Posted in focus on faith, life lessons

Caring for Aging Parents; a chance to give back

My 11-year-old grandson and I were watching a “magic” trick in a shop for magicians in Calgary last month when my cell rang. It was Gerry calling from the other side of the country. He was in the airport headed home but was quite emotional.

“It’s mom,” he said. “She’s in the hospital. Again. She’s not doing well.”

We decided to leave early the next morning to make the seven-hour drive to Saskatoon to visit Gerry’s 91-year-old recently widowed mom and to meet with his four brothers to discuss her care.

Now, a month later, grandmama is much improved and working hard at adjusting to a new assisted living home. We spent Mother’s Day weekend there and were so impressed with her strength of will and mental clarity in spite of physical fragility due to age and the emotional challenges of dealing with the loss of independence.

So many people my age are caring for their aging parents including my friend Kathy Howard. Today is the launch day for her newest book30 Days of Hope When Caring for Aging Parents

Struggling to navigate the parent/child role reversal? Kathy Howard’s new book, 30 Days of Hope When Caring for Aging Parents, explores God’s Word to find hope and encouragement for the wide range of physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual challenges the adult child caregiver may experience. Each of the 30 devotions – which can also serve as a guide for a daily quiet time – includes a Scripture passage, a real-life illustration, biblical commentary/application, and questions for reflection.

 

From Kathy…What Do We Do Now?

My parents needed help long before I realized it. Their need snuck up on me. Since they had always been so independent, strong, and capable, it took a while for my perception of them to catch up with reality.

Then I felt as if I was already behind. That I had to run to catch up. I missed that initial step, the first small decision of many decisions to come. I fell into the deep end. When I came up for air my first thought was “what do we do now?!” You may have that same feeling – overwhelmed with decisions for someone who used to have all the answers.

As we care for our aging parents, we face a constant barrage of decisions, some small and some huge. My friend Karen and her siblings are just beginning the caregiving journey with their parents. Karen’s mom and dad live in a large, multi-level house on more than an acre of land. The family worries about their physical ability to care for the property as well as their safety carrying out the required tasks. In recent months, Karen’s dad has fallen more than once.

Their first big decision looms – when and how should the children talk to the parents about moving somewhere safer and more manageable? Karen isn’t sure how to proceed, but she is sure about where to find the answer. “I pray for God’s wisdom to know when the time will be right to talk to them about a move. God knows when that should be.”

Wouldn’t it be great if our aging parents came with an instruction manual? But, no guidebook exists to tell us “when this happens, then you do this…” The only practical training most of us receive may be on the job, but we do have access to a vast storehouse of divine wisdom.

By definition, wisdom is the ability to choose and act rightly in specific situations. God wants to guide us along a wise path. He desires for us to do the right thing, to make good decisions for ourselves and our parents. Therefore, He does not hide His wisdom from us, but gives generously to all who asks (James 1:5).

The search for true wisdom is really a search for its Source, God Himself (Proverbs 2:6). Let us begin there. In God’s presence, in His revealed Word. The Bible provides the framework of discernment we need for all life’s situations. There we find principles for godly living, guidelines for relationships, and insight that shapes our attitudes and behavior.

Through the guidance of His Spirit and godly counsel of fellow believers, God will use what we have diligently treasured in our hearts and minds to walk us through specific circumstances. As we follow God’s direction we will begin to experience the cumulative effect of godly wisdom. Yesterday’s wise decisions set us on a good path, guarding our course for today’s wise choices. The exercise of godly wisdom today will keep us on God’s good path paving the way into a wise tomorrow.

The Bible describes the discovery of wisdom as a treasure hunt (Proverbs 2:4). Wisdom comes to light as we diligently seek it in God’s Word and in His presence. Let us look for wisdom like silver; search for it like precious treasure. Let us call out to the Author of wisdom and ask Him to grant what He longs to give.

Personal Reflection:

Do you pray and read God’s Word with determined anticipation of receiving His wisdom and guidance? What are some ways you can purposefully hunt for God’s wisdom?

 Kathy Howard calls herself a “confused southerner.” Raised in Louisiana, she moved with her engineer husband around the U.S. and Canada. She says “pop” instead of “Coke” and “you guys” as often as “y’all.” But she’s still a southern girl at heart! Kathy encourages women to live an unshakeable faith by standing firm on our rock-solid God no matter life’s circumstances. Kathy, the author of eight books, including the new daily devotional “30 Days of Hope When Caring for Aging Parents,” has a Master’s in Christian Education. She is passionate about Bible study and discipleship and loves sharing at women’s events and retreats. Kathy is also a regular contributor to Crosswalk.com, Hello Mornings, Arise Daily, and more. Kathy and her “mostly retired” husband live in the Dallas/Ft Worth area near family. They have three married children, four grandsons, and three dogs – one of them on purpose. She provides free discipleship resources and blogs regularly at www.KathyHoward.org. Kathy also connects with women at Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in focus on faith, life lessons

Embracing Your Thorn

I have a thorn in my flesh. Literally. A few months ago I stabbed myself in the left hand. It was not a cry for help. It was an accident.

I was trying to cut through some heavy strapping with a pair of sharp fabric scissors. The scissors slipped and I drove the tip into the meaty section between my left thumb and forefinger.

I removed the blade and saw a hole about the diameter of the blunt end of a chopstick. Blood poured out and I deduced I might need medical help.

Two hours and three stitches later, I was back in business, probably playing with matches.

About two weeks later I was quite annoyed that the stitches were still there and the flesh around them was tender and inflamed. I showed my daughter, the nurse.

“Why haven’t you had them removed?” Good question!

“I thought they would melt or dissolve or something.”

Back to the doc. Stitches removed. I thought.

Now, months later I am dealing with the constant annoyance of what feels like a thorn in the old wound site. I suspect there is a tiny piece of stitching wire embedded there. It sends a little stab of pain whenever I grip or grab something with my left hand.

I find myself picking at, scraping and worrying the surface of that buried thorn to no avail. It’s as firmly there as ever. I need professional help to have it extricated.

Segue to my pastor’s sermon last Sunday…still with me? He talked about the passage where Paul writes to the church in Corinth and says: I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

My pastor a.k.a. Gerry (my husband) was talking about the value of being weak. Yup, value. He said that most people regard weakness as a negative. As something to eradicate, to improve, to overcome. In God’s economy, maybe not?

Gerry also noted how surprising it was that even though Paul “pleaded” with God to remove his thorn, God said no. Paul was surely one of God’s favourite guys since he did so much to take the good news around the world but yet God refused to remove Paul’s thorn. Kinda strange?

So Gerry asked us to consider why. Why did God tell Paul, and the rest of us, that instead of removing our thorns (weaknesses), we must rely on His grace and His power? Then Gerry asked a question I had never before thought of.

He didn’t ask if we had a thorn, because he knows we all do…have weaknesses, that is. My biggie is crippling fear. It has shaped my life. It was the catalyst for my decade in spiritual dryness. What’s yours? Here are a few more of mine to get you thinking: Critical spirit? Vanity? Pride? Self-righteousness? Judgment? Competitiveness? Narcicism? Introversion?

He didn’t ask if we had asked God to remove our thorn because he knows we’ve all done that countless times. “God, give me courage!” was almost my mantra!

He didn’t even ask if we had accepted our thorn because he knows some of us have and some of us are constantly picking at it without much success.

He asked, “Have you embraced your thorn?”

“What? Embrace my…fear? I hate my fear! It limits me, humiliates me, locks me up, makes me a quitter, causes panic and anxiety.” I wrestled with Gerry’s question.

“Have you ever considered that the God who knit you together in your mother’s womb created you with a thorn, a weakness, on purpose? Is it possible that He gave you that weakness so that you would need Him, you would come to Him, you would rely on Him? How else do you make sense of Paul’s words: For when I am weak, then I am strong.?

I had never considered that. So how do I embrace my thorn?

This post is part of that process; once I press publish I will have done an important first step — admit it: tell others, quit trying to hide it, fake it, pretend it isn’t there while picking away at it in secret.

Next time I am afraid I will (try to) accept my fear (embrace my thorn) and immediately call out to God for grace and power: “I’m scared to death but what would You have me do/say/be in this moment?”

Then, I will (try to) act in courage, a God-given courage that I do not possess on my own, and trust Him for the outcome. I call that following God one yes at a time.

Come to think of it, I may just leave that stitch in my hand. How about you? Are you embracing your thorn or still picking at it? Scroll down to join the conversation with your comment.

Posted in focus on faith, minimal moments, need a laugh?

How was 2017?

Perhaps Hobbits live in northern Greece? This door is waist high.

Happy New Year gentle reader! Have you had a chance to look back over the last 12 months and reflect on all that was? Or wasn’t?

Nah? Me neither. I’m more of a doer than a contemplator; I seldom take time for deep reflection. Of course, because we all admire what we’re not, I wish I were that type of person so I would have deep insights to share. But I’m not. And I don’t.

For the rest of you who are just like me and you don’t set aside time for all that hard thinking, let’s take a mo right now and look back over 2017.

How is your health? Go ahead and take your pulse, in case there’s any doubt you survived the dawning of another year. Did you get through the year with all your parts intact? Nothing removed that you think you still need? Or something removed in the nick of time so you can hang around this planet a while longer? I had my first root canal and I truly don’t know why people use that as a measure of how BAD something can be…”I’d rather have a ROOT CANAL than host my relatives for Christmas!” In fact, the specialist who did my root canal hummed through the 20-minute procedure while earning enough to pay off his Porsche! It was fast, painless (except for the wallet), and simple. If your health is good, then 2017 was good to you.

How is your relationship with God? Did you move closer to Him or further away? Did you hear from Him…about anything? In my first time through Freedom Session with a group of my peers, I dealt with some issues, made some apologies, came out of denial about a couple things (Yikes! I found out why they call it “denial.” It should be called blindness), and enjoyed the love and acceptance of God in a wonderful way. I am now facilitating another Freedom Session group in my home and dealing with my fear in practical ways. If you moved God-ward too then 2017 was good to you.

How is your primary relationship going? In my case, that’s my husband. In yours, it might be a spouse, parent, partner, child, best friend, or…? How are you getting on? Friendly? With kindness? Mutually enjoying time together? Helping each other? Sharing some laughs? Supporting one another through tough times? Committed? Contented? Challenged by the relationship to be the best YOU you can be? If your “first” relationship is still your best then 2017 has been good to you.

How is your family? Is everyone still speaking to everyone? Don’t laugh (or cry). You know as well as I do that the people we love the most can become the ones we most resent. A chilling silence can fall over a relationship so quickly it’s shocking. And once you stop talking, neither person wants to be the one to break the silence. This happened to me with one of my beloved family when I allowed resentment to build up and a gulf formed between us. Thankfully, we both made an effort to bridge the gap, make our apologies, and renew the relationship. I have too many friends who come from fractured families where people have stopped talking and they no longer see one another. If your family is intact and people are still attempting to communicate then 2017 has been a good year.

And finally, because I am a minimalist, I must ask, how is your junk? I am pretty sure no teen boys read this blog so there won’t be any insane laughter… By junk I mean the stuff that goes into landfills. Do you have more or less junk than last year? if you are in the first half of your life you are still in the accumulative phase; you are still acquiring. Building up your kingdom. Padding your castle. If you are on the downward slope, like moi, you are merging and purging, slashing and burning, tossing and recycling. Just yesterday I hauled 10 boxes, yes TEN, out of my tiny office! All of the magazines, newspapers, scrapbooks, book drafts, speaking notes, completed bible studies and never-to-be-read-again books are now gone! I am going through my junk and asking myself, “Who will have to deal with this once I’m gone and will they appreciate it?” The answer is, my kids, and they will NOT want to read my old journals, look through my scrapbooks, or peruse the first draft and multiple edits of my published books. So I finish with this, if you have less junk than last year, then 2017 was a good year.

If you want a deeper reflection on the New Year visit my friend who pastors two small churches in Watrous SK and be blessed. It was that post that inspired me to connect with you today. I pray that 2018 will truly be a good year for you. Focus on the things that matter most — your relationship with God and your besties. Enjoy your health while you have it; nurture your body with real food and moderate exercise. But keep your junk to a minimum!

Posted in focus on faith

One Good Reason…

Finding Tim Knapp was akin to finding a child I had given up at birth decades ago. I felt an uncanny level of connection when we met, via email, five years ago. Tim’s mother had seen me in an interview on 100 Huntley St. in which I talked about my lengthy season of spiritual dryness. She emailed me with a link to her son Tim’s blog.

When I finally clicked in, I found a soul mate. A fellow struggler. An overcomer. A gutsy, honest, back-from-the-grave Christ follower who didn’t have it all figured out. Yet. Or ever. Like me, he was tired of glibness, formulas and pat answers. But he wasn’t tired of Jesus.

I emailed Tim, introduced myself and said, keep writing! After you read Tim’s soon-to-be released book Dry Bones: a crisis of faith, you’ll understand why.

Tim got off to a great start in life. When he was a teen, he had to be up early to deliver newspapers. “Every morning as I crept down the hall before sunrise, I would find my father on his knees. With elbows on the couch and his face buried in his hands, he physically and spiritually pressed into a place of communion with the Lord. His consistent pursuit of the Father modeled for me a life of grateful surrender. I didn’t realize it at the time but each morning as I tiptoed past my kneeling father a little bit of Jesus rubbed off on me.”

But, as we all know, many runners start the race and only one takes home the prize. Typically we read the winner’s books and gobble up their secret(s) in three keys or seven habits or 12 steps or 50 ways and believe them when they assure us, “if I can win, you can too!”

The truth is a few of us “can” but lots of us “can’t”, not to mention those of us who won’t even try because we already tried and failed and are dragging along too much baggage, or barricaded behind walls of self protection, or paralyzed by fear.

So what about the rest of us? The ones who start the race and come in third or 25th or dead last? The ones who stumble and fall and are not able to get up and continue running? What we need is one good reason to keep running. We know the odds are against us so we need encouragement to stay the course, or to get back up, rejoin the race, and finish well.

Dry Bones holds that one good reason and that encouragement. A runner who was sidelined by some unfamiliar terrain, tripped up by fellow runners he thought were on the same team, and flattened by unexpected storms writes it. Thanks to a pursuing God, a loving family that never lost faith in him, and fellow runners who refused to leave him in the ditch, Tim found one good reason to get back on track.

“Before my journey into disillusionment my lifelong desire was to be used of God in ministry. That’s was my hunger, my heart’s cry. And I won’t lie…I wanted to be the guy up front. I wanted to be a ‘man of faith and power’ that everybody looks to with wonder and respect. I wanted to be a powerful leader who slayed giants and commanded armies. I wanted to be a David. God had other ideas.”

Tim reveals that his journey through wilderness had a refining, redemptive, and re-directing purpose. He discovered that while he tried, and failed, to become a David, God was calling him to be a Jonathan. That was his real purpose. That was his one good reason. His role as a Jonathan is to find disillusioned “Davids” and help restore them.

The world could use a lot more Jonathans! I have a few Jonathans in my life and without them, I could not have accomplished anything. They pray, they encourage, they come alongside when needed, they love, they support, they meet me when I am in hiding and lead me out, they are a friend in good times and bad, they have influence and put in a good word for me, and so much more.

Dry Bones is the best book I have ever read on spiritual wilderness, including mine. It has forehead slapping insights that made we wish I had thought of that, the main one being Tim’s unpacking of the true meaning of disillusionment. He starts by differentiating between disillusionment and discouragement. As a 10-year veteran of spiritual wilderness (while married to a minister) I greatly appreciated this differentiation. “Disillusionment is something deeper. Stronger. More sinister. [It] does not let up. It does not yield to reason and it does not respond to social media memes. Disillusionment cannot be outwaited or outwilled.” Amen!

Tim discovered three precursors to disillusionment, two of which I had never thought of: hunger, illusionment, and adversity. Hunger is “a deeply rooted desire for purpose and significance.” Yup! I certainly had that! Adversity is “the experience of a setback.” Oh yeah! Been there, done that, still have the stretch marks. But illusionment? Besides the fact that it’s not a word in the English lexicon, what is that exactly? Are you saying God was, is, an illusion?

Tim’s dissection of the word disillusioned holds profound insights. It means “to be dis-illusioned, to be delivered from an illusion.” Tim explains that in order for one to be delivered from an illusion, one first has to have an illusion. What is an illusion? In short, it is a lie. “God is not the illusion people fall for…. It is in the development of our understanding about God and ourselves that illusions begin to form.” In other words it is not God that is the lie but it is my understanding of Him and His ways that is flawed.

Tim illustrates this concept with the very illusion (he calls them mirages) I once held so dearly; the illusion that knocked me out of the race and mired me in sand for many years: “If I serve God faithfully I will not suffer.” That was a lie (illusion) I believed, so when adversity struck and I suffered, I became disillusioned. “Help! I’ve lost my faith!” I cried to my pastor husband from my wilderness position. Speaking a powerful truth I did not understand for years, he was agreeing in principle with Tim Knapp when he replied, “You haven’t lost your faith, you’re finding it.” In other words, I needed to shake of the illusions and lies I believed and find the real God and base my life on His truth.

Tim is honest, transparent, and real. His writing is beautiful, words laser-focused to convey exact intent. Tim’s willingness to share his failures, fears, and flaws make him, his God, and His truth so accessible to all of us, not just the “best” runners. His humility sprinkled with humour will keep you reading and hi-liting and tweeting and sharing. Maybe, like I did, you will discover your inner Jonathan, and the one good reason you needed to get you going again.

(the above excerpt is the Foreword I was honoured to write for Tim’s upcoming book Dry Bones.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in focus on faith

Christmas Tips from a Reformed Scrooge

I used to hate Christmas. I know, you’re not supposed to say, “hate.” As a matter of fact I never allowed my kids to say it. How about strong dislike! Definitely seasonal dread. Not at all what it is intended to be.

Why did I dread Christmas? I was caving to culture-pressure; concerned about costs; and leaving Christ mostly out of the process. Those three factors added up to some miserable Noels!

Now if you were to ask my kids or even my husband, they would say that our Christmases were wonderful! Lots of gifts. Decorations. The annual tree-chopping with a frosty tailgate picnic to follow. Mounds of goodies. Parties. Family gatherings. A turkey the size of a Volkswagen. The family/friends hockey game. Games, Poppycock. Movies.

So what was my problem? I wasted a lot of energy on “creating” the ideal Christmas; I worried a lot about the cost of it all; and frankly, I didn’t trust or even consult the Birthday Boy for most of it!

Thankfully, that was then and this is now.

What’s changed? I have. And, to be fair, circumstances are also different. I’m older. My kids are launched and have kids of their own. Christmas for grandparents is far less stressful than Christmas for parents. The last thing I want to do is toss pearls from this lofty height and add to the seasonal guilt already weighing some of you down.

But may I encourage you?

If you dread Christmas, even just a little, stop a minute and pray. Right now. A simple cry-of-the-heart prayer. Something like, “Christmas is coming again, God. HELP!”

That’s a good place to start – with Him. It was His big idea after all.

Then brew your fav hot drink, grab a pen and paper, and jot down whatever comes to mind as you think ahead to Christmas.

You might write:

Shop for gifts,

Order gifts online, Crochet afghan for sister,

Make cookies for the cookie exchange,

Book photographer for annual family pix, Coordinate clothes for photo shoot,

Shop for clothes,

Make jellies for co-workers,

Chop tree,

Hang lights,

Decorate house,

Send Christmas photo-cards,

Host office party,

Sing in Christmas cantata,

and much much more.

GIVE IT TO HIM:

Once your list is done, put your pen down, put your hands on the list, close your eyes and ask God for guidance as you consider everything beneath your hands. Visualize His hands over your hands and, as much as possible, give it all over to Him.

Open your eyes. If your drink is still hot, have another sip.

GET RID OF IT:

Now look at the list again and cross off anything that is inspired by ego, competition, or social media bragging rights. Good-bye afghan, jellies, office party!

Years ago I removed “chop tree.” I dragged home the little artificial tree from my Sunday School class – stuffed it in the trunk of my Honda on Dec 21, lugged it into my living room, plugged it in and grinned like Scrooge. I bought a vastly reduced Christmas tree in the after-Christmas sales a few weeks later.

I also stopped risking life and limb and frostbitten digits “hanging lights.” My neighbor stopped the very next year, giving me the credit and thanking me for freeing him from something he only did to compete with me.

GIVE IT AWAY:

Take stock of what’s left. What can you delegate? I can give “cookie baking” to our 11-year-old granddaughter who loves to bake. “Shopping” went to my husband who thinks he’s Santa anyway. This made our kids very happy because Dad always buys them what they want; I would buy them what I could afford! Not nearly the same!

GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK!

Once your list is shortened and you have carved out a smidgen of margin, consider using some of that time to play a game with your kids, take a snowy walk under the stars (God’s light display!), decorate some gingerbread and use it as an excuse to meet a neighbor, or simply take a nap!

Christmas doesn’t stress me out any more. I do less and let others do more. I stay away from social media so I won’t be tempted to compete. I make sure my neighbors know the real me so they don’t judge me by my light display, or lack thereof. I play more. Laugh more. Rest more. Buy fewer gifts and give more money away. And I focus more on Jesus!

May your Christmas be simpler, better, and something you can look forward to this year, and always. Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

 

Posted in focus on faith

Gift Envy

My biggest insecurity when God called me into ministry as a speaker was that I didn’t think I had anything worthy to say. Telling people I was a hypocritical sinner who had “faked faith” for years did not seem like a topic likely to inspire!

On top of that, my natural ability lay in telling funny stories, not in Biblical exegesis. It seemed to me that making people laugh was near the bottom of the list of necessary talents required for ministry. Bringing Scripture to life with in-depth teaching in a contemporary style was where I needed to be, I thought. In short, I suffered from Beth Moore Envy.

Rick Warren cautions us about “gift envy.” It is tempting to look at the gifts of others and wish we could be like that. For the first year after my call to ministry, every time I prepared talks for a speaking engagement I questioned my gifts and wondered whether I should try to be more like Beth Moore. I would open the Scriptures and try to harvest deep truths–and in no time at all I would be miserable and discouraged. I had no insights, for the Word was still dead to me because I was battling unbelief and succumbing to crippling doubt.

In the midst of this trying season, I had been asked to speak at a weekend retreat in another province. I had, of course, agreed to this since that was the “deal” between God and me: If someone called, I would go. This obedience to go in the midst of my own debilitating doubt was to be my pathway out of the wilderness. 

I knew that my message, the only message I was qualified to give, had to be the truth about my wilderness trek. 

In desperation, after hours of fruitless attempts to prepare, I gave up. I put on my shoes and went for a “slog” (the closest I ever got to being a runner was my slow jog.) Slipping along the muddy running path along the river, I called out to the still invisible silent God for help.

And He met me there. He met me at the place I least expected but should have known He would. He met me at my point of need. 

Just be yourself and tell the truth, I heard. Like the woman who poured perfume on Jesus’ feet did what she could, God was asking me to do no less. And no more

That weekend, I spoke about my wilderness experience and my Beth Moore envy. God instantly released me from the paralyzing grip of that envy as soon as I broke the conspiracy of silence and confessed it. 

In the midst of feeling incredibly inadequate, completely unqualified, and dreadfully unspiritual, God was calling me to do the very thing He calls each of us to do–to do what I couldI could talk. I could go. I could tell the truth. What did I lack in order to fulfill that calling? Nothing. The enemy had seeded all those negative thoughts in his attempt to keep me silenced and useless. (excerpt From Faking it to Finding Grace)

  • Are you ever tempted to try to be someone else? To copy your hero instead of sharing your story, your gifts, your experiences, your failures?
  • Have you ever held back what you could have offered because you think it’s not quite right or not enough?
  • Are you so convinced you don’t have what it takes that you are afraid to step out or reach out with what you have?

Maybe you need to head out for a “slog” and listen for that still small voice telling you to do what you can even if you think it ain’t much. Say yes and watch Him use what you give to bring hope and healing to a hurting world.

Posted in focus on faith

How do I help a friend who’s lost her faith?

How do I help a friend who’s lost her faith? I recently posted four hard questions from a blog reader and asked for your input. I will share your answers along with my thoughts below.

Before you can help her (or him; let’s say “her”), you need to know that even though she may feel like her faith is gone, her Saviour is not. For example: the air you breathe on a windy day is visible by what it does to the flags that snap overhead but it is quite invisible on a still day. On both days, the oxygen content is the same.

What the spiritually dry Christian interprets as “lost” faith is often dormant faith. Faith that feels dead, looks dead, doesn’t move. It isn’t dead. It’s just inactive, ineffective and under-utilized. The wind of faith is temporarily stilled. What gets lost isn’t Jesus, it’s the what-Jesus-does-when-He’s-active-in-you.

The most important thing you can do for a friend who feels like (or insists) she’s lost her faith is give her hope. Hope that her faith is not dead. And neither is God. Hope that the God she once knew is still there, even though she may never have the same relationship with Him again. Hope that there is a way out of dryness. Hope that everything she is going through will have purpose and meaning. Any or all of the above will be beneficial.

Let’s take a look at the four hard questions because these are questions you need answered if you want to help a friend who says her faith is gone. Blog reader’s input is in italics. 

1) How do we provide a safe place for those in a spiritual desert?

  • Begin with honesty and sharing when you were dry. The best place to start is with transparency about your own struggles with doubt or dryness. Eighty percent of believers experience at least one period of dryness so we can assume you’ve had yours! Admit it! Immediately you will have built a bridge of understanding; you’ve been there too and you get it.
  • Go first–share honestly about present struggles not only “once forever ago.” In my experience, the reason I kept silent for years was because no one ever admitted to being in a season of dryness “right now.” It was always, “been there, done that, all better!” If you are open about your own “Lord I believe, help my unbelief” right-now moments, it will open a door for honest communication.
  • Listen with discernment. I jump to solving all too often [and this can] make the person sharing [their dryness] feel like a problem to be solved instead of a person who wants to feel understood. Spiritual dryness is not the result of one small incident. It is the result of long, slow spiritual drift caused by 10,000 pricks of sorrow, loss, betrayal, fear, pain, insult, missed opportunity, demotion, rejection, jealousy, anxiety, abuse, and more that weigh on your soul, eventually resulting in separation from God. If you listen with discernment you can identify some roots and give gentle direction, sympathy, and comfort.

Let’s say you have not been spiritually dry, then pay careful attention because a season of wilderness may be in your future. Let your dry friend know that you can learn from each other as you walk through this together.

2) How do we encourage those who feel lost and alone?

  • If you have ever felt lost or alone, share it with them…and hopefully they open up. We encourage them by demonstrating they are neither lost nor alone. Spend time with them but not with the intention of repairing the brokenness. Just be friends. Take in a movie, a coffee, a walk, some food, a road trip…hang out!
  • Take time to listen. Relate. Pray. All good.
  • Connect them with other believers who will walk with, not fix. Invite them to life-giving or restorative opportunities but do so in a way they don’t feel pressured. I mentioned to several friends that I was planning on attending a Freedom Session bible study. Some of them signed up too. We are journeying to wholeness together!

3) How then do I help others who are in spiritual wilderness?

  • ‪Listen to where they are so you know how to pray. Not just know HOW to pray, but know that you CAN pray. This might be your first indication that your friend needs your prayers. I don’t pray for all my friends on a regular basis but if one of them indicates spiritual dryness or loss of faith I begin to pray with focused purpose.
  • Sometimes they aren’t done with the wilderness, sometimes they’re complaining but still comfortable. Sometimes they’re not ready to reach for help. Oh this is SO discerning! When I first began to come out of wilderness (instead of head deeper into it) I started to be honest with people. Looking back now I don’t think I really wanted to pay the price to come out yet because I was still so terribly afraid of God–I wasn’t ready to give Him access to my life and will. I was mostly just complaining. Thankfully, people gave me grace, space, friendship and prayer and they walked with me as I stumbled Godward.
  • Do not be silent, but admit to self, God, and another person where you are and God will give you words and ways to help others through your testimony. The message here is that God will not waste YOUR wilderness. He will help you use your story to encourage and bring hope to others.

4) What can we do to allow for transparency without any judgement?

  • When someone is sharing, do not interrupt, do not give advice, just honor them with eye contact and a good listening ear. If you have not been through a season of dryness, be quick to listen and sloooowww to speak. I did not ever think “wilderness” would happen to me and prior to experiencing it, my advice would not have been much help. There will likely be other issues that contributed to your friend’s spiritual drift, be sensitive to the process and pray for wisdom.
  • ‪Ask God for a heart of compassion and to see yourself in the same place if not for the grace of God. Honestly it could be you. Or me–it WAS me!
  • Connect them with other believers who are full of grace and truth. Your friend may have drifted away from Christian community. If they are willing, invite them in to small circles of caring.
  • Allow them to share their experience without explaining away the struggle. Do not minimize or overlook the spiritual and emotional wrestling that is undoubtedly a part of your friend’s wilderness season. Swallow those glib answers and perfect Scriptures. They’ve heard them and possibly memorized them already! Just listen.
  • If you are in a position of leadership (this includes parents, grandparents, mentors, and friends), teach people how to do “authenticity with all, transparency with some, and intimacy with a few.” Not everyone has the discernment for details! 

Thank you for your input via social media and real talk. I pray some of these answers will help you help someone else who is looking for hope in the midst of their sandstorm of unbelief.

Posted in focus on faith

Four hard questions about spiritual dryness

Openness begets openness. I have permission to share the following from a pastor’s wife who came through a season of spiritual dryness. She asks four questions I need help answering. Maybe you can help? (my comments are sprinkled throughout)

I read your blog this morning on Facebook and had to take a moment to write to you. I love how transparent your are! You are never afraid (oh yes I am! But thanks.) to tell us where you are, I know there was a season where that was not the case, but I love that now you are so open. I too wish that all women in ministry could also be an open book.

Ministry can be so discouraging and lonely. It is so easy to hear how things are going in other churches and to then question, why isn’t my church like that? We get so caught up in what we think is success.

I have been in that same place (people in ministry keeping the conspiracy of silence concerning their struggles), the place where I so hoped no one saw me. I hoped that my clothing would blend in with the wallpaper and that no one would even know I was there. I wanted to rejoice with my friends over their successes, baptisms, number of members, people growing in their walk with the Lord.

I so wanted to be happy but oh I was struggling.

asked God why couldn’t my church be the same? Why couldn’t we be baptizing hundreds of new believers? Or why were we here struggling in this little church plant? Why couldn’t my husband be called to pastor a mega church? All of those things ran through my mind.

At times I wanted to get up on a chair and just scream!!! Other times I just wanted to fade away into the woodwork. That time was so dark and lonely.

God did carry me through that dark time and has led me to a place where I am happy again. (YES!) I am finding new energy for ministry. I am excited to see what new door God will open this week and I am spending more time in prayer seeking that time with Him. I look forward to seeing my church family and I rejoice with them in their victories!

I praise God that He did not let me go, that he led me through the dark time and back into His light! I know I will have other seasons where I feel alone, however, having come through this dark season I know God will be there too.

(Okay, here are the first two questions…) I wanted to write to you because in my darkest moments I felt that I could tell no one! I felt that no one could ever understand just how I felt. Reading your book and now your blog reminds me that other’s feel just the same. My question is how do we provide a safe place for them? How do we encourage those who feel lost and alone?

I remember attending [a conference for ministry couples] when I was at my very lowest and while it was so good to get away from home, away from those lost and lonely feelings, it was also so very difficult. I did not seem to find the people who might feel just like me. (this makes my heart ache) All I heard was how terrific everyone else was doing. All I heard was how “successful” they were.

(And here are the second two questions…) I know now that I was not in a place where I could recognize another person’s pain. I had built up too many walls and could not see over them. So how then do I help others who are there? What can we do to provide that safe place? What can we do to allow for transparency without any judgement?

I wish I had the answer.

(And yet, you do have the answer, or at least part of it, right here…) I guess what I am saying is that we need to continue to be sensitive to those who are struggling. If I could help another church planter’s wife or pastor’s wife through a lonely season then all of my struggles would be so worth it!

Thanks for all you do! You inspire me to keep on! (And you do the same for me!)

How would you answer these 4 questions?

  1. How do we provide a safe place for them (spiritual wanderers)?
  2. How do we encourage those who feel lost and alone?
  3. How then do I help others who are there (in spiritual wilderness)?
  4. What can we do to allow for transparency without any judgement?

Help me out with your feedback here or on Facebook. Answer one or more from your experience or wisdom and watch for future blogs with your answers compiled. 

Posted in focus on faith

Shatter the Illusion

While I was writing my first book, I attended a party with many others in ministry. When asked what was keeping me busy these days I explained that I was working on a book about the spiritual wilderness. When asked why I chose that topic I explained that I had experienced a long drought in my faith and the Lord had called me back into relationship with Him.

The next question, not surprisingly, was, “When did this occur? Did I know you then?”

Throwing caution to the wind, I decided to be truthful and said that the wilderness was quite recent.

I may still be in it,” I continued.

If I could have captured on film the shocked looks of the faces around me I would not have to say another word about why wanderers keep quiet and don’t risk breaking the conspiracy of silence. I have to wonder, is it because so many of us struggle with doubt that the subject of unbelief is so threatening? …

Even though I was tempted to gloss over the truth and talk about the wilderness like it was all wrapped up in a tidy bow years ago, I knew God had called me to be honest. The reaction I received was not unusual or even unexpected but it affected me.

I want to be liked. I want people to respect me. The look I saw in some eyes didn’t encourage me to continue being honest. If anything, my mind screamed, “Keep quiet you fool! Can’t you see they don’t want to hear this?”

He has called me to tell the truth about my wilderness and so I am….

Where do you get the courage to break the conspiracy of silence? You get the courage from knowing who God is and what He is doing in your life.

  • You’ve experienced a wake-up call.
  • You realize that your false god is no longer adequate.
  • You recognize that God is pursuing you.
  • God wants to extend His grace to you, like the prodigal son He wants you to come home.
  • You must take the first step of trust, like Peter. and “get out of the boat.”

This is real faith. This is a faith you can live with. (Excerpt From Faking it to Finding Grace)

I continue to be as honest as I can about where I really am in my faith. I have good days and bad days. Sometimes I “feel” close to God and some days I don’t. Some days I “see” His work in me and around me, some days I don’t. Some days I “know” He is real and personal and always pursuing me and some days I choose to believe that by faith.

Breaking the conspiracy of silence in the church shatters the illusion that keeps so many people out of church. It lets them know we are real, normal, sometimes struggling, sometimes victorious, but mostly honest.

Posted in focus on faith

Come out with your hands up!

None of us like to surrender. The very word suggests defeat. We want to win, not give in!

However, in God’s paradoxical economy, what we see as “winning” might be “losing” in the long run. Spiritual winning only comes through the gateway of surrender. This is one of the valuable lessons learned in the wilderness of spiritual dryness.

The wilderness wanderer has to admit that she has lost her way, then to further admit that the most probable reason for it is because she stopped following God and followed her own heart, her own mind, her whims, her best laid plans….

There is a big difference between the way I thought when I was in wilderness and the way I think when I am surrendered to Christ (a place I still stumble in and out of on a daily basis!). Perhaps you can relate to one of these ways of thinking:

Surrendered thinking is the opposite of wilderness thinking.

  • Wilderness thinking says, “Maybe there is no personal God. I haven’t seen Him or heard from Him in a long time.”
  • Surrendered thinking says, “I choose to believe in the God I can’t see or hear.”
  • Wilderness thinking says, “God can’t love me because I have wasted so much of my life in this wilderness of unbelief.”
  • Surrendered thinking says,” I choose to believe that the God who sent His Son to die in my place paid too dear a price to give up on me yet.”
  • Wilderness thinking says, “God will hold me accountable for my wasted potential and I will never be who I could have been in Him.”
  • Surrendered thinking says, “God is the one who orders my days, perhaps He has brought me through this experience in order to prepare me for a ministry I never would have chosen on my own.”
  • Wilderness thinking says, “I am unfit to serve Him in ministry.”
  • Surrendered thinking says: “God is in the redemption business and He will send me out to minister to other wanderers, to point them to Christ and to give them hope. Broken people minister to broken people.“

Trust is essential to surrender. Choosing to believe that God loves you is the first step in learning to trust Him. “Surrender is hard work. In our case, it is intense warfare against our self-centered nature,” writes Rick Warren. He adds “surrendering is never a one-time event. …There is a moment of surrender, and there is the practice of surrender, which is moment-by-moment and lifelong….It will often mean doing the opposite of what you feel like doing.” As we surrender, by choice, over and over, we change the way we think.

For every message of defeat that Satan sends into the heart of the recovering wanderer, there is a message of hope from God. (Excerpt From Faking it to Finding Grace)