Twenty Thirteen

woman sitting on edge of rock formation

Navigating the undefined relationship

It’s the agony and the ecstasy, isn’t it? An amazing godly man shows interest in you, and you want to know if this is “the one.” Like, now. Fear looms on the horizon and the emotional stakes are high. You want to do the right thing, you long to honor the Lord, but what does that look like in this undefined relationship? How do you risk the chance at love while guarding your heart from unnecessary anguish? I spent long years wrestling with this question, and it has been the subject of countless conversations with other single friends. We girls long for clarity, guarantees, and a fail-proof method for falling in love with the right guy at the right time. But the hard truth is—there are none. After many years of singleness, I realized I’d been given only one Guarantee in life, and his name is Jesus. The rest is not promised to me. While I was in the thick of this struggle as a single woman, I wrote a list of principles that helped me navigate these emotionally-charged, confusing, fearful places. 9 PRINCIPLES FOR NAVIGATING THE UNDEFINED RELATIONSHIP Pursue sincere love. “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” 1 Peter 1:22 Pray, pray, pray. Then pray some more! (1 Thessalonians 5:17) Pick someone else’s brain. Seek wisdom and input from wise, godly people in your life. Surround yourself with truth-tellers who love you and want what’s best for you. (Proverbs 15:22) Practice patience. Wait on God, not on a man. We will do this for the rest of our lives, as wives and mothers too, each day giving us another opportunity to set our hope on the Lord and wait for His timing and purposes in our lives. (Isaiah 64:4) Promise nothing outside of a relationship. Don’t give all of your precious time, energy, emotions, physical affections, and daydreams to a man who isn’t interested in you enough to pursue a relationship with you. If he’s not committing, you shouldn’t either. (Proverbs 4:23) Purpose that Christ will be your first love, whether you are single, dating, engaged, or married. No man can or ever will be God. Let man be man and God be God! (Isaiah 40:6-8,18) Provide a safe place. From your inward motivations to your clothes and body language, ask the Lord to make you a woman who is beautifully safe for a man to know and be around. Are you prodding him on sexually, or are you encouraging him in the Lord? (Ephesians 5:3) Preach truth to yourself. Don’t listen to your emotions; command them! Stay in the Word and do what it says. (Jeremiah 17:9; 1 John 3:20; James 1:22-25) Praise the Lord continually. He gives and He takes away. He is always good, and He knows what He’s doing. And He’s wise enough to not always give us what we think we’ll die without. (Romans 11:33-36) THE ULTIMATE GOAL Brick walls don’t risk relationships; people with hopes and feelings do. We all experience some form of brokenness and heartache on our way to the altar, but God’s wisdom can guard us from foolish and rash decisions. Moreover, a heart that is filled to the brim with Christ and His love, is a heart that will win the battle against idolatry and will find His beauty in the brokenness when it comes. On this side of marriage, I look back on some of my undefined relationships with guys, and I shake my head. Even with all my good intentions, prayers of surrender, and the principles above, I had to wade through the waters of confusion and heartache to realize just how desperately I needed Jesus in this area of my life. And somewhere along the way, I finally started living like marriage was not my ultimate goal. Christ was. In the end, when Eddie and I said “I do,” we realized that God had pulled off the impossible—and He alone would get the glory. Dear one waiting long on the Lord, singleness can sometimes feel like a series of steep, precarious steps along a precipice, can’t it? May God give you light and grace for one step at a time, and may you lean hard into Him as you tread these high places. God the Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the deer’s, He makes me tread on my high places.  Habakkuk 3:19

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When God calls you to step out in faith….

I’m an obsessive Thinker. I can get stuck in my own head for weeks at a time. But I’m also a textbook Feeler. I feel everything far too intensely. So when God is carving convictions into my soul, when His hand is at work preparing and impassioning me to do something uncomfortable and risky, or to love others at great cost, I tend to over-think and over-feel the whole process. What He is doing in power, for infinite good and glory, isn’t improved by me trying to work it all out in my head and heart. But I want to make sure I make the RIGHT decision. I want God’s very best. What if I misunderstood Him? What if this isn’t the right trajectory? What if I fail? What if I hurt or offend people I dearly love? It’s a little like watching a master carpenter build a beautiful house while the future resident keeps dropping by, anxious to see that every nail and board is placed just so. He loses sleep over the stucco and wonders whether the neighbors will mind the daring design. Have you been there? Have you wasted thoughts and feelings and energies on trying to improve designs God has already perfectly planned out? Psalm 127 is a familiar Bible passage, but its truths can seem elusive to me if I don’t press myself into them to believe them: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil, for He gives to His beloved sleep.” Yes, there is a time and a place for me to wrestle deeply with issues and questions and ramifications. But there is also a time when God says, “Colleen, be still and know that I am God.” Sometimes being still and believing is the hardest work I can do. Isn’t that crazy? I have to work so hard at quieting my heart before God and trusting Him. When He’s calling me to walk forward by faith to places I’ve never walked before, where neither past experiences nor present pragmatism can offer safety or guarantees, I need a ginormous view of God to hold me steady and press me forward. A prayer from The Valley of Vision cared for me so tangibly over the course of this past week: “Grant that I may never trust my heart, depend upon any past experiences, magnify any present resolutions, but be strong in the grace of Jesus.” Dear one, Christ understands how nerve-wracking obedient faith can be. (Remember the Garden of Gethsemane?) He is intimately acquainted with our weaknesses; He meets us with His compassion where we are tender, fearful, tired, or anxious. He stands ready with resurrection power to strengthen us for the task at hand. We don’t have to strive and stew over the plans He has for us (nor over what others think of those plans.) Rather, we learn to echo the psalmist’s words: “O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” May God grant us the grace to quiet ourselves before Him today, to hush our insatiable thoughts and feelings in His love. “The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.” In what area of your life is God calling you to walk by radical faith? What is one way you can quiet yourself and trust the Lord today? References: The Valley of Vision, ed. Arthur Bennett; Proverbs 3:5,6; 1 Peter 3:4; Psalm 131; 1 Thessalonians 5:24

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woman suffering from a stomach pain lying down on couch

Suffering is not a competitive sport

Years ago, God gave me a simple mental image that helped me persevere through long years of singleness. I pictured a treasure chest where my tears were stored and turned into eternal reward. By imagining each tear of anguish counting for eternity (see Psalm 126:5), I was able to push on to trust God through another day of deferred longings. These tears, I told myself, will count for something infinitely great… My sorrow in singleness was an invitation to find my treasure in Christ. It was valuable, not as an end, but as a means to usher me into a deeper love relationship with my Lord. Suffering, both then and now, reminds me that this life is not where my ultimate happiness and purpose are found. But sometimes I get things all backwards. It’s easy to start viewing my hardships as if they were my badge of honor, my validation, even my very identity. My temptation is to worship at the altar of my pain instead of offering it up as a sacrifice of praise to the Only One worthy of my worship. In fact, sometimes I want your validation and empathy more than “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). But when I exalt my hardships, I necessarily have to diminish the hardships of everyone else around me. I need your suffering to pale in comparison to mine. Haven’t we all done this, especially on our darkest days? For example, the 30-something single girl may look at the 20-something barren wife and think, “Well, at least she has a husband and has the potential to get pregnant! I’d be happy just to get a date!” Or the married mother of young children may look at the single girl and think, “Look at her carefree life! What I wouldn’t give to dress up cute, meet friends for coffee, and sleep-in once in awhile!” Suffering can lead to a hard heart that looks bitterly at everyone else’s better, easier life… or it can soften our hearts and give us great compassion for others’ sufferings, no matter how they compare to ours. This is the heart of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “The God of all comfort…comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” No one else will suffer quite like you do, or I do, but that’s beside the point. God’s comfort is for those who are in any affliction. For me to compare my sorrows against yours robs me of doing the very thing I was made for: “God has so composed the body. . .that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” 1 Corinthians 12:24-26 Our mutual suffering, although very different in shape and size, is designed to bind us together, not divide us. It’s not that we should avoid talking about our hardships with each other; it’s that we should talk about them in light of who God is and what He has done for us (Philippians 3:8; 2 Corinthians 11). This builds up the Body, all of whose members experience trials. I don’t want to make much of my sorrow; I want to make much of my God in sorrow. Long years of singleness, my ongoing struggle with depression and panic attacks, and debilitating health issues (both my own and my son’s) have given me more opportunities to minister to others and boast in Christ than all of my successes and talents combined. Even my fight for sexual purity as a single woman opened up surprising doors for me to talk about Jesus with believers and unbelievers alike. Suffering really is not the point. God is. Through our sorrows He invites us into deeper fellowship with Himself. He takes our tears and turns them into eternal joy as we come to know and love Him more and then comfort those who are suffering around us. As Joylane Bartron wrote, “Suffering is not a competitive sport.” Let’s stop comparing our plights with each other and exalting our hardships. Instead, let’s run together into the God of all comfort who promises, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” Isaiah 43:2-3 This article also appears at Kindred Grace.

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Thoughts on marriage (just 3 years in)

Eddie and I will be married three years next month. We’re still newbies, wet behind the ears. But more than one friend of mine has walked away from her marriage before her own third anniversary. What began as bliss ended in broken hearts and bitterness. Marriage was one big disappointment. It was all that the cynics and naysayers had said, and more. Or was it? A dear one’s recent divorce has me anguishing over these questions all over again: What did we girls expect? What did we think marriage would look like? Do we have any idea what true love really is? Eddie and I have had one wild ride since we said “I do” on August 28, 2010. We’ve navigated deaths of loved ones, unemployment, multiple moves, financial pressures, chronic pain and illness, new parenthood, our own shortcomings and failures, and the list goes on. Needless to say, in three years’ time, life has already begun testing the fiber of our commitment. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been indescribably good. In fact, marriage is far more beautiful than I expected because it is largely not what I expected. This picture of Christ and His bride, this marriage between sinners, is not ultimately for my comfort and happiness. It is to show Jesus to the world around me (and to my son, whose ideas of marriage are being shaped even now at two years old). Eddie and I are part of something bigger than “us” and our marriage. By loving and serving one another, by keeping covenant, we’re living the gospel in a world that desperately needs Good News. I’m beginning to understand that the most beautifully aged marriages are the ones that faced the roughest seas and fought by God’s grace and power to stay anchored together. They didn’t stay married because they were “compatible” with each other; they didn’t even stay married because they were in love. They stayed married because they knew God had put them together for a great purpose and He would hold them together to the end. And that’s what makes this so good. Marriage is a work of Almighty God for the glory of God. I love being married. I am stunned by the tenacious love, fierce forgiveness, and power of God that our beautiful covenant requires. I’m humbled by the brokenness and baggage my husband and I have brought into our marriage, and I’m spellbound by the grace and love we experience as we walk with each other through those frailties. I’ve never in my life experienced God’s love and grace like I have with Eddie. Like I can talk. We’re only three years into this adventure, remember? But God’s Word is true, no matter how long I’ve been married. So in a culture of mass marital hysteria, even young marriages like mine have the opportunity to demonstrate the gospel and showcase Christ-like covenant love to a broken world that has absolutely no idea what love is. Christ-like covenant love says, “God created this beautiful thing called marriage, so till death do us part, God is going to hold us together.” The best things in life are worth fighting for. Singleness taught me that. Waiting on God for a godly marriage meant learning to deny my fiery emotional and sexual desires till I was 34 years old. At times it felt like too great a cost. But God’s name was at stake, and He was doing an eternally significant work in my heart and in the hearts of many others. I continue to see fruit today from the labor of those long years. Now my marriage is the great work at hand, and at times it is costly, but only because so much glory is at stake. Our culture is hostile toward God’s idea of marriage, but the gospel thrives in adversity; it is resilient under attack. Your marriage, dear one, is the gospel in living color, so guard it, rejoice in it, fight for it. By God’s grace, by His immeasurable power at work in you, He will hold your marriage together and paint a picture of Love Himself. “The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24

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person holding baby s hand

When motherhood comes late

[When I wrote this over three years ago, I knew of only one other “older mom” of younger kids. I was in uncharted waters. Since then, I’ve met many more women in this same boat. If you’re feeling at all “late” or “laughable,” I hope this will encourage you….] September 2013 From four years old on, I dreamed of nothing less than growing up to marry and have kids. But the fact is, I got started late—at least according to my preconceived ideas and biological clock. And due to some ongoing health issues, I’m not able to bear more children. But God gave me a son. After years of wondering whether I’d ever get to be a mom, I experienced the glory and pain of pregnancy, and then in one miraculous moment, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy whose name means, Appointed by God. Exalted by God. It was as if someone handed me the sun, moon, and stars when they lifted Jeremy from my womb and into my arms. I was forever changed. To be sure, though, it’s different starting a family at age 35. Friends my age have multiple kids much older than my two-year-old. I’m knee-deep in diapers, ABC’s, and 5:00-AM wake-up calls, while they’re navigating karate lessons, homework, and the early teen years. I’ll admit, sometimes I even feel a little dumb. I walk into a mom’s group as a 37-year-old with one toddler, and the 28-year-old next to me has twin babies strapped to her chest, a 3-year-old tugging at her pants, and a 5-year-old dancing circles around her. When moms exchange stories and advice, I keep silent. What could I possibly contribute to the experts’ conversation? I’m light years behind, and I know it. Even simple math can intimidate me: when Jeremy is 15 years old, I’ll be 50. When he’s 25, I’ll be 60. That’s weird. Or maybe it’s just weird because I’m looking around me to define normal. It’s weird because I spent over two decades of my life dreaming of an entirely different reality. And it’s weird because I’m shortsighted and I forget to “set my mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” I’ve been entrusted with the care and nurture of an eternal soul, so my work as a mother must be eternally minded. God wanted me to be Jeremy’s mother, and He wants the story He’s written in my life to be part of Jeremy’s spiritual heritage. My long wait for marriage and motherhood is integral to His good plan for my son. In the end, my motherhood won’t be evaluated by my age, number of children, or how I compared to others. It will be evaluated by my faith in God, by what I did with what He gave me. That looks so different for each of us, doesn’t it? The more I’ve rubbed shoulders with a diversity of women, the more I’ve come to realize that regardless of age, stage, or number of children, most moms feel like I do: a bit of a misfit, trusting God through unique challenges, and sometimes feeling isolated by the nonstop needs of parenting. It’s in our human nature to think that no one else could ever understand our particular set of circumstances or the unseen pressures we navigate each day. But what makes us unique can also bind us together. I can learn from the mom twelve years my junior. I need the input of my wise single friends. I seek practical advice from the older woman who raised an only child. I listen intently to the dear friend who mothers a special needs child—and to the one who grieves her ongoing infertility. And at the end of the day, it’s just me and my husband on our knees before God, seeking His heart for our little man, asking for the wisdom He promises to give us. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Centuries ago, God took a husband and wife whose bodies “were as good as dead” and gave them a son. It was an impossible, laughable set of circumstances—so much so that the old husband and wife named their newborn “Isaac,” which means he laughs. When that miracle son had a son himself, and that son gave birth to more sons, and they in turn became “many and mighty,” God said to them: Listen to me…. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, that I might bless him and multiply him. For the Lord comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song. I wasn’t old like Sarah when I gave birth to my son, but I still have pangs of grief over what could have been (those three or four older kids I would have had by now). Yet I feel the weight of God’s glory in this altered reality. Motherhood isn’t an arrival—it’s another way I get to worship God. The God who knows best. The God who gathers me up in His arms and gently whispers, “I am never late. I am never wrong.” Scriptures referenced: Colossians 3:2; Genesis 21; Romans 4:16-25; Exodus 1:1-8; Isaiah 51:1-3 Photo credit: Karen Race McCutcheon Photography. Lorelei Conover Photography.

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Parenting by faith {not formula}

Before my son was born, I had enough parenting ideals to create my own currency. I remember saying things like, “We’re not going to work our lives around our children; they’re going to work around us,” and “I will never let my child do that.” Some ideals have served me well because they are biblical principles; but many others have been fueled by both pride and fear. Pride and fear rob me of faith and make me crave methodologies and formulas. Oh, how badly I want step-by-step instructions for how to produce a godly, strong, mature man: What kind of education will ensure my son reaches academic, social, and spiritual maturity? What should I be teaching him at this age? Is he getting all of the nutrients he needs in his diet? What can I do to guarantee he becomes a great lover of God? While parenting methods and manuals can be helpful (especially for new moms like me), when I put my trust in them, when I start preaching their virtues to other parents, I just may be nurturing little idols in my heart. On the one hand, I don’t need to be ashamed of feeding my son organic, gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free food due to his health issues. On the other hand, do I take pride in it? Do I feel superior to moms who don’t have to work so hard to feed their kids? Is my value wrapped up in my healthy cooking so that I’m highly offended when someone takes a jab at “organic moms”? Dear one, I want to learn this deep down to the marrow of my soul: I want to walk by faith, not by formula. But faith looks (and sometimes feels) pretty darn foolish. It demands that I live with mystery and messiness and shades of gray, when in fact I would feel oh-so-much better if I could have money-back guarantees and one-size-fits-all answers. It would help if I could measure myself against other moms to see how I’m progressing. But faith doesn’t need a tape measure; it demands that I fix my eyes on Jesus and “dip my foot into the waters” before they part. Because isn’t it true that motherhood dabbles in the miraculous? I mean, think of what parenting requires: my husband and I are called to protect our son, provide for him, train him up in the way he should go, and teach him about God as we “sit, walk, lie down, and get up.” In many ways, we lay down our lives to make sure he gets the very best we can give him—everything from food and shelter to a deep and abiding knowledge of God. There’s nothing nonchalant or blase about what we do. But while we endeavor to give Jeremy our best, we also rest in God’s infinitely greater plans, protection, provision, revelation, and sovereign will for his life. Do you know how impossible it is for me to simultaneously work hard and rest? But faith walks into the impossible and says, “I can’t, but God can.” When my eyes are on Jesus, I can walk the fine line between working ambitiously for Jeremy’s good and still surrendering to a God who knows what is eternally best for Jeremy. I am called to work hard as a mom, but I’m also called to keep a quiet heart and not fear. So as I cook complicated meals around Jeremy’s allergies, teach him colors and numbers and ABC’s, memorize Scripture with him, and pray mighty prayers over him, I also relinquish my right to control his life and expect certain results. Maybe he’ll hate kale and sweet potatoes someday; maybe he’ll be mediocre academically; maybe his journey to know and love God will be long and painful. That stuff is not my responsibility. I get to plant and water alongside my husband, “but God gives the growth.” If Jeremy grows into a godly man, it will be God graciously using us, his parents, despite our many flaws and failures, to accomplish HIS purposes by HIS power for HIS glory. It won’t be because we chose a certain type of schooling, went to a certain church, held to a certain theology, or vigilantly observed family worship time. Yes, those are an integral part of our great responsibility as parents, and we discern those things through prayer and with a sober awareness of our high calling. But ultimately my parenting must flow from the Fountain of Life. When I take time to drink in my Abba’s words and worship Him in His greatness, I am changed. When I spend more time on my knees than I do listening to others’ advice, my motherhood is compelled by faith, not complicated by formulas. My fearful heart is quieted, my ravenous pride starved. And my very flawed motherhood becomes this beautiful and holy offering to the One who delighted to make me a mother in the first place. Dear one, where have you trusted in manmade methodologies instead of seeking the heart of God? Scriptures referenced: Hebrews 11:6, Hebrews 12:2, Joshua 3, Proverbs 22:6, Deuteronomy 6:7, Proverbs 31, 1 Peter 3:4, 1 Corinthians 3:7, Psalm 36:9, 1 Timothy 1:5-7

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