The Trials ARE the Training

We’ve sat in seminars. Visited hotel conference rooms and small group brainstorming sessions. We have been “trained” to be church planters.

Don’t get me wrong, these things are good and necessary things, but nothing is quite like

the training that trials bring.

Since moving to Atlanta, with a vision to plant churches that keep planting churches, one block at a time,
we have hit multiple trials at a time.

Toxic black mold ordeal, and losing all of what we owned.

coming head to head with witchcraft and voodoo curses from our international neighbors.

A car crash. flooded basements…FOUR times. an incredibly difficult pregnancy. depression. a motorcycle crash. near death baby delivery. another basement flood. very sick four year old. broken collar bone. broken finger. ripped up shoulder. extensive shoulder repair surgery. postpartum depression. root canal. enough medical bills to repave the pot-holed streets of Atlanta. a half renovated house with no more money to finish it. All while keeping up with the constant needs and and schedules of six children.

When you move forward into God’s calling on your life, don’t expect things to get easier, expect them to get harder.

For the trials are the training.

Yes, they may be spiritual warfare, but they are also purposed battles which God has ordained for us to engage in. And with each battle, one gains strength as you learn to gird up your sword and fight for joy and fight for trust and fight for savoring this moment hidden away in the Presence of the Prince of Peace, even when everything external seems to be exploding, and everything internal seems to be imploding.

And that training….its not even really about YOU. Yes, you are strengthened, but you don’t get strong for strength’s sake. You get strong for the Glory of God, to show HIS strength in you in trials. And He’s preparing you for greater service, greater empathy, and greater compassion towards others.

~~~~~~

I didn’t start to see it until a few wonderful and crazy, and faith-filled and fear-plagued people started preparing to join our launch team. And then the constant unraveling, the impetuous kinks in the plan, the crushing weights of a life in upheaval that we have experienced these past 18 months started pressing into those dear ones as well. And I saw.

I saw that in this church planting endeavor, we are leading people into rocky waters. Thrilling, refreshing, but rocky nonetheless.  And if we had not had to learn to stand as the waves of hardship, frustration, financial strains, and struggle crashed into us, then we would have no voice of hope to continue to beckon them into these stormy waters where we get to meet the One who says “Peace, be still.”

Our dear little launch team has already seen stolen passports and social security cards, lost jobs, deaths of loved ones, struggle to find housing, struggle to find local work, disappointments over not getting accepted into the local schools, houses being broken into and cars being stolen. All soon after saying “yes” to the call . We have seen God provide along the way, strengthen when we had none, and shine brightly in the darkness of our confusion and fatigue. And now they will get to as well.

And it won’t simply just be for their training, it will be for their infilling.  They will come to the end of themselves, and cry out to the Living God to fill them, and then, and only then, will they have anything to offer those around them.

One of our brave launch team members, savoring the quiet of baby cuddles as she walks through the storm of trials.

One of our brave launch team members, savoring the quiet of baby Judah cuddles as she walks through the storm of trials.

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When you want the glory without the path that gets you there

I dreamed it.

And it scared me.

Scared me right into humble submission to every long, hard, fatigued, feeling-sick day. Scared me into waiting patiently.  Scared me into receiving whatever I needed to learn and do in this hard waiting process.

It has been a tough 4 1/2 months. More negative emotions, failures, despairing moments, and struggles have been faced than I would like to admit.

And ever since week six, I had been grumbling about how I was excited about the child, but how I was horribly dreading/already hating the pregnancy . I kept whining to my very patient husband, “I just wish I could go into labor tomorrow. Why can’t I just skip the 9 months of utter misery and weakness, and get the kid?! Isn’t that what we were going to do with adoption? I’d do anything, just to be on my way to the hospital, ready to deliver this baby.”

And then I dreamed that it came true.

And I went into labor, and I was at the hospital….

…and I delivered a tiny, shriveled, and underdeveloped baby.  A dead baby. And the doctors told me,

“The baby didn’t have enough time to develop and grow. There was no way for the baby to make it.”

And that morning, the emotions still washing over me of what that would have been like, the Lord impressed it on my heart.

“What I am growing within you, is far more than a baby.  

And the character, patience, long-suffering, and endurance I will develop in you takes time.

If you rush the suffering, you will rush all that I am growing in you.

You will get a truncated self, just like that truncated baby”

So in my natural, in-my-strength, and according-to-my-plan self, I’d much rather avoid the messiness, weakness, humbling, and agony of it all.  Can’t we just skip to the glory? (have a precious little person in my arms to hold and to cherish?) But God is teaching me the same thing He was teaching His followers two thousand years ago.

You see, Peter seemed to have the exact sentiments as I do. (about the glory, not necessarily the baby)

This passionate and impulsive fisherman-turned-follower-of-Jesus, had great, bold faith in the Christ. He caught glimpses of a Kingdom led by this humble yet strong Man.  He was going to follow this God-leader into VICTORY.  He knew Jesus was the path to glory, to the Kingdom, that he had been longing for.

But he forgot that death is the path to glory, the shame of the cross the window into joy, the loss of self the finding of oneself.

He wanted what death brings about, but he wanted to skip the mess, the humility, the weakness of that which brings us to the resurrection.

Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”  Matthew 16: 21-23

Peter didn’t want suffering, entrapment, torture and death for Jesus.  “There is another way!” He declares. “Far be it from you, Lord, that you should ever suffer such weakness, vulnerability, and humiliation!” Poor Peter, with all his good intentions, had his mind on the things of man, not on the things of God. And I, too, deserve such a rebuke. For Jesus has predicted my death, and I try to declare “There must be another way!”

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 

Matthew 16:24-25

And who, in their right mind, would voluntarily choose death. and struggle. and suffering. and denial of our hopes and dreams. Who on earth would want to be a “disciple” if that is what the requirements are for the “Jesus Club”?

No one. Unless….unless, they witnessed, this leader walking straight towards death. Riding a donkey right into the city where He would be handed over. Continuing to be friends with the very man who would sell him for thirty pieces of silver. Head straight for the suffering. Not for suffering sake, but for the sake of the Love of the Father, the love of the Father for…

ME.

For US.

For the whole messy, bumbling crew of us.

When one witnesses that kind of suffering motivated by love, we can’t help but follow.

No matter what the cost.  No matter what the cross.

And because it was LOVE that motivated our Savior’s, sacrifice and death.

We can rest in the fact that no matter what sacrifices and deaths we face,

the Lord has led us there

Because of LOVE.

May we not shortchange His love simply because it doesn’t “feel” good in the moment.  For, if you just wait three days. (or 9 months in my case) or even years and years,

Glorious, wonderful, experience-love-to-the-fullest RESURRECTION takes place.

And its worth every step on the path that gets us there.

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One Thing to Cling to When Things are Tough

Where’s this blogging girl gone?
Well, after a week spell of intense editing and rereading into the late nights, sickness has slammed the family. And slammed the door on the writing momentum.

And when your husband, and your kids, and your pregnant self are all horribly sick, violently coughing through night after sleepless night, aching and feverishly enduring day after long day,and it hurts to breath,and you can’t talk (trying clapping to the kids to communicate to them each day) and you can’t quite keep up with all this (and who needs what, when):

The many attempts at fighting this misery-inducing beast off.

The many attempts at fighting this misery-inducing beast off.

and you start fantasizing about how you might manage to get yourself hospitalized so you can at least get breathing treatments, strong pain meds and SLEEP,

you can start to lose your bearings.

You can forget whose you are, and how He works in His children’s lives.

You forget that,

Desperate situations do not necessarily mean God’s dissatisfaction.

But rather, it is in the heat and pressure, and tension and struggle of those desperate situations that somehow God is working and moving and refining and sharpening a mother who on more than one occasion through this past two weeks of weakness has found herself saying,
“I’m in way over my head. I will never have my life together. Look at this messy house. Look at these snotty, sick kids. Look at your impatient sick self trying to yell at them through a fiery throat and intense coughing spells. Who am I KIDDING trying to bring another child into the world, much less adopt another one into our family?”

But,

Desperate situations do not necessarily mean God’s dissatisfaction.

A.B Simpson writes:

“The other day, my friend and I were passing by the power plant that produces electricity for the streetcars. We heard the hum and roar of the countless wheels of the turbines, and I asked my friend, “How is the power produced?” He replied, “It simply is generated by the turning of those wheels and the friction they create. The rubbing producers the electric current.

In a similar way, when God desires to create more power in your life, He creates more friction. He uses this pressure to generate spiritual power. Some people cannot handle it, and run from the pressure instead of receiving the power and using it to rise above the painful experiences that produced it.

Opposition is essential to maintaining true balance between forces. It is the centripetal and centrifugal forces acting in opposition to each other that keep our planet in the proper orbit. The propelling action coupled with the repelling counteraction keeps the earth in orbit around the sun instead of flinging it into space and a path of certain destruction.

God guides our lives in the same way. It is not enough to have only a propelling force. We need an equal repelling force, so that He holds us back through the testing ordeals of life. The pressures of temptations and trials and all the things that seem to be against us further our progress and strengthen our foundation.

Let us thank Him for both the weights and the wings He produces. And realizing we are divinely propelled, let us press on with faith and patience in our high and heavenly calling. ” (Taken from Streams in the Desert, by L.B. Cowman

So, those desperate situations do not necessarily mean God’s dissatisfaction…

They might actually mean His favor.

Fear…the death grip and how to wring free from it.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart….and  your paths will be straight”  

Proverbs 3:5-6

There’s nothing that makes my paths more crooked than pregnancy, and the hormones, fatigue and sickness it brings.

I plan a course of action, a schedule and an agenda…..and then I don’t have the energy to carry it out.

I want to love my children well…..but patience levels plummet to nil and I find myself bursting out in anger and frustration.

I want to stay fit and trim…..and my body balloons out as it prepares for a growing child. (WHY does this virtual vegetarian crave hamburgers and french fries for a baby that is only two inches long right now?!?)

I want to cling to the Lord and trust on His promises.…but hormones do crazy things to my mind and I can’t find my bearing in the waves of vacillating emotion.

I have a book to finish writing, ONE thing in my life that seems like an attainable goal (when everything else I do is so easily undone )….. and the fatigue and exhaustion dwindles discipline and drive and motivation.

I have a mind brimming with ideas for blog posts, people I want to write letters to, individuals I want to reach out to……and all those ideas are just trapped-trapped in a mind that doesn’t have the time or an able body in which to find fruition.

And we are called to trust the Lord with all our hearts in each of those circumstances.

And I wonder why it is so hard, why I can’t seem to muster up the trust, for on many a day I am crying out to the Lord and He feels far off (you mean, Lord, you’re not just going to send a nanny to my doorstep when I”m struggling through the dinner hour?).  But the only way for trust to take root, is to find what is standing in its way.

And I find that the Giant called Fear takes up residency in a place I long for trust to grow.

Fear?

No, it couldn’t be that. Most of us wouldn’t openly declare, “Hi, I’m ______, and I am filled with fear”

But when levels and layers are uncovered, we find that at the root of our desire and desperate attempts to be in control, fear is the demon driver behind it all. 

We want to be in control, and get things done, and have a schedule. Fear of losing control and God not handling it all, drives the desperate grasping after the schedule. I’m afraid God is not able to take care of this.

We want to love our children well. Isn’t that the key to them growing to walk with Jesus and become responsible adults. Isn’t that the caliber by which we judge our devotion to God? Fear, that I might ruin my kids, disappoint God, and be exposed as the selfish, sinful person I am is what unsettles ones’ spirit over personal failures. And I’m afraid God is not able to take care of this.

We want to have a certain image, fit into our culture’s declaration of what beauty is. We want to feel in control of our bodies. It is fear of disapproval, of being looked down upon and judged, fear of spinning out of control of our little kingdom of self found in body building and toning. And I’m afraid God is not able to take care of even this.

We want to be “strong in our faith” and stand on promises of God’s word, but fear of not being strong enough to weather the storms of suffering, propels us into guilt and condemnation for not having more faith. And I’m afraid God is not able to take care of this.

We want to accomplish our goals and finish what we start, and fear of never finishing, fear of God never bringing to fruition this faith walk He has led us upon, causes panic, “This will never get done!” (which leads to frustration at little people whose diapers and snotty noses and never-ending appetites are the “VERY” reason why it will never get done).  And I’m afraid God is not able to take care of this.

We want to be used to bless people, to help people, and we can’t do that if we don’t follow through with the promptings to reach out, can we? It is fear that God is not big enough for that person thought of, that they need ME to be the one to reach out to them and serve them, that leads to a disappointment with self  over not following through. And I’m afraid God is not able to take care of this.

But I am not the only one who struggles with fear.

A million people who had just seen the mighty hand of God  deliver them from slavery, from Egypt along with all the wealth of Egypt, were overcome by fear, despite God’s recent acts of faithfulness and powerful displays of deliverance. Little did they know that the very thing that terrified them (Pharoh’s army pursuing them right up to the Red Sea (Exodus 14:5-9), was the thing God was moving into place to display his glory all the more.

The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen. Exodus 14:18 

God was sending the unsurmountable Egyptian army to pursue his people (after they had just been released from their slavery), not to defeat their hope, their spirits, but to build their hope and the faith in His Might and His Love .

And the promise, the hope, the great fear combatant that God declares through Moses to those fearful people watching the Egyptian army pursue them, is one that rings through the centuries, right into this fearful mother pursued by an army of emotional, spiritual, physical and mental oppressors.

“Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today… The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” Exodus 14:13-14

And since I think in lists, formulas and simplified terms, scribbled in my journal are the bullet points:

1. FEAR NOT.

2. Stand firm

3. See the salvation of the Lord

4. He will work for you

5. The Lord will fight for you

6. You have only to be silent.

If God is in charge. I need not fear. If I let him be in charge, my only need is to stand firm. If I believe He’s always moving even when this tired mother can’t, I can simply watch.  Watch him work for me. Watch Him fight for me.

I need only be silent and still.

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:

“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
    in quietness and trust is your strength,
    but you would have none of it.

Isaiah 30:15

(I am slightly addicted to this song right now….my heart’s faith-cry through the trials)

Singing through the Storms

It’s posted right in my windowsill over the sink…

The kids and I sing it on the way to school…

Its a lifeline and bedrock when every physical thing around me is shifting (or being hauled to the dump)

“Yes, they shall sing of the ways of the Lord. 

For GREAT is the glory of the Lord.

Though the Lord is on HIGH,

He regards the lowly,

But the proud he knows from afar.”  

Psalm 138:5-6

And I sing it, and I rejoice in the humbling,

for far worse than mold,

and illness,

and throwing away precious sentimental items,

is knowing God from afar.

So, if it means I can know Him closely,

I will welcome any and every storm,

And sing through it.

…he wounds, but he also binds up; he injures but his hands also heal…. Job 5:8

Isaiah 58:8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

Isaiah 58 is a passage we frequently visit, for our own encouragement, and for the encouragement of the various teams we have come through Newark.

But if you had asked me three weeks ago about this passage, I would have told you “ in my head I know its true because God said it, but my heart says “yah, right” “.  I would have also told you that the “spending” part that precedes this promised healing and light is almost not worth it….but that was because I was still in the “wounding and injuring” phase of the Job 5:8 description.  After a month of feeling so wounded and raw, I am finally be bandaged up by our Savior. These are some of the “bandages” that the Lord has provided…

**On Saturday, my older brother Ken, came into town (which is SUCH a treat!) and took my sister and myself into NYC for my birthday celebration.  I was telling Ken all about our trials and tribulations and the people across from me finally interjected -”wow, thats amazing what you guys are doing! we’re Christians, too, and that really inspires me to really get out there and actually DO something”

**Danny has showered me with gifts and sweet messages and has done so many things in the past two weeks to show me that I am his first priority (besides the Lord) and that what matters to me, matters to him.  This has been a sweet and healing balm on my storm-raged heart and mind.

**The church consistory has set up some “rules” for us Iversons to protect us and keep us sane. At first I felt that some of it was unnecessary, but we wanted to submit (Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise. Pr. 19:20) and I feel incredibly loved and cared for by these “rules” and discipline to protect our family.

**It has been a WHOLE lot more CALM around here, as all the school kids and teens are back in school instead of at our house or knocking on the door for potty breaks and drinks of water.

**On Sunday, during children’s church, I was teaching the kids about Moses and how God called him to lead the Israelites.  He made up all kinds of excuses and didn’t want to do it, but God said “I will be with you”.  It hit me that I was preaching about myself…not wanting the role, but God promising to provide and go with those He calls to leadership.

**Sunday night, one of our friends organized a little birthday party for me at a restaurant, and had each person in attendance write a memory that had of me, and then what they liked about me.  Those cards touched me sooo deeply.  I would like to here interject a story…We were all piling in the car to go to the restaurant, when two teen guys from the ministry came buy and Danny was like “hey boys, you want to go?” and of course in my sinful and selfish mind, I am thinking “Thats another $30 that we’re going to have to pay for…” and Danny was like “it’ll be O.K”.  Having them there ended up making it really fun, AND they wrote some of the messages that have touched me the most deeply.  It was all a sweet gift from the Lord, as if to say “Your labor is not in vain. These guys ARE watching and are being touched by your example”.  (not that I set all that great of an example most of the time-but people recognize real love and genuine compassion when they see it).  Their letters made me think of our welcome in to heaven.  When we get there, any suffering and trials we have faced will seem as nothing in light of our Father’s love and approval through our Savior Jesus.

These are only a few of the ways that God has blessed me and refreshed me after a dark season of my heart.  What a merciful and gracious God we have-instead of punishing me for my pity party, the Lord has lovingly lifted me out of it.  What a patient Father we have!!

some of the guys who live or have lived with us

Vernard, One of the guys who blessed me so much at my party.