Now I need this stranger pointing out all the things I’m still failing at?

I now enjoy seeing Jason with Grant because he has proven himself to be a helpful source of guidance in our relationship. Tanya was right when she first suggested that we see him; there are some things that need to be worked out as a team. Despite the progress I was making with her, Grant was missing out on the experience. He would sometimes come to my sessions, but we were only able to scratch the surface there. Seeing Jason gives him more opportunities to unload his own baggage. If you ask Grant, he would say that he has learned a lot about himself since our first session together. And this newfound knowledge he has enables him to better love me as he works through his own issues and I continue working through mine.

Today Grant and I are thriving more than ever before. We are happier than we were when we first began dating. He loves me more deeply than I thought he could ever love me, and I can also say the same about myself. We have been humbled in a major way. For the first time in my life, I am able to both forgive and apologize freely; the desire for control and perfection no longer dominates me. For the first time in his life, Grant is able to be sacrificial in the way he loves and run full force in his pursuit of me; passivity no longer holds him back. This summer has been the best summer I have ever had because all of the hard work we put into this relationship and our continual pursuit of healing have finally paid off. We are not perfect and we never will be, but we are infinitely more ready for this marriage than we ever thought we could be.

I don’t want you to miss this or take this lightly: Grant and I owe so much to therapy.

Tears stream down my face when I think about where we were when we first signed up for this marriage thing and where we are now. I know without a shadow of a doubt that Tanya and Jason have played a vital role in our relationship. It needed to happen. And the best part is that it doesn’t stop there. Yes, therapy has done so much for us, but we now see when we look back that it’s been Jesus doing the work all along. Tanya and Jason were equipped by him to supply us with the wisdom and hope that we needed to keep going. And Grant and I have been equipped by him to put in the hard work and love each other despite our difficulties. Jesus has healed and softened both of our hearts, and he used counseling in a big way to do it. An instant fix wouldn’t have been as praise-worthy in this situation. I know this to be true because God has given me instant fixes before and I continually forget them and neglect to thank him for them.

This journey of healing between Grant and I that has required so much time, so much effort, so much heartache and praying and desperation is worth more than anything I’ve ever been given apart from salvation. 

. . . . .

So to answer the question that many people have in the back of their minds but are either too skeptical or afraid to ask: Yes, therapy is worth every penny and minute of your day. Especially when you have a personal relationship with Jesus and he is guiding you the whole way.

If you are a Christian and have areas in your life that require healing, I implore you to begin praying that God gives you clarity on whether therapy is the next step for you to take. And if you aren’t seeming to get an answer, I then ask you to have faith, be brave, and try it anyway. When I first began counseling, I did not want to go. I did not believe it could fix me. And I was right. It didn’t fix me. God just used it as a tool to heal me. And he can do the same for you.

Both Tanya and Jason are believers. This has proven to be tremendously helpful because a lot of healing that needed to occur in my life was very much, if not entirely, related to my spiritual life. I suggest that you find somebody whose faith aligns with yours. I don’t know if it is absolutely essential, but I know it is most likely important. God can use anybody, but the journey to healing is probably easier when you’re being counseled by somebody who has similar values and beliefs as you.

The last thing and maybe the most important thing I want to mention about therapy is the financial cost. When I talk to my friends about seeing a therapist, the biggest reason they give me for not going is money-related. They say that they just can’t afford it. And they might be right. In that case, they might benefit from finding a therapist who works with their insurance or, if they’re a college student, seeing a professional who provides free services at their school. There are also most likely programs or ministries at their church that offer similar services, although they might not be offered by trained, licensed professionals. There is nothing wrong with receiving help from these sources versus receiving help from trained, licensed professionals if they are able to give the necessary amount of support.

To give you a picture of what my therapy has cost my family, I will tell you that every session of therapy I go to is $100. If it was compatible with my insurance, it would be less, but it’s not. Because I see Tanya by myself twice a month and also go with Grant to see Jason twice a month, my mom and dad pay $400 for therapy each month. At one point, my parents were also going to therapy, as well. You can imagine how expensive our cumulative therapy bill was.

You probably think that that is an absurd amount to be spending, and I respect that opinion because I know that different people place different worth on different things. I, however, would have been willing to pay even more than $400 if I knew that God was going to do this work in my life. If my mom were to tell me that she couldn’t help me pay for therapy any longer, I would’ve gotten a second job. I would’ve given up my nicest clothes, date nights with Grant, Starbucks coffee, textbooks, manicures, unlimited data plans, and vacations. I would have found a way to keep going. Thankfully, I am at the point where I feel comfortable with not seeing Tanya or Jason every week and I could see them less if money needed to be conserved. This could not have been the case just a few months ago. At the beginning of summer, Grant and I were on the brink of revelation, of uncovering this amazing place of peace we are now living in. If we had quit too early in order to conserve time, energy, or money, it would’ve been a true shame. It’s true that God could have continued healing us anyway, but what we’ve gained through therapy is just too valuable to imagine giving back.

If you are on the fence about whether or not to begin seeing a counselor because you are afraid of it being expensive, my words of advice are to find a way. If you are serious about your healing, you should take the time to assess how money can be allocated towards it rather than being allocated towards non-essentials. Going out with friends every week is a non-essential. Buying nice, new clothes is a non-essential. Using your gas to go to Atlanta every weekend for fun is non-essential. Manicures and tans are non-essential. The latest pieces of technology are non-essentials. And in many cases, proving your independence by refusing to ask your family for support in affording something that is good and perhaps vital for your health is non-essential.

I cannot stress this enough: your wellbeing is far too important for you to delay doing something about it.

It might not be so important to you right now, but I know it is very important to God. He has entrusted you with this beautiful life. And if you are not living as you are called to live because baggage or wounds or illness is holding you back, you are doing both yourself and God a disservice. Some might argue I am being too harsh; I argue that people are not harsh enough.

My prayer for everybody reading this post is that you take the time to pray and think through the decision of going to therapy. Some people reading this truly just don’t need it or are already receiving it, and I think that is great. Other people reading this probably do need it and are holding themselves back, and I think that is sad. I don’t want anybody to hold themselves back from what God has in store for them. And if you are not allowing yourself to receive help in your process of healing, or if you are not even striving towards healing, that’s exactly what you are doing. Counseling is not for everybody; sometimes prayer and continual pursuit of God is enough. But sometimes in your pursuit of God, you are led to other sources of help. Don’t do yourself a disservice by resisting them.

Believe that God has trained up an army of counselors and helpers who are designed to love you, counsel you, and encourage you in your darkest times of need. Therapy is far from worthless or a waste of money. You can ask Grant and I after years of marriage and even ask our future children down the road if we are glad that we made the decision to receive help. I am positive that we will give you a resounding yes.

Are you that positive that you won’t look back on your life and wish you did the same sooner?

When Life Is Dry and God Is Silent

Image by Guilherme Yagui via Flickr (https://flic.kr/p/dHX2x4)

Image by Guilherme Yagui via Flickr (https://flic.kr/p/dHX2x4)

I had the privilege of sharing a message to the middle schoolers I work with at my church this past Sunday. I was having a hard time preparing for it because I so badly wanted to say the right thing — what GOD wanted me to say — but I felt like I was repeatedly coming back from prayer empty-handed. I had been trying all week to hear from God and he just seemed to be so silent.

The night before I was supposed to give my message, I climbed into my fiancè’s bed and just started to cry.

“What am I doing wrong?” I asked. “I feel like I’m in a dry season, but I don’t want to be in this season. I thought everything was going fine, but even reading the Bible or spending time in worship isn’t doing what it used to do anymore.”

That’s when I got hit over the head (by Grant, but also probably by God) with some stuff I needed to hear. Thus, my sermon was born at eight o’clock that night.

I want to share with you what I was able to vulnerably and authentically share with those middle schoolers yesterday morning. I’m praying that it speaks to you just as it spoke to me and to those few middle schoolers who needed a good dose of encouragement while in the desert. We all sometimes find ourselves in the desert, don’t we?

. . . . .

Something I’ve always wondered is when I really began having a relationship with Jesus. I didn’t go to church very much growing up, but I knew who he was and there was a brief period of time between fifth grade and seventh grade where I thought I was completely in love with the idea of following God and being a Christian. But when eighth grade rolled around, I just kinda dumped him. I told my grandparents, who were taking me to church at the time, to stop picking me up on Sunday mornings, and I put my Bible in a box and I stopped trying to pray. I didn’t pray for two years. And during that time, I really lost my way. I made friends who weren’t the best influences and I treated my family poorly. I just didn’t care about God or the Bible or his plan for my life. I was selfish and self centered.

But I guess I reached a point where I felt too empty to want that sort of life anymore. So on a random night in tenth grade, I just told myself to be a Christian again. And I was. The next day I pulled out my Bible for the first time in two years and began reading. I started talking to God like we had never stopped. I even started going to church again. And I haven’t looked back since.

Seriously following Jesus these past six years has been the best decision of my entire life. Because I find joy in this relationship. I find freedom and healing and wonder and peace. But you know what? I also sometimes find sadness. And doubt. And questions. And that’s what I want to talk about today.

I knew since last week that I wanted to talk to you guys this morning about having a personal relationship with Jesus because I feel like it’s really easy for adults, especially pastors at church, to give us the do’s and dont’s of being a Christian. They define sin for us and godly living for us all the time. And I don’t know if it’s just me, but sometimes I feel like I need a relationship with Jesus to be defined too. Like what does that even mean?

What is a relationship with Jesus supposed to look like? Is it a relationship that has ups and downs, that goes through dry seasons and mood swings? Or is it supposed to be sturdy and steady and always the same? 

Lately as I’ve been thinking about this and trying to answer that question, I’ve been thinking about my relationship with my mom. My mom is my best friend. My mom has meant so much to me that she’s going to be walking down the aisle with me as my Matron of Honor when I get married this October. I can’t think of anyone else who’s done so much for me and has been so understanding of me and supportive of me. I feel like I can tell her just about anything. I love where my relationship with my mom is.

But her and I weren’t always close. In fact, when I was in middle school, I hardly wanted anything to do with her. I was such a moody preteen. Anything she said just made me so mad. Just a “hey, how was school” when I walked through the door was enough for me to roll my eyes. And she didn’t know what to do with my mood swings, so she’d just call me Miss Attitude and I’d go up to my room and not come down until dinner. Her and I just did not get along. And I know most of it, if not all of it, was my fault. Anytime she wanted to get close to me, I’d come up with reasons to keep her at an arms length. I pushed her away and our relationship suffered. In fact it wasn’t recovered until years later when I finally understood that my mom wasn’t out to destroy my life. She was actually trying to help me build my life. I mean, fathom that. My twelve year old self didn’t see that coming. Some of you in this room still don’t understand that about your parents. And for right now, that’s okay. I hope you do someday.

My relationship with Jesus reminds me of my relationship with my mom because it’s had ups and downs.

Some of you guys might know what I mean by that. We have these long periods of wanting to pray all day everyday. We want to read the Bible all the time. We want to go to every Bible study known to mankind so we can soak in all the wisdom and Jesus that we can. And then there are periods of time where we are like, “Hello? Are you there?” Reading the Bible feels like a chore. We don’t notice anything different about us when we do read. We can’t find the right words to pray. We don’t see him in our lives like we used to. We may even start to question if he’s moving in our lives at all.

While I was preparing to give this sermon, I was reminded of a really strange thing that happened to me two years ago while I was staying with my friend Lacey in her hometown. Lacey lives in this really southern town called Thomasville, which is like four hours South of here. And while in Thomasville, her and I would walk around the downtown district there and just hang out and look in the shops. One day, we found this patio kind of hidden behind a gate that someone left open, and there were some cute tables and chairs set up there. It was closed off and shaded by plenty of trees. It was really beautiful. And since she had her Bible and I had mine, we decided that was where we would have our time with God. For about a half hour, we read and journaled and prayed in silence.

That day I was reading the story in the book of John about Lazarus, the man who died and was risen to life by Jesus. In this passage, Jesus is summoned to go see his dear friend Lazarus who is ill, but instead of going to see him right away, Jesus waits. Now this is the man who is known for healing and saving lives. This is the man who’s been walking around town spreading the news about Gods love and goodness. And yet he waits to go to Lazarus. And when he finally makes it to where Lazarus and his sisters are staying, he finds that Lazarus is already dead.

Now this is the most difficult part of the story for me: When Jesus finally makes it to Lazarus’ house DAYS later, Lazarus’ sister named Mary falls down at Jesus’ feet and says to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ And as she’s weeping on the ground, Jesus begins to weep as well.

I knew that the story ends with Lazarus being raised back to life, but I was stuck on that one part for a long time, the image of Mary just being completely filled with sorrow before Jesus, the man she thought was going to be there and heal her brother.

As I read this story and sat with Lacey, I began to pray and I told God that I don’t understand him. I knew that Jesus was glorified through Lazarus’ death, but I couldn’t bear the thought of Mary’s suffering. I just didn’t understand it.

But what happened next was something I needed to see.

After I finished praying, I looked over to see what Lacey was doing. She was watching the birds playing in the trees above us and her Bible was opened to Luke 12, to a passage that talked about sparrows. The one that says something about how not one sparrow is forgotten by God and we don’t have to worry because we are worth more than many sparrows.

Well, as I was looking at this passage in her Bible, I started thinking about birds too. So here were Lacey and I, both sitting and thinking about birds in this beautiful isolated patio while trees are swaying and birds are playing above us.

And then those same birds, the ones she was watching, suddenly flew into a glass window just a few feet from us and dropped to the ground. Three of them. We were speechless, stunned. And those birds just laid there, motionless.

Now Lacey is the bold one and she jumped up to examine the birds while I was still sitting there and tears were flowing down my cheeks. I couldn’t believe what I had just seen. Lacey confirmed after a second that at least one bird was dead. And I remember asking God in that moment, What does this mean?

The two other birds, she then realized, were unmoving but breathing, like they were paralyzed. At first she told me she was going to have to kill them, which I could not emotionally handle at all. But then Lacey did what I didn’t have the courage to do. She picked up the birds and stroked them and started praying over them. So I started praying, too. And I remember my prayer was something like:

God, it says in your Word that if you care for the birds, then you must care for us too, right? …But what does this say about your love and care for us if you DON’T care for these birds? 

I was afraid to know the answer. But shortly after silently asking this, both of those birds were healed and flew back up into the trees as if nothing had ever happened. We were stunned. We didn’t know what to say.

And you might be thinking that wasn’t an answer to our prayers because maybe the birds were just in shock and were never paralyzed to begin with. Regardless, I do believe that God was there that day because I know that he was trying to tell me something through those injured birds. God wanted me to know that day that he does not need to prove anything to me. He doesn’t. And whether or not those birds continued to suffer and slowly die, his love and his goodness for you and I would still be true. It’s always been true and it always will be true. 

What I think God wanted me to learn from that day and what I think he’s wanting me to communicate with you today is that Jesus is in a relationship with you and he wants that relationship. He fights fiercely for that relationship. And if it feels like he’s silent and not doing anything and not present in your life sometimes, that’s okay.

His faithfulness to you far outweighs your questions and doubt. 

And those questions and doubts are a normal part of any relationship. When you are feeling distant from God, it’s okay to ask those questions. Where are you, God? Are you really there? Do you really care? Because when you ask those questions, he gets the chance to answer. And it’s not a quick “Yep, I do. You betcha” kind of answer.

It’s an answer that you will see played out over the course of your life — if you choose to see it.

Just like how as a preteen, your mom or dad’s love for you might not make sense, but as an adult they could very well be your best friends and everything is suddenly crystal clear.

Let Jesus be your friend. Let yourself be in this relationship with him. Because even though you might not see the full fruit of it right now, just like Mary didn’t understand the miracle she was about to witness in her dead brother’s life, you will see it over time. If you’re like me and sometimes wonder where your relationship with Jesus is at, just know that it’s not so much WHERE the relationship is at, but rather WHAT you are learning where you are at. Are you grasping the things he’s trying to show you? Are you learning to lean on him even when you can’t see him? Are you starting to figure out what his grace and mercy for you really means?

We are told in Scripture that we will find God when we seek him with all our hearts. And if you’re struggling to feel God’s presence in your life and you’re in a silent, dry season, that verse is still true. Because what that verse doesn’t say is that we will INSTANTLY find God when we seek him RIGHT NOW with all our hearts. God doesn’t operate in our timing. We won’t find him the very instant we want him. And that’s a good thing. Because he lets himself be seen and felt when he knows we need it most. Only he knows the growth that we need. Only he can tell the perfect time for us.

Think about this: Only Jesus knew that Mary’s brother wouldn’t remain dead forever. And the fact that he wept with her in her suffering instead of give her the quick reassurance right then and there might seem kind of mean, but it’s not. Because after that point, when Mary thought of her relationship with Jesus, he wasn’t just the man who healed her brother and did what she wanted him to do when she wanted him to do it. No, Jesus was now her friend, the one who wept with her and was there with her in her sorrow. That’s one of the moments she would have remembered most later on in her life. She would’ve carried that with her for a very long time. I bet the fact he was there with her in that moment, sharing in her sorrow, meant more to her later on in her life than a pat on the back and a quick reassurance would have meant.

Jesus went from being a miracle man to her best friend because he gave her what she really needed, not what she wanted. 

Jesus gives us what we need, too. He gives us what we need and not just what we want. Just like our parents. They know what’s best and we don’t understand that. But with time, we might begin to see and then our relationship can grow for the better.

What might happen to our faith if we stopped putting God in a box? What if we started seeing Jesus as someone so much bigger than a book or a sermon or a church or a worship song? What if we stopped accusing him of being absent and just started trusting that whether or not he proves it when we want him to prove it, he is actually all around us and loving us more than we could ever imagine being loved?

If we want to be in this relationship with Jesus, we need to understand that this relationship will not be as uniform and predictable as we want it to be. That’s why our testimonies are all so different. That’s why some of you guys went to camp and were forever changed and some of you guys went to camp and came back pretty much the same. And if you were one of those people who expected this big life change and then came back not really understanding why you went in the first place, I want you to know that Jesus did not leave your side at all. Not once.

But just because he was by your side doesn’t mean he was going to whisper all the answers you wanted in your ear. 

We want answers, don’t we? We want to know everything. I want to know why those birds hit that window. I want to know why it was Mary’s brother who had to be the one to taste death. I want to know why I went through that two-year period of not praying or caring.

But will knowing why really change all that much? Will having all of the answers we desire satisfy us? Will it make our relationship with Jesus richer and deeper and fuller? I don’t think so. There’s nothing in the Bible that says that when we seek the answers, we will find the answers if we seek them with all our hearts. There’s some things we don’t need to know.

But we need to remain committed to this relationship, whatever it looks like for us right now. Some of you guys are in dry, confusing seasons where you’re not sure of what following Jesus means yet and you don’t even know if you want to. Some of you have been a Christian for years but you’re not sure of how it’s changed your life all that drastically. Some of you have been experiencing the most amazing times of your life, growing in your faith like never before. Whichever one of those groups of people you fall into, I want you to know that your relationship with God will go through ups and downs, just like any relationship. But it’s the best relationship worth committing to.