Strength in Weakness

When our one year old woke up, cooing and ready to go at 4:30 a few mornings ago, I thought I was going to lose it.  Our boys wake up early, but 4:30 was a new record and despair and exhaustion bore down on me as I scooped Ben up and tried to persuade him to go back to sleep.  I tried to look on the bright side.  I knew he would have a great nap later on, but I still wrestled with my old foe, self-pity.

When I was single, I often struggled with self-pity as I looked around at my married friends and envied their state.  I assumed their lives were full of love and laughter, more rich than mine, less lonely, more stable and secure.  I feared spinsterhood and failed to appreciate just how rich my life really was.  I often doubted God’s love and wondered why He allowed me to suffer so.

And that morning, happily married with two gorgeous boys, I had the same kinds of dark thoughts and feelings.  Once again, my soul was caste down, my flesh whining, “Why can’t you just let me SLEEP??!”  I felt desperate, afraid I wouldn’t make it through the day and mad.

Reflecting on all this later on, I realized that there are times in life, whether we are married or single, with or without children, that our souls are stretched, our flesh winces in pain and we must put our hope in God.

That morning, I chose to trust God: trust that His grace would be made perfect in my weakness (2 Cor 12:8), that he would help me to be a good mom to my sons, and even experience joy in the midst of it all.  And He came through, just as He did when I yielded to Him in my single days; we had a great day.

Nothing could have prepared me for the realities of motherhood: both the rich and the hard.  I never imagined the desperate feelings of overwhelming love you could feel for a little person, the pride and joy of seeing them grow and reach new milestone.  How profound is the fierce, protective, consuming love of a mother!  Nor was I prepared for the painfully incessant sacrifice and self-denial the office of Mother brings.

And these days, I feel just as desperate for God and his grace as I did when I was single.  I need His companionship, reassurance, strength, vision and sense of purpose in the same degree.  Everything has changed in my physical circumstances, but nothing has changed in my need for God.  It is still in Him that I live and move and have my being (Acts 17:28).  I still look in the mirror and see frailty, and lean on His everlasting arms (Deut 33:27).

We are all in this together, my sisters.  Running this race, keeping our eyes on the prize, holding onto Jesus and determined to finish well.

Single women: How Will You Know if He is THE ONE?


“John told them, “I baptize with water, but right here in the crowd is someone you do not recognize…. Then John testified, “I saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and resting upon him. I didn’t know he was the one, but when God sent me to baptize with water, he told me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I saw this happen to Jesus, so I testify that he is the Chosen One of God.”
(John 1;26, 32-34)

A few months ago, I was talking to a single friend who asked, “So how DO you know when you meet Mr. Right — and don’t just say, ‘Oh, you’ll know!’” She was tired of the typical pat answer and wanted something more.

The following Sunday, our pastor preached from the above Bible passage and I remembered the conversation with my friend. Jesus looked ordinary. He was right there in the crowd, looking, average. John had waited his whole life for Jesus; he had anticipated his coming for years, and yet without the sign of the dove descending on Jesus, he would have missed him, because, to look at, there was nothing extraordinary about him. He didn’t have a sign on his forehead, “I am THE ONE.” There were no bells or whistles, fireworks or heavenly hosts, just an ordinary guy, amidst a crowd, who would ultimately do extraordinary things.

I realized that something similar happens with single women, especially if you have been waiting for a long time. You daydream, you pray and fast, you talk with friends, all about the kind of guy you’d like to marry. You don’t know when he’ll come, but you envision how you’ll meet, what he’ll be like, how he’ll ask you out and how he’ll one day pop the question. You can build it up in your head so much that before you know it, you’ve got this fairytale romance going on in your mind, that probably won’t come to pass quite that way. Your future husband may be that ordinary Joe, in the congregation, a few rows down, who doesn’t really turn heads and certainly doesn’t walk on water. He won’t have a hallo and Gabriel won’t come and whisper in your ear, “He’s THE ONE.”

Most single women I meet have standards that are either too high or too low. Either they snub every man that shows interest in them because he’s not spiritual enough, handsome enough, rich enough or he has some mortal flaw. Or, they are so desperate they go out with any guy who has two legs and occasionally goes to church. When I was single, I fell in the later category; because of low self-esteem, I went out with almost any guy who showed the slightest interest in me. But I’ve met many women who wouldn’t go out with Jesus himself, because, after all, he was just a carpenter (and you’ll never drive a Lexus being married to a carpenter!)

My concern with picky single women is that they’ll miss a gem because he wears the wrong kind of jeans or carries a few extra pounds or doesn’t have the books of the Bible memorized – backwards.

So how DO you know? How will you recognize him when he comes. One of my favorite Broadway musicals is Guys and Dolls. I used to croon with the heroin, Sarah, “Suddenly I’ll know, when my love comes along/ I’ll know, then and there…” Will you really know, suddenly, then and there?

As I’ve thought about my own romance with Marvin and those of some of my friends with happy marriages I’ve come up with a few crucial things that go into the knowing: some signs, if you will, kind of like that dove resting on Jesus, to look for if you’re getting serious about somebody and want to know if this might possibly be Mr. Right.

You’ll notice that all of these points assume that you’ve spent some time getting to know each other. I know there are some successful instances of mutual love at first sight and quick courtships. But in general, I am a huge proponent of taking your time to get to know the guy. One of the reasons the divorce rate is so high among Christians, is that Christians don’t spend enough time getting to know each other during the dating season. They are so afraid of falling into sexual sin, that they rush the process and run to the altar. I totally believe, however, that you can date long enough to really get to know a guy AND stay out of the sack. You must be wise, agree on boundaries and have some method of accountability, but it’s possible. We’re human beings, with the Holy Spirit resident on the inside, not animals during mating season! A wise friend once said, “The purpose of dating is to get to know each other, not to see how far you can go without having sex.” My rule of thumb is one to two years; this includes your initial friendship, the dating period and your engagement. As I said, I know a couple of people who met and married a few months later, and they are still happily married. But this is the exception, not the rule.

Here are five things to look for in your relationship, if you are trying to discern if this guy is for keeps. I’m sure there are other important things, but here are five to start with.

Respect.

Do you respect his walk with the Lord? Whether he’s a new Christian, or a preacher’s kid who got saved when he was 4, does he love the Word? Does he love to worship? Does he hear from God during his quiet times? Is he growing spiritually because he’s teachable and humble?

Do you respect his work ethic? Whether he’s a world-renowned surgeon, or a telephone repairman, does he take his job seriously, giving it 100% when he’s there? Is he respected and liked by his colleagues and co-workers? Does he have ambition to do better and go beyond where he is?

Do you respect his stewardship? Whether he owns a gorgeous home or rents a one bed-room apartment, does he take care of it? Is he a good steward of his money?

Does he respect you? Does he encourage you to dream and then do what it takes to realize your dreams? Does he invest time and/or money helping you to reach your goals? Does he listen to you, respect your opinions and admit that sometimes you know more than he does? Is he proud of you? Does he like “showing you off” – to his parents and friends?

Does he respect your body and take the lead in upholding the standards of purity you have set? Good guys struggle with sexual temptation. If he doesn’t struggle, you should wonder. But good guys will also respect and love you enough to deny their flesh and wait.

Generosity and sacrifice.

Whether he earns $40,000 or $240,000 a year, does he make financial sacrifices to bless you? Does he pay the bill at the restaurant, surprise you with flowers, pick you up and pay for the gas? I am NOT encouraging you to look for a Sugar Daddy, but I do believe that the willingness of a man to sacrifice for his girlfriend is a crucial test. God asks husbands to lay down their lives for their wives – to literally die for them if necessary, and to daily die to themselves to help their wives to thrive. If a guy can’t buy you dinner when you’re dating, he’s not going to all of a sudden turn into a wonderfully giving husband who will get up in the middle of the night to attend to a sick child so that you can get some sleep. If he’s selfish when you’re dating him, he will be more selfish when you’re married to him. Ladies, I do NOT mean that the guy should neglect his rent so that he can take you to a five star restaurant. That’s bad stewardship. I DO mean that dating you should cost him and it should hurt his wallet. He should be happy to deny himself his daily Starbucks or those new slick Bose speakers he’s been looking at to bless your socks off on your birthday.

Does he drive the full way to pick you up, or does he routinely ask to meet him half way? Is he willing to hang out with your family and friends, even if it’s a little awkward, because it’s important and it makes you happy?

Look for the small and large sacrifices along the way. Good, Christian husbands can attest that it takes a lot of sacrifice to make a marriage work. They die to themselves daily to be the servant leaders in their homes. You should see signs of this in your dating days. It will not magically appear after your honeymoon.

Love gives, and if the guy doesn’t give out of his time, energy and money, he doesn’t love you.

The approval of those who love you the most.

One of the reasons so many girls wind up with the wrong guy is that they date in a vacuum. In our modern culture, women go away to college, often settle down afterwards in a city far from home and in those post college years, they start thinking about marriage. If they bring the guy home to meet their parents, it’s after they have given their hearts away and perhaps their bodies. As a result, if the parents see any red flags, it’s too late. You don’t really want to hear what they have to say because your mind is already made up. You’re marrying him; the thought of breaking up is just too painful and seeking your parents’ approval is more perfunctory than it is genuine.

The better way is to get your family and friends involved right away. As a matter of fact, I believe the best way to date, especially in the initial stages, is within a group: going out to dinner with friends, going to movies with other couples, going to a friend’s barbecue, together, hanging out at your parents’ home for dinner and movie. In those initial months, when you like a guy, but you don’t know what God is saying, it is best to date out in the open, doing group activities with those who know you and love you the most.

I know in some cases your parents are deceased, or unavailable or they live too far away to bring a boyfriend home for a casual dinner. What about your best friends? Those closest to you in your church family? You want people to meet this guy who have your best interest in mind – and his too. People who are not on Cloud 9, who can see clearly and who have discernment. If it is possible for your parents to meet him in those early stages, don’t discount your their opinions if they are unsaved. Fathers have an uncanny sixth sense about men interested in their daughters. Yes, they can be too protective. But deep down inside, most fathers want to see their daughters happily married, and whether they are saved or not, they can smell a rat. My father always knew when boyfriends wouldn’t stay around long. He just sensed their lack of serious interest. I wish he had lived long enough to meet Marvin, and see a man truly loving me, but they’ll meet in heaven someday, and have plenty to talk about! (My father was saved shortly before he died.)

You don’t need to be alone all the time to get to know each other. The myth of dating is that you need hundreds of hours of one on one time, having intimate dinners, cuddling in each other’s apartments and enjoying romantic picnics together to get to know someone well enough. And you do need time alone, but not every day and every evening. The majority of time, especially when you first meet, should be with other people. The guy does not need unlimited access into your life and heart. Keep it simple, upbeat and light by having other people around. That will help you to guard your heart and those other people will be a source of confirmation of what God is saying.

After a while, when your friends and family offer an opinion, LISTEN. “Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others.” (Prov 12:15)

You do not have to heed advice based in racism or other ungodly biases, but if someone close to you questions the guy’s character or his true feeling for you, listen and respond wisely.

Confirmation from God’s Word.

It’s easy to deceive yourself and believe that God TOLD you that this is the guy, when it really is just you hoping and wishing that this is the guy. That’s why it’s dangerous to rely on this test alone, but it is important for you to try to hear from God, and even to ask Him for a Scripture confirming His will.

As I got to know Marvin I saw what a gem he was; he was passionate about God and heard from Him regularly; he had a great work ethic; he was humble, teachable, mature and wise. In so many ways, he was too good to be true. BUT, I was not romantically attracted to him and that bothered me. Attraction is not the most important thing, but it is important. So I was praying about that one day, asking God to do something in my heart if this was the right guy. I didn’t want to make a mistake and let a good thing go. And God lead me to a scripture: “Don’t judge by his appearance or height … The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (I Sam 16:7). God spoke to my heart, as clear as day, “Don’t worry about being physically attracted to him. Seek to know his heart and everything else will fall into place.” It felt like a thousand pound weight had been taken from my shoulders. I asked God to show me Marvin’s heart, and I fell in love with it. And soon I fell in love with all of him. By the time we were engaged I was very attracted to him, and today I truly find him the most handsome man alive.

The Love Factor

So are you in love with him? Can you imagine life without him? Do you want to be with him all the time? Do you love his company? Are you a better person, a better Christian, because of him? Yes, all of those exciting feelings should be there. To this day, my heart skips a beat when I hear Marvin walk through the door. If you marry the right guy, those feelings won’t go away – for very long anyway.

One last word. All of this goes both ways. I have already started praying for my sons’ wives. The thought of them marrying selfish, self-serving, immature women who don’t truly love them breaks my heart. I am praying that God will spare them of heartache and preserve them for good, Godly women who will love God and love them with all of their hearts. Be the kind of person you’d like to marry.

Stretching our Faith

Our eight month old is almost ready to crawl.  He sees his brother’s toys scattered on the floor and wants to taste and experience all of them!  So he sits and stretches as far as his arms can stretch, trying to reach those delicious looking trains, cars and trucks.  Often I scoot one over so that he can play with it, but sometimes I let him struggle.  He’s kind of a laid back baby and I know he’s going to have to be motivated to actually make the effort to crawl.   So I try not to make it too easy for him.  I let him stretch and grunt and he looks at me imploringly, as if to say, “Help me, mommy!”  I certainly have the power to help him, end his struggle and relieve his turmoil, but sometimes I wait, just a few minutes to give him the chance to try to get it on his own.

Watching this whole process one day, I realized how similar this is to our struggles with prayer, God and faith.  There is something we want, badly, but it remains just beyond our reach.  We’ve prayed and prayed for it and we daydream about the relief possessing it will bring and yet we still don’t have it.  Sometimes we get mad.  God, after all, has the power to just give it to us and end our agony.  But He doesn’t.  It feels like He’s just watching us stretch and struggle, get worn out, frustrated and depressed.  And yet, there’s something that He’s after.  I want Benjamin’s muscles to develop, so I have to let him physically struggle sometimes.  I want him to grow strong, confident and capable, so I can’t just scoot everything over to him that he wants, as soon as he wants it.   Oh, I’m a softy, and I can’t bare the sad face too long, but I do bare it longer than he’d like!

The times that God has tarried in my life, there’s always been something that He wanted to accomplish; it’s never just struggling for struggling’s sake.  Years ago, when I was asking for a mate, among other things, God wanted me to let go of my “right” to have a husband, and He wanted Marvin to mature spiritually.  Now, as we’ve been asking him to sell our house, we’ve learned to live on less, prioritize and live more financially disciplined lives.  God may have other reasons for tarrying, but those are the things we’ve pinpointed as we’ve waited and trusted.  He’s not just withholding to make us suffer.  He waited four days to come and raise Lazarus because He had something in mind, not because he wanted to torment Mary and Martha.  In God’s economy, the tears are worth the outcome.

God has compassion on us when we struggle and He’ll come and comfort, but He may not give in and give us what we want, just because we’re frustrated.  There is a reason for the wait.  Trust Him.  The good thing is, I know how much Benjamin can bare.  I know when he just can’t stretch anymore and I provide relief.  Similarly, God knows how much we can handle.  And even if it isn’t time to actually give us that thing we want so badly, He knows just how to comfort and encourage us, so that we can keep waiting with some joy and hope in our hearts.

Surprised by Harvest

Last August 1st we closed on a house and moved in a few days later.  It was a great time to move in; the former owner loved flowers and the front and back yards were ablaze with summer flora including hundreds of roses.  We got to enjoy it all for a couple of months before fall set in.  For the past six months, except for the few weeks of fall foliage, our yards looked like barren wastelands.  In the winter, everything looks dead and you forget all about the reds, pinks and yellows that once adorned the outside.

At last, half a year later, the grass again looks lush and green and the spring flowers that I didn’t even know were there are valiantly making their way through the soil and blooming despite the chilly air.  Every morning I look out to see if anything new has come up.  You see, I didn’t plant these flowers and each time something else pops up it is a welcome surprise.  So far there are daffodils, all different colors of hyacinths and lilies of the valley.  Oh, and one of my favorite beacons of spring, a forsythia, is ablaze in the back.

At the same time, the Holy Spirit keeps whispering Galatians 6:9 to me: “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”  And we’ve all heard, “You reap what you sow!”  This is true, of course, but the reaping isn’t always as predictable in the spiritual as it is in the natural.  You may sow in one field and reap in another or sow in one season and reap many seasons later.  Sometimes we give sacrificially to one person, then she moves away and we never hear from her again, but someone else comes along and blesses us, even though we’ve given nothing to them.  Or other times we sow and sow and sow.  We give, and give and give, when it hurts, when we’re weary, when we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel and we wonder if it’s all in vain.  The time to harvest blessing just doesn’t come and we wonder if we’ll ever taste any fruit.

But these spring flowers remind me that the harvest will come, often in surprising ways.  You’ve been praying and praying for financial provision, and all of a sudden you get offered a one-time job that pays exactly what you need.  You’ve been asking God for a husband, and when you least expect it, a man takes interest in you and the relationship blooms before you even know what’s happening.  You sow and sow and sow into your children and during a quiet moment, you realize you haven’t had to discipline them for that particular issue in weeks and they seem to have taken a big leap forward in emotional maturity.

We often don’t know how and when the harvest will come, but we WILL harvest.  That’s the promise, and we can bank on it.  God always rewards faithfulness.

“So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul— then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and olive oil.”  (Deut 11:13-14)

Be Anxious for Nothing

A few days ago, I was at an indoor playground with my boys.  Isaac was darting around and Benjamin traveled in a baby sling snug on my hip.  Within a few moments I noticed a woman staring at me; she apologized and said that she was just admiring my sling.  She was pregnant and had a toddler in tow, and she had been wondering which paraphernalia to buy; she liked the sling idea.  Within a few minutes of talking, however, she started to express guilt and insecurity over not having such a contraption for her first.  “Maybe I didn’t hold him enough.  Maybe he didn’t have enough time snuggling with Mommy…”  I asked if he seemed to often crave her arms and she said, “No, actually, he doesn’t really like to be held.”  “Oh, than it seems fine.  Perhaps with a personality like that, he wouldn’t have liked the sling…”  She seemed encouraged and reassured.  Maybe she hadn’t made a tragic mistake after all.

I went away from that conversation marveling at how much we moms worry – about everything.  It could have just as easily been me stressing about not doing something enough for one of my kids.  This time I got to be on the encouraging end, and that felt good.  We all need so much reassurance, and most moms I know teeter on the brink of debilitating insecurity.  I think there are two realities in our culture that make such insecurity more acute.  First, we have so much information about raising kids.  There are hundreds of websites telling us when our babies should sleep through the night; when our toddlers should count and make their own beds; when our teenagers should make their own money…  We are riddled with “shoulds” as our computer screen tells us what and when our kids should do certain things.  They warn us of developmental delays, potential physical hazards and behavioral warning signs and we moms internalize all of them and fear that we are ruining our kids when they don’t measure up to one of the shoulds.

Secondly, we don’t have enough wiser older women in our lives, holding our hands, giving us good old-fashioned advice and telling us that everything will be ok.  So we rely on the media for knowledge when we could really just use a healthy dose of wisdom and warm reassurance.

We Christian women carry yet another burden of fretting about our children’s spiritual development: How can we teach them about God? When will they understand the salvation message?  I hope they come to have a relationship with Jesus soon. And sometimes we have crazy high standards for behavior and character.  I remember reading an article several months ago that said Christian mothers are among the most depressed people in our society; no wonder!  We’re too stressed about our kids to enjoy life!

It’s an ingenious plan of the Enemy: he fills our lives with so much anxiety about our children that we fail to see the beauty in them and relish the privilege of parenting them.  Surely, there is a better way.  I think it starts with recognizing the Holy Spirit as our mentor, our tutor, our comforter and our friend.  On those days when I simply ask the Holy Spirit for direction and wisdom in parenting, He always whispers the right thing in my ear and the day generally goes really well.  Similarly, when I’m worn out and overwhelmed, He most always reassures me and breathes hope and rest into my soul.  It’s a matter of looking to the Lord rather than looking for more knowledge or even asking a myriad of people for their opinion or advice.  The Lord is our source of security.  We can rest in Him, knowing that He will give us the wisdom we need and that He is so much bigger than our mistakes.  This is the essence of living a Christ centered life.  He is the source of all wisdom and power and He has the ability to accomplish exceedingly abundantly more than we can ask or imagine with our kids.  His grace truly is sufficient.  We moms need to lean on those Everlasting Arms, take a deep breath and know that everything will be just fine.