Reciprocity in Relationships and Lopsided Ministry

We Wish You a Merry Christmas

Dear Family and Friends,

How does one sum up a year filled with incredible moments, deep sadness, amazing adventures, personal achievements, hard work and remarkable growth? As I was contemplating all that 2017 has held, I had the thought that if a movie were to be made of any year in my life, this one would be a contender.

To begin this exciting year, Dave and I had the opportunity to go on a cruise with two of our dear friends. We snorkeled in Honduras, kayaked in Belize, shopped in Costa Maya and celebrated Dave’s birthday with an ATV tour and more snorkeling in Cozumel. On board our ship, we enjoyed playing shuffleboard on a windy day, drinking our coffee and journaling on our balcony, bowling, enjoying the many different restaurants and simply spending time with our friends.

Spring brought unexpected challenges and sweet joys. In March, our town was impacted by a powerful wind storm and we lost power for three days. It was a difficult and cold few days for us, but we were determined to see it as an adventure. We piled mattresses into our fireplace room and had a sleepover that our children will never forget!

There were several times throughout the past year when I thought I would never see my dear Mama again. Her health has been precarious at best, so when my sister suggested that we surprise her by going to see her over Mother’s day weekend, I was thrilled. For years, I had been working on a book idea to tell a bit of my Dad’s story and how it has impacted mine. God laid it on my heart to finish the book, so I spent three weeks writing and editing and praying. When I arrived in Kansas, I was able to present my Mom with my book. Our time together was incredibly sweet and I praise God for his gift of extra time with my Mama!!

One highlight of our year was the opportunity for Dave and Ethan to fly in a glider. Ethan has a keen interest in flying, so for his 12th birthday, a friend of ours invited my guys to fly with him. It was an exciting and exhilarating day- a birthday to remember!

When we began homeschooling our kids in the Fall of 2016, we quickly discovered two things- homeschooling is a perfect fit for our family and since we will be doing this long term, we needed to devote a space to our new lifestyle. We were already outgrowing our fireplace family room, so we made the decision to finish our basement with the hopes of using it as our family room and then utilizing the fireplace room for our homeschool room. In June, demolition began. Dave has worked every spare moment since to transform our basement into a beautiful and cozy family room space.

This whole process has been stretching for all of us as we have had to adjust our entire lives to this seemingly endless project. But God’s goodness has been felt through all of it and we are so thankful for Dave’s hard work and persistence. There are still a few more things to finish up, but we are already in love with this new space!

Other exciting moments this year included Lindsay’s performance in Anne of Green Gables and voice recitals. She continues to excel in the arts and is continuing to write books (she just completed chapter 9 of her current book!) and we enjoy the opportunity to support her. Ethan earned his red belt in Tae Kwon Do and continues to take saxophone lessons. His creativity and love for learning are emerging and we love that we get a front row seat to his growth. Gibson is quick to learn and has become a voracious reader. He loves science and geography and is able to memorize facts and scripture easily. We are excited about what the future holds for him. Ainsley loves to dance, play with her siblings and go to preschool. It is a privilege to teach her and see her excitement for learning.

We made the decision to join a local cooperation of homeschool families called “Gloria Deo Co-op” at the beginning of this school year. The kids love everything about co-op. They each take three classes and I have the privilege of teaching preschool for four precious little girls (including Ainsley) while they are in class. It has been a joy to see their excitement each week!

In addition to finishing our basement this year, Dave preached through a few sermon series. He preached through Hebrews in the spring  and his fall series was on the five solas of the Reformation- scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone and to the glory of God alone. Personally, I am so grateful for his faithfulness in preaching and for the humble way he presents truth for God’s glory .We celebrated twenty years in ministry together this year and we are so thankful for God’s faithfulness to us all of these years! If you want to listen to any of Dave’s sermons, you can access them at the Orchard Community Church website.

I continue to do online work for The MOB Society– a ministry to Moms of Boys. My work is primarily in customer service, but I also have the opportunity to write prayers for our monthly and now quarterly prayer calendars. This opportunity has been a gift in my life and I can clearly see how God prepared this for me in order that I could still homeschool my kids. He is so good and faithful! I am still in the process of revising and editing the book that I wrote for my Mom in the Spring. I hope to have it self-published in 2018!

 

 

From our family to yours, we wish you a very Merry Christmas! May you know the hope that was born in a manger, the salvation that Jesus freely gives to all who believe and the love and joy that is ours in Christ. The baby in a manger changed everything and we pray that the significance of what we celebrate will be at the forefront of your celebrations this Christmas and every day in the New Year.

Merry Christmas with love,

Becky (for Dave, Lindsay, Ethan, Gibson and Ainsley)

Do You Live in a Grace-Filled or Shame Based Environment?

“Shame on you!”

The words ricocheted through her heart, the tears falling fast. She had heard these words spoken many times in her childhood, but was unprepared to hear them again as a grown woman. But maturity had taught her a few things and this time, she didn’t hear the words in the same way.

As she prayed about her response, she realized a few things. In this situation, she was not sinning. She had merely shared a struggle that was met with this harsh response. Her desire was to show love and kindness, but she had been hurt and misunderstood. When she expressed her need for more time to work through this struggle, it was met with these harsh words. Prayer reminded her of the love the Father had lavished on her. It reminded her of her purpose- to bring glory to God alone, not to strive to live up to man’s ever shifting standards.

“You’re such a jerk! Why can’t you be like the other girls?”

Reminiscing about these words spoken by a teacher three years ago, brings tears to her eyes. These were unfair and unkind words spoken to a child who was struggling by an adult charged with helping her students grow in maturity. But the words have seeped deep into her soul. Maybe she is a jerk. Maybe there is something wrong with her, because she does think differently and she can’t quite seem to fit into the boxes that others want her to fit into.

Several years ago, I began studying the concept of grace, because I had come to realize that while I understood grace on an intellectual level, there was a discrepancy between this knowledge and my experience. Grace was great of course, but was it really amazing? I wasn’t sure.

And so, I began to read and to contemplate and to pray and as I did so, I discovered that grace IS truly amazing, but it is only understood when one recognizes and believes the truth about their own sinful state and their desperate need for Christ. Without this understanding, grace is just a nice little blessing that we recognize on occasion rather than an overwhelming sense of gratitude for how deep and vast the love of God is and how He has poured that love out on us and IS pouring it out from a well that never runs dry.

All of the “shame on yous” could never truly teach me to see the depths of my own sin, but seeing the lengths that God was willing to go to in order to draw me into relationship with Himself has changed everything for me. I didn’t deserve it (this was the crucial piece of this puzzle that I had to wrestle with and truly accept!). There was no merit of my own, no goodness on my part that  could make me right with God. If there was, why would Jesus have come to this world, humbling himself and becoming obedient to death on a cross? Isn’t that utter foolishness if I could save myself?

I had dipped my toe into the pool of grace and now I wanted to dive in. Grace was beginning to wash over me and I wanted more.

Shame had been a motivation in my life for as long as I could remember. Figure out what people want and try to make them happy was an unspoken mantra. Don’t admit your inadequacies. Be who people want you to be and all will be well. But cracks were beginning to develop as I experienced more conflict with others when I pushed back on the inconsistencies I saw. The truth was that it was impossible to please everyone no matter how hard I tried.

A friend posed this question to me in one of our conversations- “Do we live in a grace-filled or shame based environment?” And perhaps a better question, which environment should we be living in?

This question has been resonating in my heart ever since. When I am tempted to say “what’s wrong with you?!!” to one of my children, I am learning to bite my tongue. Because while I am legitimately frustrated with their behavior in the moment, I desire lasting change in their hearts, not a momentary shaming that will result in a desired behavior change. Instead, I want to seek the grace-filled response. This takes time. It takes a willingness to listen to their hearts, to truly understand the motives behind their behavior. It involves leading them to the throne of grace where they are invited to come boldly in order to obtain mercy and find grace to help in times of need (Hebrews 4:16, KJV).

I have learned that shame condemns, but grace convicts.

Shame leaves us feeling miserable. Once again, we have failed others and we need to try harder the next time.

But grace leaves us feeling free. It shows us that we’re not supposed to trust in our own faulty strength, but instead, we get to run to the throne room and trust in Jesus to be our strength.

Shame emphasizes our inadequacies; grace magnifies Christ’s sufficiency.

Shame focuses on our own guilt; grace focuses on complete forgiveness.

Shame points fingers; grace points to Christ.

I have found that when we are focused on being grace-filled, shame based environments or attitudes stick out like a sore thumb. Shaming others is manipulative. It is an attempt to exert control over others. As a parent, it can be a response to embarrassment (and when you have outside-the-box kinds of kids, there is ample opportunity for this!). When you are surrounded by shaming behavior, it is defeating rather than life giving.

But when others are seeking grace as well, there is a beautiful communion of spirit. There is a like-mindedness that draws hearts towards truth. There is a freedom to fail, because there is no condemnation. Admittance of sin is celebrated, because it means that forgiveness can be sought and true heart change can occur. There is a desire for all things to be brought into the light, for a quickness to admit fault in order to seek peace and righteousness.

If you have never considered what kind of environment you live in, might I encourage you to do so?

Here are some passages that encourage grace-filled living:

1 John 1Romans 8:1-11, 2 Corinthians 12:9  and Hebrews 4:14-16 

 

Letting Go of Holiday Expectations

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! At least, that’s what the songs tell us, but maybe for you, it’s not. Maybe it’s a time when you are reminded of all of your inadequacies as you scroll through stunning photos on Instagram. Maybe  your heart is breaking in two as the grief over losing a loved one threatens to overwhelm you. You thought that you had worked through it, but then you pass an older gentleman at the grocery store who smiles at you and the ache over missing your Daddy returns full force. Maybe money is tight this year and as friends talk about the big ticket items they scored on Black Friday, you are left feeling sad as you consider the Dollar Store items that will most likely be under your tree. Or maybe you long for a family of your own, but your finger remains bare, a reminder that you will once again be alone as you welcome a new year.

The holiday season can be an amazing time, but it can also be an awful time. What I have learned through the years is that my experience of this time is not based on the circumstances as much as it is determined by my expectations.

I started learning this lesson late in my high school years. My sisters were both in college at the time and I could sense that Christmas would never be the same as it had always been. I was having a hard time letting go. One of our family traditions was to go to a Christmas tree farm and pick out a tree, but this particular year, we were unable to find a time when we could do this. So my Dad decided that he would pick out the tree. I felt deeply sorrowful over this seeming loss of my childhood, but was trying to be mature about it. But then! My mom and I returned home from the event we were attending to find the ugliest tree I have ever seen leaning against the front porch. We were both upset as we stepped out of the car. How could my Dad do this to us?!! And then, my laughing Daddy walked around the side of the house carrying the real Christmas tree. Turns out, the other one was for my Mom’s wreath making.

It’s a funny story now, but it was a time when I was confronted with expectations and how tricky they can be. My feelings surprised me and I realized that I was holding tightly to an ideal instead of being willing to accept the changes in our family.

The next time I came head to head with unmet expectations was my Freshman year of college. My parents had moved to a new town the summer before I entered my Freshman year, so it didn’t feel like coming home. My bedroom was unfamiliar and my childhood friends were no longer close by. As I opened the gifts in my stocking, it began to sink in. Christmas would never be the same. I pulled out a potato peeler and other kitchen utensils and felt like my heart would sink. I wasn’t dating anyone and I hated cooking, so how did these gifts make sense? Then I opened a package containing a pink blouse and another that was a book for storing window clings. For a girl who was most comfortable in flannel shirts and sweatshirts and who had no intention of ever putting window clings on windows, these gifts were painful. As I opened each one, I felt a growing sense that my parents did not know me any longer or they were trying to fit me into a mold that I had no desire to fill.

And so at the age of 19 on Christmas morning, I found myself trying to hold back tears. I was deeply disappointed, not quite ready to close the book on childhood expectations.

That Christmas was pivotal for me. In order to embrace the holidays and focus on the things that were important, I would need to let go of my expectations and instead be grateful and content despite the circumstances.

Letting go of expectations has been a recurring theme in my life ever since. The past few months have been a particularly stretching time for me. My husband has been working since the beginning of June to finish our basement. At the end of this project, we plan to use the basement as our family room and convert our current family room to a homeschool room. The process has been tough on our family. We have not been able to travel or make many memories together, because the basement is full of seemingly endless projects. Our bikes have been unusable, because they all need air in the tires and have been covered in sawdust, because our garage is also my husband’s shop. Our storage room is filled to the brim with desks and shelves and a fooseball table and tables- all awaiting their future homes, but this makes it difficult to get to the boxes of books and seasonal decorations. Every time I need something in storage, I have to go through a challenging obstacle course. In addition to the difficulty of finding anything, every surface is covered in a fine dust from the drywall installation. I have to wash everything I find in storage AND wipe off my clothes that will inevitably be covered in dust as well.

Every day, I am met with a new challenge and what I have learned is that if I hold tightly to how I want things to be, I am disappointed constantly. But when I am willing to embrace each moment and be grateful for it instead of longing for what isn’t, I find that I am able to be joyful for the blessings. There will always be difficulty, but this perspective has changed everything for me.

As adults, we know that the pictures that others share on social media are not the complete story, but it can be easy to believe that everyone else has a perfect little life, while ours is far from it. Grief creeps up in at the strangest moments, but if we can be thankful for the ways our lives have been enriched by knowing our loved ones, we don’t have to be overwhelmed by the loss. We can be grateful for their love and live to share that same love with the ones entrusted to us. When we can’t afford all of the things, it’s a good reminder that stuff is not what brings happiness. Playing games together, putting together a puzzle, looking at Christmas lights, making paper chains, stringing popcorn, making homemade gifts- THESE are the kinds of memories that make a lasting impression on a child. The new Lego set will be forgotten in a few months, but making Christmas cookies with Grandma will be a treasured memory that costs nothing. If you long for a family of your own, let your focus be on the ones God has brought into your life and seek to love them well. The truth is that God loves you more than you can imagine and He knows what is best for you. Are you willing to trust His timing and His plan?

This holiday season, seek to let go of expectations and instead embrace the challenges and the joys, finding the blessings that await you!

Reciprocity in Relationships and Lopsided Ministry

The best relationships are a bit like a see-saw on a playground. They are reciprocal; returning love for kindness shown, empathizing in times of trouble, and carrying each other’s burdens. At times, one friend might be stronger than the other and that strength will be shared in order to help their friend. But this will often flip-flop and the weaker friend will become the stronger in a different situation or under other circumstances. This beautiful give and take in friendship is dependable, steady and true. It is the result of loyalty and a mutual appreciation for one another. It is consistent and back and forth, a you give-I give relationship that benefits both friends.

Reciprocity in relationships develops trust, strengthening a friendship over time and allowing the relationship to go deep.

Ministry is more of a lopsided relationship. It is giving with no expectation of return. It is a pouring out and a laying down of “rights”. It is holding others up and caring for their needs, often without receiving anything in return.

The longer my husband and I serve in ministry, the more I realize how important this lopsided nature of ministry is in God’s upside-down kingdom. Jesus said, “The last will be first” (Matthew 20:16, ESV) and “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35, NIV). When we pour out our lives for others in this upside-down kingdom living, God pours into us.

Have you ever noticed that God is not reciprocal in His love for us? He lavishes His love on us! He doesn’t wait for us to love him perfectly before He pours His love into our lives. There is no stinginess in His love, no holding back. And when we experience that kind of love, we want to share it with others.

I don’t always minister well to others. I want relationships to be reciprocal and sometimes I insist upon it, withholding my love like a stubborn child, because I am not feeling loved in return. It’s in those times that Jesus reminds me of his lopsided love for me, of his faithfulness that is not dependent on my response and of His grace that he keeps pouring out on me and over me and in me and through me. All undeserved and all so freely given!

There is a beautiful sweetness in friendship when it is reciprocal and I believe that scripture admonishes us to be this kind of friend (1 Thessalonians 5:11, Ephesians 4:32, and James 5:16). But there is a suffering in lopsided ministry that causes us to rely fully on Christ to be our strength.

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5, ESV

I cherish my relationships that are reciprocal. I see them as a gift from God, as one of the ways He lavishes His love on me. But I am also grateful for the lopsided nature of ministry, because it causes me to fall before the throne of grace where I along with many others “receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16, NIV).

I believe that God is honored when there is reciprocity in relationships AND when there is faithfulness in lopsided ministry!

Celebrating twenty years in ministry!