That One About Reintegration (We’re Together Again!)

It was 1:30 in the morning at the Waffle House just inside the car dealership parking lot off of McPherson Church Rd., and Jake and I were sipping black coffee and hot chocolate with whipped cream, respectively, at the bar while we waited for our All Star Breakfast and made small talk with the cooks behind the counter. We debriefed thoroughly and honestly.

This day had been the roughest out of the first four of Jake’s return, though neither of us had expected it to be. The morning had started out well. Jake went in for a short day at work, and I got up early(ish) to pray and spend solid time with God in the quiet of the morning. I spent time praying for Hannah and also for Khalida, and then also for Ashley and Anna. I’ve been challenged as of late by 1 Samuel 12 (yes, the whole chapter). The context of this chapter is of the nation of Israel demanding that God give them a king to rule over them, that they might be like all the other nations, and so Samuel is simultaneously giving them a benediction and a warning.

“Then Samuel said to the people, ‘Do not fear. You have done all this wickedness; yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. And do not turn aside; for then you would go after empty things which cannot profit or deliver, for they are nothing.” (v. 20-21) —This passage challenged me to pray for the preservation of the girls God desires me to invest in, love, be faithful to, and encourage as they walk with Jesus, which I don’t always pray for…It reminds me that He’s doing something in their lives, not me, and that I need to be praying His thoughts and plans for them, and not my own…

“‘Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you; but I will teach you the good and the right way. Only fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.'” (v. 23-25)—God has been convicting me about my lack of faithfulness to the people He’s clearly given me to commit to pray for, encourage, love, and challenge as they walk with Him, and also those who don’t walk with Him, and so He used this to remind me that “Out of sight, out of mind” cannot be the nature of my thoughts. I need to be deliberate about praying for those who are not always right in front of me, and those I don’t see every day.

These passages fueled my prayers this morning, and the time was sweet. When Jake came home from work, Hannah stopped by to pick up some things (since she and her husband Matthew had been living in our house during Jake’s absence, while I’d been living everywhere with everyone…oh, that was cool :)…anyway, there were still some of Hannah and Matthew’s things at the house) and talked to us for a while. It’s really cool that she lives so close to us now, when while we’d been growing up as friends, we’d lived just under two hours from each other, and then even further when I’d gone to Pratt in New York City.

After Hannah left, Jake and I headed out to run some errands. The first stop was to get an expedited passport for him (did I mention we’re heading to Paris in a couple of weeks….? 0.o) at the post office on post (hehe). Alas, an appointment was required for such a thing. So we instead went to the Commissary.

As we walked inside the Commissary, it suddenly dawned on me that it had been about nine months since I’d been led through the grocery store. I’d mostly gone grocery shopping by myself, and even when someone came with me, was the one in the lead…I was in control. And yet now, as my husband was walking through the aisles in ways that I did not, and I was following him instead of just being my own entity, my want for control reared up in my heart and mind and I suddenly thought very poorly of my husband. During this whole time, of course, I know that Jake is doing absolutely nothing wrong, and that my emotional response really has nothing to do with his actions. As he asked me questions about different products and which brand we should get, so on and so forth, I felt like I was in a haze, trying to fight my feelings by myself.

“Sir.”

Jake stopped asking questions and looked at me, fully focused.

“You should know that I’m really struggling with control right now, since it’s been a while since I’ve been led through a grocery trip. You’re not doing anything wrong, but just so you know, in case I say something weird or act strangely, I’m fighting the desire to criticize and try and control the situation.”

He grinned, told me that he loved me, thanked me for confessing the feeling, and we moved on. And I didn’t really struggle with control for the rest of the grocery trip. I’d forgotten that was part of how we communicated. We weren’t perfect in our communication, but we know that we’re too different to be lazy in how we communicate. A few people in our lives have mentioned that our method of communication is exhausting, and yet we feel like if we clearly communicate in the little things, then when the big things happen, we’ll be able to communicate well then too.

On our way back from the Commissary, we talked about some relationships in our lives, and as Jake specifically talked about a friend of his that he was struggling with seeing correctly and treating as Jesus treated others, I saw a deep struggle in him. So I got to practice listening and asking questions, and recognized a need for forgiveness in Jake…I’d seen the same need in myself before Jake had come home.

There’s this book called The Peacemaker, which is all about how to biblically handle different kinds of conflict in different life contexts. One of the major principles I got out of it (Jake and I read it before we got married) was this idea of forgiving minor offenses.

“The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression.” (Proverbs 19:11)

“He who covers a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates friends.” (Proverbs 17:9)

“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all life.” (Proverbs 10:12)

The author Ken Sande encourages the reader to evaluate what conflicts are actually worth bringing up with others. For example; Jake’s way of putting the toilet paper roll and the fact that it’s different than mine is just not worth bringing up. It would be more loving and more Christ-like of me and better for our relationship if I just changed the way I put the toilet paper roll to match Jake’s. Or, if I unintentionally communicate annoyance with Jake, and he feels like I’m annoyed with him but believes that my intention is that I’m trying to goof around with him (by which he feels very loved and appreciated), then he can within himself, just between him and God, forgive me for hurting him even though I didn’t intend to. Does that make sense? I had to do this before Jake came home from deployment, because I was experiencing this big, fat, feeling of resentment towards him, even though there was no big conflict between us and we’d already thoroughly dealt with any conflict or injury worth bringing up. So what was it? Well, I forgot that part of forgiving minor offenses is actually forgiving them. So I’d decided to not hold them against Jake and not bring them up with him, because they weren’t important in light of eternity, but didn’t take the next step of going to God with my hurt (however small) and asking Him to both heal me of the injury of this small offense, and to forgive Jake for unintentionally wounded me. I spent a solid hour writing out every minor offense I could think of that had built up over time, forgave Jake of all of them, and trusted God, and the resentment I felt was gone.

That being said, I shared this experience with Jake as we drove home from the Commissary, and shared my observations about how he was communicating about this friend and the resentment that he seemed to be struggling with. And I felt really excited and loving about getting to listen to him and ask him questions and help him think through something really difficult.

“Thank you for all of that,” Jake said as we pulled into the driveway to our house. He turned away, hesitated for a moment, and then turned back to me. “Moment of honesty: Could you not wait for me to open your door and let me just do that as a special thing for you?”

Back up. So, what Jake was talking about here is the gentleman’s habit of opening and closing the car door for a lady. The first time I ever experienced this was when I first became friends with Hannah and started hanging out with her family. I remember getting ready to go for a grocery trip (or the like) with Uncle Doug, and going to open my own door, and him half-jokingly saying “What are you doing!?” and walking over to where I was, opening my door, and helping me in. I was so shocked and had no idea what to do with myself. The idea, I believe, is similar to a gentleman’s habit of opening the door to a building for a lady: to communicate “I am deliberately serving you by placing your need to get inside this building/car before my own need.” I know it seems ridiculous in some ways and a bit complicated, but bear with me here. It’s cool.

Jake had at one point communicated that he really wanted to make that a habit with me, opening and closing my car door whenever we went places together. And so, as I considered his homecoming (a few weeks before this moment in the car) and thought about what I might struggle with as far as independence goes and general transitions of submitting to him in daily things, I thought it would be a good discipline to force myself to let him do that and honor his desire: I would not get out of the car or get into the car until he first opened the door.

As we’d been leaving the post office to go to the Commissary, I did this thing; I did not get into the car until Jake opened the door, and there were some weird interactions there that made me feel like he felt like I felt entitled to him opening the door for me, but I didn’t think much of it until this moment as we sat in the car and he described being frustrated and feeling taken advantage of by that expectation.

So, when he said this, I was really confused and kind of hurt (so much for forgiving the minor offenses). This request of his led to a battle in my mind against wanting to storm off and just not talk to him, or, if I did talk to him, do so passive aggressively in a way that made him know he hurt me (because that always works…not), as well as a battle between us of still communicating clearly and respectfully even though neither of us really knew what we were saying. Both of us felt a little rusty in this daily communication.

All the feels.

We walked inside, he started putting groceries away, and I fought with myself, trying to figure out what I’d done wrong. I went to him in the kitchen and started asking him questions.

“I can’t talk about this right now,” he said, holding a jar of sauerkraut.

Pause again. Over the deployment, Jake read this book titled For Men Only, and I had read its counterpart For Women Only. These books were about how the opposite gender seemed to think (“seemed” intending to communicate that men and women are insanely different and God created them to be really complex and not easy to figure out…AND within their genders, there’s different personalities and dispositions and ice-cream preferences and everything…so “seemed” is just what we think we understand based on general observation…the end). Well, in For Women Only, Shaunti Feldhahn communicated that men and women tend to handle conflict differently.

I remembered in this moment of Jake saying “I can’t talk about this right now,” that guys (forgive me and feel free to correct me, gentlemen readers, if your experience is different than what I’m describing) tend to need additional time to mull over things before speaking, whereas women (I think) need to talk through conflict and experience closure more immediately when things are tense. Men crave clarity. Women crave security.

To God be the glory though, as He calmed my heart and pulled me back into His arms even as I reached for Jake’s, reminding me that Jake was not saying “I can’t talk about this ever,” just right now, and he’d be able to talk about it more calmly and more thoroughly, answering all my questions, if I gave him time. It would be good thinking time for me as well. Shortly after, Jake communicated to me that he was grateful for my reading that book; he knew I knew what he was saying when he said “I can’t talk about this right now.” So I backed off, but not before Jake assured me that I’d done nothing wrong. He revealed that his frustration with opening my car door was really not about my communication of entitlement, but because he just selfishly didn’t feel like opening my door at that moment. He then confessed that the conversation about forgiveness had really convicted him, and so to back-handedly get back at me, he made the opening-the-car-door situation at the post office about something I’d done, when it wasn’t about me at all. Which then of course led me to realizing that I had stopped thanking Jake for opening the car door for me, and had not communicated my desire to be disciplined in expecting him to open the door.

More of all the feels.

“He who is devoid of wisdom despises his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his peace.” (Proverbs 11:12)

So, though it hurt and it was hard and felt like a bit of a mess, we made sure we each knew we loved each other, and agreed to talk more about it later. And the rest of the afternoon, leading up to Bible study at Anna’s house, was extremely pleasant, though hard won. Both of us were refreshed at Bible study, and it made it easier to see each other correctly again after being around a group of believers who were trying to do the same things we’d been fighting to do all day. After Bible study, a group of us went out to this little pub (this is only my second time ever in my entire life being in anything remotely like a bar) called Paul’s Place to support Chris Munson, a guitarist in Jake’s unit. While there, the conversations were good, darts were played, and Jake and I stayed talking ministry and theology until after midnight.

Leaving Paul’s Place, we drove around and talked. And talked. And talked. Then I really wanted waffles. And so we went to Waffle House. And behold! We’re back at the beginning.

As we ate waffles and drank our hot drinks and let the young morning grow old, I realized that day had been a straight up war for both of us. It’s not that we’d been persecuted or pressured by external things, but the mess was internal. The enemy pulled on our flesh and our pride, we gave into different distractions and got lazy in communicating, and we were still trying to figure each other out again after being separated for so long. And yet, as we drove back home, we felt like friends, like lovers, like allies…we were okay. And we were encouraged by the opportunity to grow in this together, to witness God’s faithfulness in piercing our hearts and sanctifying us through each other as we faced bigger things than what we were working through now, on what felt like a miniature scale, and showing us evermore how much grace we need, and how little we really deserve it. The end.

P.S. Since then, there continue to be many moments of debriefing, laughing, goofing around, crying, apologizing (especially on my part), and figuring things out. Also, Jake has given me full permission to talk about these conversations and has read and edited this particular post, and encouraged me to communicate what God is doing in, through, and around our marriage as we seek to let Him be the point of it all.

“Oh God, You are my God; early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and Your glory.” (Psalm 63:1-2)

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The One About Discipleship and Parenting…Sort of.

One of the things I realized about myself tonight is that, whenever in the future God gives me and Jake children, I will consistently expect our children, particularly our daughters, to act more maturely and be older than they actually are. I can all too easily picture myself getting angry with my eventual sixteen-year-old for not acting like a well-seasoned, spiritual giant of a forty-something, and then realize the horrible mistake I’ve made in confusing the desire to encourage someone to reach their full potential with the action of suffocating someone right out of the skin into which God designed them to grow.

How did I realize this, you might ask? One of the things I’ve been learning in my small group at Tuesday night Bible study is that discipleship often looks a lot like parenting, and parenting looks a lot like discipleship, hence why Jesus refers to the disciples as “little children/ones” (John 13:33) and Paul refers to Timothy as “my own son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2).

In my small group we just finished going through a book called Friends on the Journey: Encouraging and Equipping Women to Disciple Others, by Gigi Busa, Ruth Fobes, and Diane Manchester. At one point of the study (I won’t say which, since you might want to do it for yourself) these women talk about what it means to “leave a legacy” for the ladies you’re discipling, focusing on this idea of generations. You know how society is divided up into different generations, and how my generation is not my mom’s generation is not my grandma’s generation? Well, that’s a model for what spiritual generations could look like. If I pour into one girl who’s spiritually “younger” than I, and “parent” her (bear with me), she’ll “grow up” spiritually and “produce children”, or other Jesus disciples of her own. (I feel the need to “put” more “things” in “quotation marks”….Okay, I’m done now)

Based off 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12, there’s a question in this section of the study that asks, “Paul compared himself to a father and mother in the way he ministered to the new believers in Corinth. What are the implications of this illustration as you think of your own ministry to others?”

So I have a hard time with this, because parents have authority in the life of their children, but I don’t feel like I should have authority per se in the lives of Ashley, Anna, and Khalida…I feel like, if they let me, I should have influence because of the relationships I have with them, but I can’t wrap my mind around how I could have authority in their lives without appearing to be controlling in some way.

And yet, I’m thinking of the women who are discipling me, and while I know all of them are my friends, the most tender and vulnerable and heart changing moments I’ve had with them thus far are when they felt like a mom…And I’ve felt more loved by their speaking authoritatively into my life than just by being my friend. Does that make sense? I feel like I’m losing my mind. Maybe coffee…

But out of all these thoughts, I started wondering how far God intends the comparison between parenting and discipling to go. What does good parenting (and therefore good discipleship) look like? And as I started looking for ways that these overlapped in how I discipled and in how I am discipled by others, the comparison became much clearer. (more on that later…I’m still gathering thoughts.)

But then there’s the original observation I had (all the thoughts…).

Tonight made me consider some of my own weaknesses in discipleship and where I need to grow…And I realized, again, that I lovingly see the potential in everyone, and pray for the women that “my girls” will be, but I can sometimes discourage and wound them by getting frustrated when they don’t meet my expectations, namely those expectations of their being in a spiritual place that they’re just not.

A married couple who are presently missionaries in Kenya came to visit Ft. Bragg and Hannah got some nuggets of wisdom from them about parenting. One of these nuggets was, “How you teach your children to relate to you will affect how they relate to God.” So then, the thought is, if discipleship is like parenting, how am I teaching the ladies to whom I’m reaching out to relate to God by how they relate to me? And then the next thought is, if the way parents parent their kids is meant to reflect how God parents us as His children…Does God ever expect us to be more mature than we actually are, or act older than our age?

We might need to take a break here…One second, I’ll go get some coffee, you handle the mess of thoughts I just word-vomitted onto this computer screen, and we’ll come back together in five. Yeah?

So, *sits down with coffee and tries not to spill it, spills it, has to go get a paper towel…okay, back again* I just finished reading a book titled The Me I Want to Be: Becoming God’s Best Version of You written by John Ortberg (I know, it’s sounds like a self-help book written by Joel Olsteen, but bear with me here), and in it, Ortberg said:

“One of the most misquoted “verses” you will never find in the Bible is this one: ‘God            will never give me more than I can handle.” Huh? Are you kidding me? Where is                that one? Poverty, holocausts, genocide, war—people are given more than they can            handle all the time!

“The Bible does say that no temptation is given to people without a way out (1                      Corinthians 10:13), but that is about temptation, not adversity. The Bible does not                promise that you will only be given what you can handle. In fact, the one certainty            of your life is that you will die—and you definitely can’t handle that! You will never            be placed in a situation God can’t handle.” (parenthetical citations and emphasis                  mine)

What’s the point of bringing this up?

Okay, thoughts…

God does everything perfectly, right? So is there any capacity in which God can give us more than we’re actually able to handle wherever we are spiritually or even physically concerning our age and its hopefully corresponding maturity? Yes! God gives us things we can’t handle all the time!

But there’s a point, right. Parenting.

The thing with God and how He parents me is that He always gives me things I can’t handle, like becoming a wife, or eventually being a mom (no, I’m not pregnant), or even back when I went to New York City for school (back when…trying not to feel like that’s a long time ago). But because He, as my Father, is able to handle all of those things, I can work and grow through them. Imagine a two-year-old riding a pony. Her dad is always guiding the pony with one hand, with his other hand on his little one to keep her from falling. She can’t control the pony; she hasn’t learned yet. She can’t handle this situation left to her own devices, but she can go through riding it because she has the safety net of her father.

But I think for me, what I lose in my fallen state, even with the Holy Spirit and an eternally claimed soul and ever-transforming and growing heart and mind, is the ability to know what to do and when to do it…Can somebody say, wisdom?

I might think I know what hard thing a girl I’m discipling needs to go through, but when it comes right down to it, I can’t discern the matters of the heart, give her the challenge she needs, and effectively guide her through it without any messes, misunderstandings, frustrations, or hiccups on my part, and I don’t handle the “push back” (“Why are you making me go through this?” “I don’t want to do this.” “I know better than you and can do this by myself.”) perfectly like God does. As my Father, He handles my fits and temper tantrums with perfect everything, whether it’s patience or discipline, a greater challenge or a soothing comfort, whereas I just want to shake the person who’s pushing back silly and ask “Why don’t you get it?”

So, as I’ve already known, I need wisdom, and I have gained more of it lately, but “I don’t even know what I don’t know,” I feel like the more I learn and pray and read and whatnot, the more I realize just how ignorant and inexperienced I really am, which is both super exciting, but also slightly unsettling. Aside from needing wisdom, however, there will be some things I cannot and will never do perfectly, like testing a girl’s heart, because I am not designed to do that. That is God’s work.

Whew…Thank you, readers of the Internet, for bearing with me through my thoughts. Yes, so, I am not perfect (you’d think I’d just get it, right?), and I’m not this big bad spiritual giant that I thought I was…I need work and I need training and I need God to help me understand what to say and when to say it, and I need Him to spoon feed me a lot of things…And yet He is the perfect Father, who can handle everything, and is always leading the pony with a hand on my back, while I freak out as if I’m in control.

And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.” (1 John 3:19-20)

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The Darkness of the Desert

When I sat down at the two-chair table at Barnes & Noble, my heart simultaneously jumped and sank as I considered that it wouldn’t be too long before Jake would be sitting in the other chair, and we’d be doing our devotions and praying together again.

Why the sinking feeling, you may wonder? Because the deployment thus far has been, well, successful. Almost every one of my and Jake’s prayers have been answered. We’ve been sifted, sanctified, and surprised, and God has been faithful and secured us even more deeply in His grace toward us, and strengthened our understanding of the importance of our obedience to Him and the power of prayer…The lives of the people around us have been changed as we’ve been praying, our purity has been protected in a world that’s seeking to tear both of us down through lust and pornography (which is apparently, as I’ve talked with the couples around me and attended a purity conference back in November, one of the biggest struggles for Christian couples during deployment), and God has conquered anxiety and control in me every time its come up, whether through a challenge from someone else or through His Word and the conviction of His Spirit. Jake and I have been beaten and bruised spiritually, yes, and our relationship now has a few well-earned battle scars…Victory is clearly seen on the horizon, and our Commander has proven true once again…

But the deployment is not over yet.

My prayers as of late have been that these last weeks of the deployment would be the best ever, that God would blow our minds with how capable He is of moving in the hearts of the people we’ve been praying for over the last nine months, how sure He is in protecting us from the lies of the enemy, the distractions of the world, and the selfish desires of our own flesh, and how desirous He is of answering our prayers, confirming His Word, and kicking Satan in the teeth.

But it seems that big resistance comes with big prayers.

God has already answered these “big prayers’ by bringing several strong Christians out of the woodwork where Jake is, who’ve apparently been there during the entire deployment, but are just now rising up from a different Company to support him and be fellowship for him. Anna and Ashley, the two ladies with whom I’m meeting, are growing in their relationships with Jesus with such fervor, joy, and vulnerability, and I am growing in love for them, and these things more so now than for the entire deployment. But as these awesome things have been happening in us, through us, and around us, the enemy has been using lies of shame and temptations of selfishness to pit us against each other and taint the victory.

…I think that deployment while being married has been the most difficult thing I have ever done in my entire life. When I finally started following Christ when I was fourteen, I was in a very dark and shameful place out of which I never thought I would escape…That time of life seems well-lit compared to the spiritual cave darkness I’ve experienced while Jake has been gone, which sounds super dramatic, but seriously.

A MATTER OF SECURITY

I think one of the darkest lies of the enemy that I faced was the lie of loneliness. If you’ve ever read The Lord of the Rings, or even seen the movie, you’ll remember well when Eowyn of Rohan is mourning the death of her brother after her cousin, Eomer, has been exiled for war mongering. Grima Wormtongue comes in as she’s morning, and whispers lies into her heart and mind.

Eowyn: Leave me alone, you snake!

Wormtongue: Oh, but you are alone. Who knows what you have spoken to the darkness, alone, in the bitter watches of the night, when all your life seems to shrink, the walls of your bower closing in about you, a hutch to trammel some wild thing in? So fair, yet so cold like a morning of pale Spring still clinging to Winter’s chill.

These words spoken by Wormtongue are all too similar to the words the enemy has whispered to me as Jake’s been gone. “You are alone,” “Any struggles you have, you’ll have to fight on your own because no one can really help you, not even Jake.” Thankfully, God has been faithful in silencing those lies through His Word, His Spirit, and through the strong, godly women around me. On the other hand, I have realized just how much I relate to Eowyn of Rohan…

A MATTER OF WELL, YA KNOW…

Being totally transparent, an obvious lie that came up during this deployment is one of objectification. Why, as married women, do we struggle with this so much? Sexual intimacy is supposed to be this wonderfully uniting thing that God created for us to enjoy with one another (the entire book of Song of Solomon…) and to give us a way to produce little ones to train up to be Jesus Freaks (Genesis 1:26-27, 2:18-25), and yet husbands will struggle with objectifying their wives, and wives will struggle with feeling objectified.

*Sigh*

More than the lie of loneliness, this is a lie the enemy has used to make me feel rejected, isolated, worthless, and fearful of Jake’s homecoming. “You are nothing but a sexual object,” “This is the only reason you’re married to him,” “This is the only part about you he’s really missed; the rest of you doesn’t matter.” Clarification: Jake has been so faithful to me and has not even hinted once at objectification of me; he’s faithfully affirmed me as a person, as his best friend, lover, and battle buddy in this war of life. Oh, you guys…my husband is so amazing.

And yet I still struggle with this, and the enemy still uses it against me, even to the point that I’m struggling with being fully joyful and excited about Jake’s homecoming, and all the more as Jake and I see the gospel of Jesus taking root in the hearts of those around us, as we more deeply experience His grace, and as we fight to stay on mission and not clock out of the work He’s given us.

“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” (Galatians 6:9)

All of this would be way easier if I didn’t have all the feels about all the things…

You could say this is also “a matter of security,” because in theory, the more secure I become in Christ, the easier it will be to fight off these lies and see them not as fiery arrows (Ephesians 6:16), but rather as those foam swords you play with as an adult in the aisles of Wal Mart; they will become less pointed, and the enemy will have to come up with new ways to mess with me…Or maybe I’ll just struggle with these ones forever until I finally go Home…we shall see.

A MATTER OF CONFUSION

God has designed me in a way that I see everything (everything) in black and white. On every issue, there is absolute right and absolute wrong, and I very much desire to bring about what is right and just and true. But what I realized this deployment is that there are areas of grey, even in the Word, that I am not comfortable with…

Some of these areas include divorce, the line between what is honorable and dishonorable in the marriage bed, how and when and if God uses dreams to communicate to His people today, the role of the spiritual gift of prophecy as well as that of knowledge, the definition of appropriate worship, the place in Scripture (if there is one) for denominations, how I ought to see food as well as the consumption of alcohol, and so many more…And while this usually excites the snot out of me because, woohoo!, I get to research and pray and fast and figure out what God thinks about all of these things and discover what is actually true to Him, all of these initially (and some of them still) freaked me out, because I got confused.

“Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:6-7)

But without going into a ton of detail about that particular lie, the entire battle of the deployment has come down to two things: 1) The importance of security in Christ, 2) the reality of God’s grace toward the world, both Christians and non-Christians. Everything seems to work the way it’s supposed to when I actually get these two things…I can serve freely, speak wisely, and pray effectively. But when these are out of whack, I become as wounded and empty as Eowyn.

AND YET…

There is hope! This was a bit of a heavy post, but there’s an element of adventure and excitement that comes with a challenge, particularly a spiritual challenge. Jake and I prayed for this…we deliberately prayed for God to take us through really, really dark places so that we could learn to actually walk by His light together, keep our marriage defined by obedience to Him and showing grace and forgiveness toward each other, and to build up our spiritual resilience, as things in the world will only get worse, particularly for Christians. So things will only get more difficult, which is hard to think about…But it’s not like we’re set up to go through it all alone.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Woe to You, Dear One

Well, there’s no way to start off the New Year than with some good ol’ fashioned conviction…

I left Ft. Bragg a few weeks ago, and have been living in The Sticks for almost a month now. Before I left Ft. Bragg, however, Jesse (one of my mentors) and I met up one last time. During that conversation, we talked about my need for what I will refer to from this point on as a “wisdom valve.”

In 2 Peter 1:5-8, there’s a list of character “traits” that seems to progress in the life of a believer.

“…add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.” (v. 5b-7)

What I’ve noticed here is that as I’m gaining knowledge, the next thing I need to be gaining is self-control. But why self-control? Well, for people like me, it’s really easy to not know when to not know something…In other words, I need to have discernment and wisdom (or self-control) in how I use the knowledge I now have. If knowledge is a city water tower, then wisdom is a kitchen faucet.

Growing up (which is totally still happening…), I had trouble with being a serious know-it-all, as in, I was so blinded by my own desire to be right that I pretended to know things that I really didn’t, and it got me into trouble all the time. God has very graciously and gently shown me how much I just don’t know (there’s so much…), and is continuing to help me practice being humble about knowledge, and learn when to show knowledge and when to hold it back.

When I first arrived at Ft. Bragg, I was introduced to this novel idea of setting spiritual goals. Obviously, God is the one who brings about growth in, sanctifies, and transforms people. But He desires me to ask Him for things…So, why not ask Him to accomplish certain things in me that He’s already brought to my attention? Anyway, instead of New Year’s Resolutions, I wrote down three spiritual goals that I want to prayerfully accomplish during 2018. One of these goals is to acquire a wisdom valve.

This morning, day one of 2018, I was reading through Luke 11, and verses 46-52 hit me really, really hard…The context is after Jesus has chosen the twelve disciples, sent out the seventy (or seventy-two, depending on your translation), and taught the disciples the Lord’s Prayer. In this particular passage, Jesus goes on a bit of a rant of “Woe to yous”, first speaking to the Pharisees, then, in verses 46-52, speaking to the lawyers. These two, along with the Sadducees and a few other groups, are often grouped together as both the keepers and enforcers of the law, full of knowledge, but lacking in godly love. Jesus’ message in Luke is to a very specific group of people, but it felt very much like He was speaking specifically to me.

As I read through Jesus saying, “Woe to you, lawyers,” I realized that I tend to internally expect people to meet perfect standards that I’m both not doing myself and that are also not humanly possible, which lines up with “Woe to you…lawyers! For you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.”

So then, I was wondering if I’ve ever outwardly asked someone to do something spiritual that I hadn’t been doing myself, and I concluded, after some evaluation, that outwardly I’ve been okay about not doing that (I think), and making sure I’m doing things before challenging other people to do them, but it’s in my heart and mind that I judge and criticize people for not doing what I think they ought to be doing…which related to a passage directed to the Pharisees earlier in the chapter, when Jesus says, “‘Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness…” (v.39). And I know that Jesus’ explanation of the Law is that it’s the heart that matters, and so if I’m criticizing others in my heart, and judging them as if I am God, then it is just as if I am acting it out.

The final blow was this one:

“‘Woe to you, lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered.” (v.52).

So, this particular verse, within its context, seems to be referring to that “full of knowledge, without love” situation mentioned before. These men do not know Jesus, and they are not part of His family for this reason, even though they and the Pharisees stand firmly on the fact that Abraham is their father and therefore God is their Father. But Jesus says clearly that no one can come to the Father except through Him. So, these lawyers are not with the Father without first going through Jesus, and they have yet to go through Jesus. This verse seems to be about Jesus explaining, quite passionately, to the keepers of the law, that their knowledge keeps them from knowing anything, and prevents both them and others from fully entering into the presence of God and being a true part of His family.

Upon reading that, I thought about all of the times someone told me that they felt condescended upon by me, or judged by me, or put in a box by me because of whatever questions I asked or whatever knowledge I shared or believed that I had. And I wondered how many people had stumbled in their walks with Christ because of it. In other words, the knowledge I think is helpful can actually be detrimental to the growth of those around me.

And so I felt like, as I read this gospel, Jesus was saying “woe to you, Hunter…”

All of this shed a whole new light on why I need to acquire a wisdom valve and figure out what to do with knowledge, and it seems like God is already answering the desire to acquire that valve by showing me the reason for it in the first place. He knows that I do genuinely love learning and gaining knowledge, and one of my biggest focuses and desires is to actually know God and know what He means about things. But this gets all messed up when I let myself get in the way…

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any one of you lacks wisdom, let him ask it of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:2-8)

I feel a bit small, and I need to pray some more, and figure out what God wants me to do with all this…

I feel like this blow falls right in line with what God has been showing me about the reality of His grace, and just how much it really covers…Oh, His grace! It’s so much greater than I ever imagined…And it’s so much more powerful than any knowledge I think I can offer, or any experience I’ve ever had. It’s so much bigger than wisdom, humility, than family and commitment, even. Without grace, there is no wisdom, no family, no commitment, no love, no humility. It all starts with grace. And God wants me to extend the grace He’s shown me to the people around me! Oh! What are the possibilities? What would this look like? Who could be healed? Who could be reconciled in their relationships? Who could be saved? Who could be transformed?

You guys, it’s only day one of 2018, and I already feel like I’m losing my mind as I consider the reality of this God I serve, the position of His Son over me, and my identity as His daughter. This is good.

“‘No one, when he has lit a lamp, puts it in a secret place or under a basket, but on a lampstand, that those who come in may see the light. The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, the whole body will be full of light, as when the bright shining of a lamp gives you light.” (Luke 11:33-36)

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Review #5: Stones of Remembrance

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“DISCOVER THE HEALING POWER OF SCRIPTURE MEDITATION AND MEMORIZATION.

There is a reason the Bible calls us over and over again to remember. Remembering God’s acts, promises, and guidelines for living is essential to a healthy spiritual life. And such practices as Scripture meditation and memorization can contribute to a healthier mind and body as well—reducing stress, increasing brain capacity, and even helping to reverse problems like memory loss.

Stones of Remembrance includes:

  • Key Scriptures to memorize and meditate on so they’ll always be with you when you need to be inspired, challenged, or comforted
  • An introduction to the biblical and biological basis for remembrance as a healthy life habit
  • Tips for incorporating Scripture meditation and memorization into your life and increasing your memory capability

Whether purchased as a gift or as a practical spiritual follow-up to Dr. Daniel Amen’s groundbreaking book Memory RescueStones of Remembrance is a wonderful resource to help cultivate the healing power of God-focused remembering.”

The devotional Stones of RemembranceHealing Scriptures for Your Mind, Body, and Soul, written by Dr. Daniel G. Amen, is a book written within the Christian Living genre, threaded together by themes of different disciplines: the spiritual discipline of Scripture memory, the mental discipline of exercising your brain, and the physical discipline of taking care of your brain by taking care of your body. Dr. Amen uses his research to engage the reader with encouragement from the Bible as well as practical application.

A couple of things that made this book enjoyable for me as a reader:

I really appreciated the way Dr. Amen incorporated physical health into the process of Scripture memory. In the first few chapters, he walks through the elements of rest, exercise, and healthy eating, and how these things are important to building up discipline in Scripture memory. This made Scripture memory seem much deeper and more holistic, and challenged me to think about how my own habits of rest, exercise, and eating, might be affecting this spiritual discipline in my own life.

Another thing I appreciated was Dr. Amen’s encouragement for those who struggle with memorization or remembering in general. He did not write this book only for people who are good at memorization; he wrote it for everyone.

Following the last element, Dr. Amen also included his own research on the brain and used this to back up his encouragements to those who struggle with memorization. He briefly explained the functions of the brain and how he’s found that our memory is a muscle. This was an extra element that (in my vast experience taken from my extremely long life on earth…yes, this is sarcasm) I’ve rarely seen in similar books.

A couple of things that made this book difficult for me as a reader:

Many of the Scriptures were taken very much out of context, and while they were intended to be encouraging to the reader and a starting point of memorization, the categories under which these singular verses are placed deny the original context of the verses, and can therefore dangerously miscommunicate their original meaning.

Along these same lines, there was a section at the end of the devotional titled, “The Twelve Verses Every Christian Should Know.” I struggled with this section because it seemed more like a list of Scriptures that are popular in American Christian culture, though not necessarily necessary for Christians to know throughout the world. These are Scriptures popularized through interior designers and souvenir-makers, but there is little to support that these twelve verses are the verses that every Christian should know.

While one of the things I appreciated about the book was Dr. Amen’s use of science, I also felt a lack concerning it. There were several chapters in which Dr. Amen touched on the science of the brain, but in a way that made the message I think he was trying to communicate convoluted.

Despite the criticisms, however, it seems that this would be a good place to start for anyone trying to build up the spiritual discipline of Scripture memory. It takes the reader through memorizing meaningful Scriptures, one step at a time, to start exercising the muscle of their memory, and I would recommend this to those who are beginning this endeavor.

About the Author:

Dr. Daniel G. Amen is a physician, a double board-certified psychiatrist, founder of Amen Clinics, a 10-time New York Times bestselling author, and an international speaker. Together with Pastor Rick Warren and Mark Hyman, MD, Dr. Amen is also one of the chief architects of Saddleback Church’s Daniel Plan, a program to get the world healthy through religious organizations.

“Dr. Amen has written, produced, and hosted many popular public television shows about the brain that have aired across North America. He has spoken for the National Security Agency, and his work has been featured in outlets including Newsweek, Time magazine, the Huffington Post, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and Men’s Health.” 

*A complimentary copy of this book was provided to me by Tyndale Publishers.

🙂

 

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Called Not to Defeat

It was Saturday morning, and behold, a day of Christmas baking and shopping lay before me. I jumped out of bed and spun about in a flurry of preparation, throwing on clothes and hair things and jackets and schtuff. Downstairs, I started to make cinnamon rolls to take for brunch at the home of one of the ministry ladies, which was the location of the bake-off of the day. The plan was to bake all day with some of the other ladies, then Hannah, Anna, and I would run around doing some Christmas shopping.

I coveted the talk time with Hannah, and felt I was getting better at “friend” time with Anna. My and Anna’s relationship started with it being solely spiritual conversations, and I realized, during my time here, that I was really weak in the area of what’s called “relationship-building.” So, relationship-building, as I understand it, is basically just making sure I’m actually caring about the person I’m discipling and encouraging, that I’m actually taking steps to be their friend, their sister in Christ, not just their mentor. I’ve found in the past that I too easily fall into teacher mode and can come off as condescending and judgmental, especially if I don’t deliberately build a solid relationship with the person I’m mentoring. Needless to say, I very much feel God’s patience and graciousness as I figure out how to do this, and it has been easier to actually be friends with Anna and others this way. I’m looking forward to getting better at this.

After talking with the lord and lady of the house in which I lived, I raced out the door and into the freezing rain, which would’ve been snow where I’m originally from, my arms full of baking ingredients, backpacks, a breakfast smoothie, and those cinnamon rolls.

A struggle I’ve faced since Jake left for deployment, particularly in women’s ministry, is a feeling of want for control and reading into things. I had to stop by Wal Mart to pick up some ingredients, and I was struggling with suddenly feeling preemptively perceived disapproval from the very women with whom I was about to bake because I would end up being late. But God quietly reminded me as I left Wal Mart, paid-for ingredients in hand, that He loves me, that He has designed me for fellowship, for relationship, for living life with these ladies at this time, and that wanting to control the responses of others and failing to believe the best of them was directly opposing the principle of Philippians 4:6-8…

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”

I’ve observed over the past year that this is a consistent tactic of the enemy, and I think particularly with women, to divide the body. If he can get us to believe the worst of each other without giving each other a chance, then he can divide us without having any of us even speaking to one another…I didn’t want that to happen. I do, however, want to figure out the difference between wrong, fleshly perception and right, spiritual intuition, if that makes sense…To be continued.

When I arrived at what we will call The Bake House, I was warmly welcomed by several wonderful ladies, one of whom was Hannah, a play room full of children, a kitchen saturated with the scents of cloves, ginger, chocolate, and vanilla, and the sound of Christmas carols reverberating through the halls.

During the hours of baking and coffee-drinking and eating, I sought to know these ladies and ask them questions, laugh with them, tell stories with them, and just learn these ladies who were my sisters in Christ. And it was wonderful 🙂 The baking ended around nap time…I mean, not my nap time, but that of the children, though, after everything we’d eaten, I very much desired a nap…

So we all exchanged what we’d baked over a dining room table covered in Oreo truffles, crock-pot candy, snicker-doodles, peanut butter blossoms, and Swedish almond cake. And I realized, as Hannah and I helped clean up and said goodbye to everyone, that this day was what I’d hoped and imagined Christmastime would be like as an adult…I feel like God has been blessing me in waves concerning friendship, and has been directly instructing me in the ways of meaningful fellowship and intentional time with others.

Hannah and I drove to her house to drop of her own goods before heading back out into the grayness of the day to meet Anna at Barnes and Noble.

One of the really weird things about living here and not living in the Sticks back in New York is that the mall and all of the big shopping chains are only fifteen minutes away from my house. Back in New York, my mom and I used to have to drive forty-five minutes to Utica or Oneonta to do any kind of serious shopping, and the nearest Wal Mart was half an hour away. Going to Barnes and Noble at least three times a week is a bizarre luxury that I hope I never get used to.

Our trio went first to Lifeway, then to Bed, Bath, & Beyond, and then to Dick’s Sporting Goods. It was a fun time. We accomplished much, I dropped Anna back off at her house, and then joined Hannah and Matthew for dinner.

Another weird thing about living here and not living in New York is that Hannah lives in the same town instead of a town two hours away. This was God, I think, setting me up for some solid success during deployment, by providing me with Hannah as a kind of relationship-building safety net: I do not have to spend the whole nine months building new relationships and being initially known by nobody, but I get to build new relationships while also being deeply known by at least one person, and that’s really, really cool, and has allowed me a freedom to vulnerably build up my relationships with other ladies that I don’t think I realized I had until now. Go God!

At Hannah and Matthew’s house, Matthew made sausage patty melts…they were so good…and we talked ministry and worked on a world map puzzle. Hannah asked me about how I planned to stay encouraged in my walk with Christ while I was in New York for Christmas and New Year’s. Jesse had asked me this same question the other day, and I was excited to have the opportunity to externally process my thoughts a second time with Hannah as well.

It was through this conversation with Hannah and Matthew that I was reminded yet again of the differences I’m experiencing in this phase of my spiritual life: I have women in my life who prioritize praying for me, challenging me, encouraging me, checking in with me, and training me to follow Christ and to help others follow Him. And just because I’m not here doesn’t mean I can’t still connect with them and use them as safety nets and prayer partners while I’m gone.

And so it seems that the theme of the past week has been that blessed message of Proverbs 27:17, Hebrews 10:24-25, and Ecclesiastes 4:9-12…God created us to be part of His team, together, whether we’re physically with each other or spread out over the face of the earth. And the best part? He answers our prayers, so if we pray to be surrounded by believers, if we pray for an older woman or, if you’re a dude, an older man to pour into us spiritually and help us figure out this life with God through their wisdom, or if we pray for God to give us a guy or a gal to help follow Christ, He will answer that. He certainly has for me..And that’s really cool.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

 

 

 

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The Truth is That the Trust is Worth it

In the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley, there’s a scene where Elizabeth (Knightley’s character) is spinning around on the family barn swing as the seasons pass before her. The scene is soaked with the weighty rain of emotional residue from her best friend Charlotte marrying Elizabeth’s ridiculous cousin Mr. Collins, who’d originally tried to propose to Elizabeth. On top of that, Elizabeth’s sister Jane had a sort-of-flame Mr. Bingley who just up and left, and then Elizabeth is thinking about the lack of propriety concerning her family in general, particularly her mom and three younger sisters, though she loves them…There’s just a lot going on, and something inside her knows that this is just the beginning of how the relationships in her life are going to evolve.

This is the scene and the feeling that came to me as I stood outside of the home in which I now lived, eleven in the evening, with a cold, winter rain coming down on me. My thoughts lived in the emotional residue of the past few weeks, and anticipated the emotional roller coasters to come, both as I left the new familiarity of North Carolina to return to the Shire in New York for a time, and as I prepared for and embraced Jacob’s homecoming in the spring. I felt like I rested in the quiet of a storm.

The day had been long. I spent four wonderful hours of the morning talking with Kathi, one of the ladies discipling me…Jake had been praying for deeper friendships and encouragement with the women around me while he’s gone, and his prayers have been answered evermore. The time with Kathi had been like medicine, and God settled me once again in His love and grace, and dispelled much of the shame I’d been struggling with. This is the first time in my life where I have people who are dedicated to discipling me, and prioritize challenging me and encouraging me and helping me walk with Jesus through this world. I’ve realized that if both Jesse and Kathi are committed to discipling me, then I should really take advantage of that and let them be my designated “externally processing” people and “asking all of my questions” people. Since realizing that and deciding to exercise boldness in asking them questions and sharing my life with them, God has really used conversations with them to reassure me of His trustworthiness, sovereignty, justice, and power.

After spending time with Kathi, I drove over through the cold and windy weather to The Coffee Scene. I’d experienced a burden and I had been challenged by Kathi to pray for Jake and for those couples struggling with infidelity in the army (not that Jake has ever done that or that I believe he would, but the enemy is crafty and a tremendous foe, and it would be ignorant for me to not pray for that area of our marriage, and infidelity is particularly rampant in the military).

“God shapes the world by prayers. Prayers are deathless. The lips that uttered them may be closed in death, the heart that felt them may have ceased to beat, but prayers live before God, and God’s heart is set on them, and prayers outlive the lives of those who uttered them; outlive a generation, outlive an age, outlive a world.” —E.M. Bounds

“So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one.” (Ezekiel 22:30)

The familiar hodge-podge of a playlist, including Ozzy Osbourne and Echosmith, serenaded me as I took in the warm atmosphere of this coffee shop. The deep reds and browns of its interior enveloped me as I prayed for Jake in my mind and ordered some hot tea. I was introduced by one of the regular baristas to a barista-in-training. The barista-in-training’s name was Bree, and I memorized her face and assigned it to her name so that next time I came I could talk to her more in depth.

I sat at a high table and read my Bible, praying through the reassurance God gave me in Psalm 34. Sometimes I subconsciously believe that by trusting God I’m somehow missing out on something, or that He just expects me to trust Him whether I receive or am reassured of anything or not…To some degree the latter is true; God deserves my trust. But it was good to read Psalm 34, where it says “Those who seek the Lord lack in nothing” and “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord.” I think I’ve heard that concept so much that I forgot what it meant, and didn’t quite get it until now. Trusting in God offers the greatest “return”; the only way I miss out on anything is by not trusting Him.

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him! Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear Him. The young lions lack and suffer hunger; but those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing.” (Psalm 34:8-10)

Before leaving The Coffee Scene, I had a conversation with the older gentleman at the table next to mine after he’d asked me what I was reading. I stopped at Hannah and Matthew’s house to catch up with them, since they’d been out of town for some time. After time with them, I headed back “home” to get some homework done and eat dinner before heading out to Berean Baptist Church for the Christmas program.

And now I was back here at “home,” post Christmas program. I thought about maybe taking a walk around the neighborhood in the rain, just to think and pray aloud to the God who’d sent the rain in the first place. But I went back in my memory to middle school—yes, middle school—when I was stuck in worshiping my emotions and being a slave to their power…Man, Jesus went through puberty and did not sin! He was clearly the Son of God. When was in middle school, I would walk in the rain to gain attention from the guy in my life who didn’t care, to feel like my life was worth something. I shuddered at the thought of where I used to be.

How do people really change and get out of the ever-deepening pit of selfishness and fear without Jesus?…On a somewhat related note, how do people stay married without Jesus?

“The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry. The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.” (Psalm 34:15-18)

I fought the desire to follow the spiral of my emotions and walked inside, continued to pray, started settling down for the night, crawled into bed, and fell asleep praying.

“Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocence. For all day long I have been plagued, and chastened every morning. If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ behold, I would have been untrue to the generation of Your children. When I thought how to understand this, it was too painful for me—until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end.” (Psalm 73:13-17)

“The Lord redeems the soul of His servants, and none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned.” (Psalm 34:22)

 

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