When your husband calls you “a shell of a woman” {A Life Overseas}

Elizabeth is over at A Life Overseas today.

shell1-700x439

For months this spring I felt like a shell of a woman. I was empty and didn’t have anything to give. Oh, I was still doing all the “right” things. I was still getting up most mornings attempting to connect with God, and I was still relatively consistent with my commitment to exercise.  But I felt dead inside and couldn’t figure out why.

My husband noticed. Where before him once stood life and life abundant, he now saw a shell of a woman. He even suggested another round of counseling. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what to do about it or even what it was. I was unhappy in life and unmotivated in work. Was it depression? Burnout? What???

I felt especially dead at church. That was a strange feeling, because corporate worship has always quenched my thirst and nourished my soul and made my spirit come alive. But I just buried that newly incongruous feeling and ignored it. I tuned it out and refused to listen to it. I ran to the nearest screen and numbed out on TV and Facebook and solitaire games instead.

Finish reading here.

A Letter for the One Who’s Waiting {Velvet Ashes}

Elizabeth is over at Velvet Ashes today, with a poem of hope and comfort for anyone who’s waiting on something.

waiting-shortcuts-detour-726x484

You in the waiting,
Yes, you
And yes, me too —
For we are all waiting for something —
Dear sister,
Beloved one,
You in the waiting,
This much I know:
There are no shortcuts to healing.
There are no shortcuts to wholeness.
For we can’t know God as Healer without first being wounded.
And we can’t know God as guide without first being lost.
We can’t know Him as counselor without first being confused.
And we can’t know Him as comforter without first sustaining pain.
We can’t know Him as intimate companion without first feeling abandoned.
And we can’t find our identity in Christ alone without first losing it elsewhere.

You can finish reading here.

When the lights go out {A Life Overseas}

Elizabeth is over at A Life Overseas today . . .

photo-1457732815361-daa98277e9c8a

I want to do all the things. All the very good things there are to do in this world. So I overcommit myself. I don’t say “no.” I say “yes” instead, and spread myself too thin. Then my soul suffers. My work suffers. My sanity suffers. My family life suffers. My spiritual life suffers.

I suffer in silence, thinking I’m all alone. I’m the only one failing at everything. I’m the only one who can’t pull it together. I’m the only one who can’t catch my breath, who can’t catch up on work, who can’t catch up on school, who can’t catch up with friends, who can’t catch up with the God I say I love so very much.

And I, insecure missionary blogger that I am, am afraid to tell people.

To top all that off, the heat in Southeast Asia has been crushing me. The past two months have held record highs here, and we get a lot of power cuts. I echo Ramona Quimby in Ramona the Brave who shouted out “Guts! Guts guts guts!” when she wanted to say bad words. Instead, I yell “Cuts! Cuts cuts cuts!” and very nearly lose my mind.

After one particularly grueling 12-hour all-night power outage, something inside me broke — flat out broke. I lost my hope. I began to question everything. Why are we here? Why can’t we live in America? Why exactly do I serve this God of mine? And where the heck is He when I can barely sleep or even breathe in this heat?

I was struggling under the weight of all the expectations I had for myself: be a good mom, be a good wife, be a good home educator, be a good missionary, be a good team leader’s wife, be a good friend, be a good writer, be a good editor, be a good Christ-follower. And I couldn’t do any of it.

Finish reading this post here.

My low-pressure approach to cultivating intimacy with God

I recently shared some of this material at a ladies’ brunch. It is my hope and prayer that it might help you in your walk with God. ~Elizabeth

bible-896222_960_720a 

This is a story about getting away with Jesus and how it transformed my life. It’s a story of hearing God whisper, “Come away with me,” and it’s the story of how I said yes – not perfectly, but repeatedly. It’s a story that might seem really elementary to some of you, and you’ve been living this for years. But for me it was groundbreaking, and it happened here in Cambodia.

Our international church was a watering hole for me right from the beginning of my time in Cambodia. It was a spiritual oasis, a weekly time to refresh and renew and meet with God. I remember walking into the church’s auditorium four years ago, feeling something inside me take a deep breath, and just knowing I was home. I met God that first Sunday, and every Sunday after.

But about a year and a half ago I felt God drawing me into deeper communion with Him. I felt Him calling me to a more daily commitment to meet together. Before then, I’d never learned to be consistent in my time with God. I had tried, but my attempts never lasted more than 3 to 6 months at a time. And they were never in the morning. (And I’d kind of always felt guilty about that, actually.)

But I was suddenly finding that Sunday mornings were not enough for me. They weren’t enough to get me through my week. My cup was empty. My well was dry. I didn’t have the strength I needed to thrive. Maybe in my passport country I could have survived like that, going from Sunday to Sunday, with maybe a Wednesday Bible study thrown in. But in Cambodia, I couldn’t live like that anymore. Life in this country was taking more out of me, and that meant that in turn, I needed to take more from God.

I knew, deep down in my spirit that this was what God was calling me to. I knew I needed this, and I knew I wanted it. But I have NEVER, EVER been a morning person. Left to my own devices, I would prefer to sleep.

So I had to start with really small steps. And I do mean really small: 10 minutes. I woke up 10 minutes early. In the beginning all I did was read a daily selection of prayer and scripture from a prayer book. I got a notebook, and I started writing out my own prayers and recording the Bible verses that really stood out to me.

I knew I wanted this to be a long-term commitment, so there were several things I decided not to feel guilty about:

  • I didn’t let myself feel guilty if I skipped a day because I was too tired to get out of bed. I just woke up the next day and started over again.
  • I didn’t let myself feel guilty if I couldn’t keep up with some prescribed Bible reading plan. I didn’t try to catch up when I missed. I just slowly worked through whatever section of Scripture I was in.
  • I didn’t let myself feel guilty if I got sidetracked with other Scriptures or devotional books and deviated from “the plan.” 
  • And I didn’t let myself feel guilty about my short times. I just slowly increased my morning time, usually by 10 minutes at a time.

Each individual meeting with God doesn’t always feel very fruitful. But the seconds add up to minutes, and the minutes add up to hours, and every moment with God means something. When I look back over the last year and a half, I see that these times with God have been the source of some of my greatest spiritual breakthroughs. And that’s not to say I didn’t experience God before coming to Cambodia, because I did. I really, really did.

But here is where I discovered that God’s love for me is much deeper than I ever knew before. Here is where I discovered He loves me as much as He loves everyone else, and I didn’t use to be sure of that. Here is where I learned who I am in Christ in ways I’d never known before. And I’ve had various seasons where God says, “Ok, we’re going to work on this particular sin now, or this particular lie.”

I know I can get really excited when I talk about intimacy with God. But I also want to be very careful how I talk about it because

  • The last thing I want to do is heap more guilt and shame on you or give you something more to DO.
  • I don’t want to give the impression I think I somehow “earned” God’s intervention in my life by deciding to spend more time with God. I didn’t earn His gifts of healing and freedom; everything is a gift and comes from Him alone.
  • I don’t want to give the impression a morning quiet time will solve all your problems. I still walk through difficult times. I still sin — and that still discourages me. I still sometimes skip my morning devotional time. And I still sometimes have a hard time connecting with God.
  • I also know some of you may be walking through a desert right now, or a fiery trial, and thriving may seem far from possible. So I want to be really sensitive to your pain and your weariness.

When we talk about needing to steal away and spend time with God, it can sound legalistic, like this is what you have to do to measure up. But that’s NEVER, ever my intention. All I want is for people to get away and be with God. All I want is to see people healed and set free. Our time with God is NOT where we prove what great followers we are, it’s where the healing happens.

And we will still have trials. Our relationship with God can’t inoculate us against difficulty. And we will still have times in the desert, seasons of winter when we can’t see the fruit or feel His presence.

If that’s you today, if you’re in a difficult or dry season, I want to encourage you not to give up hope. Seasons don’t last forever. Hold out for another season. In the big picture, over the whole course of our lives, if we are drawing near to God and He is drawing near to us, we can thrive even in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

And that is the truth about my story: I’m no longer barely surviving in Cambodia. Cambodia is actually the place I learned how to thrive in my walk with God. Cambodia is where I learned how to abide with Him and to commune with Him. I found God here, and I’m not the same person I was before. In fact, God isn’t the same God I thought I knew. He’s so much bigger and better than I ever thought.

And I’m thankful for that, thankful that I was so needy that it drove me to get more of God. What I was on my own wasn’t enough to handle life here. What was inside me wasn’t enough to live life here. I didn’t have the reserves or the strength the way I might have had in my own country.

I still hear God on Sunday mornings — I’m so thankful for Sunday mornings!! Now though, I hear God throughout the week too. (And since I’m a human and kind of dense and hard-headed, it helps the lessons sink in better if I hear them on Sunday and during the rest of the week.)

So if you are like me and you’re only haphazardly meeting with God, perhaps only on Sunday mornings, and if you’re ready to go deeper into God and into His love, I want to gently suggest that maybe it’s time to make more space for Him in your life, maybe it’s time to invite Him into your busy, stressed-out schedule and into your worried, overwhelmed heart.

I promise you that if you get away with Jesus, it’s going to change your life. Because the time we spend with God is what helps us thrive – whether you’re in Cambodia like me, or somewhere else. Only God’s love is enough to fill our hearts for our days, for our marriages, for our friendships, for our work, for our children, for our ministry. When we’re connected to God, we can be like the trees in Jeremiah 17:7-8, the ones planted by streams of water, flourishing and bearing fruit, even in the dry, desert places.

 

God, you are the only one who can make us flourish in the desert. You are the only one who gives life to our lifeless souls. God, plant us in you, that we may know you, that we may know your heart. Give us your life abundant, and help us thrive in whatever land we find ourselves. And we acknowledge that when you do this, when you make us thrive, it is NOT our doing, it is YOUR doing, and the glory goes to you alone. Thank you for being enough for us, Amen.

The Darkness Deepens

by Elizabeth

dd2

In church we sing

Lord reign in me, reign in your power, Over all my dreams, In my darkest hour.*

We proclaim our determination to say “Blessed be the name of the Lord” even

When the darkness closes in.*

And sometimes — though less often in the modern worship era in which we now live — we sing

The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide.

I used to think phrases like these meant I could cling to God when everything around me was falling apart. I thought the darkness was outside me. I thought the prayer was for help in walking through human suffering.

Last year in my piano time, I happened anew upon the hymn Abide With Me. I was in a dark time, and it caused me to question my original understanding of this song’s meaning. I wondered if it’s not really talking about the darkness outside, but rather about the darkness inside.

Maybe it’s when the darkness rises within me that I need Him most. Maybe this hymn is a prayer for mercy when sin starts to overtake my heart. Perhaps it’s a plea for His abiding presence when my mind and heart wander from His light.

Abide with me, fast falls the even’tide.

The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide.

When other helpers fail and comforts flee,

Help of the helpless, O, abide with me.

 

I need Thy presence every passing hour.

What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?

Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?

Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

 

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;

Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.

Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?

I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

 

My mind can be a dark place. And when I’m in that dark place, I can take any Biblical truth or reality you might offer me, twist it, and spew it back at you with venom. I can fight each statement of truth with self-made lies.

Psalm 18:29 declares, “My God, you make my darkness bright.” Earlier this year I prayed, along with Common Prayer, “When I walk in darkness, Lord carry me through.” Perhaps those, too, are prayers for the darkness within, rather than the bleakness of my external circumstances.

Thankfully I’m not in a dark place now. I have been before, and I’m sure I will be again someday. When that happens, when the darkness closes in, when the darkness deepens, may I search deep within the pockets of my memory and remind myself that I triumph still, if He abides with me. When I pass through dim, cloudy days, when I feel helpless to fight the lies within, when I stumble along in a darkness of my own creation, may I call out for the Lord and beg Him to Abide.

 

*Lyrics from the songs Lord Reign in Me by Brenton Brown,

Blessed Be the Name of the Lord by Matt Redman,

and Abide With Me, by Henry F. Lyte, respectively.

How a Night Owl Woke Up to Mornings

sr2

by Elizabeth

I have NEVER been a morning person. I have therefore never had a morning quiet time. I’ve tried afternoon, evening, and not-at-all, none of which worked long-term. About 6 months ago, something stirred inside me and I wanted more time with God.

My husband was already getting up an hour before everyone else while I stayed in bed, sometimes not even getting up in enough time to eat breakfast with the kids. (I told you I wasn’t a morning person!)

I knew I had to start small. I started with 10 minutes. Yes you read that right. 10 minutes before the kids are allowed out of bed. (Yes there is a rule about their wake time, and thankfully my kids are old enough to understand and obey it.) Even that was hard. I kept pushing back the alarm 5 or 10 minutes, and eventually got to 30 minutes with God. Yes, I would like more, and no, I haven’t been able to move it back any earlier. Yet.

Something that really helped me stick with an earlier wake time was not beating myself up if I missed a day. (That’s Grace, applied to time with God.) I know I can start again the next day. So I don’t let myself feel guilty if I miss a day. But if I miss a few days, I know I have to evaluate, because something’s off that needs tending.

And before, when I’ve tried Bible reading plans, if I missed a day, I would try to double up in order to catch up. I decided that wasn’t going to work long-term, so I don’t do catch up days. I either let myself skip, or stay behind. And I don’t let myself feel guilty if I land somewhere else in Scripture and detour from The Plan. Why should I? I’m still in God’s Word! (Yes, I used to feel guilty about detours — oh, the perfectionism that kills.)

Getting up earlier requires discipline in going to bed earlier, and let me tell you, I am STILL not great at this. I still stay up too late sometimes and have a hard time getting out of bed. My introvert self really needs quiet time with God in the morning. Ironically, when my introvert self has been “socialed out,” I’m too exhausted to get up in the morning, thereby thwarting the very healing I need. Too much social interaction interferes with my ability to hear from God, and I just have to accept that fact.

I think the surprising thing has been what has happened inside me since I made this commitment. Sometimes it doesn’t feel fruitful. But if I look back over the last several months, the fruit of peace and intimacy with God is clear to me. I’ve had lots of spiritual breakthroughs. I’ve fallen more in love with God and His Word. I’ve discovered I like reading it; it’s not just a duty anymore.

I remember taking teenagers in America to Acquire the Fire conference several years ago. Phil Joel, former bass player for the band Newsboys, was talking about dedicating his mornings to time with God. After several months of this, he remembers sitting across the breakfast table from his wife, realizing the changes God had made in him, his marriage, and his parenting, and saying, “It’s working, isn’t?”

I think that’s how I feel about my morning times with God. I don’t always get it right. Sometimes I skip and stay in bed. Sometimes I don’t get much out of it. Sometimes I read more than I pray. Sometimes I pray more than I read. Sometimes I sit and stew and worry. Other times I receive visions from God that impart deep, deep healing. All I know is that after several months of this, I have been changed, and getting up early is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

And then, recently, I came across these tips for night owls like me. I had implemented several of them myself in attempting to get up earlier and was excited to know other people thought they worked too. And I LOVE the title “Hello Mornings.” For someone who’s not a morning person, it’s hopeful and helpful to look at mornings through such a warm and friendly lens. I especially like tips #3, #4, #10, #11, and #13. I’m sharing the link in the hope it can help someone who’s struggling to get up in the morning with God.

*photo credit

A Christmas Prayer {A Life Overseas}

Jonathan recently posted on A Life Overseas. Read the whole post here.

————————————–

“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose,

and we have come to worship him.”

The Star of Bethlehem had a point, an important point. But the star was not the point.

The star fulfilled its role of leading across cultures and religious paradigms, down dusty roads and around a paranoid prince, to the Child. He was the Point, this Son, and he shone brighter. He, the Child-King, deserved adoration from all peoples, in all languages, for all of time.

And the Church, like the star, has a point. But the Church is not the point. Jesus is.

The star inspired a journey, away from comfort and the great “known.” So may the Church.

The star led through danger and politically dicey situations. So has the Church, historically, and so does the Church, presently.

The star challenged prejudice, inviting outsiders in. So may the Church.

The star incited worship, but not of itself. So may the Church.

As we celebrate the incarnation of Hope, 

the birth of the Lamb who was slain before the foundations of the world, 

let us pray for the Church, his glorious Bride, who waits expectantly for his return

and the restoration of all things.

Read the rest of the post here.

20110521212843-d8857bb5a