Sunday, September 18, 2016

Women in Need: Am I Bridging the Gap in the Church?

This week I am doing a book study with my bible study group of mother's. Once a term I bring to them a chapter of a good book I have read, we read it, go through some questions and discuss the challenges and encouragement the author poses. The book I have chosen this term is By Design: God's Distinctive Calling for Women by Susan Hunt, a book that encourages women to thrive as the helpers that God has made us to be.

The chapter I have picked for us to read through is a challenge to women to be helpers and advocates for women in, and out of, the Church. Susan Hunt describes how God has given women enormous ministry opportunities within the church. She points out how male leadership sometimes fail women {and most of the time, unintentionally} because of the differences between men and women. These differences are beautiful and necessary, but there can still be a divide. This is where women step in and bridge the gap for the other women in crisis. Part of our helper design isn't just to be helpers to our husbands or our male ministers/pastors, but to other women, who need us to help others hear their story and be understood.

This book was very challenging, but especially this chapter {hence why I'm choosing it for our book study!}. Immediately, I am looking at myself and asking, "Am I a woman who can come alongside another woman? Am I growing as a helper/defender for other women? Am I bridging the gap for women in need to our male leadership who want to shepherd well, but sometimes don't know how?" 

And, I feel like the most difficult question to ask myself is, am I a woman whom other women feel they can approach when in desperate need?

This question squares me in the face. I cannot turn away from it. If I am a true lover of Jesus, then I am a true lover of His people. It must be my bent then, to be a woman that other women feel like they can come to - no matter the crisis. Susan explains,
"In this chapter I want to talk about the least recognisable of the wounded - those sitting in the pews next to us. Women who have been raped, battered, abandoned, or abused, or who have caused their own pain by having an abortion, an affair, a struggle with lesbianism, or involvement of a cult, usually think that church is the most unsafe place for them to share their hurt because they think their scars are unacceptable among such 'respectable' people."
Do we really know the women in our church? Is that single woman who has been attending church for a year able to share with you her past of a broken home, abuse, and wayward behaviour? Is the wife and mother, with a kind husband and great kids, able to be vulnerable with you about her struggles with pornography? 
"'Last night at church I invited a single mother to go out for dessert. As we sat and talked, she told me that she has an adult child 'out there somewhere,' and that she has had two abortions since then. And all this happened since she has been a Christian. Her tears were dripping on the table, and I know she carries around incredible guilt. I told her what you said about church being a safe place to come and share our struggles. She admitted that she doesn't feel safe at church. She thinks people would reject if they really knew her.'"
...If they really knew her. Oh, my heart breaks for women who feel that way.

If there is one place on earth that we can be truly known for who we are and accepted as we are, it ought to be the Church. The whole point of us being together is because we all desperately need saving and not one of us are exempt from that. But somewhere along the line we seem to become - or appear to be - "respectable" people that would be too shocked to care, to understand, to be safe. 

But as Susan says,
"If the Church is going to act redemptively, we must be honest about who we are - not respectable people but redeemed people, not flawless people but forgiven people."
Some crises are really blunt. The longer we are joined with Christ the purer and less worldly we become, and so some of the acts of this world can be confronting and scary. We feel overwhelmed about how to help or what to say. But that is okay. The point is if are we authentic enough nthat, even if such crises are not familiar to us, our own need for Jesus enables us to be open so that women in need feel safe, welcomed and addressed with grace and truth.

God has been just taking the surgical scalpel to my heart as I have bee reading and re-reading this chapter in preparation for our study. He's been revealing pride, "respectability", fear of daunting sins... But He has also been cultivating in me a heart and a passion for creating women in the Church who are willing and able to be safe places for other women in need. It is a movement we desperately need in our world today. And, as always with movements, it starts with one person - you.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Hope for When We Fail in Our Vision for Motherhood.

This is the third part of my small series on having a vision for motherhood. You can read the first part here, and the second part here.

Fellow visionary mothers: no matter how amazing our God-given vision is for our children, and no matter how much we believe in it, we are going to fail to live up to it. Let us accept that, not beat ourselves with guilt over it, and move on to the only thing that can cover us and our motherhood and our mistakes with grace: God.
"All that God requires from any of us is a desire to serve him and a trust that he can make up the difference for the things we lack." ~ Sally Clarkson, The Mission of Motherhood
As a Christian mother, this is what God asks of us: having a heart for Him and His ways, and a trust that, as we seek to obey Him in our callings and the vision He has given us as mothers, that He will cover us with grace. God loves our children more than we do. He has got our back. He will redeem what we fall in.

Protecting my children from the feelings I felt as a child with over-committed and distracted parents is a strong aspect of my vision for our children. I believe this strong belief in being a whole-hearted mother is God-given. He is redeeming in me {and, therefore, my children} the lack in my parents. He is covering me with the grace He extended to my parents and, He did this for me at the time when I felt their lack {by giving me friend's mothers who mothered me in the way I needed}. 

But, because of my fallen nature, I still will lack as a mother. I have, and will continue to, make mistakes. Some mistakes will be willful, and many others will be ignorant. There is a part of me that fills up with pure panic when I think of that. There is no way I want my little ones to feel as I have had. And, God-willing, they won't. Yet, no matter how determined I am - and no matter how godly, or biblical, or passionate my vision is for them - I am going to let them down. 

When I don't turn to God when I am filled with fear over hurting my children, that panic can go into hyperdrive and, by reacting to those emotions, I can over-parent. I can put more pressure on them, and myself, because I am trying to make up for what I lack as a mother. This, by default, will harm my children. I must accept that.

But, when I turn to God when I am filled with fear over hurting my children, my heart can be stilled to peace because I know He has them. I can let go of that control I want to grasp hold of and never let go. I can be free to be imperfect. I can trust, on my worst days, that God will cover the gaps of my motherhood. He will use those gaps for His glory in their lives.
"The Lord would have us know that he is the one ultimately in charge of our children. He will use our willingness and our efforts, then fill in the gaps of our inadequacies , to prepare in their hearts what he has in mind." ~ Sally Clarkson
So have hope, dear mother. Don't go into panic-mode if you've had a bad day and yelled at the kids and wanted to leave them outside the gate with a sign saying "Free to a good home". Don't reach for the control buttons. Bring your heart back and submit it unto the Lord. His yoke is easy, and He gently leads those who have young {Isaiah 40:11}. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Visionary Motherhood:: Truths To Hold Onto For The Long Haul

Tim's parents are our go-to people for anything life. They have been in ministry well over twenty years after being saved in their mid-thirties. They have been married for forty years, through thick and thin, have raised four strapping boys. They know gritty life, they know grace, they know the gospel. I love them fervently.

When we go and see them, as the kids run around crazy, I love sitting down and having a natter. My father-in-law and I often talk in-depth about current church issues or cultural crazies. Today was no different.

Somehow the topic got onto work and I mentioned that I am often asked when I'm going to go back to work. When I say no, I'm then asked if I will when the kids go to school. {I then have to explain that in all likelihood, they won't be going to school.} And I said to my father-in-law, "I feel so different."

We talked about the unseen pressure from culture, even in Christian culture, to do certain things. It's normal for a mother to go back to work when her child is still a baby. In a friend's ante-natal group, out of fifteen, only two mothers remain at home {age of children: twenty-one months}. And my father-in-law said to me, "As John MacArthur said to me once, 'Just because thousands of others are doing it, doesn't mean it's right'."

Firstly, um, my father-in-law has personal quotes from John MacArthur! That's the legacy God has knit me into {gosh, I am so thankful}.

Mostly though, it was what he said next:

"You're doing this [staying home and teaching the kids life at home] because you have a long-term vision. You're looking down the track and what needs to be done now, for then."

In my last post, I wrote about how important it is to have a vision for motherhood. Not only does having a vision keep us focused on the over-arching goal we have for our children's childhood and family life, but it also keeps us from getting trapped in the 'now' mentality of our world.

We don't become mothers and have only a few years with our kids before we send them to school and then return to our pre-mother lives. We have these people in our care for our whole lives - with different seasons requiring different levels of us and our devotion. And as Christians, our motherhood ought to look different to the world's view of raising children. 

Whatever arrangement our family takes - stay-at-home mother or working mother, homeschooling kids or public school kids - how we mother must look different. A big part of that is having a vision, a heart attitude, a mindset that directs our days, our actions, our dreams, our decisions.

For me, I have explained my vision before, but I'll quickly recap: 

As a mother, I desire to dedicate my life to my family whole-heartedly. I want to be an undivided wife and mother, spending my days pouring out myself for the sake of God, on the people He has given me. Specifically for our family, this means I stay home raising the kids and, most likely, we will homeschool our children. Our desire is to keep our children in the security of home for as long as we deem appropriate so that we can: lay the foundations for a faith built on a strong understanding of the gospel and God's Word; and to equip them with the ability to live in this world when they are ready.

I believe strongly in our duty as parents and the serious task bestowed on us. Mostly because our children are not really our own. They belong to God. And, just like a shepherd for his flock, it is our job to care and protect and "show them the way" {Proverbs}. 

How did I come to this vision?

It's been years in the making. Years of family sin, family brokenness, my own failures, redemption, growth in biblical understanding and the hope that a new generation can be different from the previous. I've done a lot of reading, lots of listening to faithful teachers, and lots of time soaking in the Scriptures.

During my time in the Word, over time, the Lord has gently - and sometimes strongly in times of need of direction - personally given Scriptures that have pressed upon my heart what I believe to be His desire for our family, for my motherhood. The Book of Proverbs has been a very fundamental foundation for my vision, and here are some specific verses:

"My son, keep your father's command and do not forsake your mother's teaching. Bind them always on your heart; fasten them around your neck. When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you. For this command is a lamp, this teaching is a light, and correction and instruction are the way to life." 6:20-23

"The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down." 14:1

"Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge." 14:26

"Discipline your children, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to their death." 19:18

"By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures." 24:3-4

"Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it." 22:6 

"Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm." 13:20 

And, finally, in Colossians:

"He {Christ} is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end, I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me." 1:28-29

I don't think these are promises for our family. I don't think God is saying, "Be this kind of parent and your children will be Christians/godly/obedient/loving". Rather, I believe that God is saying to me, "Here is my Truth about parenthood. Listen to My Voice and not the world's. You are called to mother these children, follow this way with them".

Recently, my two little ones - a preschooler and a toddler, sixteen-months-apart - have been so much fun hard work. There have been many trying moments and days where I have struggled to believe that this is all worth it. It would be so easy to throw in the towel and give them to someone else to raise. I have had many pity-parties feeling sorry for myself and bringing us all down.

But then, the Spirit nudges me. I open up His Word and I am gently and lovingly reminded why I am called to motherhood. I am a mother, therefore I am called to do it. It is my responsibility, and my joy, to do it. Through God's grace, I build our house with wisdom; I guide my children from being fools and companion of fools; I start our children on the way they should go. And I know this is what I have to do because the Bible tells me so.

"This job has been given to me to do. Therefore, it is a gift. Therefore, it is a privilige. Therefore, it is an offering I may make to God. Therefore, it is to be done gladly, it it is done for Him. Here, not somewhere else, I may learn God's way. In this job, not in some other, God looks for faithfulness."
 ~ Elisabeth Elliot

Having a vision, rooted in Scripture, helps me stay faithful in this job.

Having Scripture keeps me anchored in the Scriptural calling and duty of motherhood. 

It is an anchor. And the memory of the moment these verses came to my eyes and entered my heart, speaking to a question in my soul I had asked of God - that sweetness and personal moment with the Lord builds me up as I lose my footing.

Do you have any specific Scriptures that God has given you as a vision for motherhood?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Importance of Having a Vision for Motherhood.

"Where there is no vision the people will perish." Proverbs 29:18

This verse can often be taken out of context. The writer in Proverbs isn't exhorting the Israelites to  have their day-planners out and create a business plan, or a ten-year vision for their lives, or a bucket list to tick off before they die. He is describing what happens when a person has no spiritual contact with their Creator God and the revelation that comes to their spirits when they anchor themselves with His Word. 

One commentary describes, "We may then a little amplify the proverb for the sake of exposition: 'When there is no living revelation, no perceived contact between man and God, there the bonds which hold society together are relaxed and broken; but he that holds by the revelation that has been given, obeying the law, so far as it has been presented to him, happy is he.'"

Dear mother, are you in contact with your Father God? Have you received a living revelation from God for this great task He has given you to accomplish for Him? Simply,

Do you have a vision for motherhood?

God has been really good to me in that, through the pain of my parents separating and having a mother with a divided heart, God has redeemed those years of mourning into dancing. Within the broken heart of a teeanger, God gave me a vision for both marriage and motherhood. I committed to Him and myself that I would:

  • do both - no matter what happened - to my very best to His glory; 
  • that I would be whole-hearted, undivided in both; 
  • that I would offer my life for those He gave to me; 
  • that my husband would know I loved and respected him; 
  • that my children knew they were worth more to me than any personal ambition.

When I got married and then when I had children, I poured myself into His Word to equip myself with His wisdom and His heart for the family. I read books and books on what I learned was called "biblical womanhood". I listened to sermons and asked questions and wrote and prayed and longed.

I didn't want what the world offered: I had seen how it decieved my own family and how it never gives what it promises. I wanted God to create in our new family a new generation that would seek His ways above all else and would proclaim the Gospel in whatever place He put us in.

This is my vision for our family. But, oh, working towards it - and living it, in the day-to-day, is hard. Just incredibly hard.

Poo-explosions, squabbles, character training, washing clothes, making dinners, long work days, church commitments, study, tiredness, sleep deprivation, tight budgets, large properties to manage, unexpected bills, hormones, bad days - - -

You get it. Life is busy and complicated and mundane. Feelings go on merry-go-rounds and it's super easy to hop on for a ride. When we're up to our eyeballs in family living, it can be easy to lose sight of the end. We're floating on our life-vest of Jesus, but those waves sometimes block our view. It would be easy to slip off and sink under. Switch on the lazy parenting button, or allow our hearts and minds to be distracted and divided.

It's a battle. The daily chaos of what we see is really a veil to what we cannot see: the fight over the spiritual health of our family. Us evangelicals get a bit squirmy when talk leads into spiritual wars between Satan and his evil cronies. It sounds a bit, well, charismatic. But it's the truth. As my minister said on Sunday {August 14th} we're either under evil or we're under grace.

When we don't have a vision for this motherhood thing {and marriage}, and work towards it, our family's will perish. And not only our family, but eventually, our world. And that is totally what see today, isn't it? A world crumbling as families topple down, like dominoes.

"Biblical womanhood is at risk. That is bad enough, but if the secularists succeed in taking out Biblical womanhood, the family will go with it. The family as God designed it is dangerously rare today... When we rescue women, we rescue families. When we rescue families, we rescue culture." ~ Susan Hunt, By Design

But, visionary-mothers, we can - by God's mercy - turn the change of the tide. We can direct it back to the way God intended families to be: whole, strong, Jesus-loving, grace-giving, committed, caring, faithful. 

I would encourage you to really seek the Lord for His vision for your family. In prayer and in the Word, ask His Spirit to guide you. Ask for Scripture that is His personal revelation for you as the mother of your children and as the wife of your husband. Read good books that point to biblical womanhood and equip yourself for this very real spiritual battle going on. 

On days when it is just simply hard, we can grasp hold of those Scriptures to maintain the vision we have to do this thing well. We can stand firm and not be swayed or fall into temptation. And if we do? There is great, great mercy and grace and always second chances with our good God.

What is your vision for motherhood?

Monday, August 15, 2016

Prayer and the Providence of God

Recently, I have been reading through a commentary as I study the book of Ruth. If the commentary is reliable and faithful, using one as you read through a book or passage of the Bible is a really helpful, insightful and encouraging way to grow your understanding of God and His Word. 

In the first few verses of Ruth, we see Naomi - Ruth's mother-in-law - packing up after the death of her husband and two sons, from Moab, and heading back to Israel where the famine, that had been the reason for their leaving God's country, is over. 

Naomi, knowing her daughter's are now widows and not Israelites, begs them to stay in Moab and find new families. Naomi lifts up her voice and prays for her daughters, even though they have different gods. Naomi's faith, even in her grief and sorrow, is strong and a witness to Ruth. This witness - and the great theme of the book - is the incredible providence of God, that is, His ultimate care and rule over His creation, and His created, covenant people.

Here are some words from the commentary I am using, and may it encourage your soul and mind as it has mine.

"Prayer, as it were, is the flip side to the doctrine of providence. Prayer is the acknowledgement, not of the psychological benefit of some mythological exercise, but of the fact that we believe that God is there, God cares, God rules and God provides, and believe it in such a way that we are ready to do something on that basis, namely speak to him.

Providence reminds us of our creatureliness and dependence on God, and that together with all men, we stand under God's lordship; prayer is an activity by which we acknowledge that we cannot be our own lord.

Providence reminds is that everything is not ultimately absurd or meaningless; prayer is our way of expressing our 'yes' to the conviction that God is working his purposes out in nature, in men, in history.

Providence is a reminder that the Lord is a God of grace and generosity; prayer is our way of responding to his invitation to be a member of his covenant family, his son or daughter, his co-worker in this world. 

Providence reminds us that the living God is not an irresistable fate before whom we can only keep silent and passive; prayer is our response to God's invitation to share fellowship with him, an expression of our union with him.

[When we pray] God will rectify and amend our prayer in his answering of it. It is not as if our prayer is the certain and secure thing, and God's answer unsure and uncertain. It is the opposite. It is we who are challenged in prayer, not God.

By prayer, therefore, we both express our trust in God's providence, and discover how our own wills are to be more aligned with his sovereign and loving will for us. Our action in prayer is met by the transforming answer."

~ David Atkinson, The Message of Ruth {IVP Publishers}
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