Stronger and Blessed

Being a mom of three girls, there are moments in my week that I recognize that I am having the same thoughts over and over. I think them, realize I am too busy in the moment to do anything about them, and then save them for the next week. Usually the thoughts come while I am sitting and watching my daughter’s basketball game, finishing up the dishes, or hurrying through the folding of the last load of laundry for the night. One of those repetitive weekly thoughts is that I am not doing enough.

Of course I am doing enough work… as do most moms. But what I mean is, there is this nagging feeling that I am not doing enough to teach my girls about who God is. Who He REALLY is. Don’t get me wrong, we have always attended and served at church faithfully. We have always participated in small groups, Worship nights, and Sunday School. My children even attend a Christian school. (Well at least they do when there isn’t a global pandemic). But how often am I intentionally investing in the spiritual lives of my children? And not as a side effect of how I am living my life. But as the goal?


If I am honest, not often enough.

This season of rest, as we are calling it, where the world has had to close up shop for a bit, has helped us to re-evaluate as a family. What are we spending our time, our resources, our finances on? Are they the things God has called us to do as parents? Even though it would appear that we are from the outside, this nagging feeling I have in my heart begs to differ.

Hormones. Boys. Grades. College Choices. Friends. Gossip. Insecurity.  

All the things that come with raising girls, all the conversations we seem to have over and over. How are we teaching our girls to navigate these things through the eyes of Jesus? If I am honest, I felt like there would always be time for that later. I needed to deal with the here and now.

In reality, these things are the here and now. These things are the things that our children are living in the age and space that they are in. And it is my responsibility as a mother to teach them how to navigate all those emotions and choices as they face them. Not when I have time. And not when it is convenient.  

So this space. This social distancing, staying at home, depending on each other space. It’s been so good for us. We now have the time to sit down and pull apart verse by verse chunks of Scripture to make sure they understand it. We now have the time to answer all the questions they thought were foolish to ask. We now have the time to pray and worship together after dinner.  

This past week, we started in the book of James. We didn’t have a plan or an agenda or a specific Bible study guide. Just God’s word and open hearts. As we started to read, we found words that encouraged our family and I believe will set the tone as we ride out this Coronavirus wave, however long it may last.  

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  James 1:2-3

Although the girls had heard this verse many times, I never asked them to explain to me what they thought it meant. My girls are ages 10, 13, and 16, and all three had a different thoughts. 

“How can we have joy when we are being tested?  That doesn’t make sense.”

“I thought God didn’t test us?”

“I thought endurance was for like running and stuff.”

It quickly became clear that we needed to spend some time explaining how God can use our trials to grow us. The result of the discussion on that section helped us land on one word: stronger. By the end of this season, this test and trial, we would have the endurance to trust God in a new way. Our faith would be stronger.  

The other half of the discussion that night focused on James 1:12.

12 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. 

Could it be that there was a blessing on the other side of this season? Looking around the room at our family, our forced rest, our renewed sense of who God was, we already were experiencing God’s hand of blessing. Yes, we are incredibly blessed.

So as we hit hard moments…….volleyball is canceled for the season and summer camp is closed: Stronger and Blessed.

As we have to get creative when the store is out of toilet paper: (Flushable wipes to the rescue) Blessed and Stronger and Blessed.

When we are cooking from the freezer for the third night in a row because it still seems unsafe to go to the grocery store: Stronger and Blessed.

And when we realize that this time has brought us closer together, that we have time for long and meaningful discussions about God’s word: Stonger and Blessed.

I am realizing that this season, when it passes, will have changed us as a family. It has opened our eyes and hearts as parents to realize that there is only one thing that matters when we are raising our kids. Jesus. Teaching them to love Jesus, and how incredibly much they are loved by Him. So much more important than basketball or laundry. Not that I mind. I have always hated the laundry.

Remember: Stronger and Blessed. You can do this!

Rach

This post was originally written by Rachael for her publisher. You can read that on their website found here: https://www.warnerpress.org/blog/post/the-hidden-blessings-of-pandemic-life

Disney Dad

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Disney World.

 

I couldn’t believe it. I was being asked to speak to and work with other Children’s Pastors at a conference in Disney World. For someone like me, this felt like the epitome of a “perk” at work.

 

As a child, I had wanted to go my entire life. I remember watching the TV commercials, longing to watch the fireworks in front of the castle. My parents could and would never be able to take me. Between finances, priorities, and mental illness, there would never be a time that there would even be an option in our family.

 

When I was a teenager, I started working at a Christian bookstore. I loved working there because I got to speak and minister to people, as well as feed my love for a good read. Imagine my disappointment when my parents announced that they were taking my younger brother to Disney. Seriously? Not even an option for me to go with?

 

No. I had a job. And responsibilities. And besides, he had always wanted to go. My heart sinking, I thought about all the times I had come in early for my curfew, only to be scolded for “pushing it” too close to the time I was supposed to be home. My brother, on the other hand, came in all hours of the night, often breaking a window to get into the house because he didn’t have a key or was too drunk to figure out how to use the doorknob. I thought about how hard I worked to maintain above a 4.0 in my AP classes, my role in the National Honor Society, and all the extracurriculars I was involved in. Those things were never celebrated or even mentioned. Meanwhile, my brother, who was and is very intelligent, barely squeaked by with D’s. I thought about how he stayed home, watching TV and playing video games, while I served in the community. To my young mind, this decision, to take him to Disney without me, was the proof of what I always felt… they loved him more than me.

 

It wasn’t just my brother, it was my parents. They were not in attendance at even one concert, play, or performance (and there were many…..). They did not take me shopping for a prom gown or new school clothes. Let’s not even get into the fact that I worked three jobs just to pay for those things. There was always a sense that I was on my own, often being parented by my grandparents. At a certain point, my parents just stopped, well, being my parents. I may have been with them physically, but emotionally, they decided for me that I didn’t need them.

 

Oh, but I did.

 

Sighing, I was shaken back to the reality of the email in front of me. Disney World. An opportunity to speak and teach people I love in a place that I love. Of course, I would do it. Of course, I would invest in the people who were investing in the next generation. Of course, I would have some “after parties” with them, watching fireworks at the castle. (Eek!). Of course, I would. As I giggled to my self, I sensed not only that my heavenly Father was proud of me, but that He had his hand in some healing for my heart with this event.

 

“I redeem ALL things.  ALL things, daughter.”

 

Immediately the tears sprung to my eyes. My Abba was taking me to Disney World. My Abba was acknowledging how hard I had worked. And my Abba was celebrating with me.

 

“Thank you, Father.  I love you.”

 

It’s the only thing I could think about all day. All month. All year.

 

We have a good, good, father. One who sees us, who hears us, and longs to mend those broken spaces.

 

I don’t know what your “Disney World” sized hurt is today. But I do know the one that can heal it. I had long ago surrendered that hurt to Him, never expecting Him to take care of it in such a powerful way. But what I know is true for me is also true for you.

 

He’s a good, good, Father.

 

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called

children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1a NIV

 

As we enter into a season of celebrating love, let’s not forget the only love that can satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts, even the ones we have already surrendered.

 

Be Blessed,

 

Rachael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond Imagination

 

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I felt a chill in the air as I looked outside our picture window, into the cold, gray sky.  It was drizzling rain.  Such a disappointment, since the day before, had been close to 70 and sunny.  It was only February, but the unseasonably warm weather that week had spoiled us a bit.  Turning off the heat, opening the windows, and hearing the peepers seemed to trick our minds into thinking it was spring.  February in Northwestern PA typically had us buried under several feet of snow.  Realizing this, I adjusted my attitude towards the rain, thinking how grateful I was that I didn’t have to shovel.

As I was helping my daughters work on homework, I noticed a distinct patch of grass in our backyard was surprisingly bright green.  Looking up into the clouds, thankful for the peek of sunshine, my eyes met something that created in me a sense of girlhood wonder.  There was a bright, double rainbow, clear and brilliant.  As I called my children over, I realized why it seemed so unusually beautiful to me.  In addition to the typical rainbow colors, ROY G. BIV, as we had learned in grade school, there were three or four more colors past the purple shade.  A brilliant pink, a vivid yellow, and a piercing aqua blue.  It seemed as there were actually a couple more colors in there, but I don’t even know what to call them.  They were not shades I have ever seen before.  “The impossible colors!” my daughter yelled out,  “It’s the colors from heaven!”  We had been talking about heaven in the last couple of weeks since both of my grandparents had passed away suddenly.  We talked about how excited we would be to see them again one day, and imagining what their new home looked like.  My grandparents raised me like their own daughter, so for me, the heavy weight of grief was somehow relieved as I imagined them walking on streets of gold with beautiful rainbows in the sky.  My middle daughter, Adelyne, is a young artist, and her favorite thing in the world is to blend colors in paint.  She and I had long talks about what colors would be in heaven, and how we couldn’t even imagine something we have never seen or made with her paints here on earth.

Here they were, those colors we had just been imagining, right in front of our very eyes.  In addition to that, we realized that there was suddenly a second rainbow above the first one.  Something was off though.  It was brilliant and beautiful, and upside down.  UPSIDE DOWN!  On top of a rainbow with brilliant new colors, there was an upside-down rainbow!  I had never seen anything before like it in my entire life!  My girls and I stood there, speechless, watching the sky….. and then as simply and quickly as it came, it left.

There’s so much more to me than you can even imagine.

I heard the whisper.  “Lord!”  I prayed.  “Thank you for showing me that!”  More than once, at other times in my life, God had used a rainbow to encourage me.  But this time, it felt different.  This time, it was if God was preparing my heart to seek Him in a new way.  With a fresh heart and a fresh view, I realized that God has so much in store for us.  Even things we think are impossible.

 

 

I originally wrote a similar version of this post for my editor, Warner Press.  Feel free to check that one out at: https://www.warnerpress.org/blog/post/impossible-colors

 

Who is YOUR Stable Anchor?

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There were so many things I was struggling with that I fell into bed exhausted. One of my daughters had broken her foot. One of my other daughters was sick with the stomach flu. I myself had strep throat, an ear infection, and a conflict with a friend. It was a bad day. The chaos made me grateful for my bed. Yet I found myself wide awake.

“See that one right there? That bright one? I made that one for you,” I heard God whisper so loudly into my spirit. It was a little after 3AM and I was sitting on the couch, sleepless. I was staring into the night sky, marveling at God’s handiwork. The darkness of the late hour allowed me to observe stars that normally weren’t visible in my neck of the woods. The one that God showed me, twinkling brighter than the others caught my eye again. As the blurriness of my tired eyes cleared, I realized that this star was the middle star of Orion’s belt. Wondering to myself, I picked up my Bible. I didn’t remember anything about Orion from scripture, but I thought I better check anyway. Much to my surprise, there were some words from Job about this constellation that God showed me that night.

 
“Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades?
Can you loosen Orion’s belt?
Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons
or lead out the Bear with its cubs?
Do you know the laws of the heavens?
Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?
Job 38:31-33

In this scripture, Job is questioning God. Job had also had a bad day. His attitude, although much more justified in his current afflictions than I was, certainly seemed to shadow what was in my own heart.

Responding, God asks Job if he can loosen Orion’s belt. As I thought about that question, I looked at the belt and the stars that it was made of. A couple things that I learned:

The star that was shining so brightly for me in the dark night was the middle star of Orion’s belt, named Anilam. Anilam is a blue-white supergiant, 1000 light-years from earth. This middle star was different than it’s cousins, Mintaka on the left, and Altnitak on the right. The middle star is what is referred to as the anchor star. It’s the stable anchor in the constellation that we refer to as Orion’s belt. As I realized this, it made sense to me that God would ask Job this question, in response to Job’s questioning heart.

In those moments of chaos, that you don’t understand, that you are grappling with, the Father responds with, I am your stable anchor”.

In the second part of the verse that describes Orion, God refers to loosening the bands of Orion’s belt. This didn’t make much sense to me until I learned a little more about each of the individual stars. And actually, they are not three stars, but two stars and a star cluster. The three stars are not bound together gravitationally. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. The stars are all headed in opposite directions. There will be a day that Orion’s belt is no longer bound to his body. Just like God told Job.

As I prayed about this amazing connection between Orion and Job, the Father pressed me to consider what it meant for me. Those moments of chaos were temporary. Not only did God have the power to loosen the belt of Orion, but He also had the power to hold it all together. As I struggled all day to keep myself together, I realized that I had forgotten to even pray through the chaos that was burdening me. I am so thankful for the love of a Father that pursues us, despite our rebellion. When you find yourself in those moments of chaos that life throws at you, don’t forget to go to your stable anchor.

You are so loved.

Rachael

Dwell Secure

 

 

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  “but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.”  Proverbs 1:33, ESV

 

Have you ever had a moment in your life where you were paralyzed by fear? I have.  I was sitting in front of the post office, trying to will myself to move.  In my lap were 50 letters, stamped and ready to go, yet I couldn’t quite make myself place them in the mailbox.  My daughter, not accustomed to seeing me respond this way, quickly piped up.  “Mom, just place the letters in the mailbox.  You won’t get trampled by an elephant!”  Her voice shook me back to reality and I quickly prayed a desperate prayer.  “Help, Lord.”  As I placed the letters where they needed to be, I felt my hands shaking.  These were no ordinary letters.  No, these were support letters, describing a calling I felt to travel to Africa for an upcoming missions trip.  Essentially, sending out those support letters represented my obedience to committing to traveling on a trip I never imagined myself making.  I reasoned, in that parking lot, that if I sent out the letters, I would receive some donations.  And if I received donations, I would have to go.  And if I went, I was going to either be eaten by a lion, trampled by an elephant, or captured by natives.

Those fears, as absurd as they are, were not the ones keeping me up at night.  What kept me up at night was the fear that I would get all the way there……… and fail.  This fear of failure is really what had paralyzed me.  What could I possibly say to children on the other side of the world?  How could I communicate with them, when I didn’t even speak their language?  I looked different, I acted differently, and at that stage in my life, I had no experience working with children living in poverty.  Surely, there was someone better qualified to go on this trip.  Yet, God had put in my spirit the knowledge that He wanted me to go.  I was used to God telling me to do things.  Most of the time, they weren’t things that scared me.  They might make me a little nervous or uncomfortable, but up until this point, God had never told me to do something that terrified me.  But this time, God kept pushing my heart in such a way that I could think of little else.

As I faced that mailbox, my fear didn’t leave.  But, there is a very important piece that started me on a journey to becoming confident as I faced my fear.  I was obedient.  Despite my fear, I did what God was telling me to do.  Since that time in my life, I have learned what it means to be obedient to God, in all things.  Regardless of what things look like in the physical, I have learned that God sees in the spiritual.

As we put this in the context of ministry, I think it is so important to consider a few things.  We all can have moments in our lives where we are paralyzed with fear.  Maybe it’s a new outreach event or ministry that we sense is needed.  Maybe it’s disagreeing with someone in our church.  Maybe it’s firing a volunteer.  Or maybe, its something as simple as trying a new curriculum or object lesson.  As I talk to Children’s Pastors across the country, fear of failure seems to loom in the back of too many minds.  I often get asked how to deal with this fear, and I believe the answer is found in the book of Proverbs.

Proverbs is a book about wisdom. Initially, you may not think there is a natural connection between fear and wisdom.  But stay with me for a minute.  Wisdom is not the same as knowledge.  Yes, as we acquire knowledge, we do tend to become wiser.  But Biblical wisdom is actually about obedience.  As we learn who God is, through our obedience, through our relationship, through His faithfulness, we start to gain confidence in Him.  As we pursue Him, something radical starts to happen within our hearts.  Fear of the Lord starts to replace the fear of the world.  In the first chapter of Proverbs, we are introduced to what almost seems like the motto for the book:  “The fear of the Lord.”  The Hebrew word here for fear can be translated also to mean great wonder or awe.  Have you ever stood in awe of anything?  For me, on that very missions trip,  I stood in awe as I looked out over the Great Rift Valley.  It was the most beautiful thing I had ever laid my eyes on, and I couldn’t tear myself away from it.  I found myself leaning in, over the peeling white railing, drawn into this miraculous and breathtaking view.  That awe is similar to what I think of when I hear the words “fear of the Lord.”  Not so much the shrinking back in fear, but more of the leaning in feeling of awe.  When you know the Lord, really KNOW him, He draws you in.  You can’t look away, you can only stare and lean in because you want to experience more of Him.  When you find that place in your relationship with God, the place that comes from knowing and loving Him, the obedience part becomes second nature.  You almost don’t even think about it, you just arrive in this place where you wholeheartedly trust Him because you are confident in Him.  I have learned over time that there is no safer place to be than right where God wants you.  I suspect it may be the same for you once you lean in, in awe of the one who made you.

What is “the fear of failure?”  What does that question mean to you?  Realize, that your response will determine your reach.  What I mean by that is simple.  If you allow fear to keep you from doing what God is calling you to do, then your reach will stay within the sphere of influence you currently have.  However if your response is one of obedience, using wisdom, confidence in the one that calls, despite your fear, then I believe that God will use you in ways you can’t even imagine.

Fear.  Nervousness.  Anxiety.  We can get ourselves so worked up.  God’s word speaks directly to this fear.  In Proverbs 1:33, it says

but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster. ESV

The word dwell, in the original text, is yiskon, meaning “settle down.”  The original word for secure is betach, meaning confidence.  The literal translation of dwell secure is that we will settle down in confidence.  How do we settle down in confidence?  Look at the beginning of that verse.

Whoever listens to me

 

There is a connection between what we do and how we feel.  If we are obedient to whatever it is that God is calling us to do, we will settle down into the confidence that can only come from our relationship with him.

                                          Your response determines your reach. 

On that trip that I mentioned, God did some incredible things.  I walked with families living in a garbage dump, teaching them about the hope we have in Jesus.  I prayed with a deaf and mute man and watched, almost dumbfounded as God healed him right in front of my eyes.  I helped lead the son of a local witch doctor to faith in Christ.  I saw a young boy, who had been injured severely by an ax to the head, left in a remote area to die, respond as I prayed for him.  Within two days his body was restored.  We were able to purchase freedom for so many innocent children and mothers from prison, sent for fines of a few dollars.  I had the amazing privilege of leading several thousand children to Christ.  We were able to rescue women off the street, from the human trafficking circles that are too common in impoverished nations.  Miracle after miracle, I witnessed the desperate need for the gospel in the area of the world that God sent me to.  If I had not gone, if I had allowed my fear of failure to keep me where I was, God could not have used me to do what he did on that trip.   Could God have done it without me?  Of course, he could. More than that, He couldn’t have done in me what needed to be done.

Before I left, I specifically went to several people and asked them to pray for God to show me how my ministry in Africa could impact my ministry in the States.  However, when I was deep in the trenches with hurting people, I was not thinking of home.  We were in a section of the country that had children who spoke several different tribal languages, most of which I did not understand.  There was a little girl, named Sonya, who started following me early in the day.  She was a believer, and she spoke all the languages the children were speaking.  Naturally, she became my interpreter for the day.  As we were nearing the heat of the afternoon, I hiked back to our bus to reapply sunscreen and get some water.  We had been told earlier in the day not to allow the children to see us drinking water, or to give any out.  However, when I got back off the bus, I realized Sonya had been standing close enough to see through the dark tinted windows.  “Mam.  Might I trouble you for a bit of your wata?”  My heart sank.  I was exhausted and thirsty, and I knew she had to be as well.  I took her to the rear of the bus, and let her finish the rest of my half-empty bottle of water.  I hid her behind me so no one would see.  As she savored every last drop, I could see a physical change in her demeanor.  “It has been four days since I have had any wata.”  Again, my heart sank.  As I looked around at, quite literally, the hundreds of children we were surrounded with, I realized that they also had not had any water.  They were living in an area that was in a deep draught.  As this realization sunk into my mind, the Holy Spirit whispered something into my heart that I will never forget.

 

            And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my            disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” 

            Matthew 10:42 NIV

 

As the tears welled up in my eyes, for the first time in my life I truly understood what those words meant.  Then the answer to my prayer back in America came.

 

This.  This is what I want you to do in the states.  Love them.  Meet their needs.  Teach them about me, the living water. 

 

That moment impacted my ministry here in the US in a foundational way.  It became the bedrock on which I built our ministry to the lost and broken children, outside the four walls of our church.  In the moments that I feel this pressure to succeed, and the fear of failure starts to creep in, I think about what would have happened if I had let that fear keep me from going on that missions trip.  That trip birthed in me something that God continues to use to meet the needs of kids not only in my community but in countless communities across the nation.

In the past seven years, I have seen countless times where God has used me, despite my fear, because of my obedience.  As we struggle against our own insecurities, I would challenge you to replace your fears with confidence.

 

It is my prayer is that you develop the kind of relationship with God that allows you to dwell secure. 

 

 

 

Things to Consider:

 

  1. What times in your life have you been paralyzed with fear?  If you haven’t been paralyzed, have there been things in your life that you have not done because you were afraid?  How would your life, your ministry, be different if you started listening to God, no matter what?
  2. What is an area of your life that you are not currently being obedient in? How can you start, today, moving towards obedience in that area?
  3. Take some time to pray through these areas of obedience and fear. Ask God to help you to “dwell secure.”