Womanhood & Our Identity Idolatry – Part 1

On Twitter, (in April 2016) New York City Pastor Tim Keller was asked: “What are the false gods of our society?” Part of his reply was– “the myth that you can choose your own identity.” 

He is absolutely right. Sister, this is the one of the great lies of our age:

“you get to pick who you’ll be and no one else has any right to say anything different. You set the standard for who you are and other people need to celebrate and affirm and circle around you and your self-chosen identity.” 

~Tim Keller

We see it in the way culture focuses on gender-identity and sexual-identity. This should give us a clue: IDENTITY REALLY IS A BIG DEAL. Who you believe you are makes a massive difference– in how you behave, the choices you make, your priorities, and more.

What we believe about our identity today, shapes who we become tomorrow.

I read about a person they call, “The Dragon Lady:”

“the 55-year-old has undergone a number of painful procedures over the past few years including nose modification, tooth extraction and eye colouring. She also has a forked tongue and a full-face tattoo as part of her transformation into a ‘mythical beast’.

We might laugh at this, shake our heads, or feel pity, disgust, or sadness… but the truth is this:

All of us are prone toward identity idolatry.

It is very likely that this so-called “Dragon-Lady” is actually asking deep questions of the heart–

  • Can I be something special and noteworthy?
  • Will people love me even if?
  • If I choose something off-beat or unknown, will people still celebrate me and my choices?

And I want to talk about heart questions like that. One of the ways I think this happens in our lives as non-Dragon-Lady women is that we ask new questions as we enter each stage of our lives as women.

We may identify ourselves with various roles and titles.

And beyond whatever we say or do on the outside, deep in our hearts, there are questions that seek answers we relate to our value:

  • In girlhood, we ask- “Am I worthy of being loved? Am I worth protecting? Will someone be my friend?”
  • In our teenage years, we ask- “Am I pretty? Will someone love me romantically? And pursue me?”
  • As a young woman, and as we enter our careers, we ask- “Do I have things to offer? Am I valuable? Is my womanhood something I can embrace? Can I be equal to her/him/that role/that challenge?”
  • If we become a wife, our hearts ask questions like- “Will you complete me? Will this be the love I’ve hoped and dreamed of? Will you celebrate my beauty and value and love me in all the ways I want to be loved?”
  • If we become a mother, our hearts may ask questions like- “Please– will you be my trophy child? Grow up to be amazing, so it proves to the world that my labor, sleepless nights, sacrifices, and special efforts were worth it?”
  • As we age, we ask- “Can I stay beautiful, even as my body gives in to gravity? Will there be anything with my name on it- a hospital wing, a scholarship fund, a grandchild, a book? Can I do something lasting and meaningful with my life? Am I going to be alone in the end? Will anyone love me?”

We probably all have asked at least some of these questions.

In each stage, women want a meaningful identity, and we want to have value.

But I hope you can already see:

If it becomes the central part of how we think about ourselves, each role of our lives as women ultimately sets us up for –not possible– but a CERTAIN downfall.

NONE of these seasons of our lives are meant to be a firm foundation for identity.

Beauty fades. Bodies sag. Jobs get downsized. Husbands and children all sin, will disappoint us, and ultimately die. Even if people notice us and our talents or beauty, we can chase and chase and chase, and will eventually realize, THIS DOES NOT BRING HAPPINESS.

Our hearts whisper the truth our mouths– and even our souls– may not be strong enough to speak:

“this CAN’T be what I was made for.”

If we base our identity on roles, appearance, seasons, and abilities, we will fall– it’s not “IF” it’s “WHEN.”

And as His children, God loves us too much to let us derive our value and identity from anything other than HIM. 

  • Have you ever wondered WHY God has let certain parts of your life fall apart
  • Have you experienced the hurt that comes from painful, wounded relationships?
  • Have you wondered why your failures– or your family’s failures– get exposed?
  • Does it feel like the rug keeps getting pulled out from under you?

Ultimately, God is teaching us that nothing else will satisfy.

He wants us to turn away from identity idolatry– with ourselves at the center– and instead seek Him, and find our true identity in Him.

The truth is this: when we set up this desire to be worshipped and receive glory for our appearance, sacrifices, or talents, we are actually setting up an idol in our heart.

Sister, God loves you too much to let you center your identity on you.

The most significant distinction about you is not:

  • Male or female?
  • What do you do for work?
  • Married or single?
  • Mother or not? (Nor its corollary: # of kids?)
  • Skinny or plump?
  • Public, private, or home-schooling family?

No. The most significant issue is one God speaks to us in Jeremiah 9:

“Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.”

The thing that really defines all of us is this: Do you know and understand God? Are you His CHILD? Are you hidden IN CHRIST?

(As a sidenote, if you are not sure, I’d love to share with you what it means to be “in Christ.” If you are a believer but you don’t understand what it means to be in Christ, you might take time to read and study the book of Colossians. It’s a great place for understanding who we are in Christ, and how He makes us new.)

Part 2 soon.

Grace and Peace,

Jess.

On Keeping Keeping On

One thing that amazes me, the longer I live as a Christ-follower, is the unpredictable way of humans as they interact with Jesus. 

  • Some who appear to start out burning bright for Jesus– fall away and disassociate themselves from Him and His people.
  • Some who seem weak and needy persevere and the light of their light grows more brilliant and visible..
  • Some who seemed strong are humbled as they follow the Lord through deep suffering.
  • Some come out of nowhere and challenge me in the way they cling to Jesus as Savior
  • Some who seemed genuine or noteworthy are proven fraudulent.
  • Others, maligned or humiliated (by gossip, or by their own decisions), go on loving Jesus and His people, despite their apparent “ruining.”

And I’m not always able to tell who’s who– it’s caught me off guard along the way.

  • Sometimes the discipling woman who diligently studied the Scriptures walks away from her family.
  • Sometimes the gal with nose ring and tattoos is the most like Jesus.
  • Sometimes the gregarious man at church serving in visible ways is the least like Jesus.
  • Sometimes the 50-something woman you barely notice prays with fiery boldness.
  • Sometimes the platformed person whose life looks the most prettied-up and “follow-worthy” is actually joyless, shallow, and falling-apart.
  • Some who claim Christ are actually Pharisees.
  • Some who look like legalistic rule-followers are actually leaning solely on Grace.

What we see on the outside doesn’t tell what’s on the inside. 

Things aren’t always what they seem.

CONFIDENT IN THE LORD ALONE

Thus, the older I get, and the more I know what’s going on on the inside of me, and the more I see what comes out of others, the more I am certain that it is only the Lord who can keep me on the path.

A heap of knowledge, particular family lineage, “right”-sounding words, or seemingly-good decisions– none of these mean we are following Christ. Many who have the “right” outward appearance, or who gain acclaim and notice, don’t seem to be following Jesus at all.

My confidence is in the Lord alone— not myself and not other humans.

I am leaning in and betting my whole life on it.

He is strong enough.

He will keep me. 

BUT AT THE SAME TIME, OTHERS NEED ME, & I NEED OTHERS.

The more I see the great unreliability of every human, the more I desire to strengthen the Body of Christ around me. We are each so weak! We need the Word! We need the Body! We can not thrive in isolation or self-reliance.

Embers that pop away from the raging fire are soon cold.

We need to be strengthened by one another. 

Some ways I’m currently pursuing perseverance and confidence in God alone are by:

  • eschewing self-reliance
  • making myself small
  • acknowledging my own weakness, and seeking help where I need it
  • refusing to blindly “stan” for anyone else– because all humans are weak and needy
  • knitting myself to others who are truly following Jesus.

This modern age consistently counsels: we should “lean in” and dance to whatever drumbeats we hear in our own hearts. Others encourage us to find & speak “our own truth” (even though their own version of “truth” keeps changing). Despite abundant evidence of human weakness, they say: “you’re strong enough.”

I say that’s all hooey.

Life is long,
but also,
life is short.

I wanna keep on keeping on. I don’t want to sit in constant perplexity and anger at the actions of wicked people. I don’t wanna get pulled away from the trail of Jesus by distractions of pleasure, perfection, or pride.

The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, shining brighter and brighter until midday.

Proverbs 4:18

It’s important who we follow, and who we walk beside.

And the only hiker that doesn’t get lost on the trail of life is Jesus.

He’s is the only one worthy of an absolute “follow.”

The only way I’m gonna make it through this life (and, I’d submit, Christian: the only way you’re gonna make it through this life) is walking close to Jesus.

For further discussion, I’d love to hear your thoughts on any/all of these:

  • How are you personally abiding in Christ?
  • What are the most important decisions you’ve made in regard to growing in your faith?
  • The more you have seen the wickedness and weakness of others, how have you kept yourself from bitterness and hopelessness?

I Went on a Personal Retreat! Here’s What I Prioritized.

Recently I was able to get away for a glorious (and gloriously quiet!!) week alone.

[If you don’t know, I have 9 children, ages 19 down to 2 years old, and I’ve been a stay-home, homeschooling mom for the duration of those years.]

For most of my life, getting away like this has been an impossibility, or perhaps I didn’t care enough to figure out how to make it happen. But for the last two summers, I’ve felt a desperation– a need for quiet and time to sort out my soul.

SUMMER 2020

Last year was my first “go” at this. Over the 5 days I was away, I prioritized:

  • No internet
  • Fasting for several days
  • Reading books of the Bible aloud
  • Sleeping as much as I could
  • Getting out into nature (in the Texas hill country!)

That time was fruitful in many ways. It gave:

  • quiet days for reading and prayer
  • uninterrupted time to think my own thoughts
  • renewed zeal as I came home to my family afterward

 

THIS SUMMER’S UNEXPECTED LIFE-CHANGE

Earlier this summer, when our plans to buy a family business in Colorado vanished into thin air, we scrambled to come up with a short-term survival plan. Once we got some initial stakes in the ground, it wasn’t long before I told Doug– “I think I’m gonna need some time away alone with enough quiet to process and pray this through.”

When a friend offered her lakehouse, we knew the plan was taking shape!

 

FIGURING OUT THE CHALLENGES & GOALS

Before going on the retreat, I talked with Doug, and with my counselor, and considered these questions:

  • How can I use this time in a way I won’t regret?
  • What boundaries do I need to set in order to make sure my week doesn’t get wasted on other tasks/demands?
  • What treats/practical elements will make this feel special?
  • How can I guard against devices and screens and noise so I give myself the real QUIET I’m longing for?

So these are the things I prioritized, this year:

  • Sleep (early to bed, & waking up naturally each day)
  • Time in nature
  • Reading a book of meaty sermons about joy
  • Copying the book of Philippians
  • Steak!!! LOTS OF IT!
  • Fasting and praying for my son while he went through a critical point in boot camp
  • Listening to a podcast about family, trauma, childhood formation while I was driving (The Place We Find Ourselves <—- LISTEN!!– I recommend starting with episode 1 to work your way through in order. It’s excellent!)
  • Not rushing myself… just letting it be a slow, easy week, moment-by-moment
  • Working through a spiritual inventory to make sure I was examining my own heart/spiritual life
  • Coffee & ice cream

PRACTICAL DETAILS

As far as practical details, both years, I have had friends who have graciously shared their vacation homes with me (for free! Amazing!!).

But this year, if I hadn’t had this offer, I was leaning toward a Catholic retreat center where they have a private room, access to their extensive grounds, meals, and familiarity with guests on quiet/personal retreats.

Even though we were going to buy a business this summer, we don’t have heaps of money lying around waiting to be used for anything we desire. But this year in particular, choosing to prioritize time away, so I could process and heal from an unexpected zig in our zig-zaggy life, seemed to both of us like a good investment of our money and effort.

WHAT I’VE NOTICED/LEARNED ON THESE RETREATS

  • It’s WEIRD being alone, when you’re never alone.
  • It’s GOOD having quiet, when you almost never have it.
  • It’s DELIGHTFUL to sleep as much as you want, after 18+ years of not having that as an option.
  • Just taking care of ME takes a significant amount of time each day. Doing my own dishes, cleaning up my own pile of books, prepping my own dinner. I can forget this in the hustle of family life, but it’s worth noting– the daily things are a significant chunk of the day.
  • Taking purposeful care of my physical body makes a REAL difference in the way I feel and respond in life.
  • Setting aside time to examine my soul and see what I find there is valuable, worthy time.

These personal retreats have begun to function like a restoration project of my soul.

Parts of me that were dried out and cracking, are replenished with sleep, good nutrients, and living water from the Word of God. Parts that were angry, broken, weary, and frightened get fully expressed, pondered, and counseled.

My soul gets enough breathing room to remember the big God who made sunsets, roadrunners, plateaus, lemons, and limestone cliffs.

And as I take in the beauty of life and the sweetness of time with God,  my soul grows more quiet and more willing and able to trust Him with the zags and zigs of life, whether or not I expect them.

WHY NOT JUST DO IT IN DAILY LIFE??!

I wish I could be like that beautiful old saint I remember homeschooling moms writing about: Susannah Wesley– with 17 children, I believe. She had so many that in order to talk to God, (as the story goes) she routinely threw her apron over her head so she could be alone with God in prayer.

But for some reason, my brain doesn’t work that way. I want to, and perhaps God will still work on me yet, and help me do it.

But for now, this annual ritual has been a beautiful addition to my life.

In the quiet,

ideas form, re-form, and reform me,

sentences bubble out of my mouth, and out of my pen, to my Maker,

problems that have troubled my soul suddenly make sense,

healing comes, in bits and in blusters,

tears and gratitude well up, separately and together.

and my heart gains perspective and settles into a quiet contentment.

 

If, after reading this, you have a desire to go on a personal retreat, and your life is at a place where you can make it happen, my encouragement is: GO FOR IT!

And please share any questions/insights you have in the comments below!

When Your Faith Is Shaken by Spiritual Abuse

When you experience pain inflicted upon you by those claiming the name of Christ, especially by those in leadership in a Christian community, ministry organization, or church, it can turn everything topsy-turvy.

What is true? What is right? Did that really happen? Am I losing my mind? Who can I trust? Can I ever trust anyone again?

  • Maybe you’ve experienced spiritual abuse at the hands of a pastor, elder, or group of leaders.
  • Perhaps you’ve encountered or been taken in by a narcissistic individual.
  • They may have withheld communion, attacked your faithful service, or jabbed you right in places where you already felt vulnerable.
  • Perhaps they lied, privately, or publicly, about you.
  • The people or systems you thought would protect you, left you with deep wounds. 

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”

Isaiah 5:20

SOME LESSONS LEARNED

After a season of dealing with this in our own lives, here are some of the things I expressed as I worked through my feelings:

(regarding gaslighting behaviors) — I wish I had known about these behavior patterns earlier in my life. It would have saved a lot of heartache.

Understanding what is happening and that it has nothing to do with you is a game-changer in relationships with this sort of dynamic.

Two things I’ve learned through pain:

One: Avoid people who have a long history of once-close, now-divided, BROKEN relationships.

And Two: Be cautious of people who welcome you into their inner-circle when you barely know them.

Number one seems obvious, and yet within Christian circles, when someone has the position and appearance of godliness and respectability, it is easy to overlook and to make allowances for patterns that, in hindsight seem like obvious red flags.

Number two is a little less obvious, because it can just appear like a good Christian welcome. But there is a stark difference between a person or a group that is welcoming, versus one who immediately pulls you in to become one of their most intimate & trusted friends.

The best decision we ever made was the hardest decision we ever made. God guided us through it. Slander & loss of relationships followed. But freedom & peace has been ours ever since. And God provided WAY beyond what my 1/8 tsp of faith believed back then.

I praise Him.

When I say “freedom and peace has been ours,” I do not mean “happiness and ease.” It has been hard. Depression. Sorrow. Disbelief. Loss. Anger. Helping our kids through the same. Truly, I’m not fully the same person as before we did that hard thing.

BUT. THERE HAS BEEN SO MUCH GOOD. God has sent sunshine & spiritual growth & job opportunities & new friends & friendly encouragement from old friends along the way.

I praise Him.

The stress of a global crisis (for me) is small potatoes compared to the life-altering stress of my husband being mistreated, used, and lied about. I am so thankful we took deliberate steps away from ungodliness and toward freedom, joy, and light.

(good ole Texas bluebonnets)

BIG IDEAS FROM OTHERS THAT HELPED ME PROCESS:

In the spiritually abusive organization, excessive charm becomes excessive condemnation the moment loyalty is betrayed. Any non-supporters are moved to crucibles of condemnation where the heat is turned up until their resistance is melted down and they either comply or leave.

~Wade Mullen

“Sorrow is feigned, confession is partial, forgiveness is exploited, restitution is an afterthought, and reconciliation is an illusion, as long as the truth remains hidden.”

~Wade Mullen

“When you have something to say, silence is a lie.”

~Dr. Jordan B. Peterson

“I was literally hit by a bus and suffered multiple serious, life-changing injuries. But the pain & trauma of that was nothing compared to what I have endured as a result of the trolling, lies, misrepresentations I have endured by [other Christians]…”

~Karen Swallow Prior

A culture that perpetuates abuse will question the motives of those who ask questions, make the discussion of problems the problem, condemn those who condemn, silence those who break silence, and descend upon those who dissent.

~Wade Mullen

Features of narcissistic leadership:

-needs to be at center
-impatience
-inconsistency
-entitlement
-punishes disloyalty
-certainty
-impulsivity
-praising and withdrawing
-bullying
-fauxnerability (false vulnerability)

[email protected]

Toxic leaders proactively wall themselves off from negative feedback. If uninvited concerns do get over the wall, they might claim they were blindsided and that people should be more assertive. They erect barriers to truth-telling and then blame others for not speaking truth.

~Wade Mullen
(These ideas are fire.)

“A major source of injustice and frustration in this world is that those who need to be held accountable for their wrongdoings & those who have the power to investigate & hold them accountable, are the same people.”

~Jacob Denhollander

A threatened intimidator will tarnish the credibility of those exposing his wrongs. He’s not so interested in controlling the behavior of the truth-teller as much as he is concerned about controlling public perception of the truth-teller. The public becomes his target.

~Wade Mullen

Some ideas that helped me heal, after ungodly treatment from those I’d previously trusted:

1- Mourning and lament are appropriate responses to grievous things.

When people you’ve thought were friends or godly leaders reveal themselves to be manipulative liars, it’s rotten. Slander is tragic– and SIN. There’s grief involved when you’ve been used.

So, grieve. Don’t lock it away.

I wish we still wore black while in mourning. How differently would we treat others if they wore their grief visibly?

~Tai French

Maybe friends who were once a regular part of your life don’t call or write you. Maybe they believe outright lies about you. Maybe they even participate in gossip about you.

Maybe you’re spiritually starved because of years of sitting under prosperity-teaching, or fact-based teaching without any heart, or heavy doses of law without any grace.

Maybe you were sexually abused.

Maybe spiritual leaders you once trusted poisoned your church experience.

Maybe you and your children have lost almost everything familiar and it feels like all hope is lost, and like nothing will ever feel normal again.

These are grievous things, and you don’t have to act like they’re not.

2- The people who stay are the ones who write the story.

“The killers are the ones who write the history; the victims are the ones who get written about.”

~one writer, about the JFK assassination

I’ve read about this happening many times with abused wives who, once they file for divorce, are lied about by their abusive husband and have to leave their former church, in shame. Amidst life-altering pain, they are abandoned by– and slander is believed by– those who ought to be loving and serving and coming alongside them like Christ.

We knew this before we walked away. No matter who you are, almost always, once you leave a situation, the people who stay are the ones who get to reframe what happened.

“There are times in our lives when abusers take hold of the pen of our story, and when that happens you fear turning another page because you don’t know what the next paragraph or the next chapter might hold. You’ve lost control of your own narrative and it is now in the hands of others.”

~Wade Mullen

It is common that in spiritual abuse situations, the people who did the harm are the ones who get to “tell” what happened. You can be sure that the story they tell, by design, will uphold their rightness and authority.

This means your story may be fully known in the eyes and ears of God alone.

3- Nevertheless, God sees.

THIS was the message that comforted the slave Hagar. And it was the message God gave to Moses to deliver to the Israelites in bondage:

God sees.

He sees what’s true. He saw every mistreatment. He heard the lies you were told. He hears the lies spoken about you. He hears when His hurting people cry out to Him. He hears your whispered, grief-stricken, half-thoughts– the groans of the soul that you can’t even fully formulate or bear to mumble.

And He delivers.

Deliverance doesn’t always look like we think it should. It didn’t for the Israelites. It didn’t for the Jews of Jesus’ day. But it comes. And in part, it comes when we realize that God sees what’s true.

For the hurting heart, the truth that God sees everything with full accuracy CAN bring comfort to us, even as we grieve grievous things.

4- Don’t just run away– learn what you can from it.

Do I learn through dark providences, or simply seem relieved when they are over?

-Sinclair Ferguson

When you’re being bullied, used, wrongly accused, or realize you’re in a cult, it’s natural to just want to get away.

But if you don’t deal with the things that happened, and try as best you can to observe where the missteps took place, and what you failed to see accurately that got you into that situation in the first place, you could potentially end up in Very-Similarly-Rotten-Situation, Part II.

So learn what you can.

For us, that meant: talking through the first times we saw “the man behind the curtain,” and why we dismissed what should have been plain to our eyes. It has meant owning up to naiveness, and which practices/decisions led to us failing to see what was (in hindsight) obviously happening.

It meant talking honestly about how our fears kept us there, and which personality traits we have that made us more willing to “roll with” or “let love cover” things that, in hindsight, were clearly wrong.

5- Trust that God WAS, indeed, “doing something.”

We don’t always get to know what God’s purposes ARE. But we always know that He HAS purpose in what He does.

The suffering that comes to us is not random. It is not just the flow of chance events that careen along without a plan. It is not crazy coincidence. It is not haphazard and undirected. It is easy for us to see suffering as blind chance, bad luck, or what others are doing to us.

~Tedd Tripp

This can take time. When you’ve been through mistreatment by those you once called “Brothers,” it takes a while to sort things through with discernment, forgiveness, and grace. But as you have opportunities to make decisions in your soul, lean in to a remembrance of and hope in God.

His purposes WERE good. They always are. We can trust them, even when they “hurt like billy-o.” (Eustace, via C.S. Lewis)

6- Accept that much in life is outside our “control.”

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”

James 4:13-14

Some events, and some people may never make sense to you. But all of it is still overseen by a God who makes himself known and knowable.

7- It’s OK to start looking forward. Your life can be something new. And it can be GOOD.

It’s true– your life can’t be what it used to be. But it can be something new. And God’s leading you toward it, whatever “it” is, right now.

“Better a dry crust eaten in peace than a house filled with feasting—and conflict.”

Proverbs 17:1

The Proverb is true. It may not FEEL true in the interim period, when you are grieving the loss of familiar things, and establishing a new normal. But it is true.

It is better to have less, with peace in your heart, than to reside in a place filled with churning and conflict.

Through all of life, and through all of our conflicts, we have the good Prince of Peace who will carry us, counsel us, and walk beside us.

MORE RESOURCES ON THIS TOPIC:

13 Life-Preserving Ideas for Recovering From Spiritual Abuse

First:

  • If you are suffering under spiritual abuse,
  • or have recently left a spiritually abusive situation,

I want to encourage you– not minimize or question what you experienced.

For the purposes of this article, spiritual abuse is defined (by Got Questions) as:

To “abuse” is to use something or someone to bad effect or for a bad purpose, especially regularly or repeatedly. Spiritual abuse happens when a spiritual authority, such as a cult leader or abusive pastor, seeks to control individuals and ensure obedience.

…Spiritual abuse can occur when church or cult leaders misuse Scripture to bolster their own authority and keep their members under their thumb. For example, a spiritual authority may use Hebrews 13:17 (“Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority”) to demand blind loyalty and unthinking obedience. …Our loyalty is due Christ, the Head of the church (Ephesians 1:22), not a particular organization, church, or leader.

Cults and abusive churches pre-emptively insulate members from any information critical of the group. Members are taught early on to be skeptical of any negative report about the group…

The more committed to the abusive church a person becomes, the more isolated he becomes from non-members, and the more he fears punishment if he tries to leave. Some people, after a lifetime of emotional investment in a religious group, simply do not know how they could survive if they left. They have no friends other than their fellow church members. They may have cut off contact with family members… Such is their fear of being ostracized that many stay put, keeping their misgivings to themselves.

…Peter warned us that “there will be false teachers among you” (2 Peter 2:1). As he described these false teachers, Peter points to their propensity to abuse their followers: “In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories” (verse 3)…

pastor is to be a shepherd. Shepherds who abuse the flock can expect severe punishment when the Lord returns (Luke 12:46–48). With privilege comes responsibility, and those spiritual wolves who abuse their authority will have to answer to God for the harm they have done.

full article: https://www.gotquestions.org/spiritual-abuse.html

So that’s a good starting place to understand what spiritual abuse is.

To the Jesus-follower drowning inside of a church setting:

While I may reference my story, I offer each “Life-Preserving Thought” to buoy you with help and hope.

#1- WHATEVER YOU DO, DO IN FAITH.

Look for the road of faith. In our situation, my husband was convicted never to make a decision out of fear, worry, or stress. But the day that God opened his eyes to a path we could take in FAITH, we took our first step.

For us, faith sounded like:

  • God is able to fully provide GOOD for us, even away from this community we know.”
  • “We believe God can work His will in this place.”
  • “We can step away with our eyes fixed on God, rather than staying or going based on the wolves’ behavior.”
  • “Jesus Christ is building and purifying His church, all around the globe, so we can trust that HE will give us a church family wherever He leads us.”
  • God can provide not only all that we need, but also all that our children need, wherever we go.”

Choose to walk in faith, rather than living in fear of wicked people or wicked behaviors.

#2- WALKING AWAY BRINGS A HIGH INITIAL COST

This may not feel very “life preserving,” but I share it to help you keep walking, even when your path leads through great pain and loss. When you first walk away from an abusive wolf-“shepherd” and/or abusive church community, it risks nearly everything:

  • Loss of friends & community
  • Loss of the feeling of normal
  • Loss of your reputation
  • Loss of religious habits & traditions
  • Loss of relationships with some people you thought were godly
  • Loss of confidence in your own judgement
  • Loss of certainty/clarity about convictions and ideas that you learned about while under abuse
  • and possible even the loss of feeling like things are “OK” between you and the Lord

You may be tempted to:

  • fear that all is lost
  • believe that nothing will ever feel normal again
  • turn back toward the abusive person/situation

Looking at the momentary circumstances can feel debilitating. But knowing in advance that the costs will feel painfully high, especially in the beginning, can help you keep walking.

#3- READ & REMEMBER GOD’S DESCRIPTIONS OF SHEPHERDS & OF WOLVES

Read about what pastors & elders are supposed to be like:

  • 1 Timothy 3:1-7
  • Titus 1:5-9
  • 1 Peter 5:1-4

(I like this simple chart that combines the lists into one.)

full chart here: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/what-are-the-requirements-to-be-an-elder/

And read about what wolves, and bad shepherds, are like:

  • Isaiah 56:10-11
  • Ezekiel 34:1-10 <— insightful as to how God views abusive shepherds
  • 2 Peter 2:1-3, 17-19
  • Jude 12-13

As you read God’s descriptions of which behaviors are shepherd-like, and which are wolfish, the Holy Spirit will give clarity. You will see God’s heart toward spiritual abuse. Abusive behavior is not according to His ways.

Starting to see that the person you once regarded as a shepherd is actually a wolf that attacks and scatters sheep is difficult awakening. It will alter how you understand everything you saw and experienced, while you were under that leadership.

Seeing that the wolfish/abusive behavior is unrepentant sin can help you keep walking — in faith– toward health and peace.

a sheep we saw on the Turkish countryside, walking toward the shepherd, in 2009

#4- DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP ABOUT FEELING SORROW, SADNESS, & GRIEF.

Mourning is a right and natural response to great loss. Though in some ways, going away from an abusive leader/group will feel like a wonderful rescue, in other ways it feels like you are in exile. You don’t have to beat yourself up about feeling sad about the ongoing, real losses you are experiencing.

Feel it. Process it. You don’t have to bury these things or ignore them.

It is not just OK– it is natural— to be sad about sad things, to feel angry about wrong things, and to grieve the loss of things and people you valued.

#5- IT WILL NOT ALWAYS HURT THIS BADLY.

One thing we learned is that while there is so much pain in the beginning, the joy of being rescued by God from the jaws of a wolf does, eventually, outshine much of the sorrow.

God will bring good.
God will heal.
God will transform your sorrows and show you how to use them to minister to others. (2 Corinthians 1:3-11)
God will bring light from what seems like cloudy darkness.

#6- WHILE YOU HEAL, FIND A FAITHFUL CHURCH WHERE YOU CAN CONSISTENTLY WORSHIP GOD IN RELATIVE ANONYMITY

As we healed, God gave us two wonderful churches where we were:
* fed with the Word of God each week
* able to worship and respond to God in honesty
* not immediately pressed into non-stop service

The first one was only for a few months, but in that place, God provided free counseling, while each week we were encouraged with the Gospel.

The second one is where we joined. These pastors loved and encouraged us, and allowed us to take time to heal without any pressure to jump in, teach, or take on roles of leadership or responsibility.

For me, it specifically looked like:

  • dragging myself out of bed to attend, even on days I didn’t feel like it
  • singing or listening to the sermon with tears streaming down my face
  • letting lyrics and teaching touch my heart and remind me of God’s goodness, even while I was in deep pain.
  • (I eventually made a video about this. CLICK HERE to watch.)

You don’t have to (and probably shouldn’t!) jump head first into a new congregation. But — in faith– regularly attend a church that faithfully teaches the Scripture and keep engaging honestly with the Lord– even if it initially brings tears or seems to inflame the pain.

#7- FIND WISE, SAFE, DISCREET PEOPLE OUTSIDE OF THE SITUATION WITH WHOM YOU CAN FULLY SHARE

Accessing a biblical counselor, a godly friend who will tell you the truth, a discreet relative who is a good listener, or simply processing with a spouse or friend familiar with the circumstances– these are all possible ways to safely grow in understanding of what you’ve just walked through, and come out from.

Other people can provide you with a sense of what is healthy and normal. As you share, they can also reflect back to you the ungodliness and cruelty of what you’ve experienced. At this time when you are less apt to trust your own judgment, lean on the godly wisdom of others who can come alongside you and bolster you.

As you say what’s true about what you experienced, others will help you to call things by their right names.

The insights of others, alongside Scripture, can help you re-form your understanding of what is wicked, harmful, ungodly, and unhealthy, as well as what is actually good, and true, and beautiful, and worthy of praise.

#8- TAKE NOTE OF WHO STICKS BY YOU & RECEIVE THAT AS GOD’S MERCY.

While some of those who were part of your community may turn away, some may not.

{Note: There are some people who naturally “duck and cover” whenever conflict arises. These people may pull away, not because they seek to harm, but because they are seeking safety and peace. This is not who I mean.}

But if some reach out to you, show care for you, express concern, or in any way work to maintain an ongoing friendship with you, take note. Receive it as kindness from God that all is not lost.

#9- TAKE NOTE OF WHO ATTACKS YOU & GROW IN UNDERSTANDING & DISCERNMENT

As you walk away from an ungodly, unhealthy spiritual community, there may be some who attack, lie, gossip, condemn, accuse, and believe the worst.

When this happens, while it feels incredibly painful, you have been given an opportunity to:

  • rejoice, because you are blessed! Matthew 6 says, “blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you, falsely, on my account. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven!” In God’s “economy,” He lifts up the humbled, and He brings down the lofty. We can rejoice when we are treated poorly for following Him.
  • see in plain daylight. When everything is lurking in shadows, and the lights are off, it’s impossible to tell what’s what. But when daylight streams in through the windows, the forms of things become plain.
  • recognize wolves with greater discernment. In future flocks, as you live among the people of God, you will more quickly recognize the sound and posture and smell of wolves.
  • comfort others with the comfort that you have been given. As you walk this road of loss, God will give you great wisdom and comfort that, according to 2 Corinthians 1, He will use to help you encourage and comfort others through their own loss and abuse. In His wisdom, God gives His sheep similar experiences to one another, in order that we can help and serve and love one another and increasingly point one another toward Him.

While there is legitimate sorrow when others seek your harm, God can use these hurts to help us grow in understanding and discernment.

#10- GOD’S GRACE IS AVAILABLE TO YOU NO MATTER WHAT.

The God of the Bible is real, and His grace extends through all the earth:

“the eyes of the Lord roam throughout the earth to show himself strong for those who are wholeheartedly devoted to him.”

2 Chronicles 16:9

His grace and strength is not only available to you there, in that place where you’ve been mistreated. His grace will be there, wherever you go.

One threat we heard was, “you’ll never find a church community as good or special as this one.” It occurred to me, long after leaving, that that comment is not only a narcissistic statement, but it is also a God-less statement.

Don’t believe the lie that God’s grace was only available to you in THAT place. God’s grace is available to His children, no matter where we go in life. His mercies are new every morning. GREAT is His faithfulness. His mercies never come to an end.


#11- CLING TO GOD.

One temptation you may face is:

  • to be “done with all of that.”
  • to believe that stepping away from all church experiences will seal yourself off from the pain
  • to diminish the importance of God, His Word, His people, His ways.

You may question God’s goodness, whether or not He is real, whether or not you are even saved, whether or not there is even the possibility of a healthy church on earth.

You may question if any of the things you were taught there in that place are true at all.

Regardless of the questions that assault you from the outside or from the inside, just keep clinging to the Lord Jesus Himself.

When you’re out in the raging sea, it does no good to question if real, dry, sturdy, usable land exists. It does. Keep clinging to the Lord and as you look to Him and to His Word, He will reveal to you what is true. Cling to Jesus and don’t be afraid.

As He washes your boat up onto a new shore, He will teach you and keep you.

#12- INCREASINGLY, TAKE YOUR EYES OFF OF THE REARVIEW MIRROR.

It is normal that we look backwards, in order to learn. ESPECIALLY when you have been spiritually abused in ways like:

  • exploited/used for selfish gain,
  • treated as essential, and then discarded with contempt,
  • repeatedly lied to,
  • publicly lied about,
  • used as a pawn,
  • gossiped about…

it is only natural to look backwards and try to process what in the world happened!

In fact, that is the way of wisdom. To examine the process that got you HERE is part of the path of learning how to (Lord willing) avoid being exploited and abused like this ever again.

So, definitely: process in the ways that you need to. But over time, work to decrease the time and space that old place/abuser occupies in your mind and conversations.

#13- TRUST THAT GOD WILL USE IT ALL FOR GOOD

It can feel impossible– you’ve been through so much. It’s taken so much out of you, and perhaps cost you all that you had. I bet Joseph felt that way when he was in the pit. But God was advancing His bigger plans.

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”

Genesis 50:20

God brings beauty from ashes, and makes good from even great wickedness.

Keep walking, Child of God. You are beloved, and He is good. He’ll keep providing for you, and He’ll do it in ways you can’t even imagine.

Rocking Out to the Limbo-Land Jukebox

As our winding story nears yet another “bend,” our necks are craned, but we can’t (YET) see which direction the river flows from here.

Within a week, we are scheduled to hear back from the “committee” whose decision will either send our boat down one leg of the river:

  • running a family business each summer in Colorado

or down another:

  • what we’re calling “plan B.” (details TBD)

One funny truth about following Jesus is that whatever LOOKED LIKE “plan B” to you was actually, always, sovereignly, “Plan A.” You just didn’t know it, and so because you focused so much on what you perceived to be “plan A”– it looks like the back-up, the unexpected, the not-as-ideal.

So here we are, waiting, again. Wondering if what we think of as “plan A” will be God’s actual plan for us.

I’m finding that the “faith muscles” that helped me endure through old trials “back there” are the same ones my body is using now. Like a jukebox, my brain is playing old familiar tunes, and the lines include:

  • “God is all 3: good, wise, and sovereign.”
  • “We can trust Him, either way.”
  • “He’s going to do what is best, according to His plans”.
  • “His sovereign plan is not just for me/us, but includes our children. He’s working out His plans for them! I don’t have to be afraid!”
  • “What is beyond OUR control is not beyond His control.”
  • “He will abundantly provide all that we need.”
“one last hike, all together”
“one last date, just the two of us”

In the last 3 months, we (1) launched our oldest son into adult life (he’s thriving at bootcamp), (2) moved out of our home (due to lay off), and (3) took a 2- month road trip around the southeast United States.

{ON OUR ROADTRIP, we visited TX, LA, AL, MS, NC, VA, SC, GA, FL, & AR–
I’m releasing vlogs about that- check them out here.}

Looking over the Virginia highlands, from Whitetop Mountain’s Buzzard Rock

But now, as I sit here, while we wait for the committee to decide about our loan package, there’s nothing for me to *DO*.

While we traveled, my jobs were myriad: pack, clean, consult with Doug about upcoming plans & make the executive decisions, move the laundry along, scan travel sites for recently-discounted last-minute lodging, grocery shop for the next week-(ish)-worth of meals, locate the closest USPS drop box to send off the most recent letter to our Marine recruit, find good hikes, keep the little boys’ naps going, keep the campfire going.

But we’re not traveling anymore.

Oh, yes, there are kids to feed and videos to edit and friends to see while we can. But stopping in one place has brought the stress of waiting up to the forefront.

Yesterday I yelled at the kids. That old enemy (my lack of self-control) reared its ugly head again.

One time, epochs ago, I met a real-life missionary. He was a dad with 4 or 5 kids, and I asked:

“how do you do it– jet lag, irregular nap times, weird meals, moves?!”

I was wanting a formula– the way to get through unscathed. But his answer reeked of flesh and blood. The way our humanity — our need for sleep, food, normalcy– impacts us. The bloody wreckage that happens when we are weak, tired, and grumpy, and then bump up against one another.

His answer to my question, “how do you do it?” surprised me then. It chastens me now.

“We apologize and ask forgiveness. A LOT. Even more so in times of stress and change.”

Our human inability to “get it together” & the carnage of our interactions with one another all highlight the deep need we have for the flesh and blood of Jesus.

I still see glimpses of that hoping-for-a-formula desire in my own heart. I want to find the person who has the answers and then pattern my life after them. I want to find the way through so that there’s less pain all around, and no more need for apologies.

It’s not a wrong desire. It’s a heavenly desire. But it’s ultimately a desire to find some way of salvation other than the Gospel.

Humans– even humans who follow Jesus… even MISSIONARY humans who follow Jesus– are never going to be perfect. But we depend on the one who IS.

And even when we’re stuck in limbo-land, He’s here.

Providing everything we need for today.

Preserving and advancing the faith He built in years past.

Giving us grace to wait.

Giving us grace to forgive.

Giving us people around us who tell us the truth.

Giving us grace to seek forgiveness when we’ve yelled.

Right here in the stale room of limbo-land, that old jukebox plays: He’s good, wise, and sovereign. He sees. He’s providing. He’s working out His plans for us.

God is WITH us.

I Can’t See Downriver

One of the last things our son wanted to do as a family, before leaving for bootcamp, was watch Master and Commander. I’m not generally a fan of Russell Crowe, but that movie is phenomenal. Many times over, it’s clear: it’s not human cunning, nor the battle plan, but providence, that guides one’s path along the waters. 

So he headed off 8 days ago. 8 days of quarantine down. 6 more to go. Then his bootcamp adventure will begin.

Last photo of the 11 of us, before he left, January 2021

And the very next day, we moved into nearly-full-time packing mode. Packing up kids’ books (a-GAIN). Sorting and discarding unnecessary possessions (a-GAIN). Making final decisions before we move (a-GAIN).

This move has had me thinking- I must become smaller.

But that’s hard to do when there’s 11 people in the family. You can downsize to a degree, but there’s no real option of Marie-Kondo-ing your whole life when you have a massive amount of people and not a massive amount of money.

This has come to mind:

“He must become greater and I must become less.”

John 3:30

And by that, I mean everything needs to become less. My physical footprint. My digital/social media footprint. My “influence” footprint. At this juncture in life, I am not interested in “platform” and “reach” and “followers.” That stuff skeeves me out. It’s all I can do to just follow the Lord for me, myself, and I.

So as I’ve been packing up our home, I’ve been contemplating, how, and what to cut.

The decisions feel surgical. How much can be cut away? How much must be cut away? If I cut too much, I can’t easily replace it, and maybe never can replace it. But nonetheless… it’s been a brain refrain:

My footprint must be smaller.

You see, we have a change ahead. And for those of you who know us, that probably won’t be surprising to you. 

Except it has surprised me. I keep wishing I could slow down. I keep wanting the changes to stop, and yet they don’t.

See, it’s like I’m headed downriver in a kayak. But in years past, when I saw a dicey part of the river coming up around the bend, I could (in my strength and with great zeal!) paddle to one side for a smidgey bit and take time to assess— 

  • how am I gonna ride this one out?
  • which part looks the most passable? 
  • how can we do this? 

But now, as I bob down the river, my kayak looks unimpressive. And there’s no paddle in my hand. Somehow I lost it a few rapids ago. I’m tired and older, and I lack strength. What used to feel adventurous now just feels… tiring.

And from my current spot, I can’t yet see what’s around the bend. I mean, we think we got a glimpse, but there’s no certainty. We have an opportunity to buy a business, and have been pursuing it for a few months now.

What we didn’t fully foresee was my husband’s lay-off due to Covid. In a way, it confirmed our path, but in a different way, it has put us (yet again) in a position of not being able to KNOW FOR CERTAIN what’s coming, before we are forced to go on and stick out our feet and take a step forward into the great unknown. 

I don’t get it, why we have to stay on this path of Trusting God through Unknown Situations, and I don’t particularly like it. As I float closer and closer to the coming rapids, I’ve realized that it’s like I’m holding my breath waiting… for what? rescue? clarity? certainty? 

But nothing comes. 

And my kayak is getting older by the day.

And I still don’t have a paddle.

The only thing I know is that I know the Maker of the River. 

  • I don’t know that we won’t wash up on a shore we didn’t expect.
  • I don’t know that we won’t drown, or nearly drown, along the way.
  • I haven’t floated this river before, and I am not promised that there’s not a waterfall that’ll crash my boat to splinters.
  • I am not promised to be able to run this boat aground on the beach that I think we’re headed for.

And I have all these little passengers in my boat, too. I didn’t mention them yet, but they’re here with me and the thing is, I know that the Maker of the River sees them and loves them. Yet I also have gone far enough downriver to know that I can’t bubble wrap them and keep them from experiencing the rapids of life.

I don’t know what His plans are but I know His plans for them are GOOD. Even if that plan includes many rapids.

Frozen In Our Tracks

So then, boy howdy, a few days into our pack-o-rama journey, here comes this Texas freeze. It’s a Texas freeze the likes of which us native-Texans who have lived more than half our lives in Texas have NEVER seen. No one we know has experienced a Texas freeze like this. It’s exposing all the cracks in our infrastructure, energy grid, habits, and skills– Texas isn’t built for this. Good gravy, it’s COLD. 

It’s stopped us in our tracks.

  • The water pump froze, so we don’t have showers, laundry, dish water, any of it.
  • The electricity is on and off in cycles of anywhere from 12-30 minutes.
  • Suddenly all our energy has gone to things like, hauling and chopping wood. Thinking up meals that don’t require appliances or consistent heat.
  • The dishes pile is giving the laundry pile a run for its money, and it just might win in the end.
  • And it seems like everything outside– snow, dirt, moss, splinters, and COLD– is all on the inside of my house. 🙂

So here we are, at this juncture of the river. Knowing there are rapids coming, but not really able to tell anyone what those rapids for sure look like.

I got Facebook messages asking, but the truth is, I can’t answer your question about, “where we’re moving” because I don’t really know for certain where this humble kayak will wash up next.

What we THINK is…

  • we are buying a business in Colorado, and as long as everything goes forward (which it is right now)… then the finances would close in April, and we’d be moving there in May and running it over the summer.
  • and then hopefully… we’d be renting or buying a home in Texas in the fall, to spend our fall/winter/spring near family and friends, and spending each summer in the mountains of Colorado.

Lord willing, this is what we are stepping toward.

But we are not assured of this yet.

I’m just a girl without a paddle, and I think I know where the kayak is pointed but I’m honestly not 100% sure. And I won’t be until it runs aground.

That’s an uncomfortable truth to write. I wish I could write with more certainty. I wish I could give a respectable answer that makes sense to everyone– one that gets head-nods all around.

But that isn’t what I’ve got.

The only thing I know for sure is I know the Maker of the River.

And even when He lets us go paddle-less downriver, He’s GOOD. He really, really is.

For now, though, I need to get some things done because the power is back on.

The Constancy of Change in Motherhood

“No man ever steps in the same river twice,
for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” 

— Heraclitus of Ephesus

Year by year, changes come.

And not merely in fashion, home decor, vehicle design, or celebrity culture.

The very common fact of change touches the most simple and central things about us. As the years (and decades) pass:

  • children grow: the awkward preteen becomes a full-fledged man and your heart can hardly bear the pride and sorrow and delight of it.
  • hobbies change: Early in motherhood, your skills and capacity expand. But then at some point, (at least for me this has been the case!) these contract. The hat you knitted or ornament you embroidered is so lovely, and you can neither remember how you made it, nor fathom how you had the time.
  • finances ebb and flow: that which was once impossible now becomes a consideration, or that which was normal now feels out of reach.
  • our bodies are not what they were: allergies, pregnancy, aches and ailments, new limitations, and diagnoses.

Even the strongest among us bend under the weight of it.

NOW, for those who have followed our zig-zags, you may say–

Jess, you guys have had a very UNUSUALLY full-of-change journey of life!

And that is true.

You might then internally accuse (as I have done to myself!)–

Not everyone experiences as much change as you guys have– and much of y’all’s change has been self-chosen.

And that also is true. We have moved many times. I’ve been pregnant twelve times and have given birth nine times. We have explored the world. We’ve inhabited many different types of careers.

You’d be justified to think I’ve got a grip on change.

But that’s not true.

The idea of change has been knocking me flat lately.

“Change is the law of life.”

John F. Kennedy

Whether I embrace it, or not, it comes. When I hide from it, it comes anyhow. When I think I spot it from afar, it doesn’t come that way. It sneaks around a corner and pulls out the rug I’m standing on. When I try to prevent it, or hedge against it, nevertheless, here it comes.

And my instinct is very much like that of third graders in the Cold War era: to get down under the desk, duck my head, and cover my own neck. I keep trying to use my puny arms to try to STOP the nuclear attack of change that perpetually threatens to blow up my whole entire life.

THEY WARN US, BUT WE DON’T FULLY UNDERSTAND

Though older folks warn us of the changes that will come with aging, and heaviness of it all, we don’t really know it until we ourselves feel it.

It wasn’t that long ago, was it, that her feet fit into in the smallest toddler size of pink Converse? And now her Converse are bigger than mine? How can this be?!

I remember cutting Ethan’s towhead curls for the first time, as he watched Blues Clues in his high chair, and now I’m cutting his hair for the last time before boot camp?! How can this be possible?

How do mothers bear the losses? The fears? The hopes? The sorrows?

How are we to bear up under the weight of such very real and valid emotions?

HOW CAN WE BEAR IT?

“We”–

  • who give our hearts to these delightful, chubby, needy, suckling infants
  • who devote ourselves to their schooling, their discipleship, their skills-development, their character formation
  • who are moved to panic and sorrow and prayer and fear as we see their sins up close
  • who will always always always love them no matter what
  • who stay in this place over here while they go to that place over there to live out the things they were made for

How can “we” bear up under the weight of it?

Well on our own, the short answer is: we turn into a bucket of tears.

I mean, I have, just writing this.

Yes, even though I’m a mom of 9, I am not immune. I still feel this loss they’ve warned us about – and the “empty nest” emotions are hitting me square between the eyes. Today, specifically, I am bulldozed by this: the expected “ship off” date for my oldest to head to Marines boot camp is just one month away.

We have had our last haircut, last date, last vacation, and next week’s calendar plans include what will be the Last Christmas of our family looking like, well, our family.

Just writing these things brings out all of my brokenness and emotions. My face is soaked with tears.

Amidst all the changes of life, where can we deposit our hopes, and what should be the substance of those hopes?

THE TEMPTATION TO HOPE IN OUR CHILDREN

By this juncture of empty nest, hopefully, we mothers get to the point of realizing that we should not be hoping in our kids. However, I have seen a great many women who hope there, and I have watched as it came crashing down.

In the homeschooling circles I’ve travelled in, it can happen through:

  • kids who live under pressure to “keep up appearances”
  • kids who seem to do things right
  • kids who make the choices their parents would have wanted
  • kids who mature very quickly and don’t seem to go through a rough patch

And I do not want to act as if those things are always necessarily negative. They are not. If a child grows up and does not go through a crisis of faith, make a decision his/her parents dislike, or falter in their steps, I will not rain on that parade.

And yet, that scenario does seem to set the parent up for hoping in their parenting, or hoping in their children– hoping for XYZ result. In fact, those parents may need to work even harder not to unintentionally begin to place their hope in each subsequent child’s performance, or in their own ability to sanctify their children through their own parenting decisions.

Over the last few years, the Good Lord has seen fit– through a variety of means– to expose in my heart the shifting sand of hoping in my kids. Through observing the lives of others, through my kids and their decisions, through conversations we’ve had with our kids, and experiences we’ve had in life, and through showing me more of the weakness residing in me, God has shaken the grip of that hope from my heart… and I am very grateful.

I see the temptation of it, and praise God that, for now at least, I am not gripped by the temptation to place my hope in my kids.

THE TEMPTATION TO HOPE IN OUR SELVES

This will let down, or perhaps strike fear in the hearts of, women who are used to the rah-rah bootstrap-pulling messages that are often found in best-selling books targeted to Christian women, but here’s the other temptation I’ve turned away from:

I CAN NOT COUNT ON ME.

Girl, I can not just wash my face. Girl, I am not enough. Girl, I am, very often, (especially right now!) just a sad-sack bundle of emotions.

There are times in life when I have appeared “strong” and “impressive”– but these days, often, my mind is racing, my relationships are disappointing, my responses are ungodly, my anxieties are high, my consistency is non-existent, and my self-counsel is very weak.

Through a long “dark night of the soul,” God has taught me MUCH about my own weakness. The way I’m not very dependable. The way I say one thing, and then do another. The way I don’t even live up to my own ideals, much less anyone else’s.

Here’s what I’ve concluded:

if I hoped in me, good gravy, I’d have no hope at all!

God has– through a period of sorrows and afflictions– exposed the shifting sand of hoping in my self. He has shown me, unequivocally, that I am not a trustworthy safe deposit box for my own hope. He has taught me that if I deposit my hope in my self and my good choices and my awesome ways, that will all be lost because I am just a human– with all of the disappointing “jar of clay” weakness that implies.

AMIDST CHANGE, THERE IS ONLY ONE CONSTANT

I warn you in advance:

this is going to sound “churchy” — and lately, amidst the very raw emotions of life, I have grown wary of churchified answers. I dislike them:

  • in part because of how often they are spoken as conversation-ending solutions,
  • in part because of how often they are spoken by people who have not actually found comfort in whatever answer they are speaking,
  • and in part because of how often they are used to silence uncomfortable questions that come from the real landslides of life in a fallen world.

Nevertheless, it’s the only place I can stand and so I’m going to press on to say it, even running the risk that it will sound too heavenly-minded to be of any earthly good:

There is a Great One named Jesus.

He stands in contrast to “we” humans, in many ways.

Here is the truth about Him that, today, brings me great comfort:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Hebrews 13:8

Do you see why that would give me great hope today?

The same Jesus that:

  • heard my prayers while I was a drug-using teen,
  • provided for every need when we lived on the opposite side of the world,
  • rescued us from a spiritual desert,
  • was there at the foundation of the world,
  • willingly set his face toward Jerusalem even though it would mean his own death on the cross

He’s gonna be the same:

  • the moment my son disappears from my view into quarantine and military life under a Commander-in-Chief I didn’t vote for,
  • when the details and circumstances of our lives are not what they are right now
  • as each child careens into adulthood, making decisions that change my life
  • when I look back at today’s strength, youth, and health, wishing I could have it back,
  • and even:
  • when the momentary stresses and strains of today are long forgotten in the shiny glory of eternity.

Jesus will be the same.

Though I — like the river in the quote at the top– have been and will be different in each of those circumstances,

Jesus will be the same.

Amidst change, and loss, and fear, and uncertainty, the beautiful sameness of Jesus Christ is the only place my hope can rest.

And it’s a GOOD place. A hopeful place.

Jesus really is GOOD, y’all.

Grace & Peace,
Jess Connell – December 2020

I’m Currently “Writing” By Vlogging

Readers, I want to invite you to come check out my YouTube channel. Right now, I’m releasing 4 episodes a week.

Here’s today’s video, ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF A LARGE FAMILY MOM (from start to finish):

And last week, a vlog about a decision our oldest son is making:

These videos chronicle life from my perspective, allow me to verbally process life, and provide me with a place to grow in video editing. At this point in my life, I’m not as free to sit down for long stretches and hammer out, in written form, a linear article about one topic.

But I am trying to catch life, as it happens, and share along the way.

Editing and releasing videos is a different format from writing, yes, but I’m still sharing my life and thoughts in a similar way- open and in a way that hopefully encourages, instructs, and spurs you on toward joy and perseverance.

Some are topical, some are vlog style/ sharing family life, and I’ll be releasing my first Q&A soon. If you have questions, leave them in the comments below, or on any YouTube video. I’ll see them and compile to answer in the following Q&A.

For now, come share life with me there. If you need encouragement, or just want to see the day-to-day life of a mom whose family isn’t perfect and yet still hopes in God, I hope you’ll join me.

SUBSCRIBE on YouTube today, so you don’t miss an episode.

FIVE VLOG Episodes: Check ‘Em Out!

So, if you haven’t heard yet, I’ve started a new vlog.

We got kunekune piglets, and then had baby chicks, and we’ve got toddlers-preteens-roosters-chores-birthdays-almostadultkids… and more. And I want to get better at video editing, so I decided to dive right into this whole vlogging thing.

Here are the first FIVE episodes:

EPISODE ONE:

An intro to our mini-farm: you get to meet our new piglets, see the 2-day-old baby chicks, and get a view of our lives.

And what happens when I find out the piglets are lost?

EPISODE TWO:

I am so not a morning person… but I’m learning to love morning chores. Here’s why (hint: it has to do with having older kids):

EPISODE THREE:

Because we have a free-ranging flock, we’ve opted to keep roosters as protection for our girls.

Here’s how I tame them so that we actually ENJOY our roosters:

EPISODE FOUR:

Parenting young adults is a totally different ballgame from young kids. Here’s something my counselor shared with me that is helping me process and transition into parenting adult children.

Also, Silas shows off his new garden:

EPISODE FIVE:

***CUTE EPISODE ALERT!!!****

My mom might be the cutest person on the planet. She came for a visit and met her “grand-pigs”– and I reflect on some of the meaningful things I’ve learned from my parents and their interactions with me as an “adult child.”


I’m making these videos for my learning (about video editing/storytelling/timing/etc.), but obviously also so others can enjoy and learn alongside me as I process through life.

So please,

WATCH

SHARE

And SUBSCRIBE NOW, so you won’t miss an episode!

Grace & Peace,
Jess