Can I just say what a relief it is to be sending my kids back to school for their second year instead of their first in a new town? The feeling of walking into a group where everyone knows each other and you know no one is so unsettling. Last year, my kids were aware of their socks, shoes, haircuts, backpacks…it all had to be perfect. This year none of those things seemed to matter very much-they are just excited to see their friends again.
It makes me think of our Walking with Purpose groups starting up soon in parishes and homes. It's my prayer that every woman who walks through the door will be met with a genuine welcome and the strong sense that she matters. It's not a small thing when we create communities where women feel safe to come and drop their guard-seeking to know God better in a non-judgmental, supportive, and positive environment. We walk a fine line at Walking with Purpose. One of the things that we value most is exploring our faith, our fears and our doubts in a fearlessly positive way.
There's so much negativity in the world-it weighs us down and saps us of hope. At WWP, we want to delve into Scripture and into relationships with one another in a way that leaves us feeling strengthened and encouraged. Because of this, we leave the hot-button political issues at the door. Instead of focusing on things that divide us, we turn to Scripture, and focus on the content of our lessons. At the same time, we believe there is truth, and there is falsehood. There is right and there is wrong. We don't shy away from uncomfortable truths, but we trust the Holy Spirit to be our teacher (and He certainly teaches us through the Bible) instead of us tossing truth grenades and telling one another how we are supposed to think and act.
There are many things in the news that I leave to the experts to discuss. But the past few weeks, my heart has been so deeply disturbed, that I've been asking God if now might be a time when my silence isn't the right response. I read 2 Timothy 4:3, which tells us that a time will come when people will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. I don't want to crush anyone with truth, but I don't want to just tell people what they want to hear.
These videos that are in the Facebook news feed…these stories…these images… I have been stopped in my tracks as I've forced myself to watch things that I'd rather ignore. Perhaps you have watched the same videos. Perhaps for you it's just been too, too painful to see.
After watching a video of a woman discussing what her clinic was doing after an abortion, I just wept. I didn't only weep for the babies involved. I wept for the mothers who felt that they had no choice, that they had nowhere to turn, that they were without hope. I wept for the state of our world, for how alone so many of us feel.
Statistics make it clear that we are not talking about women far away-it is our sisters, our friends, our daughters, us. Many of them are far closer than we realize. I am deeply moved by Ann Voskamp's words:
As many as 1 out of 3 American women have had an abortion- and not one carries this alone. We failed them. This is our failure as a community. The tender mourning of all this is that: Abortion is always a failure of community. Every abortion is a failure of humanity: failing a human being in crisis and a human being in utero.
It is my prayer that we can come alongside one another in a way that dispels the darkness. That our presence can chase away the lies that there is no choice, that we are alone, that trying to get out of the difficulty is a better choice than walking through it with God's strength.
Our small groups at Walking with Purpose matter. When a woman comes to Walking with Purpose for the first time, we don't know her background. We don't know her past or her present. One thing we do know-she needs community. She needs love. She needs a safe place to grow spiritually.
May we create communities of grace-places where people can come as they are, and be greeted by a Savior who leads with love and mercy, and followers who reflect Him. May we stop expecting Christian behavior from people who don't know Christ. We aren't called to judge those outside the Church. We need to be concerned about what's going on inside. And how we are responding to women in crisis is a big part of that. We've been called to do something extraordinary. We are asked to be Christ's hands and feet in a world that desperately needs to see radical love.
Let's turn towards one another in our circles at Walking with Purpose, strengthening, encouraging and supporting one another. And then let's turn outward, and each take a step towards a woman who needs a hand, who needs to know she is not alone, who needs to know Christ in us.
Is there someone in your life who you long to see experiencing the more that a relationship with Christ brings? Do you find you lack the right words to articulate just how much your faith means to you, and wish that you could communicate it in a way that really has impact?
One of our main focuses this year at Walking with Purpose has been encouraging everyone to take seriously the call from Christ to “see to it that no one misses the grace of God” (Hebrews 12:15). We've encouraged you all to prayerfully consider who you can invite to WWP in the fall. We've worked hard to bring you a top notch new Bible study, Opening Your Heart, which will both challenge the veteran and lay a solid spiritual foundation for the beginner, allowing you to grow right alongside the woman you invited.
When we step out of our comfort zone and invite someone to join us on our spiritual journey, lives are changed. We are able to experience the rush of being used by God and there is, quite simply, nothing like it. That being said, I think there's a real opportunity for us to do some wordless preaching this summer, and it might have the greatest impact of all.
I recently came across the writings of a Romanian pastor named Josef Tson. He considers suffering well to be the greatest way of preaching. Suffering well shows others that God is real.
When I read something like that, I have to pause. I can think of a lot of ways that I would prefer to preach than to suffer, and suddenly the thought of explaining why my faith matters to me sounds like the more appealing option. But at the same time, I know that suffering inevitably crosses my path no matter how often I try to avoid it. The thought that it can have an impact on the people I love-the ones who are watching to see if my faith makes a difference, the ones who aren't asking me to give them a theological explanation of anything, but who are looking for hope and peace- that makes me want to hear more of what he had to say.
Pastor Tson was arrested and imprisoned several times for his faith. While being interrogated by six officials, he said the following:
What is taking place here is not an encounter between you and me. This is an encounter between my God and me . . . My God is teaching me a lesson [through you]. I do not know what it is. Maybe He wants to teach me several lessons. I only know, sirs, that you will do to me only what God wants you to do and you will not go one inch further-because you are only an instrument of my Lord.
During an earlier interrogation, an official threatened to kill him. Pastor Tson replied with these words:
You should know your supreme weapon is killing. My supreme weapon is dying. Now here is how it works, sirs: You know that my sermons are on tape all over the country. When you shoot me or crush me, whichever way you choose, [you] only sprinkle my sermons with my blood. Everybody who has a tape of one of my sermons will pick it up and say, “I had better listen again. This man died for what he preached.” Sir, my sermons will speak 10 times louder after you kill me and because you kill me. In fact, I will conquer this country for God because you killed me. Go on and do it.
After he said this, Pastor Tson was sent home. He later heard that a different official was interrogating another pastor and told him, “We know that Mr. Tson would love to be a martyr, but we are not that foolish to fulfill his wish.”
There is something incredibly powerful about a person who loves Jesus enough to suffer with grace and without fear. A life lived on a platform of suffering is challenging, and there are certainly days when it feels unbearable. But one thing it most definitely is not, is meaningless.
Even the smallest bit of suffering can be replete with meaning when it causes us to preach without words. A woman who suffers graciously leaves people utterly dumbfounded. Everyone expects her to fall apart, to be bitter, to give up. But when she stares down fear, people begin to wonder if her God is real. They wonder if she's drawing from a difference source of strength than what they are accessing. They sense that there's something more in her life, something more than what they are experiencing.
I don't know what's going to cross each of our paths this summer. I'm guessing it won't all be rainbows and sunshine. Let's make a choice to receive all that comes our way-both the pleasant and the painful-with a determination to not waste an ounce of it. May we take every beautiful moment and make it an opportunity to thank God who sent it. And may we take every challenging one, and thank Him for the opportunity to shine in the darkness. People we love are watching to see what makes us different. May our words, actions, and attitudes quietly reveal that God is real, and that His grace is enough.
When, when, when am I going to learn? I am certain that God is wondering just how many times it's going to take for me to get it through my head that there is a limit to what I can stick on my calendar and actually get done with a sweet spirit.
The school year finally ended, and next was Laeka's high school graduation. I wish that I had been fully appreciating the milestone, living in the moment, and deeply feeling the passage of time, but I was actually just trying to keep one-year-old Charlotte from choking on little things she'd try to put into her mouth.
Immediately after graduation, we hosted four different guests, and my house was full of kids who were constantly at home and instantly bored. Also on the calendar was a wedding and doctors' appointments.
Even though the parents of the senior class had already given a wonderfully fun group graduation party for the seniors, I really wanted to give Laeka his own party. (I had seen the cutest invitation on Pinterest!) This extra little fiesta was scheduled for the day before we were leaving at 6 a.m. for a family vacation.
Adding to the joy and general low-stress atmosphere in the house was the need to provide food for the guests and to clean up the house. My parents were spending the night and then leaving with us on our trip. Having anyone spend the night means that one of my boys has to move out of his bedroom, and the room has to be scrubbed down. In my defense, I had done this a full day ahead of schedule, and then reminded him to sleep on the blow-up mattress in his brother's room.
And this brought me to the crisis point. The morning of the blessed party dawned, and I walked into my son's bedroom only to find… my son… in his bed! Clothes were strewn everywhere, empty potato chip bags were on the floor, and a dog with muddy paws was curled up on the duvet. What's more, he had clearly been eating Cheetos in bed because there were orange powdered fingerprints all over the sheets. And I lost it. All the frustration of the too-busy week found an outlet in this one moment.
What did I want from my son? A simple apology. But the apology didn't come. Instead, he avoided eye contact with me throughout the morning, and tried to make up for his actions by doing all sorts of unpleasant tasks like changing Charlotte's diaper, cleaning out the refrigerator, and mowing the lawn. I appreciated his efforts, but what I really wanted was for him to simply say he was sorry.
When, when, when was he going to learn? Suddenly, that question sounded a little familiar. How often have I responded to God in my own failures in the same way that Jonathan had responded to me? I owe God an apology, but avoid Him instead. I try to make up for my sin by doing other good things, hoping that God will notice those things and ignore the fact we must confess our sin. How much better it would be if I would just own my mess from the get-go, and simply tell Him “I'm sorry.”
In the words of Frederick Buechner, “To confess your sins to God is not to tell [God] anything [God] doesn't already know. Until you confess them, however, they are the abyss between you. When you confess them, they become the bridge.”
When we don't confess our sin, it saps our spiritual strength. As David said in Psalm 32, “Because I kept silent, my bones wasted away; I groaned all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength withered as in dry summer heat. Then I declared my sin to you; my guilt I did not hide. I said, ‘I confess my transgression to the Lord,' and you took away the guilt of my sin.'” True refreshment comes from closeness to God.
When we confess our sin, He forgives. When He forgives, He wipes the slate clean. When our slate is clean, we have a spring in our step and a lightness in our spirit that feels as good as a breeze on a hot summer day.
Praying that your June is filled with days of refreshment and closeness to God!