In which I introduce you to loneliness’ friends, and how I get them to leave

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Loneliness always brings along a few friends. I would know. The first time I remember encountering Loneliness  I was 20. I had left my home in the Dominican Republic to go to university in the US.  Those first months were especially hard: I didn’t live on campus but a 20 minute drive away. I couldn’t easily stay for events as I always depended on rides to get back home.

3 years went by and another side of me grew and developed that my family and friends in the DR didn’t quite know. So I actually experienced loneliness back in the DR when I returned and my Dominican friends didn’t understand my cross-cultural experience in college.

More lonely years come to mind: my single years up until I was married at 28. Marriage came (yay!) but so did leaving my family and church in the DR when I married my American husband and relocated permanently to the US (not yay).

Then began the slow process of making new friends in the US. Once those friends were comfortable and close, it was – you guessed it- time to move again; this time to the Middle East. 10 months later, we moved again to another city. And more recently, we moved again to a whole new country.

Phew… yes, loneliness is an old friend at this point.

And I want to introduce you to a few of its friends which I have met over the years.

Meet Envy. She makes me look at other’s lives and wish I had the community they seem to enjoy. She tells me to think of my sister who’s lived in the same city her whole life and is raising her children with the children of our childhood friends. Or our military friends who also move around a lot but have found rich community to quickly plug into. Or the online friend who moved cross-country for gospel purposes and has friends who can fly in to visit her for the weekend when she is lonely.

Seconds after Envy arrives, Self-Pity comes breathlessly behindAround her company, I start thinking that my life is harder than most of my friends. I feel forgotten.

“Everyone seems to have their own lives and not remember us over here.”

“No one sees the need to come and visit us.”

“Where.is.the.CHOCOLATE?”

And then Critical Spirit shows up. He reminds me my husband is my only close friend in town so he needs to be all things to me: my mom, sister, kindred spirit, the friend who always just GETS it. When he isn’t all those things, or doesn’t have the great ideas that I want him to come up with, I grow dissatisfied in him. He is not enough.

Critical Spirit is there too, to hurt the few friendships I actually have. I zero in on the ways these friends are not meeting my needs, or how they are not what I want them to be in a lonely season.

Loneliness has other friends too: Laziness, Pride, Discontent. They invite me to spend a lot of time on social media, to only talk about myself when I am with people or connect with them over Skype, and to miss the actual hand of God providing for everything I need.

When loneliness’ friends come and have a chat, I offer them a shocking gift that surprises them and makes them leave: the life of Jesus in me through His Spirit. Christ lived his earthly life lonely yet without sin. When He was homesick, misunderstood, and forsaken by his closest friends, He stayed away from sin by turning to His Father (Luke 22:42-44). His Father was enough.

The Spirit of that same Jesus lives in me. His Father is My Father (John 20:17). When I live the life that Jesus lived by faith, I find my Father to be sufficient. By faith, I have Christ’s strength to rejoice always, be patient in affliction, and outdo others in showing them honor (Galatians 2:20; Romans 12:12).

If Christ is mine and truly in me, I have his ability to be lonely and not give in to sin. I have his self control to keep me from eating half a pan of brownies. His creativity is in me to know how to love others who are different than me in meaningful ways. He fills my mouth with questions to care for the person in front of me. His power is mine to lay my life down and serve sacrificially when I feel empty. His joy in the Father fills my heart with praise in seasons of lack.

And friend, if you are in Christ, this is true of you. You have Christ’s life  in you to live and love supernaturally in lonely times. Take hold by faith of what is already yours. Believe your old jealous, critical, proud and discontent self truly died. The only you that exists in Christ is the new self that looks like Him (Eph. 4: 24). This is our hope.

Loneliness might be an old friend but Christ is an older, better one still. He shows us the home we have in the Father, how our Dad is always for us in Christ, and tells us that through Him we have been welcomed into the life of God (Ephesians 4:18). This means, that in our day to day, we actually get to do life with the Trinity. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit not only are a community but have made us part of it!!!

Christ has shared with us absolutely everything that is His and made it ours: His holiness, His Father, His inheritance (Eph. 1). So sisters – let’s live in light of this unseen, true reality that defines everything about the seen sorrows of this present time.

After all, loneliness won’t have the last word. Glory will.

Which of loneliness’ friends have you met? How do you get them to leave?

Loving our Kids Through Transition

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“Mom, I really miss my friends.” We’d moved to the Middle East a few months before, and my oldest – then 3. 8 years old – was really struggling with leaving our old life behind.

Her downcast look made my heart sink.

“Oh sweetheart, I know. I miss my friends so much too…” I wanted her to know she wasn’t alone. But I also wanted to guide her heart to the One who comforts us. So I asked,

“What do we do when we miss our friends?”

She looked at me and said, “We cry.”

“Yes… we can definitely cry… then what else? What else can we do?”

“We can eat ice cream!”

I burst out laughing as I hugged her tight. Why yes! ice cream helps. How did you know, sweet girl?

Eventually we finally got to “we can also pray…” And we did.

Walking with our kids through transition and homesickness has been very difficult for this mama’s heart. At the beginning especially, I used to carry the weight of the fact that they had not chosen this life and yet were having to live with the consequences. Even though my oldest was so young when we first moved, she really struggled with leaving our community in the States, especially that first year. It came up over and over again. All she wanted was to go back to the States. She couldn’t understand why we’d left.

We had three big moves in 3 years. Helping our kids through transition has been one of our most important jobs living overseas.

Here are a few things we have done over the past four years:

We celebrate the things we love about our new country or new city. What foods do we like? What are some of our favorite places? What do we love about the apartment/neighborhood we live in? Giving thanks for all those things has been very helpful to start turning all our hearts toward the place God is planting us in.

We created a simple book with pictures of our new life in the Middle East that we could show to our friends in the US when we went back for the summer. It was very simple: I printed a bunch of pictures, my oldest and I worked together taping them on construction paper. Then I asked a friend to laminate it for us. It was a way to help our oldest daughter internalize where our life was. It also made it easy for her to share her new home with others.

We’ve made timelines over and over again to help our kids understand the process of our moves. We’ve had home assignments in between our last two moves, with a lot of traveling involved. We’ve tried to help the kids wrap their minds around where all we are going to be and what all has to happen before we finally land in our new home.

We’ve listened to them, cried with them and prayed with them as they process all the things. This last move was especially hard for our middle daughter. She kept saying all summer she didn’t want to move to this country but wanted to go back to the one we lived before. We were (mostly) patient to let the Lord work in her. We held her and also gently made sure she knew we were not going back.

We’ve done “goodbye” tours of our home to help them have closure. They need to know they can grieve with us over losing their homes, their favorite toys (that are too big to take), and especially their friends.

We ask our kids the “high” and “low” of each day as a way to create a safe space for them to talk about the good and the hard of their new life.

Keeping traditions from our home culture has been really important and stabilizing for our girls. With so much transition, some traditions have been hard to keep. But I have tried to keep them, even if just in a small way. For example, Halloween last year happened shortly after we landed here. I had no bandwidth to host a fall party like the year before. But my husband and I got candy, shut ourselves in a bedroom each and had the girls dress up and knock on our bedroom doors to trick or treat. Then while the girls “visited” one of the bedrooms, one of us ran to another room so that they could “visit” 4 different rooms in the house and get candy. The girls LOVED it as simple as that was.

I have tried to keep some constancy in our home décor. We’ve had to sell most of our stuff when we’ve moved, but I kept some of our Christmas ornaments, sentimental wall art and pictures. The delight on their face discovering those things, after months being packed up, has been priceless.

We’ve prioritized exploring and making memories in our new country – even when it is a lot of work. It helps our kids to connect this place with the feeling of joy, togetherness and even at home. Last winter, we went away for a weekend to the Red Sea. We had a flat tire, cockroaches in our Airbnb, and difficulty with our rental car company. I had to wash all the dishes and silverware because they were dirty and our beds… well, they weren’t clean either. It felt at times that the waves of culture shock followed us there and we didn’t have much reprieve. But it was well worth it to hear our girls’ joy in being in warmer weather, in being by the ocean, and especially in being together.

While it’s true our kids haven’t chosen this life, God chose it for them, not us. He is the best home our families have as we go through the chaos of transition. Let’s keep him as our refuge. None that did, was ever ashamed.

 

As a parent, how have you helped guide your children through transition?

 

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

On Women and Preaching, a guest post

Thankful to be hosting my husband, Ethan Merck, on here today.
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In the discussion about women preaching from the front on Sunday – the current surge of concerned discussion – I want to acknowledge that many women I know have been hurt and disadvantaged by people applying principles in ways that go beyond Scripture.

The wrong is real. The hurt is real. The seasons of recovery under God’s love and grace needed are real. Many churches have a lot of changing, experimenting, and apologizing/repenting to do in regard to women using their gifts to bless the body…

There is a place for dealing gently with those in a pendulum swing and wrestling through the key passages again. This also applies to more isolated and younger churches anywhere in the world who are working through these things for the first time.

But let us also be clear about something, that nothing about the nature of God’s Word has changed. We may need to revisit passages and allow what they say to fundamentally reshape our understanding and practice. But God’s Word is still what it always has been: flawless, timeless, consistent and complete words from the mouth of God delivered through Spirit controlled human instruments.

Discussions I’ve seen on whether women preaching up front is a matter of conscience or a matter of sin generally point in the right direction. But in my opinion, the way people are talking often misses the key issues.

We have to push to the side testimonies of our own experience and blessing – whether for or against. These just aren’t the issue. Similarly, general calls to stop repressing women, or general calls to obey the Bible are also unhelpful in stimulating productive dialogue. They are likely to be heard only by those who already agree with us.

The heart of the matter is what the Bible is in its very nature, and principles for how we interpret it (hermeneutics.)

The Bible’s own starting place for itself is that it is *all* the Word of God (2 Tim 3:16-17, 2 Pet 1:19-21). That has implications. One of those implications is that the Bible alone is qualified to interpret itself, far and away before we speculate meaning from another basis.

We must look at what is said directly and clearly, and start from there. Wherever we end up, it must fit within what is said directly and clearly. Introducing a view that undercuts clear New Testament teaching, or tries to “protect” a passage from contradicting what is seen elsewhere in the Bible? That is a clear sign of a problem in me, not in the text.

The Bible doesn’t *contain* God’s Word, it is God’s Word (2 Tim 3:16-17). All of it, in every part, in every way. If we start trying to defend the Bible from itself, and think it falls on us to use our cultural instincts to discern what is from God and what is only Paul’s personal opinion – I am afraid we have joined Thomas Jefferson’s Bible-redacting club. The same is true of forcing passages through a test of historical beliefs imported from our community of faith.

If we start down that road, with scissors either physical, cultural or historical, after a little while we may find we have destroyed the only foundation we have.

So let’s make sure our discussions give God’s Word its proper place, and that our aim is to swim always and only within its richness. Let’s discuss women’s roles in Jesus’ church from that place, laying aside any mantles of self-righteously assumed roles – whether as defenders of historical beliefs or defenders of oppressed women. The God whose Word we hold is worthy of our humility before Him. “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

 

On Friendship

I loved Autumn Kern’s & Lauren Washer’s thoughts recently on doing life in community, with friends who are walking with you and know the real you, not the one online. If you haven’t read those posts, go find them. Beautiful and true.
But what if you are like me, starting all over finding community? What if you are grieving the loss of your last precious community? What if church life looks very different than it did before? No small groups or Bible studies in place? What if people around you speak a language you can only speak very brokenly? What if most of the people you know are moving away soon?
I cried yesterday listening to the last Out of the Ordinary podcast episode on Friendship Hacks (so so good – give it a listen!!). The topic of friendship & community is so raw for me these days. It is full of grief & longing; perplexity & questions. This new season is so counterintuitive for us because we have never crossed the bridge of language with a family before.
I offer you what I am learning in this new season:
  • Grieve with Christ. As often as you need to, go to Him with your heart in pieces and full of longing.
  • Pray. Ask for friends. Ask the Lord that out of the friendship He has with you, you would be a friend to others. Receive His grace to welcome others before others welcome you.
  • Initiate, initiate, initiate. Send a text, invite someone over, invite yourself over, bake cupcakes – take them to your neighbor. Ask how you can pray. Make a meal for a family. Invite someone to pray together. Invite friends to the movies with you and your kids. Don’t get discouraged if none of them can make it.
  • Be patient. It might take time before the seeds of friendship bloom…but just because you can’t see it, it doesn’t mean they are not growing.
  • Expect God to surprise you. An older sister – and not a peer – might end up becoming a close friend. A friend that speaks another language than yours might be a sweet companion and sister in the Lord. Over time, that friendship will grow stronger as your language grows. At least, it’s what I am praying for.😉
  • Be transparent with others. Share what God is teaching you.
I am sowing seeds of community, fiercely hoping in the Triune God who is a community and who creates community. I am praying against the cynicism that seems near – the one that thinks this isolation is how it will always be. That knowing and be known just won’t happen here.
I look at Christ’s relentlessness in pursuing His friends, even when they fell asleep, and left Him in his hardest moment. He wasn’t ruled by cynicism. His hope for them in God was firm. He loved them till the end.
He gave His life to create true, lasting community. His blood has welcomed me to the community of the Trinity.
And because His blood also binds me to my brothers and sisters, maybe what Lisa Jo Baker said is not too good to be true: “Some of our best friends are here. We just don’t know it yet.”
But we will never find out if we give up loving others and welcoming them as Christ has welcomed us.

Suffering Hidden

Well, hello, blog old friend! Except for two recent blog posts recently, it’s been a long time since I last wrote here, and I have missed you!

The last two years were a blur for me. 2017 and 2018 felt like one long year with lots of changes and transitions. In 2017 I was pregnant with Wes- our youngest- had lots and lots of morning sickness, was part of a team that planted a church, completed a language intensive, Wes was born, and Maia started school. In 2018 we said goodbye to the UAE, were in transition, started a very restricted healing diet, moved to another country and went through major culture shock. Both years were one difficult marathon.

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We experienced everything from my crazy hormones and a chronic debilitating infection in my husband to post partum darkness for me & autoimmune symptoms for both of us. There wasn’t much reprieve between our stressful time of transition in the US and our move to this country. We did all that with three kids in tow, including a baby who only slept maaaybe 5 full nights his whole first year of life.

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We are still in this season of resettling. During this time I’ve also found myself cooking for 3 different diets for health reasons. I’ve been spending 4-6 hours in the kitchen making 6-9 meals every day. It’s been brutal.

Sometimes people look back on a time of suffering and talk about how sweet it was and how they knew God so much better through it. If I’m honest, sweet is not how I would describe these past years. There was a lot of joy at different times. God met me in His word and fed my hope time and time again. But these have been hard years with many days barely making it from one day to the next.

I have wrestled with Christ. There have been all kinds of tears: tears of exhaustion, of anger, of perplexity. I have at times resisted the mighty hand of God that causes sleepless nights, illness, and all kinds of stress because I have been afraid it will break me. Having little reprieve in unrelenting stress with increasing demands has been fuel for lots of temptation. I have been especially tempted to doubt God’s goodness and care for me, and to put my hope in something other than God, namely, REST.

How do I process a very difficult, long season? Especially when my faith has been tested and I have a hard time seeing if I have really grown in trust? Do I give in to serious introspection? Do I despair over the many times I gave in to unbelief? Do I find comfort in the times I did trust? How do I move on with confidence to a different season of resettling and language learning while still experiencing some of the same suffering and temptations to unbelief?

In some ways I don’t think it really matters whether I see clearly what all God has been doing, and whether I can clearly measure growth in knowing God. What gives me confidence is what Christ did when He bound His life to mine (Rom. 8: 9). He, the Uncreated One, came to live inside me through His spirit. He also hid me inside himself forever (Col. 3: 3). Nothing can change this.

I am inside Christ. Everything that the Lord has brought to my life and that He will bring in the future, I can only experience safely in Him. I wrote earlier that I have feared at times that all this stress would be the end of me. But that can never be. Nothing can destroy me.

I am hidden in Him in an irreversible way. God is for me in Christ. Safe in Him, what can man [or sleeplessness, unrelenting stress, exhaustion, or depression] do to me?” (Psalm 56: 8). Moreover, in Christ the only thing they can do is serve Him His purpose to do me good. God never wastes anything so whether or not I can see what He has been accomplishing in my life, I take heart: He will effectively fulfill His design in conforming me to His Son (Rom. 8: 29).

This gives me hope when I think I am stuck in unbelief and fear. It changes how I pray from, “Father, please change me” to “Father, I know you are changing me. I am so thankful you’re not stuck in making me like Jesus.”

Christ is inside me. I don’t need to be overly preoccupied with my faith, because “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2: 20). I live by faith in His faith, not mine. Because He is faithful and true, I have seen Christ’s faith in His Father ultimately ruling my heart, enabling me to submit to His word, and praising Him when I don’t understand what He is doing or why. Christ’s holiness in me has been enabling me to confess when I trust my judgement more than His. In a shocking gift of grace, God is living His life through me in Jesus Christ (Eph. 4: 18). That is the only way to overcome the unbelief in my heart that Christ already overcame at the cross.

The life of Jesus in me is revealed through suffering. This diet, this culture shock, this broken body of mine are how God will manifest the life of Jesus in my mortal flesh. This moves me to embrace this season. To thank Him for it, even. I will only know His endurance, His trust, His courage, and His joy as I see Him living them out in me by faith. His life is the life I want, the only life that enables me not to lose heart (2 Cor. 4).

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Why My Kids Are God’s Grace In This Season

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Have you ever gone through a pretty significant transition as a family and found yourself thinking, “Man! Doing this with kids is HARD?” Yeah? Well, it has actually never crossed my mind. I love every minute of going through transition with our kids. Like when I come home dead tired after getting lost in a city I don’t know while running errands in a language we are still learning, only to find kids that need discipline. Or when I want to retreat in the downswing of culture shock to process all the change, but my kids are needing me to process their own emotions as they, too, go through change. Yah, it’s super sweet. 😉

No, but really. Going through change with young kids, especially cross culturally, IS hard. The constant demands of caring for them paired with culture shock makes for a great deal of stress. We have done this whole gig without kids and it’s another story entirely (though admittedly, with it’s own set of hard).

And yet, moving with kids has been God’s grace to us. Here are a few ways I see the blessing they are to us in this season:

  1. When you transition with family, you bring your own little home with you. Even when your new house doesn’t feel like home, and you still don’t have “safe” friends that you can be yourself with, you have your husband and children with you – the people that know & love you best.
  2. Children help you live life in community. They introduce you to new friends through their friends at school or in the neighborhood. Having kids forces you out of isolation – their need to burn energy takes you to the park; their need for friends helps you remember you need friends too; and, their cuteness breaks down walls & ice with neighbors.
  3. You get to experience the new city or country twice – through your eyes and theirs.
  4. Having kids pushes you to keep doing hard things necessary to create a life in your new community when maybe you’d take a break. For example, my girls really enjoy going to church.  Even though I love worshipping God with His people, sometimes going to church is hard work for me in this season, because of significant language barrier. There have been times I am tempted to stay home. Knowing how much they want to be there is a sweet encouragement to me. The discipline of showing up Sunday after Sunday to a worship service in a foreign language is yielding fruits in my heart. There is a knowing & being known happening that in turn deepens love for God’s people in this place. This gives Him glory. I will write more about this soon.
  5. God uses my kids to build up my faith. He uses their endurance to grow my own. Their courage in the face of hard things is life- giving to me. Christ really knows what he is doing with them.
  6. Having little people’s needs to care for ahead of my own is God’s mercy to me. Their vulnerability and neediness drives me to the end of myself very quickly. When life gets hard, and I want to seek strength by myself, Christ draws me to Himself as the one who alone is my strength.
  7. Finally, kids – they keep you laughing. And man, the Lord knows how much we have needed laughter in the middle of all the crazy.

Christ’s faith in us gives us eyes to see God really is kind in all his ways. His wisdom planned this transition & language learning season with kids. It is challenging and yet also His good gift. I look forward to getting more perspective into all He is doing in us during this time. And yet the trustworthiness of God assures me of this: goodness & mercy will follow us as a family every single day of our lives.

I’d love to hear from you. What are some ways you see God’s gift to you in your kids during challenging times?

(A) Typical Woman – Book Review

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Have you ever thought, “I’m not a typical woman?” I have. I remember many years ago, not “getting” what was so great about being a woman. Somehow my idea of womanhood was tied to doing things with my hands like baking and crafts. But I didn’t think I was good at those things. I was more drawn to “heady” things (nerdy things you might say) like theology and philosophy. I thought men’s conversations were “typically” more stimulating.

The Lord was very gracious to me and through a process that involved the gospel, faithful mentoring, and rich redemptive-historical theology, I embraced God’s design for womanhood. I didn’t embrace womanhood as a gospel, as the good news. But the more I fell in love with Christ and His gospel, I was glad the Lord had made me a woman. His purpose for womanhood was to tell the world something about Himself that men alone could’t do. I was a woman by Him and for Him.

Over the years, the Lord has continued to sharpen my theology on womanhood. More recently, Abigail Dodd’s book, (A)Typical Woman was helpful in that process.  I appreciate many things about it but what sets this book apart is Abigail’s emphasis on the fact that Christian women are women who are one with Christ. She fleshes out the significance of this reality and its implications for every woman. This is a message that the Church sorely needs. We need to know what it means and why it matters that we are women who have truly died and are entirely new in Christ Jesus. 

The book has three sections:

Women Through and Through – In Christ

Women in All We do – In Christ

Fearless and Free Women – In Christ

In these sections she talks about different aspects of womanhood as married, singles, moms, working and disciplers. She digs into what it means we are embodied women and wholly women. Those chapters were beautifully written and moved me deeply. She also explains what she means by (a)typical women… I won’t tell you what it is, though. I’ll let you find out for yourself. 🙂

You may have read many books on Christian womanhood but I think this book will still challenge you. It will spark rich conversation that our churches need. Chapters are relatively short and each chapter ends with discussion questions. Maybe you can grab a friend or two use and use those discussion questions to explore the topics found there.

While this book is a very comprehensive view on womanhood, it is not exhaustive. I wish Abigail had had space to develop some ideas more fully.  She doesn’t engage too much with possible positions or interpretations of passages that differ from her perspective. She is gracefully bold and in some ways counter cultural (maybe even within the church). I am thankful for her faith.

Friend, I think you will sense that these words were penned by a woman who delights deeply in Christ and it will make you long to know Him like she does. Her delight will overflow in making your own heart glad in Christ. It did for me. It led me to worship Him and to glory in who He is. It renewed my joy that I exist as a woman for Him. I praise you, infinite Christ, that I am in you and you in me. What a mystery…what a glorious hope!

There are so many quotes I wish I could share with you but I will leave you with this one:

“When we participate in Christ’s death, we die, every bit. It isn’t that the sinful part of us dies and the nonsinful part endures, so that on the other side we’re still us but with a makeover. There is no nonsinful part. And on the other side, having been raised with Christ, we aren’t still us. We are entirely new, entirely in Christ.”

Go get the book and read the whole thing! It will make you want to be an atypical woman for all the right reasons.